Being diagnosed with cancer is a bit like getting an offer for an exceptionally bizarre new job.
"Hello there is that Miss Purkiss? Hi there Alice, look we've considered your application - well, we know you didn't apply - but we've considered your suitability and we'd absolutely love to offer you the role of cancer patient for 2015/2016. Ahhh, no unfortunately you can't decline the offer. These wheels have been in motion for months now and I'm afraid you're stuck with us until the Project is completed. We reckon it'll be about a year til Project No Evidence of Disease is all wrapped up. You start right away, literally this minute and your life is ours for the next 12 months, ha ha ha. Your hours are 24/7 and I'm afraid we don't have any budget to pay you a salary. We'll be in touch with you regarding next steps soon."
Immediately after hearing that you've got the "job", you're thrown into it. There's meeting after meeting with medical professionals, scanning you, prodding you, jabbing you. Your life is completely taken over by this new role, and your new boss Cancer is a bit of a bastard.
He doesn't care that you've got holiday plans so won't approve your annual leave request; he doesn't believe in a work/life balance so your social life is out of the window; he makes you drastically change your appearance and robs you of your appetite; he makes you work until you're empty of anything and then you've got to get back up and do it again. There's no opportunity for promotion, no career development - in fact this new job puts your career as you knew it on hold - there's no fun social events, your friends and family hate seeing you work yourself into the ground but know that you have no choice. Your medical team become your co-workers but you have no control over the tasks at hand, you just have to do exactly what they say and you have to trust implicitly that they're doing it for the good of The Project.
But this new job thrusts you into a new world where you find solace and joy in the small things. Where you really appreciate the times when you get to take a breath with the people you love. Where these new co-workers prove to you that there are some really wonderful people in the world, and that you're lucky enough to have them take care of you. You don't take for granted the days when you can find time to get away from "work" and go out for a run. You appreciate more than ever the days off when you can eat out with your friends (and enjoy it).
And some of the people you meet working on a similar version of their own Project really are incredible. And you marvel at how they're dealing with their own new job and you take strength from them and support from them and you're proud when they make it through another meeting. And in a way you're grateful because you know that without The Project you'd never have met them.
Despite the fact that your new boss is relentless and the new job feels almost impossible at times, you know it'll give you a new perspective for when you're ready to go back to "normal" life. You actually feel kind of lucky. Obviously, not everyone ends up working on this project (and you'd really like to keep it that way) but you're more grateful than you can express for the people working on it with you - whether medical professionals, friends, family or "co-workers".
When it's over, you'll live with the memories of the Project. You'll have to figure out what life is like without it and you'll constantly be thinking about what will happen if you get called up for the role again. But for now, it's just a temporary job, in a firm you'll hopefully never have to deal with again and coming out of the other side of it will be the greatest achievement of your life.
Alice-May Purkiss was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015. Her blog, www.alicemaypurkiss.co.uk, is following her treatment, and trying to find the funny side of getting a breast cancer diagnosis at 26 years old. She's working on getting women to check their boobs more frequently through her #CheckYourChebs campaign across social mediaSuggest a correction