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How Cancer and Covid Taught Me to Re-evaluate Everything

And to never worry about feeling bored, unsuccessful or old. Boredom was something that used to happen to me when the weather got in the way of travel plans for weekend partying. That was when I was young and lived for discos and bars. I thought anyone who wouldn’t risk a flood to get me […]

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Cancer and Covid-19

And to never worry about feeling bored, unsuccessful or old.

Boredom was something that used to happen to me when the weather got in the way of travel plans for weekend partying. That was when I was young and lived for discos and bars. I thought anyone who wouldn’t risk a flood to get me to where I wanted to go was a wuss. Yes, I was selfish as well as wild.

Fast forward a few decades and boredom had become a side-effect of the times when I wasn’t working, like weekends and vacations. I lived for the thrill of the chase, hunting down and getting stories my rivals couldn’t get a whiff of. I was a weekly newspaper reporter, and I couldn’t switch off. It wasn’t unusual to find me in the newsroom – alone – on a Sunday and you could guarantee I was the first person in and the last one out Monday to Friday.

The ‘itch’ to be the best and outperform my colleagues did not abate with age. If anything, it got worse. I always had to be the first to master the latest content management system or write the social media posts that attracted the most engagement. Looking back, I must have been an utter nightmare to work with.

But, as I hit middle-age, I started to lose the confidence that had been pivotal to my success. The first inklings were subtle; getting nervous about driving at night, worrying about how I looked, meeting new people…

Stress and a Cancer Diagnosis

I began to look forward to spending more time at home – so much so that I launched a micro business and successfully worked towards giving up the job that I once lived for. It seemed like a perfect solution. And it was great – at first. I could choose my clients and hours, and fit work around spending more time with those I love. Everything was done online, so I didn’t have to drive anywhere and I didn’t have to worry about how I looked. Only I knew if I was still in my PJs at 4pm!

Unfortunately, the micro business grew. And grew some more. Before I knew it, I was putting in 14 hours a day. Sure, the money was good but I felt knackered. That’s when the pain in my right breast started. No lump, just pain.

I convinced myself it was internal bruising because I’d caught myself on the bathroom door handle six weeks before. If it wasn’t that, it must be a symptom of getting old. Maybe all women get similar pains after the menopause, my inner voice was saying.

It was ‘none of the above’. After an agonising wait for punch biopsy results, I learned I had stage three inflammatory breast cancer. To have any chance of overcoming it, I would have to undergo six rounds of neo-adjuvant chemotherapy, a mastectomy with lymph node clearance and radiotherapy.

Then Covid-19 hit.

No Time to be Bored

I had just started chemo and was attempting to manage side-effects when a shelter in place order was issued. I’d been following news about a new virus in China but never in my worst nightmare did I imagine it would rampage around the globe. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. My immune system was shot to bits and my lungs weren’t in great shape either. (I was a smoker in my youth.) My partner was worried too – that he would pick up the virus at work and bring it home to me. It was an horrific time. Beyond comprehension.

When my partner was eventually furloughed, I immediately paused my cancer treatment. I was afraid I would contract the virus in hospital and had to weigh up what was likely to kill me the quickest. Coronavirus or cancer? I decided it was the virus. We were at home ‘doing nothing’ for three months – and I loved every single minute of it. We will never get that time again.

I felt safe, secure and shielded from the horror that was engulfing the world. We were in our own little bubble, and we were happy. Strangely, cancer was not even in my thoughts. The only reminder was a note on my door that screamed ‘Cancer Patient – Stand Back’.

Of course, the day came when my partner had to go back to work and I needed to kick-start the chemo. The virus was still there, and we still worried about it, but everything was much more relaxed. I took up diamond painting, pottered about in the garden and enjoyed the occasional swim in our above ground pool.

Major Surgery in a Pandemic

I finally underwent surgery in October. The operation was nowhere near as bad as I expected. Very little pain and a neat, big scar. To everyone’s surprise, at the post-op consultation with the surgeon, I was told tests carried out on my removed breast and nodes had shown a pathological complete response to chemo – the very best starting point for a cure.

At that moment, I decided not to resume my business once the cancer treatment stops. If I could live again, I would not put myself through the stress of a ‘career’. I’d sooner be a housewife or shelf stacker or live in a commune. Anything but be a professional.

I have cashed in one of my smaller pension pots – enough to allow me to stay and home and continue pottering about for at least the next 18 months. I can enjoy some space before deciding what I do work-wise next.

Looking to the Future

In the meantime, I have started writing about one of my great passions – anti-ageing skincare. Yes, I’m one of those people who strives to still look 40 at 55. It has connected me with women from around the globe and spawned a new website. Nothing daunting; just something I enjoy tinkering with.

If ever I get a minute when I’m doing nothing – and it is quite often these days – I savour it. The pandemic and the cancer combined has brought me closer to my family – and myself. I’ve slowed down at the very time I needed to.

In two weeks’ time, I start radiotherapy (a bit late because of a seroma and restricted arm movements). I’m all set; I ‘ve got my ‘tattoos’ and the mapping scan was done last week. I’ve even had my first vaccination against Covid.

After that, all I see is quiet, peace and calm. Definitely no boredom.

Belinda Bennet, founder of Regime Skin Care

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