Remission anniversary seven

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Today is the seventh anniversary of the day I was told I was officially in remission from cancer. The popular myth about such news is that you go home and reach for that bottle of Champagne you have been keeping at the back of the fridge for emergency celebrations. It was not like that for me.

I have lost close friends to cancer since entering my own remission. Not one of them found the discourse of cancer as a ‘battle’, so common in our culture, helpful. Before she died, one of them reminded me of the popular image of remission as ‘breasting the finishing tape’ at the end of a long race. Neither one of us found this accurate.

For me it was more like collapsing in a heap, or into a cave. Some of the most dark days I experienced in my journey with cancer came not after my original diagnosis but in the aftermath of being told I was better. I think it is fair to say that this is not commonly anticipated by one’s friends and loved ones.

Just as I shall not forget the uncomprehending looks of dismay on people’s faces when I told them I had cancer, neither shall I forget the same when I told them all I wanted to do now I was well was curl up under my duvet and cry.

I think I am one of the lucky ones, in that I was directed to a specialist post-cancer counsellor, and that my family and friends were patient and kind to me as I tried to piece myself back together. The odd thing about remission is that the person who handles those fragments is not the same person who witnessed them being broken.

I have heard stories of cancer patients who ‘just get on’ with their previous lives as though nothing has happened to them (and I wish them well). This was not a course I felt I could take. It is long and arduous work, secretive, non-linear and iterative. Every time I felt I had come to understand what I had been through I would find myself weeping in the supermarket the next day.

I am coming to terms with my experience of cancer, some seven years after I got better. As I have said elsewhere on this blog, friends have died since my remission, while others have been diagnosed, relapsed and still live with the disease.

My getting better has protected nobody.

I do wake up sometimes wondering if it will come back, of course. But I can also go for several weeks without even thinking about it, only to obsess about it (my counsellor called this ‘spiralling’) for days on end, as if out of nowhere.

I think —I think— I am less anxious about who knows and who does not know that I have been ill. Yes, it happened to me, I practice saying. I would rather it had not, but it did. My counsellor labelled this ‘acceptance’, an abstract word I try each day to make into an action. I say thank you, and thank you, God. For the robin outside my window. For my son practising bass. For my daughter going to university. For this coffee, and the voice in the other room which has just asked if she could have some, too.

Which reminds me, there is living to do, and a life to commit to, each day.

19 comments

  1. currankentucky

    Beautiful post, I’m fighting the tears as your emotion comes across so strong.I often wonder about what my life will be like post ME (I’m adamant there will be a post life and all these current limitations are simply a transitional period) and have already resolved it won’t be my past life. My past is the past for a reason. My future will be positively different but so too is each current day. I have ME, I’m pretty much housebound but I’m lucky enough to be in the moderate category and so can and do live each day to my best. Even if it means a small walk in my garden or sitting on a window ledge with the window cranked, or reading a post such as this. Thank you, (yet again).

    Like

  2. Myra Schneider

    Dear Anthony,

    Thank you for this touching post which I am sure it will be meaningful to many. It of course took me back to my long slow recovery from chemo and radio and the depression I felt during this time. That was the period when writing supported me least and when I feared I would never get my energy back. I hope you will at some point find time to read my books – they will connect in some ways for you. Also your book was here when I got back from holiday and our supper was very late because I got lost in the first 20 pages – the immediacy of your experience. Read some more of the book a bit earlier and again supper late. To me there were 3 plusses from experiencing cancer, the first which you and others mention that it makes one appreciate hold onto every precious drop of life, the second that it gave me some insight into experiencing an extreme situation. It proved to me what I already believed that writing from dumping in a diary to writing poems can be amazingly therapeutic. Horrible as the months of treatment were and losing part of my body I felt I’d been taken into a new dimension of living.

    I have heard from Alasdair Paterson and he sounded interested in fitting me in during the second half of next year.

    Very best wishes, Myra

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  3. ngir

    Thank you Anthony for your characteristic honesty about the contradictory nature, for you, of being in remission – your posts are a warm hand to hold, even though I mostly don’t realise I would like a quick touch of a warm hand. Tom

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  4. Fiona Quilty

    Hi Anthony,
    When my husband goes for his remission visits -all good so far, (10 years) I/we invariably cry, hug and laugh. Always on a tightrope, always scared.
    Your post was so close to home.
    All best
    Fiona

    Like

  5. annekealy

    Hi Anthony
    Such an honest and refreshing response to what you have been through. I recognise much of what you say, despite not having cancer but a serious Road Traffic Accident. Thank you for expressing it so eloquently.
    All the very best
    Anne

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  6. Clare Best

    Thank you Anthony. I think much of what you say, and so beautifully, expresses the reality that linear time (and the constructs the world hangs on it!) is not particularly relevant to so much of life, particularly when it comes to extreme situations. Letting go of the idea of linear time (spirals have always been, to my mind, a more helpful if scary idea) or seeing linear time as one of very many options, is terrifying and freeing.
    Clare xx

    Like

  7. Wendy

    Congratulations on your seven years,if that’s not inappropriate to say. I was mid-treatment back then and willing myself to Christmas. Thanks for sharing some of your remission experiences, helps me make sense of mine a little.

    Like

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