NB: I wrote this post 2 or 3 weeks ago closer to my diagnosis so it may sound very bitter in places! Just putting that out there....
There are a whole lot of feelings and emotions after a cancer diagnosis. For want of a better description (yes, I’m falling back on clichés again) it’s a rollercoaster. Just not as fun. Although, considering my absolute fear of heights and strong aversion to rollercoasters, perhaps it’s slightly comparable. It’s also exhausting. Like a rollercoaster you have to peddle yourself. Despite having one of the most serious illnesses around, I don’t feel ill (although this will be very different once treatment starts!). I just feel exhausted. Mainly due to the insomnia and this sodding pedalo rollercoaster.
I’ve tried my best to expand on this rollercoaster below:
This is probably the overriding emotion right now – The Fear. It ranges from moments of total abject terror to an ever present level of anxiety. Let’s call this Canxiety (see what I did there??). I’ve always been an anxious person, only now I really have something to be anxious about! This Canxiety is ever present at varying levels and quite regularly stops me sleeping even though I’m bloody knackered what with pedalling this bloody rollercoaster.
The moments of total terror hit when they just feel like it really. The most recent one was in the middle of a restaurant when I burst in to tears and just kept thinking ‘I’m going to die aren’t I? This thing is going to kill me’.
They quite often also hit in the middle of the night, leaving me wide awake at three in the morning with my own mortality staring me in the face like some effing terrifying poltergeist.
The Fear is there constantly, all the time. It never ever goes away. I wake up in the morning and the first thing that enters my head is ‘I’ve got cancer. Sh*t. I‘ve got cancer’. It’s the last thing in my head before I got to sleep (although sleep is not that forthcoming right now!). It’s there all the time, ever present, with depressing and anxiety inducing thoughts running through my head like some demonic sodding hamster on its wheel (my brother used to have one of these – its eyes glowed red and made the most awful noise like an animal possessed.)
Every so often I’m also stopped short by the thought that this thing is still in my body. This unwelcome lumpy guest, this invader. My initial reaction was to fall at the consultant’s feet and beg for them to cut it out there and then. I wanted to take a knife and hack off my own boob. I still feel like that sometimes (cue the hiding of the kitchen knives).
I’ve started having panic attacks too. They hit when I least expect them. I won’t even really be thinking about it too much. Then my head starts swimming, I start panicking and I can’t breathe. I also get the shakes and look remarkably like Peter Barlow currently does on Coronation Street. They go off. Eventually.
Everyone is going to die right? But it’s not something you dwell on every day, all the time, hanging over your shoulder like a rather possessive and clingy boyfriend (unless you’re a Goth, I guess). Unless you’ve been given a cancer diagnosis. Then its massive slap in the face, a huge screaming wake up call, it invades your thoughts all the sodding time. And as I said, it’s bloody exhausting.
I feel guilty. A lot. This diagnosis doesn’t just affect me, it affects everyone around me. I feel guilty that at least for a few months I’m probably going to be taking a lot more from my friends and people who care about me than I can possibly give back. I feel guilty that I am going to have to take people up on those offers of ‘if there is anything I can do please just let me know’. For someone who rarely reaches out to anyone for anything, this is going to be incredibly difficult. I feel guilty that I’m not going to be the same person I was before all this shit and worried that people around me are going to get fed up and walk away.
I feel guilty about what this is doing to my parents. How I can see my mum’s heart breaking and can’t do anything to make it better. At no point did I ever envisage this happening. My parents are old age pensioners, my dad's almost 70 years old for Christ’s sake. I should be the one looking after them at this stage in their lives. Yet here we are, with my mum driving up and down the M1 on a regular basis to ferry me to and from my plethora of hospital appointments. It’s not dignified having to have your mum shower you and wash your hair at 32 years old because you can’t move your arm as someone’s had a good old dig in there and pulled out some of your lymph nodes (more about this later). And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot, lot more of this type of thing to come and letting go of the guilt is going to be very, very difficult.
I used to be quite an angry person, although I‘ve mellowed a bit as I’ve got older. But cancer turns you in a massive green incredible hulk. I’m angry right now. You probably wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. But tough titty!
I’m angry about the injustice of it all. At the risk of sounding like Harry Enfield’s Kevin, it is SO UNFAIR!!
