So here it is. Skidding in at the eleventh hour. The 2 Jan anniversary post. The one I've personally been looking forward to the most. The one where it's exactly a year since GP Jacqui slid her chair over to mine at 9.04am and uttered the immortal 'it's not good news, I'm afraid' words. The one where I finally get to quietly celebrate stepping over the 2015 finish line into the relative calm of 2016. The one where I get to look back on the last 12 months with wide eyes, aching limbs, a dubious haircut and think ' what the beejaysus just happened?'
I wrote an article for Mamamia back in May about 6 lessons I'd learnt since being diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the abridged version - even at the time, I secretly had way more than 6 lessons under my belt but time, audience interest level, word count and a deadline dictated that I reined it in slightly.
I've been thinking about the content of this particular anniversary post for a while and after much deliberation and procrastination, I'm going to attempt to articulate and share some of the most valuable lessons I've been taught over the last 12 months. Maybe one day, they'll help someone else to navigate these cancery waters...
1. Friends and family are everything.
They say friends are like walls. Sometimes you lean on them and sometimes it's just enough to know they're there. And if friends are like walls, then family is the cement that holds everything together. So build your walls well, lean on them enough to leave an indent and you'll find your Fellowship.
2. It's good to talk.
A friend of mine, shortly after I'd been diagnosed, told me that if he ever got cancer, he would disappear into his flat and not tell a soul. I kind of understood this in a 'man retreats into man cave' type way but it can be a lonely old trip, this cancery shizzle, so why make it lonelier? There's safety in numbers and I've found that the more open I've been, the more open people have become. Or maybe they're just smiling sweetly at me and thinking 'where has all her decent non-cancer chat gone?' Believe me, I wish I knew...
3. Never judge those who seem to disappear for a while.
But never forget those who turn up every day and help pull you through the storm when you can't see your hand in front of your own face. They're your tea-makers, your temperature-takers, your bad day maraca-shakers, they're your best people so keep them close and occasionally smother their stoic little faces with kisses.
4. It's not all about me.
What??? Madness. But being the friend or family of a cancer patient is the hardest gig in the world. Even harder than working in a media agency. True story. I know this because I've been the friend, I've been the family and now I've completed the cancer trifecta and done a stint as the patient so I'm officially qualified to comment on this subject with authority.
5. Write it down.
My friend Becca, another beautiful cancer-kicking mentor of mine, told me on Day 2 to keep a diary. You don't have to publish it anywhere, she said, but I guarantee you'll forget stuff so just get it out and get it down. 51 posts and 12 months later and here we are. And thanks to Bec's sage advice, I will never forget how I trapped my dead arm in a bin chute, threw 4 day old cat litter all over myself or shot up hormones in a bridal ensuite. Good times..
6. It's good to wallow sometimes.
Cry yourself a river. Lose your temper. Kick a plant pot. Send inflammatory and irrational texts to people you love and who (hopefully) love you back. Slither down a wall in dramatic fashion like a 1980's Joan Collins character, sobbing hysterically. You are not Gandhi. Or Oprah. Nor should you attempt to be. And to be fair, even Gandhi probably had days when he angrily threw a flip flop at a passing cat. What's important though is that once you're done, pull yourself together and go for a latte / walk / green juice / lie-down / delete as appropriate.
7. Make plans.
Dream big. Imagine the future. Chuck some mad ideas around. But don't beat yourself up if that entirely reasonable idea you had about renovating a rundown chateau in France with one arm and a dog falls by the wayside for a while..
8. Work the short hair.
It's a goddamn badge of honour. As I approach the Slim Shady phase of my hair re-growth, every day starts with a sigh of bouff-related exasperation. But every exasperated sigh is then followed by a quick reminder that it wasn't too long ago that I thought I would be forever condemned to managing a Benjamin Button style combover. Be grateful that you are not Benjamin Button and work the crop like a pro.
9. Look on the bright side.
And then the dark side. And then the bright side again. Try to remember that there is always someone worse off than you who's probably moaning less than you are. But sometimes at 2am in the dark when you can't sleep and you think your hair is never going to come back or that your hand will always be numb, there will probably be no one worse off than you. IN. THE. WORLD. And that's ok. At least till morning, when it's time to man up again.
10. Gossip is good.
I don't like my overflowing jug of secrets to be empty. No one with cancer just wants to talk about cancer and we hate it when people don't want to bother us with their dramas because they're supposedly not as important as the whole cancer thing. We of course reserve the right to raise an occasional 'is that it?' eyebrow at your 1st world problem but that is our prerogative as the cancer patient. Suck it up and make me some more tea, princess.
11. You have more strength than you think.
Mentally. Physically. All of it. But not because you choose to put on a cape every day and become some sort of superhero cancer-fighting warrior legend. There is no 'shall I wear my 'brave' face or my 'weak as a kitten' face today?' type-choice for any of us caught in this cancery web. You turn up, get your head down, get on with it, hopefully make it through the day in one piece, with limbs intact and repeat. The human spirit is a resilient and impressive beast. Test it and see for yourselves.
12. It's ok to ask for help.
It's also ok to just ignore everyone for a while and submerge yourself in 19 back-to-back episodes of Suits. And sometimes it's ok to just howl at the moon and eat Pickled Onion Monster Munch till your mouth goes numb and your teeth fall out.
13. Try not to overplay the cancer card.
Do as I say here, not as I do. I am the shameless and unapologetic mistress of the overplayed card and the cancer-related hashtag. #cancerface #chemoface #radiohead #chemobrain #cancerfatigue
14. Prepare for your new life
Your new life as a raging hypochondriac. Or, as I prefer to call it, a super-vigilant, boob-checking cancer survivor. It's a fine line.
So there we have it. A year in the life. The maddest sabbatical I'll ever take is finally at an end. Phew.
All that's left to do is to thank you all for being such tremendous walls and cement to this ringlet'd fool this year. The Fellowship is one of the greatest things I've ever accidentally done, so thank you again for coming to the proverbial party and for staying to clear up afterwards. You're all welcome back anytime.
Happy belated New Year from Ko Samui! :)
P.s it's still 2 Jan somewhere in the world, right? :)