Scanxiety + Love: 5 years on

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Macmillan Connected : Macmillan Community Blog

[The following post was written for the Macmillan Cancer Community Blog Creativity, published on 15th June 2016. You can read the original published post here

Coach and play facilitator Callie Carling, 45, lives in London with her fiance. Callie is volunteer PR Coordinator for the VOICE (St George’s) cancer user group, and is active within Macmillan's Cancer VoicesIn 2011, Callie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then, in 2015, she became supporter for her father-in-law who sadly died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in January 2016. Here is her story.

I always knew I was going to face breast cancer at some point in my adult life. Just as I know what you are thinking right now: what a fatalistic thought. No, not at all. You see, at the innocent age of 10, living with my grandparents, I watched my beloved Nanny die of breast cancer. Deep inside I felt a genetic time-bomb ticking away. I made no provision for a pension in my dotage because I was sure I would follow my grandmother’s path of dying before retirement age. Sad, but true.

So the only surprise when I discovered a breast lump in May 2011 was: “Oh! So soon?” I was terrifyingly calm, and clearly remember thinking in the waiting room: “But I’m not yet a grandmamma! Like hell am I going anywhere!”

The cancer diagnosis was only a surprise in that the malignant tumour was very aggressive, and the treatment path for Triple Negative Breast Cancer proved to be a bumpy ride. My first dose of docetaxel was my last, after suffering a rare allergic reaction. Yet, nine months after treatment completed, I was back in the ‘work’ saddle and training to become a certified Laughter Yoga teacher, which really helped to ease the pain and tightening effects after radiotherapy. Laughter Yoga also helped to ease the heartache of not seeing my only son who, at the tender age of 20, could not face the diagnosis. Or me.

BRCA genetic tests returned with no known link. Yet my maternal lineage showed clear signs of some genetic anomaly, for sure. I put on my happy, brave face and assured my friends and family that yes, I was OK. Yes, I am working on my weight loss plan to have that much-needed completion and prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, for my own peace of mind, if nothing else.

And guess what? I wasn’t ok. I was angry. I was furious. That brave, smiling, happy face was designed to throw everyone off the scent … and the secretive emotional overeating continued, unabated. I felt like a failure; given this chance of life, and here I was screwing it up. Every single day. Wrapped up tight in a smothering guilt-blanket: why could I not just get over this stupidity, and get better like normal people? What WAS it with this love-hate relationship with my breasts?

How on earth can seven words change our world so fast - and the lives of our friends, our families, our loved ones?

On 25th May 2016, it will be five years to the day my life changed irrevocably.

Life has changed immeasurably for the better, yet the physical and mental scars are still there. No longer on medication for clinical depression and having successfully completed nine months of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), I am still far away from my weight target to have a bilateral mastectomy, part-prophylactic, part-completion. Losing 45kg is not easy, especially when the goal - the reward - is to have surgery that I am absolutely terrified of. The operation, the after-effects, how I view myself as a woman…yuck. What a decision to have to make. I’d rather have a bowl of popcorn as a reward, thank you!

Still I grieve for who I was BC – ‘Before Cancer’, just as I grieve deeply for loved ones who have died of cancer over the last few years; for those who are newly diagnosed and going through treatment.

I choose not to grieve the loss of friends who turned their backs on me when I was diagnosed; instead I choose to celebrate the fantastic people I have met over the last five years, whose hearts and courage have touched me deeply, and who inspire me to dream big. I am determined to be a voice that helps to maintain the drive for nationwide provision of psychological support for cancer patients and survivors: that’s my particular bee-in-the-bonnet, and I am glad to see that things are changing for the better. Slowly but surely.

Scanxiety is looming large: my fifth mammogram is in five days time. Yet the magic five year marker gives me permission to breathe again; with that precious gift of permission comes the gift of self-nurture, self-care.

I love you, dear body. I am so sorry for punishing you, for not supporting you these last few years as you have pulled me through - oh so magnificently - the darkest hours. Let’s look forward to a lovely, happy, healthy and fit future, where the word ‘cancer’ once again is just my astrological star sign. You are so awesome. Thank you for sticking with me. Now let’s get busy. I have a long life ahead of me to live to the fullest…and a pension fund to top up!

Cancer Goddess
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