"Earlier this week I was given the news that, as I'd passed the 5 year mark post-womb cancer diagnosis, I no longer needed to attend for hospital check ups and was being discharged!
5 year! - the landmark I didn't dare dream of reaching in the dark,early days after diagnosis, and one I found overwhelming when it finally did arrive.
What I found most overwhelming was the realisation of not only how stressful the past 5 years have been, but also how much I had evolved and changed personally throughout that period.
My consultant mentioned the psychological term 'Post- Traumatic Growth' on Monday, one first coined in the 1990's by R. Tedeschi. After briefly researching the term, I found it fitted in perfectly with what I'd experienced as a womb cancer patient.
Being diagnosed with womb cancer was possibly one of the most traumatic things to happen in my life. I'd never heard of the disease and thought I was at low risk of developing female cancers as I had never missed a smear test or mammogram. I also lived a fit and healthy lifestyle.
At diagnosis I was told I would need a total hysterectomy 4 weeks later and the operation had already been booked. Cancer to my knowledge at that time was a certain death sentence and in my mind I wouldn't be here to celebrate Christmas. The most traumatic thought was leaving my son, who had been born after 11 years of infertility treatment (although he would turn round now and call me a complete melt)
I found the physical recovery after surgery reasonably straight forward, the psychological aspect less so. This was exacerbated by the fact I was going through a surgical menopause with all its hormonal highs and lows.
A long recovery gave me chance to reflect and recognise changes I needed to make in my life, even though I was desperate at times to get back to who I used to be. I realised I'd always been a people pleaser, but now it was imperative for my future health and wellbeing to start setting firm boundaries and to live life on my own terms. I'd spent a lifetime enabling others to live their best life, now it was my turn.
So what has the past 5 years taught me?
I see the lessons as a series of paradoxes:
I have learned to say No more often, but also to say Yes to opportunities that may have passed me by before.
I am more understanding, kind and compassionate to some people, but have a distinct lack of tolerance when others complain about stuff and nonsense.
I live life more slowly and intentionally but realise time on this earth is limited and passing quickly so don't want to waste any.
I live with less fear which gives rise to experiencing more joy. Life is lived in sharp focus and beauty is found close to home, not necessarily thousands of miles away.
I no longer have a 5 year plan. life is right here, right now.
I am mindful of how and with whom I spend my life and the biggest paradox is that after surgery, no matter how many sit ups I perform I'm never going to have a flat belly, and I'm ok with that!!
I would never have chosen a womb cancer diagnosis, but through the trauma I have, to paraphrase Tedeschi, developed a new understanding of myself, the world I live in and a better understanding of how to live life.
This is Post-Traumatic Growth!
I hope you'll join me in an extra large gin!
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