Jane Ballot

Being me in the world

The way things go

A year ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I embarked on a journey that I said, at the time, I would rather I had not had to do. I was, naturally, also not looking forward to climbing that particular mountain. Thus far, the journey has had ups-and-downs, periods of intensity and times when the only option has been to wait, which was sometimes the most demanding thing, as I am not a very patient person.

There have been mountains to climb and valleys to wallow through. The overall momentum, though, has been continually moving forward, as this is the only way to take on any kind of journey.

I’m still not sure how one ‘does cancer’. There are as many options, I suppose, as there are cancer ‘patients’ (I still hate that term).

I tend to be very practical and to tackle things head on, which is how I went about dealing with this cancer thing. I also believe in talking about things like this and being open about the progress and process.

On the day I was diagnosed, I went for about 7 hours presenting ‘normality’ until I could tell all of my children about the cancer at the same time. That was long enough for me to know that, for me, I am right: confronting the reality, talking about it and sharing things around it is the only way I could do something like this.

I also wrote about it, as this was my way of making sense of the whole thing.

Now, though, the urgent and intense part of the journey has run its course. For me, though, this ‘cancer thing’ will never be over: for five years, at least, I have to take the hormone medication; I live every day with only one boob; for who knows how long still, there will be the feeling of a ‘lump under my arm’ and discomfort in the general area; I will have to have regular mammograms and visits to the oncologist; and the (even very vague) lurking presence of this invisible enemy called ‘cancer’ will continue to hover in my conscious and subconscious forever.

This is not, actually, an easy thing to do.

It is, however, eminently doable, as I and many other women have proven.

I was one of the lucky ones: the lump in my boob was found early and treated resoundly. I know that the processes that caused this to happen were partly the result of years of research and experience in breast cancer, which makes me incredibly grateful to Medicine.

For me, I think, also, that there was a degree of my very own guardian angel watching through the process. I can’t imagine Mum sitting around and simply letting things happen 🙂

At times through this journey, I have felt a bit like a fraud, like someone who has just touched on this huge thing called ‘cancer’, where others have really been walloped by it. I have even felt a little guilty because I “didn’t have it badly”.

Cancer is cancer, though, and it comes with all the connotations, no matter in what form you have it. If you break your leg and have treatment, no-one actually asks “how badly?” – a break is a break. Not everyone has to have multiple fractures and weeks of traction to have been considered a ‘patient with a broken leg’. There are, of course, always the luckier ones and then those who have had multiple breaks and spend longer in treatment.

Cancer is not a competition, it is a common enemy, over which we should celebrate each and every victory.

When I have said something about feeling like a bit of a fraud, I have been asked, on a few different occasions, “What does a real cancer patient look like?”

The answer is, I suppose: “Well…like me.”

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