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Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Sequel Begins

A long time ago, my breast cancer mentor Shaz wryly observed that:  Cancer is the Gift that Keeps on Giving.

Certainly, as I boldly concluded my memoir,  The Breast its History,  I gaily wrote 'The End' and trusted that well - that was that.

But, as 2017 gets going, and I approach the five year mark since completing treatment, I find that there is so much more to my story that, I feel, can be shared to help and empower those dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, their family, friends and supporters.

The pivotal event, as I have alluded to in my last blog, is my separation and pending divorce.

The fact is the state of my affairs at present is very common.  I can't find any actual evidence of this but I've been told that more than 1 in 2  women who deal with a breast cancer diagnosis will also deal with divorce or separation from a long-term partner.

The problem is no one wants to talk about it.

Some time after the event, I finally had the chance to advise my oncologist Poh See, of my new marital status.  It was one of those rare moments when this usually stoic professional actually allowed me to see an emotion.  Her face fell.  I thought she was going to cry.

It seems that Poh See has too often heard this story of heartbreak and she understands how much more difficult it can be for some women, especially if the circumstances involve philandering (a common occurrence, alas, but thankfully not in my case) or financial ruin.

Some couples, she said, managed to stay together.   When I asked why, she theorised that she thought those who sit together throughout the entire treatment saga tend to fare better.

'So why aren't we told this as part of the counselling process, prior to treatment,' I asked.  But Poh See had no answers.

Let's face it.  Cancer is a selfish business.  As my memoir thus far attests to, it is very rare that the spouse or partner - being brought along for the ride - is even a consideration.  Not even in the latter stages.  Perhaps relationship issues are, therefore, inevitable.

But if such issues commonly occur, there is a good reason why people aren't keen to discuss them publicly.

Only those who have been through a separation or divorce will understand how eviscerating the process is.  It is profoundly hurtful and deeply scarring.

Watching someone throw petrol on your dreams and set it alight is not an easy thing to share.

After all, here is how the basic narrative usually unfolds.  Your doctor gives you the all clear.  You breathe a sigh of relief.  You emerge, rejoicing, from the trenches..,  and are struck by a grenade.  Sometimes, you don't even have the chance to leave the trenches.

Sure, a mess is left.  But is everything, necessarily, lost?

Of course my answer is 'no'.

Because, as I have discovered thus far, there is a reason for this darkness, this shadow.  It is what gives meaning to light.  It's shadow that ultimately defines form.  Without shadow, there is no perspective and all you see is two dimensions.

You see, it is our traumas, trials and tribulations that provide clarity.  It's the challenges we face that lead to revelation.  In this alchemy, two things occur:

Firstly, others begin to see us more clearly.   With our vulnerabilities exposed, we are presented  to the world bare, naked and shivering.  With our defences down, masks are removed and so - there we are.  There we are.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it is we who see others more clearly, sharpening perspectives and deepening empathy and understanding.   Starkly revealed, your own blindfolds are removed, and here is reality and, well, there you are.

Surely, this state of truly seeing and understanding is an evolution.  Surely there is something to be learned. Surely this is gold?   We shall see.

In the meantime, please do not judge this rather average instalment too harshly.  It is a miracle that I am writing again, at all.

Mysterious forces are leading me forward and I sincerely hope you will join me for the ride ahead.

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