Thursday, September 5, 2013

Trying to remember my life

I've been quiet lately.

I know some people are wondering about me. Wondering if I'm okay, or if I've taken a turn for the worse. Wondering why I've dropped out of sight. Wondering if they should ask. Worrying, maybe.


Strange things are going on for me at the moment. On Sunday it will be exactly a year since I went to wash my left underarm in the shower and found a bruise.

And under that bruise, a lump.

Impending anniversaries tend to bring out odd feelings and behaviours in me, and so it is with this. One small part of me is desperate to believe that the year just past was a glitch, sent by the cruelty gods to make me grow. A plot twist in the story, not the beginning of the end.

That part of me is wiping out every backsliding thought that passes through my head. It blots out the possibility of the cancer coming back, which is a mercy beyond belief. With the help of that stubborn, focussed part of my personality, I can almost convince myself that it's over now- that I've moved past it.

If I don't look in the mirror,

Is that me?
But I thought this was me...
if I manage to ignore how unrecognisable some parts of my day have become...

Cycling? ME?

Stretching on the Pilates roller. That's not a breast.
That's my ribs, with the scarred skin stretched so tight
it feels like it might pop if I lift my arms any higher.
But I do, and it doesn't,

but it's not how I'd choose to spend my morning in the sun.
...if I exert that huge effort of will and overlook

the ridiculous hair,
the terrible skin,
the compulsory exercise,
the morning tablets,
the random stabbing pains across my scar,
the selective taste buds,
the painful stretches,
the creeping fatigue,
the follow-up appointments,
the mail from the BCNA,
the hot flushes,
the joint aches,
the moodiness,
the constant pain in my upper arm,
the strategically-placed pillow under my bad arm at night,
the little blue pop-up Pink Sister statuses on Facebook,
the complete absence of a career...
oh, and don't forget the evening tablets, they're the ones that'll keep me alive...

... yep, I can just about forget I had cancer.

Almost unintentionally, I've declared myself a survivor. I didn't plan it. I didn't really think about it. I just felt it.

Game over, Freeloader. You lose. *


My brain argues the point daily; you can never know, it whispers, and it's right.

Damn you, Logic.

But logical or not, that determined part of me stares down the fear.

Fuck you. I'm better.

Better? Pull the other one, it's got bells on. The damage never leaves you, parries Brain.

I'm 56 years old, I riposte. I'd expect to feel tired after doing stuff all morning. I'd expect to have all sorts of little physical things starting to go wrong. So fuck off, and when you get there, fuck off some more. **


Actually, thanks to all that exercise I'm probably far less tired than your average nearly-57-year-old, given how much I'm actually doing. Spring in the Bungy. It's too good to miss. And it's why this determined and stubborn woman is out there trying to prove she's better, instead of in here updating the Freeloader every few days.

When you take out all the new and mostly unwelcome stuff, this is what the life I remember Before Cancer looked like.

It's about finding sneaky hens, laying next to a tree-
and that can mean following them through the bush
all morning...
... then stealing some of the eggs to make kick-arse fresh meals-
look at the colour of those egg yolks going into the quiche!
I love to cook... especially if we grew it ourselves.
...letting enough eggs hatch so we'll have meat for the next year;
bringing in the hen and chicks to safety, feeding and
nurturing them, cleaning pens, mending fences...
...kick-starting the vegie garden after last summer's terrible weather-
weeding, digging, turning, weeding again, adding manure, planting...
...welcoming back the spring birds- Mr Kookaburra is a
regular visitor and waits for us to throw him a worm or two
as we weed the vegie beds...
...catching our breath on the back verandah, with the turkeys
clucking around us and the air full of the scent of jasmine
and wistaria blossom...
It's a good life, my life. I want it back without the shadows. I don't want to spend the rest of my days dodging in and out of darkness.

Sure, there will be moments of white panic, when my sight is suddenly half-gone and criss-crossed with zig zag lights, and I wonder if it's secondaries in my brain rather than my regular migraine attack.

Or when the aching in my shoulder is so severe that I wonder if my bones are being eaten away from the inside. Add cancerchondria to my list of things to ignore.

There will be numbing fear again, I know, every time I hear of another friend being diagnosed with metastases. All that goes with the territory.

But it's not going to eat my life. I won't let it.

This is my life.

The children's stories I write. I need to find a
publisher. I need to finish the next one.
The fictionalised biography I'm writing. I'm only halfway
through. I need to finish it. The story needs to be told.
Fighting for what I believe in. Not just fighting a
goddamned Freeloader.
Working with children. It's what I do.
It's who I am.
Being where I want to be, spending time with the people who matter. 
So please don't worry about me. I'm not dying any faster than I was yesterday, or last month. I'm just busy trying to remember my life, trying to turn over those new and distracting pages as quickly as I can each day so I can get back to the main story.

I know that I don't want my blog to become a catalogue of minor whinges. There are always things that a cancer patient in recovery mode could whinge about. I have a place to do that, with the Young Pink Sisters, and that refuge will always be a part of my life, just like the side effects and the fear and the goddamned infernal tablets. But I won't let the last year define me for the years I've got left.

The Freeloader has changed my life, but he hasn't stolen it. He got a year. That's all I'm giving him.

If you spend real live time with me, you'll learn quite quickly that I'm not quite the same. I do tire easily. I do snap without warning over trivial things. I'm less polite than I used to be.

Get used to it.

But essentially, I'm still me, and I'm damn well claiming as much of my old life back as I can. Tomorrow I go back to hospital for the day so Dr Goodguy can take my port-a-cath out. It's an unwelcome reminder, and it's in the way.

I'm not abandoning this blog. I'll still keep you updated when anything important happens, or when I get some flash of insight that seems to need to be shared. No doubt reconstruction will provide some enticing and amusing blogfood, but I'm not allowed to so much as plan that till next year. Something to look forward to?

So watch this space if you will, but don't hold your breath. I'm okay. I'm not over it, because we never get over it, but I'm getting up and walking away from it whenever I can. I know I'm lucky to be able to do that. Not everyone was born as bloody-minded as me. Not everyone has the support I've had. Not everyone had the sheer blind fortune to be born with a resilient body.

I pay my luck forward. If you've got breast cancer, you can count on my ear and my time when you really need it. I've started a Facebook support group for women in recovery mode who need encouragement to exercise and eat well. (Irony right there, given that only the Freeloader has given me the strength to deal with my own bad habits.) I'm not forgetting I was sick; I'm just turning it on its head and using it- to help me, and to help others.

Because really, if I remember correctly, that's what my life was always about.


* I stole that line from Pink Sister Julie Ours' post-cancer tattoo. Game over, you lose. Love it.

** And I stole that line from another gutsy Pink Sister, Sarah Hafez, who always manages to make everyone else laugh despite being terribly bloody ill herself.