So finally September is over. I tried really hard this year not to get too bogged down in obsessing over the anniversary of my diagnosis and not letting what has become a seasonal September gloom take over but now that the month is over I realise that I didn’t quite succeed. Having re-read my last blog post I can see that despite my best intentions it’s not the cheeriest of posts. As much as I tried to celebrate the good and not cry over the bad I still couldn’t help but feel sad. I’m glad that I chose to spend both occasions with friends and to raise a glass to acknowledge September 24th and to celebrate my birthday a few days later as I think the alternative would have been very bleak but despite sticking two fingers up at melanoma it still refuses to go away.
Time is clearly an extraordinary healer – in my case it has allowed me to re-calibrate and adjust to the new life that I now lead but it doesn’t actually fix everything. I am still living with cancer. I am still undergoing treatment. In between my anniversary and my birthday I had to have my 6th dose of Pembro. Everyone, as always, was perfectly nice but it was a long day – too many attempts to get a cannula in and too many delays and at the end I was pretty exhausted but also the timing was just horrid. Days at the hospital, however amazing the hospital is, are still days that remind me that I really need this treatment and without it the cancer will take over my body as it keeps trying to do. It doesn’t help that I’ll need a CT and MRI before my next treatment and whilst I’m trying not to think too hard about the impending scans and results it all had to be arranged that day and with the arrangements comes the creeping fear.
My birthday too is inevitably bittersweet. It’s hard not to remember the awful birthday back in 2013 when I saw sense and cancelled my planned birthday drinks but still met with friends for breakfast and then went shopping for presents with Andy. My friends struggled not to cry – the news was still very fresh and whilst they looked to me to see how to behave I had no idea what to do. I do remember that with Claire’s amazing help we laughed and resorted to gallows humour which worked for us but I possibly wasn’t entirely appropriate and certainly wasn’t what everyone else was ready for.
I do remember feeling terribly sorry for anyone trying to buy a present for someone who’d been told only 3 days before that they were dying – they did amazingly and I received a lot of notebooks and lovely bath stuff. I also remember the cards – the beautiful thoughtful cards with messages that again must have been hard to write – ‘happy birthday’ suddenly feels less obvious in those circumstances. I have kept all the cards but struggle to read them now as it remains too raw.
That year, Andy and I went shopping to buy me the duffel coat I’d had my eye on. He insisted that I needed a present but all I could think was what a waste – I’ll only get a few months wear out of it. We then popped into a chocolate shop in the hope of finding some delicious little thing that might appeal to me as my appetite was rapidly dwindling. They tried to get us to sign up to their mailing list as apparently we might win a year’s worth of chocolates. Andy and I backed out of the shop and genuinely couldn’t work out whether to laugh or cry – I think we did the former but we probably did both. All of these memories felt like very pushy ghosts this year that just wouldn’t leave me alone. Despite it being four years the events of that September were so traumatic that they cast a very long and painful shadow. I keep trying to escape from it but the reality is that I think it’s probably more realistic to embrace and acknowledge it.
Around this time of year with both the anniversary of my diagnosis and my birthday I think I will always chose to spend time with my loved ones, to raise a glass, to celebrate still being here as it does basically feel right and it feels respectful to all those other melanoma sufferers who haven’t been as lucky as me.
However it doesn’t make the sadness of my situation go away. I really do miss my old life. I miss the normality of looking ahead, of not finding myself welling up at the thought of the milestones that I won’t see. I miss being well, not being paranoid about every twinge and not needing treatment just to stay alive. Mostly I miss the life in which I didn’t know melanoma would kill me.
The change in temperature and light, the end of summer, the boys going back to school makes it impossible not to relive the misery of September 2013. It was easier this year – I was less sad and less anxious but it still wasn’t great. I am genuinely very relieved that it’s over for another year. October can be all about baking and the half-term holiday and Oscar’s 12th birthday. All of these things make me happy. Phew for October.