Joni Mitchell sang ‘don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone?’ I’ve found in the last few weeks that I hadn’t realised how much I was missing something until I began to get it back.
Post surgery I was very sensible about my return to running – taking a longer break when my knee protested, gently paced short jogs, some core work and strengthening with a personal trainer, gradually building up the distance, not pushing myself too hard. During radiotherapy I was told I would probably get fatigued and would need to rest, and so I tried not to do too much but got shingles anyway. The evening before my final session I was feeling fed up and restless, having spent a lot of time on my own that week and I realised that what I was craving was the type of carefree running that I used to do. And so I went out in the rain, ignoring the need to be sensible and just ran. I ran along the North Circular shouting ‘I want myself back’ at the darkening sky, not really caring if there was any one around to hear me. It was a hard run but it was cathartic and energising and I arrived home sweaty and smiling. I do understand that I mustn’t do too much too soon, but I also think that expecting to be weak and worn out can be a self fulfilling prophecy once you’re over the worst – it’s a fine balance. I’m tired of being tentative and careful, of not knowing what my body is capable of. I want myself back.
And then this week I went bra shopping. I’ve been hesitant to write about my breasts too much because I don’t want to think about my friends thinking about them, if that makes sense. But you all know I’ve had breast cancer and this is just part of the deal. Since the operation in October I’ve been quite lopsided and I’ve been wearing a sports bra ever since. At the beginning that was to keep my new breast supported and protected, but once it had recovered I actually didn’t have any choice. My old bras just didn’t fit any longer and as radiotherapy makes your skin quite sore, and you need to wait to see how the new breast settles down, I’ve left bra shopping until now. I went to Nicola Jane, a shop that you would never know existed unless you’ve had an experience like mine. A lovely shop assistant produced some bras that fit me and when she left me in the changing room while she packaged them up I quietly dissolved in tears of relief, and then sobbed some more when I went to pay. I’m choosing to accept this new breast because it is a part of me and part of this whole experience, but to be honest it is a pale reflection of the one that I’ve lost. Somehow having a bra that evens them up, even if it is with a bit of padding, makes me feel so much better and more me. I’m getting myself back.
This week I went back to work, another step on the recovery road. Tonight I’m having a party to celebrate the end of treatment and to say thank you. And I don’t know how much more I’ll have to say here about this cancer experience. I have another post brewing but that may be it. Like Lemn Sissay said, I don’t want to hug the bruise, to hold on to being a patient, to try to extract more mileage from this strange journey. Something tells me that I just need to get on with living now. I may eat my words over the next few months, but for now I want to say thank you to everyone who has read what I’ve written, who has commented on this blog or over on Facebook, who has been with me during the last nine strange months. Writing about cancer has really helped me; if it’s helped anyone else, that’s a huge bonus.
Photo: Lumiere festival last weekend by Jonny Baker