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Lessons learned over a life-altering decade

End of an era lists are generally not my thing, but the last 10 years has brought plenty to contemplate

I’ve never been one for the retrospective nostalgia that seems to dominate media streams whenever we come to the end of a year, or decade, or millennium, or whatever other arbitrary junction in time that can be used as an excuse to write lists instead of paragraphs.

That is to say, I’ve never been one for it until now, when I find myself contributing to said media streams, and sitting in my pjs with my Lemsip, wondering what the hell I’m going to write about. So a little bit of retrospection might be just the thing.

Ten years ago, I wasn’t all that much different than I am now. I wasn’t a child then, or a teenager, or a single party girl, or a motivated career woman. I was the mother of a small child, just as I am now. I was a part-time GP in an inner city practice, with aspirations of somehow ‘doing good’ but no real idea of how that was going to happen, so that hasn’t changed much either.

The first few years of the decade followed a fairly predictable trajectory: Have baby, stay off work for a few months, get back to work, lose my mind briefly while trying to negotiate the dichotomy of being both ‘mummy’ and ‘professional’, recover just enough to catch my breath, and then start all over again.

However, after my second baby of the decade, I got as far as the lose-the-mind part, and then fell off the cliff. An unexpected side route was added, a diversion I could never have foreseen. I was told, without words, that I was going to die. I think it’s fair to say that gave me pause for thought.

Right. Hmmm.

How do we deal with this then?

Plan A had to be to make it simply NOT TRUE. To enter a state of denial that would protect my psyche from killing me before my mitoses did. I used expressions like ‘failure is not an option’, as if failure or success were in my power to procure. I never once spoke to any of my treating doctors about my prognosis. My limited grasp of epidemiology was enough to tell me that a liver full of metastases is not a good place to start if you want to live a long and healthy life.

Being ‘positive’ and ‘strong’ and ‘fighting it’ has had no material effect on the outcome of my disease. My surgeries and chemotherapies and biological therapies and internal radiations and stereotactic radiations and possibly my low-dose aspirin [trials ongoing] are what have kept me alive. But I do believe my chirpy ‘in yer face, cancer!’ denial strategy has helped me to get up and out and doing. Because otherwise, to quote the immortal words of Gloria Gaynor, I would have ‘laid down and died’.

So here is a list of what I have learned in the past decade:

1. Adversity rocks. Embrace it. At the very least, you’ll get a good story out of it.

2. Death is not that scary. It’s leaving people behind that’s terrifying. So they need to know how much you love them, every day.

3. Bitterness and anger are almost entirely useless emotions.

4. Do the thing that makes your heart beat faster. Sky-diving, public speaking, opera singing, train-spotting, macramé. Whatever. Do it.

5. What is the worst that can happen? If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably won’t. If it has, and you are still here, then you are a superhero.

Here are some of my hopes for the next decade:

1. SUVs will become as socially unacceptable as a 1999 Toyota Corolla with bailer twine holding the boot closed.

2. No-one will ever again misplace an apostrophe.

3. The negative psychological effects of litigation will be clearly laid out to potential claimants by their solicitor.

4. More people will die a good death.

5. Kindness. Lots of kindness.

And finally, here are some unsolicited pieces of advice, to add to the mountain already collecting in each magazine and newspaper that you will read in the Twixtmas period:

1. Pensions are boring but necessary. You are basically paying yourself in advance for when you aren’t working anymore (because no-one else will be paying you).

2. Income protection is also boring, but vital if you are self-employed.

3. A good GP means everything to you when you are sick. You may be a good GP, but you are not a good GP for you (or for your family members either, for that matter).

4. Life really is too short for magic knickers. If you don’t know what magic knickers are, count yourself lucky.

5. A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.

You’re all very welcome. Happy New Decade.

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