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My 5 best and worst parts about having cancer

This post is part of our 'Looking Back To Go Forward' series, written by a mum called Rebecca. She was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child. Seven years after her diagnosis and treatment, she reflects on that time, how it affected her and some of the unexpected feelings and experiences it brought up.

Life doesn’t always run smoothly or as we planned in our minds. Sometimes life takes a massive unplanned turn and the best we can do is make it through each day. Although I hate with a passion what cancer took and trashed I am also grateful what I learnt and what changed. In this blog I will be looking at the best and worst parts of having cancer.

Let’s start with the worst:

1. The worst of the worst parts of having cancer was being diagnosed when I was 30 weeks pregnant with my second daughter. That becomes the part which all the other worst parts of having cancer and indeed life are referenced back to and compared with. Nothing will ever be as bad as that. Having to choose whether to have chemo while I was pregnant and then having to have chemo while I was pregnant. The constant worry and guilt at what I might have done to my baby with my choice to try and save my life still sends shivers down my spine when I think about it.

2. Fear has been a hefty part of the worst parts about having cancer and at times has consumed me. The fear of: uncertainty, unknown, dying, being in pain, not seeing my children grow up, dying before my children were old enough to remember me, cancer returning, treatment not working and waiting for test results. The fear never quite leaves. It may lay dormant but it remains lurking and is triggered again by a change in my health, a test or hospital appointment.

3. Feeling a failure for having cancer not once, not twice but three times. I felt a failure at the distress and anxiety I caused my loved ones watching me go through cancer. We were all helpless to resolve the situation. We had to sit back, sit tight and see if the treatment worked and if the bastard stayed away.

4. The loneliness, isolation, disconnection, hopelessness and powerlessness cancer created took me to the brink of mental illness. The days were bleak and torturous until I worked out how I needed to recover from cancer. At times I got through each day minute by minute.

5. Learning to live with death and the finiteness of life. The persistent dread of death stole hours and days of my life. It took me to the third cancer to accept and not be frightened about this guaranteed part of life. I never want to say goodbye to my girls and I don’t want to be in pain but I have got my head round the rest of death.

And now to the best parts:

1. In accepting death and the finiteness of life I now live the life I want to lead. I have dumped the shit. The shit people, tasks and situations. It’s not without consequences but its liberating and freeing. My tolerance for shitty situations is virtually zero. If it stresses me out its gets changed or deleted.

2. Growing up in a generation without mobile phones, the internet or endless TV I would amuse myself by looking at maps and atlases. I found the world an intriguing and fascinating place. I now want to see as much of the world as possible while I have my health and travel when I can. I love and look forward to exploring different countries and cultures.

3. My children. Because no matter how awful having cancer was, when I couldn’t face another treatment, needle, getting my clothes off, pair of hands examining me, side effect or hospital appointment I would think of them and motivate myself to keep going because I want to be their mum for as long as possible. Being a parent is not easy but I appreciate and cherish each and every second because I know what it’s like to think about saying goodbye to them.

4. I use time much more effectively now I know there is a limited amount of it available. I achieve my goals, I’m focused, I’m productive and I don’t stress about the small stuff. If I’m going to be living a short life it’s going to be a good one.

5. I became more assertive in asking for what I needed. I found my voice and although plenty of people didn’t like it I did.

Cancer unearthed the best and the worst of me. Cancer showed me what I could achieve. I learnt my strengths and weaknesses. I learnt resilience and vulnerability. I learnt to ask for help and be independent. I now love every second of my life because it will never be as bad as being diagnosed with cancer and having chemo while I was pregnant.

Cancer serves a large portion of reality and perspective and it’s up to us what we do with that. By acknowledging the best and the worst parts of having cancer created understanding and this helped me recover from cancer. In recovery from cancer it’s important to acknowledge the worst times as well as celebrate the good, this creates balance. If we avoid either part we are not experiencing the whole range of emotions cancer creates.

What were the best and worst parts about having cancer for you? How did these change or influence your life?



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