Since mid April 2018 when doctors explained me my treatment plan, I put all my energy and focus into getting through keeping my life. I didn’t want Cancer to interfere to a greater extend than the treatment would require. I did my very best to keep active socially, professionally, as a mum, as a wife, as a daughter or sister. Of course, it is a bit naive as the treatment takes some space but I welcomed it as part of my new life, not as a burden.
When I completed the chemo cycles, I got ready for radiation and was still dealing with heavy side effects. Honestly, looking back I don’t think I realized the big chunk of the treatment phase was over. Half way through radiation, I started looking a bit more ahead and projecting myself in a longer timeline that today or tomorrow. Strange enough, this period was the most difficult for me.Read More
Stopping treatment was scary
First, people around me were happy and started telling me everything was over but I wasn’t ready for it. Going for treatment is actually reassuring. You do something to heal, to avoid relapse. The end of treatment meant leaving my fate into the hands of the universe. Insha’Allah as we say here, it won’t come back. This is quite tough to accept. The wait-and-see approach is not my cup of tea. I remember asking my Oncologist to do more chemo. [For a quick rewind, targeted treatments and hormonotherapies have no effect on my type of cancer (triple negative).] Had you ever heard of someone begging for chemo? I didn’t feel I had completed the treatment but stopped it. That was scary.
Then, karma made that I coincidentally reconnected with people I had lost contact for few years but had recently lost loved ones to Cancer (children and spouse). I could just empathize. I could understand part of what they went through but being a patient is probably easier than a caregiver. We had sincere emotional conversations but it didn’t scare me. Some people had advised me against to protect me but every single patient knows what could be the end of the cancer journey. If karma had put them back in my life it was for a reason. On my side, I felt more than ever the urge to live to the fullest and give back. Be grateful. Contribute. Maybe in a way, deserve my fate.
Also, it is difficult to go back into a certain normality and see people around you wasting their life. See how many people are complaining for small issues, putting all their energy into activities or jobs that they don’t truly enjoy or take pride of doing, sacrificing today in the hope of a good tomorrow. I am not stupid, we all need an income but when it is at the cost of (mental) health the situation needs to be reassessed. Cancer gives you so much perspective that it is difficult to care again for small matters. Everything seems insignificant.
Fearless or almost
Last, Cancer was a step in my life and changed it. I know I tried to minimize disruptions but first the first lesson on the happiness journey is to welcome positive changes. I can’t say a Cancer was positive however the impact of my life was. Let me explain, going back to your life afterwards is not easy. After slaps in the face like these, you have a different perspective and your past life might not suit you any more. Not that you fundamentally changed, just that some of the concessions you had done over the years are now unacceptable.
That was my case, I liked my job but I wanted more. I didn’t know what exactly however it was just fulfilling some of my aspirations but not enough, not all of them. Suddenly, I was more scared to go back to that life than risking to reconsider it all and be open for what the future would bring. Fearless or almost.
Work in Progress
I decided to follow my intuition and trust my future. Today, I am work in progress, under (re)construction.
- I started working seriously on The Cancer Majlis while ongoing radiation treatment, few days after reconnecting with my former colleagues. I launched it very soon afterwards.
- I authorized myself to take some time off to reflect and digest that chapter. I discussed few options at work. I sincerely was ready to resign if needed as I knew it was vital to step back. Everything but depressed, however I needed to take the time. Thankfully, we could agree on a sabbatical leave.
- I searched for training courses that I had thought of registering to few years back without having the guts to do it. That would occupy part of my sabbatical. I loved the idea of challenging myself and stepping out of my comfort zone.
- I slowed down. I go more often out for lunch, coffee, dinner with friends. Working or not, rich or poor, we can all do that.
- I planned to resume hobbies I had left aside during my sabbatical. I am back to sculpture. Santa brought me brushes and watercolors. I always said I would try. Who cares if I am good at it or not? Art therapy time!
- I traveled 10 days alone. Walked the streets, went to museums, cinema, saw my family back home. I needed that retreat trip. I traveled with my family too. Just us and quality time.
- I decided to take care of myself and face the post cancer body and mind.
- Of course, there is the tight follow up which includes tumor marker blood tests every three months, PET Scan every six months for two or three years. Now, I also refer to the support treatments.
- Yoga, Physiotherapy and Osteopathy to help with joint pain, rib cage and scar pain and stiffness, breathing issues, and back pain, though some require to wait for six months post radiation.
- Some acupuncture also.
- Emotionally, I needed to deal with negative feelings such as scanxiety (fear of relapse related to follow up scans and tests), and guilt towards my family too. I did with EFT which I discovered thanks to a friend met at the hospital.
- I decided to explore opportunities, to be open, see what life had to offer me. Amazingly, I met a load of new people, learnt a lot about me and the others. I see now many more opportunities than pre-Cancer. In fact, my fears and self imposed boundaries are gone.
Post Cancer is difficult. There is no such a thing as going back to your life where you had left it, or forgetting. No patient can do that without risking a depression afterwards. We need to reflect, swallow and learn how to continue our journey considering our scars. Regrowing hair, port-a-cath, pains, new body in general, are there in the mirror to remind us we shouldn’t take anything for granted.
I always was “that kinda people” who smile when they see a beautiful sunset, pause to listen to a bird singing, aren’t ashamed to shed tears of happiness. Slowing down gave me more chances to live moments like these. I am still not sure what my purpose in life is meant to be, however, I am not waiting for happiness, not waiting for tomorrow to enjoy life.
I don’t have all answers. Life is not perfect but it is beautiful and worth living to the fullest. My sabbatical leave is busy and I love it. What will happen? Don’t know. Will I relapse or not, don’t know. Of course, as I promised myself when I got diagnosed, one day I will be grandma and will do the needful. But it is not about living long, it is about living and enjoying every bit of it, making it worth. I work on my bucket list, not because I will die soon but because I am alive.