The big learning curve; what cancer has taught me one year on

One year on from writing my first ever article, what cancer has taught me, an awful lot has changed. For one I no longer have cancer, hurrah! For two I no longer have a womb, boo!

Even though my time with cancer is done (fingers fucking crossed) it is not something that has left my life and it never will. The after affects to my body, my mind and my happiness will last my (hopefully) long lifetime, and I am still learning how to live happily and fully with my new damaged body. One year ago after four months of hiding away from the world, I finally felt ready to tell people outside of my inner circle that I had cancer, which was a big step for me. In fact it was my second step on the ladder of grief, and the one where I left denial behind- well kind of. I wrote my little heart out with a nice glass of Malbec and a cuddle from my cat and cried, cried at finally facing my fear head on, organising my sad sad thoughts and at the release of tension that I so dreadfully needed. I spoke about what cancer had taught me, which was mostly unpleasant at this early stage, that I was lonely, that a lot of people are shits and that I needed to change to cope by being kinder to myself and learning to ask for help. One year on and here’s whats new-

  • Cancer doesn’t stop at remission

There gets a point during your treatment when people start asking ‘so you’re all okay now’. I guess what they really mean is ‘so you aren’t going to die now?’. Because, you certainly aren’t okay when your treatment finishes. In fact being ill and having a treatment plan gives you focus, you know what you can do, you can hope towards a goal and your mind is still a bit like AH WHAT!?! and not thinking much further than your next appointment. When this stops, you’re just left, with no more plan, and more importantly no more distraction. Your support stops and people forget, they move on, because you know, you were ill for ages and now you’re ‘okay’. Your left with time and space and finally your brain actually starts to process what you have been going through, and things get much harder.

The thing is cancer and cancer treatments break your body in a way that is irreparable. These changes are different for each and every individual and for me they stem from having a hysterectomy. And with the removal of my womb stole my chance of having biological children. I was always very maternal, I was that girl cooing over every baby (even the ugly ones). Babies would get brought into the office and my colleagues would immediately look at me to swoon and go in for a cuddle. Now I’m just bitter and twisted, which I hate myself for. I don’t like pregnant people, they make me cry. I don’t like yougn babies, they make me cry. It’s irrational and bitter and mean but I just can’t handle it, they’re just the worst, sorry not sorry. I hope one day I can be gracious and kind and happy for lovely lucky women, as I more than most, truly understand what a beautiful thing pregnancy is. But for now, nope– really bloody jealous and really bloody bitter, and I just really bloody hate them all.

I am plagued with my hormone imbalance, it leaves me in chronic pain, my joints ache daily and my mood changes on a whim in a way that is fully out of my control. Sometimes it pushed me into a deep sadness that sees no reason, and sometimes it fills me so full of angst and anxiety that the simplest things make me want to rip my hair out and cry. I have not yet learnt to deal with this well, and tend to just retreat into my hole of a bed with my cats and wait it out, which is just no fun for anyone.

  • Fellow cancer patients are some of my most favourite people

I LOVE cancer patients- sounds like the most grotesque fetish of all time. In a very genuine heart felt way I do love people that have had cancer, they are some of the most incredible people I know. It’s an odd thing but you become part of a very supportive, inclusive, strong and basically kick ass community. There is a network of people online, and obviously they exist irl, that support each other whole heartedly. You feel you know them, as you share something so personal together, and through the mutual understanding of the situation you feel very close. I sound insane, but I have heard this from lots of people, Chris Lewis calls us the Twitteratti!

I do know lots of these lovely people in person too and we ride the horrible wave of cancer together, through the good times and the bad. We share our relief and elation at each other’s good news. We share our pain and grieve together, simply because we understand. We get just how bloody awful it all is, and that makes us care, it would be hard not to. Some of my cancer friends are the strongest, boldest, most proactive amazing people I have ever met. There is no one quite as formidable as a passionate, empowered and angry as hell cancer/ex cancer patient. My life is now full of these wonderful people, and they are some of my dearest friends. I don’t know how I would have coped without them, and I owe them all a great deal for their continual support, encouragement and inspiration.

  • Cancer isn’t all bad

Cancer has taken so much for me, so very very much, but there is no denying it has opened many doors for me too. I could rabbit on about having a new view on life, and being all enlightened- kind of true on a good day. They call it post traumatic growth. I’ve certainly been traumatised, and I’ve certainly grown. Ignoring all that hippy shit, cancer has given me something to care about, and people to care about. I have always been passionate, opinionated, and a ‘do-er’, but now I have so much more to do that is really worthwhile and that has changed my life enormously. I care so very deeply about people I have never met, I feel their pain, place it with my own and grieve for their loss. I now see ways I can help people, to make an impact on the world and the people who need it (if only a few).

This new drive has focused me and led to me changing my life very dramatically. I have changed my home and my career, I now have a job I truly love and think I am good at. I have met so many fantastic people, some of which are dear friends. I have had so many opportunities open up to me that wouldn’t have been possible before. I discovered a passion for writing and within this year from writing my first article I have had pieces in some of my favourite magazines (The Debrief, Refinery29, Huff post, NetDoctor), I have written for some fantastic charities and now have a job where I get to write for actual money!

  • Normal people are nice to cancer people

Having a cancer card to play is handy sometimes. People are always so nice to you, like always, well apart from that guy on Facebook who commented under a Manchester Evening News article calling me a cunt (thanks mate). Not saying I whack out the cancer card at every opportunity, but sometimes you need a boost, and cancer is the ultimate power up. I usually play my cancer card for the greater good, you know, to help me write and raise cancer awareness. It’s a positive continually reinforcing circle, of cancer boosting cancer in all the best ways.

When people find out you have had cancer they are usually sympathetic, which is fair, they totally should be. People also tend not to be too critical of anything you do that’s ‘for cancer’, which is just great for me because most things I do are ‘for cancer’. So casually mentioning it here and there does tend to make people kinder, and reminding people to be kind to each other is a great thing.

Also, telling people you had cancer and watching the shock on their face is fun!

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