Precisely one year ago today, I set sail from Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands on a 72-foot yacht called Challenger 1 that was headed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to St Lucia in the Caribbean.
Together with 11 colleagues, I was taking part in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, an annual race (or rather it’s a race for those who choose to race; most don’t, it probably won’t surprise you to hear we did) involving hundreds of yachts that all follow largely the same route Christopher Columbus took when he “discovered” the Americas in 1492. As part of our “Atlantic Challenge”, we and other colleagues had raised more thn £32,000 for Save the Children. Our crossing took 15 hot, humid, exhilirating days and nights. It was – and I’m sure will always be – one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done (the photo of the dolphins on the About page of this blog is from that trip).
What a difference a year makes. Here I am at home in rainy London preparing for my eighth and final round of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in July (Before Christ? British Columbia? No, BC stands for breast cancer). My last chemo session is tomorrow, 25 November*. Three-and-a-half weeks later, I’ll have major surgery (19 December – it’s official & Immediate reconstruction – the decision is made), and may or may not spend Christmas Day in hospital.
Two very different challenges. I worked so hard to get a place on the boat and I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard I’d been selected. The second challenge, breast cancer, was thrust upon me and is one that nobody would ever, ever wish for.
I was determined not to be sad today, but it’s not even 9 o’clock yet and I’ve already been in tears twice – once talking to my husband about this blog post and once later when he made a funny comment to cheer me up and I meant to laugh but cried instead. But that’s enough for one day, and I already feel better having driven back from dropping the boys off at school (yes, I’ve become a bit of a soft touch on that front) to Barry White blasting out My first, my last, my everything on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2. I defy anyone not to be cheered up by that song (so thanks, Chris!). Now I feel reflective rather than sad. I plan to spend plenty of time over the rest of the day reminiscing about my Atlantic Challenge and contemplating the sheer bloody randomness of life and the importance of taking your chances when you can.
*I agreed with the oncologist at my consultation yesterday that I should go ahead with the final session as the chemo-induced nerve problem in my feet, particularly the right one, appears not to have got any worse. We’ll stick with the reduced dose of 75%. I never thought I’d ever say I was happy to have a session of chemotherapy, but I’m genuinely glad that I’m going the distance on this. As one of my fellow travellers said of my final round on the online forum that I joined back in August, “may it zap any little blighters left standing”. I can only second that.