I’m 32 years old. I should be thinking about how I can climb that next rung on the career ladder, worrying about how I’m never, ever going to be able scrape the deposit together to buy a property by myself, ranting about the fact that so and so in the office never washes their own cups up, getting excited over the next date with someone a bit special, pondering over whether the outfit I’ve chosen for Friday is a little too over the top for our chosen venue or spying on my ex-boyfriends profiles on Facebook and wondering if that girl he’s just added is his new ‘love interest’ (this is all hypothetical, by the way). I should be having those moments of pondering the nature of existence in a first world problems kind of way – e.g. is this all there is to it? Should I pack it all in and do a belated backpack around the world thing? Or volunteer in some deprived country to help people worse off than myself? Blah, blah, blah. Instead, I’m facing months of gruelling treatment, illness, uncertainty, fear and essentially a fight for my life. At 32 years old. And it’s so, so unfair.
I’m angry at people around me saying and doing the wrong things. I know this is harsh and irrational and cancer is not an everyday occurrence so no one knows really what to say or do when faced with it. I know I wouldn’t have if it was someone else close to me in the same position. But really, I don’t feel like I have the energy to deal with other people’s inadequacies right now. And people who know better than me. That’s really annoying. ‘Well, how do you know you’re going to lose your hair? So and so had chemotherapy and they didn’t lose their hair’. Trust me, I know. I’ve sat up hours and hours reading and talking to other people in the same position. I didn’t just get handed this diagnosis and skip off in to the sunset with the intention of staying in a state of blissful ignorance. Although, I am going to stick a caveat on this and say that I also have a lot of lovely people around me who have been just fabulous and supportive.
I’m angry at life just going on around me when I’m stuck coping with this shit. I’m angry at people who still have normal, cancer free lives. Angry at people posting on Facebook about what holiday they’ve just booked, or what a fabulous time they are having with their BFF at so-and-so’s wedding, or how many weights they’ve just managed to lift or how fucking tired they are. Yes, I know is more irrational, unfair anger but you know what? Life isn’t fair. If there was ever a time when I should be allowed to have stupid, nonsensical, being mad at things I shouldn’t be moments, then this is it.
I’m angry at the doctors who sent me away last year. I’m angry at myself for trusting them and not pushing to be sent for further tests. My consultant says she doesn’t think the lump has been there for a year as she would expect it to be bigger, but that really we won’t ever know. This bad boy doesn’t always do what you expect it to. According to my oncologist, tumours can be growing for up to 8 years before you actually feel them. Shiiiiiiiiiitttt!!
I’m angry at stupid bloody ‘breast cancer awareness’ games on sodding Facebook. Really? How is posting cryptic statuses about using your boobs getting you out of speeding tickets supposed to raise awareness of breast cancer? Maybe I should respond with ‘well at least one of yours isn’t trying to kill you’. What a load of effing toss. Donate to Cancer Research or spend 10 minutes checking your boobs whilst you’re laid in bed this evening and text your friends to remind them to do the same if you really care about breast cancer awareness. Don’t sit there using it as it gimmick to play silly, vacuous games with your mates on Facebook.
I’m angry about what this bastard disease has already taken away from me and what it may take away from me. My health, my fitness, relationships, friendships, possibly my fertility, my social life, my hair …… my future as I saw it.
Cancer is a bitch. Its sneaks in and f*cks everything up. It steals all your plans and the way you saw things panning out. It creeps up behind you and rugby tackles you to the ground. And then give you a well-aimed kick in the head for good measure. I’ve had many ‘why me?’ moments. ‘What did it do to deserve this?’ etc. etc. I haven’t always looked after my health the best I could have (I was a university student, come on! I lived off pints of snakebite and black and Super Noodles), but ironically my diagnosis has come at a time when I am the fittest I‘ve ever been. I stopped smoking and started running two years ago. I ran a number of races last year, including two half marathons. I recently smashed by PB for the 10k distance. I run about 5-6 times a week. I can’t remember the last time I had a cold. I have so much more energy than I used to. Cancer isn’t picky. It’s completely indiscriminate. It doesn’t care who you are, where you’re from or what you did. Bit like the Backstreet Boys, only considerably more lethal.