I’ve been trying very hard to concentrate on moving forwards recently. I’ve been distracting myself with work and a wedding and love and all of the great things that have been going on in my life, but sometimes the darkest bits of cancer creep in when I don’t want them to, and it’s a case of no longer being able to escape it.
I’ve been so open about my experience . From writing here on my blog, to writing for Red magazine (out next month – exciting and terrifying), deciding to take part in the Breast Cancer Care fashion show and all of the press that entails, preparing for my first Boobettes talk and taking my top off to be photographed for a national magazine (New!) half naked with the artist formerly known as boob hanging out for all to see. I do all of these things because I think it’s important to raise awareness of the reality of cancer for younger women. I do all of these things because I think it’s important to spread the message. I do all of these things, but sometimes it comes at a bit of a cost.
My mental health has always been volatile and in the aftermath of cancer this hasn’t changed. It has neither got worse, nor improved. I’m perpetually hard on myself for everything in my life. I spend a lot of my days consumed with anxiety and warding off dark thoughts that often pervade my sunny exterior – but often only when I close the front door and find myself at home, in my safe place. And talking about all of these cancer type things, and living in the midst of all of these things is so important for the mental healing I’m working on, but it’s also sometimes completely overwhelming. Yesterday I cried for the first time in a while. I cried because I’d eaten too many chocolate fingers. I cried about cancer, I cried about the fact I only have one breast, I cried out of fear for the future, I cried for all the other people in the world I know and love or have spoken to who are going through cancer treatment or have been through cancer treatment. I cried for all of the women in the world who have developed secondary breast cancer and know that ultimately, the disease I have survived for now, will kill them. I cried out of sheer exhaustion.
Because even on the days when I’m sunny and shiny and positive, I’m constantly fighting being tired. Cancer treatment makes you tired for a long time after it has finished. I’m also constantly fighting a battle in my head. I’m embarrassed that I’m still so tired, even though treatment finished six months ago. I feel like a failure when I see other people who’ve been through treatment or are going through treatment smashing life, doing all of the great things, without being shackled by a need to hit the hay at approx 9pm every night. I think “I should exercise more, I should eat better. I should try not having as much sugar. All of these things would help me”.
Should. That word should, I think, is the curse of our generation. It’s what makes us apply unnecessarily high amounts of pressure to ourselves, meaning who we are is squashed under a weight of expectation that is preventing us from being who we really are.
I’m frustrated that I’m not right and fine and back to normal again. But what even is normal, you know? And the “normal” I was before cancer (actual LOL) is a normal I can never go back to. You can’t go backwards to who you were yesterday without going through cancer, so how on earth do I expect myself to go backwards to who I was before my body tried to kill me? Apparently, in true Alice fashion, I’m expecting too much of myself and I’m being hard on myself when I don’t meet my own expectations. But what’s that about? DUDE. Stop it. You’ve had a pretty tumultuous 18 months. And even if you hadn’t, why are you expecting yourself to be some kind of superhero? In the words of Jessie J, and many before her, it’s ok not to be ok.
I think the pressures we experience as a result of living in the world we live in, make us all guilty of expecting too much of ourselves, and that hasn’t changed for me, just because I have had cancer. It’s not worse, it’s not better. It’s just different. Life in the aftermath of cancer is a whole different kettle of fish but with the same old challenges of life before cancer even crossed my mind.
I’m taking the day today. I’m staying in bed for a while. I’m not going to check my emails. I’m going to try and stay off social media (not in the least because I don’t want to be inadvertently exposed to whoever was kicked off Bakeoff last night). All of the work I have to do today is done. I’m going to recharge and replenish, because that’s what my soul needs.
If that’s what your soul needs, I recommend you do it too.
I want to be fine. I want to be great. I want to have put cancer behind me and moved on. But it doesn’t work that way. I need time. That time might be weeks, months, it might be years. Decades. I just have to accept that’s what I need.
I’m pretty lucky, but if you know someone who has gone or is going through cancer treatment, ask them how they are. Really ask them. Look them square in the face, tell them you’re ready to listen, and get them to talk to you about their feelings. Even if you can’t understand, and I hope you are never able to understand, because understanding comes at a big cost, ask them. It’ll be good for them to talk. Because you can almost guarantee they’re feeling a bit lost, a bit overwhelmed, a bit tired and a bit like they need a hug. But they will almost never ask for it, for fear of feeling like a burden.
Oh. And I got married a few weeks ago. That was nice. This guy is pretty great, you know. I’m thankful for him every single day. But don’t tell him I told you.