Today marks an incredible nine years since the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer and, naturally, I’m feeling reflective. I hate to give cancer the credit for anything positive, but it’s crazy to think about where I was then and where I am now.
On 22nd June 2012, I was 29 years old and at a bit of a crossroads in my career. For decades, I had wanted to be a “proper writer”. For years, I had been contemplating quitting my job in financial journalism, but I put it off because I loved the job, it was well-paid and it took me all over the world. Plus I had my whole life to pursue my dream career. Shortly after I found the lump and right before my diagnosis, I finally quit that job, moving across the world from Argentina to Dublin. I’d love to say I did it to follow my dreams, but the move was mostly motivated by a relationship.
Then cancer came along and suddenly I was possessed with a powerful fearlessness. I started writing this blog and felt a confidence that had been suppressed through years of writing about Brazilian oil producers and Mexican telecoms. From the comfort of my childhood bedroom, I would churn out diary-style blog posts about everything I was going through, from fertility concerns to gene mutations and baldness. I cringe when I look back at some of those posts today, but I’m proud that I expressed myself freely, without worrying about how it might look on the ‘gram.
From that newfound fearlessness came the decision to quit my new job, which had taken me away from journalism and only made me unhappy, despite my wonderful colleagues. I went back to uni to take the Masters degree in Magazine Journalism that I’d always wanted to do, then became a 31-year-old intern. I quickly found a job writing about restaurants and spent the next five years travelling the world, again adoring my job but always harbouring a desire to control my own schedule and finish the novel I’d started in 2016.
Finally, a year before the pandemic, I went freelance, taking a chance on getting a book deal before I even had an agent, and certainly before I realised how tough the publishing industry can be. But I channelled that fearlessness that came with the idea that my life could be cut short. I told myself I need to live out my dreams now, not on some distant day in the future that might never come. The first year was hard – I missed my colleagues and took a sizeable pay cut. I signed with an incredible literary agent but had my novel rejected by several publishers. Then the global pandemic hit, throwing even more challenges in my way.
But somehow, in June 2021, I’m in the best place I’ve ever been. This time next year, my debut novel will be published, after six years of relentless editing, rejection and resilience. I adore the freedom of self employment. I still have many goals left to fulfil, but when I think about everything I’ve achieved since 22nd June 2012, I can only be proud of myself and grateful for the extra nine years I’ve been granted so far.
Was it cancer that made me fearless? I don’t know. I wouldn’t like to give cancer the satisfaction of taking the credit for anything, but the truth is it often takes adversity to push us in the right direction and speed up the decisions we would have made eventually anyway – to exit the relationship that’s making us unhappy, quit the job we’ve always hated or take the plunge for that longed-for side hustle.
As we emerge from 18 months of lockdowns and huge changes to the way we live our lives, many people are experiencing similar crossroads to the one I faced almost a decade ago. Do I want to go back to an office 8-6? Do I want to resume commuting 2+ hours every day? Do I even like my job? Do I need to live in the city or could I move out to the sticks? Is this person really the person I want to be with for the rest of my life?
My answer to all those questions would be that if you’re questioning it, you probably already know the answer. You want change. And I can tell you that the closer you return to pre-pandemic life, the less likely you will be to make radical changes. You are likely in a place of enhanced fearlessness right now, and you’re contemplating doing things you wouldn’t have done Before Covid – just like Before Cancer. As soon as you return to your comfort zone, you’ll push aside the niggles and big ideas you’ve brought to the fore during lockdown and you’ll allow your busy life to resume.
Good things can come from a crisis, but only you can make them happen.
In other news, I wasn’t able to celebrate my cancerversary with a clubbing trip, but I did something much better. I swam in the River Thames for the first time and it was glorious. I think we all know by now that wild swimming is good for the soul, but after a lonely winter where Christmas was cancelled and I didn’t hug anyone for five long months, the euphoria and freedom of jumping in was off the charts. Go do something that makes you feel alive!
Oh, and if you’d like to pre-order my book, Single Bald Female, you can do so by clicking the link below. It’s out 14th April 2022 and I am literally bursting to share it with you. x