After losing her breast, her hair, and her sense of immortality and youth, Ann describes how she grieved her losses after treatment ended.
I can now look to the future
In the January sales this year I bought a coat – the kind of coat that fashionistas would call an ‘investment piece’. Hardly a remarkable experience, except that for me this simple act marked a shift in my response to the breast cancer diagnosis I received three years earlier. It wasn’t until after I had made the purchase that I remembered a time when investment of any sort was far from my mind and, if I had considered it, I would have been paralysed by the fear that the coat would outlast me.
I have to grieve my losses
‘Moving forward’ is an awkward phrase. Time marches on for all of us, whether we appreciate it or not. But a breast cancer diagnosis brings with it many losses. In my case it was the loss of a breast, loss of the head of hair I once had, loss of a sense of youth and immortality, loss of aspects of my self-image and femininity, and loss of control over my body and destiny. Like all major losses, these have to be grieved.
Grief is a slow process, lived through one small, painful step at a time. It’s only when you look back that you realise how far you have come and how many wonderful things you have also gained along the way. Breast cancer used to be the first thought that entered my head each morning. It occupied far too many of my waking hours.
Cancer is part of my story
Three and a half years on from diagnosis, I am still very much a work in progress, but most days I am too busy to think about it. The threat of recurrence still hovers over me, but I have learnt to live with it. The deafening roar of imminent danger has become, for now, a distant hum. Of course there are triggers that turn up the volume from time to time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like it or not, cancer is part of my story.
I'm re-learning to trust my body
Having been fast-forwarded by chemotherapy into what used to be referred to as ‘the change of life’ for women, my body is still doing surprising things. It is difficult to re-kindle a sense of trust in such unfamiliar territory. I haven’t yet reached a ‘new normal’ as I still have irregular cycles, hair which has gone from straight to curly and now back to straight, a reconstructed breast which could be improved, and an array of small symptoms which may be caused by chemo or simply growing older, it is difficult to tell.
Investing in myself
I recognise that my body image has taken a major blow and if there were more hours in the day I would stick to a fitness regime and perhaps eat more healthily. But investing in myself means more than this. It means being kind to myself, forgiving my body, making best use of my strengths and abilities and recognising what is important and what is not. And for this winter at least, it meant wrapping myself in a lovely, timeless new coat.
First published for Dorothy Perkins, one of Breast Cancer Care's supporters.