Sunday, 31 May 2015

129. The weeks/months/years of recovery

So, we did the Moonwalk. All 26 miles of it. Pretty good, if I may say so myself. The fundraising wasn't bad either: we astonished ourselves by raising over £5,500 for breast cancer research and charities.

How are things a fortnight later?

Was I a total wreck in the week following those 26 miles? And have I now recovered fully, not so much from the marathon but from my cancer year? That was the plan, after all. I once wrote that in my view, my cancer story didn't end with the final shot of treatment (January) but with the Moonwalk in May. 

The answer is no, and no.

Not a total wreck, happily and surprisingly. I slept a lot during the aftermath. (I'm talking 12 hour nights. Haven't done that since, oh, toddlerhood probably.) But wow, I felt strong. On top of the world. Two days after the walk, I was back at my desk with a clear mind and a body that felt fitter than healthier than it had done for a year.

Clearly, I thought, this is the answer for recovering cancer patients. Marathon walks: a miracle cure. They should come on prescription.

But whilst I am evidently much, much better now than I have been for a very long time, things are by no means back to normal.

Or perhaps they are? Perhaps this is my new normal. It's called Older Age. That's what it feels like, anyway. Well past middle age. Youth a distant memory.

That day, when I cycled to my GP with my dodgy lump, I was sliding pleasantly from youthfulness into fit and active middle age. Then I lost a year. And now I've woken up and I find myself in a new groove, one where I need afternoon rests and where getting up from the floor is an event that needs careful orchestrating.

I mean, when thirty-somethings offer you their hand when you get off a train and you look at them and think, Blimey, I could be your mother, you cannot escape the fact that you've moved up a generation. These shifts used to happen gradually, but now they've happened overnight. Well, perhaps not overnight, but overyear.

I'm not complaining. I wake up happy, every single day. Hurray! A new day, and I can DO THINGS! I can work. Garden. Sing. Cook. Walk a marathon. Yesterday, I finally started cello lessons again. How wonderful is that?

But I have to be very careful not to let frustration get the better of me sometimes. A few fully active days in a row: no problem. But they are inevitably followed by a few days of lethargy.

It's all to do with expectation. I can enjoy planned rests, but you may catch me moaning if I had plans to keep going all day and I can't.

I thought I'd be back to my old self after the marathon, but she is still a distant memory. Perhaps she won't be back?

What I don't know is whether the current state of affairs is due to...

(a) after-effects of the cancer treatments, or
(b) side-effects of the daily pills that suppress my oestrogen production (the leaflet says that both fatigue and bone pains are common), or
(c) old age. See above.

If it's (c), the ongoing fatigue will last for the rest of my life. Downhill from here, even. Chin up and get used to it.

If it's (b), I've got another decade of this. Ten years of hormone treatment, they said. Unless I decide that the side effects are not worth the slightly lower risk of the cancer coming back. Hm. Percentages and chances and perceptions of cost versus benefit. Tricky one.

But could it be (a)? One sprightly and hardworking colleague, who went through chemotherapy some years ago (and who, like me, worked on and off throughout), confided that four months after her treatment ended, she thought Perhaps I just can't ever work again. It took six months, she said, before she looked up in surprise because she suddenly wasn't tired. Ah! she thought. Yes, NOW I remember! This is what it was like, not being tired!

Someone else said it wasn't until five years after breast cancer treatment that she felt her old self again. And a doctor I met when I gave a lecture at a hospice recently told me that the fatigue from radiotherapy lasts a year.

Only time will tell. And time, I am beginning to realise, mustn't be measured in weeks. Perhaps not even in months, as I have been doing. ("In a few months' time, everything will be different.")

I have to be patient and start thinking in terms of years. In the meantime, let me remember this again and again...

Note to self:
Be happy and enjoy what you have, rather than be sad and frustrated about what you don't have.

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