|Me and my 'support team'!|
I feel like I've really neglected my blog - well I don't just feel I have, I really have. Back in September I came to a big decision. Treatment for breast cancer had been more gruelling than I cared to admit, either to myself or my friends. Working (albeit part-time) while having surgeries (two of them) followed by chemo and radiotherapy had kept me sane and given me some sort of normality and structure - for this I will be eternally grateful. But after keeping myself afloat emotionally and physically for a little under a year, I felt that I just needed to stop. I had stopped the treatment and now I needed to stop work too and just 'be'.
Now I know I am incredibly lucky that I have a caring and supportive working partner who can support us all - to an extent. My children are pretty self-sufficient now, apart from the occasional treat or take-away which we all enjoy, let's face it. But I just found that the tube travel with a painful arm that constantly seemed to be knocked into even in the most uncrowded of carriages, and the work itself, well I just needed some time away to come to terms with what had happened and readjust to what is now termed the new 'normal'.
Don't get me wrong. I loved my job and couldn't have worked in a more supportive environment. I loved the buzz of the West End and how there is always something new to stimulate and excite even when you're popping out for a lunchtime sandwich. But a cancer diagnosis can't just be swept under the carpet and even after all the fuss and treatment it's a big one to get your head around. Actually it all starts when you have your last radiotherapy really - well it did with me. I wasn't prepared for the oncologist and the supporting nurse to shake my hand and formally wish me 'Good Luck'. Being out of the hospital doors and onto the pavement I cried. And I don't feel like I've stopped really ever since. Okay so I'm not a total Debbie Downer - but my emotions all seem to be very near the surface. So some time for just me has been needed, and I must say it has done me good and although the raw emotions are never far away, I have had time in the privacy of my home and with a few close friends, to get used to feeling like this.
So October 4th was my last day in the office and I wish I could tell you that I have taken up oil painting or been training for a marathon. I haven't. What I have done is cleaned out cupboards like a mad person, made a bit of money on Ebay, threw myself into Christmas preparations and attended a Moving Forward course at my hospital with Breast Cancer Care. I really had to gird my loins for that one. A course with a lot of other breast cancer patients for 3 hours every week for a month would normally have had me running for the hills - and it nearly did. But I am so glad I went - not only was it incredibly useful in terms of really good advice on food, exercise and what is normal, but I met some lovely ladies of all ages who are all feeling the same way as me! Scarily I was not one of the youngest - in fact I would say a good 70% of the women there were younger than me - so it really can happen to any woman at any age. It was a good thing to do and a relief to be able to talk openly about your hopes and fears.
Breast cancer is a lonely place. I'm sure all cancers are and I'm not claiming that it's worse than any other and I know is better than most, but you can't spend your whole time telling people how you feel scared for the future and down about your day-to-day struggles. Those who love you just want you to smile and say 'I'm fine!' - of course they do. It's exhausting for them too to be worried for you each and every day.
So now I am confronting January with a new vigour and a sense of purpose. I am too young to retire and the truth is I have too much to still give. I also need to earn some money so we can continue with a lifestyle of occasional holidays and, well just those ordinary things that we all enjoy. The loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman at just 69 (plus the mother of one of my best friends on Christmas Eve) is a big reminder that I can't stay with my head in my cupboards for much longer. Life is to be lived; highs, lows and days that frankly are simply a little boring (oh boring can be wonderful believe me). My hair has grown back to a length where I don't scream 'chemo patient' and although I have blood test results looming again (the new normal is 3 monthly checks and tests) I feel that I need to step out into the world and see if I can find a place where I can make a difference. Will keep you posted!
I want to finish this post with a nod to David Bowie's single from aptly named Blackstar which is the name given to the shape that appears on a mammogram when you have breast cancer. Some find it depressing but I see it as a call to arms, not to waste time and to be as creative every day as you can possibly be. Enjoy.