Recently someone queried the sub-title of this blog: “The Ups and Downs of Breast Cancer? Surely there can’t be any ‘ups’!” they said.
It’s a fair question. It is true that having cancer and wading through the mire of treatments and side effects is not what most people would describe as one of life’s highlights. However, often in surprising ways, this cancer thing is presenting me with some wonderful moments, thoughts and experiences which could most definitely be filed under ‘U’ for up.
Friends. Their loving support is my number one joy. I have always known I could lean on my closest friends, of course, and my illness is bringing out the very best of their love and support. But because of my illness I have reconnected and reunited with old friends, enjoyed the deepening of casual friendships, connected in new ways with friends who have been through cancer, and seen neighbours turn into friends.
My appreciation of nature and the beautiful countryside around our cottage has increased in recent weeks. It might sound cliched, but every flower that comes out in my garden, every vegetable seed that turns into something edible in our veg patch, every sunset I see across the fields, every time I watch a woodpecker on our bird feeder or witness the rare sight of a barn owl hunting over the crops… each one of these is an ‘up’, and in a far more extreme way than before my diagnosis.
This disease is a strange beast and plays tricks with your mind. Sometimes I feel completely detached, removed from it; as if I am floating above myself looking in on a life that I don’t recognise. At other times, I feel more connected to my life, to my body, to my heart and soul than ever before.
Both these states of mind have helped me look at my life in new ways and with a new perspective. Having cancer can’t help but change you – maybe in a small way, maybe in a major way. I can already feel that I am different from my pre-diagnosis self.
Most of us know precious little about our own bodies. Having a serious illness turns one into an armchair medic. I now know so much more about my body and how it works than I ever did, and that has got to be an ‘up’. Plus I am learning to listen to it, really listen and act on what I hear. Like many people, I have been a bit of a martyr to life in the past: working harder than I needed to, not resting enough, taking pride in being busy, busy, busy, feeling like I have to keep going otherwise guilt would set in. I took my health for granted, as most of us do.
I had a mini downshift a couple of years ago when I parted from my beloved magazine publishing company. I miss it, but it was the right thing to do for my own well-being, and life has been sweeter since. This new cancer-induced hiatus is another chance to re-mould life into an even more beautiful shape. And if that’s not an ‘up’, I don’t know what is.