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Week 6: Losing Myself

When you’re very ill, your whole being becomes engulfed in getting better. Every ounce of energy goes into healing yourself and often this can make you insular, like there’s nothing more important in the world than you and your health. One of my chemo nurses told me that people can often become self absorbed when they have cancer – she meant this in the nicest possible way and for the record is a very caring, supportive woman. At first I was shocked and confused by this statement. But the more I started to think about it, the more I started to come out of myself and look at this from a different perspective. I realised that yes, this is happening to me. ME, me, me, me, everything in this world right now is about ME. I’ve written over 10,000 words about ME, I’ve snapped at Barry on numerous occasions for not putting ME first, I’ve spent hours talking about ME and my health, I’ve taken so many selfies of ME and my bald head that there’s no space left on my phone; every reflective surface, be it a shop window, mirror or car door I have looked in, just to look, yep you’ve guessed it, at ME. It’s like I’m the only person in the world ever to have had cancer, I’m the only human being ever to experience this disease, I’m the only one struggling. And then I kick myself, hard, back into reality. There are 2.5 million people currently living with cancer in the UK and there were 361,000 diagnoses in 2015 – that works out as about 1,000 new diagnoses every single day.

But the thing is, this isn’t me. This cancer diagnosis is not who I want to be. I haven’t chosen this, it wasn’t down to my lifestyle choices or unhealthy habits, I had no control over it. And so I have become obsessed with myself because I’m terrified that I am losing myself. My real self. My core. My soul. The person I have forged an identity with for the last 29 years. All the things I have done, consciously or unconsciously, that make me me are slowly starting to fade away from my whole. There is a disconnect, a blurring of my true self. The cancer cells are eating up my body and slowly devouring my soul.

Suddenly, for the first time in my life, my freedom has been compromised. This makes me vulnerable. The vulnerability seeps from every crevice of my body, shapes and personifies itself in various forms. I have reverted back to a childlike state: Ariane circa 1990. I speak in a baby voice. No longer is my voice loud and engaging, but meek and timid. My tongue is hiding somewhere at the back of my throat and for the first time in my adult life people struggle to hear what I say. Confidence and independence? Bashed out of me. I can't go anywhere on my own or be anywhere on my own. In the last four months I can count the number of times I have been on my own on one hand. Female sassiness and sexiness? Disappeared. I don’t want to have sex, at all. And then there’s the lack of hair, which makes me look like a duckling, an ugly one at that, or a big, BIG baby. One night I even wet the bed, like a frightened child.

I want to run back to her, the old, fun Ariane, who nearly gets kicked out of Berghain for dancing on the bar. I want to give her a huge hug and plead with her not to leave me.

But no, I’m definitely not a kid anymore. I have in fact just entered the last year of my twenties. It’s funny how life pans out. I always thought I’d either be married with a baby or winning awards for some amazing career by now. Instead I have cancer. My body has decided to work against, not with me. I have moved back in with my parents and I spend most of my days lying on sofas scrolling my friend’s Instagram feeds, seething with envy at how much fun they’re all having. I don’t want to be ill anymore. I want to be fun Ariane again, the Ariane who nearly gets kicked out of Berghain for dancing on the bar, the Ariane who dresses up as a clown and acts out a silly routine, the Ariane who is fit and healthy and happy. Not this new Ariane, who has to leave her best friend’s wedding at 9pm because she’s too tired to keep pretending she’s okay, who can’t dance for longer than a minute without feeling knackered and who cries pretty much every day.

It ain’t all doom and gloom kids. The last few weeks I have started slowly to come back to who I am. And I want to run back to her, the old Ariane, give her a huge hug and plead with her not to leave me again. Instead I know it will be more of a reluctant shuffle, half stumble back to her. The shuffle started with alcohol (of course it did!) when I drank a whole glass of red wine, did a few downward dogs and then even managed a session at the gym. But more chemo this week has been enough to push me down a peg or two. I feel like all the progress has been zapped out of me, I’m back to square one, lying on the sofa again.

I have five more sessions of chemo to go and then all being well I’ll be done with this asshole. There’s no rest for the wicked though and so instead of allowing myself to bathe in this glory, the next big set of questions start picking away at me. What next? What now? What does having had cancer mean for my future self? Can I just go back to my old life, that old Ariane?

I hope I haven’t really lost myself. But rather, that I am in a state of flux. Of deep personal and emotional growth. Of profound change and spiritual awakening. I’ll be back, louder, braver, bolder, stronger and feistier than ever. Just with a bit less hair.
Read the first part of my story here
And the second part here
Part three
Part four
Part five