It is coming up to my cancerversary – 3 years. This is my first of this year. I say first because I have multiple – the day I first went to the Doctor about an ominous lump in my breast, the date of that fateful mammogram/ultrasound/biopsy, the date I got my diagnosis, the date of my first chemo, the date of my last chemo, the date of my surgery, the date I got the news I was NED (no evidence of disease) and the date I finished radiotherapy and therefore treatment.
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to pick one and celebrate or commiserate that one in particular, or whether it is normal to keep track of them all. My brain has all of these dates logged and stored, ready to be unpacked and picked over at any point. Nearly a whole year of memorable dates.
3 years on and these dates are burned into my memory. As I approach each date, my insomnia gets worse, I consistently mentally scan my body for anything that might be amiss over and over again. Is that a lump? Is that right? Could it be…? I am moody with those around me and feel a weird mix of emotions – anxiety, sadness, relief, happiness to see another year and another memorable date pass.
When I first finished treatment I used to think about cancer all the time. As time has gone on, I obviously still think about it a lot, but I have other things to think about too. So whilst it is an intrinsic part of who I am and my personal identity now, it is just one piece of the puzzle, not the whole picture. So when these dates approach, and cancer once again dominates my thoughts, it is disconcerting.
What do I think about?
Apart from the anxiety about recurrence, which is never far from my thoughts at the best of times, my feelings around this time are conflicted. I mourn my old self, and I’m sad at everything I have been through and how it has changed me, my loved ones and my life.
However, I also feel happy that it is over, that another year has passed without incident and I also feel a small sense of pride and achievement – I went through all that and I’m still here, still standing. I say standing, this is metaphorical, because to tell you the truth, on cancerversary days I struggle to do much more than sit on the sofa and binge watch box sets.
Maybe I should try to do more. Celebrate life. Drink champagne. Go climb a mountain and revel in the wonders of modern medicine and the bodies incredible ability to heal. Go to the beach and scream at the ocean. All good plans. I’ll probably stick with the sofa, and I’ve come to realise that is okay too.
My family won’t notice the date, that’s not to say that they don’t care, they do. Deeply. It’s just that these little milestones don’t factor on their radar, the significance of an anniversary of a doctors appointment will feel an odd thing to focus on for them. Maybe it is. For them the main thing is that I had cancer and now I don’t. Reasons to celebrate.
If I were to mention it, the response would probably be “really? Was that 3 years ago?” Possibly followed by the offer of a cup of tea. Maybe I’m not giving them credit, and to be fair to them, I don’t let them know that it is taking so much of my headspace. I also should stress that I don’t in any way hold this against them, and I don’t think I would want a fuss made anyway. It seems like such a silly thing to be thinking about and I’m not sure I want give it any more attention than it already has.
So I’ll just mark the date off quietly in my mind, maybe put out an Instagram post into the cancer community – the people who will understand this mental picking of a still raw scab, and distract myself with a duvet day, a good box set, a glass of wine and something made primarily of chocolate. Then I’ll pick myself up, get on with all of the other things that make up the rest of my jigsaw puzzle of life, and focus on getting to this time next year.