Looking forward; looking back
Anniversaries are important. They are markers of significant events in our lives and there are few more important than a cancer diagnosis. And reader, today is my first anniversary.
In remission I have tried to look forward, but it’s hard. Last year, my focus was simple: the next appointment, the next treatment, the next scan. To think in a time frame beyond a couple of weeks was a challenge.
Before diagnosis, I had an extremely busy and responsible senior job in a not for profit, working long hours and managing a big budget. I knew I was making a significant contribution to the local community. Now, I’m in retirement at 58 - words I find hard to say. It seems too early, so I tell people I’m having a ‘gap’ year to see if I like it.
I can think of many things to do with my new-found time: volunteering, exploring hobbies, visiting friends, leisurely lunches, not to mention all the books on my shelves waiting to be read, but somehow, I find it hard to commit to anything and get started.
In part I know it’s because I am still recovering, and my body is not happy to go back to full steam. A half day of activity is enough for the fatigue to set in. I know it will get better in time, but for now it impedes me moving forward and causes almost paralysing indecision.
The Indecision of Remission
There is a cyclical discussion going on in my mind almost constantly of things I could/should be doing and the reasons why/why not. Maybe I could go back to uni and do that course I’ve always wanted – but is this the best use of my precious time? It would take several years, cost a lot of money… and what if the cancer comes back? Would it be better to do something else then complete a course I might never use?
Why not blow some money on a great holiday? But then I wonder, what if I live for 10…20…30 years and I run out of my pension?
Maybe I could do some volunteering… maybe I could start a small consultancy… maybe I should go back to regular work… Maybe… Maybe… Maybe.
It is frankly exhausting.
And I haven’t even mentioned that repetitive voice that says, ‘this is your wake-up call! A second chance! Make the most of it!’ Shhhh, please go away.
My inability to decide and commit is an uncomfortable place to be.
Certainly, I’m grateful. So many people do not reach remission. I’m overall quite well. I am mobile. I have good friends. I have choices.
In my sensible moments I tell myself to relax, to give myself a break. If I end up spending the year lying on the couch watching Netflix, that is OK. If all I do is complete a few unfinished craft projects, that will be great. If I do some casual volunteering, that will be enough. The pressure to write a bucket list and pack a million things in is to a large degree self-imposed.
So how to move forward?
I have decided that I really need to worry about the future less. There are things I can control and things I can’t, and I just have to make the best decisions I can within that framework.
I have decided to continue the practice of not planning too far ahead. Three months I feel comfortable with and some kind of activity every other day. I’m choosing one book from the shelf and one craft project, getting those done, rather than feeling like I need to complete everything. I’m going to research some opportunities for volunteering and further study for down the track. Not everything needs to be decided today. And after three months, I’ll review energy levels and opportunities and reset.
If all that goes to plan, I will hopefully be feeling relaxed, well and accomplished come my second diagnosis anniversary and ready to say ‘retired ‘out loud.
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. She has had a busy and varied career in the public service, radio and not for profit organisations. She is a mad keen supporter of the Geelong Cats Australian Football Team and enjoys the company of her two fluffy cats Zebedee and Lily.