Hello, my name is Penny, I live in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire and I am 49. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of lockdown 2020.
I found myself staring at my wallpaper after all my treatment had ended.
I found myself feeling isolated.
I found myself creating a different life but above all
I found myself being incredibly grateful to have been given a life.
I don’t think enough is made of once treatment for cancer stops you will just be able to go back to your life and slot back in where you left off. You can’t, it’s just not possible. This does not happen. So, if you are reading this blog and have just started or are halfway through treatment, don’t think for a minute you will be the same person because you won’t. However, I do want to say there are many positives to having had breast cancer.
I would not be writing this blog if I hadn’t had breast cancer and I feel I’ve been dealt a card that I never thought I would get. I will go with that and embrace all the opportunities that may bring.
I will do it if it inspires and helps others ladies with the directness of my take on cancer.
About two months after all my treatment finished, I found myself staring at the walls and my wallpaper for days, I just needed total stillness. Quiet no sound. No music just peace. I don’t remember when, but I then found myself slowly reconnecting back with music and with the world around me because I started listening to music and dancing in my kitchen. I would sit for hours just staring at plants in my garden or wallpaper. No thoughts consumed me it was just the stillness I think I needed.
When I started to listen to music that feeling of listening to a song was like no other and it felt like if I had never heard the music or the song before. I was alive and my god did that feel good. I realised that dancing is all about being alive and that was what I was. I remember on a rare occasion during lockdown break in October 2021 going to a 50th party and I found a lady looking at me dancing. She looked miserable to be honest and I wanted to shout out “I am dancing because I am alive and that feels absolutely beautiful”. In my mind I added a few more colourful swear words into the mix but I just smiled and carried on dancing and smiling inside.
I was dancing and I was alive.
I had, during the time after my treatment, found myself isolated. This happened when I returned to work because I looked so well and it wasn’t obvious to others around me what I had done. Why would it? I explained to new staff that I’d had breast cancer and if I was forgetful or needed to leave the room and get endless glasses of water, because I was having a tropical flush.
I felt such a different woman to the one that sat in the chair at work and felt my tumour pop to the surface, so it was important that from the off I explained this.
I felt like I needed to show a photo of me looking like shit for them to realise oh yes, I guess you have been through the mill. I bumped into an ex-work colleague in Dunelm who started telling me about a colleague that had cancer. They mouthed the word silently like so many do. I casually said “oh really I had that last year". I could see they didn’t think I would lie but they didn’t seem to believe me until I said do you think my hair would have been this short and curly.
I found myself explaining I’d had cancer when I was told but you look so well and your hairs grown back so quick. I found myself with people who just did not want to talk about it and others that crossed the street or those that squeezed me so tight and cried. It’s strange the difference in reactions to cancer.
No one tells you that once the treatment is over that’s when the change really starts because you’re so busy doing the treatment then, when my feet stopped running for a bit and I just needed to stare and process what had happened that’s when I just wanted to sit and process it all. That’s when I felt the change had happened.
2020 will always be a year that I will remember but if I’m honest, not for COVID. I’ve got far more happy memories than sad and I know that that does not apply to everyone especially during a year that was very challenging for so many people. I stayed in, alone for over a year and didn’t watch the news very much. Instead I concentrated on keeping fit, running, yoga, being creative, styling rooms and eating well. So, when I say happy memories, not for one minute do I mean any disrespect towards others who lost their life’s due the pandemic, however, on my watch was cancer.
So being inside my house for a year with treatment I created happy memories and that was and is very important. I remember more of the happy times of it than the sheer terror that I felt within the first two weeks. I don’t really remember, but I think that’s because it was so traumatic that that part of your brain just blocks it out. So, for me my memories are of running in the sunshine listening to my favourite songs with a skipping rope skipping up and down kerbs if I was 12 years old sharing endless sunny days and heaps of conversations.
My treatment ended just before Christmas 2020 so 2021 was going to be about healing recovering and discovering a different life. I’m really just concentrating on letting things unfold as they do.
For me I find it quite strange now, that I felt that I could spend a day just processing and staring at a wall and thinking about all what I just did last year. It’s almost like delayed trauma and when the word trauma was first mentioned by one of my MacMillan nurses after I said I just sit down and stare at walls for a while. Like I am numb. I felt it wasn’t a statement that I deserved. A statement or a badge that was attached to me because I wasn’t 19 and had not served in the First or Second World War, or fought for King and country or Queen and country. I was just a woman who was getting through breast cancer and I was very, very lucky. Now further on I do understand and see that it was traumatic. That word is not to be used to over dramatise, but the fact is that to simply say a cancer diagnosis is traumatic, is enough.
So, I think the reason why I’m writing this blog is because for anyone reading this who may know someone going through cancer, just spare a thought for them afterwards. Afterwards, when you start to recover, you take stock of what you’ve done. You standstill and the grass keeps growing and your feet you keep walking but you’re not really sure of what what direction your going in.
I remember one of my neighbours chatting with me and casually saying are you okay and she said “but you’re okay now aren’t you because your treatments finished”. That stuck with me because yes of course you’ve done all the treatment you’ve done what you need to do but the part afterwards is about processing, recovering and finding out who you are and those are lots of different elements and you can’t rush that. I am more relaxed so I am told and I would agree with this. Before I was always planning, spinning plates, looking after friends and family and always had a project on the go but I do day by day now and it does get done and if it doesn’t so what. That took time to re think in a different way that I hadn’t before.
So much has changed at this stage for me 12 months down the line but, this is also a time where I am ok that it has. Its like cleaning out the cupboards and getting rid of things you don’t want or need. It’s like a transition period almost like a caterpillar to a butterfly. In this transition stage, it becomes about managing my health fears, adapting to a different me and continuing to make it compulsory to do what makes me happy.
I understand that relationships will change and they have changed in the past year. I remember someone saying to me I think I would’ve run most days like you did. I just smiled to myself because you really don’t know how you will deal with it until the time comes. If I’m honest of course I’ve looked around at friends and family and knowing that someone else will get this and their life will change. It can be very difficult because friends and family don’t always understand what you’re going through because they’re not walking in your shoes. There is a part of you that knows there is a pretty good chance they will know one day, but at the same time you don’t want that for them.
I found myself not having the same people around me after my treatment finished.
I even had people walk the other way when they saw me or cross the road. Cancer wasn’t my fault.
I think that relates to their own fear or the fear of saying the wrong thing and I’m ok with that .
I did find it strange when I returned to work and I came across so many new faces because I had been off work for a long time. I even got the odd one that I could tell they couldn’t top my story. I could see their reaction of not being the centre of attention when I said “I had cancer during lockdown” .
Jealousy and cancer are two words that never should go together. It’s like custard and dusters or carrot cake and wheel nuts, you don’t put the two together, do you?
A year down the line I sit in the middle because I understand what it feels like to be told you have had cancer and I remember my life before cancer but with that brings a huge gratefulness of life .
So as this year unfolds I will continue to do what brings happiness to my heart, smile often , embrace opportunities that come my way and most importantly take moments to just breathe and say thank you .
Penny has written some amazing blogs for us before. You can see her previous blog here.
Penny also shares her life and experiences on her beautiful Instagram Page, @yellow.kettle.