Hello. I'm back. I know I’ve not posted for a few weeks but there have been big decisions to make and a lot of life to try and get moving again.
I know the word ‘crossroads’ will probably evoke very different things for people depending on how old they are. For some it might be dodgy motel-based soap operas, while for others it might be Blazin’ Squad or Britney Spears.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I’ve reached what I think is a turning point in my life. As you already know, 9.5 years ago - at the age of 38 - I was diagnosed with Grade 2 breast cancer. Now, at 47 (teetering on the verge of 48), I was diagnosed with Grade 1 endometrial cancer too. Having cancer once under 50 is a definitely a bit shit but having it twice is really taking the piss.
Thankfully, I seem to have bounced back … again. Nonetheless, if I didn’t take this watershed to really question how I’ve been living my life and what I might want from it in the future, then I think a lot of people would be surprised.
This was brought home to me quite starkly when I returned to work. For the most part, I’ve felt very supported but there was also an abrupt dose of realism when someone candidly asked me in my first week: “why did you come back?” It was totally without malice and a very good question. Why had I decided to come back?
The fact is I have always been a creature of obligation and habit. I’m not a rule breaker. A bit cheeky, perhaps, but definitely not a rebel of any note. I hate to let anybody down and to think that I might not be able to meet the expectations of others, or more importantly of myself, is something that really does not sit well.
So, I’ve been given a lot of food for thought. I went back to work because I thought it was expected of me but I need to be realistic. I need to give myself time to heal: physically, mentally and emotionally. I’m still less than 10 weeks out of (yet another) major surgery and find I get very tired when sitting at a desk and in virtual meetings all day.
I’ve also started to question my personal motivations: my ikigai, or reason for being. The ideal, of course, as people tell me is to get paid to do something that you really love. I don’t disagree … but the chances of someone paying me to watch Poirot and eat biscuits are disappointingly slim.
It’s all a question of balance. And now is the time to try and get some.
Mindful of this fact, I’ve been taking advantage of some of the support options that are available. The most immediately accessible is my local Maggie’s Centre at Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith. Maggie’s is a wonderful charity that provides free support to those affected by cancer at centres across the UK. I used their facilities back in 2012 and to go back and talk to one of their advisers was really helpful.
In particular, I signed up to a short programme of workshops for ‘younger women’ with cancer. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that I was still eligible to be included but, in truth, I am the oldest woman on the call by far.
Nonetheless, it has helped me validate some of my feelings and also helped me to realise just how very far I’ve come. Some of the ladies are still very much in the thick of it: angry at their bodies for going wrong and wondering whether they will ever be able to step out, post treatment, from the cancer cloud and regain a sense of normality.
And, fingers crossed, they will. As I said to them, in the vast majority of cases, developing cancer is just shitty bad luck. That’s the tough reality. But over time – as I and many others have – they will reach a place of acceptance. ‘Real life’ will resume … it might just be a little bit different to the one they had before.
It’s advice I need to follow as well. Sometimes changes are forced upon us but we can choose to make them too. So that’s where I’m at … stood at a major life junction and trying to decide which way to go next. It’s exciting. I think.