Monday, August 15, 2011


Lately I have been wondering whether the last 8 months have changed me.  Objectively I would expect that a diagnosis of cancer at 42 would change me significantly. 

There is no point dwelling on the nasty changes like increased neuroses or bitterness or resentment. (Mind you sadly there has been a bit of that floating around the house this year).  No, I am thinking more about positive behavioural and personality changes. 

And yet I am still not sure really if I am that much changed inside.  I continue to surprise myself - first, on diagnosis I didn't cry and scream for a week in manner of Bronte style heroine with heart broken by cruel man.  Second, I feel so different physically (much better, in fact) that it is a bit odd that on the outside I appear to be the same person (albeit with some Hair Issues).  

When I finished chemo I got a lot of little booklets from the hospital about how to cope with this new period with no treatment (excluding Herceptin, which continues till next April). 

If all the pundits are correct, this is a hard time, where you feel empty and a bit directionless, and even depressed.   The treatment provides structure and something to think (or even complain and moan) about.  Life with no routine treatment means that a large gap opens up, which is there to be filled with horrible thoughts of the future and possible recurrences of cancer.  Every little twinge makes one think 'arggh shoulder cancer, or stomach cancer or foot cancer or lung cancer or mouth cancer or eyelash cancer..........'  My surgeon calls this hypervigilence and it is very common in post chemo patients. 

In the manner of a controlling lawyer I have developed a 6 point action plan to try to get me through the next little period. I have implemented most of the steps, and it is really helping.  I will post on that next. 

But even then I still have moments when I despair just a tiny little bit, and think why on earth has this happened to me?  But those moments then go, and I look at the blue sky, and think that things are probably okay.

These are the areas where I think that I may have changed. 

1. I smell the flowers.

The absence of picking flowers in my garden has been annoying me for sometime.  But if there is one thing my garden can produce in spades it is Daphne.  Here it is looking flush and smelling lemony.

My husband occasionally said to me during chemo 'please don't rush around' and I would say 'you have no idea how completely incapable I am of rushing around.' And now I am still in a rush free zone. Yes I am busy busy of course isn't everyone, but I am deleting things madly, walking slowly, and smelling the world outside. 

2. I feel more empathy.

I think I have always been a reasonably caring person, but now I can feel others' pain more tellingly.  If you have been pregnant you will recall how the tears start to flow when you see images of famine in Africa or lost puppy dogs on TV.  Well I am like that the whole time now.  This of course is the true meaning of compassion - that feeling of sharing the pain, of connectedness.  I still feel raw to the touch, I think, and that makes me feel things really intensely.

I was given quite a nice camera for Christmas. I have barely used it but am now starting to experiment with super close ups of flowers.

3. I am more aware of how I spend my time.

I am aware every day of how many books I still have to read.  The pile on my bedside table is towering, and that doesn't even include books on my Kindle. 

As an aside, can I recommend another book to you all?  If you read one book this year please make it this one.  In Anti Cancer, Dr David Servan Schreiber talks of his brush with cancer and what he has learned since about leading a life which repels cancer in all ways. This is not just about diet, although that is important (he mentions specifically green tea and turmeric and many more), but about ensuring despair and helplessness (not necessarily stress) have no place in your life. 

So with all these books to read I am trying to rationalise wasted time.  And sadly that does mean less time on the Internet.  I just can't justify it anymore.  I am still visiting you all, just not commenting as much.  I hope you all forgive me.

4. I am less interested in controlling my children's behaviour.

I still have some way to go on this one, but I am learning to pick my battles a bit more.  I have a very strong willed son, and it is exhausting trying to get him to conform all the time.  And what's more, I think it is bad for me and causes me anxiety. 

So now, if they want ice cream for dessert when they haven't eaten 100% of their dinner, then frankly, that is fine by me. 

(son having roll into ball tantrum in the street. One of his specialities)

Do you know what happens when two stubborn strong willed impatient and argumentative people live together?   It is fireworks and that has long been the way for me and my son.  But now, I am trying to learn new ways to manage him.  I am still disciplining him, but trying to be so much calmer in doing so.  

As an aside this is how I get the children to eat meat.  Slit open some little pork or beef sausage and fry gently with some butter and chopped garlic, pressing down with a fork to create smaller bits.  Add half a tin of chopped tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Serve with spaghetti and Parmesan. 

5. I want to make the most of things

During chemo I bought a new car. I suspect some people thought that was a bit strange, but once it happens to you, you realise that life doesn't stop just because you have cancer.  You still have to live, work and love.   You can't say 'oh I might die so I had better not do that'.   In fact it is the opposite. 

Next on the list is a little shack with a sea view, something we have always wanted to do but avoided for reasons to do with debt.  Do you know what I say to debt now? I spit on it.  Or laugh at it.  Conservatively and with a fair interest rate of course.

In an ideal world my beach house would be Scandinavian, a bit grey and brooding, salty but with clean lines.  Here is something to really live for:

6. I don't feel as sorry for myself as I used to.

Someone left a comment here about the 'downward social comparator', which is about realising that no matter what you are living with, there is always always someone going through something worse than you.   Like the young woman in my meditation class with three small children who has been told her cancer has spread and that there is no hope for her.  She is on chemo and a drug trial indefinitely, which is of course code for as long as she lives.   Or the woman I met at a dinner with a slipped disc and such chronic back pain resulting from a failed operation that not only can she not lift or hug her children but she cannot even get out of bed without taking 7 painkillers.

To me, these situations make my recent life look reasonably okay in comparison.  And they certainly make my regular Sunday Afternoon Folding And Putting Away 10 Loads Of Washing (something I was a bit apt to complain about) a walk in the park. 

What about you?  Have you been changed by an event? 

(Images (1) Pinterest (6)(7)(8) My Scandinavian Retreat)
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