That time of year

Today’s guest post is written by Sarah Horton. the author of Being Sarah, a true story about choice, control and breast cancer. Sarah’s post resonates deeply with me as I identify strongly with the imagery of the changing seasons and the changes in our bodies and lives as we move through our own seasons of survivorship.

Snowdrops. Image by Sarah Horton

That time of year

It’s that time of year again. That time. To me it means February. It means the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The unforgettable date. The day I call D-day. Diagnosis day. 21 February. This year will be four years. And in many ways this last year, the year I’ve had the least amount of treatment, and in fact no surgery, has been the hardest. I have felt a sense of loss, so deep at times, it has felt like a physical pain. The emotion is so strong, my heart feels it so deeply, it is a sense of being crushed.

A feeling of having missed so much. Because of breast cancer.

At times, in unexpected moments I have a sense of crashing, howling loneliness. Hits me like a brick. And I think, this is what breast cancer left behind?

But this is the time for new beginnings. I’m a gardener so this is the time of year I start looking for evidence of spring. Where I live, in Liverpool in north west England, spring starts anytime from mid-March. So I start looking now for new growth, for the bulbs pushing their green noses out of the ground. I see the beginnings of daffodils along the roadside. In my own garden, an allotment, the snowdrops are appearing, always the first to arrive every February. And the daffodils I planted, choosing ‘February Gold’ because they are reliably early. I am expectant for them.

This is the time of year I bring bulbs in pots into the house and in the warmth of the living room the narcissi open, the hyacinths bloom. I cut stems from the bare dogwood hedge and the fresh green leaves soon appear, weeks before they will outside. That special new unfurling fresh green of new leaves. I have spring in the living room.

I notice the shift of the seasons, the growing light, more minutes each day, and then the first day I don’t wear a pair of gloves outside. I notice more bird song when we are out walking. The trees are still bare but their buds are on the edge of opening, fat and ready. There is bright green ivy growing everywhere. Nature coming back into activity. Dormancy is broken. Germination. I am patient and impatient at the same time. I feel I want to hold the moment here, that I could observe this in slow motion, and yet I am impatient for what comes next. For blossom time, for new growth, for May to arrive in full lush green. How much I look forward to that, and when it comes I want it to last forever.

And this is the time of year to buy seeds, to plan what I will grow. When I visit the shop I choose packets of seeds, delighting in the display, the colourful rows of the packets, photos of beans, tomatoes, radishes, onions, all looking juicy and perfect and delicious. Where do I start? Too much choice. I buy seed potatoes, red onions sets and I feel glee – a feeling I’ve missed for so long. It’s childlike glee, almost like being in a sweet shop.

Every spring since diagnosis this is the time of year I’ve hoped that this year, this year will be a better year for me.

I don’t want another year when there are times when the tears come and overwhelm me. But I don’t get a choice about that. So I’ll plant my seeds, my potatoes and onions. I’ll weed and I’ll water and I’ll tend them. And wait for the better times.

Like to read more?

Read extracts from Sarah’s book, Being Sarah, see a short film, hear an interview on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, and buy the book all on