I’m a 46 year old tubby, one-breasted woman with greying hair, dodgy joints and reflux so severe that causes me to regularly burp some syllables of my words instead of speaking them. I get hideously dry skin in winter, I have a random thick, black hair that grows out of my chin, and fart like a draught horse if I eat cabbage or kale. I have a quirkily named autoimmune disease of the thyroid called Hashimoto’s disease (wax on, wax off), and a neurological condition called Hemifacial Spasm which, left untreated, would make me look like Strop from The Paul Hogan Show.
But here’s the thing – despite all that, I reckon I’m pretty fucking awesome. I’m smart, and I’m funny. I’m loving, and loyal and I can always hold up my end of a conversation, because I’m well-read and interested in news and current affairs. I’m a pretty excellent cook – I made creme fucking brulee for the first time when I was in the middle of chemo – and in 25 years of driving I’ve had one speeding fine. I’m always well-organised, to the extent that upon returning a permission form to my son’s teacher at school drop-off yesterday, she smiled and said ‘oh I knew you’d be first’. I’m also thick-skinned, because whilst some would take that as a passive-aggressive dig, I took it as a compliment and will endeavour to continue to be first for the remainder of the year. I’m married to a teacher, so I know they need at least one of ‘those’ parents to bitch about in the staffroom. Might as well be me.
I have naturally straight teeth, smooth, clear skin that people often comment about, and really high cheekbones. I have an eye for detail, and a head for trivia. If sleeping were an Olympic event I’d be a gold-medallist, and trust me when I say that no-one does a better car-karaoke version of Kanye West’s Gold Digger than me. I have a good heart and give crackingly-good advice, particularly in regard to situations involving arsehole boyfriends, dickhead bosses, and what to watch on Netflix (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, The Fall, True Detective, Bloodline, Friday Night Lights, Nashville …).
Probably my greatest feature is my resilience. I think I was born with a glass half-full mentality, but the things I’ve been through over the last few years, smashed that glass into a million pieces, which I then had to walk through with bare feet. I remember when I was having my first (of four) miscarriages, thinking that if I got through today, tomorrow would be better. The next day wasn’t better, but it wasn’t worse, so I took that as a win and looked forward to the next day, and the next. I did that another three times, finding my way through dreadful periods of loss and heartache and trauma. I think losing those babies taught me how to find a reason, any reason, to push through when all you want to do is fall down, and showed me the inestimable power that resides in shared experiences. I joined an online parenting forum group after my first miscarriage, and simply knowing that I was not alone in my pain, that I was not the only one, gave me the strength to dust myself off and have another crack.
The pathway through cancer diagnosis and treatment simultaneously teaches and tests resilience. You learn that you are going to have to endure physical and mental torture of the highest order, and the minute you think you’re prepared, it ramps up a notch and you have your breast cut off, vomit so much you wet yourself and get told you are likely terminal whilst you’re alone in a hospital room late on a Friday night in October. The next morning your four-year old bounces into that same hospital room, and the same doctor who has given you the news the night before says you can go home, so you pretend to your pre-schooler that it’s wonderful, exciting news, whilst knowing that you are being sent home to enjoy the time you have left. A few days later, when the test results show that doctor to be gloriously, stupendously, wrong, you think to yourself how wonderful it is to have a cancer that might be able to be cured, and look forward – actually counting down the days – until the start of chemotherapy.
Resilience is all about adaptation. It’s about finding a tiny spark of hope where all seems lost, or acknowledging that there is no spark to be found, and walking away to find hope in something, someone or somewhere else. Resilience is not about always being happy, or positive, because fuck knows there really is no way to be happy about losing babies, or boobs, or parents, or friends. Resilience is about learning to accept that shit happens, turning that dreadful shit over in your hands a few times to make sure you’re completely aware of its awfulness, and then digging a fucking great big hole with the shovel you never knew you had, burying that shit, and wondering if you might have a new career as a hole-digger.
I’m middle-aged, fat, scarred and sore. I am funny and feisty and bright and happy. And I roll with the punches, like a ball of deep-fried ice-cream that I ate not so long ago.