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Breast Cancer, Singledom and Turning 30

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Let's just say getting breast cancer wasn't exactly top of my Things To Do Before I'm 30 list. Sure, sky-diving (check), living abroad (check), running a marathon (check) and meeting the man of my dreams/getting married (massive uncheck) were up there, but not breast cancer. So it was only natural that I woke up on my 30th birthday feeling slightly sorry for myself.

Turning 30 was always going to be a big milestone. I know it just means being another day older, but I guess my 12-year-old self expected to be married to her Prince Charming and living in a castle with unicorns by that age. Ok, maybe not the unicorns, but I did expect to have achieved certain things. Though it is by no means old, 30 is the age at which society expects us girls to be at least thinking about lining up a husband and cracking out a few babies before the biological clock stops ticking. And I'm nowhere close.

While my friends are busy getting engaged, married or pregnant, I'll be spending the first year of my 30s battling breast cancer. Six months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and a possible double mastectomy mean my life is effectively on hold. I'm living with my parents again and I can't work, drink, travel or do anything much really. Even after the treatment is over, my life will be changed in so many ways. The chemotherapy could make me infertile, the possible mastectomies and reconstruction could render me nipple-less for 12 months, and I won't be able to start trying for babies until I'm at least 35, so my eligibility as a hot young bachelorette has pretty much gone out the window.

But I want to make it clear that I'm not complaining. Firstly, I would have been single at 30 regardless of the diagnosis, so there's no point blaming the Big 'C'. I have a successful career, I'm financially stable and independent, I've made amazing friends and relationships with people all over the world and I've been moving continents every couple of years since I was 18. I don't regret anything I've done and, even though I'm not going to die of this cancer, I am thankful that I lived life to its fullest in my 20s. My pretty much permanent single status has allowed me to be selfish and fiercely independent and, if I'd had kids in my mid-20s, I wouldn't have done half the things I have done.

Secondly, the fact that the cancer threw a massive spanner in the works of my unwritten five-year plan is actually a huge blessing in disguise. It means the pressure is off. Without the cancer, I would be feeling like I had to step up the search for my suitor in time to avoid Aunty Whatshername's accusing questions of "So when are you getting married then?" at the next family gathering.

The thing is, yes, I would have liked to have found a nice man to settle down with, but I am definitely nowhere near ready to get married or produce offspring. The only reason for me to be in any rush whatsoever is because by the time I'm actually ready to have kids (i.e. when I'm about 80), I'll almost certainly be infertile. But with the cancer, I have to assume I can't have kids for at least another five years anyway, so that surely means I have another half a decade to find a nice fella. Thank you, cancer!

The Big 'C' has also given me a chance to stop and reflect. Before diagnosis, I'd been busy concentrating on my career for such a long time, often getting up before 6am for my work as a journalist and rarely putting down my Blackberry for long enough to take a proper break. I could have carried on like that until retirement. I had lost sight of what was important in life and allowed some of my priorities to slip.

How often do you say "I wish I could write to Great Uncle So-and-So in Australia/write a blog/get to the bottom of that massive pile of books on my shelf/spend time thinking about what I want in life, but I don't have time?" Well, cancer put a whopping great big STOP sign in front of me and now I have nothing but time to do those things. Maybe my life span won't be quite as long as I once expected, but all the more reason to use the time I have wisely.

Like any milestone, turning 30 has forced me to think about things, and cancer has brought a curious positivity to those thoughts. Spending the evening of my birthday with my parents, three of my best friends and their partners, I didn't feel so much like the gooseberry but the one who was lucky to be surrounded by so many people who loved me. I feel lucky for everything I've achieved in life up to this point and I will make the best of what I've got for the next few decades. So, turning 30 wasn't quite so bad after all.

Now all I need to do is finish off that Things to Do Before I'm 40 list. Or maybe I should just tear it up and see what happens...