April 14th, 2020
| Survivor: Breast Cancer
The thing that frightens me the most is that I am not scared of dying. I do not mean I want my life to end, and certainly not anytime soon – I still want to travel through Africa and learn bachata and get a promotion and write a novel and fall in love (one last time!). I have accomplished so much in these past few years before, during and after my diagnosis and treatment. I have, however, come to terms with the fact that I may not ever have biological children, I may not get married, cancer may come back (and statistically once you’ve had it, you’re a more likely candidate for recurrence). But a move towards a more mindful approach to life has helped me to not panic about the future. Not in an apathetic manner, but that is a fine balance.
I have always searched for reason: it’s in my character, a logical approach to everything. But when the doctors couldn’t give any explanation, not even a tiny hint as to “why” … it threw me off. I was 28 years old, travelling the world, in love, following a career path I loved, and turning heads for a promotion. I questioned everything – was it because I had lived in Indonesia, was it because I ate too many Timtams, drank too much, had too many stars-and-tomato-sauce sandwiches growing up, did I spend too much time in the sun, or not enough time in the sun, was it because I had been on the pill for 10 years, or because I had only dated smokers with a trail of second hand smoke in their wake… for this there is no reason, or at least not one I will ever come to know.
I struggled the worst once my treatment was over. I had no direction, I had no understanding, I had no life left. I was taking hormones that threw me into the depths of depression, then angered me in the simplest of upsets. I had lost control – I was throwing cakes across the kitchen because the icing wouldn’t set, and I was pulling over my car sobbing hysterically when someone cut in front of me on the highway. I was utterly lost, and no one could possibly understand. To everyone else, I was cured. I struggled to find happiness and meaning. I felt like a stranger to myself. My soul had been broken. For lack of a better expression, I was dying to live.
But those broken pieces of my soul? Well, it turned out they weren’t lost forever. Because I started to recognize them. They were scattered all over the world. And I vowed that if they wouldn’t come to me, then I’d go and find them myself.
And I did. I moved across the world to London, and I was offered my dream job. Life started to fall back into some semblance of sense. Not everything, mind you. I was redefining myself, finding the old pieces of me and aligning them with this new me. I had to work around the lingering effects of chemo-brain while back in a job that depends on details. I was self-administering my monthly Zoladex alongside Tamoxifen tablets, and continuing to manage their combined side effects. I was in a new country with a new healthcare system that I had to put all my trust into. I now had a new “pre-existing condition” that I had to mention on documents and insurance forms. I had left behind my family and friends. And I was working out the reasons again – why was I doing this, what was the point, what did I want, who was I now?
I remember blurting out at the pub to my closest work friend that I’d had cancer – I felt like it was a part of me, a part of my story, and I didn’t know how to define myself without that chapter.
Whenever I met new people, I was caught up in how I could gently introduce the fact that I HAD CANCER into the conversation without shocking them, as I thought that was my normal, that was me, that they couldn’t possibly understand me without knowing this crucial fact. This began to fade as I lived more life between me and cancer, as I realized I was more than a diagnosis or an illness, or even just one experience.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.
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