Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Britain's Cancer Crisis

To say that 2020 has not turned out as any of us expected is a huge understatement. It goes without saying that the pandemic has had devastating and far-reaching impact. One (sadly large) group of people particularly affected are those living with cancer. In the furore, ever-changing guidance and a culture of anxiety and in some cases, fear, many cancer patients have been deterred from visiting their Doctors, Oncologists or even A&E.

BBC One's Panorama explored the topic of 'Britain's Cancer Crisis' to understand how Covid-19 had impacted cancer treatment. It made grim viewing. With cancelled drug trials, treatment and radiotherapy, it is estimated that there may be up to 35,000 excess deaths from cancer. Behind the statistics are real people. People who are already suffering, and a pandemic has curtailed not only their freedom but also their access to cancer treatment.

This, coupled with screenings put on hold (two million screening appointments did not take place during Lockdown) and only half of the usual attendees at A&E against the previous year is alarming to say the least. Cancer is a pernicious disease and it cannot be furloughed until the pandemic is over.

Clearly Covid-19 had the NHS on its knees, but my heart aches for those who are experiencing cancer and were not able to access life-saving treatment, and all the people who would normally have visited their GP with symptoms they were concerned about.

Early diagnosis has a huge impact on the outcomes of cancer. Clearly, Covid hasn't gone away and its impact will be felt for a very long time. However, cancer has been around even longer and will continue to claim lives. So, if you notice any differences in your body, identify any lumps or bumps, have a lingering cough or a bodily change of any kind, it's not to be ignored. As things slowly return to normal, it is as important as wearing a mask to seek advice on those little niggles in your body that make you worry that something's not right.

It might just save your life.


Monday, 23 March 2020

Love in times of crisis

When I look around (from a safe distance), I see a world facing unprecedented challenges, the worst of which is the real and present danger of the Coronavirus to our most vulnerable. It is horrible to see the numbers of people dying from this alarming disease. What is also deeply concerning is that those who are affected are the most vulnerable in our society. Among those are cancer sufferers. Facing cancer in normal circumstances is horrendous. Facing cancer during a worldwide pandemic is unspeakably awful.

My precious life-long friend who I have been privileged to have known and loved since I was in primary school, has lung cancer. It is devastating enough to see her suffering, but now, with the impact of Covid 19, a new, potentially life-saving trial was closed to new participants. It is utterly heart-breaking that this option has been closed to her.

My friend's Dad died yesterday of cancer. A popular man with children and grandchildren, his funeral will be restricted to a small number due to the guidance on group gatherings.

An older (but very sprightly) neighbour is being treated for cancer and faces regular treatment in our local hospital and lengthy queues for blood tests where it is almost impossible to be a safe distance from others equally in need.

My Dad has experienced Corona-like symptoms which exacerbated his COPD and, despite the fact that he is extremely fit and healthy for his age (he will probably disown me for this, he is in his early 70s), he is considered high risk. This means that despite an active life that belies his age, he now has to self-isolate for three months. An unpleasant prospect for a man who, having lost my Mum a few years ago, is saddened that his life choices have been curtailed and fears loneliness.

Many of my friends' parents are facing similar struggles with cancer, dementia, alzheimers and heart conditions whilst my father-in-law has Parkinson's disease among other health issues.

So, now, in these hugely difficult times, we need to bring love and light to those around us, find new ways of communicating and helping others practically, spiritually and emotionally. There is no better time to follow Jesus's word and apply our hearts and minds to navigate these troubled times. We can help those in our communities and friendship groups to be safe and know they are loved. We can pray for our world and seek to bolster our faith and share this with others. We can be thoughtful and find ways of helping our neighbours whilst respecting the guidance we have been given by the Government. We can all worship, but in different ways. Most of all, we should be guided by love.


Wednesday, 4 March 2020

What is love?

When I think of heaven, I don't think of angels or rivers of gold.

The heaven I imagine is filled to the brim with overwhelming love. Love that is untainted by the body's frailties, insecurity, worry and fear of loss. On earth, it is love that connects us all, love that enriches our lives and love that makes our hearts sing. In 1 Peter 4.8 he says "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins". It is love that has inspired infinitesimal songs, poems and works of art. Love underpins acts of kindness and compassion and evokes joy.

But love has a darker underbelly. Love on earth is tainted with loss. My heart aches at the loss of my kind, gentle sister, my clever, quirky Mum and the many friends and family I have lost to cancer and other diseases. Love endures after death but it is still painful to not be in touching distance of those I have loved and are no longer with us.

While it is heart-breaking to see the suffering of the people I love, it is incredibly uplifting when I see how indefatigable love is in the face of adversity. A popular reading at weddings is 1 Corinthians 13, "Love is patient, love is kind"..."It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." So, today, and always, I remember all my loved ones, those who are in a better place and those whose struggles continue and I know for sure that love conquers all.


Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Today is a very sad day

When I started chemo (24th January 2014) I was apprehensive. My Dad, my husband Dean and I rocked up to Royal Stoke and we had no idea what to expect. The chemo ward was unexpectedly pleasant. Everyone had a comfortable chair and most had a friend or family member with them. The room was light and airy and all the seats faced inwards so it was a convivial atmosphere, despite the fact that we were all there for life-saving toxic treatments to be pumped into our veins.

