159. Now and then

Let's start with THEN.

April Fool's Day was Mastectomy Day. It's exactly three months since I went under the knife (as I write this, it's even exactly the same time, 11.15am on a Friday morning).

Then: Shaken up and exhausted from the emotional Here We Go Again prospect of seemingly never-ending rounds of hospital appointments, chopping bits off, being poisoned and blasted with nuclear power. The chopping/poisoning/blasting I can just about cope with. It's the uncertainty, the loss of control, and the loss of my self-pretence of being SuperWoman that was so hard. Plus the possibility (always lurking in the corner of the room, ready to jump on me) of dying before I get the chance to collect my pension or, more to the point, hold my grandchildren.

But there was grace in how I managed to let go of that SuperWoman, relinquishing all responsibilities without losing my sense of self. That was thanks, in great part, to my family - husband and children who couldn't care less how few words or meals they got out of me, how many hours they found me lying down with the curtains closed, nor how little there was left of my cleavage.

Thanks, in great part, to my colleagues who caught all the balls I dropped and gave each other crash courses in juggling.

Thanks, in great part, to all of you, sending your wishes and prayers and cards and gifts and thoughts.

Then: The utter relief of being told that no, I don't need to be poisoned or blasted. Recover from the surgery and the shock and the exhaustion, and I'll be done. Better, in fact, than before, because if you have no breasts, there's just less of a chance that this wretched cancer comes back to haunt me. (That's what I tell myself, anyway.)

The ups and downs of recovery, the infection, the knock-back, the surprising level of exhaustion. And through all that, the discovery that there is no end to the love and care of my family, the understanding of my neglected friends, and the juggling skills (and yes, also the love and care) of my colleagues.

Moving on to NOW.

I'm emerging. Not quite as dramatic as a phoenix or a butterfly, but definitely a sense of having pressed a RESTART button. I won't quite go as far as saying that I can highly recommend stepping out of your daily life for three months of cancer treatment, but it does feel a little as if I'm returning from a sabattical. That it was possible to switch off completely from work, not looking at a single email (see the above jugglers) and family (grown-up children who can make me tea) - that was a gift. 

Now that I have returned to work, I realise how much the exhaustion stems not only from the physical onslaught but also the emotional and spiritual space needed to cope with life events. It's completely wonderful to pick up my work projects again, but it takes time to emerge from my cocoon.

If you read this and think "Aha, she's back, let's send and email to ask her to do X or Y or Z", I'll have to disappoint you. My GP sat me down, listened, and decided that yes, I can go back to work, but it has to be on reduced hours. So I'm only catching a few balls back from my jugglers. Two weeks into my return, have only made a tiny dent in hundreds of emails waving at me from the screen.

Here they are, one of my teams of jugglers. I gave them all a sunflower to thank them for their growth and the way they have turned to the light.


It is only just dawning on me just how much SEWING has been, and still is, my way to recovery, acceptance and even celebration of my new-found sense of self. We all have our own ways of coping with life and life events. I think it's helpful to have something that grounds you in the moment - whether that's being in nature, listening to (or making) music, finding time for prayer or meditation or reading poetry, being with animals or children, creating art, dance or exercise... you find ways that help you come home to yourself.

Having a project always helps me. My project has been to think about the implications for my wardrobe and my future sewing projects, learn how to draft my own clothes patterns, how to remove those superfluous chest darts, and most of all (once I'd watched 55 hours of The Great British Sewing Bee and was able to get up from the sofa) to sit down and sew. Thoughts can wander, but never too far. I've made my daughter a ball gown. I've made myself trousers, tops and a dress. And in the process, I have learnt not just to accept, but to LOVE my new shape.

The 2022 series of Sewing Bee has been my weekly tonic for the past 10 weeks. After this week's final episode, I am somewhat bereft. Perhaps I should apply to take part in some future series, just for the joy of spending time in that sewing room. Or perhaps I should just book myself an annual sewing retreat, going nowhere, just upstairs to my room full of fabrics.

And THEN...??

You will hear less from me and Otus (my owl). There may still be musings and developments to share with you. One day, I'd like to tell you about my discoveries of online groups of flat-chested women and their stories (I even found, gloriously and happily, a Facebook group called Sewing Flat and Asymmetrical, full of women sharing their sewing efforts and tips for adapting clothes to fit one breast or none).

But most of my writing will now not be with my Owl Hat, but my Professor Hat. Lots of stories in my head that may find a home on my other blog. See you there, if you're interested. Here, where Owl Had Cancer, I hope never to need a third owl.

But every now and then, I hope to return to the sense of peace and well-being that I feel right now, the gratitude for life with all its ups and downs. The sense that life is at its most beautiful when we accept each other, and ourselves, with all our imperfections.

If this feels like an end, it also feels like a beginning.