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‘I am here. I am alive.’

B is for Breast Cancer book cover
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An excerpt from B is for Breast Cancer, by Christine Hamill

‘R is for Recovery’

The day after I was diagnosed with cancer I was in Boots the Chemist when the idea for this A to Z came to me. I stood there with a basket in my hand, blinking back tears and thinking: Now, what does a breast cancer patient need? All I could come up with was waterproof mascara. I put one in my basket and thought: Someone should write an alternative guide to breast cancer – Step one: buy waterproof mascara; you’re going to need it.

A few short months later, I found I was writing the guide myself. In between hospital appointments, I sat in bed with my laptop, furiously, desperately, trying to make sense of this alien world I had entered. I felt a bit crazed – the nutty professor naming and labelling things: A is for… I suppose it was my way of trying to impose some order. Nothing made sense any more and writing this book was like having a conversation with myself, trying to understand what was happening; a daily pep talk to keep me sane, to keep me going, to make me feel like I still had some control.

What strikes me most though on reading this book now is how frightened and ignorant I was. But it is the anger that chills me the most. Cancer didn’t make me come over all Zen, it didn’t turn me into a Care Bear; it turned me into Mrs Angry. Now, when I look back on that time, it is with relief that I am not that person any more, but still I make no apologies for it. You’d be a pretty odd fish not to feel angry about having cancer. But you have to let it go some time, otherwise you’ll just get stuck in a groove, and then where would your Positive Mental Attitude be?

When I wrote this book I thought I would never confidently face the world again, but you know the old cliché, ‘Time heals all wounds’? Well, it’s true. Sort of. And a lot of time has passed since then. Time often spent in tears and turmoil. Yet here I am, healed. I’ve got my new boob, my wounds from surgery and radiotherapy have faded to small scars, my ‘bad’ arm only hurts sometimes and while the deadening fatigue proves difficult to shake off, my sleep has improved.  But none of this was easy and none of it was quick.

Life and death really are so very random. That’s hard to accept when you are a seasoned worrier like me. Worriers don’t like random. As a teenager, already frustrated by my flair for worrying, I bought a cartoon postcard of a stick-man worrier. Stick man becomes so concerned for his own safety that he locks himself indoors and, eventually, just stays in bed, safe and sound. Until a spring comes loose from his mattress and stabs him in the heart. ‘Death by Mattress’ the cartoon was called. After you’ve had cancer taking a risk can seem harder than ever, but you have to try. So when you falter, let this be your mantra: beware of death by mattress.

While I was having my cancer treatment life seemed to me like a trick – a gift given in error that might be snatched back at any moment. I put all my plans on hold and put all my energy into holding on. All this time later, here I am. Still holding on. Sometimes I feel like I owe my life to the nurses and doctors who helped me, and sometimes I think I owe it to me. I found the lump. I reported it when I really wanted to pretend it wasn’t there. I faced up to what might happen. I did what I had to. I am alive. I am here. And already just being alive is no longer enough.

I have plans.

– Christine Hamill, author of B is for Breast Cancer

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