On My One Year Cancer Anniversary, This Is What I Wish People Knew

Today, it is one year since my breast cancer diagnosis. A year ago, after the scans and biopsies and plain-spoken oncologists, of course I went home and sobbed. Thankfully, since then, I have not been as scared as I was in that moment. I knew it would be a shit year. What I didn’t know then was that it would be the best worst year of my life, but that this timeframe was arbitrary because I would never be ‘back to normal’.

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Yesterday, I cancelled an exercise appointment at late notice. When I called to cancel I got through to a member of the team who knows me, and whom I’ll call Molly, because that’s her name. I told Molly I was sorry to cancel but I didn’t feel good, and she said “oh. What’s wrong?!” Not for the first time, I had to suppress the urge to angrily reply “erm, I had cancer”. That’s not a good look, I realise that, so I murmur something about having Costochondritis in the hope the long word will appease her.

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I get annoyed. What is it about Molly asking “what’s wrong?!” that had bothered me so much? Maybe it’s that she knows what’s wrong but I’m a year post-diagnosis so that isn’t a legitimate reason anymore. Maybe it’s that I don’t actually know what’s wrong, tbh. I have chronic fatigue now, which is a term guaranteed to provoke eye rolls, but nevertheless it’s true. Some days I can go to the gym/do weight training/ride for miles on my bike, but some days my heart races and I get dizzy just getting dressed. Some days my thighs ache when I walk up the stairs, like I’m weighed down, like gravity pulls harder. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s the hormone therapy crudely stripping me of oestrogen, a hormone that is so complex and crucial, but, it turns out, carcinogenic to me. Maybe it’s late effects from the radiotherapy, a treatment that is often overlooked because “at least it’s not chemo” but like chemo, destroys as it heals so much so that the body can spend years trying to repair the damage.

I don’t tell Molly about my day and how frustrating it was, that I went for a job interview but found it so hard to find my words because I’m menopausal now and my brain is foggy from Tamoxifen. Instead I just tell her about the pain of Costochondritis, because people understand pain. The pain is tolerable, though, and is the least of my worries. What worries me more is the clicking I feel deep in my sternum. The radiotherapy has weakened my bones so it’s probably just that, but am I sure? Could it be my lung? Or bone mets in my ribs? I Google bone mets again.

It isn’t Molly’s fault I’m paranoid. Most people just don’t really understand. It’s been a year of knowing there was cancer in my body, and that cancer is probably how I’ll die. I know my chances of recurrence. Even if I never have a recurrence that thought can weigh heavy some days. I cannot explain to Molly how the death of Rachael Bland last week provoked an unsettling sadness in me that I can’t quite shake off, and that I then get annoyed with myself for wasting time worrying.

I want to tell Molly that it has been the hardest year of my life and I’ve had a shit day and I feel old and sore and so very tired, but even I’m annoyed with feeling sorry for myself now, so I get over it. I suck it up and realise that everything requires more effort now, but the effort is worth it because in so many ways I’m much stronger than I was this time last year. I spare Molly the verbal onslaught of my deranged hormones and just say: “Thanks. See you tomorrow”.

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