Welcome to Cancer is For Life! It might sound like a strange title – ‘is this a bad thing or a good thing?’ I hear you ask – but so far on this twisting and turning, helter skelter adventure that cancer is taking me on it does seem to be remarkably good given the circumstances! So, yes, it is a challenge having cancer but the challenge definitely seems to be worth it – it can be positively life changing and affirming – and that’s what I want to share with you. At the same time, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that I’ll ever quite get rid of it, cancer will colour my life for the rest of my life.
So who am I and where am I exactly on this journey right now?
My name is Angela, I am 48 years old, I am married to DK with whom I have two daughters – Bella and Asha – and together we created Puyssentut which, as you may know if you’ve stumbled across this blog from our website, runs retreats for people with cancer. There is of course much more to me than this, although in recent times I’d come to feel that being a mother, and running a home and a business was all that there was time for, until cancer came along and re-united me with much more of myself and set me the challenge of focusing on the bigger picture and bigger me.
I have to admit it felt slightly awkward at first to be running retreats supporting people who are dealing with cancer and to be diagnosed with it. It’s a bit like a policeman getting caught drink-driving, initially I felt very sheepish, as if I’d not been taking my own medicine which in fact was true. As I was making my way through my (often) 16-hour a day, 7-days a week schedule in my head would sound the refrain, ‘if you keep going like this you’re going to get cancer’. But then I rationalised to myself that it was just for one more season and that at least I wasn’t stressed, I was just working hard but that was ok because I had plenty of energy, even if I was feeling quite tired. Looking back now I can see that I didn’t recognise I was stressed because my body was in the habit of lapping up all the adrenaline and cortisol so stress felt normal, this is a subject I’ll come back to later.
So, yes, cancer has been a big wake-up call and a part of myself has berated the rest of me for not heeding my own warning sooner: ‘listening to your inner voice’ is another topic I’ll come back to, along with ‘being kind to yourself’ and ‘don’t dwell on what could have been’.
Yet, the real irony was that I had heard my inner voice. I had given myself permission to focus on me. I just had one more thing I had to do for ‘us’ before I could get to ‘me’ and that was to get married and get to the end of the season: come Autumn all the time and attention would be for me. I was just too late: one week before our July wedding I found the lump. It’s an understatement to say that this felt like a kick in the teeth. How could life – ‘the Universe’ – do this to me? I was just about to focus on myself, honest! Why now? Why me? Why? Why Why? Another interesting topic for further discussion.
So that was in July and now it’s May the following year and I’ve just had a lumpectomy and a sentinel node biopsy, and I’m feeling hugely grateful and that I’ve already travelled an enormous distance and I’m wondering what still lies ahead.
For the first time in all these months I’ve finally reached a point where I can breathe, survey the landscape and begin to put into more than a Whatsapp message how I’ve felt, what I’ve been through and where its brought me to. And why am I doing it? I want to share my reflections for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve personally tried and tested what we offer during our retreats and I can attest to our formula’s effectiveness, which I’m both relieved and excited about. I feel like I’ve had a relatively easy ride with the treatment and its side effects and I put that down to all that I’ve done to support myself on this journey. And believe me, I’ve worked hard at that!
Secondly, what has often helped me the most at critical junctures and when mired in emotional swamps has been reading other people’s stories. It didn’t matter whether those stories were about people with the same cancer or treatment as me, whether they were male or female, young or old, what mattered was that something in their story resonated with me. Being let into the world of another and finding a point of contact gave me direction and bore me on.
All our journeys with cancer are unique and I don’t presume to map out a route that anyone else might want to follow but we are all human and there is common ground, and I hope that in sharing what I’ve encountered on my adventure someone looking for a companion to share part of their journey, or hoping to stumble on a signpost pointing them in the right direction or searching for a glimmer of light on the horizon might find these. It would give me great pleasure and satisfaction to think that I might be able to hold out a steadying hand to someone else traversing their unmapped terrain in the way that others have done for me.
The sense of community I have felt amongst those of us who have, or are recovering from, cancer has been one of the most heart warming aspects of my journey. So many people are out their sharing with and willing to support others. Competition, envy, and judgement fall away in the face of cancer and compassion, caring and empathy take their place. It pleases me enormously to contribute in my own way to this community.
A third reason for sharing my journey, which I’ve only just fully realized, is that it will be (and already is) healing for me.