It feels as though cancer has been part of my life forever. It’s only been 4 years. Two elevenths of my life. Or 18%. So not all that much when you calculate the percentage, but I suppose cancer will always be part of my life, now. Having a Mum die of cancer does that to a person. The word cancer will always hit me in a way it never did before August 2012, and I’m more alert than I ever used to be for signs and symptoms of cancer in both myself and those around me.
So over time that percentage will grow. But however much it does grow, whatever number it hits, it will always be under 100%; I had a life before cancer, and there will be parts of my life to come that won’t be defined by this disease, either.
I’ve just cleared out my childhood bedroom at Dad’s house. It used to be called home, or my parents’ house, but none of those seem to fit any more. So it’s now Dad’s house. It’s been a few weeks since I was last there. It’s all a bit odd… When I first went to uni, I didn’t go home for weeks on end. But as Mum became more ill, I went home more often, so it never really felt like I was moving out… or moved out. I haven’t slept in that room since Mum’s coma in February 2014, I’ve always stayed in the spare room, but that’s another story for another day.
Going through my room was like travelling through time. With every cupboard, every drawer, and every bag, another set of memories was uncovered.
It’s amazing how many details of childhood get lost in the fog of memory and time. I had a house in a village and a small primary school and some friends. I had reading achievements, book cover design achievements, a poem in a published book. I had a church, a Sunday school, the Fairtrade stall, a few Christian camps. I had swimming badges, Brownies badges, Guides badges, Explorer Scout badges, and Duke of Edinburgh awards. I had music certificate after music certificate after music certificate. I had multiple art books, a jar of wool-ends from the granny square blanket Mum helped me put together, another jar of little paper stars I used to fold. I had tennis trophies, a table tennis bat, a few medals from charity runs. I had enough charity and volunteering t-shirts to clothe a small army.
I uncovered the life of a person with hopes, dreams, aspirations and confidence. Someone who looked to the future, knew what she wanted, and had long-term goals. Someone who got involved in anything and everything, and aimed to be the best at everything she tried. I uncovered the life of a person who feels so far removed from myself that I’m not sure I recognise them.
Some of losing these things is just growing up. It’s a natural part of life. But it’s almost as though cancer came into my life and slowly took my interests, and what made me ‘me’, erasing them from my life one by one.
I had a life before cancer, but I don’t want to go back to that life, because it doesn’t feel like ‘my life’ anymore. I don’t want to try and go back to the person I was before because it would be like trying to fit a jigsaw piece into a hole that it doesn’t belong in. I would say I feel broken, and irreversibly changed, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I have changed. My perspective has changed, and to some extent my life values have, too. Cancer has ripped a hole in my life, and caused me to forget to live for a couple of years. It makes living hard at times, even now, because it feels like I’ve ‘checked out’ for the last few years, and in that time things have changed and people have moved on – it’s impossible to jump straight back in feet first.
I had a life before cancer, and I’m not going to get that back. I don’t want to get it back. But if I had a life before cancer, I can have a life after cancer, too. I’ve just got to keep taking steps forward, no matter how hard it gets. I’ve just got to keep on keeping on