I was given so many books to read during my initial cancer treatment, mostly very uplifting and motivational. It will give you some insight into my feelings at the time that the only one I related to was titled … “It’s not like that, actually“. By Kate Carr. As in, it’s not the best thing that ever happened to me. It was not a blessing as it forced me to re-evaluate things. It was not my aha moment. It’s not something you want to chat to your kids about. And if another person or book told me that I think I would scream. I wasn’t feeling it. And I felt guilty that I wasn’t feeling it. This lady was the only one who seemed to really get it, get me. It’s not like that actually. It’s bloody awful, bloody unfair, bloody lonely, bloody scary, bloody confronting, bloody terrible for children, family and friends…. it just is. Well. It just was for me. And for Kate Carr. But writing why me? a few days ago, I realised that now, 4 ish years later I’m finally getting what they meant. By the blessing. But I’m also getting how much of a strategy for living, avoidance is for me. I thought about this a lot at tennis today. We were talking about mortality and how unexpected tragedies, especially involving loved ones, suddenly makes you face your own. And how most of us would rather never have to. And how being forced to can actually be a blessing. Because you have to acknowledge the impermanence of it all. The reality of what is and what will be. The beauty of what we have right now. And not to take it for granted. To hug a little tighter, to love that much more, to tell everyone how you feel more often, to be kinder, to be more grateful. To stop playing avoidance. And to find the time to discuss that will.
Mmmmm. I have now been accused of wanting to control. Well, this is nothing new. See control freak. I have been accused of being non Christian. I never professed to be anything but one that believes in good. I have been accused of being self absorbed. Well this is my blog. About me. I think we all are a little bit, and should be if we are on a journey of self discovery. I have indirectly been accused of not liking criticism. And no, I don’t. But then who does. And I do believe that those who criticise should look to themselves rather. But I especially do not like being criticised for sharing my views. For sharing me. I am not for one minute saying they should be anyone else’s views. They are mine, based on my life thus far, my journey thus far. My journey towards understanding why I am so controlling, so insecure, so quick to ignite, why I got cancer, how scared I am, how I try to be a good mother and wife and friend, but fuck up. Because I am not perfect, and if you know me, if you care enough to understand me, you would know that is the one thing I have battled my whole life to reconcile. The fact that I am good enough. So, this is all about being honest. And sharing that. And if that makes you uncomfortable, you have many choices. You could choose to no longer follow this arrogant, self absorbed, controlling, areligious African Queen’s blog. (Oh yes, I have been accused of being an African Queen. I am proud of being African, I am proud of where I’ve come from, I do not believe I am better because I am African, I just am) Or you could choose to ignore the stuff you can’t relate to and think about the stuff you can relate to. Or you can choose to realise we all react differently based on our own realities. This is just mine. Not arrogant, not judgemental, quite self effacing and actually quite honest. I fuck up all the time. I forget my kids. I speak badly to my family. I envy my friends. I like people to look at me when they talk to me. I focus on what I don’t have rather than what I do have. Hence my blog. MY blog. I love to hear everyone’s views, but I am not keen on being bullied for thinking the way I do. How about you sticking your neck out and standing up for what you believe. My dignity is intact. Is yours?
Why me? Actually why not me? I’m big on taking responsibility at the moment. Sometimes life is cruel. But it is not someones else’s fault or responsibility. It just is. And the responsibility is with you. We all have a choice. In how we respond. And to learn from it. And to change. To be the change. I am also very much about moderation. Some might call it fence sitting. Well, thats them. For me, its keeping an open mind, and not being absolute about anything. I often envy those who believe so absolutely in something, that for them there is no other way. I am thinking a lot about this especially in relation to cancer. Not only because I’m heading home soon for a reality check, but also because a friend of B’s is suffering. His partner has no time left. She has throat cancer that they treated themselves by attacking the acidic/alkaline ratio in her body. Some would say it was stupid, some would say it was brave. We are not here to judge but to learn. But it is very very sad. I threw everything at my cancer. I was too scared not to. Well, first time round I refused to accept it. I went for opinion after opinion after opinion until I got the opinion I was able to deal with. My holy grail. It was all about control driven by fear. But, I didn’t give up. I also didn’t learn. Second time round I decided not to fight so hard, because the very thing I fought against first time round came to be. And then some. So, second time round, I chose to accept and do what was required. I still didn’t give up, but definitely relinquished a bit of control. But I still didn’t learn. I can only now be thankful that the opportunity to move here came at a time when I wanted it least but needed it most. And I can only now be thankful to B for seeing what I needed. Only now can I begin to take some responsibility. Not for manifesting cancer, but for not putting me first. For getting ‘caught up in superficial achievements, goal-hitting, and daily drama’. For not looking after my wellbeing. We all have cancer cells. It is our responsibility not to create an environment in which they need to grow. To look after ourselves. To take responsibility. I chose to deal with the symptoms, but only now am I dealing with the cause. Every single day there are moments, big and small, when things happen we don’t really like, stop for a minute and before you blame someone else, take responsibility for your part in it. It’s actually quite liberating. I haven’t yet got to the place where I see my disease as a blessing. But I’m getting there.
