One year. One WHOLE year today since I found out I have cancer. A year since I was doodling about at home alone, day six of a seven day self-isolation, itching to get back to work and help with Covid, when my phone rang. My GP telling me I had cancer, likely metastatic melanoma.
It’s hard to sum up what this year has been. Roller coaster would be one way. Relentless uphill would be another. Still, there have been moments to pause and admire the view, to appreciate what and who I have in my life, to simply revel in the gentle draft of this breath, and the next, and the next. How glorious it is to be alive.
Multiple surgeries, multiple rounds of immunotherapy treatment, multiple not-nice medical surprises, multiple CT scans, blood tests, Covid swabs (15 negative and counting…), fertility preservation treatment, multiple toxic side effects of treatment, lymphoedema, moving from stage 3 to stage 4 cancer in December despite the above (bugger!), loss of income, and no, I never did manage to get back to work. And Covid, Covid, Covid, lockdown, lockdown, lockdown running as a grim thread throughout.
I wish I could say the roller coaster was getting easier, that we had reached a level part, that we were coasting towards the exit and maybe, just maybe, I would be allowed off…but no. Life has other plans for me. My latest scans are not good news. I am not – yet – responding to treatment and the tumours in my chest have grown very fast and rather a lot in just six weeks. I am coughing quite a bit and short of breath on the stairs. I am more tired than I was.
This is the first time I have written a blog post in real time. And it doesn’t get much realer than your oncologist starting to talk about options that, to me, sound like the things you say to a palliative patient, rather than one you think you can actively treat. I am raw and reeling from yesterday’s conversation. But I also feel hope. Hope that the immunotherapy treatment might – yet – kick in (there are cases of it taking six months before it works! although if my cancer continues to grow this fast I am not sure I will be here in six months). Hope that there might be other options out there for me, perhaps a clinical trial. Hope that the other, lifestyle changes and integrative approach I am pursuing will help as well.
Hope because, in my bones, I know I am not done. Not done. NOT done.
It is an extraordinary thing to live within such a stark reality of light and dark. The reality is, I may only have months left in this body. And yet, as I reflect, I feel all these tender, precious things gathered up inside me, these things that shyly show their face during the darkest moments, if I let them. The truest things I know.
What is it to be human but to be a carrier of tender, precious things, gathered inside? Memories and experiences and relationships and connections and pain and presence. Sensations and breath. And love. All the love. The love I have for my family, for my friends, for the earth and the beauty of this planet. For animals and trees and flowers. For the sea and the rivers. For the simple act of being.
How glorious it is to be alive, today, one year on. I am grateful. I am humbled by the power of the story I am living, in the knowledge the outcome may not be what I choose. I am on my knees, not broken but bowing my head in humility. I am flying high with the wonder of it all. Because it is a wonder. It is all such a mystery. Being pressed up against the light and the dark these past months, being stuck in a flat, bedridden at times, during lockdown, feeling my body change and weaken, experiencing the love of my family, being separated from most people I love and from the life I had before cancer & covid; in amongst the shit and the pain and the fear and the frustration and the loneliness, there has been a growing sense of wonder at just how amazing this life is. We are living in extraordinary, tender, bruising times. May we all find the light in the dark. It is there, I promise.
I breathe. I hope. I love and am loved.
I am lucky to be alive. Long may it continue.