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What if I live to be 90?
Last year on the anniversary of my diagnosis, I wrote of the struggle I was having with commitment. I couldn't make any sort of decision about my new post-treatment reality. Well now, a further year on, I am happy to say I’m finally moving forward. The trigger was attending a 90th birthday party.
Over the last year I had many false starts. I was no longer working, having quit my old job during treatment, so had time on my hands. I was feeling better, albeit with remnants of chemo brain. The medical appointments had stopped, except from the quarterly checks. I was alive and I needed to get on with things.
I enrolled in Tai Chi class only to realise after a few weeks I was really struggling to stand for the required 45 minutes. Drats, too soon, I thought.
Then I joined a sewing group only to find the numbness still in my fingertips made many tasks difficult.
9am Choir? No, too early in the day.
The only thing I really managed was a meditation group held at our local cancer centre.
I was getting frustrated.
Around the middle of the year, a chance conversation with an old colleague led to an offer of casual work. Just four hours a week for eight weeks with a start time of 10am. I said yes.
It was a teaching role and I enjoyed it, but I came home exhausted and needed to rest the next day. Nevertheless, I ploughed on and soon I felt like I was getting into a new rhythm.
A few months later, I went on a three-week overseas holiday. It had been long planned, but I feared it would be too much for me. Actually, it was great. I couldn’t manage any late-night revelry, but I rested enough to enjoy each day.
The real game changer came with a change of mindset triggered when I attended a 90th birthday party. We were celebrating a woman who had dedicated her life to her family and community work. In her son's speech, he recalled how his mum had beaten cancer three times, almost in passing. He focused more on how much she had contributed to the community and how still lived independently at home.
I suddenly thought, what if I live to be 90?
Sure, I had that little voice in the back of my mind: ‘what if cancer returns?’ But I couldn't help responding - what if it doesn’t? Or what if it does, and then I go into remission again? I could still have a long life ahead of me. My doctors had made me feel confident that I would be around for at least another five years, but what if I have 30? If this lady survived cancer three times, why couldn’t I?
I realised at that moment, that my new normal would be a work in progress for a little while longer. That’s totally OK, there’s no rush, I do have time.
I also realised that while I would continue to appreciate every day, I also needed to make plans for the future too. I needed to base my decisions on the assumption that I will live for many, many years, not the assumption I would die soon.
As a result, I am enjoying each day more. The pressure is off.
I have committed this year to indulging in my hobbies: gardening, crafting and reading. I have bought plants, signed up for classes and bought books. I have committed to some ongoing volunteer work and planning to start a creative writing course.
I am feeling content with my new normal; quite a turnaround from twelve months ago.
And so, my tips for transitioning to the new normal…
- Be gentle with yourself. Change is hard. Choose just one small thing to appreciate that you have achieved each day.
- Make your decisions based on thinking you will live a normal long life.
- Indulge your passions this will bring you joy.
Maureen O’Keeffe lives in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. She was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in February 2018 and underwent a hysterectomy followed by Radiation and Chemo and is currently in remission. She has had a busy and varied career in the public service, radio and not for profit organisations. Happily now semi-retired, she enjoys the company of friends and her two fluffy cats Zebedee and Lily.
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