No one tells you when to celebrate your ‘cancerversary’. Is it the day of diagnosis, the day of your first surgery, the day of your last surgery, the last day of treatment? I think it’s really the day of diagnosis, but for good measure I’ve waited until after the date of my last surgery, last year.
‘Survivorship’ (as the time after cancer is commonly called) is, in the beginning a little tough. Admittedly I’m only at the beginning, so I can’t really comment on how I’ll feel in time, but I can tell you that the five months which have passed since I’ve finished active treatment have probably been more emotionally and physically taxing than my actual treatment. I’ve been reflecting on just why ‘survivorship’ can be a challenge and I think it all comes down to the need to adjust to a new normal. I’ve written many times about feeling normal. Actually though, I feel so different to the old me that there is no normal. It’s all just a bit weird. And trying to adjust and ‘be kind’ to myself can sometimes be a little frustrating.
There are lots of changes which have been positive post cancer. An increased focus on wellness, fitness and diet has resulted in me being fitter, lighter and generally happier than I was this time last year. Tick, tick, tick. But then there are the cognitive changes, memory fog, achy joints, hot flushes, a lymph-y arm, endless physio appointments etc. which aren’t all terribly fun. All of those things are by-products of surgeries and the drugs that I’m on (exemestane and zoladex). And while I didn’t find any of those things particularly troubling before I started back at work, I must say they often present a challenge during the working day.
For example, I have recently developed a lymph-y arm. I don’t like to call it lymphadema, and in any event, the physio isn’t quite sure if that’s what it is, but that results in practical implications like having to wear a compression garment, make sure I am moving around at work frequently, trying to stand at a standing desk instead of sitting all day. All things which, of course, are very manageable. But they’re also different. In fact, the way I do my job is now generally quite different and certainly the number of hours I can spend sitting at my desk has changed dramatically. So much of the last few months has been about figuring out the work part of my life – a lot of why I think I was good at my job was because of the sheer number of hours I spent doing it. Compare that to working three days a week and you can only imagine the adjustment that has been required…
My last thought for today is about the ever increasing number of women who are being diagnosed with breast cancer. On Tuesday as I sat at the hospital waiting for my monthly zoladex injection and port flush, I read that new statistics project that this year 48 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day in Australia. That’s apparently 5 more women every day this year than last year. And that is, frankly, unacceptable. Everyone will tell you that more woman are surviving breast cancer than ever before, but from my perspective, it would be better to avoid breast cancer entirely rather than survive it. Cancer changes your life indescribably – it changes you physically, mentally and emotionally. Maybe the conversation that we all need to be having now is one about what we can do to ensure that less women are being diagnosed than more. I have pretty firm views that too much stress, a shitty diet and not enough physical activity are all working against us. But that’s a story for another day.
For today, I’m just going to count my blessings. They are many. And, as always, I am so very grateful for life.