Three years ago today, I had my right breast and lymph nodes removed because I had stage 3C, oestrogen positive, invasive ductal cell carcinoma with spread to 12 of 16 lymph nodes. For a while, that sentence was a sentence, and it defined me and how I existed. I wasn’t really living my life then, but rather just existing while I endured surgeries and chemo and radiation.
In the months after treatment finished I sometimes felt like a stranger in my own life – on the outside looking in. I went through the motions in two ways – with no emotion or with too much. I felt nothing or I felt everything. I thought about what the world would be like when I died, and had my funeral planned in minute detail. Cancer had sucked the life out of me, but there I was, still alive. The Walking Dead.
But then things started to change, slowly but surely. I connected with a group of other cancer people. Cancerians? (Like Rotarians but without the community spirit and sausage sizzles.) And I started to disconnect from the hospital, and the treatment, and moved out from under the cloud. Holy shit, there’s sunshine, there’s Vanuatu, there’s me with my George Clooney hair looking like I belong in an my happily average life.
Soon after I started feeling like being at work made sense again, and that sending my son to after school care would not be the catalyst to make my cancer return. I started a blog, started speaking about my experiences, and started realising that everything – and I mean everything – that I had experienced was normal. I was not unique, special or crazy. I didn’t deserve cancer, I didn’t invite cancer, but I got it anyway.
Cancer will always be part of my narrative, but three years on it’s no longer the central theme of my life story. It doesn’t define me, or degrade me, or deny me. Remission three years on feels good. It suits me. I think I’ll keep it.