I can’t sleep (chugging a litre of coke at the cinema pretty late tends to have that effect), so I thought I’d write a little on a topic that I’ve been thinking of a lot lately.
I guess it’s odd to think of cancer as being beneficial in any way; it’s pretty detrimental by nature, but it does cause us to take stock and examine our lives with scrutiny, and let me tell you, a brush with death does wonders for reevaluating things. So here are some things cancer has taught me.
I am strong. Tell a girl she’s got cancer and you expect her to just crumble and dissolve. This didn’t really happen to me. I mean the initial conversation was pretty horrific; the kind of wording that makes your heart jump into your mouth, all sound in the room disappear and time stop, but after a few minutes of hyperventilating and feeling like someone had whipped the chair out from under me, I just sort of got on with it. Somehow I even fell asleep in a hospital ward and woke up the next morning to a completely different life. I’ve always been the type of person who is good in a crisis; I’m very good at viewing a situation objectively and seeing what needs to be done and with my own situation things were no different. I endured 7 months of horrendous high-dose chemotherapy, feeling iller than I thought was ever possible, multiple procedures that I wouldn’t have wished upon my worst enemy, giving the complete autonomy of my body over to other people, but I’m here, at the end of it, having been told time and time again just how positive I stayed. And I’m so bloody proud of myself for that.
I am confident. This is another strange one for me really. I wouldn’t have said that I was lacking in confidence before my diagnosis, I was comfortable with the person I was and I paid no attention to what others thought of me, but there is confident and then there is going out in public with no makeup and no hair confident. I can still remember the first time I went out without a headscarf on, it was to a B&Q (how glamorous) to buy a parasol (cheers chemo drugs for making me extra sensitive to the sun on the sunniest summer in years) and it felt so invigorating. I felt so powerful; a force to be reckoned with. After a few more trips out I even became so bold as to pull faces at the people who brazenly stared without trying to hide it (come on, we all know how to look at someone without making it look like you’re looking) and now I’m so used to seeing myself with little to no hair, that I’m going to keep it this short out of choice now that it’s growing again. I love this confident version of myself who feels feminine and sexy with what the world would deem a ‘masculine’ haircut.
I am fearless. As for the fears part, I suppose it’s a bit like CBT; being forced to face your fears is a bloody good way to get over them. I wasn’t a particularly fearful person before, I did, however, have a few irrational fears instilled by an anxious mind and confirmed by panic attacks. If you’ve never developed an irrational, illogical fear, for any reason, then it’s a little bit difficult to explain. Without going into too much detail I developed an irrational fear of having an allergic reaction to something, caused by my first panic attack about 7 years ago. In particular, for me, it was the thought of having an allergic reaction and not being able to breathe (lol cancer for growing a 10cm tumour in my chest and making me understand what it really means to not be able to breathe), and at its worst, it would occupy my thoughts most of the day to the point where I would be constantly avoiding touching/eating/smelling things in case I had an allergic reaction to them (sounds silly now; at the time it was terrifying). I received counselling and CBT and after a brief stint on antidepressants alongside both, I managed to quell this illogical fear enough that it would only very occasionally and rarely rear its ugly head. I really struggled with new things that I hadn’t come into contact with before; new medicines were a particular difficulty for me. It took me about an hour to take my first antidepressant pill because I couldn’t stop the intrusive ‘what if?’ thoughts that I might be allergic to it, and yet for the past 7 months I gave consent to be pumped full of toxic substances that are known and actually expected to cause allergic reactions, and I didn’t even flinch. No worrying, no panic attacks. I even had a handful of real allergic reactions to said drugs. I didn’t die, I didn’t even come close, and I guess that’s all it takes for the brain to be reprogrammed.
I am grateful. If I’m entirely honest, I was a bit of a whinger before my diagnosis, a real Debbie Downer. I had the whole ‘woe is me’ thing down to a tee. I focused on the negative in my life; what I didn’t have and was blind to the positive. If I could go back in time and tell my former self something I would slap her silly and tell her to appreciate the good things. When I was diagnosed there was one day, about a week after D-day, where I had a full-on ‘it’s not fair, why me’ meltdown, but I soon came to the realisation that nothing I could have done would have prevented this from happening and it is purely luck of the draw.
As Jen (Jen’s Cancer Chronicles) one of my friends from our ‘Badass Babes’ support group so eloquently put it;
“…I am not angry or sad that I got cancer, I am only grateful that it was found, and that it happened in a time in my life when I had the beauty of the NHS behind me and my lovely friends and family. Yes, I feel lucky. I see those flowers, butterflies and sunshine every day. Even if nothing seems like it’s going right, all it takes is a stranger to smile or hold a door open for you and there is something to be grateful for.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
I am great at drawing my eyebrows on. If precision eyebrowing ever becomes a competitive sport, I could definitely bring home the gold for old Blighty.