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I regularly count my blessings...
I was in New York City in November 2008, running in and out of numerous department store changing rooms, trying on jeans, when I noticed an innocuous flat round red spot under my left armpit. Clearly I’d been spending more time scrutinizing myself in the mirror than I normally would have been. Who knows? Had it not been for my preoccupation with American denim and T-shirt brands, I might never have noticed it.
What followed in January 2009 was a scary appointment at Hammersmith Hospital where I was diagnosed with a Primary Cutaneous CD30 positive T-Cell lymphoproliferative disorder. In addition to having to adjust so rapidly to a new regime of hospital appointments, unfamiliar words and language, and for me the scary feeling of having to relinquish control of my future to a bunch of strangers (albeit seemingly clever ones), was the weird sense of ‘otherness’. I didn’t feel connected to the rest of the world. Life went on as normal, and with two young sons at home, I fought back the urge to indulge myself with scary thoughts. But I felt as if I was in a parallel universe, sleepwalking through my days, but with an overwhelming sense of fear and uncertainty about what lay ahead.
I'm incredibly lucky
This was 14 years ago, and I’ve been in remission for nearly all that time, after radiotherapy was successful. But the experience undoubtedly heightened my Carpe Diem approach to life. Don’t get me wrong – I am intensely irritated by anyone who talks about their positive approach somehow staving off further ill-health, and don’t anyone speak to me about manifestation. But the cancer experience made me focus intensely on how incredibly lucky I am, and how my good fortune should not be squandered. I do, quite literally, and on a regular basis, count my blessings.
My attitude to my body has also changed beyond recognition. I run three times a week, I swim at my local lido throughout the year, I eat properly (though will admit to a Jelly Babies addiction, for which I feel no shame), I choose to walk whenever I can. And when I walk, I notice things. I look up at the sky, I admire buildings, I take in my surroundings in a way I never did before my diagnosis.
My new job keeps my brain sharp
I have also recently, at the age of 61, started a ridiculously ‘big’ job at a local authority, and although in one way I’m wondering if I have lost my mind, the high level of responsibility that the role entails gives me a huge amount of satisfaction, keeps the adrenaline pumping through my veins and my brain in some kind of relatively good working order.
Reflecting on how things might have been had I not had cancer, is a weird one. I do feel that it has shaped my approach to the world – I tend to wring the life out of every situation that I’m in, even if it’s something completely mundane like weeding the front yard! And I chase joy in a way I didn’t before.
Allow other people to do nice things for you...
I treated myself a lot during treatment - buying a new lippy, going for the massive ice-cream sundae rather than a modest two-scoops, little things that made me feel better.
I let myself feel pissed off and resentful of what I was going through! It's not always easy to look at things through rose-tinted specs, and I think sometimes acknowledging that you feel rubbish makes it easier to move on from those feelings (if you get my drift!)
I allowed the people around me to do nice things - one friend took me off for a luxurious spa weekend, another paid for me to get a lash extension, a family member came round and cooked a lovely meal. I had previously been a bit resistant to feeling 'pitied', but these acts of kindness reminded me that it wasn't pity, it was love and care.
My name is Julia. I am a mum of two boys, obsessive supporter of Spurs, baker of cakes, Beatles fanatic. I listen to The Archers when I’m out on a run, and given the chance, would spend several hours a week sitting in a cinema with a pal, eating ice-cream. I live in London.
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