Five years ago, when this blog was only a few months old, it underwent a dramatic transformation from a blog about applying for grants, to become a blog about breast cancer and its affects on body and mind. Those first cancer posts, here, here, here and here, seem now to me exercises in controlled drama. And then, indeed, the main issue was how to get through the next day's treatment.
This morning I had my fifth annual mammogram and ultrasound, and consultation with the wonderful Suzanne. All is clear. This is a huge milestone in the life of a breast cancer patient. If you can get through this period without recurrence, your chances of such are now dramatically reduced, not that much higher than a woman your age with similar weight, family history, etc. etc.
There is still some treatment to go. I don't see the oncologist, who is charge of my medications, till next month, but by the end of the year I will have stopped having my monthly injections, and will probably go off the tamoxifen, and possibly not have to shift to anything else.
So how do I feel? What I have learned? How am I?
I'm fitter than I have ever been, through a program of walking and going to the gym. But I also weigh more than I ever have in the past. I can't help feeling, too, that my brain doesn't work as well as it used to. I've heard women talk of a mental cloud that sits over them during menopause and/or tamoxifen treatment. I certainly know my concentration span is not what it used to be. I am sincerely hoping this cloud might lift in a couple of months when I stop treatment (and it would be nice to see a few kilos magically disappear, though I think that's unlikely). But I haven't experienced the mood swings that many report. A little depression, on occasion, but nothing too bad. And I was able to finish my book on the Order of the Garter, for better or worse, and keep on churning out essays and articles, enough to satisfy the bean counters.
In the first year or two, I thought I was learning things like how to slow down, how to meditate and live in the moment. Well, I think I've always been quite good at the latter, but that 'moment' over the last few years has too often been tinged with sadness and distress at things in the workplace. But I have finally learned to pace myself a bit better, I think. I remember, twenty years ago, with a horrible cough and bronchitis and asthma, I kept teaching a three-hour class till I could hardly breathe at all. This time, with a similar mix of symptoms, I cancelled a weekend conference, and have just cancelled a talk in the department on Wednesday. Since I can hardly put two sentences together without sounding like Violetta, this seems sensible.
But the main thing, I guess, is learning to take the pressure off myself, a little. Even expecting oneself to stay fit and calm, to exercise properly, to mediate, to learn one's cancer lesson -- these can all seem like further imperatives in a life that is already nothing if not dutiful.
Even without having to finish and deliver two papers, there is still an alarming "to do" list on my desk. I was moaning about the bureaucracy of the university to my surgeon and the nurse who was taking notes this morning, and they were horrified to learn I did not have a PA or a secretary. Heh heh.
Anyway, this is such a momentous day, I may even alter my Blogger profile, just as soon as I have stepped outside into the sun.