Throughout my life, as well as keeping a somewhat sporadic journal, I have made scrapbooks of significant projects and events. It was therefore no surprise that after the diagnosis of breast cancer I was collecting relevant photos and quotations as well as scribbling away in my journal. In January 2010 I assembled my Year 1 scrapbook and this time last year was preparing the next one. Now I am thinking about and reviewing Year 3 and it is a cathartic process.
These are not really scrapbooks in the modern sense with beautifully laid out decorative pages (although thanks to one of my Storm Rider friends I'm getting there), but they are a combination of journal extracts, photos and mementos of the things I've done during the year. At the end of the one for Year 1 I noted the number of miles I travelled for treatment and the time I spent at medical appointments. It made interesting reading and was useful in providing one of the consultants at our breast unit with ammunition for his campaign to make radiotherapy available more locally.
Year 2 was complicated by the genetics referral and participation in the screening study. There was a slight shift in the way time was spent. In Year 1, once I had surgery behind me I had a large number of shortish treatments and consultations with lengthy waits in late running clinics, while Year 2 saw lengthy appointments with genetic counsellor and study nurse in clinics that generally ran to time. Cancer is certainly a time-consuming business, even when things are going well!
Looking at last year's appointments I can see that things have settled down considerably and hopefully will continue that way now that the study is over. The Year 3 scrapbook will have far more about holidays, family and friends and leisure than it will directly about cancer. Of course, cancer issues (arm/shoulder problems; fatigue; joint, muscle and bone problems, etc.) are still very much live and form part of everyday life but things have taken a different turn. It is now much more about integrating long-term effects and using the experience positively.
The most important positive aspect is the circle of support in the form of the Storm Riders and which is celebrated in the quilt I'm working on. We still have regular contact and are there for each other as difficult situations arise. Just as importantly, we still meet in real and virtual spheres for fun and everyday chat as well as for support.
Another positive thing for me is that if I really do want to do something I am now much less likely to put it off than I used to do. The obvious example is that I have found time (and energy) for curling.
I tend to tolerate less aggravation in my life these days so I'm more reluctant than I was to go along with a course of action that although possibly useful will cause me a headache. It isn't about avoiding hard work and conflict; it is more about ensuring that the benefits are worth the effort. I'm much more aware of looking after my health, both physically and psychologically.
I am definitely not one of those people who say that cancer has brought them so much that is life-enhancing that if they could by magic re-order the past they would still choose to have cancer. I wouldn't choose to have cancer. However, as the fact is that I can't re-order the past, I may as well take from the experience whatever positive aspects I can.
There are some consequences that do provide me with reasons to be cheerful. The most important of these are my changed priorities and the friends I have made as a result, and the strong bonds we share. It may be a club that none of us actually wanted to join but, once compulsorily enrolled, we certainly know how to make the best of it.