Last night, I read that Olivia Newton-John’s breast cancer has returned, and spread to her spine, twenty five years after her initial diagnosis. I don’t know what to think about it, really. I watched Grease so many times as a child that she’s practically an old friend. On the one hand, I think that twenty five years is a pretty great run. Can I see myself surviving for another twenty five years? Perhaps. I certainly don’t take it for granted that I will. On the other, it makes me angry, that cancer is so sly it can lie in wait for a quarter of a century and then hit again. I imagine after twenty five years, you might have stopped expecting it. Perhaps.
Just as my body isn’t back to how it was before the cancer (and I don’t just mean the scars, I mean daily aches, stiffness and tiredness), my mind is forever changed. There’s no getting back to normal, I don’t think. You have to redefine normal, and start from there. I’m scared. It’s as simple as that. I’m scared all the time.
It’s about the children, mostly. About leaving them without a mum, leaving Paul to bring them up on his own. It’s about the potential of missing out on stupid things, like watching them splash eachother in the bath or reading Roald Dahl to them at bedtime. It’s about never finding out what they love: sports or music, sciences or arts. Never knowing whether either of them will be a reader or a writer, like me.
There’s a more selfish side to the fear, too. If I don’t get a book published, I’ll be hugely disappointed. I’ve wanted it for so many years, and I’ve worked hard. Like so many people before me, I want to leave something behind. I want something of me to live on. And before, I felt like there was still time. These days, I’m not so sure.
Yesterday, I went to an appointment at the opticians. I visited my sister. I walked to nursery and back twice to drop off and then pick up the kids. I watched Britain’s Got Talent. I listened to quite a bit of of Luisa Omielan’s What Would Beyonce Do? I did some washing. I edited a blog post for a friend. Are these the kind of things I should be doing? The kind of things I would do if I knew, for certain, that cancer was going to come back for me? Some of them. But you can’t just live as if you’re going to die tomorrow, can you? Not when you have a family and a house. Washing, for example, is non-negotiable.
I mentioned Jackie in my last post, the one about the incredible women I’ve met through having cancer. She let me know recently that her cancer has come back. That it’s in her bones. Not twenty five years after her first diagnosis, but three. In her typical fashion, she seemed more concerned when breaking the news about scaring fellow breast cancer survivors than about her own situation. She is doing what I would do: looking at her life and making decisions about what is and isn’t worth her time. She’s doing more writing. Making the most of her family. But I’m sure she’s doing her fair share of washing, too.
Life goes on, doesn’t it? Until it doesn’t. I might have fifty years ahead of me, I might have one. But that’s true of anyone. Nothing is promised, nothing certain. I will keep writing, keep reading, keep washing. I will teach my children the important lessons and try to laugh with them every day. I might be lucky. I might still be lucky.
I was diagnosed May 2016 so I understand that it never really ends and that there has to be a ‘new’ normal. The poem Dust if you must by Rose Milligan was given to me by my counsellor and I have a framed picture of it in my downstairs loo. I try to keep it in mind when planning my time. No one knows how long they have but people like us are constantly aware that it could be limited. Continue to make memories with your family, good luck with the book. Wishing you well. Julie
Julie, I’m so sorry, I somehow missed your comment (for months!) Your diagnosis was a month after mine. I hope you’re doing ok. PS. Love the poem.