Developing cancer has changed my whole world.
Many of the changes have been outside of my control for example the results of surgery. The outcome is inoffensive enough yet it serves as a permanent reminder that I’ve been touched by something very sinister. Every time I see myself I note the scar marking the place something truly awful lurked inside, something so horrible that it would have killed me quite soon had I not decided to act quickly. The results of my treatment – chemotherapy and herceptin – equally outside of my control. Dr C cannot tell me if or how effective these rather harsh treatments have proven because every cancer patient is different. There are statistics but who amongst us fits the profile? That’s anyone’s guess. The only thing all cancer patients have in common is that there are no guarantees. Every day post-diagnosis is something to be happy for, even when those days are marred by pain, ulcers, nose bleeds, stomach problems, fatigue, insomnia, immobility and drug induced illness.
The way other people treated me has also been outside my control. I’ve tried to remain upbeat, retain a sense of humour and focus on what’s good in life when at times I felt (and thought) the easiest thing would be to give up, accept the misery of the situation and take the easy way out. Taking the easy way out is not really my thing though which is just as well because some of my experiences have been nothing short of shocking. In spite of all this, the sinister presence of cancer and people who appear to have had the compassion and common-sense equivalent of a pre-frontal lobotomy I’m still here, I’m feeling stronger every day and best of all, I’m free.
I hope I’m cancer free but won’t get that news for another 4 years. Even then I won’t be taking it for granted because cancer isn’t that simple. Today my sense of freedom stems entirely from the fact that I no longer have to put up with politics, inflated egos, posturing or positioning. I’m not enslaved in an environment that’s at best noxious and at worst the complete opposite of what it thinks it is. I’m not a burden on the state and neither am I beholden to anyone. I pay my taxes, recycle my garbage and abide by the law – I’m as free as any of us can get these days.
Achieving this new-found freedom hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to give up so many things, accept life won’t be the same again and come to terms with heartbreaking losses that will never be recovered. Important losses, not trivial material things that have no real meaning when all is said and done. Material things can be replaced.
Losing my friends and colleagues, at least from a work sense, has been tough. Finally holding leaving drinks with them last week brought everything sharply into focus. I worked with some very good people and the depth of camaraderie is difficult to walk away from. I was deeply touched by the comments they made, the loss they felt and the things they saw in me that I was unable to see in myself. Last year was far from pleasant, the tail end of the year before wasn’t brilliant either (my mother-in-law died and the circumstances of her death left an indelible mark on my memory) but I was truly blessed to meet such wonderful people and spend even a tiny proportion of my life with them.
Being separated from my best friends and my family for large chunks of time while my life was a merry-go-round of medical appointments, drugs, drugs and more drugs wore away at my soul like sand erodes boulders in the desert. My family and friends persevered even when I was limited to telephone and email instead of seeing them in person; in doing so they helped show there was something worth waiting for when I’m finally allowed beyond the boundary of hells antechamber and returned to my real life. The scary monsters ambushing me from all angles have been counteracted by the depth of relationship I have with my brilliant Dad and a small group of people who stood by me as true and dear friends.
Life has a funny way of driving kindred spirits together and for a variety of reasons last week served as a sound reminder that whatever happens those who are genuine and who genuinely care are never far away. I’m certain there is no need to be dismayed at goodbyes. They’re just a blip in the space-time continuum, a temporary inconvenience and nothing more. True friends endure all the moments, good and bad that go to make up a lifetime. I will always be here for them as they are for me. Sometimes good things come from bad experiences. There really is no point wasting your life being unhappy, dissatisfied or bored because its short, very short. Cancer teaches you that.