For many, a cancer diagnosis is an unexpected “gap year”, hopefully, never to be repeated. A year where our courage and strength is tested and we learn things we never knew about ourselves. Today Reader Avril Patton joins us to share her feelings about her one-year diagnosis anniversary.
A year ago this month I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It has been a whole year since this all began.
When I think of a gap year, I think of a student heading off on a journey around the world before they face the real world of work and grown up life. They are taking time out of ‘normal’ life to have new experiences, grow and learn about themselves (and/or maybe booze and have fun!). I feel like I’ve just had a gap year, with a difference. I’ve had time off work, rested, learned a lot about myself and have had loads of new experiences. The difference is that it hasn’t been that much fun. There was hardly any booze involved however there were lots and lots of drugs, they just happened to be chemo, steroids and anti nausea meds with antibiotics sometimes thrown in “just for fun”.
This gap year in my life was thrown at me without a choice. That gap was filled with all of the interventions and treatments that go with a cancer diagnosis. I was facing IV chemo, radiotherapy and surgery. My life as I knew it stopped and I became a cancer patient overnight. My whole reality changed. My new reality became sickness, anxiety, panic, medications, more medications, no taste, a lumpectomy, lymph node removal, nausea, hair loss and baldness. All of this together with a huge sense of loss for my health, work, family life and mostly my sense of self. Everything felt different. I was different. I stopped working, I looked different, I didn’t socialise a lot and was able for a lot less at home and with my young children.
At one point during the last year, I was angry at my body. After all, it had let me down by not being able to fight off those first few tiny cancer cells that went on to develop into a 5mm breast lump. How could my body let this happen and why didn’t it let me know that something was wrong? Well, it probably was letting me know something was wrong but I was too busy and caught up in life to listen. Being diagnosed with cancer or any serious illness certainly makes you stop and listen! My whole life had to slow down and change.
Throughout all of the changes, treatments and interventions, my body and mind have come back stronger than ever and although I knew I’d get through it all, I didn’t know what the aftermath was going to be like or how I’d be. I thought I’d feel sad, anxious and upset on the diagnosis anniversary day – diagnosiversary! You know what, I needn’t have worried as I felt happy, healthy and even a bit giddy. I went to a yoga class and it felt amazing as I stretched and relaxed this body and mind that has seen me through so much. I decided I was going to embrace the day.
I am now on the other side of that diagnosis and that feels good.
I even had a haircut, well more a trim. My hair has come back but is darker, kind of curly and with more grey than before but it’s hair! Yay!
I suppose what this anniversary really means to me is that I’m still here standing stronger than ever. Every so often, I glance back over my shoulder at last year and shudder. I am grateful for the opportunity to reassess my life. I never believed so much strength and resilience was sitting there inside me or that I was ok with being vulnerable. I do still have days and nights when the fear kicks in. I know this is normal and it’s manageable. It’s so amazing to me what our bodies and minds can endure whilst still allowing us to function.
So, my gap year was very different in many ways to a college student’s, however it has definitely been a year of change, transition and learning. Now I’m back from it, “normal life” has resumed. Normal may be different but there are still children to be cared for, bills to be paid, food to be prepared and everything else that comes with normal life. This time round, I’m more conscious of enjoying life, to not always rush around, to take and make time for nice things and that the hoovering can wait!
We never know when the rug of life will be pulled from under us. Live and enjoy life, that’s what it’s there for!
For those still new to a diagnosis or going through treatments, please know that you will get back on track with yourself and will have a new insight into the absolute amazing strength you have within you, as well as having dishes to wash and a laundry basket to get through.
Thank you so much to Avril for sharing this piece with us. Avril has also written for us before about finding calm during cancer treatment, you can read that piece here.