One year ago today I had my final radiotherapy treatment. Number twenty of twenty. This was the end of my so-called ‘active treatment’. Nine long months, from surgery, through the nightmare of chemo, to the relative calm of radiotherapy. And then no more. No more daily, weekly or monthly hospital appointments. No more being poked, prodded, pricked or poisoned.
One might think this would be a cause for celebration but I didn’t feel like skipping out of the hospital, clicking my heels together in a joyful dance. My husband and I went to the beach with our dog that December day last year. It was cold, blowy, empty. We needed the peace and solitude of a winter beach. We stood on the sand, hugging, crying quietly with relief.
Friends said ‘I bet you’re glad that’s over. Now you can get on with your life’. But it wasn’t ‘over’. So, so not ‘over’. Maybe, after the hurricane of cancer has ripped through your life, it is never ‘over’. Body, mind and spirit – all were storm-damaged. Not wrecked beyond repair, but in need of time and tenderness to begin their recovery. So, what felt at the time like an ending, turned out to be a beginning. The start of my life as a post-canceree.
The past year has brought its own lows – the intense post-treatment fatigue, the frustrations of a brain fogged up from chemo and cancer stress, the aching joints caused by the drug Letrozole that I will take for five years, a couple of terrifying ‘Is the cancer back?’ scares and, last but not least – and in fact probably most – the emotional struggle to accept, absorb and assimilate the fact that I’ve had cancer.
On one level, of course, I know I’ve had it but on another deeper level, I have struggled to believe it. I want to grasp it, own it, hold the concept of it in my hand and my heart but I haven’t yet been able to. Does that make sense? My mind has been in turmoil at times. I have, by turns, pretended it hasn’t happened, and been convinced that it has returned with a fatal vengeance. Neither of these extremes are the real reality of the experience.
I may not yet have fully digested my disease and my diagnosis, but this much I do know:
I feel glad to be alive. Every. Single. Day.
I give thanks for still being here. Every. Single. Day.
I see something that brings me joy. Every. Single. Day.
I don’t care if this sounds like a Pollyanna-esque cliche or a thousand inane Internet memes. If I have learned nothing else from the past 21 months, I have learned the joy of being. Even before my illness, I was pretty fond of life but my cancer experience has increased this exponentially. Now, even when I am having a bad day, I am glad to be alive to have that bad day.