I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer twice in the past eight years. I had hoped, especially after the first time, that I had kicked its ass, and that it wouldn’t bother me again. After all, I had thrown the whole works at it: mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Unfortunately, another lump appeared in 2015, which ironically, my oncologist assured me was, and I quote, ‘nothing sinister’. But, call it my intuition if you will, I had a feeling that all was not as it seemed, so I insisted on getting it checked out, and to my dismay found out the arsehole was back. I was lucky it was caught early. Thank God I didn’t take my oncologist at his word, or it could have been a whole other story. But I did have to have more surgery and become reacquainted with Mr Chemo again!
I had very little control over this illness happening to me. People tell me I’m brave. I’m not! I would not have chosen this fight. Breast cancer chose me and I had no choice. If I had been given a choice, I would have said “no, thanks”, and run screaming for the hills. I’d have been the deserter in battle.
Breast cancer is a jealous and possessive adversary which has stolen so much from me that makes me a woman: my breasts, my ovaries, my hair, and at times my confidence and my faith in life. But a woman is more than the sum of her parts, and regardless of how much my physical appearance has changed, I am still me.
And on a positive note, at least my reconstructed breasts don’t sag the way my old ones did, as a result of giving birth to five children; and my hair has grown back better than ever. That’s what I’ve learnt on this path: being positive takes a whole lot less energy than being negative.
I may have had no choice over what was happening, but I could choose my attitude and how I responded to this change. That’s not to say I haven’t felt afraid, sad and angry, and sometimes I can feel all those emotions in one day. Oh yeah, it’s fun living with me! Of course, there is always the fear of the arsehole returning to haunt me, but I’ve learnt not to let that fear take over what I can do today.
Someone once told me, ‘that which is in front of you, is your teacher.’ If this is true,
[tweetthis display_mode=”box”]”…cancer has been my teacher and it has taught me a very powerful lesson: To live now!” [/tweetthis]
I remember that when I was told I had cancer, my first thoughts went to my children. What would happen to them if anything happened to me? Had I spent enough time with them? Had I been a good mother? Oh I’d wiped their faces, picked them up when they fell, tied their shoe laces and took care of them. But had I listened to them? I mean, really listened to them. Why hadn’t I splashed with them in the puddles, instead of scolding about wet socks? Why hadn’t I just enjoyed being with them in the moment?
And what about all those places I had planned on seeing someday? I had dreamt of walking on The Great Wall of China, climbing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and climbing the Eiffel Tower, and I always thought someday I would. All my dreams I had put on the backburner, waiting for the perfect time. The perfect time had never come. But most frightening of all was realising the great adventure I was already living and taking for granted: watching my children grow up. Was all that to be stolen from me?
My illness gave me the impetus to change. Before cancer I had always thought I was a good mother by putting my own dreams on hold. But I realised the only one holding me back was me. I try not to do that anymore. In the eight years since my diagnosis, I’ve raised money for charity by walking The Great Wall of China, and I’ve hiked the Inca Trail; I lingered around the ruins of Machu Picchu and I’ve even skydived! I haven’t managed to visit the Eiffel Tower yet, but it is still on my bucket list!
Every time I feel fear about trying a new challenge, I measure that fear against how I felt when I was diagnosed and there is no contest, I will never be as afraid as I was on that day.
When I was diagnosed for the second time, I was planning on trekking Kilimanjaro. It was a devastating blow to have to face this illness again but it reinforced, yet again, how unpredictable life is and how you can take nothing for granted.
Caroline in Peru
More than anything, I appreciate the simple ordinariness of day to day life. Just sitting down around the table and eating dinner and talking with my family – now that’s an earlier kind of heaven in my book. And on my worst day, when I can feel my stress levels starting to rise because the dog has shit in my son’s shoes, the washing machine has broken down, and my kitchen is beginning to resemble a launderette, I know this is the small stuff. Nothing is a crisis if it is not fatal, no one has died and I’m still here.
I am on the biggest adventure of all; watching my children grow up!