I wanted to post something in this section because I remember all too well what it is like when you are first diagnosed with cervical cancer, and I am now a year on from that, so I thought it might help to get some reflection.
I was totally stunned when I was diagnosed with cancer. I knew there was something wrong because I'd been getting symptoms for a while, but it honestly never occurred to me that it would be that - I thought it would be something, but not that. People expect you to be devastated, but I was initially pretty calm and, from having read this forum over the last year, I don't think that's an unusual reaction. After all, it's a shock and I think my calmness was shock - it was like it was happening to someone else - I simply couldn't process the fact that I had cancer. As the weeks went on, it hit me a bit more - just in little waves - enough to make me frightened. I was frightened that I was going to die of cancer. I was frightened of the surgery (apart from having a wisdom tooth out, I'd never had an operation of any kind - cancer surgery was my first experience of it!!). I was frightened about how I might feel after the surgery. I was frightened that the surgery wouldn't solve it. I was frightened of everything. In the end, I think I displaced my fear into tiny things, probably because they felt more within my control - I became very upset at the idea of hospital breakfasts, at the lack of my proper coffee and the possibility of people snoring!
And it's that feeling actually - lack of control - which I think is one of the things that makes cancer and everything surrounding it, so difficult and frightening. In our very fortunate, first-world, commercial society, we are sold ideas of certainty. We are sold the idea that we have ultimate control, that we are the decision makers, that as long as we do the 'right' things, everything will be ok. Then cancer comes along and all of that goes to shit! That loss of the illusion of certainty is very difficult, I think, and being forced to face the prospect of your own mortality is hard. Before cancer, I used to get vaguely annoyed with old ladies who would triumphantly declare "I'm 83 you know", as though it was some sort of achievement. Now I want to hug anyone like this because I think "You know what, that really is an achievement! With all that life can throw at you, well done you for making it that far!"
It was a difficult time after my surgery. Even though I wasn't planning on having any more children, I was devastated at the loss of my fertility and I hated my 'new' body. I got frustrated at my lack of mobility and I felt that no one understood how I was feeling. I was also furious. I have always dealt with life by painting and writing - that is how I express myself and how I get through difficult times - but suddenly I felt at a loss and even though part of me wanted to do these things because I knew they would help me, they also felt inadequate as tools of expression.
There is a great deal of loss associated with cancer, and the vast majority of my feelings were symbolic of me moving through the grieving process. I knew I had to allow myself to do this, as difficult and as scary as it was, to ensure that I was dealing with such a massive thing in my life in a healthy way, to reduce the possibility of it coming back to emotionally bite me later on, or to morph into depression.
So, where am I now? Well, one year on, I had my one-year check-up last week, which is a big milestone, and even though there is now the possibility of me having further surgery (not because they think the cancer is back, just to be extra safe for various reasons) to have my ovaries removed, the possibility of this hasn't sent me into a spin and I know that whatever happens, I'll deal with it. Don't get me wrong, I am not 'over' having had cancer - I think about it a lot, sometimes I still cry about it and there are still things I have to deal with. It can never be a good thing that I had cancer, but I was determined to get something positive from it, and on the whole I would say that my life is better now than it was before I had cancer. That is not because of some romantic idea that cancer makes you want to go and smell all the roses and appreciate how amazing the world is - I still moan about the little things - but because I wasn't going to let the experience of cancer make me a victim. Whatever it did to me - even if it killed me - I refused to be a victim to it. So, I got ruthless with my life and gradually, as the months went by, I re-shaped my life into more of something that I wanted it to be. It wasn't easy, and sometimes it was scary, but I got rid of anything and anyone who was negative and destrictive and a waste of my time, and only pursued what was positive and healthy and productive. I am now pursuing some research that I have wanted to do for years, my relationship with my husband is better than it was before I was diagnosed, and I grab opportunites now in a way that I didn't always do before. I also have plans to take part in raising funds for cancer support and research and in time I would like to write a book about my experience that I hope will help other women. It hasn't been easy - it's been one of the most difficult years of my life - but I really want you to know that it does get better, that you're stronger than you think and you will get there in the end. I still have difficult days, but they are a hell of a lot easier than they were a year ago.
I wish all of you ladies all the love and luck in the world. I remember like it was yesterday what a terribly dark and difficult time this can be, but you can get through it and in time, things will get better.
Take very special care and be kind and patient with yourselves.