Within the last few weeks, I have taken my entire family to Disneyworld in Florida, which was #1 on my bucket list. This was all planned last year, as I know that time and health are catching up with me. We wanted to see at first hand our grandchildren enjoying the wonders of Florida, and it was the beautiful time that we imagined it would be. As soon as we returned, we were celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary! Both massive events in my life, that we never thought we would ever see. My cancer work is leading to many influential meetings and additional international interest. All those years of learning and experience finally taking me to a place I can really affect things for people affected by cancer.
But the conflict in my head continues! Coping with loss is also a large part of my life, losing many friends and connections in recent years. Believe it or not I still feel I am living some sort of nightmare and when I do wake up none of this cancer thing will have happened! But I know it is, each time I look in the mirror, as time and experience takes it’s toll on my features.
I never had much experience in dealing with loss, now it is a frequent occurrence and people come to me to share their issues. I’m delighted to be able to help in any way I can of course, but it does promote thoughts of guilt in my own head. My life now is more fulfilled than it has ever been, with time to do the things I want. Lots of exciting things happening and invitations coming frequently. But thoughts in my head always want to bring me back down.
Even more than ten years after my terrible diagnosis, I am still shocked that I am here doing these wonderful things. How have I defied the odds and why? Why me and not them? Yes, I have lost much to cancer, both physically, emotionally and financially, but I finally find myself in a good place again. At social events I rarely get asked how I am, which is incredible, and rarely does my illness get talked about round the dinner table! There feels an element of freedom from it, but of course we are never actually free.
No one has ever mentioned about the psychological issues, since my treatment, maybe that was a good thing? But until I started communicating with the larger cancer population did I realise that this was an issue for most. I genuinely thought that I was the only one feeling like this. It was something I struggled with in the early years, and thought it would be something that went with time. But it didn’t and got progressively worse. It got so bad that I didn’t want to go out of the house, hard to imagine now, I know.
When I was diagnosed in 2007, I was determined to not let cancer dictate it’s terms to me. Once I had done all the physical stuff I thought the worst was over. Sure, the physical pain has gone but the mental scars still remain. The voices in my head daily, questioning every decision I make. The painful memories returning frequently, when I thought time might have washed them from my mind. Although my memory is getting progressively worse, probably due to old age more than treatment, I can remember so much of that terrible experience as if it were yesterday.
I have had some professional help, and I can say that mindfulness is a tool that I use frequently now. But I can’t help but think about the bigger picture, and those not lucky enough to be able to receive that help. As we all know these resources are scarce in this country and many people just try to cope and struggle on. Of course we have to get on and live our lives, and I have now created a new one, once more full of hopes and dreams, and yet still great ambition. Focussing on the goals can be difficult at times, but I have learned to make a decision and go with it. My gut instincts have served me well over the years and rarely let me down now.
But it is the guilt that still gets me every time. I have been lucky, with the extra time I have been given, and have been able to use it to do things I want to do. Very few are as lucky as me. Cancer has changed me totally, and what fulfills me now is very simple things, but primarily sharing the most important thing I have, time. My family comes first of course but beyond that I have many wonderful friends, who I can now spend time with. The rest goes to the Cancer Community, whether through social-media or face to face during my presentations.
I am determined not to waste a minute of it and will always celebrate the good times, but I just wish I could remove that eternal feeling of guilt!
How has cancer affected your life? Do you experience some of the emotions I have? Please feel free to share your experiences below.