Stage 4 doesn’t mean the end. For me, it was kind of the beginning. Having cancer set me free from a toxic lifestyle of working ridiculous hours in ridiculous places all over the world, drinking far too much lager, red wine and champagne, eating canapes for dinner at least once a week, and not giving myself any time to be “me” at all. I existed to please everyone else, most of whom I perceived as being more valuable or important than me, almost all of the time. Cancer was my wake up call, a realisation to live my life for me, a voice from on high telling me to get a grip and get a real life, not the one I was living BC (before cancer).
Diagnosis was tough, being told at 32 you have cancer is bad. Being told at 32 you have one of the rarest forms of breast cancer is bad. Being told at 32 two weeks later that its also in your bone and lung, is the absolute worst. But you carry on, because you have no choice. It isn’t a fight, you aren’t brave and you definitely don’t feel like you are on a “journey” (it ain’t no 6 hour drive to Cornwall from south London). 10 months of treatment, bye bye hair, bye bye boob, bye bye any feeling under my arm, and I was “cured”, “better”, “in remission”, ready to “get back to normal.” All I wanted at the start of my treatment was to get back to normal, how my life was before, but at the end of all that chemo, physio and radiotherapy, I felt lost. I missed the hospital, the nurses and the routine – doesn’t that sound completely crazy, who misses a hospital? But it becomes your world, its where you go every day and without it, you’re going to die, so it is also your lifeline. When all that ends, what do you do next, other than what you did before?
After breast cancer treatment, you may feel like you don’t know who you are. You’re a skeleton of yourself from all that chemo which basically poisons your entire body, not only killing the cancer but killing anything good in you too. Then you have a part of your body that makes you a woman chopped off, an amputation if you will, but breast cancer patients have to hide their amputation. And finally, they burn your skin daily for 25 days, leaving your newly flat bit of chest burnt, peeling and sore. So I finished treatment as a crispy skinned, lop sided, very short haired and slightly chubb,y from only being able to stomach carbs for months on end, woman of 33. No wonder I wanted to get back to the only normal I knew that wasn’t cancer treatment as quickly as I could!
But it becomes clear to many patients that there is no returning to your old life after cancer treatment. Something has changed within you, you’ve survived a terrible disease, you’re still alive. Slowly I realised that the last thing I wanted was to return to my old lifestyle. I turned vegan, I embraced cookery and putting healthy cancer fighting foods into my body. I was saving myself more than the animals and I was SO a vegan before it became a thing to do in Shoreditch. I also stopped boozing, only drinking the odd glass of Champagne on special occasions. This was because I didn’t want to put pressure on my liver, but also because whenever I drank, my poor little pseudo menopausal body went into hot flush mode and it was extremely uncomfortable. I went from loving drinking and that fuzzy feeling behind the eyes after a glass of wine in the pub on a Friday night, to regretting drinking a glass of the most delicious Ruinart blanc de blanc within 5 minutes of the first sip. I have saved a fortune on booze – and spent it on holidays to Bali, Thailand, the Caribbean, multiple trips to Italy and an annual jaunt to the white isle of Ibiza.
Almost 5 years on, my life is much happier than prior to my illness. The freedom that facing immortality gives you is something I never expected. You get permission to live fully, for you. I’m engaged to the most fabulous man I have ever met, moving out of London to create a dream home and fulfilling my ambitions to help others discover the amazing potential in their lives as an accredited health and mindset coach.
I learnt that your life will never be the same again after cancer, and that can be a very good thing indeed!