I apologise now for how much I ramble in this post…
On Saturday it was the one year anniversary of my operation where the remainder of my bowel cancer was removed. Along with that I lost my rectum and a temporary stoma was installed. This time last year I was beginning to get my head around what had just happened and about to enter the darkest part of 2011. Bed bound with only thoughts and worry for company. I didn’t think I’d ever feel like me again.
If I’m honest I still don’t feel like me. Not the me B.C. (before cancer) anyway. Physically and mentally I’ve changed and along with these changes I also have a different set of priorities and goals to the ones I had half-heartedly set myself only eighteen months ago.
The blog post What a Difference a Year Makes explained how in February I felt that I had lost my confidence and how the job I have suddenly felt alien. I struggled with a room full of people and several conversations going on around me. I couldn’t face making tea for colleagues or bumping into someone in the kitchen and having to do small talk. I discovered some friends will disappear at the announcement of a cancer diagnosis whereas others will step right up and be brilliant. I felt very small in a very big world and sort of out of place. I was in limbo.
So on Saturday, sat in the garden in a summer dress with my very pale legs out I sat there and allowed myself to think about it all. Really think about it. I let my mind wander back to the 47 days and night I spent in hospital, the sepsis, the stoma, the kinked bowel, the blood transfusions, the allergic reaction, being constantly cold because I had no hair, the wounds, the blood, the tears, the pain, the fear – everything. Even the people who became part of that life. I sat there and let myself remember it. I had a bit of a cry, but I think that’s allowed really. This time though I think the tears were tears of relief. Relief that it’s all over. I know I’m still under observation and my bowel is more messed up now than it was when I had cancer. But it’s over. My illness doesn’t take up 99% of my thoughts now. Even though I might bore everyone around me rigid with dietary issues, I am thinking about other stuff. When I do think about last year and what happened I really have to think about it now. Because my brain is now protecting me from all that.
The biggest sign for me that I’m in a very different place to a year ago is that I listen to music again. I listen to it everywhere – in the car, the kitchen, my room, the bath, on my commute to work. I can’t get enough of music. A year ago today I couldn’t bring myself to listen to any kind of music. I was completely out of touch with it.
I also remember I said I was told to mourn my old life. At the time it felt like the right thing to do. Since then I’ve changed my mind. Maybe I’ve done a little bit of that, but only about certain things. I’ve been given a second chance. I’ve started again in lots of ways. Learning to eat again, regaining my strength, swimming, going to work, socialising, buying new clothes, getting my haircut into a style rather than just cut to control it and even dating. Even planning for the future is new to me now. Now I’m a bit more determined. I appreciate the freedom that comes from good health. I’m also very aware of how short life really is and also how incredibly unfair it can be. This is a massive step forward for me because only a few months ago I was terrified of ever being happy again. I couldn’t stand the thought of finally being happy again and well, and getting on with things. For it to all be ripped out from under me again. There is that fear/threat that I could get ill again. I’ve experienced that fear very recently and it’s something I didn’t think I’d be able to handle. I have surprised myself though and just got on with it. The biopsies, the waiting for results, the chats with my Consultant – it’s just a process for me now. I’ll worry more when I have answers. Even with this slight curveball which should hopefully be post treatment/surgery complications rather than anything to worry about I have noticed I’m focusing on normal everyday life things rather than illness stuff. To be quite frank about it I’m f*cking amazed I’ve not fallen apart. I’ve adjusted without even realising I guess, and I’m glad it’s happened naturally because I think forcing it would be totally wrong.
Thinking about the weekend I can now see how much things have changed and how far I have come. In a good way. I spent the weekend kissing a boy, shopping, staying away from home, eating out (twice), socialising with lovely people I met through the illness and drinking quite a few cocktails and Frangelico (finally!!), dealing with my hangover, sunbathing in the park and cooking. Finally I look forward to weekends again. The alcohol didn’t destroy me either. Result.
I’m ready for a bit of normal again now. This time round I really do appreciate it and I can honestly say I’ll never moan about the rain again. Oh and if you’re wondering if I have started making tea and coffee for colleagues. The answer is NO. This time though it’s out of laziness rather than a fear of being seen and heard. Maybe I’ve not changed that much after all…