Stories of Cancer
Giving Voice to Real Experiences

Trying to be normal

My diary (the year after treatment) is full of descriptions of days that, with hindsight, were far too busy. I was trying hard to be normal again (in the sense of what normal was before I got ill). I started work, doing some business management work for the consultancy group I was a part of, contributing to one of the projects and supporting the development of a new organisation. I tried to limit this to a very small amount of time, just a couple of hours a week, but it took a lot out of me psychologically, as I worried so much and found that my confidence was at rock bottom. Even social situations floored me. In spring we went to a party where I just couldn’t cope, I couldn’t handle normal conversation, I was anxious about meeting new people, didn’t know what to say to old friends and ended up coming home early and crying in frustration, I’d always been an extrovert, loved parties, what was happening to me? Now I know I was probably just tired, that parties and group settings are particularly hard for me, and an hour of activity like this is usually enough if I don’t want to hit the wall again.

As well as the fatigue affecting my capacity to be at parties and to be my normal sociable self, I was also still trying to come to terms with the fact that I’d had cancer. Whilst I was having treatment I put this on one side, to focus on surviving what I had to get through. Now I wondered whether the fatigue was a symptom of my still being in shock about having cancer, and the fear that it might come back. I had a dream:

…. a lorry came off the highway and crashed into the roof of the place Terry and I were staying in. It came crashing through the wall and came to a stop above my head, inches from my face. I could see the dark green paint and rusty metal of the cab. We tried to change rooms, and someone told us that our room is okay now, they fixed the ceiling, but I’m not sure if its been fixed properly – has it just been papered over?

So although my rational mind knew I’d done all I could and that the medics had done all they could, the fear was still lodged in my deeper mind.

I went to the south coast of Crete with my friend Trish for a week in May and really enjoyed being there but it was also difficult. One day we did a long walk that was too much for me, which ended in tears of frustration. Yet, somehow, in the midst of this, I got reminded of what was important to me – and decided that I needed to find ways of bringing more love, more joy and more beauty into my life. Just being there, in one of my favourite places in the world, was so therapeutic. However, getting there and back was hard and I speculated fearfully in my diary that maybe my travelling days were over, that maybe I just didn’t have the robust energy any more that you need to cope with airports and queues and driving and airplanes and packing – and worse – would this be a permanent condition?

As the year went on I began to realise that I needed to slow down even more. I was lucky not to have any financial pressure to return to work, but even if there had been I think I would have had to stop work to save my sanity, or any worse physical breakdown. By October I’d given up most of the work I started earlier in the year, deciding that I needed to re-balance my life. My focus in life became peace, space, rest, walking, meditation and writing. My dreams began to change. I still had anxiety dreams about cancer and loss of identity but I also started having dreams about being in beautiful places:

I was in a house in the mountains, a beautiful wooden house with views of hilltops and Japanese temples.

And:

I was at an indoor market, with carved red and green tiles on the walls and iron fretwork gates and rooms filled with beautiful textiles, rich colours and wonderful food.