The dawn of a new decade has led to the inevitable slew of social media posts. Everyone is on Instagram sharing their greatest achievements of 2019. They have also been setting their stall out for 2020: declaring big dreams for the year ahead. They are all full of excitement and anticipation.
A New Year
I get it. I too understand the significance of a new year. It’s like when you buy a new notebook or diary. You know that your hands are the first to open the pages. Nothing else has tainted the blank, crisp and new pages. The pen hasn’t yet sullied the paper with its ink. Those clean pages symbolise hope. I used to love the dawn of a new year. The promise that lay ahead. However, this year I’m keeping it simple.
The start of a new decade seems to have prompted the world to be even more reflective than usual, or perhaps I’m feeling sensitive to it all because this year I don’t want to look back. Let me be honest with you – I don’t want to reflect. 2019 is like a festering wound. One that I’m too scared to prod for too long. My highlight of 2019? I stayed alive.
Where Is My Highlight Reel?
My highlight reel may be short but don’t get me wrong, there were some other highlights. There were some lovely holidays (It’s amazing how the cancer card can suddenly loosen the purse strings a little), but I was on those holidays because of cancer. There was the Race for Life and the money I raised, the work I did for Cancer Research UK and an award. Perhaps they should all be on the highlight reel too. The problem is I can’t really remember them. It’s like I’ve blocked them out of my memory. Last year is all a bit hazy and blurry. It could have been the drugs or it could be I blocked it out in order to survive.
I’ve always said that I never wanted cancer to define me. I didn’t want to give it that power. I didn’t want it to be the one in control. I resented that it dictated everything I did. My life became confined, my world shrunk. There was no room for spontaneity. My calendar marked the cycles: the painful chemo infusions that caused my veins to collapse and made me want to scream out in agony; the daily toxic combination of my chemo drugs that had to be gulped down as I prayed I wouldn’t vomit them back up; the gruelling side effects that sometimes tethered me to my bed. No, there is no long highlight reel for 2019. I’m just grateful I’m still alive and that (fingers crossed) I start 2020 with what appears to be no sign of cancer.
2020 is the year I became free again but as I’m rapidly finding out it’s not that simple. It’s no longer the drugs that trap and torment me, it’s my mind. It’s only now that I am really processing what I went through. What we went through as a family. Cancer is still very much here. People, including me, assume that your life will go back to normal once treatment is over. But, how can anything go back to normal when you have squared up to mortality and eyeballed it? Plus, we might not be able to see the cancer any more but it could still be hiding, waiting to surprise me again.
I veer from wanting to make the most of every single day, to wanting to hide away from everyone. I sometimes wake up crying, yet I can’t remember what I was dreaming about.
Life moves on, that’s what I tell myself. I feel everyone around me is pushing forward; I’m desperately trying to move on but I feel like my feet are stuck in mud. I torment myself daily. Why am I not fit and healthy again? Why does everything feel so hard? When will I lose the weight I put on? When will I be able to look at myself in the mirror again? I know that I need to be kinder to myself but I’m bored of cancer dominating my thoughts. I want to return to a life free of cancer.
I feel so guilty for feeling this way. There are people still dealing with actual cancer, there are people who will have to deal with cancer for the rest of their lives and here I am, in an incredibly privileged position, and I’m still moaning.
My emotions often feel like they are on an out of control rollercoaster. I’m constantly taken by surprise. I will read on social media that another young person has died from bowel cancer and I will end up sobbing before raging at the world for the unfairness of it. I will watch a film and there will be a clumsy cancer subplot and I will suddenly be back in the dark place. It’s not just me though. The girls sometimes get upset when they see cancer mentioned on the television: Oldest can become anxious, Youngest still has nightmares about me dying, and a nice cuddle on the sofa with Mr C can abruptly end when cancer comes up in a television programme. We are doing everything we can to stay positive. Mr C and I are doing everything we can to protect the girls. We haven’t mentioned that there is an unknown, that I will continue to be monitored closely. Cancer has changed me, and I always tell myself that it has changed me for the better, but has it really?
You can swear that cancer won’t change you but of course it will. It’s a life-changing, potentially life-robbing event. If it didn’t change you there would be something wrong. I’m angry that cancer has put me and my family in this position, that my rose-tinted glasses have been ripped off. I feel I now see everything for what it really is. There have been casualties. A fragile relationship didn’t stand a chance against cancer. You soon learn who is there for you. It’s been hard at times and I know that Mr C has struggled. The partner, wife or husband of a cancer patient is often the forgotten casualty of cancer. However, we have also been surprised and amazed by those who have gone above and beyond for us.
It’s not just relationships that cancer changes. It makes you question everything around you. Previous decisions, traumatic memories that you hoped had been buried forever, everything and anything. From the most mundane to the more serious. Cancer brings it all bubbling to the surface. It makes you ask what really matters in life. Your priorities change. You are also a little less optimistic, a bit more jaded. I now see a world that is fraught with danger. I now know only too well how your life can change in an instant. Danger is never far away. It’s lurking everywhere.
I worry about the girls at school; I worry about Mr C at work. Are they okay? I worry about what I am feeding them. I worry that I’m not a good enough mother or wife. The worry is there constantly. Rippling, ebbing and flowing. I fight to keep it under control, to not let the anxiety dominate my thoughts and actions. But it’s hard. I feel exhausted.
I know that with time it should get easier. I’ve only just emerged from cancer, I’m still grieving for my life pre-cancer, but already I can see glimmers of light. Yes, this cancer might have robbed me of 2019 but it never stole hope, even on the bleakest of days. For now, I need to accept that cancer is still a part of my life. I’m still processing, I’m still coming to terms with it all. I got through 2019, I will get through this too. One positive thing I learnt from last year is that I’m a lot tougher than I previously thought.
I can do this.
I will get there.
We live in a society where we can feel the pressure to be positive all the time and that can be toxic. We all have good and bad days. We need to acknowledge them and ask for help when needed. I feel that now is when I really must be brave. I have to find me again, I have to find my new normal.
So, what’s my hope for the next decade? That I stay alive. That I get to see my children grow up. That we are all happy and healthy.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?