There are some days you will always remember, and there are some days you will never forget. This is the anniversary of one of the latter.
Monday 23rd August 2010 is deeply etched on my memory. I can see and hear the moment when the consultant looked me in the eye and uttered those fateful words, ‘I’m sorry, it’s cancer.’
Ten years ago. A milestone that seemed beyond impossible on that day when my certainty was swept away and I feared I might be dead by Christmas. But here I am, and for the most part life is good. I remain NED (No Evidence of Disease) and, despite some long-term side effects, and a few things that needed to be checked out along the way ‘with your history’, I am in good health.
There was a time when I thought I would celebrate if I made it to a decade – but experience changes how we view things, so now I am marking a decade, being thankful for all that is good, but in a way tempered by the harsh reality that I have had to say farewell to around forty women who became, to some degree, friends during that time. (A quick count says I maintain contact with around ninety others, several of whom live with incurable, stage 4 breast cancer). The overall statistics suggest around 70% of women diagnosed as primary will still be alive after a decade; my experience bears this out.
This time last year, I began to draw up plans for marking this decade – ‘ten for ten’ was the idea, a mix of fundraisers, fun and memory making – but of course Covid19 put paid to that. Never mind, no-one died of disappointment, and one day, hopefully, I can do the tandem sky-dive, and if not, well, it’s hardly the end of the world.
I have had many incredible opportunities during these years that would never have arisen had my life taken a different path. From writing up my MPhil to presenting a paper in New Zealand to chairing a day conference on Cancer Induced Cognitive Changes on the one hand, to climbing Ben Nevis, completing night hikes, zip-sliding across the Clyde and fire-walking at the other. There have been moments of pure joy and laughter and firm friendships made; there have been moments of heartbreak when friends died, and even medical depression linked to the triple whammy of chemical, surgical and chronological menopause. But I am here. I am NED. I made it, despite the odds (I am an outlier for my starting point), and life is good.
So not celebrating – how can I do that when about thirty women will die of breast cancer today alone – but certainly marking. Raising a glass of alcohol-free fizz to my absent friends. Treating myself to a large slice of bought cake. Pausing to thank God for being with me in it all. And committing myself to live well, laugh often and love strongly for the rest of my days.