Living for the future, not in the past
It’s very hard to believe that five years ago this week, after several weeks of tests and yet more tests, I was diagnosed with Grade 2 multi-centric, invasive lobular and invasive ductal breast cancer. The 14th of October is a date that will remain etched on my memory as the day that my life changed forever. At the time I had no idea exactly how much it would change my life or comprehend the challenges I would face, since that fateful day in October 2010.
When you consider how very close I came to dying during treatment, it’s pretty amazing that I’ve made it this far as there were far too many times when we thought I wouldn’t. I am incredibly grateful to be alive but I had no idea of the kind of life that someone with a diagnosis of cancer has to confront and learn how deal with.
My life ever since has been one of ongoing poor health that is slowly but surely eroding all the confidence and joie de vivre I used to have. It has robbed me of one the main joys of my life – that of being a professional dancer and dance instructor. I have only danced once since I finished treatment and I struggle not to bitter about the fact that I’ll never be well enough to do that again. I defined myself as a dancer, it was a part of who I am and I wonder whether I will spend the rest of my life grieving for what I had and the deeply fulfilling creative outlet it provided me. The plans I had made for when I’d recovered from all the treatment, grown back my hair and regained my fitness etc., all seem terribly naive in retrospect. I never would have guessed that five years on I would have a large wardrobe of beautiful costumes that I will no longer have the opportunity to wear, unable to part with them because of the sentimental value attached to them.
The other thing my new life has provided me with is the continuing challenge of dealing with all the ‘what ifs’. I never dreamed that the accomplishment of getting through treatment, coming to terms with my new body and the new outlook it had given me on life would come at such a big price. I feel like I have moved to another country, one with a strange new language, populated by almost endless visits to a place called hospital, where everyone knows my name. I walk around this new landscape with a balloon above my head saying “has the cancer come back?” unable to puncture it, or let go of its’ string so that it can fly away. Is this my future now? A place where every corner you walk around has a cancer scare hiding behind it waiting to pounce when you least expect it?
I’ve spent the last five years pretty much having one new cancer scar of some sort with depressing regularity every 12 months or so. Whether it be a new suspicious lump, unexplained pain or any one of a number of depressing and indeed frightening symptoms that require yet more tests and investigations. So far I’ve been one of the lucky ones as each time it has proved to be something other than cancer but you can never quite escape the fear that next time it will be. As a doctor brutally told me during my last scare just a few weeks ago, “well my lovely you’ve had a good four years!” Not something to say to a scared and vulnerable patient, no matter how well you think they will take it, but I’ll talk more about this in another post. Meanwhile I have to live with the thought implanted in my head that it is inevitable that at some point I will be once again hearing the words ‘ I’m sorry but it’s cancer.’ Lovely!
Is this how I’m expected to live the rest of my life? It’s a pretty grim outlook isn’t it? There are however moments that chase away the doom and gloom, moments that reaffirm that not only am I lucky to be in remission, there are good things to be experienced and enjoyed. It’s just a question of learning how to live in the moment rather than constantly worrying about what the future may hold. I’ll be honest though; there are still too many days when I want to curl into a ball and wish it would all go away because sometimes dealing with what has happened and what might happen again, becomes just too overwhelming to process. But every new day is indeed a blessing and I must learn to see it as such, even if that’s a lesson I have to learn anew every day.
It can be hard to tell myself that life is good when my health has deteriorated to relying on a walking stick to reduce the incidences of falling over, that post-operative pain has become severe enough that I need to take morphine to combat it, therefore losing my last vestige of independence after having my driving licence revoked because you cannot take such strong painkillers and be safe enough to drive.
Life is now about dealing with these limitations and seeing them as a challenge to overcome, not a millstone that holds me back. I’ll be honest and say that this has proved extremely difficult but I am learning if not to overcome those things, at least that there is more to life than just waiting for the ‘inevitable.’
Life is not about regrets, no matter how big those regrets are, it’s about living, being able not only to dream of a future but to get out there and live it! I may find it difficult to live up to that statement but I’ll be trying hard to make it a reality and hopefully as part of that reality I will reporting back that some of those aforementioned challenges will have been dealt with as the days, months and years continue.