A quick scan of my calendar revealed that for the October half-term break there was an absence of red crosses or scrawls under my name. In fact, there was nothing. It was blank, no pen had stabbed the days with letters in capitals and a fury of exclamation marks. There were no notes dictating how I would spend the week. No reminders, no weekly medical appointments and no chemo infusions or chemo tablets. It was a clean page, a fresh start, it was a week that was mine for the taking.
Living For Now
We seized the moment, living for now and booked ourselves a last-minute break to Northumberland in a cosy self-catering cottage. I was feeling claustrophobic and was desperately yearning a new landscape, a change of scene. Northumberland with its soaring hills, pretty villages and dramatic coastline promised to soothe my soul. Plus, it’s vast – unlike Jersey – and where we were staying was remote. The ideal place for anyone seeking respite and recuperation. The ideal place for anyone seeking to escape cancer’s claw.
It was perfect. We spent the week marching up hills. Okay, there was less marching from me. I was always at the back dragging myself up the hill. I would then reach the top of the hill, all red-faced and sweaty, and declare it to be a mountain, much to the amusement of my family who had barely broken into a sweat. We feasted on views that spread out before us like a vast tapestry of burnt oranges, golden yellows and emerald greens. Rolling hills, bubbling streams; towering forests and windswept beaches cleared our heads. We explored castles, ambled down lanes, climbed over gates, dozed in front of log fires, and sought refuge in bookshops and museums when the rain came down. I even found that I was able to concentrate on books again. By the end of the week I was feeling less stressed out and, as a family, we felt like we had been reunited.
For the first time since the start of the year, my mind was focussed solely on my family. I wasn’t retreating behind closed doors to cry quietly. Cancer didn’t dominate my thoughts. Yes, the occasional dark thoughts were still there, and cancer would fleetingly rear its head whenever I felt a niggle or found myself having a day when my bowel wasn’t playing ball. However, I was able to bat the negative thoughts away more easily. I didn’t wake up in the morning with the usual gnaw in my stomach, and I slept, oh, how I slept. Afternoon naps that left me feeling refreshed, and at night I would fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow but, best of all, I dreamt of nothing. There were no nightmares. I would wake up early and nurse my coffee as I watched the sky change from inky black to delicate wisps of pink before finally, a new day arrived with all its promise.
Hope and promise are something that can be hard to find when you are first dealt the cancer hand. A cancer diagnosis rocks your whole life. You find yourself unable to watch anything on the television that is vaguely scary. Who needs a horror film when you are already living in one? You don’t need to watch a film to get scared when fear has become your bedfellow. There is no monster hiding in my wardrobe, no murderer waiting for me down a dark alley. The real monster was living inside my body and there is the threat of its return.
I’m reminded of that monster whenever I get undressed. The scars tell the tale of how the monster had to be forcibly evicted. They are also testament to the skill of the surgeon and that’s what I remind myself whenever my eyes catch sight of the scars that now lace my body. They are also a reminder of how strong I am and how much I’ve been through. I’m constantly taking the negative thoughts that rise to the surface and trying to flip them into positives so that I don’t drown.
Finding The Positives
There are so many positives. Firstly, I am still here – hurrah. My side effects are subsiding as time goes on. I still feel exhausted, but the pins and needles seem to have gone. I now just get numb fingers (and occasionally I lose feeling in my toes) when I get cold or touch anything cold. It’s not unpleasant and it’s not painful, it just feels a little weird. My bowel movements are still erratic. An afternoon tea was ruined recently because I had to make endless trips to the toilet. I’m not sure if it’s food intolerances or just my bowel adjusting to life post-chemo and surgery. However, it could be so much worse. I’m grateful that I have a working bowel, even if it is a bit keen at times.
Living for now and trying to make the most of every moment can be tricky when everything feels so ominous. Niggles, aches and pains now represent something that could be far more sinister. I stay clear of Google as I know that it will only tell me worst case scenario that will lead to nail-biting and more obsessive googling in the early hours of the morning. I’m in a constant battle with myself – “It’s nothing”, I reassure myself. “How do you know it’s nothing? You had a massive tumour in your bowel, you can’t be trusted to know anything”. The other voice screeches in my ear. The whisper of death still follows me around. Sometimes I will be having a lovely time with my family and I will catch a glimpse of it in the corner of the room. It’s a silent passenger in my car and I can feel it glaring at me from the back seat as I drive to pick the girls up from school. It slides into bed with me, coming in between me and Mr C. It likes to surprise me, popping up when I least expect it. I am trying to manage it and I’ve also become very good at putting that mask on. I hide my fears from others but sometimes that mask slips and then I feel really alone.
Living In A Bubble
The aftermath of cancer treatment is like living in a bubble. You are only too aware that something could come along and pop it at any time. I know I must not let this cancer hold me to ransom; I’ve got to live. I owe it to me, my family and the less fortunate ones. I can’t fear the scans, blood tests and colonoscopies. I must adjust; I have to find my new normal. I’m not sure what the future will bring, but do any of us know that? What I do know is that I have to f*cking live, I have to find peace and I have to move forward. Life is too short for regrets and what-ifs.
I have a colonoscopy at the end of this week and I’m ready for it. I’m not going to let it hang over me. I can do this.