Breast cancer lesson 155: Why the end of active treatment can be the start of something beautiful

If you’d asked me on January 1 to predict how 2014 would have played out, I probably would have focused on the wedding planning and guest list writing. Little did I know, however, that the lump I had found by chance in my right breast on Christmas Eve – and written off as nothing – would change not just my 2014, but the rest of my life.

I would be lying if I said the last nine months have been easy. Two biopsies, lots of tumours, one major operation, one new boob, one surgically-flattened stomach, one course of IVF, seven embryos, four and a half months of chemo, six Zoladex injections, 24 immunity boosting injections, three tattoos, 15 radio blastings and a pharmacy load of pills does not a honeymoon make (I won’t even count the needles and the hospital appointments)!

But, the truth is, when I think back over this period of active treatment, I don’t see pain, I just see happiness. I have been turned inside out and put back together again and I am still smiling. It is not something I would have ever wished upon myself, but I have looked for the positives and found them in abundance.

As I see it, 2013 was the year I got cancer – the year that tried to take my life away. 2014 is the year I got my life back. And what a life it is!

Cancer has taught me so much – some of which I am still processing. But, the three things I am thinking about right now as I leave the hospital for the last time (for a good three weeks, which is a big deal) are these:

1) A life without the people who make you smile is no life at all: this world is full of beautiful people. And If you don’t agree, you’re not spending time in the right company. Just look at the face of a charity runner with the name of the person they’re running for on their back. Come to my house and see the wall of cards and messages that greet me as I come down the stairs each day. Have a look at my inbox! I will be forever grateful for the support, kindness and generosity shown by all those around me – from thoughtful old school friends and supportive colleagues, to amazing uni friends and new friends united by this challenging disease. I have made so many beautiful memories with beautiful friends this year and I feel truly blessed to have you all in my life. Thanks also to the kind strangers. Whether it’s a wonderful lady making PICC line covers in America, a designer drawing bespoke boob logos on my bed beanies, a nurse making me last in recovery or a hospital caterer offering me extra biscuits, I will never forget the smiles brought about by every act of kindness I have received. Here’s to more memory making (and more photographic evidence) in the next chapter. And more pink hearts of course!

2) I am who I am because of my imperfections: I have never loved my body before, because society is designed to insist I shouldn’t. But, I have learned to love what cancer has chosen to leave behind and I couldn’t be happier with what I see staring back at me in the mirror. My scars are still angry, my boob is still covered in cling film to stop the skin peeling off, I can’t feel my hands and feet and I may never be able to give birth to a child. You could say my body is broken, but I think I am stronger than ever. The mirror doesn’t remind me of cancer, it reminds me of just how far I have come in my life. I’m here and I’m smiling – and that’s all that matters.

3) Happiness is about making the best of every day and enjoying the everyday: when Duncan proposed to me I was so happy. At last we would get to have our big day. Now, I realise that it is wrong to focus on the ‘big’ days years in the future. Why dream about one day, when you can seek happiness every day. I am nearly at the end of my #100happydays project, and when I look at the photos I have posted I don’t see many huge milestones (today being one giant exception). I see home-grown veg, freshly-baked cake, moments with friends, a new ink cartridge in an old pen and a sunny day. I love what I see when I wake up in the morning and I know that life’s details – not special occasions – are what help us bank happiness. And, we all need to bank happiness, because we don’t know what’s round the corner. I fully intend to seize each and every day – and I hope you will too.

A few weeks after my diagnosis, Duncan turned to me and said he was sad that he had proposed to me. This wasn’t because he no longer wanted to marry me, but because he was sad to think that one of life’s loveliest milestones (one I had been pestering him about for years) had been tinged with sadness.

It didn’t take him long, however, to change his view. In asking me to marry him, he gave me hope. He gave me hope for a future of happy days in his company. And that is one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive. I will treasure every moment sat on the sofa, every moment walking through the park and every moment waking up at home with his face smiling back at me.

Thank you. Thank you for every word, every message, every hug, every square of chocolate and every flower. Thank you for believing in me and encouraging me the see the positives. Thank you for getting up early on a Sunday morning to run for charity, for sponsoring me and for donating pledges. Thank you for going out of your way for me. Thank you for making me the person I am today. If you’re really looking for somebody inspirational, I urge you to take one long look in your own mirror! Thank you.

This is it. This is day I have dreamed out. I can’t believe it’s here, but I am off to make the most of it!