The Blog

Taking Fear by the Hand

It's really not a walk in the park, this recovery business. It's cartwheels one minute and free falling back down to earth the next. So, what do I do with comments like that? How do I file them away so that I can sleep at night? I keep busy.

Cancer is no longer the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say that. The wonky boobs are a slightly annoying reminder as I'm getting dressed as is the little pill I swallow before bed that helps to keep me well. But I'm nearly four years on, four years clear. This feels great. Not out of the woods but definitely seeing a clearing up ahead. No longer on hyper alert like I was in the early days of my recovery. Now, swollen glands don't necessarily mean bad news. An annoying cough has, so far, always been just that - an annoyance.

I sometimes wonder if enough is said about the emotional recovery from cancer. 'You'll have a bit of a wobble when all this is finished,' my lovely oncologist told me as I embarked on the last couple of weeks of radiotherapy, six months of gruelling treatment finally drawing to a close. A bit of a wobble? I love that man for saving my life, for his heart melting bedside manner and unfailing sensitivity but I can think of more candid ways to describe the gut wrenching anxiety that consumed me as I did my best to believe that I really was well and that the cancer had gone.

A few months in and the hair was growing back, my new soft and fluffy eyelashes were a source of delight and I could walk more than a hundred yards without feeling like I'd just run a half marathon. All tickety-boo, in theory. But I was so gripped by fear of recurrence that all my progress seemed to count for nothing. An irritating but innocent mouth ulcer would plunge me into a desperate panic - so convinced was I that it was a sign that my immune system was dealing with something much bigger. Feeling anything other than in tip top health would leave me struggling to cope and feeling emotionally paralysed. This is it, I'd tell myself. This is when life really does fall apart.

There were even times, mad as it might sound, when I found myself wishing I was back in the middle of chemotherapy. At least then I knew that something was being done to wipe out the rogue cells and make me well. Once treatment ended I was on my own with no real idea of what was going on inside my battered, lopsided body. Sure, I might be feeling free of disease but was I really? Who really knew? My imagination had a life of its own and it was an exhausting ride to be on.

And then I hit the two year mark and crashed again - thanks to a throwaway remark by my wonderful but extremely straight talking breast surgeon during a routine check up. "Everything is looking good," he said as he scribbled notes into my well worn file. My insides dropped with relief. He examined me and we talked for a few more minutes before I did my usual needy thing of wanting some kind of verbal assurance that I was going to stay well forever and ever - or at least until the children had all grown up. He doesn't work like that. "Am I doing okay?" I asked rather feebly, wanting an answer I knew he couldn't give. "You're doing great," he replied, smiling but serious. "But, there are no cast iron guarantees and with an invasive cancer like yours, getting through the first two years, post surgery, is quite a milestone." I hugged him just a little bit too tightly and gulped a goodbye.

Blimey. It's really not a walk in the park, this recovery business. It's cartwheels one minute and free falling back down to earth the next. So, what do I do with comments like that? How do I file them away so that I can sleep at night? I keep busy. My four kids keep me busy. The mundane challenges of every day life keep me busy. And I try to squeeze in the quiet moments too. The time for reflection and appreciation. Corny but kind of crucial.

Right now, everything is okay. This minute, everything is okay. That has to be good enough. Yep, there is definitely more than enough to keep my rather foggy, post chemo brain occupied for as far into the future as any of us can see. So that's my head sorted. Kind of. I think. For now. Talking of walks in the park - I'm giving myself a physical challenge this summer too. Thought it was about time I joined the throngs of smiley, happy faces taking part in one of Cancer Research UK's Race for Life events.

A lot of the time I don't want to be reminded of cancer. But this year, as time slowly heals, I'm ready to do my bit. Because despite the fact that a big part of me is always running away from the disease, a small, strong part of me is feeling brave enough to run along side it. Even if it is for just a few kilometres. And, right now, that feels like a pretty good start...

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