Eat, Sleep, Breathe, Repeat.
Five and a half years ago, I stood in the shower, cradling my right breast and the peanut sized lump it contained, which I’d found after a first time self examination prompted by a newspaper article. I can’t describe the emotions, the thoughts which ran, unfettered and alarmingly, through my mind at that precise moment.
Of the unknown. How? When? What? Would I die? What is dying, actually? Will I be conscious? Will I feel my death? Will I know the end, when it comes?
For my children. They would have to live with my death. I am a single parent. They would be alone. I can’t leave them. I can’t.
The Terror Again.
For the things I hadn’t done. The ambitions unachieved. The hopes and dreams unfulfilled. I want to live, my mind screamed silently, as the water cascaded through my tears and ran in rivulets of terror, and sadness, and hope and regret, over a body now contaminated by the thought, the prospect – of cancer. Oh, I wanted to live.
So I did.
Which brings me to where I am now, writing this.
The bits in between a memory. The uncertainty of each day. We sort of take for granted that night follows day, follows night. We think we have forever, but we don’t. We think that we are going to open our eyes each morning, but one day we won’t and I no longer harbour the belief that this is a certainty any more. It really IS a gift, even through pain, through tears, through puking on the bed because you are too weak to crawl to the bathroom; the effects of the cure being more painful than the reason for it. It’s a gift even through your teeth crumbling because instead of losing your hair, the chemotherapy affected the enamel in your teeth and they started to rot and you stopped smiling; through all of that and the constipation; the itchiness; the skin rashes; the metallic taste you can still taste even now; the nausea; the tiredness which makes you fall asleep at your desk on the ‘good’ days when you can drag your bedraggled, cancer striken body into work; the headaches; the D & V; the dry, flakey skin – all of that and every day is still a gift.
I’m still here.
A blessed relief from the nightmare place where I tentatively began to hope for something. Two and a half years on from the day in the shower, I began to hope until the second lump.
Not content with visiting once, cancer decided to pay a second visit. Hey, there, Hello! Were you going to FORGET about me?
Some people named their cancer. They called it Bob, or Angela because they wanted to personify their nemesis in the hope somehow that christening it would kill it. To me, it was just cancer. I never wanted to get on first name terms with it, so I just left it at that. Cancer.
Eat. Sleep. Breathe. Repeat.
Eat. Sleep. Breathe. Repeat.
I ate hope for breakfast most days.
I slept relief from the side effects of a second round of treatment.
I breathed expectation when I pinned my future on a man I had met just as the second round of treatment came to an end and I began to want a future. So I placed things I hadn’t admitted I wanted – love, romance, a future – I parked these things on his doorstep as I repeated my mantra – I want to Live.
So I did.
And here I am now, writing this amidst the quiet, contemplative joy of survival that I feel at this moment, whilst swallowing the bitter pill of loss along with the steroids and the Tamoxifen. Loss of life – dear friends whom the cancer claimed as its’ own – the loss of the love I thought the man on whom I placed my expectations would give me (he didn’t, incidentally and now I know that my expectations were for a future we never really had together) – the loss of the person who I used to be, who knows now that sometimes cancer isn’t something that happens to someone else and that tomorrow is promised to no-one.
I thought I might buy champagne, but this thirst for life cannot be quenched; I thought I might dance, but I don’t know the steps; I thought I might throw a party, but I don’t want to celebrate; because in the end, which is really a beginning, I don’t want any of these things. Now that I have done it, surviving cancer isn’t really something I want to celebrate when I remember quietly all the people I have known and loved who haven’t heard those two, joyful, wonderful, blessed words. So I cannot celebrate, but I can now contemplate a renewal, a fresh start – that beginning, with a slate which says
© Amy J Steinberg 2018
In loving Memory of Judith, Michael, Eleanor, Lizzie, Alison, Claire, Debby, Brooke, Cathy and Lynn.
“To live in the hearts of those who love you, is not to die.”