Originally Published On: August 26, 2020 Last Updated On: August 26, 2020
It’s been over a year since I finished my last round of chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. And I don’t think anyone could have predicted how 2020 was going to turn out. This year was meant to be a year of celebrating my remission. Instead, I’ve been reminded (again) how much life can change in such a short space of time.
While living through a global pandemic has been overwhelmingly stressful, there have also been a few moments of happiness.
I rediscovered my love of reading and I’m well on track to reaching my goal of finishing 100 books in 12 months. I’ve increased my hours at work so I’m now *almost* back to working full-time. And after 9 months of counselling, I’m finally in a place where I feel like I no longer need it.
It’s been a long journey, and I wanted to share five things I think everyone should know about my life after cancer.
I’m the same person I was before. But I’m also different
I’m sure I’ve spoken about this on my blog before. But it took me a long time to accept that when you go through a life-threatening illness like cancer, it’s normal to come out the other side and find you have changed.
It’s also a normal part of life in general. How many people in their late 20s (or older) feel that they’re *exactly* the same person they were when they were a teenager?
Ten years ago I would spend most weekends drinking and dancing until the early hours of the morning. Nothing wrong with that (at all), however, nowadays you’re more likely to find me in a library than the pub. And that’s also ok.
This might sound like a cliché, but having cancer made me realise that life is so short. My core personality hasn’t changed. But I’m no longer interested in wasting my time and energy on things that make me sad, anxious, or stressed.
If it doesn’t make you happy then it doesn’t deserve to take up space in your life.
My body still feels broken. But it feels stronger than it did 12 months ago
So many people warned me that recovery would be a marathon, not a sprint. I didn’t realise how right they would be! Exercise used to be a huge part of my life pre-cancer, and I often feel frustrated that I get tired so easily now.
But when I think about how this time last year my body was so weak I could barely walk to the end of my street, I feel a deeper appreciation of how far I’ve come.
Just don’t expect me to run a marathon any time soon!
I still think about the chance of relapse. But not as much as I did last year
When I first finished treatment, my thoughts were consumed with an overwhelming fear that it wasn’t over. That the cancer could come back one day.
Those worries haven’t disappeared, but they have shifted to the back of my mind. The best way I can think to describe it is that a year ago I probably spent around 80-90% of my time worrying about the possibility that I might relapse. These days it’s nearer to 40-50%. Next year it might only be 10-20% (I hope). But I think it’s a fear that will follow me around for the rest of my life.
Every time I feel slightly sick, my mind instantly goes to the worst-case scenario. But I’ve learned not to google my symptoms and trust in my doctors.
I still struggle with anxiety and depression. But I’ve learnt ways to cope with it
1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England (source: mind). Conversations around mental health have increased in recent years. However, in reality it still isn’t taken as seriously as it should be.
I can’t even begin to explain how much counselling has helped me. I feel extremely privileged to have been able to access it so easily through my NHS trust (who offer an oncology counselling service).
My confidence hasn’t 100% recovered. But I no longer cry when I look in the mirror
There were times last year where I would look at my reflection and barely recognise the person staring back at me.
When my hair started to fall out, so many people said to me “It’s only hair, it’ll grow back!”
While that may be true, what it doesn’t acknowledge is the fact that, alongside my hair, I was also losing my self-identity. I looked sick, and people treated me differently because of it. Even if they didn’t do it on purpose.
Now that I’m one-year post-treatment, I find it weird how strangers can look at me and have no idea what I went through. It’s made me realise how often we make assumptions about people, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that no-one can ever know everything about a person’s health just by looking at them.