Reflections on my seven year “cancerversary”
I still find it hard to believe that it is seven years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yesterday, September 29, is the day that I traditionally date my “cancerversary” from – the day in 2004 that I had my surgery to remove the cancer from my body.
When I was in the middle of the interminable treatment phase, I couldn’t imagine that I would ever be seven years down the line, and that cancer would be a distant memory. And yet, of course, in many ways the memories are not distant, as here I am seven years later, still bearing the scars, still writing, still talking about the experience. For that’s the thing with cancer, even though your diagnosis, your time of active treatment, may be 7 years or 17 years in the past, the shock of that day you hear the words, “you have cancer” and the memory of those surreal days that follow never leaves you entirely.
A couple of months ago, I asked readers to finish the sentence “Having Cancer…” and the variety of responses, ranging from “it was the wake up call I needed to change my life” to “having cancer sucks” shows us just how varied our responses are to cancer. There is no one size fits all response to cancer. As many of us have written about (check out Coco’s guest post on the topic) we shouldn’t have to feel under pressure to join the cancer is a blessing camp, but equally, we should also be free to proclaim it, if indeed cancer did bring blessings into our lives. Often it is a mixture of both, as I know from my own experience and I have always encouraged a variety of viewpoints here. What I love most about the blogosphere is we can find our own place in it – if we feel angry, we can shout about it, if we feel sad, we can cry, if we feel afraid, we can ask for reassurance, if we feel happy, we can share our joy, for there is always someone somewhere in the world who gets how we feel, for they are feeling it too.
I believe that particularly the first cancerversary is an occasion worth celebrating for how far you have come in the past year. I would like to think that those who are in the thick of gruelling treatment can look to those of us who have come through it, and feel a sense of hope – I know that I looked to those survivors, when I was going through my own treatment and drew enormous courage and strength from them and could see a way through to the other side of cancer. But, when I look at myself now, seven years later, I can’t help thinking, that I have done nothing to deserve being cancer free – I haven’t followed any special diet, I still enjoy a glass of wine, I don’t exercise as much as I should, I still sweat the small stuff – and yet, here I am.
Since I started writing about cancerversaries, I have become more acutely aware of those for whom cancer is still a living reality. The person who has done the most to re-educate me to this is the wonderful Rachel of The Cancer Culture Chronicles, and because of her, I have become more cautious of using the term “cancer survivor” with its triumphalism undertones, and of celebrating something that I now believe is down to genes, luck or fate – call it what you will – for in the end, perhaps cancer, the getting of it, the living with it, the dying from it, is all one big turn of life’s giant lottery wheel.
(Note: Due to intense work commitments this week, I don’t have time to put together my usual Weekly Round-Up, but please feel free to leave a link below to the posts you have written this week and I look forward to catching up with them over the weekend).