#G I R L vs C A N C E R: MAMMOIRS OF INVASIVE DUCTAL BREAST CARCINOMA
THE OUT OF SIGHT OUT OF MIND
Photography by Joe Davenport
Put bluntly, cancer treatment is a load of old bollocks.
Not only is your body being battered in a bid to banish this little life-threatening beast, it completely kicks the crap out of your mental health an’ all.
Sure the inevitable OH-MY-FUCKING-GOD-AM-I-GOING-TO-DIE thoughts weigh heavy, however, it’s the cumulative effects of the loneliness that toys with my emotions in a major way. Being the most social of all of the butterflies having my life suddenly placed on hold without my say so was (and still is) a pretty shitty cross to bear.
Necessary, yes. Temporary, yes. But trust me – it DOES NOT FEEL LIKE IT.
Before you can flutter a fake-lashed lid you’re reduced from being the life and soul to a bed bound bint. Packed prosecco-fuelled weekends with pals become measureless imprisoned months on your lonesome. It ain’t like you can just shake it off for few either, distract yourself from your dastardly sitch and hit brunch with your main birds. Instead you’re forced to wallow within four walls and watch green-eyed as the world turns on without you. Lurking in the shadows of your former life like some kinda troll under the bridge that chemo built. *sarcastic double thumbs up*
Let me check myself before I wreck myself here peeps. It’s not like my lot caught wind of my cancer and were all “peace out you diseased-mammaried mofo”. Not by any means. I feel extremely bloody fortunate that my besties were by my side as often as they were able whether that be to tuck into a take-away, lose ourselves in Love Actually or liberate me for a quick lap around the park.
Inevitably though – as with most things in this world – ‘life’ gets in the way.
In the beginning the doorbell don’t stop bastard ringing; blower was buzzing off the hook and grand gestures came raining down like fuck-you-cancer confetti. It was truly overwhelming in the most wonderful of ways and I did my best to express my gratuitous gratitude right HERE. Fast-forward four months and it felt as though the big guns had been brought out a little too early perhaps. Homies stop popping their heads in, thinking-of-you texts become few and far between. And I get it believe me. Even I’m bored of talking about my sodding self. All I have to bring to the table is cancer chat and nobody wants to hear about the fact I sneezed and almost shat myself in the bath earlier, it’s grim fam.
But the trouble is, I’ve learned, is that cancer treatment is a marathon not a 100m sprint. The closer you get to the end the louder you need the crowds to cheer. You can see the finish line but you’re fucked if you know how you’re supposed to make it and the deeper you’re having to dig to muster just a slither of strength to put one foot in front of the other.
So when you’re huddled up in agony with bones that ache from your nose to your toes and spot your crew having bare bants plastered on Facey B it’s only natural to want to the flip the bird at your iPhone screen. This physical wedge cancer drives between you, your life and those you care for the mostest breeds a heady cocktail of jealousy, resentment and a fruity twist of frustration an’ all.
It’s the emotional distance it creates too. A cancer diagnosis will put a strong 180 spin on your perspective. Your thoughts and outlook on things – hell your whole entire world – suddenly shifts. I can hand on heart say prior to my prognosis I didn’t have problems. Sure I thought I did and obviously it’s all relative, however, being single at thirty and not liking my job very much seem like pretty puny issues now compared to my current sitch. Frustrations? Yes. Problems? Not really.
And so it’s desperately hard to hear your twenty-something pals genuinely panicked about not finding a fella when there you are, praying each and every day that your cancer won’t kill you. I’ve never felt so further removed from my peers. Mentally that is. Gaping cracks in our common ground. As much as this not “sweating the small stuff” mind-set is a big ol’ blessing I’m genuinely well jel that my greatest concern isn’t why Gorgeous George still hasn’t messaged me back since Saturday.
Yours truly also found herself feeling a whole heap resentful, in fact I was bloody bitter that my boi and gal dem didn’t “get it”. Seriously?! I mean it’s a fucking ridiculous thing to feel towards your people. How the hell are they meant to get something they haven’t experienced themselves?!
It’s just downright difficult as a cancer patient having your crew tell you that they’re going through this with you – that you’re not alone – whilst they’re on a rooftop terrace downing G+T’s and you’re resting your head on a pillow thick with moulted hair. Because your loved ones can leave the cancer at the door so to speak, go about their carefree days, basking in the fantastic glow of freedom. But for you it is 24/7. It’s relentless. It’s soul destroying. It’s very very real.
And it’s this being in your own head all day errrday that envelops you. No escape from the little mind monkeys sat atop your thought tree throwing contemplative shit at you from all angles.
I found myself becoming increasingly irritable, over-analysing every little aspect of my friendships and nit-picking at minor nuances of my mates demeanour.
Appaz I’m the Police of Cancer-related Conduct. Nice to meet you.
Mental mountains erupted from teeny tiny molehills and before I knew it I was balls deep in hateration on ev-ery-one. A curse on all of your house parties!
It all boils down to feeling epically chuffed off with a circumstance neither you nor anyone else has any kind of control over.
