Looking back I am amused by people’s perceptions. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I walked around for a couple of months with a tumour inside of me, while I processed the shock and worked out what was best for me. I didn’t tell many people and so, even though I had an active cancer, nobody treated me any differently. After all, I looked the same, didn’t I. And so it strikes me as funny that once the cancer had been removed, and I began chemo as an insurance policy against it ever returning, people then thought of me as a person with cancer. Simply because I had no hair. The stereotypical sign of cancer. And I smile, because in fact, it was actually the other way round.

Our perceptions are interesting, aren’t they. How many times have we thought that something was one way, only to realise later it was something else? I gave my daughter a beautiful book called Duck! Rabbit!.

Throughout this gorgeous book there’s a debate about whether or not the drawing is in fact a duck or a rabbit. And it really could be either. I love it, because it causes the reader to stretch the way they think about things. To challenge our perceptions, to question and explore new ways of thinking, other possibilities. Because, like a lot of parents, I want to open up the possibilities life holds for my children. And this begins with them, doesn’t it. Helping them to develop their own way of thinking and not just automatically buy into what every body else thinks is real, or right or true. What delights me most is that the benefit is not just for my children.

Because there are always two sides to every coin, aren’t there. And when one lands in our lap, I think we can sometimes forget to flip it over. To take a look at what the other side has to offer. And although there were many times throughout my experience I wondered if this was the end, looking back I now realise that it was just the beginning. An opportunity, a chance in life, to do something very special for myself…

Sometimes I find the sadness creeps up on me. And it seems this can happen when I’m tired from a particularly gruelling week. A sadness, a grief for the ‘me’ I used to know. A lamentation for my old self, the one I knew for 40 years before the cancer. And the tears just flow with the sense of loss. In fact it seems my eyes just seem to stream sometimes even when I’m not actually crying. Perhaps this is a reflection of the depth of the sadness that can come with the losses we suffer through cancer.

And there are many losses, aren’t there. And I’m not just talking body parts. There’s the loss of strength physically and psychologically. My right arm that has always been my dominant arm is simply not the same as it use to be and I feel this profoundly. There’s the loss of sensation, the itches that can’t be scratched because the skin is numb, perhaps never to recover because the nerves were cut as they worked to save my life. And though my hair has grown back beautifully, it is thin and every morning I grieve the loss of my thick grey coiffed mane I use to love. Then there’s the loss of freedom in being tied down to the relentless medical appointments which continue years after the treatment is over. Other losses too, like the freedom to fly without the need for compression bandages, although I am delighted when I forget to wear them and my arm is none the worse for wear. There’s the loss of stamina, particularly noticeable when my six year old beats me in a running race. And perhaps one of the hardest to bear is the loss of sexuality, both physically and emotionally. Because as one woman said, it can be hard to feel sexy with only one breast, can’t it. Especially when we live in a society that idolises women’s curves. And to add insult to injury there’s the loss of libido as the oestrogen blockers affect my brain. But I’m working on that one and determined to win. There are the losses as relationships change and loved ones disappoint us as they too try to cope. And I haven’t even mentioned the financial loss, though I feel this loss pales into insignificance compared to the personal losses and the loss of identity.

Grief is not something we seem to do very well in this society, is it. We’re more the stiff upper lip type. But amongst the pink ribbon days, daffodil days, mother’s day walks and morning teas, perhaps we should have a day where we don our black arm bands and have a good grieve. Allow ourselves to feel the sadness that comes with this loss of self. And it’s important to mourn these losses, isn’t it. Allowing ourselves to feel the sadness helps us to move through and move on. Because the losses are real. And although the new ‘me’ that has arisen from the ashes is strong and beautiful, sometimes I don’t quite know how to relate to this new person. It’s like I have to get to know myself again and learn to love myself anew.

I remember reading years ago of a couple whose little boy was brain damaged in an accident. And they held a funeral for their little boy. And though they were criticised by many because he was still living, it was important for them to mourn the loss of the little boy they once new before they could welcome the ‘new’ little boy who had taken his place…