One aspect of my life that I really had trouble coming to terms with after diagnosis was the loss of all my connections - my people connections.I have been giving this a lot of thought now that my head seems to have stilled and I can actually think again. I've come to some realisations, but I am unsure how this will affect my response to people and my relationships in the future.
Being a hairdresser - I was trained that it was an important part of my job to find connections to the people who would be my potential clients - whether it be for a few visits or as turned out, some for over 20 years. Without realising it, this really became my way of 'making friends' over the years. All these wonderful connections were my social outlet for many years. You get to know in some cases 3 or 4 generations of one family, you experience the births, graduations, marriages, illnesses and sadly the deaths. It is a wonderful privelage. My real 'circle' of friends was quite small - a handful of people as we were all so 'busy'.
My diagnosis happened on a Tuesday morning, I was going back to work that afternoon, but that didn't happen. I had been stuck with so many needles, biopsied, and I suddenly realised I couldn't go back and put on the 'clown face' when I had been plunged into the twilight zone. Following surgery and leading up to chemo I realised I had to sell my business and concentrate on myself. I sent hundreds of letters to all clients saying simply it was time to move on. Some knew I was unwell but not from what. The flowers, the cards and the letters I recieved were overwhelming, I recieved beautiful flowers from my children's school, my community connections made me feel loved, treasured and I knew I had so many prayers and so much positive energy coming my way, but it was still hard to be anything - I couldn't be poisitive, I wasn't negative, I was just frozen.
Many calls and text messages followed, and I even had the Assistant Principal offer to bring my girls to school each day for me while I was having my chemo. The calls and messages saved my sanity, they were comforting and kept me holding on that things would be normal. I couldn't believe that someone so busy would offer to take my girls to school. I think back now and I should have accepted her offer - I didn't as I was embarassed to think I couldn't manage.
Now in amongst this I had one friend who brought meals for my family and she made things for me according to what I could eat - as you know there seems to be things you eat while on chemo and suffering the immediate after effects and then things you can eat in between every round of chemo. I had another friend who brought food the first round but then found it to hard - and thats ok - I was surprised and a bit disappointed, but I know she was paralysed by not knowing what to do. Apart from an initial call from other friends to say sorry you have cancer, while other friends didn't even call, I still 15 months on have not heard from them.
The reactions from the mums at school once 'the word had spread'- was also interesting, people would either not talk to me or would just nod 'hello'. I knew what they were saying because my girls had to put up with it second hand from the other children's mouths. My children had a terrible emotional roller-coaster ride, and I am thankful for the councillor who helped them deal with their fears and at the same time deal with the crewelty of their peers.
I was talking one day through this with a friend who's husband was on his own journey with cancer - we had become friends through my support before diagnosis - and we were talking about how people often say -'if there's anything I can do', but don't. I told her about my reaction to the offer from the school to drive the children. We came to the conclusion that when people ask that question, we should not be embarassed but counter with 'what are you good at'? Then be it - I can cook a meal, I could do some shopping for you, I could put on a load of washing, I could drop your children at school, I could bring you flowers from my garden, I can teach you to tie a scarf and look hip, I could come in and dust, I could mow the lawn -or my husband could, and say 'Yes please'.
I have to be honest and say I'm not sure how I managed through my surgery, chemo and radiation - my husband was away for a lot of it -necessated by his work - my sisters came and stayed with me at various times and were enormous support, and I even had a dear friend come from Germany for two weeks to help me, but there were a lot of times we were alone and I guess we muddled through, but it was after treatment finished this year that I have really struggled.
By this time everyone has visited, people think its all over and expect you to say 'I'm now cured'. The phone calls and text's stop. Your contact with your team stops. I haven't been in the headspace to start making the phone calls, or have contact with many people - I've been dealing with the carnage of the aftermath of my treatment, whilst putting on a brave face and saying 'I'm great'. (The words stick in my mouth and never reach my heart.)
I've realised that people actually do come and go in your life and you know what? - it's ok and it's how it's meant to be. Think of your children when they were young and at the park or playground. Mine would always come away with such joy, telling me they had made a new friend - never realising they would probably never see that child again. Some people will always be there, and their role in your life will, at some times take on more importance, others will come and go. For every expectation we have of people they have an expectation of us. I've also realised the imortance of belonging within a community - be it an extended work community, school community, church community or sports community. I feel blessed that I have known the highs and the lows - it doesn't mean that I like it - but I wonder now when I have the strength and courage to rejoin society, how I will approach new relationships.
Cancer Council NSW would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work.We would also like to pay respect to elders past and present and extend that respect to all other Aboriginal people.