Through my own experiences and sharing with others, I realised that ‘surviving’ after a cancer diagnosis is far more than regular checks and/or medication. There is a huge emotional and psychological impact, there’s a new need to cope with hearing those words ‘you have cancer’, a re-evaluation, a recognition that procrastination no longer has a place in our lives and an eagerness to live, to thrive and to survive. I say that not to be glib or assume that it is easy either. For many the ‘reality’ hits us like a ten-tonne truck often at the strangest of times and may even be quite some time after diagnosis or triggered by something random.
For me, I realised the impact for the first time had been when leaving the hospital after the ‘follow-up’ appointment after my second surgery. I heard the swoosh of the first set of glass doors close behind me as I exited the hospital with my friend and then the swoosh of the second set of glass doors opening ahead. We both stopped mid-door and my friend turned to me and said ‘Do you feel like you’ve been dumped?’. She had managed to verbalise exactly how I felt. I felt as if a partner had just walked out of my life and with whom I’d relied for an intense but short period of my life (surgeries and treatment). I felt alone. I nodded and we walked through the second set of glass doors to the car and drove home in silence.
I should have felt elated, shouldn’t I? I mean they were ‘dumping me’ because I was done for now. OK so I had regular checks in the diary for follow up scans and there was still the discussion as to whether radiation would be required… but essentially, they were saying I was doing OK. I should have felt good. I should have been smiling and laughing and celebrating. Instead it was an overwhelming fear and grief that consumed me.
When eventually I went to my own house, I remember feeling even more isolated (and yes I really did live on a remote farm cottage overlooking fields!). I also remember spending hours on the internet, mostly in tears, desperately searching for answers. Or staying in bed as long as I possibly could trying to avoid the day… but never straying too far from a box of tissues. I felt as if I was never going to stop crying and I didn’t really understand why. After all I had had two surgeries. My surgeon felt he had got the tumour and sufficient margins. So what was I grieving?
I think with hindsight I also felt guilty. Why had I come through it all? Why was I different?