No one expects to get cancer. No one expects to get cancer when they are 41 and relatively healthy. No one expects it but it happens. It happened to me.

One in three people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer at some time in their life. That’s about 30 per cent of us so chances are, statistically speaking, you won’t get cancer. Most people don’t. Most people know someone or love someone that does get cancer though and for that reason it affects pretty much all of us eventually. I got breast cancer.

So far I’ve been lucky. When it was found my cancer was locally advanced. That means it had spread beyond the breast but it hadn’t got any further than the lymph nodes in my armpit. Lymph nodes are little kidney shaped organs that basically act like a pond filter and catch all sorts of debris and stuff that floats about your insides.

They caught my cancer. They seem to have done a pretty good job of holding onto it too as it hadn’t turned up anywhere else; it hadn’t spread. This meant that we could at the very least have a good go at getting rid of it. For some people this is not the case and they can’t be cured so the news that my cancer hadn’t spread was something to celebrate.

Treatment for breast cancer can be pretty intense. I was to get the full works: 18 weeks of chemo, a mastectomy and radiotherapy. Taking into consideration all the recovery time in between treatments I was looking at around 8 months minimum and after that 10 years of hormone tablets. It sounded like a long time but in exchange for the rest of my life being an awful lot longer than it might otherwise be I thought it was a pretty good deal.

Chemotherapy is hard. It’s an endurance test. It goes on for months and months and the side effects are unpredictable. It’s unpleasant at best and utterly debilitating at worst. Chemotherapy doesn’t just kill cells it attacks your very sense of self from how you look to how you behave.

I used to do things in bursts of intense energy, all at the same time and at a break neck speed. Now I have to do things slowly, one at a time. I once heard myself described as “Ashley, with the hair”; now I am almost completely bald. With enough eyeliner and some DMs though, I can almost make it look like a style choice.

After chemotherapy I had a mastectomy. The entirety of my right breast and all the lymph nodes in my right armpit have been removed. On the plus side it is no longer appropriate for anyone to call me “a right tit” as I am now, literally, right tit-less. I thought it would be a huge shock and take a long time to come to terms with but actually I am very quickly getting used to it.

I have however been surprised by the number of strangers who seem very concerned about me having reconstruction. I am walking around with no hair so inevitably folk look and sometimes they ask about my experiences and I am happy to talk about it and to listen to their own cancer tales. It is odd though when someone you don’t actually know asks you if you’ll be getting a new breast.

It’s almost like a stranger has walked up and said “Isn’t your nose unfortunate; have you considered plastic surgery?”. For now I am quite happy with my asymmetrical chest. I am starting to think that it might be quite cool actually.

I have accepted that trying to ‘get back to normal’ whatever that means, is futile. The real trick is working on being ok and sometimes redefining what it means to be ok. If being ok means being exactly the way I used to be then frankly, I’m on a hiding to nothing.

The biggest change is learning to live with the fear that cancer will come back or will have spread and not be curable after all. There are no guaranteed ways of making sure this doesn’t happen. After my operation someone asked me if my cancer would be cured and the truth is I just don’t know. If I can get to 5 years after treatment without a recurrence or finding that it had spread then I can start to relax a bit; after 5 years the chances of it returning reduce dramatically.

They don’t disappear though. There is still a chance it will come back. The thing is, I just don’t know and I have to learn to live with not knowing. I will only really know that I have beaten cancer when I have died of something else!

The reality is that none of us really know. Before my diagnosis I didn’t know that I would get cancer but I didn’t know that I wouldn’t either, it just hadn’t occurred to me to be unduly worried about it. For now all I know is that things have gone well. I feel great and I am happy with my new quirky asymmetrical shape.

I am here and I am alive. There’s no point wishing things were different. No point in blame or fear. No point harbouring guilt or regrets.There is much to be thankful for and good stuff to be found everywhere if I look hard enough.

That has been the overwhelming lesson of my cancer so far. I get to choose whether to focus on the joy or the misery and why choose misery? It’s miserable!

I don’t pretend that I have found some great inner peace or achieved any dramatic level of mindfulness but I have had to slow down a bit and look a bit more carefully for the good stuff. Sometimes the good stuff is so good it hurts and I cry with joy.

My daughter dancing in a school production for instance or being in the sun, drinking ale and listening to great music with great friends at Leigh Folk Festival. Going through cancer treatment has been all consuming and sometimes it’s been easy to forget how to be here, now. In the end all any of us really have, for certain, cancer or no, is here and now.