24th November 2021
Today is my second “Cancerversary”. It’s 2 years to the day since I received my bowel cancer diagnosis. Sh*t Sunday, the 24th November 2019, is indelibly etched on my mind.
So much has happened since then: surgery, my somewhat abortive forays into chemotherapy, a whole heap of counselling and psychotherapy, and I’m finally learning to put down “the box”…
This time last year, on my first cancerversary, I went for a run up on the local crags. I got ever so slightly lost and ended up in a field, face to face with a bull. No joke.
I’ve blogged recently about metaphors. Well that seemed to be the perfect metaphor for where I was in my recovery. We had a bit of a stand-off, the bull and I, but it was pretty clear he wasn’t shifting and quite frankly, he was a lot bigger than me!
I often think back to that day and just what that bull encapsulated. That bull was, in that moment, my cancer. I hadn’t planned on that bovine encounter, just as I hadn’t planned on ever having cancer, but there I was, facing it. And in hindsight, it seemed pretty apt that the encounter was a year down the line. Cancer “gone” in theory, and yet the recovery, certainly emotionally, only in its infancy.
But I couldn’t stay in that field forever, just as I couldn’t stay paralysed by my cancer experience.
I needed to find an alternative path. Cancer has certainly taken me on a different path to what I had planned, and as mentioned previously, as a consummate planner, the cancer curveball was particularly hard to deal with.
Perhaps even more appropriately, I had no signal up on the crags – so no access to Google maps. I was solely dependent on my very poor sense of direction, and a lot of trial and error, before recognizing any landmarks I’d passed on my way up, and finally returning to the safety of my car.
There is no rulebook when it comes to cancer recovery. As I’ve documented previously, you get dumped, unceremoniously, in the middle of a maze, blindfolded, and are left to figure your own way out. You have absolutely no idea how close you are to the exit. I have been very, very slowly, inching forward, feeling my way out, often seemingly 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
So, 2 years on, and I find I have a good opportunity to reflect on where exactly I am in the “maze”.
Physically I’m good. There’s been no sign of recurrence to date, but I can feel my anxiety levels rising as my 2-year surveillance scan looms next month. I worry about what happens beyond this. I know that the evidence suggests I probably don’t need a scan beyond 2 years, but this terrifies me. Where do I fit into the evidence base on which that decision is made? What’s to say that I won’t get recurrence or metastases beyond 2 years? How does the delay to diagnosis impact on my individual risk of recurrence/mets?
Every single niggle I experience brings about an internal struggle between the very small rational voice telling me it’s most likely nothing, and the very loud irrational voice shouting at me that “CLEARLY THIS IS CANCER RELATED!”. Given that I am in a constant state of hypervigilance, this is a daily battle, often several times daily, and it is exhausting. And as a doctor-patient, I have the additional struggle to determine, whether “this” – whatever particular niggle is preoccupying my mind- is actually clinically significant enough to seek some medical advice about. Is my GP just going to think I am suffering from a severe case of fruit-loopery?
I’m running, swimming and cycling regularly, but having always enjoyed exercise, I’m wondering when I will be driven by the sheer enjoyment of it, rather than my aim to be in peak physical fitness should the cancer return and need further surgery. Because to be completely honest, that, right now, remains the primary motivator.
Tiredness. Constant tiredness. I often look back at how I was working pre-diagnosis with amazement – I don’t know how I did it, and right now, I just can’t envisage ever having the energy or capacity to work that way again.
Why the fatigue? Is it simply that I’m still physically recovering from the insult that was the cancer? Perhaps. The effects of chemo? I only had 2 and a half cycles of very well tolerated oral chemotherapy, so I remain unconvinced. Work? Possibly, but I’m only doing 2 and a half days. Family life? Definitely tiring but so enjoyable (the majority of the time!).
I think it’s carrying that box , and the constant fight to try and pick out the timid, quiet voice of rationality amidst the overwhelming noise of neurosis.
That’s what it is. That is what is so utterly, utterly exhausting.
Mentally, I’m getting there. And it’s in the “getting better”, that I see just what a mess I was in last year.
I still have no idea how close I am to the exit of the “cancer maze” – I don’t know if you ever actually make it out – but one thing I can say for certain, is this…
I am a whole lot further out from the middle of the maze than I was 2 years ago.
And I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other. 😊