When I began blogging and writing about my son’s cancer, I also looked for other people who maybe had shared similar experiences. I came across Jen’s blog and discovered that she and my son had the same surgeon as well as a similar diagnosis. I have chatted with Jen about various cancer related topics, and I really admire her outlook. When I am struggling sometimes I think “what would Jen say about this” because I know that she is such a positive person. Jen definitely thinks differently to how a lot of people think about cancer and is campaigning to try to change some of the language used when talking about cancer.
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I am Jen. I am fierce. I am strong. I am weak. I am bold. I am anxious. I am brave. I am positive. I am happy. I am sad. I am optimistic. I am quiet. I am loud. I am smiling. I am stoic. I am toothless. I am hopeful. I am supportive. I am supported. And on this #worldcancerday I am grateful to everyone who lets me be all and any of these things and never tells me who to be or what to feel. I am grateful for my amazing group of friends, many of which I wouldn't have were it not for charities like @trekstock @shinecancersupport and @macmillancancer They are helping to transform what it's like to be living with cancer. And I will keep talking, keep sharing, keep going until the world changes to make people with cancer or chronic illness less isolated. And then keep going. You are not alone. We are not alone. And we are braver together @wearebravecollective #iamandiwill 📷 by @bethanmooney
So, when my son’s diagnosis anniversary came around again, I approached Jen and asked her how she deals with her anniversaries.
These are Jen’s words
I started writing a post near the beginning of my diagnosis about how I couldn’t get on board with the practice that everyone in the cancer community seems to take part in – counting every day since diagnosis, or since the first ‘no evidence of disease’ scan etc. It went like this –
The whole ‘__ days without cancer’ thing really doesn’t sit well with me.
I know people love it and I’m sure it’s really important for some people. That’s great. I’m all for whatever helps anyone, I’m not here to judge.
But the last thing I want is for my life to be defined by cancer. I don’t want to count every day that I’m free from it. I don’t want every day after this all finishes to have a cancer watermark on it.
Yes I know it could come back. And yes I know if it does, it’s really not looking great for me.
But I’ll deal with it if it happens.
And you know what? It might not.
The last thing I want to do is count the days until it returns.
So I’ll forget about it. I won’t forget about the things I have learned or the people I’ve met, and I know I will forever be having check ups and the like to remind me.
It’s great if the counting thing really helps people, everyone is so different. But I will not turn my life into a ticking time bomb.
That was back in the day when I thought I could package cancer up in a nice little box and put it at the back of a cupboard, only to be opened on certain occasions when I wanted to remember what I have been through. I’ve realised since then that it’s not quite that easy, that I do have to accept cancer as part of my life. It won’t always be such a big part of it as it was during treatment, but it is part of me and the person that I am now. It would me remiss of me not to acknowledge that I have changed due to my diagnosis and everything I’ve been through, but I refuse to say IT has changed ME. I have only changed myself to adapt to my surroundings, which just happen to have involved cancer.
Cancer is a part of my story but I will not allow my life to be defined by it.
In fact, the one year anniversary of my diagnosis came and passed without me realising. I can’t quite remember which day in August it even was… And should I be counting it from the day the dental specialist said ’the biopsy came back and it’s cancer but I don’t really know any details’ or should I count from the first meeting with my Oncologist when I found out more about the diagnosis? Or when I started chemo? Or when the tumour was cut out? Or when I had my first scan results that said ‘you might still have cancer but we can’t see it in the scans yet…?’ Or do I wait until I’ve hit the 5 year mark and count from then?
See how bad I am at this? I’d find it exhausting to keep track of all these things, it’s hard enough to remember everyone’s birthdays! I guess I’ve never been one to dwell on the past, I don’t turn past times into memories to mourn. The only real relevance it has on my future is to remind me to take it easy on myself and to keep doing things that make me happy as much as possible.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
By dwelling on that diagnosis date with fear and a heavy heart, we create ourselves more stress and anxiety than necessary. We keep ourselves stuck in some past time without really being able to move forward. They say the best way to get over a relationship that ends is to cut off all ties with your ex. Well you can’t cut off all ties with memories, nor with the hospital you must return to for scans, but you can cut off ties with the bad thoughts that refuse to let it all go and prevent you from moving on.
Diagnosis date is the date that they finally took you seriously and confirmed that you’re not going mad, there is something wrong.
Diagnosis date is the date that the whole world seemed to jump into action to do everything they could for you.
Diagnosis date is the date that this problem that had been lurking within you could finally start getting treated.
Diagnosis date is when you learnt who your true friends are and no longer had to deal with those who weren’t.
Diagnosis date is many things, but what it should not be is a yearly chance to wallow in self pity, obsess over what was, or keep you emotionally tied to a period of your life when you were incredibly ill and struggling.
And the date of your first NED scan or the first sign of being in remission should be something that sets you free of your cancer, not something that defines the rest of your life by counting every day since. Yes, you had cancer (and maybe you still have cancer related things to do), but that’s not who you are, and that’s not all you will be. Spread your wings and fly to freedom, hopefully forever, or at least as long as you are able. Enjoy every precious moment for what it is, not purposefully in the shadow of cancer.
The other day someone asked how long it had been since I finished chemo, and I was shocked to realise it was now over a year. Which goes to follow that my ‘year anniversary’ of surgery is coming up soon too. No doubt it will also pass without me noticing. What good is it to hold on to these days? What use is there to clinging to anxieties that have passed? It’s not something we need to keep coming back to by nature of a specific date.
I hear you ask: ‘But what if I use it as a reminder of how far I’ve come and that I should make the most of every day? What if I already do see it in a positive light?’
I say do whatever works for you! But why can’t every single day you are alive and the sun rises and you breathe fresh air into your lungs be a reminder of how precious life is? And personally, I’ve always been a fan of making the end of every year a time to reflect on where I was a year ago and where I am now. And even to think about where I’m going to be in a year’s time. I don’t do resolutions, but I do reflections and goals. I think there is a risk we get too preoccupied with cancer, and it’s fair to, it’s (hopefully) the biggest thing we will ever have to face in life. But let’s stop dwelling on it and let it go. Focus our attention on all the many beautiful things around us, not this one thing that happened to us.
~ Jen ~