I was going to write this blog exactly a year to the day I was diagnosed with secondaries, thinking it would be kind of cool. Well, I missed that window by nine days so pack away the fireworks, this is ‘just another blog post’:
A little over a year ago (Thursday 28 June) I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. It was a hot summer – a little bit like this one’s turning out to be – and I think I went temporarily insane for at least a month. I disposed of tonnes of possessions (mostly just clutter to be fair) and clothes, thinking I wouldn’t need any of that stuff anymore. I was utterly relentless. My friends and family were the grateful recipients of many cast offs and I was on first name terms with all the guys at the recycling plant.
It was overwhelmingly important that I get my house in order before departing for the afterlife. (Look, I can’t even go away for a weekend without making sure my house is clean and tidy, so an eternal trip is going to be a big deal.) It was also a physical struggle because I was in excruciating pain most of the time and unable to do much to help with the clearance. My kids and their dad provided most of the muscle and my parents, both in their eighties, were bloody diamonds. Thankfully they survived their stay.
When I started treatment at the end of July, I calmed down a lot. I imagine there was a collective sigh of relief the day I declared my garage was empty enough. Then one day I said to my mum, “I think I should buy a hedge trimmer.” she looked at me, surprised and replied, “What’s the point?” And in an act of juvenile defiance, I bought one! A week later I bought a pink foot stool. A new normal had begun.
The past year has been hard, and scary and sometimes very lonely. My house is thankfully still furnished, but I continue to suffer from bouts of anxiety, and agoraphobia and occasional mania. I was always a big worrier, but the things that tip me over the edge now are often really trivial. I cried in Sainsburys recently because I couldn’t open up a plastic bag! I’m not sure I can go back there without a disguise. I have even wished, in gloomier moments, that I would just die and ‘get it all over with’ because knowing that death is inevitable yet having to live with the uncertainty of ‘when’, is a kind of madness that I can’t explain. And before some smart arse says: “Ah, but none of us knows when their time’s up!” – trust me, it is not the same.
In spite of all the crap, I’m still here, very much alive and making plans. I signed up for a book arts course back in January, even though I worried I might not live to finish it (I’m half way through and loving it), I’ve ‘partly’ booked a trip to Hong Kong at the beginning of November (I have to wait for my next scan results for insurance purposes) and I have plans for a joint exhibition next October, with my trusty Skipper! I’m also definitely going to see my eldest child get wed!
I have so many things to look forward to; I feel well at the moment, I’m making lots of art and I’m living again. I owe a massive, massive thank you to my family and to so many truly amazing friends for helping me get this far. My future may not be certain, but it isn’t quite as intimidating as it has been.