Friday, 13 July 2018

Two years on... learning to live with it

A year ago from now, I wasn't in a good place.

Two years ago, I'd just received that fateful letter and had no idea what kind of nightmare was hurtling towards me. Fast forward twelve months to last July, and I'd sunk into a very low place mentally which was just as traumatic as the diagnosis and surgery itself.

I did start to feel much better in October/November last year, but it was a slow and sometimes frustrating process. In October, I blogged about how I shouldn't be feeling guilty about my state of mind and also berated myself for not being more open with people about what I was going through. Ironically, now that my mind is clearer, I can see that I still felt guilty and was trying to justify myself to... myself. I still felt angry that people were skirting around the impact of my diagnosis and surgery even though I desperately needed to talk about it, and I shifted that anger onto myself for not being more honest about my feelings. My mood deteriorated in December for a number of reasons, so 2017 finished just as negatively as it had begun.

I'm pleased to report that, so far, 2018 has been a lot better than the previous two years. It had a rocky start as I was still trying to get through my low patch, but I managed to turn things around. I forced myself into a few situations I didn't think I could handle, and I did handle them. This made me feel stronger and made me realise that I'm more determined and resilient than I give myself credit for.

I'm not going to pretend everything is brilliant all the time. I still have days where I want to scream, cry, withdraw, or all three at once. I had an unexpected 'I hate everything this cancer has done to me' meltdown as recently as four days ago, all because I had a call from the hospital about yet another appointment I need to arrange. Some triggers still hit me like a punch in the stomach, particularly when I'm not expecting them, and I think they always will. However, on a 'good' day, those triggers aren't as all-consuming as they used to be and I'm able to take a deep breath and try to focus on something else.

I can pinpoint a few things that have helped me to feel better over the last few months:
  • Spending time with Jessie, my beautiful Corgi puppy. She makes me smile every day and makes everything seem a little bit better with one wag of her tail. 
  • I started a new job in March and I absolutely love it. Although leaving the place where I'd worked for ten years was scary, it was 100% the right decision for me and gave me the fresh start I needed. 
  • I've been trying really hard to practice mindfulness. I've let this slip over the last couple of months so need to pick it back again, but I think it's made me more aware of my downward thought spirals and how to combat them.  
  • Even though the funding for my support group abruptly came to an end a few months ago, I'm still in touch with the lovely ladies I met through the group. Speaking to people who 'get it' makes all the difference in the world. 
  • As I mentioned earlier, I've forced myself out of my comfort zone and pushed myself into situations I know I wouldn't have been able to handle last year. Even though these situations were difficult at the time, they're enabling me to slowly build up that 'milestone' bank. 

Having said all that, some things are still very distressing and I suspect they always will be. I now have check ups at the hospital every 6 months rather than every 3 months, and I think people are starting to see them as a formality as time goes on. This obviously isn't the case for me. My anxiety levels still peak a few weeks before each appointment and stay high afterwards if I've got to wait for any kind of result. Also, this might sound incredibly ungrateful, but being given the 'all clear' at these appointments is quite difficult to celebrate. Cancer has taken something irreplaceable from me and all the all clears in the world won't bring it back. But on the plus side, those good results do give me a sense of relief to cling on to until the next appointment looms. 

Every twinge, ache or slight abnormality makes my heart feel as if it's beating out of my chest. I suffered with health anxiety for years before my diagnosis, but this is on another level. I no longer have that tiny voice of reason telling me that it's very unlikely to happen to me, because it HAS happened to me. And as I've said in a previous post, that uncontrollable fear that 'it's back' is hideous. I had an MRI scan after my last check-up because the doctor was slightly concerned about one of my symptoms, and I nearly drove myself mad during the three-week wait for results. I no longer believe that 'no news is good news' as my initial diagnosis took so long to be confirmed, so I morphed into a massive bag of nerves as time went on. Thankfully, the MRI scan showed no evidence of recurrence so I can breathe easily until the next ache or pain comes along. 

Taking the good and bad into consideration, I do feel so much better than I felt this time last year (and two years ago, for that matter). I've worked really hard on helping myself as much as I can, and I do feel as if I'm making slow progress even if it is a tough slog at times.

I finished last July's blog post with a very stark statement: 'Cancer may have left my body ten months ago, but it will never ever leave my life.' Although that statement is still true and will always be true, I do feel as if, one day, I'll be able to learn to live with it. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a really honest and brave post. It must be really difficult to continually have to adjust to a 'new normal' but I'm glad that the dark times are perhaps less frequent than they were this time last year. I think you've shown amazing strength and resilience xx

    PS Jessie is an excellent doggo.


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