Surviving the Cancer Aftermath
There are many ways we are told to survive the cancer aftermath. Every newspaper tells you the latest advice: what we must avoid; what we must add to our lifestyle; how we must adhere to these new ever-changing goalposts just to live past this disease and prevent it coming back.
You know the score.
Monday: 'Drinking just two cups of coffee a day can decrease your risk of cancer.’ Wednesday: 'Drinking more than two cups of coffee a day can increase your risk of cancer.’ You can't win!
Two Decades of Denial
This advice onslaught only started to emerge to me a few years ago. I’d spent two decades stubbornly with my head in the sand, refusing to really accept that I'd even had cancer.
Those two decades were spent ticking every box on the list of how NOT to survive a cancer diagnosis.
Some classics include:
- Stage diving at a rock gig, less than twelve months after having my cancer-riddled spine fixated with metal, and landing on the ground.
- Exposing my scar to the sun in the vain hope that eventually the tan would fade. Years later, I discovered that sun + recently highly irradiated tissue = skin cancer. Nice move Liz!
In a nutshell, if it could be done in excess then I did it. I had periods of binge drinking. I smoked so much that the paintwork would go yellow with nicotine staining. The only exercise I did was taking the kids to school and back.
I burnt the candle at both ends on a regular basis. Around the five year mark, I distinctly remember my weekend had stretched out to Thursday to Sunday. I felt the worst example of a living, breathing cancer survivor you could find.
But you know what? I didn't have a recurrence and my back somehow survived the brutal treatment I gave it. Yes, I have had numerous basal cell carcinomas but who's to say they wouldn't have appeared regardless of my tanning?
I have survived something pretty crap and I'm not going to be made to feel guilty for how I behaved in those years.
Moderation at its best
I finally managed to quit smoking a few years ago but I vape still and my lungs are definitely as happy about this as I am. I stopped drinking a few years ago as well, not because of pressure in the papers, but because at nearing 40 hangovers are killers!!
After such a long time with my head firmly stuck in the sand these constant bombardments feel relentless. It does feel that everyone and their auntie is an expert on what you're supposed to do to get past a cancer experience.
Opinions are like arseholes: everyone's got one. I've found my happy medium finally and it works for me. Moderation.
I roll my eyes at the latest advice and flip it the bird in my head. I will choose what I put in my body and how I use it, I choose moderation as I'm a stubborn mule and no one tells me what to do!
Embrace Happiness: Ignore the Guilts
Life is so precious and we shouldn't be denied the things that make us happy just because the newspaper tell us so. Have that glass of wine and eat that chocolate if it makes you happy. Run that marathon and celebrate with a steak. Binge on Netflix with your cat all day.
If we jumped every time the new advice appeared we'd have nothing left. I didn't sign up for survival with conditions attached; I'm a no strings kinda girl. When it comes to me and cancer, I'm not going to do anything to purposely poke it, but I'm certainly not down for living under a set of ever-changing rules.
A Bit About Liz:
My name is Liz and I was diagnosed with an ‘aggressive osteoblastoma’ in two vertebrae in my spine on my 14th birthday in 1989. This was treated with a lot of surgery, metalwork in my back to replace the destroyed bone and hold me together, then 6 weeks of radiotherapy to kill off any remaining critters.
I spent two decades in blissful denial about all of the above until late effects started knocking on the door. In the last five years I have had numerous skin cancers removed from the radiation field, these have always been Basal Cell Carcinomas - benign, easy to remove, won't kill you, but still not what you need. In the last 6 months I have developed delayed radiation induced plexopathy which it seems is the effects of 1989 style radiotherapy and I am slowly losing the use of my dominant arm which, again, won't kill me but does turn me into a bitter cow at times! Cancer survival is a long term relationship that none of us want to be in, but we're in it whether we like it or not.