The Forgotten Army

During World War Two the British 14th Army fighting in Burma considered themselves to be the Forgotten Army, even though they were the largest Army in WW2. The press paid little attention to what was going on there and focused on North Africa and the European theatres. By the time the Japanese surrendered and those who had served there came home, the war in Europe was over and they received little recognition. They were not the ‘glory boys’ of the desert or D-Day, they weren’t the Spitfire pilots to whom ‘never have so many owed so much to so few’.

I am not exactly sure why this came to mind this morning, but one thing I do know is that we are the Forgotten Army of breast cancer. We cannot proudly say how many years it has been since we were ‘cured’, and we aren’t the ‘glory boys’ and girls in Pink waving to the camera and giving Ra-Ra inspiring talks at rallies and walks about ‘the cure’ and get your mammogram and trying to inspire people to give to the cause to cure breast cancer. No, we are not Nancy Brinkley with her perfect coiffure, and 64% pay rise last year (you mean she isn’t rich enough already? She is a retired Ambassador so must be on a good pension … but I digress), and the perfect smile … oh, and by the way where exactly is that cure that we have been promised for so long and walked or ran so many miles for, and raised so much money for?

The Cenotaph in Whitehall, in London has the simple inscription of ‘The Glorious Dead’. This is a controversial phrase because it commemorates those who died in the Two World Wars and other conflicts since the guns fell silent on the Western Front on 11 November 1918. How can war be glorious? How can death be glorious? Personally I have always interpreted this phrase as a homage in awe that anyone could have the courage to give their life for their country and for the good of others. There are no flags being waved for them, just the symbol of the poppy the colour of blood to remind us that they profoundly believed in the value of life and freedom; two things that most take for granted.

In the world of Metastatic Breast Cancer we understand the value of life. Yesterday I heard that a friend had died the day before after months of struggling for each day with her children and grandchildren. Grammy Karen, as she was known, was a feisty lady who used the Avatar of a piglet in red wellington boots on facebook and elsewhere, but she knew the value of each day. I too know the value of each day, it is just that at the moment I don’t really see the point of my having these days when others with family and friends have lost their days.

Where do I go to share these feelings? I find that people tend to distance themselves if you talk about this too much, they don’t really want to hear, and how can they understand? My family is always busy, and today is my elder niece’s first wedding anniversary so they will all be celebrating, and my younger niece is not in a good place at the moment. When my brother collected me from the hospital after getting my initial diagnosis of what they still thought was early stage breast cancer he wasn’t even interested enough to ask how it went (and he only took me because he needed to go into Southampton to get some tickets for a Footie game). Do I go to a ‘support group’? How badly named are they for those who have cancer which is considered incurable? I have heard of others going along and being told absolutely NOT to mention that they are Stage IV so they don’t upset the Stage 0 / 1s etc. Another woman said she was Stage IV and no one would speak to her for the rest of the evening; not surprisingly she didn’t go again. And yet early stagers insist that we are included and not ignored … yeh, right. Not from where I, and may others, sit. It is a bit like the early attitude to AIDS, and one which probably persists, that people can get to be Stage IV by breathing the same air as those of us who are ‘contaminated’. It is all a bit mediaeval but …

The problem is also trying to put my own anger and feelings into words without crying and getting upset, and that is also unacceptable. The oppression of the concept of having to be Positive all the time kicks in here. Have you ever tried to be positive about having incurable cancer and be able to keep this going 24/7? Don’t even go there. It makes you explode with frustration, anger, fear, sorrow and passion with the need to allow it out ever now and then no matter how controlled you try to be. I have been controlled recently, and some rather silly and insignificant things have converged to make me explode again and leave others thinking that I really am this mad, snarky bitch that they have seen before them. To be fair, I really have no idea what could possibly make things better and make life worth living, but then I never really did.

One of the toughest things with coming to terms with being a member of a Forgotten Army is living with the memories of what has happened and what you have experienced. For me, it is also having to accept that I am alive when others are dead, and still more that there are others who can go on with ‘business as usual’. There again, whoever said life was easy?

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