I’ve recently caught back up with a friend who finished treatment at the same time as me – why did we leave this so long ? The minute we were reunited we both realised that our low moods, fears and anxieties had started at the same time post treatment. That we’d both been filled with initial post treatment adrenaline gone off and run races, travelled and thrown ourselves full of enthusiasm back into life. And yet, as time has progressed and the winter kicked in, we’d both somewhat hibernated, closing ourselves down, and away from the rest of the world. Well meaning friends perhaps missed this and left us to it, maybe sending invites out for social events and not really understanding why we were unable to attend. Maybe this is a good thing, it’s given us time to reflect and process information in order to move forward.
It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t expected. It wasn’t wanted. The feelings I have of my somewhat changed outlook and personality, perhaps echo my thoughts on my diagnosis almost 2 years ago. I’ve reflected that perhaps the shock of my diagnosis, or perhaps more so, the reality of life post diagnosis caught up with me, and this coupled with work pressure had me burying my head in my safe haven, avoiding social situations and in many ways closing down and not telling friends how I was feeling. As much as people try, they do too become frustrated by your stagnancy, you can’t just pull yourself together, snap out of it, or put it behind you, because it isn’t that simple, Oh that it was we’d all be snapping up that miracle cure.
Approaching the 2 year mark is significant. It’s the target that when diagnosed you aim for – as every Oncologist will tell the risk of recurrence is greater in the first 2 years. This too is reflected in travel insurance, premiums slightly dropping after the magical two years. 2 years for me personally reminds me of my mum’s illness. Diagnosed in November 2003, with a remission lasting just 15 months, she died before the magical 2 years in September 2005. I think unconsciously this chews away and pops up occasionally.
It’s 2 years since I found my lump and dismissed it. Leaving it another 2 weeks before going to a GP. The Spring was beginning, the blossoms and flowers appearing, I distinctly remember walking in my favourite part of my local park and thinking how happy I was, if only I didn’t have this lump. Little did I know what lay ahead. Retreading the ground this Spring, like last Spring, brings all these memories to the surface, and this year the added worry of my first annual Oncology appointment appeared.
Perhaps we do experience slight Post Traumatic Stress, the shock of diagnosis, the pull of holding it together to get yourself through treatment, and rally on your loved ones, To reappear out the other end, back to work, or relationships, but minus the physical characteristics before diagnosis and more importantly with a lasting reminder that life can change at any moment, that perhaps people who haven’t faced a diagnosis can never really relate to.
It’s another interesting point, for when people ask how you are, they don’t want you to honestly answer ! They are expecting the uniformed, ‘fine thanks.’ or ‘not to bad’ even if that’s said through teary eyes or with a lump in your throat. Nobody wants to hear, well actually I am struggling or, I’m not bad, but I need an MRI. Is it a British thing ? Don’t make a fuss, suck it up Buttercup. In my efforts to be authentic, I’ve actually told people when I’ve felt crap. Some struggle to cope with that, why focus on them ? Because there are always those that care enough about you to stick beside you, through low mood or joy. I have come to treasure those wonderful reciprocated friendships above everything else and remind myself to lose expectation of others.
So reality check ? The gruelling months of work stress have left me with headaches, that started to include facial numbness, and numbness in my arms. Scary ? Yes, somewhat. In my annual check up, my Oncologist face fell when I mentioned this, after smiling about my 2013 post treatment antics. I guess I wanted her to say, it’s just stress, like everyone else does, like I have convinced myself actually. And that is fixable. So when she recommended a MRI for my brain to see what was happening, I had a huge slap around my face. I’ve been out of the Hospital loop for a year, and suddenly had a cluster of appointments within 4 weeks. Bloods taken, urgent MRI and routine Mammogram/Ultrasound combination. I was admittedly scared about the MRI, the last time had a shitty reaction, but sailed through this one with the help of steroids, antihistamines and a friend in tow.
I would say I had 2 days in shock to come to terms with facing my biggest fear, not having a scan means if something is going on you are oblivious, De Nile ! If you have a scan you have to deal with whatever they tell you. I think this scares me greatly. However a week or so down the line, well 2 weeks actually, I am at a more levelled place, If it reveals something nasty, it’s a good thing, it can be treated and leaving something untreated is ridiculous. So, I am rational. I am hoping it’s a reminder that life has got out of balance and work stress has taken the pee, that my MRI will say – book a holiday, visit Italy and take up Yoga. The flip side is to say to myself, if it’s not good, there are treatments being developed every day and yes, they aren’t always pleasant you will get through it.
The other reminder this has thrown up is how in a minute everything can change, I feel suddenly dubious about booking flights, and making advance arrangements. Putting things slightly on hold until results day on 16th April. 11 days and counting. Guess that’s sensible. It’s also about being superstitious, taking it all too casually could smack me in the face, so waiting to after results seems sensible to me.
The third reminder this has given me, three is the magic number, is that I have without realising it closed down and stopped living as fully as I can. Admittedly my physical symptoms have impacted on a few invitations, debilitating headaches aren’t much fun. But from the minute they said MRI I thought get on with living, get out there, carry on. So here I am – posting before a night out with friends.
As another Macland buddy was diagnosed with bone mets this week, the reminder that time is so precious is what anyone diagnosed or been affected with cancer lives with. She is fit, healthy and without symptoms, cancer hadn’t imprisoned her, she was moving on. So this too reminds me that our own minds can imprison and disable ourselves further, it’s all about perspective and getting control of fear. I am in doubt that treatment will manage the progression and keep her stable, as it treatment advances everyday, but also understand her devastation and fear of prematurely leaving her child. F*ck Cancer.
I feel to sign on with a positive, as concious my blogs seem so negative, my closing thoughts are in difficult times our real friends appear, and that in every bad situation, there are friends like buoyancy aids to support you. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.