Woohoo, I'm on the final straight! Of my breast cancer treatment, that is. I've had the surgery, finished my five months of chemo and am almost half-way through radiotherapy. So I should be feeling great, right?
Only, hang on... Why do I feel more depressed than I've felt at any point during my eight-month cancer journey? Oh, that's right, it's because there is no "final straight" for cancer survivors. Cancer is a life-long journey. It doesn't stop when the treatment ends. It took a while for me to realise this, but cancer is a marathon. No, wait, cancer is an ultra-marathon. A never-ending series of ultra-marathons to make even Eddie Izzard wince.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 years old last June, I wrote in my very first blog post that it was just like 'breaking a leg'. I'd have to have surgery, then some treatment and a few months of recovery. I couldn't have been more wrong. Cancer changes everything in life. Cancer can be cured one minute, then it can come back and kill you. Chemo can make you infertile. Cancer slaps you around the face, kicks you in the stomach and pulls out all your hair, eyebrows and eyelashes one by one while you're still lying on the floor, too weak to move or fight back. It takes away your confidence, your lust for life. And slowly, it can take away your positivity.
January 2013 has hit me with a bang. I started radiotherapy on 1 January and went back to work a week later. I moved out of my parents' house near Huddersfield and into a flat in Dublin I'd been renting by myself until I was diagnosed.
Suddenly, back in Ireland, back in the place where I was told I had cancer, away from the comfort of the family home I'd returned to for the first time since I was a teenager, I feel lost, alone and afraid. At work, I receive hugs from the colleagues I haven't seen for six months. They congratulate me for reaching that amazing "final straight". They assume everything's fine now - I'm cured. Then I go home in the evening, take off my wig, wipe away my drawn-on eyebrows and look in the mirror. And there is still a cancer patient staring back at me, looking balder and sicker than ever. So yes, I've hit a bit of a hurdle and I've been feeling pretty low.
But then this week, I got a call from my good old friend, Running. He placed my Asics trainers on the ground in front of me and re-introduced me to his best friend, Endorphins. I put on some thermal tops, my chemo beanie and a woolly hat, and the three of us (Me, Running and Endorphins) headed out in -5ºC and pounded the pavements for a good 15 minutes. (Fortunately, it only started snowing once I got back inside). A few days later, we did it again. And I didn't feel quite so much like a cancer patient any more.
People often ask me why I run. And the reason is because it makes me feel like Superwoman. When I'm running along, listening to dance tracks on my iPod, I feel strong and powerful, healthy and fit, like I can conquer anything. I have my most inspiring and positive thoughts when I'm running. I completed my first marathon in Buenos Aires just before I got cancer and the only reason I managed to run the entire way was because that day I woke up positive.
I don't wake up every day feeling positive - not by a long shot - but that day I had my marathon head on and there was no doubt in my mind that I'd do it. The exact same thing happened when I was diagnosed with cancer. There was never any question in my mind of whether I would survive it. The possibility of dying didn't enter my head. (It entered a couple of months later, when I learned about Secondary Breast Cancer, and it pops up every once in a while, but most of the time I fight it).
The thing is, Cancer is a marathon. You have to be positive to get through it. You'll probably start feeling a lot of pain around mile 20, but you know if you reach the finish line, you're going to feel so elated, so full of joy and pride and sense of achievement, that it'll all be worth it. You'll feel more alive than ever before. And then you may be asked to run it again. But you'll do it, because you have to.
Quitting is not an option. So I guess I'll just keep running.
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