It’s been twelve months since I had my first ever free mammogram with Breastscreen and discovered that I had triple negative breast cancer in my left breast. Three tumours quickly became four. My tumours were doubling in size every three weeks. It’s been quite a year!
Today has been emotional minestrone.
I am so grateful that my Breastscreen letter arrived when it did. So grateful to the staff and all of the wonderful people that have cared for me during the last year. I have a new (and profound) appreciation for the Australian medical system.
I feel like I’m in bonus time. These are the days I nearly didn’t have. Without a routine mammogram and the skill of the technician that performed it (she repositioned me. If she hadn’t we’d have missed it) I would be dead.
I had a few tears today.
I’m crying for all the pain, for all the days when I wanted to run, screaming, into the distance. I’m crying for all the things I had to put my poor body through in order to get here. I’m crying for the distress all of this has caused my family and my closest friends. I’m crying to let the sadness out.
I’m also so happy that it makes me cry. I know it seems bizarre but in may ways, the last twelve months have been one of the best years of my life. Here’s why.
1. I knew I was loved but I had no idea how greatly I was loved. I have never felt more loved than I have during this last year.
2. I knew my husband was a good man but I had no idea he was going to be such a hero. His ability to make me laugh through some of the bleakest days has been my light.
3. I knew my daughter was brave and resilient but I had no idea how strong she would be. In circumstances where other people would have curled up in a ball she pushed on, finished one degree and started another. She never traded on my illness or used it as a reason to walk away, even when some of her friends pulled out of university. Through all of it she’s loved and supported me as only a daughter can.
4. I knew my Mum was amazing but I had no idea how important her love and support would be to me. She’s so often turned up at exactly the right time. She’s simply refused to accept my early death as an option. She has been fierce in her belief that I would beat this. She still is. You really don’t want to mess with her when she gets like this.
5. I have found out who my friends are. The cliche is accurate. Some people backed away and I really don’t bear them any ill will. A small group stepped up and did everything they could to support me. Some of my friendships have become closer, stronger and more precious to me than my garden. Thank you to all of you.
6. I have made some beautiful new friends. Some of them are fellow cancer survivors, some are part of my medical team, some are members of my yoga class and some are people that I have met online. I’ve made more new friends in the last twelve months than in any other year of my life. Thank you to all of you.
7. I always knew I was strong but I had no idea I was this strong. It’s a good feeling.
8. I always knew I was optimistic by nature and inclined to be positive, but this last year has given me a deep appreciation of what a difference that makes to every aspect of my life.
9. I take much better care of myself than I used to. This is my body and I live in it. When it’s gone, so am I.
10. Yoga is not just my weekly exercise class any more. It’s as essential to my day as showering and eating. I have first hand experience of what a powerful vehicle it can be for helping my body and my mind to heal.
11. I have a very clear idea of what my values are and how to live my life in a way that’s consistent with those values. All of the trivia has fallen away. I don’t miss it. I know what really matters.
12. I am at peace with my own mortality. There’s something about people that have confronted their own death. Our eyes are wide open. We get it. Nobody gets out alive. This brings a kind of focus to my life that is possibly the greatest gift of a life threatening illness.
13. I have no unfinished business and no bucket list. I was very happy to discover this. It’s not that I don’t still have things that I would like to do but I don’t have any regrets or a list of things to tick off in order to justify my existence. I have already lived a full life and achieved things I am very proud of. If I had my time over I would probably leave everything exactly as it was, because all of it led to here and here is a really great place to be.
There will be a lot more tears before today is done. Happy tears. Sad tears. Tears for myself and for all of the other women going through all of the same emotions as each year rolls by. Tears for all the people recently diagnosed and all the people yet to find out they have cancer. I want them all to know that what’s ahead of them will be hard and painful and terrifying and anyone that tries to tell you otherwise is lying. But it might also be one of the best years of your life.