I am told there are four phases to dealing with cancer; diagnosis, waiting for test results, treatment and the period following treatment or remission (in other words the rest of your life).
I wrote plenty about the first three, in glorious technicoloured vomit; three major operations, chemo, a relapse, another couple of major operations and finally remission again. And each chapter complete with practical 'how to' lists and daft off the cuff suggestions to help you cope. Naturally, the bit I would like to muse on now is the fourth phase. Or the 'let's pretend everything is normal again' phase.
So here is my take on how life feels now.
At times, I confess to feeling more than a little guilty; Guilty for surviving when so many others who were diagnosed after me, and who were younger than I, have since died. Guilty for going on about the cancer long after the drama of treatment has finished. Guilty for not always remembering to be thankful and seize the day. And guilty for all the trouble and worry I put my loved ones through.
At times, I still feel scared. Although life is fun again, after cancer, it doesn't take much to flip back into 'rabbit in headlights' mode. The new normal involves learning to deal with the clammy fear of the cancer reoccurring. Now that we are alone again, I find I have a serious mistrust of my body (I scarcely rely on it to go to the loo unaccompanied) and need repeated confirmations that things are really ok.
And at times, I feel broke! This new normal involves having to take a strong hold on my finances. Living for the moment is expensive. As my friend Kate immortalised; "Never spend tomorrow when you can buy it today", an utterly enjoyable, but financially disastrous philosophy! My long term life expectancy may be less clear, but my wardrobe and collection of holiday snaps have gone from strength to strength... as has my 'life's little luxuries' budget'.
Remission can sound calm and reassuring; a chance to re write the rules and try living differently with huge appreciation. But the reality can sometimes be disappointing. If you chose to conceal your fears from your near and dear ones, it can leave you feeling paranoid, neurotic, sad and at times lonely. That is the contrary legacy of cancer.
This new normal phase is probably the hardest bit to understand, let alone write about. And I can almost hear the web pages being shut as you may think "That's nice, she's in remission, is she going to bore the lifeblood out of us now?" But I am hoping if you are reading this far, you may have a vested interest in cancer and stick with me a little longer. And to repay your patience, I promise to lighten up a bit next time...
Of course, you can keep popping back to my blog to check I am still alive. In which case, it will coincide with a dramatic increase of my web traffic and maybe even the odd book sale so again, thank you very much.
But one thing I am alarmed and disappointed with myself to discover is my hard won perspective has a habit of 'going off' very quickly. I need repeated reminders of how I felt when buying products from the long-life section in supermarkets seemed a bit of a gamble. I was amazed how quickly I got sucked back into office politics for example, especially as I had told myself I would never care about such trifles again. But time is a two timer. It tells you one thing and frequently does another!
Ultimately remission is about gently moving on with thankfulness and acceptance. I was told that the first wish of those dying before their time is to live their dreams for them. To fill the empty spaces with new hope. And to remember to express gratitude to all my friends, family, surgeons, doctors and nurses and God for keeping me alive. So I am getting a grip and will try to live freely and honestly whilst I still have this one precious life. And I will keep you posted on my how I get on with this challenge. But for now, here are some promising signs I am getting back to normal:
- Fading memories - did I really just go through all that?
- Being disorganised again. Just look in my tea towel drawer...
- Getting angry at silly things again
- Not winning every argument (now I am no longer considered likely to snuff it, people are getting braver with me and there are pockets of resistance appearing again!)
- Planning a holiday and not worrying about the travel insurance
- Oh and of course more lists. But ones featuring supermarkets this time, not hospitals