I’ve been looking at the mastectomy wounds on my chest today, wishing they would heal. I’ve been thinking that I want to get back to my life, back to being healthy, back to normal.
But what is normal?
Things are never going to be the way they were before I was told I had cancer.
I was a cop for twenty years so I saw more than my fair share of death. Some of it was sudden. Some of it was violent. I thought I had a pretty good handle on the idea that our lives are finite and we are all going to die one day.
Until it was my life we were talking about. Suddenly my own mortality loomed up in front of me. I hit my head on it. I fell down in front of it.
When my Dad died of bladder cancer at 58 people commented on how young he was. I sometimes thought about celebrating my 58th birthday and raising a glass to my Dad, sad that he was no longer with us.
I’m fifty two.
Suddenly fifty eight feels like a long way away.
By a peculiar coincidence, if I make it to 58 my chances of living longer and remaining cancer free will be good. That’s the thing about triple negative breast cancer. It’s more likely to kill me in the next three years than other types of breast cancer but if I can make it to five years my odds improve dramatically.
I’m never going back to that blissfully ignorant state where I just assume I’m going to be watching my grandchildren finish high school. These are my as yet unborn grandchildren. I may never meet them.
The plans that my husband and I were making for our retirement have taken a whole new direction. It seems those property investment decisions were not nearly as important as we thought they were. Our focus is much closer to now. One of the great gifts of cancer is that the notion of mindfulness, of being in the present, sinks into your bones.
I notice details. The light on a drop of water suspended from a branch in the garden. The creases at the corners of my husband’s eyes. The smell of my daughter’s hair. I soak it all up. I breathe it all in.
I am greedy with my time. I find myself furious at the telemarketer that wants to sell me a life coaching course and irritated with the web site that takes too long to load. I have no patience for queues. Okay, I’ve actually never had any patience for queues but lately they infuriate me. Time is all we have. Time is all any of us have. Every day we make a thousand tiny decisions about how much of it goes here and how much of it goes there. How we spend out time says everything about who we are. Words mean nothing. Actions mean everything.
Do I really want to spend two hours arguing with my sister on Facebook?
Everyone is getting used to the way I look without breasts. I decided not to have reconstruction and to opt for what would heal the fastest. It’s been two weeks since my mastectomy and I’m already doing yoga. Next Monday I’ll be back at class. My chest is tight and uncomfortable, as my surgeon said it would be. I’ll be healed soon.
Well, sort of.
Some wounds can’t be seen on the outside. That loss of security, that blissful ignorance about my own mortality, that sense that life is just going to stretch on and on and on forever; that’s never coming back.
Which is not entirely a bad thing.
Cancer has taught me what I value (and what I don’t). I have a whole new appreciation for my beautiful husband, my wondrous daughter and all of my amazing friends. I really understand the importance of love, and kindness, and just taking time to enjoy life. Really.
Cancer has humbled me. I hold my opinions lightly, having had so many of my old ones shattered by cancer. I am less certain and less opinionated. This is a good thing. I have less time for the dull and wilfully ignorant and a greater appreciation of the compassionate and the charitable.
And my Mum. How can I even begin to explain how I feel about my mother’s bravery and strength and humour, not just because she’s been with me through all of this but because she’s already been beaten black and blue by cancer. She watched it kill my Dad. Slowly. I know she has days that she’s frightened for me, and fears me facing that slow death of gradual loss. And still she smiles and hugs me and brings me plants for the garden. She cries in front of other people. She smiles and laughs when she sees me. She understands better than anyone that cancer has changed me.
I am a better person.
I hope to live long enough to prove that to all of the people that have done so much for me, meant so much to me and brought such joy to me when everything seemed dark and bleak.
I hope to remember all of the hard lessons. I hope the grief and the pain will fade with the scars.
I know what matters now. My goal is to live a life consistent with my values. To be authentic.
Or just to live.
That would be good.