Cancer is all consuming, unrelenting. Your entire existence collapses in on itself and although your cosmos may be motionless life goes on without you. Of course it does! Folk have their own shit going on, their own lives to live, infants to raise, relationships to nurture and careers to progress. Who the hell are you to begrudge them that?! Loon.
Scrutiny such as – Why didn’t they just bring the party to me? Can’t be missing me that much, hasn’t even crossed their minds to send me a selfie! Pffft if that was me and they couldn’t go I’d totes cancel so they didn’t feel left out – is allowed. But there comes a point that you must remove your head from your own arse. Obvs you’re entitled to feel the way you feel but the world doesn’t revolve around you, you know that right? You’ll be back to your life sooner than you think but until then… breathe.
Rather than silently seething at each Insta upload I wasn’t a part of or pissed off at every social gathering I was unable to attend I decided the sensible thing to do was be wide open with my friends and fam-a-lam about what exactly was going on up in my membrane. Let them know I was struggling, hence why I’d been behaving like an absolute Toby. Airing my misgivings to a group of incredible allies who had done bugger all wrong was tough. I’d mutated into a Moaning bloody Mertle and I hated it. As I’m sure did they.
In the end I got fed up with being Little Miss High Maintenance and unintentionally guilt tripping my fave folk for simply living their lives. So I made two pretty strong moves.
Firstly I extracted myself from a myriad of Whatsapp group messages and secondly, unfollowed most of my friends on Facebook. Told you, punchy eh?
Not knowing what the crew dem were booking up or seeing their shenanigans on my timeline made all the difference. Sometimes separating yourself from situations that could damage your mental state is not the easiest but boy is it oh so necessary. Pretty sure I saved a few friendships in the process too to be fair.
Sorry not sorry.
Recently frustrations have come in other forms.
People hear ‘all clear’ and quite rightly assume that’s a wrap. Fin. Bish bash bosh. After my game-changing announcement I must be back to my bouncing bubbly self right? Wrong.
At the minute I’m finding the concept of being ‘cancer-free’ difficult to navigate.
Don’t get it twisted I’m over’t bloody moon with my response to the treatment it’s just that there’s a shit ton more to come. Radiotherapy, nine months of hormone injections and a decade of endocrine therapy that can bring on early menopause. Oh hey hairy chin and dried-up noonie.
Indeed I’m on the mend but I’m not myself. Not quite yet. And maybe I never will be as such.
You see once you’ve had the ‘orrible little c*nt they call cancer I don’t think you ever feel you’re out of the woods. Remission is five years away. Until then I’ll launch back into living, always worried the sneaky schlaaag of a thing might reappear in my bones, or brain, or lungs. It’s a cross us cancer survivors bear. It’s a stark reality. And it’s altered me in ways I can’t even begin to explain.
The physical fallout is infuriating too – ridic considering how bad ass my bod’s been innit?!
In days BC (Before Cancer) sluggishness and a melancholy mood could easily be remedied with a wee workout; something extreme fatigue had thwarted during the chemo chapter. Now my energy levels are improving at a leisurely rate I’m desperate to don my activewear and Body Pump the granny out of it. But I can’t. Have to wait another six weeks post-surgery to get my exercise on. Even a gentle stroll in the sunshine has become a hazard thanks to my super sensitive skin sizzling.
Impaired cognitive function is an absolute fuckery too. Unable to articulate and struggling with short term memory like cray – the brain just ain’t playing ball. Exasperating scenes espesh with masses of #GIRLvsCANCER shizz to set in motion. Taken the best part of two months to write this post and it’s hardly War and sodding Peace now is it FFS.
Feel as though I’m at the starting blocks, poised, not-so-patiently waiting for the gun to sound so I can just get on with getting on with it, you know what I mean?
Anyway I guess the point of this post is to highlight just some of the mental health factors that come hand-in-hand in dealing with a case of carcinoma as a youngun. What? I’m only 32! From the ghastly task of staring down your own mortality to the totally trivial getting agg over an acquaintance not checking in. It’s all part of the process.
I’m slowly uncovering that being bugged out by my limbo state is completely okay; and that to overcome feeling overcome we must be open, unafraid to discuss tough topics whether others ‘get it’ or not. Having empathy is an awesome attribute and so massively underrated. How fortunate am I that my friends (both online + IRL) possess it in abundance, totally tolerant of the petulant little person their Lozza has become. And loving me in spite of it all (I hope).
Indeed cancer – from MRI to remission – is a battle but I can 100% confirm that it’s mostly a mental one. Attempting to stay positive in your deepest darkest moments is no mean feat and despite all of my whining I like to think of myself as a kind of Cullen right now. Stepping out of the shadows of my cancer, into the rays of recovery and glistening like a disco ball whilst I’m at it.
Yes I’m drained physically. Done in emotionally. And accepting that I’m same same but different as the wise Thai population say will take bit-o time as will learning to be kind to myself regarding my fractious frame of mind. I may be slow right now but I’m also steady and isn’t that what wins the race in the end kids?
Until next time… Take care of yourself and eachother.