Learning to let it be

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It’s been quite a week. And a couple since I last wrote. There are some reasons for that which are to do with our moving back home, and dealing with other stuff. But it’s time to pick up the digital pen and write again.

First off, radiotherapy has begun. Appointment 3 of 15 was yesterday, making it a fifth of the way through this next treatment step. As a curious human being it has been tremendously interesting observing my body be subjected to this practice. We’re fortunate to live within a short distance of the famous (in the UK at least) Christie’s cancer hospital, and so I trot off daily to lie under the linear accelerator (yes I asked what the big white clinical machine is called) and chat away to the radiographers. It brings to mind a cross between a huge ladies’ hairdryer – the type you see in 50s movies – and a piece of equipment in Dr Who’s TARDIS. The health professionals bamboozle you with numbers, presumably to get the coverage between-the-tattoos right, rather than lining you up for a Bernie-the-bolt type of bullseye shot, then dash out of the room whilst the machine whirrs and clicks. And then it’s done. The whole thing took 30 minutes on the first day and now only 10. Twelve more and then I’m done.

The side effects for me have been slight nausea, pink and now peeling skin and tiredness. To be fair the naseau could be caused by something else, and the tiredness is just me being a bit wimpy probably. But the skin peeling is real. I know this because I ventured to the gym today – for the first time since the week before the op. I did barely anything – a few stretches, some laps of the track (walking mostly) and 10 lengths in the pool. Boy did I feel exposed and sore. I guess the wound is still new, and I’m still frightened of getting it knocked (in fact it was by a manic runner undertaking me on the track and knocking me sideways causing me to cry out in pain) so that’s always a consideration. But the chafing was unexpected. I’m going to have to watch that. And changing in the gym with a large scar is something I’m going to have to get used to too. But other people need to be mindful that not everyone in the gym is in peak condition, so I for one will not be hiding my scar.

Something else has happened this week. Good news. For me anyway. I found out my promotion case to Chair (I’m now a professor!) was approved. This I submitted some 6 months ago; it’s a rigorous and long-winded process requiring peers to submit references, committees to discuss and approve etc. etc. The pre-cancer me would have thought this was the most important news in the world, something I have striven for, and a result that validates my role. And a huge thank you to all my friends, family and colleagues who have sent hearty congratulations.

But a funny things has been happening to me recently. I’ve started to relax. Or rather I’ve started to be more aware of my personality type-A tendencies, and attempt to counter them. Some of this is because silly quizzes keep popping up on social media informing me I’m a snappy so-and-so, impatient, driven by success and ambition. Perhaps I am. Or was. Since the cancer diagnosis I’ve noticed much more that this doesn’t matter to me so much anymore. As my youngest (of 3) children approaches her A-levels I see the pressure all our children are under, constantly. And I’m promising myself that I’m going to let things be more. Look after our mental as well as our physical health. I owe my family that. Being driven is not always a good thing. It can have damaging effects. Who knows whether my cancer was caused by this in-part.

To that end I’m promising myself two things. One is to take the amount of sick leave I need to get through the radiotherapy before returning to work proper (I’ve had barely a day off in 20 years so I don’t feel bad about this). The second is that when I do return I’m going to get that better work-life balance I have promised myself for at least the last 15 years. What a shame it’s taken having breast cancer to make me promise myself that.

I’m learning though. Learning to let it be.

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