Breast cancer lesson number 52: The memories do fade. Let them go

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Walking through Greenwich Park on Sunday with Duncan, I started laughing when I remembered that only four weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been able to get to the park – let alone walk round it. It’s hard to imagine now that walking to the lamppost up the road was once comparable with climbing a mountain. It’s also hard to imagine that the train station once felt like it was on another continent, not at the back of the garden. What a difference a few weeks can make.

The great thing about the human body is that it not only has an amazing ability to regenerate and recover, but it also knows how to forget. While I can remember that there was post-surgery pain, I couldn’t describe it to you now. While I thought the fertility injections were at times relentless, when I threw away the last of the instruction leaflets yesterday, I didn’t even flinch. While at the time important, every procedure, every painkiller and every appointment is now packed away in the bit of my mind marked ‘experiences’. I can draw on it, but it neither haunts nor upsets me.

That, in my view, is how I am coping with this entire period and managing to smile through it all. I am neither particularly brave nor strong. My body just forgives me for every needle and enables me to forget. Every day brings with it a whole raft of new experiences, and my mind is so busy filing, it won’t let me dwell on each one. It just lets me get on with moving forward and confronting the next challenge. Thanks body. You may occasionally throw me a serious curveball, but you are pretty amazing when it comes to helping me overcome each one.

In Lesson number 19, I talked about cherishing those small victories and getting to that first lamp post (which will always have a special place in my heart). Six weeks on from surgery, today is another day for celebrating a small victory. Today is the day I get to remove my abdo binder, lovingly known as ‘the body corset’. For six weeks, it has been an extension of me. For six weeks, it held me together (literally), made me feel like my body wouldn’t rip open, stopped me eating in large quantities and forced me to get to know the location of pretty much every public toilet in the local area. Now, having been upgraded to ‘Bridget Jones’ knickers or ‘magic pants’, I couldn’t be happier.

While I wouldn’t wish for anyone to have to be held together by three strips of Velcro, I have to say, body corset and I did become friends. It made coughing doable, laughing bearable, sleeping manageable and moving around, a lot more enjoyable. It is also the reason (along with tummy tuck surgery) that I now have the flattest stomach ever! I am sure it won’t last long, but, while it’s there, I am going to celebrate it. Thank you body corset. We’ve had some good times. You do look a bit tatty now and I am sure I will forget what it felt like to live with you attached to me. But, you did well, and you’ll remain a fond memory, tucked away in the ‘experiences’ vault forevermore.

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It may have done its time, but the body corset’s days are not yet numbered. First, it will be making an appearance at my first few pilates classes over the coming weeks, to ease me back into the exercises. A nurse also recommended I hang on to it so that should we ever be able to have children, it would encourage my tummy to go back to normal post ‘push’!

Writer Aldous Huxley once said: ‘experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.’ I think he was right. Whether you are undergoing treatment right now, are years on from treatment or facing challenges in another area of your life, I want to leave you with a thought. Whatever pain or sadness you are feeling right now, just know that it will fade and you have the power to forget. Don’t cling on, just let your body do what it does best. It will get you through it – and out the other side.

Let your experiences make you stronger, but don’t ever let them hold you back.

NB: As a quick aside, if you’re wondering how the post-chemo days are going, I’m doing pretty well. A few steroids highs are helping me stay positive and I’M STILL SMILING! A nurse called me yesterday to check on me and did warn me I may crash after the course of steroids ends, but while I am up, I am going to embrace it.

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