It’s twenty-two months since I was diagnosed with aggressive HER2+ breast cancer. Since then so much has changed. How many of the changes might have happened anyway, even if I’d not been exposed to the world of the cancer patient? I know for sure the treatment related changes would all have been avoided but I’ve been exposed so there’s no escaping the fact that medically I’m a recovering cancer patient and have the scars and related issues to prove it. In three years time I aim to be classified (medically) as an ex-cancer patient, I hope the scars will fade and the side effects will subside by that point in time.
The term relapsed cancer patient is not something I aim to become familiar with so the two-fingered salute is for you epigenetic factors, oncogenes and transcription errors. Keep the hell out of my cellular processes because you are not welcome there or anywhere else for that matter. My finger nails are almost as good as before and I intend for them to stay that way. The same goes for my hair.
Whilst some of the changes of the last twenty-two months have been unavoidable, others have been a conscious and positive choice.
I enjoy meat but am now almost totally vegetarian; extensive research into the implications of cheap meat production led me to conclude the risk to my future health outweighs the fleeting pleasure that comes from a decent steak. I really don’t miss it and if I have the occasional unquenchable yearning then its a rare enough event to have no influence on my genetic make-up.
I once enjoyed wine (and beer) but again the potential risks involved in more than the minimal intake coupled with months of being alcohol-free seem to have curbed my liking for it. Even if I decide to have a glass I don’t enjoy the taste these days and alcohol is expensive so the money I save helps pay for other things.
I sleep more. Deliberately. The science of cell malfunction is complicated but we know for certain sleep deprivation leads to increased levels of cell mutation and cell mutations can lead to cancer. Gone are the days of 5 or 6 hours sleep per night. I also get out more, into the garden or walking (in spite of ongoing joint and nerve issues that serve to remind me of Taxotere and Herceptin) and I take vitamin D because most people in the Northern Hemisphere never get enough sunshine. I work hard but not endlessly, relentlessly or in the completely self-sacrificing manner of my pre-cancer life.
During the week (and at weekends if he wants company) I live with my son. We’re 40 minutes from the university – far enough to put the day’s events behind us when he returns from lectures and I return from work. Living together today doesn’t make up for the years I spent working in distant cities staying in soulless hotel rooms, but its still special and we’re at a point in our lives where we’re friends as well as mother and child. We live a quiet, harmonious existence laughing at the silly stuff and talking through any serious matters until we find a way forward. We study together, or rather he studies and I try to keep up so I can help with revision. With focus and good final exam results it looks likely he’ll realise his dream and go to medical school in 2015. I’m pleased he retained this ambition in spite of the carnage of the last two years.
My life now centres on living in the moment. I appreciate the time I have and the people I spend it with. I only fret over things I can do something about and I do something about them to negate excessive worrying. I keep no pacts with fate or destiny and I don’t assume some bright and brilliant future lies in wait for me. I accept it will be whatever it turns out to be and trust I’ll find a way to deal with it as required. In spite of everything that’s happened I don’t resent cancer; it’s just something that happened. That doesn’t mean I’d welcome it back into my life and I now know the same is true of excessive hours, an unhealthy work-life balance, sleep deprivation and regularly being away from home.
It seems some good can come from almost any situation, including those that derail the life we once knew. Twenty-two months of change has driven me to chose the road less travelled. Though there are bumps along the way, I suspect its a happier and healthier road overall.