You’ve probably heard that thing about all the cells in your body replacing themselves roughly every seven years, so that the you of today is literally a different person to the you of seven years ago. I was a different person seven years ago, and not just on a cellular level. Yesterday was the seven-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I can never remember the date of our wedding anniversary, but I always remember this.
Several things happened this week. One was that I signed a contract for some books that I can’t yet talk about in detail, but will soon. Like all these things, it felt momentous and also everyday. I clicked to sign and sent it off, and it was done. Another was that I finished the first draft of a book I’ve been writing for a few months, which features a woman in a coma, domestic violence, KitKats, and pubs. And the third is that my oncologist discharged me. Quietly, without fuss, on the phone.
I was supposed to go in for an appointment, but it was at four o’clock and Paul was in London and school pick-up is at ten past three and it was going to be a bit tight. I asked if I could move it, considered picking the kids up from school early, thought about asking friends to help me out, and then eventually asked to change it to a phone consultation. I didn’t know it would be the last one. As it turned out, Joe was sent home from school sick on Monday and didn’t go back in for the rest of the week, so it was definitely for the best. But between trying to finish my draft and doing my freelance work and looking after Joe, I completely forgot about the call until the phone rang.
He asked me his usual questions. We talked about my medication, which I’ll be on until 2027. And then he said that he thought he could sign me off. I was caught off-guard, but I remembered to say thank you, for everything. It’s strange to possibly owe your life to someone who you know next to nothing about. When I was first assigned to him, Paul looked him up online and learned that he’s interested in ancient civilisations. Every time I saw him, Paul would ask whether I’d talked to him about that. But we just talked about cancer. And now we won’t, anymore.
Shortly after the call, I went to the church to collect Elodie from gymnastics. I got there five minutes before the end and watched through the window as these tiny girls bent their bodies into bridges and touched their toes to their heads to a soundtrack of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. And I was so grateful for that moment, and for all the moments of her life, which were never promised to us and once looked so close to being snatched away.
So how am I different from the woman I was on the day of my diagnosis? I know a lot more about how cruel life can be. I hold my children very tightly. I am stronger. In the past seven years, I’ve gone from a mother of one to a mother of two, I’ve written numerous drafts of seven novels, I’ve built up a book community of 13,000 people on Facebook. The core people in my life are the same, but there are new people I don’t know how I ever lived without, too.
When I told Joe my cancer doctor doesn’t need to see me anymore, he gave me a high five. He was two back then; he is nine now. Life carries on. Time ticks by. Not all the women I’ve met on this stupid path have made it. Cancer is indiscriminate and cruel – we all know that. We all know someone it has taken. For no reason at all, it hasn’t yet taken me. But I will keep acknowledging it, keep trying to be better. And the next seven years? Who knows. I don’t take them for granted.
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