Can you remember what you were doing on this day last year? Apart from all this pinchpunchfirstofthemonth thing and mourning the end of summer? Probably not. I can. A year ago today, my world fell apart when I was told my cancer had spread to my lungs and was now incurable. The last 2 and a bit years have been crazy and there have been too many things happen to keep track of but I can remember like it was yesterday every detail of September 1st 2010. Rewind slightly…
Having had my mastectomy in July last year when I was diagnosed for the second time, the plan was always to do the left side first, then do the right side as a preventative – due to the BRCA1 gene thing, there was and still is, a strong chance it would come back in my ‘good’ boob so as hard as it was to accept, it was a no-brainer to get rid of both and hopefully put an end to this nightmare and stop it from ever happening again. The thought of losing both breasts was not a particularly rosy one but when you’ve had cancer twice in the space of 18 months, you don’t really have any other choice. So I was due to see my surgeon that week to discuss dates for more surgery. The reconstruction I had is a big op and involves pulling a big muscle from your back round to the front so they’re generally not keen on doing both sides at once, hence the few months gap between ops.
On the day of my appt to see my surgeon I get a call from my breast nurse to say it’s been cancelled and I needed to see my oncologist urgently. She wouldn’t be drawn on what it was about, just said to get to UCH as soon as I could that week. I’d had a CT scan the week before so alarm bells did start to ring slightly but I assumed they may have seen something that needed a closer look but would turn out to be nothing. I’d had a CT scan in July that was clear so there was no reason to think this one would be much different. I go to a lot of appts on my own but for this one I asked my friend Lisa to come.
We got on the bus to the hospital and I remember we were discussing Cheryl Cole (anyone who knows Lisa knows this is fairly standard). I was wearing a pink and grey t-shirt, Lisa in denim shorts. On the way, we were speculating what it could be and jokingly talked about a brain tumour. I don’t know why but we definitely weren’t serious. We get to the hospital and after waiting a little while, get called to see the oncologist who was in a rather fetching electric blue jumpsuit. The first thing she said: “I know you know this isn’t going to be good news…” and after that it suddenly gets quite fuzzy. Nothing can ever prepare you for what follows, talk of prognosis, life expectancy etc. This was never, ever supposed to be part of the plan. I’d had cancer twice already, maybe I should have considered this was always going to be a possibility but in all those 2 years, not once did I ever dream, not even for a second, that this could happen. I thought they would just sort it out, it didn’t even occur to me that to get cancer a second time in such a short space of time was a v bad thing. It was just a headache, an inconvenience more than anything.
I do remember lots of hysterical sobbing and that Lisa walked out of the room for a couple of seconds. She came back in of course and to this day I can’t imagine what having to hear that must have been like for her. I was told to come back next week as I would be starting new chemo and that was apparently that. We sort of stumbled outside, then the phonecalls started. Lisa called my friends Liz and Katie who immediately came to the hospital and shepherded me to the nearest pub where we spent most of the day getting smashed trying to process what we’d heard. Before that though I had to make the call home to my parents. Of everything that’s happened to me, that was by far and away the worst thing of all. I have never heard my dad cry like that and I never want to again. He was literally heart-broken, I think we all were. That was September 1st 2010.
So here we are, a year on and where are we now? 365 days later and far from my world ending, I’m still here, still fighting. I have a new job i love (with the same company who have been unbelievably brilliant to me), a new home and of course someone completely wonderful in my life who never fails to surprise and delight me on pretty much a daily basis. I never dreamt on that awful day I’d be where I am now. I thought I was going to die and I’m very far from that. A year on and I feel no different physically. A bit more knackered, a bit more creaky but I’m also a year older so I put my complete inability to stay awake past midnight or to be able to watch a film without falling asleep a third of the way in down to that. There have been lots of disappointments, lots of heartache but it’s not that constant agonising emotional pain it was in the first few weeks and months, it’s more of a dull ache that some days I don’t feel at all. It doesn’t occupy every waking thought any more. Of course it’s always there but I have learnt, somehow, to cope and to find a place for it in my life without it completely taking over. I’ve learnt to be calm (no easy feat for me as anyone who’s known me a long time will testify), I’ve learnt what gratitude means and I’ve come to love it. At times in the last year I’ve been happier than I ever have been because I am literally grateful to be alive and getting up in the morning. I’ve learnt what’s important, I’ve developed that sense of perspective I spent so long looking for. I’ve realised the true value of friendships and my eyes have been opened to the true concept of love for the people around me. I finally, FINALLY know who I am and I wouldn’t swap that for anything. I embrace honesty above everything which is something I could never do but is now a code I absolutely have to live by, no matter what form that comes in. I’ve found courage, to somehow drag myself through whatever needs to be done but to also admit when I can’t do it any more which for me is the ultimate measure of being brave. I don’t live in shame or fear any more, they have no place in my life and it wasn’t always like that. I have seen the absolute best in people and loved them all the more for it. Put simply, facing my own mortality has led to a better life for me and I’m grateful for that. I wish this hadn’t happened, with all my heart, but the processes I have had to go through have been good for me and made me a better person than I could have ever hoped to be. I have no idea what will happen another year from now but all in all, if I have another year like the one I’ve just had I’ll be happy with that. It could be a million times worse.