When I was a kid and we first got the Internet at home, I was transfixed by looking at the BBC’s On This Day website. This was, of course, in the years before MySpace came into existence and I found myself wasting time choosing apt song lyrics to express the depths of my emotion and deciding which of my friends should be in my top 9, not to mention being distracted by the politics of being a teenage girl. But before all that, when things were a bit simpler, I think On this Day was probably the website I visited most. I used to sit and read about all of the things that happened on specific days in history. What happened on my birthday. What happened on mum’s birthday, on dad’s, on my sisters. What happened on Christmas Day in 1973 or at the turn of the century. We had this enormous book called The Chronicle of the 20th Century which I used to pore over for hours at a time, devouring news articles and headlines from specific days of specific years in history. And it wasn’t even because I was a history buff who was obsessed with history lessons at school. While I found that part of the book and the internet interesting, I was more fixated on the idea of anniversaries than anything else.
It’s interesting, because I wrote about Facebook’s On This Day page for Stylist last summer and talked about how nostalgia like this can be damaging or painful. I stand by that line of thought in a lot of cases, especially relating to ex partners or old friends, or people who are noticeably absent from your life, but I still find anniversaries that aren’t directly related to myself pretty fascinating.
We all have anniversaries or days that we mark, whether they’re personal like birthdays or wedding anniversaries or the anniversary of losing a loved one; or whether they’re more generic days celebrated by everyone – St Patrick’s Day, New Year’s, Armistice. But when something happens – like in my case, you guessed it, you get diagnosed with cancer, you’re given a whole new bunch of anniversaries to celebrate. Scratch that. I’m pretty sure celebrate is not an appropriate word for all of them, but there are certainly days that you notice more after you’ve heard those words.
The anniversary of the day you’re diagnosed. The day you had your surgery. The day you started chemo. The day you shaved your head. The day you finished chemo. The day you finished treatment. And almost inevitably, cos I am prone to excessive rumination, all of these days stick in my head. I never know if they’re happy days, sad days or a combination of the two. Sometimes I’m not even really thinking about it but I wake up and feel a bit strange and it takes me a couple of hours or a couple of days to notice the date and realise why (I can still blame that on chemo brain, right?). And every time one of these anniversaries comes around, I feel simultaneously like 30 seconds and 30 years have passed since whichever anniversary it is.
Last weekend was one year since I finished active treatment. I can remember every single detail of the morning leading up to my last radiotherapy session. I can remember what I was wearing, I remember sending Chris to find the nurses I’d seen every day for three weeks to give them a box of biscuits – a small token of my gratitude for making one of the weirdest times in my life seem more normal. I remember lying on the table, arms above me in 5th position and thinking about how far I had come in the 10 months since they said I had cancer. I wore red lipstick – the best armour I know – and I tried my hardest not to cry as they blasted me with a final dose of radioactive waves, the last my right breast will ever receive.
I feel like I haven’t come that far since I finished treatment, but in my heart I know I must have. Time moves, whether we want it to or not. Time passes, whether it goes at the speed we think it should or not. Days come and go, and whether we want to or not, there are so many that we’ll associate with people or things that happened. It’s like muscle memory – and even if the mind forgets key dates, the body always seems to remember. I guess it’s just a case of figuring out how we process the dates that snag our consciousness. And knowing that it’s OK to feel ’em, no matter if the feeling is positive or negative, or somewhere in between the two. That’s not just for dates relating to cancer either. It’s for all of the dates that mean something to me. All the dates that mean something to you.
I think I’ll always be obsessed with anniversaries – whether they’re mine or historical ones. I have a lot of dates that stick in my mind and I honestly wonder what I’d know if I didn’t use up valuable space in my memory with this kind of thing. And song lyrics. Reckon I know the equivalent of that whole Chronicle of the 20th Century in song lyrics. It’s also weird that chemo has forced me to forget what I went into the kitchen for (EVERY TIME) but allows me to remember key dates. THANKS BRAIN.