I had my breast reconstruction on valentine’s day 2008. So, it’s different for me now. Today 4 years ago I was given me back. Well, a slightly different version of me. A forever physically altered version of me. The me they could sort of bring back. A patched up me. The other old me is gone forever. And I don’t mean that in a sad way. I loved that me then but I love this me now. It’s taken me a while to realise that. That was then and this is now. But then, I didn’t get it. I honestly thought if I got my breast back, I would be whole again. I could wipe my hands on my jeans, that’s that and it would all be gone. If I could have two grateful posts today, and no I can’t because those are my rules, this would be my second. I am grateful to my wonderful plastic surgeon, Dr Gereth Edwards, who knew me better than I knew myself and who didn’t put up with my crap. The world is poorer for him no longer practising due to an unexpected stroke. And especially because his priority was not people like me, but people who couldn’t pay, who had no hope. He was a saint. He was a young saint. He didn’t say what I wanted to hear. He was so brutally honest, I hated him at first. But he made sure I understood I would never ever look like that me again. He knew I simply couldn’t comprehend the enormity of it all. Of my disease. I fought so hard and he never let me win. And then I surrendered to him. And here I am. Scarred, but me. A new improved me, who loves her new patched together breasts. If I didn’t think some of you might be offended, and my family mortified I would have shared a pic of my man made breast and my recreated nipple from my tummy, with you. My previous breasts have been bared on all the best beaches in the world, on a chesterfield with some of my agency colleagues (did I mention I can’t resisit a dare) and breastfed my precious children. I miss them. I shared them. I took them for granted. But these new ones, I am even more proud to share. And eternally grateful to Dr Edwards for. Mostly because I know now, I am so much more than the physical me.
I am overwhelmed today. By B, by Kate and Jem, by my wonderful family near and far, by my friends, by the absolutely exquisite day today, simply by it all. I am so grateful that today I turned 46 yet I felt like a kid in a candy store. Overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounds me. (And yes that does include my new MacBook Air).
As many of my friends know I do not shy away from talking about my cancer, showing my scars, my man made breast, or sharing my ongoing treatment. I honestly believe fear is our greatest enemy, and if someone, anyone can take comfort in my oversharing, then it’s worth it. There is hope. There is no need to be fearful. But, it is lonely. No-one as much as they try can understand the feeling of utter dread the first time cancer and your name appear together in print. If it’s written down it can’t be removed kind of thing. No-one can take away the fear, only you. Who knows what the ultimate outcome will be. What will be, will be, but every single day, put your best foot forward, embrace life and do what is required. Share and talk and laugh and cry, just don’t hide. Fear will win, if you let it in.
So ….where I am now in my treatment? I had my mastectomy on 18 June 2007 (our 13th wedding anniversay, how funny is that?), I had my last chemo session on 3 January 2008 and my breast reconstruction on 14 February 2008 (valentine’s day, how funny is that?) My cancer was stage 111, recurrent, aggressive and on the move, so with no intervention the likelihood of me being here in 5 years time was significantly affected. The goal is being here 5 years after treatment. 5 years. Hilarious. Shit. My 5 years is next January. My cancer is estrogen receptive which means cancer cells accelerate in growth when they encounter estrogen. Clearly it’s best if there is no estrogen around. Today I had my sixteenth zoladex implant, which is a slow release pellet that is implanted into my stomach every 3 months with a very fat needle, it’s main function being to put and keep me in menopause. Because the ovaries are not the only source of estrogen, our adrenal glands are also culprits, I am also on Femara, an aromatase inhibitor, a tablet I take daily, which blocks this. The worst side effect of all of this for me, as B and the girls will attest to, is a firey disposition. If anyone snorted at this point, implying what’s different, piss off. Okay, I’m just damn moody, and very quick to ignite. But luckily there’s a pill for that too. I know many believe the power is within and not to rely on all this stuff. I do too. I have come to understand how strong I am, and how much I can and we all can handle. But I also know I have too much to lose.