This blog post has been brewing for some time. I think I have been waiting to see if the feeling goes away. However, for the past two or three weeks, I have consistently been feeling lucky.
This is extraordinary. I have already used the term “annus horribilis” to describe 2013, and the facts haven’t changed. Firstly, my father died fairly suddenly a week into the New Year. He was old and ill, and we had been losing him slowly and painfully for a long time; but nevertheless, final goodbyes are very hard. Sounds a silly thing to say at my age, but with his death I felt that my childhood really was over.
In the same week, I started the university lecturing job that proved to be such a nightmare for the first half of the year. My colleagues were nice, but I hardly saw them. Everyone was frantically busy. Having your own office sounds grand, but mine was in the Geography department (why??), near nobody I worked with. It was lonely. The induction process was woefully inadequate. The hours (though they added up right on paper) were in practice unreasonable. I had to work all the time to stay ahead and feel well-prepared. Many of the students were very hard work. The job sapped my energy and any enthusiasm I had left for the education system. Most of all, it drained my self-confidence. I felt a fraud rather than an expert, even more than before. I couldn’t see my situation getting any better, given the wider stresses that the university was under. So, in late April – and with the support of my family, I handed in my notice, with no clear idea of what I might do next, but with a sense of failure on two counts: for misjudging the job and ever thinking it would be a good move; and for not being able to hack it.
And about six weeks later I got a diagnosis of breast cancer. The rest of the story you can find elsewhere on the blog.
So how, after all that, can I find myself feeling lucky? I feel lucky because:
- I got the best kind of breast cancer (let’s leave aside issues about overdiagnosis for a bit) – the most treatable kind with the best prognosis.
- I didn’t have to have either chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
- I have had stacks of support and love from very many people, from B outwards. Quite unlike the job experience.
- At the time of my decision-making and my surgery, I wasn’t in a job. So I didn’t have any pressure to get back to work. I didn’t have to feel guilty about colleagues carrying my load. I didn’t have to compromise my recovery by overdoing things.
- And now I don’t have to find another job at all costs. In fact, B is discouraging me from rushing into something for the sake of it. He has said repeatedly how good it is to have me relaxed at home – and indeed even able to hold the fort more flexibly than in the past.
- And if/when I do apply for a job, there is a convincing reason for the gap on my CV. The co-incidence of Career Crash and Cancer – neither of which I would wish on anybody – has positives as well as negatives.
- (And I do in fact have a little bit of research work and study to keep me going just now).
- I am feeling well. To date, the dreaded side effects of my follow-up treatment for cancer have been negligible. To date, I am still thin!
I know all my feelings may change. I may get more fearful of cancer coming back. Side effects may kick in and throw me off balance. I may not yet have finished with rage. I may start to feel useless. And please don’t you try and call me “lucky”, as someone did on a breast cancer forum in July. It’s a feeling that is only valid because it emerges from within.
But, for now, here I am in the middle way, but not so much in a dark wood just now. Less lost, than feeling that it is all right to take a break. In a spiritual exercise that I have tried a few times, you ask yourself, “What time is it in my life?” (a bit like thinking of the Doomsday clock, but not necessarily as sinister) and see what time suggests itself. I asked myself this in May – between Career Crash and Cancer – and I think the same answer still holds now. It’s about half-past three. Maybe the end of the school day. Time for a cup of tea; time to pause. Still time left to do quite a lot. Haven’t decided what yet. That’s OK.
I’d like to refer you to another cancer blogger (I reblogged one of her posts a little while ago). You can read her blog at http://www.positive3neg.wordpress.com. I have not met her, though we have sent each other one or two messages (she is in Australia). She is, on the face of it, less “lucky” than me – she has “triple negative” breast cancer, which is often aggressive and difficult to treat. But I don’t know how she would describe herself. Her writing is fantastic, and suggests a wisdom and even a serenity that is enviable. Strange as it may seem, we are both agreed that the cancer experience is not all bad.