My cancer 'clock' was like a ticking bomb
Coping with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer was hard graft, says Marie Carberry, but just when she was back on her feet, the fear of the 'two-year deadline' had her falling to pieces with stress and worry
It's two years ago since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Usually, the response to a diagnosis like this is tears, shock and a sense of disbelief.
This didn't happen to me. Instead, I put my head down and got on with coping with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Yes, I cried during chemo but only because my bones were throbbing. When I finished my treatment, I was told that my chances of recurrence were about 25pc and that the first two years after diagnosis would be the most dangerous time for this to occur.
To coin a phrase, I've been going 'great guns' for the past two years. I didn't go down the road of counselling because (a) I didn't think I needed it and (b) I'm not a 'touchy feely' kind of gal, and I didn't relish the thought of spilling my heart to anyone.
Then something happened last November. I suddenly started thinking about the two year 'deadline' and, instead of feeling joy that I had almost reached it, the opposite happened. I had this overwhelming feeling I would never get to February. This, coupled with the onset of pains in my thighs and knees, convinced me I had bone cancer.
Sleeping became a problem and, of course, lack of sleep makes everything seem 10 times worse. Then over Christmas, I developed pains in my stomach area and came to the conclusion that cancer had spread to my liver. This is despite the fact that I have a hiatus hernia that acts up every so often -- particularly over the holiday season when I give up my 'anti-cancer' diet.
Then, last week, I got an ear and throat infection, coughed up blood and decided that the cancer was now in my lungs. I realised that the blood was coming from my nose, but not before I had a panic attack and difficulty breathing (of course, sure didn't I have lung cancer).
I was in a destructive cycle of worry, panic and fatigue and thinking straight was beyond me. Then my back gave out, which was the last straw. Not only was I dying but I would have to do it in a wheelchair.
I took myself off to my friend Derek who practises Amatsu, an ancient technique which increases healing potential by manipulation and gentle movement. He worked on my back and during the process I explained what was going on in my head. As I did so I realised that what was happening to me was most probably delayed shock.
Derek sat me opposite him and got me to close my eyes. "What do you see when you think of cancer?" he asked.
Immediately, I answered, "That great big 25pc and it's right behind my eyes."
Derek got me to imagine the 25pc in a colour other than black. "Try pink with yellow flowers. What are the flowers like?"
"Try to imagine them fuzzy and soft and start counting back from 25pc until you reach a number you are comfortable with."
I did this until I reached 8pc. It had become soft focus and not as threatening as the large 25pc. Then he asked me what did I feel when I thought of cancer.
"Angry," I replied and then I thought of Patrick Swazye. I wasn't angry at Patrick but at his wife. It was well known that Patrick was private about his illness. His wife even said that he seldom talked to her about it. Yet she had brought out a book about their time together and his subsequent death. I didn't mind the book so much as a picture of Patrick just before he died. He was lying in a foetal position, his head bald and his body ravaged by the disease. I kept wondering why anyone would take such a picture, let alone reproduce it in a book. I know I would hate it if someone did that to me. It seemed so voyeuristic, like a lot of media coverage of cancer.
I could feel the onset of a headache as pressure built in my head. "I'm angry that cancer is everywhere. I'm angry that I can read about it every day. I'm angry when people die from it. I'm angry at the 25pc. I'm angry that survival rates are five years. I'm angry at statistics and phrases like 'battling cancer'. I'm f**king angry that I got f**king cancer!"
Derek told me to let it all go and tell my body that it was fine to feel like that. With that the pressure in my head started to recede and I felt incredibly relaxed.
It's not over. I know. But I'll get there.