I’m back! It’s been far too long and I’ve missed this little space. But you know what it’s like – life takes over, kids, relationships, health, the daily grind. And, to be honest, just being inside my anxiety ridden head often feels like a full time flipping job.
Eight years on from my initial breast cancer diagnosis and three years after finding out I that I needed chemotherapy once more, I think I can finally say that I’ve come to terms with being a long term cancer patient. How strange that is. Who would have thought that life on what the medical profession like to call ‘maintenance’ treatment could ever feel reasonably okay?
“It’ll become routine for you.” said my new oncologist as I sat whimpering in front of him on the day of my very first appointment as a new patient at the Royal Marsden in Fulham. “You’ll come in every three weeks and I promise that it won’t feel as daunting as it does right now.”
I did not believe him. I refused to believe him. I didn’t want to believe him. And it took me a very long time to accept that he was right.
I found this diary extract the other day. Written a few months into the new ‘routine’ he spoke of with such confidence. I remember sitting in my chair, hooked up to the IV drip and the words flowing in the way they do when you’re writing from a hot and angry core :
The Royal Marsden Hospital, London. Tuesday November 16th 2016.
Such a fucking contrast. I am angry at the contrast. The interruption that cancer brings. I’ve got things to do. Lots of things. I’ve got kids to cajole and a new husband to love and ambitions I really want to fulfil. I’ve got a life to live. Fully. As fully as I can and you – you just get in the way.
The nurses are always pleasant here. They all read from the same pleasant script. As do I.
Yes, I’m feeling fine thanks. No, no problems since last time.
Leave me alone I want to shout. But I don’t, of course. I smile politely. I’m pleasant back.
They do this thing at the Marsden. Once you’re in the chair and they’ve hooked you up they insist on showing you a piece of paper that details your treatment. They almost shove it in your face, right under your nose. They read out the weird generic name for your particular medicine that you don’t recognize, tell you how many milligrams of the stuff they’re about to administer and which cycle this is and blah blah blah. Then they hold the little glass vial full of the magic juice about an inch from your face just to make sure you can see it and god, every single time I have this unpleasant little fantasy of just knocking it out of their hands. And that’s not me. That’s really not the kind of person I am. But that’s exactly how it makes me feel. So fucking angry.
I still think they’ve got it wrong. Got the wrong person. I’m well for god’s sake.I’m okay. I feel fine. Look, shall we just try it? Shall we just give it a go and see what happens? If I got up now, just unhooked myself and walked away I honestly think I’d be okay. I could will myself to be okay. I really think I could.
I willed three babies into being. I’m good at this manifesting stuff. I’ve got a proven track record.
That feeling lingers. The feeling that they’ve got the wrong person. Surely, I’m okay? Remission for three years, the treatment doing it’s ‘thing’ of keeping me well. Who’s to say I wouldn’t be well without it?
But right now, today, I’m not so angry. I’m in a good place, life feels positive and hopeful and god, my list of ambitions and goals is growing by the day. But then that makes me edgy too. And more than a little nervous. And the gremlin on my shoulder pipes up once more.
‘Don’t get too happy, Em! Don’t walk with too much of a spring in your step! Cancer has taken your down twice before, it can happen again! Do you hear me? It can happen again.”
Because you see, I was feeling good last time, just like I am today. In the days and weeks before I found out the cancer had returned. I’d never felt better. So, just like life on maintenance treatment took some getting used to, I’m still getting used to life feeling good. Consistently good. Long may it bloody last.
It’s good to be back. This time, I really want to stick around.