The loneliness of cancer.

It turns out May is a milestone month for me this year. It was on May 19 last year I first found out I had a ‘gynaecological malignancy, ovarian in nature’. (No matter how many memories chemo steals, that sentence is burnt into my brain.) Five days later, I finally graduated from uni with my Bachelor of Communications. And six months ago today I had a massive operation to remove a cancer that was close to killing me. So to say it’s been a big year would be an understatement. And even though I have my girl and my little man, it has undoubtedly been the loneliest year of my life.

For one thing, I’m not sure who I am anymore. So much has changed, so much lost. Where I always loved my own company (seriously – I always thought I’d keep myself very amused when I had alzheimer’s in an old folks home) I sometimes feel awkward in my own company. I didn’t realise that was possible. But you know those times when you find yourself home alone and you’re excited to finally be able to do your ‘thing’? I don’t really know what my ‘thing’ is now. I don’t find the same things enjoyable and other things take a lot more time and concentration. I spend much of my alone time wondering what I might like to do.

A few weeks ago this aimlessness lead me to tidy up my iTunes library! I came across a stack of files with gibberish labels so I had to listen to each one to figure out what it was. They were interviews I had done for different projects I have ghost written. I listened to my voice as I asked personal questions and laughed along at their stories and it hit me that I wasn’t that person anymore. The woman on that recording sounded carefree, confident, vibrant even. It was the voice of a woman with the certainty of decades of life ahead of her; who was hedging her bets on the same assumption as everyone else – that I’d have more time.

As I listened to myself interview a cocky and self-assured octogenarian, I was overwhelmed by the unfairness of having that certainty stolen from underneath me. When I interviewed him, I was wide-eyed and envious of the life he’d led and wondered if I could have the same in my own life. Listening back to it, all I could hear was a man talking about a period in life I am likely to never experience. It’s isolating realising that while you feel like an entirely different person you look the same to everyone else.

As a people person, I don’t do well with feeling lonely. I am fine with being alone but I’m not familiar with lonely. I remember thinking before my operation that post-op I’d be exhausted by people wanting to visit and feeling guilty about turning them away. The reality is much different because the world keeps turning and life for everyone else goes on. Day to day, nothing changes in other people’s world’s but my whole world changed and no matter how hard I try I can’t go back to how it used to be. And being at an age where most of my friends are getting into their careers or creating families, it’s harder to nail people down for the face to face interaction that has been missing. I don’t remember what it’s like to regularly catch up with people anymore, but I do remember what it was like to be the one never available to catch up so I guess that’s cosmic balance for you.

Last week I posted on a Facebook page I joined asking for others’ experiences hoping they would tell me that they had no idea what I was talking about. Sadly, my experience was all too common and a harsh reminder that while my world looks entirely different, to everyone else it still looks the same. They too were exhausted by having to be the arranger, or chasing people down to catch up or feeling needy. Of course, most of us have spent a decent chunk of time at home too so that doesn’t help either.

I still remember the woman who was invited places and who people wanted to be around. Who hatched plans with her partner of spending retirement in a van driving around Australia or living on a property whilst writing books and visiting far-flung friends. Who laughed about the crazy old lady I’d grow into. I’m just not her anymore and it’s a lonely place to be.

4 thoughts on “The loneliness of cancer.

Add yours

  1. Oh, Naomi. I’m so angry on your behalf, if that makes sense. I wish we lived closer. I’m glad you’ve found a group for support but no, it’s not the same as hanging out.


  2. I’m so sorry you are feeling all this. Sadly, I can relate to so much of this. I have no idea who I am anymore. I don’t feel like me.


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