Skip 2020?

The cycling doctor in scrubs and mask!

As midnight approaches I’m having a pensive moment and writing my final blog post of the year. I’m asking myself the question, would I have skipped 2020 had I had the chance? It would have been tempting. And yet, all experience, whether good or bad, is lived experience which shapes who I am and who I will be. I am not the same on the last day of 2020 as I was on the last day of 2019. Am I better? Maybe. Am I worse? Who knows. I hope not. Am I different? Certainly. I have survived Covid-19 (a mild dose, it has to be said) and breast cancer. Steve and I have discovered some wonderful walks in our local area which we would never have noticed had it not been for lockdown. I have become thoroughly addicted to wild swimming and the joy it gives me. I have learned how to meditate and even some yoga.

Before surgery (left) and after (right)

Hold lightly to the things of this world

It’s no secret that the greatest struggle I have had in my life is my childlessness. I have written about it at length elsewhere. In a way “a year” is an arbitrary thing. The Earth has travelled one orbit around the sun. The lessons of a lifetime are composed of moments, not years. I’m with the Rolling Stones. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.” Indeed. There are plenty of things I have wanted, things which others have which I have coveted. Sometimes I feel abandoned by God because he does not give me the things I want. But he does give me the things I need. I don’t need two breasts. I’m quite glad I’ve still got one, at least for now. The fake one is quite symmetrical and Steve can hardly tell the difference, and that’s all I needed. I can still run, swim, hike, hug (when I’m allowed) and reach for the sky. I’m lucky in many ways that I tend to live in my head, so whatever I treasure in this world can be left behind, or brought with me in my imagination, whichever way you want to look at it.

Learning to wait

I’m a terribly impatient person. Three months of waiting for cancer treatment was like torture for me. I scrabbled and scrabbled to find ways to keep myself sane, to prevent myself from falling into deep despair or from becoming a berserk fizz of anxiety. I saw myself bouncing off the walls in a live demo of the second law of thermodynamics, my mind disintegrating into entropy and chaos. I had to wait it out. I had no choice. I wasn’t idle. I did everything I could to expedite my treatment by seeking a second opinion and using my privileged position of being a doctor to pull strings to make it happen. I learned to slow down and to accept that I had to live with uncertainty for an indefinite space of time. That was so alien to me. I found that it helped to inform myself as much as I could about my cancer, the differential diagnosis, histological types, ins and outs of the various treatments. I became an expert on breast reconstruction (at least on paper!).

Cold, cold water

I can’t go past a body of water now without having the urge to immerse myself in it. Steve is very long suffering, standing shivering on the bank while I strip down to my underwear and jump in. I think he understands how much it benefits my mental and physical health. I freely admit that I am completely addicted. There is something about full body immersion in freezing cold water that gives a sensation like no other. It simply thrills me. The day before yesterday I broke my first ice as I stepped into the water in Angle Tarn below Bowfell. How bizarre that I have Covid and breast cancer to thank for this newfound exhilaration.

Gurnal Dubs at 3.5 degrees C

Blog, blog, blog

2020 has turned me into a keen blogger. Okay, so I blog about my experiences. This year my experiences have been Covid and breast cancer, but my blog posts have taken me to places in my head which I had almost forgotten, and which have connected me with anyone who wants to read them. I admit to being a bit of a narcissist in that it gives me a buzz to see how many hits my blog receives each day! I have enjoyed blogging so much that it has reawakened in me the desire to write, and given birth to a book about my experiences this year. We will see if it ever gets to print, let alone whether anybody wants to read it, but at the very least it will have been a catharsis for me.

Scafell range from Bowfell. An experience even better than blogging!

Thankful

Yes, it’s cliched, but counting your blessings is good for you! I’m thankful for Steve’s love; for my family’s unending care and support; for friends who ask how I am and listen to the answer; for the mountains and lakes and rivers; for my heart and lungs and muscles which allow me to run, hike and swim; for the surgeon who took the cancer out and reconstructed my breast so beautifully; for my colleagues who have been so kind throughout my illness; for my medical students who keep me on my toes; and to God for giving me what I need rather than what I want. And I’m thankful for Spook the cat!

Spook, our remarkable cat, out on a walk