17 birthdays

Never be Doris

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I turned 41 days after a third operation to remove cancer cells from my left breast. I was whacked out for two days solid, then got my head phones on and together with Kylie, started dancing. I wanted to go home for my birthday, and the only way to do it was to shake my ass to get discharged.

I succeeded (thanks Kylie) drains and all. It was messy, but I made it home to enjoy tea and cake in bed with my then 7 and 4 year old daughters asking me why I had a big bag and tubes inside my PJ’s.

Whilst in hospital, I’d come across a lady named Doris on the ward who inspired me in ways you might not expect. I spotted her moving down the corridor, slowly shuffling with the aid of a walking frame, with her knickers tucked into the back of her hospital gown. She was a pitiful, poignant sight.

In that moment I invented my life mantra, “Never be Doris”. I made myself a promise that no matter what, I would do whatever it took to maintain my health and wellbeing.

So when I tuned 57 last month, I did the maths and realised that I’d had 17 birthdays since that time. SEVENTEEN. Wow. When I was first diagnosed I was obsessed with asking every woman I met how long it was since they’d been diagnosed, doing some ill fated calculation of my life expectancy. I love being 57!

Like many of my friends in their 50’s, maintaining my health is a challenge. It’s tempting to make quite reasonable excuses (I’m too tired, busy, I’ll go tomorrow, blah blah blah), but as Kate Winslet famously said, “I choose to be the leading lady in my own life”, and I’m placing my health centre stage.

So, for my birthday I made a deal with myself, to stop my ageing body from deteriorating any faster than it is, and joined a gym. I hate gyms. I hate the machines, the faff, the effort to takes, and how my body resists what I’m asking it to do. I swear blind that someone places rocks in the cross trainer before I get on.

But so far so good. I’ve added a simple carrot to help with motivation, the promise of a warm steam room and sauna when I’ve completed my drudgery, and a swim (which I’m quite good at). I am just about managing to stay on task. My jeans fit, I feel better about being Susan, and best of all, I’ve made a commitment I intend to keep.

I think about my next 17 birthdays, and focus on the big picture – my future health.

Never be Doris.

Two fingers to cancer…
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