The ongoing story that is life with, and after, cancer

From guest blogger Jane Bissell

This coming Sunday I'm having lunch downtown with a good friend to celebrate the diagnosis of my first breast cancer diagnosis. My friend is one of the Cancer Babes I wrote about in my book Welcome to the Amazon Club . We met at a cancer support group in 2002. We were seven then and now we are five. 

I've had two diagnoses, the first on October 13th 2001 and the second almost to the day in October 2016. I haven't made a celebratory fuss of the second one because I've always felt the 2016 diagnosis was more like a chapter of the ongoing story that is 'life with and after cancer', a tale that began on that day in 2001. 

It may seem odd to those who haven't had cancer, why we celebrate our anniversaries like this. It's a great excuse for a knees-up, that's for sure, a bit of a 'do', and a chance to acknowledge, by golly, that we're still here, battle-worn and wary as seasoned soldiers on patrol but still breathing and well.

I say battle-worn because even though at this time I am not 'battling' a cancer (I am not sure about that term 'battling' as I've never considered my cancers are things that I am 'fighting': it's more like I am dealing with them and I am doing all I can to subdue and eliminate them and keep myself well) I do like the term because when you've had cancer once, or twice, or many times, the trauma of it still lurks around like an old man in a grey raincoat, and there are times when that wears you down with anxiety, worry, and apprehension, especially around annual check-up time. 

When is he going to pop out next and what will I see when he does?

It won't be pretty.

The pink frivolity that is Breast Cancer Awareness Month is great at the raising awareness bit (and a good deal of money) but pushing up into that pink marshmallow is the sobering and raw reality that this disease affects over 3,300 NZ women each year, over 600 die from it, and it's impact on a life is like a hammer blow from hell. Pink is soft and feminine but the colour of breast cancer is very different: it is bleak, it is lonely, sad, and it is frightening.

That's not to say there isn't hope - of course there is. Those flashes of gold in the midst of cancer treatments are balm for the soul and spirit, and as we recover, the sky becomes blue again, the scent of the flowers fresh and strong, and our bodies feel the warmth of sunlight as our strength returns. I am so proud of the achievements of our advocates this year, wrestling more funding from PHARMAC for cancer drugs that will save lives, and I am proud of those women who work selflessly 'under the radar', unsung heroines who share their own cancer experiences with those newly diagnosed, giving hope and promise to women just starting out on this winding path. 

So when we celebrate our diagnoses with a Sunday brunch, a glass of wine and friendship, we're not only celebrating our own survival but we're remembering all of those very fine and beautiful women we have known who cannot join us at the table, those who've left their imprint upon our hearts and live within our memories.   

Jane Bissell is a writer and life writing workshop facilitator living in Auckland.
Visit her website to find out more.


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