Today is Women’s Christmas and, as every year, I’m delighted to see the end of the holiday season. It was lovely and relaxed but by New Year’s Eve I was ready to move on. I hang in there for the first few days of January, but I’m itching to get all the greenery and tinsel out. I’m still stuffed to the gills from overeating but, thanks to my daughter’s help, the decorations have all been packed away and the house is almost back to normal. The only thing left is to haul the now naked Christmas tree out of the room and stack it on the woodpile out the back to gently decompose over the next year. A good sweep and I’ll be ready for the new year.
I haven’t made any earth-shaking resolutions for 2024. Much as I want to learn how to play the piano, or lose a stone, I’m keeping it low key. The fact is that I spent much of last year in and out of hospital, undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Thanks to an early detection and the type of tiny tumour they found, I only had small surgeries and some radiation and didn’t have to endure either a mastectomy or chemotherapy. I am also at a point in my life where my time is largely my own, my needs can be put first, and I am relatively secure financially. This has made my cancer ‘journey’ a very easy one, compared to others who have had a much more difficult time.
I learned a few things along the way. The first is that there are a lot of women who have had breast cancer and are doing well now. In fact, according to the Marie Keating foundation one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Almost every time I mentioned it this year, a woman in my company has told me that she too was diagnosed and had treatment. I’m happy that I decided to be very open about my diagnosis, because I met so many women who had been through it. I applaud their strength and am thankful for their kindness. Their stories and stamina really helped to keep me positive.
Another thing I learnt is patience. I’ve never been very good at it. I always thought that patience was like being put on a short leash, wriggling, and struggling, until the moment when you are released as someone shouts: Go! Like waiting for a cake to cool, or Santa to arrive. Holding your breath as you wait to exhale. Patience and frustration have always gone hand in hand. This year I’ve learnt that true patience is waiting with no end in sight. It’s not holding your breath for something to happen but rather to keep breathing calmly through whatever comes. It’s taking breaks to catch your breath rather than ‘pushing through’. Convalescence is not a sprint. It’s more of a very slow marathon, with a lot of breaks to rest. Thankfully I have two skills which really helped: I love sleeping and I love reading books. Sleeping and reading are great ways to make the time pass while your body heals. Should that get tedious, there’s always the many delights of digital entertainment. Visiting with friends is also a great way to pass the time. I’m lucky that one of my best friends lives halfway between CUH and my home. Stopping in for coffee, chats, and treats made going up and down to Cork every day for radiation therapy actually pleasant.
I took my time, grateful that I could. My to-do lists were small and easily achieved between naps. Plans were kept loose and could be chucked at the last minute. I believe that it really helped my recovery to have very little pressure to do anything at all. I know that it could have been very different if I had a full-time job outside the home or still had small children – or both. Now nine months later, I’m ready to take stock and face the new year.
Being largely inactive has had benefits, but it also has had an effect on my overall fitness. Now that I’m finally done with hospitals and treatments, I’m ready to take stock and start getting fit. Don’t get me wrong. I won’t be running any marathons in 2024. In fact, I would be surprised if I ran at all! Right now my goals are much more modest. Being able to go for a long walk, carrying heavy shopping, or getting stuck in the garden again will be my gold medals. It’s easy to get discouraged when you have such a long way to go, but thanks to last year I have my new friend, patience, on hand to help. So new year, new me? Not really. Just getting back to old me will be great. I’m looking forward to it.