The Five Year anniversary

People talk about five years, when you’re dealing with cancer. It’s some magical future that people look towards, because your chances of recurrence fall quite a bit if you reach it. And here I am. Five years to the day since Paul and I sat in the bad news room and our lives started spinning out of control. No recurrence. No secondary diagnosis. But I couldn’t say no fear. I couldn’t say that.

Yesterday, I had an appointment with my oncologist for the first time in about eighteen months. I usually see him every six months or so, but everything was pushed back because of the pandemic, and then I was finally given an appointment, and I found myself driving that old familiar route to the hospital where I had my chemo on the day before this big anniversary. It was unseasonably warm. The kids had been in the garden in their swimming stuff, eating ice lollies and having water fights. I left them in front of the TV, Paul working upstairs, and sang along to Folklore all the way there.

In the waiting room, I saw one of the nurses I knew. The one who held my hand while my port was being fitted on the day of my first chemo. She recognised me, despite the mask I was wearing, the long hair. Despite the hordes of women she must have cared for since. We had a brief chat about her daughter, who was doing her GCSEs when I was having treatment, and is in the final year of her degree now. And about mine, who was days old and fighting for her life that day this woman first held my hand, and is now at school and starting to read and the most stubborn, defiant person I’ve ever met. We did that ‘Can you believe it? Time flies’ thing. Because it does. And it doesn’t.

My oncologist is fastidious and thorough but he leaves the emotional side of things to the nurses. One of whom once told me that if she had cancer, he’s the person she would want looking after her. When I mentioned that it was five years, I looked at him for a reaction. I remembered that in the very early days, when he’d promised to call me with some news, he kept that promise despite having had to travel to India because his father had died. I thought I saw a flicker of a smile, but I might have imagined it. We talked about my medication, he told me to stop taking one thing and that something else would change next year, and he examined me, and then I was back out in the waiting room, heading home.

I didn’t have big plans for today, because it’s impossible to have big plans at the moment. My wonderful friend Claire was coming over with her children to play in the garden, and Joe and I had made a honey cake. I was looking forward to standing with my friend, watching the kids play for the first time in months, and laughing. Little things. But then Joe appeared in our room at seven this morning, saying he didn’t feel well, and though he clearly has a cold, he was coughing a bit so Paul took him to get a Covid test and we had to cancel our plans.

We’re due to see my parents tomorrow, Paul’s parents on Saturday, both for the first time since a cold, outdoor meeting at Christmas, and I don’t know whether or not those plans will go ahead. So it’s felt hard, today, when I was hoping it might feel special. I’m more tired than I should be and I don’t know why. I feel like I did in those newborn days, like I’m in a fog. Just before lunch, I cried in the toilet for a few minutes.

I couldn’t have known this is where the world would be when I reached this milestone. I’m celebrating it the way I celebrated my fortieth birthday last year. Quietly, with my family. Trying to keep sight of the fact that being here to celebrate it at all is the important thing.  

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