I had a hospital appointment this week for something completely unrelated to cancer – or that’s what I thought. For several months I have had pain in my mouth, making it difficult to open my mouth very wide and it’s been painful to eat much of the time. I went to the dentist expecting her to tell me that my teeth were falling apart and I needed new fillings, but she said it was something to do with my jaw and referred me to a consultant. It turns out that there’s nothing wrong with my teeth, but the pain is due to me grinding them together from stress. The pain has been getting better while I was waiting for this appointment and the consultant said there wasn’t much evidence of recent teeth gnashing, so it’s a very manageable thing and nothing serious. But thinking back to this time last year, I found the first few months leading up to Easter very hard. I was struggling to get back into my old life and find myself again after all that happened the year before. That stress was expressed in grinding my teeth which led to the pain in my jaw, and now I am more myself it’s subsiding again. It’s interesting to see the interconnectedness of our emotions and our bodies, the way our thoughts and feelings affect our physical selves. Our bodies know things that our conscious minds might not be aware of, or might be choosing to ignore. We are our bodies, of course. We use words like mind, body, spirit to describe different aspects of ourselves as if they were distinct and separate elements, but they are not. Perhaps each part holds a different kind of knowledge of what is going on and we need to listen to them all to get the full picture.
2016 was a year of getting used to my rearranged body, a body that doesn’t quite behave like it used to. I feel like it’s not completely under my control. I’m still beset by hot flushes that sometimes just come and go and at others leave me drenched and embarrassed. I’m trying to manage some mild lymphedema under my arm, with my doctors telling me it’s nothing to worry about, but that does nothing to allay the worry. My fingernails feel paper-thin and split at the slightest pressure. It hasn’t helped that my running adventures last year were curtailed by accidents that left me with even more scars. Apparently, every scar tells a story of surviving. I feel like my new scars last year tell the story of being clumsy. The fall from my bike in Japan and then tripping over while I was still recovering knocked my confidence in what I’m physically capable of. Alice-May Purkiss has written eloquently about the fear of your body that remains after a cancer diagnosis, of not being able to trust it to let you down again. What she says resonates deeply with me.
That’s one of the reasons why I did my Norfolk run last week, to see how my body responds when I ask a lot of it, to find out what I’m capable of again. Turns out I’m capable of quite a few miles which is reassuring as I ramp up the marathon training for Palestine and London. This different body feels more like my own again, and I’m grateful for what it allows me to do even if it looks different to how it was before. I visited Tate Britain this week and laughed out loud at this wonky-breasted Moore sculpture. Who knows if she was modelled on someone who has had a mastectomy, but I felt she was a kindred spirit, someone like me.