I'm not sure how it will feel writing this post - easy, hard, painful, enjoyable? I think I just have to get on and write it and leave the soul-searching until afterwards, otherwise it will never get done.
It's December 31st. The end of one year and almost the beginning of another. Traditionally, it's a time to look back at the year just gone and look forward to a new year, fresh start, whatever. Usually we would spend NYE with friends, perhaps having dinner, popping open some fizzy, laughing and generally having some fun - not too much time spent usually analysing what's happened, but rather just enjoying the continuation of the celebrations which began a week ago.
This year, however, I shall be going to bed early, well before midnight. I have absolutely no desire to see the old year off with any kind of celebration. I want to draw a line under 2011 and just waken up in a new year which - I fervently hope and pray - will be a better year for my family and me. I might sound curmudgeonly, but given what kind of year I have had, I just don't feel like pinning a smile to my face (well, as much of a smile as I can manage!) and pretending that everything has been fine when it patently hasn't. Equally, I don't want to sit in a maudlin heap, tears dripping into my glass as I bemoan what a rubbish time I have had and get all "why me?" about it all. So, on reflection, I think it's best that I just take myself off to bed early, after a quiet evening with my lovely husband.
I have been reflecting, as you might expect, on all that's happened in the last year - and of course there has been a lot of good stuff. This time last year we were in New Zealand and already celebrating the new year before spending the most amazing four weeks in the most beautiful country. It all feels a bit dream-like, to be honest, but I think that's a function of what happened later. I do think it's important that I remember the good bits of 2011, to get some perspective. Our holiday was fabulous, meeting up with Amy after she'd been away for 5 months was wonderful, her coming home unexpectedly early was incredibly welcome and of course, Adam succeeeded in getting a place to study to become a primary teacher; his ambition for so many years. And, slightly less measurable I suppose, I have learned a lot of good things this year. I have learned that it is possible to get what seems like the worst news and that you can carry on breathing, putting one foot in front of the other, doing normal things. It might all seem like an effort, or as if it's all happening to someone else, but you can do it - and I did. I learned that I have many good and kind friends who supported me and my family in so many ways. Quietly, subtly, not expecting any gratitude or reward - these friends helped. Sometimes in practical ways - providing food, doing the ironing, checking if we needed shopping done, offering to do housework, driving me to hospital for the six weeks of radiotherapy treatment - and sometimes in more emotional ways: a text that arrived at a low point, reminding me that I am in someone's thoughts, being held in people's prayers, sometimes just a gentle hug, whether literal or metaphorical. I learned that some people I expected would be involved and supportive seemed to remove themselves from our lives - maybe their own lives were difficult and busy or maybe they just can't cope with illness. It happens and I can understand it. I also learned that some people who I thought would be more remote actually ended up being a huge source of support and encouragement. Most people behaved to type, I think, but it has been an interesting lesson in how people can behave in unexpected ways.
I learned that my immediate family - Neil, Amy and Adam - have the most amazing strength and resilience and that together, the four of us can deal with whatever life throws in our direction. We have coped with my diagnosis and subsequent treatment, with all its attendant and horrible side-effects. We have kept our sense of humour, but recognised the need for tears and anger (although it took me a very long time to acknowledge that I could show these feelings). I never doubted the love we had for each other, but our experiences this year have brought that love much more out into the open and displayed it proudly for the world to see. We all learned that my being ill shouldn't be the only thing happening in our family life - there are four of us in this family, four lives, each with their own happinesses and sadnesses, opportunities and challenges, and we needed to make sure that my problems didn't overshadow all the other important things going on.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned is that it is possible to see a future, even when your whole world falls apart and crumbles around your ears. When all the certainties you once assumed have been taken away, you have to take the broken pieces that are left and reassemble the jigsaw to reflect a different picture. That picture may not be the one you have been working towards for as many years as you can remember, but it doesn't make the picture any less pretty, or valid, or worth trying to create. Maybe my jigsaw is smaller than it was. Maybe the picture won't last as long. Maybe, maybe - I don't know really what my picture is. But I do know that it's a picture I want to see. I want my life to last as long as possible and that means doing my best to remain fit and healthy and give myself the best chance of getting well again. We haven't discussed my prognosis with the consultant but I suspect that, given the sheer speed and aggression of the cancer and that it had already spread to several lymph nodes, I am not necessarily going to be a huge drain on the pension funds.....although I am a young (in the NHS's eyes) patient and haven't damaged my body through smoking and heavy drinking, so that surely counts in my favour, I hope? In a way, if we don't discuss my prognosis, it means we don't have to confront it and work out how we are going to deal with it. It's the big cancer elephant in the room, isn't it? And of course, we can't pretend that we don't notice this big grey mammal for ever, so at some point we will have to have this conversation and deal with it. But we will deal with it. I know we are strong enough to face things and to keep breathing, putting one foot in front of the other, doing normal things.
I truly don't want this post to be negative. I feel incredibly lucky in so many ways: lucky that I spotted my lumps early, lucky that I was taken seriously by the medics, lucky that I live in the 21st century in the UK, with the fantastic resources of the NHS, lucky in my friends and most of all my wonderful family. Yes, it was bad luck that I ended up with a rare form of a rare cancer and that it was so aggressive. But we have coped and I feel very humbled by the support I have had. I know that my family and I will find the strength to deal with whatever we face. However, we all hope that 2012 won't test us in the same way as 2011 has. Sometimes you just don't want your strength and fortitude to be put to the challenge any more. Sometimes you just want a bit of a quiet, predictable life, with no surprises and not too much to test your mettle. I may get that in 2012, I may not......I do know some things that will happen in 2012, though. I know that I will have regular check-ups to make sure I am okay. I know that I will once more be relying on the wonderful people in so many parts of the NHS who will look after me. I know that Neil, Amy and Adam will support me and surround me with their love and care. I know that our friends will help and support us and hold us in their thoughts and prayers. I know that, in April, I have got to get around 26.2 miles of the London Marathon, whether I end up walking every step rather than running! I know that, at some point, I want to return to work and feel I am making a contribution to an organisation's success.
I know that I will make the most of the year.
Thank you all so very much for all you have done for us and for walking every step of the way with us. My journey (sorry to go all X factor on you!) is by no means over and I will continue to need your company, so stay on this path with me, please. I need you all.