A Pink Ribbon Year

By Elaina Ford (UK)

“There’s a lot going on with this, I know! But that’s a reflection of my busy head. I’ve started art therapy sessions through Maggies, and this is one of the pieces that came out. 

This is how I visualise the year, I always have, in a circle around me, the present, October, larger and clearer stretched out in front towards Christmas, with the spring out to the right, summer behind me. But this is last year, on reflection, now I’m a year from diagnosis and reaching all those anniversaries. 

Time is a pink ribbon, reflecting breast cancer awareness, so whether you love it or hate it, this is perhaps a more meaningful version? Also I’ve come to like pink over recent years, the bright cheerfulness of it, so it represents the positive parts, particularly the love and support I’ve had from my family and friends. 

My cancer journey started in the autumn, I was in Oxford, with its classic buildings first on the ribbon, but it became a head swirl, trying to balance organising the conference there, whilst processing the fact I’d found a lump and the scans and biopsy I had to get. 

Can you guess what the black hole is? Cancer is now entwined through my life. Many scans (MRI machine), injections (silver metal needles) are scattered throughout the timeline, as are many many appointments, represented by clocks (not steering wheels!). 

My calendar was deleted, cancer crossed out many things, including the trips to Iceland (blue ice, right?) and Barcelona (that’s the Sagrada Familia, and beaches, honest!). Cancer replaced travel with scans and needles and appointment after appointment. 

Alongside the initial diagnosis and planning I harvested some of my eggs (outside my medical team’s goals, but important to me), but pushed to the side. This is shown by a (simple) representation of ovaries and womb. This concern over both what chemo might have done, the uncertainty of IVF, and my long term future, have pushed my hopes for a family out to the side (top left). But they’re still there, and hopefully another loop of time, another year, will cross their path. (They’re stick people as I can’t draw, time was limited, and I guess I don’t see that part to well right now). 

The red squares with tubes pushing into my timeline are the chemo rounds, the bags held up above me dripping poison into my veins. One of the drugs is epirubicin, not fondly known as the ‘red devil’. (I had two types but this is complicated enough!). Red also clashes with pink, in the same way chemo clashes with life, the life I was living when I was well, before I started on it. For this is one of the big ironies with a lot of cancer, at least breast cancer patients – you can often feel perfectly well, no symptoms, then start filling yourself up with poison that is swirling around inside you quite literally killing your cells, messing your life up. Some of these cells are the lining of your mouth, messing up taste buds. I’m a believer in a good cup of tea ‘fixing’ many things (hence its central(ish) in the picture and in the timeline) but the cancer and chemo even ruined that. Then it ruined wine. FFS. 

Meanwhile my hair was falling out. This is not something many people saw, they just saw how well the cold capping was working, and as it started regrowing straight away, my scalp didn’t look too bare for long and it didn’t look too bad. So I didn’t get much sympathy. But I had to cut it short, not a big deal for many, but I always have had long hair. And seeing it at times come out in handfuls with every shower and brushing was very distressing. 

But there were also positive moments through all this crap. I was proud I hosted Christmas well, my family came over and it was all a lovely time. Then I turned 40 (how the hell did that happen?). I was supposed to have been on a ship in the Southern Ocean, but lump meant not. So we hired some space in a cool bar, and my amazing sis made a cake with 40 penguins on it! I was so impressed! I only put one here or it would be a mess. But she and all my family and friends have stood by me and supported me so much through all of this. 

As the year ahead trails off … to spring, the red tubes are still entwined as chemo and hormone suppression side effects continue on (I refuse to use the word therapy, therapy is a good thing, these are not). Cancer is now wrapped around my life, throughout my time. I hope one day the black may lessen to grey and it won’t be wound so tightly, but it will always be there. “

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