Waiting

By Dimity Paul

It seems crazy to me now that I was surprised by my triple negative breast cancer diagnosis two weeks after turning 31.

Technically, I had been waiting 10 years for it.

Since learning of my BRCA1 gene mutation at 21, the wait subconsciously followed me.

Of course, I’d hoped that planned preventative surgeries would mean I would never actually get cancer.

But there it was. All 0.9 millimetres of it.

Which led me to a new wait: to get to five years post diagnosis when my risk of secondaries will reduce significantly.

Liver, lungs, brain: that’s the organs where triple negative breast cancer most commonly metastasises.

I’ve been on the OlympiA drug trial, evaluating a new adjuvant therapy drug. But with no standard treatment for triple negative breast cancers post mastectomy and chemotherapy, there’s nothing to do but wait.

I’m waiting to reach my mid-30s.

There’s a multitude of things to do to distract yourself while waiting.

In the hospital waiting room, somewhere many of us in the BCNA community frequent, I busy myself with work emails.

For my five-year wait, I started distracting myself with keeping busy. Filling it with meaningful work in the energy sector, on a board of a women’s health prevention organisation, advocating for greater women’s participation in politics and sending kids to Germany on scholarships to build their language skills and confidence.

But I filled my life with that kind of busy before cancer. It was the kind of busy that was trying to prove my right to live, the right not to get cancer. To prove I was successful and worthwhile.

The best thing about cancer is it focuses the mind. I’ve noticed a shift in how I wait in the last six months.

Indeed, the wait is being replaced with self-discovery and self-love.

I’m filling the wait with learning how to live. To believe I’m enough without the job title, the board positions, and the driving ambition that ramped up at 21 when I began being in a hurry to achieve as much as possible – just in case the wait ended.

I am trying to embrace who I am, being a friend not just to the ones I love but to myself. And the kinder I am to myself, the more love I have for others.

I’m being a friend to my body and prioritising exercise and eating good food. I’ve become a new friend to my mind and regularly practise self-reflection and being curious about my feelings.

Do not be in any doubt though, I’m still waiting for that elusive five-year post diagnosis day, finally removing the heavy weight of waiting.

However, the weight is getting lighter. Not with the passing of each year, but every time I give myself a break.

I think the hardest thing that many of us with a BRCA gene mutation or being diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age subconsciously carry is the fear that our life may not be fully lived.

It’s truly scary.

Now, rather than just waiting, I’m learning how to live. And I’m getting better at it. Every day.

Life is too good to wait for.

Issue 86
Autumn 2020