There are a lot of different ways to react to a cancer diagnosis, and there’s a lot of different things that might happen or not, depending on the type of cancer and how ‘serious’ it is, on you as an individual and your circumstances, and many other things besides. In this post, I’m going to try and outline what I’ve found hard and what’s been comparatively easy – this won’t be universal, and things I’ve found not to be a problem will be really hard for some people, and other things I’ve found really hard would be easier for others.
At the moment, I can’t drink alcohol because of the medication I’m on. In fact, I stopped drinking a couple of months before I was diagnosed on the grounds that I was sure that alcohol wasn’t causing my symptoms but it wasn’t going to be helping either! It was difficult at first, but that was mostly because stopping drinking coincided with a conference where there was lots of free wine! Mostly, it’s been surprisingly easy not to drink – there’s alcohol I miss but there are so many good alternatives around (an increasing number of pubs do really good mocktaills, for example) that I haven’t experienced it as a problem – I would prefer not to have this additional restriction, obviously, and not being able to have mulled wine or hot cider at Christmas was not great, but generally, giving up booze (mostly, aside from a tiny sip of communion wine on the rare occasion I actually make it to church, and then I just pretend to myself that I’m higher up the candle than I actually am!) hasn’t been that difficult.
Another thing that has been easier than I expected was moving back home – much as I love my family, I’ve always said I wanted to avoid moving back here. I was in Glasgow from September 2010 to July 2017 and it had come to feel like home, even if I was getting itchy feet and the feeling of needing to live somewhere different. Being at home was the obvious move to make when I got diagnosed and it means I can be more easily looked after, and I don’t have to negotiate as many steps! I get a bit frustrated with things like not being able to cook for myself but the actual being at home is nowhere near as hard as I expected – it also means that I get to spend a lot of time with Arya, which is a definite bonus. I miss my friends but I don’t need social interaction all the time to be happy – depending on my mood I can be just as happy reading or drawing as I am when I’m down the pub – as long as I do occasionally get out the house, because if I don’t I’m liable to feel very cooped up and grouchy! (Basically, I am a slightly overgrown toddler)
I’ve touched on the hard things here before. The loss of identity is still the major one for me – it’s now been so long since I did any ‘proper’ academic work that I feel like a fraud. I’m very grateful to academic Twitter for enabling me to keep up with things, especially conferences, but also just conversations and developments. As I blogged about a few days ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to get along to the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon exhibit on Friday, and loved it – but it was definitely all tied up with these feelings about my identity and academia. The best way I can think to explain it is that it is a form of mourning – I’m not sure if others who have had to give up academia (whether for health reasons or the job market or funding or just the sheer impracticality of it) feel the same way but I suspect at least some do.
Apart from that loss of identity, the major difficult thing is the lack of independence. For a few years, I lived by myself in Glasgow and even when I had a flatmate (or flatmates), it was easy to come and go as I pleased, and I just needed to walk out the door. Now I can barely go upstairs by myself! Everything has to be planned in advance – I can’t just spontaneously decide to go for a walk, for example. I’m fortunate that most of the time I have been able to stick to plans made, but it would be nice to be able to pop to the shops without it being a thing! I went from being independent almost to a fault to relying on someone else for everything very quickly and I’m not sure I’ve adjusted yet, even about a year and a half later!
I’m sure there are other things – taking so many pills, being tired a lot of the time, the actual process of chemo – but I think these are the most important ones. I’ll finish this blog post with a photo of Arya, because when there’s someone this cute to keep you company, a lot of things seem less impossible than they might otherwise feel!