I hereby dedicate this post to anyone who's at the end of active treatment for primary cancer!
I know it's a heavy load
carrying those tears around
carrying those fears around
worry makes the world go round
Breast cancer isn't a homogeneous disease and young women with breast cancer aren't a homogeneous group. We have different circumstances, different experiences, different beliefs. I guess these are some of the factors that lead to different outlooks and perspectives, different ways of dealing with cancer... different ways of moving forward once treatment for a primary breast cancer is complete.
Recently I saw an argument unfold between a number of women which was ultimately about life after treatment for primary breast cancer. (I expect the same argument fires up between people every single day). There's no right or wrong here, you feel how you feel. But I realised how differently people do feel. Some are very angry. Some are very frightened. Some block out all emotions entirely.
For a brief time, it made me question my own outlook. I had been ready to get back to "normal", to get back to my life, and live it to the full. I was feeling positive, and sometimes even excited. The argument made me wobble. I felt stupid. Was I stupid? For thinking that I could live a happy life, that I could be well, that I could do anything?
I offloaded at counselling. (Can I just say, counselling is amazing, everyone should go. Do it! Go and sort your shit out, you'll feel so much better for it.) I explained the whole argument, the different sides and how it had upset me. The conversation reached a point where I hesitantly suggested that I'm not stupid, that assuming it doesn't come back, assuming I don't get a secondary diagnosis, cancer might actually have been more of a positive thing in my life than a negative one. I couldn't believe I was saying it. I was scared to say it, but it felt true, so I went on. I feel happy. I feel well. I think things will probably be ok. My counsellor pointed out that when I was saying these things, I said them very, very quietly.
I was worried about tempting fate.
Fear is powerful. Powerful and manipulative. And when it comes to cancer - there's a lot you might be afraid of: loneliness, helplessness, pain, suffering, death. You can tell fear to f. off, but it won't go away without a fight. It will start threatening you with more fear -specifically the fear of the consequences of tempting fate.
But I don't want to live in fear just as much as I don't want to be angry and I don't want to be sad. I want to be happy. I want to enjoy myself. I want to spend time doing things I enjoy, with people who make me happy. You can't really do that if you're living in fear, or if you're holding on to anger.
I think this fear of tempting fate business is all about self preservation. The horrendous shock and horror that comes from the original cancer diagnosis is monumental. Once you've experienced that you never want to experience it again. You can't guarantee it won't happen again, so you get in to the habit of trying to be prepared for the worst. But over time, left unchecked, being prepared for the worst has potential to turn into constantly assuming the worst. Nothing can shock you because you're already dealing with worst case scenarios (that haven't actually happened) but you're unhappy because you're being dominated by fear.
So you're left with a choice:
- Always be prepared for the worst - means living in a constant state of anxiety. Or,
- Assume the best - means risking another life-shattering shock.
Yesterday is gone and you will be ok
Place your past into a book
I've thrown away all the information the hospital gave me on diagnosis and chemotherapy. It felt good! I've been saying out loud that I feel well, and happy, and I think I'm going to be ok. It feels good! I've returned to work. It feels good! And despite me doing and saying these things and not following them up with touching wood etc (to hell with what I said in this post) I have not been punished by fate with finding a new tumour (I've been checking, thoroughly and carefully).
The wobble has passed. However long I have cancer free - whether it's weeks, months, years - I'm going to make the most of my days and enjoy them.
I choose happiness.