Recently, I was asked via Formspring, the "ask me anything" website, how it felt to be a cancer survivor. This got me thinking and I have subsequently been self-analysing ever since. Am I a cancer survivor? The truth is, at this stage I still do not know. I have some way to go before I am discharged by the hospital and am still undergoing preventative treatment. This doesn't mean that my outlook is negative or that I am not optimistic for the future, I most definitely am, the issue lies in confidence. I have to stress, that I am not generalising, cancer is a very personal journey and this is just how I feel. Others are affected to varying degrees, all of which are completely normal.
Physically, cancer is devastating. When I look at my body and the changes inflicted upon it by cancer, I am still incredibly upset. It is something I can never escape. Every time I look in the mirror, I see the scars from my initial surgeries and the subsequent reconstruction operations. At my lowest moments I see ugly mutilation, at my best, I see that they have faded a lot and that I had a great surgeon. Nonetheless, they are scars that will never fade completely. I am so thankful that I am happily married and that my husband loves me, scars and all. Some of the damaging effects of seven-months of chemotherapy are still with me, my hair grew back, but the weight I put on has not all gone yet and I still can't play the sports that I used to enjoy as a result, but importantly, I know I will get there.
It is psychologically, where cancer is much more destructive. That is where cancer wins as far as I am concerned. I don't think I will ever get my confidence back to the level it was. I was a feisty woman, a tough career girl, who climbed the ladder and thought nothing of presenting to conferences and meetings, taking on the Directors at Board Meetings and fighting my corner. Now, I sometimes turn down invitations and hide behind others because I have lost the courage that I once took for granted.
I can pinpoint and track back every insecurity to my cancer. There are two periods in my life, BC and AC, Before Cancer and After Cancer, almost everything goes via that filter.
Not all changes have been negative, I think that in some ways I am nicer now, I take less for granted and have my priorities firmly set. In the BC days I would have been more ruthless and would have played the political game more. AC I value principles and honesty much more and I look for these in the people I am lucky enough to call friends.
My family and friends are the people who have got me through this. My family, especially my husband have been amazing, putting up with the emotional roller-coaster that accompanies a cancer patient. There are periods when I will be fine and even days when I don't think about cancer; then there are periods when the effects of the cancer are apparent and I have to fight the desire to just curl up and hide away.
Thankfully, I also have the most amazing friends. They rallied round when I was desperately ill, came to the hospital, cheered me up, stayed with me for days, looked after the children, held my hand and let me cry about my fears and worries, one even drove to see me on the day he was released from hospital after a road accident. Just being there for me, then and still. Even now, it is the little things, that they do that mean the world. For example, I realised recently that I have no female friends who would even think about flaunting their cleavage around me - not that I have ever asked them not to, but as one of them said, "It is something that friends would think about, without being asked and without asking if you are bothered or not." It is little things like that, that remind me of how lucky I am. (In all honesty, until pretty recently it would have upset me enormously, but until that conversation with my friend, I didn't realise it.)
It is impossible to cover all the little ways that my life is different, but if you ever ask me to go somewhere and I give a flimsy excuse, this could be why. I'm sorry, it's not you, it's me, I'm not the girl I once was and I miss her. The future holds all manner of possibilities, I am hopeful and optimistic that I will, one day, be ready to take on the world again, and win.