We take it for granted, a social convention, wishing a Happy New Year. This year the words did not flow for me. I was visiting a close relative, about my age, recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and undergoing a severe treatment regime.
We don't know what the year will bring. And I could not get myself to wish her a Happy New Year. It felt empty, it felt so meaningless. She deserves more, she deserves better. We have the kind of relationship where I could talk about my difficulty, but I didn't. Because deep down I realized the issue is more complex than that. The issue is with MY Happy New Year.
Some years ago I underwent cancer treatment over Christmas and New Year. I cannot remember whether people wished me a Happy New Year, or not. If they did, it was probably in an apologetic tone, mixed with words of encouragement. I cannot remember what I felt about it all. The treatment had been diabolical... let's say I had not been feeling my best, physically and emotionally. What I do remember was how few people had been left to wish me a Merry Christmas, or a Happy New Year. People that I had regarded as good friends, colleagues, peers or employer had more or less gradually disappeared - for reasons only known to themselves. It hurt.
Now, people do wish me a Happy New Year. My cancer experience no longer seems to stand in the way for those who know about it. However, as the years go by, dates like my cancer diagnosis and treatment anniversaries, check ups, birthdays and a New Year have a very special emotional quality for me: a mix of sadness, anger, feeling bereft and anxious, but also feeling thankful, stronger and more peaceful.
Over the years I have started to make peace with the experience, the cancer and myself. I have chosen not to demonise my cancer. Something went wrong in my body. I believe I had a part to play and I am trying to take better care. This may sound too simple, even banal. It's not. It has become an all-encompassing mission and way of life.
My future cannot be measured in New Years and 12 month cycles. The same goes for all of us, cancer or no cancer, chronic illness or not.
So, I wish myself a Happy New Year and thank myself for the one just gone.
If you or someone close to you is affected by cancer, then I wish you a belated 'Happy New Year' - full of positive energy and peace to allow and enjoy some good and happy moments and to help you deal well with the dark moments that may lie ahead.