There are certain dates in life that you always remember. Sadly, in my experience these dates seem to be attached to tragedy. I remember the date that my Mother died as a result of cancer, I remember the date that my Grandmother died of Cancer, and I remember the date when the Doctor stood in front of me a told me I had Cancer. Thursday 12th December, 2013. You don’t forget things like that, but the important thing is how you go forward from it.
Being told you have Cancer is something no one is prepared for, especially at the age of 31 and preparing to run the London Marathon. Those few hours before and after the tests I underwent are clear today as if it happened yesterday. I even remember saying to the Doctor shortly “That is impossible, I just ran 20 miles on Sunday.” I was fit, or so I thought and training for the 2014 London Marathon, but I was far from fit. I remember falling back in the chair, in a state of shock, gasping for air, I remember the Doctor turning on his heels and marching out of the room as if on military parade. I remember trying to stand and the legs giving way and being held up by my partner. Events like that are never forgotten.
Once you are told you have Cancer, your life as you knew it is over. You have to accept very quickly that things are going to be different and for the immediate future, you have very limited control. Life is a series of hospital appointments, operations and if you are unlucky, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The thing that is difficult to reconcile is that in your mind you are still the same, you have the same dreams, aspirations and hopes, yet these might not be possible. In a very short space of time, you are forced to recalibrate your life. This is hard because everyone to some degree lives for tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will go to the gym, tomorrow I will start my diet, however, for the first time in your life you are faced with the realistic prospect that maybe there will be no “tomorrow.”
For me, things that were once important became background noise in the bigger picture of survival. That remains the same today as it did on 12th December 2013.
The treatment for the immediate Cancer is different for everyone. Doctors and nurses will quote survival figures, but the reality is simple. It’s 50-50. Either you are going to live or you are going to die. That is a massive thing to understand. However, when you stop for one minute to think about it, just because you have cancer is no different to not having cancer. No one knows what is going to happen tomorrow, you could die of a heart attack, or be hit by a bus as you crossed the road, or some other random life event. What I am trying to say is that you have to deal with what you know, and don’t think too far ahead. Deal with what is immediately in front of you. And remember, you are not alone in your Cancer your journey. Cancer is like throwing a stone into a pond, its ripples have wide impacts.
When undergoing treatment, it is an assault on both the body and mind. It is without doubt the hardest thing you can undertake, only understood by those who have come before and those who will come after. It’s impossible to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. I remember after one chemotherapy treatment, I was completely exhausted and had spent the entire day sleeping. A family member contacted me and asked “What had I been doing?” – well, I wasn’t on holiday, that was for sure and to say I exploded with frustration is putting it mildly. It wasn’t their fault, it’s just they didn’t understand and it your patience is the first thing to go when you are ill.
Throughout treatment, it is important to keep positive, you have to find your own way. I kept positive and busy by undertaking projects. No longer could I train several hours a day cycling or running, I took up painting, I bought Bonsai trees and collected stickers. Simple things to keep the mind active. The body had failed but not the mind. Prior to Cancer I always had an eye on the future, now I have two eyes focussed on the present and it’s the little things that matter.
Once treatment is finished you may be fortunate to receive positive news and be able to focus on recovery. I thought this would be the fun and the easy part. I was wrong. Recovery is long, it takes time and patience is required. You need to do things “little by little” and not expect too much and be kind to yourself. This is an ongoing process. You have to get used to the new “normal” as a consequence of your condition. Your emotions will “all over the place” so expect to get upset and angry over littler things. You have been and are on a unique journey which you can’t prepare yourself for.
This journey continues if you are fortunate enough to return to work. You may feel you don’t “fit in” anymore, that is normal. You may find relating to people, difficult. That is normal. Again, patience is important, try not to take on too much and work at your own pace. Remember, you are here for the long haul, so try and work with that mantra in mind. Seek support from others and never suffer in silence. You have a story to tell and be proud to tell it. Your insights may help others.
That is why I set-up the Cancer Support Network. This is a community to support and help. It is important to be positive and make “Lemonade from Lemons.”