This was the first time I met Kate. She was a chemo veteran, she knew everyone and became a regular friendly face at my sessions. We chatted about her cancer, her sadness at not being able to be a carer at the hospital any more and her love for her horses. Somehow, she made the enormity of what all of us with cancer were facing a little more normal.

After a few more sessions, we began to discuss 'bucket lists'. I must confess that I only found out last week that a 'bucket list' was a list of things to do before you 'kick the bucket'! I could blame the brain surgery, but I hadn't had it by then, so I have to blame my ignorance instead. Kate told me that her dream was to swim with dolphins, ride a Harley Davidson and fly in a helicopter. My less ambitious (and significantly shorter) 'bucket list' was just about spending time with friends and family until the inevitable happened.

So, as time passed, Kate continued to have the most horrendous cancer experience. It seemed like every time I saw her, she had been hit with more bad news...multiple brain tumours, cancer in her liver, bowel and spine, fewer years to live, more arduous treatments and both her parents being diagnosed with serious illnesses. But, Kate being Kate, she rolled with the punches, persevered with the side effects, faced the pain and drew on her sheer will and strength to keep on going. With great sadness, we learned that Kate was dying, and today, many of us who were inspired by her resilience and indefatigable strength of character will be mourning her loss at her funeral.

But as for the bucket list...see below...

RIP Kate, you were an inspiration to us all.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

An embarrassment of riches

Well, as I approach another year (and decade in fact), I have had time to reflect on how phenomenally rich I am. OK, just to note, these are by no means physical riches. A terminal cancer diagnosis does not have a positive impact on your bank account, or prospects for that matter. What it does do, however, is create a huge bank of spiritual riches. Here are some of them...

1. The richness of God's healing spirit when you are facing an imminent death (and then go on to live, and live and live...)

2. The joy of another Christmas with my Dad, my husband and my fabulous friends

3. The memories of those who gone from this life, but I long to meet again in Heaven

4. The incredible gift of time spent with loved ones

5. The richness of kindness and compassion

6. The priceless joy of giving

7. The myriad riches of seeing friends recover from cancer (Josie and Gill, you are both amazing)

8. The inspiration of a wonderful soul, taking on cancer with grace and humour (wonderful Cheryl)

Life is a precious gift that we should never take for granted. Its value is incalculable.


Saturday, 2 November 2019

Never have I ever...

A tee-total drinking game for all the family!

Brought to you by Post-Cranium

Anyone can play. All you need is some embarrassing post-cancer experiences and a bottle of squash.

Here goes...

Never have I ever waited anxiously outside my flat for a lift, one hour before it was due to arrive

Never have I ever sent the same person three birthday cards (all identical)

Never have I ever turned up for an appointment at the wrong time and at the wrong place

Never have I ever double-gifted (e.g. sent two different presents to the same person for their birthday)

Never have I ever put the wrong name on a card (twice)

Never have I ever sent a gift two months before the recipient's birthday

Never have I ever forgotten what I'm watching on TV during the commercial break (and had a lovely surprise when the second half came on)

Never ever have I walked into a wall or veered to one side causing people to walk around me in disgust

Never ever have I fallen down a hill and landed face-down in some nettles

Never ever have I said 'Welcome' on a live radio interview in a panicked response to the presenter saying 'Welcome' to me

Never ever have I been more grateful to God to be alive (long gulp of sparkling water - my favourite tipple)


Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Gratitude is not a platitude

When I reflect on where I have been (in receipt of a terminal cancer diagnosis) and where I am now (cancer free) I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Often, when I walk or run, I literally count my blessings, so I thought I might share them. Note, they are in no particular order. They are listed as they came to mind.

I am thankful for...
  1. My incredible Dad who was there for every appointment and felt my pain like it was his own
  2. My husband who slept upright by my hospital bed on multiple occasions to be there when I woke
  3. Friends who visited me from near and far
  4. Those who baked delicious home-cooked food for me
  5. The women doing the Race for Life who reached out and touched my hand as they passed
  6. The woman who alerted the nurses when I had two fits in the middle of the night in hospital (and is sadly no longer with us)
  7. Those who prayed for my recovery (and still pray for my health)
  8. The friend who said she would rather have my cancer herself (and meant it)
  9. The friend who flew over from the States to see me
  10. The people who gave me a sympathetic or empathetic glance when I ventured outdoors
  11. The friend who made me beautiful silk hats that I could attach hair pieces to, when I couldn't wear wigs as they exacerbated my migraines
  12. The note to Dean from my Godson's little sister saying that he was doing quite a good job in looking after me
  13. The oncologist who gave me outstanding care and guidance
  14. The incredible woman who removed both my cancerous brain tumours with amazing skill and confidence
  15. The supportive nurses in the neurological ward (in particular our amazing Christian friend)
  16. The gifted breast surgeon who performed a faultless lumpectomy (after kicking a filing cabinet in anger after I had been sent the wrong letter about the time of my operation)
  17. Uplifting messages on Facebook from friends and well-wishers
  18. Friends of friends who celebrated when things were good and shared love and compassion when things were bad
  19. My church friend who supported me from diagnosis right through to healing
  20. The friend who bought me soft satin pillowcases to alleviate the soreness of the scars on the back of my head
  21. School friends who visited or sent gifts
  22. College friends who raised money for a sponsored room at Oxford 
  23. Close college friends who supported me throughout the myriad challenges of cancer and all its debilitating side effects
  24. Friends who sent beautiful flowers
  25. My friend who sent vases when I ran out
  26. Clients and former colleagues who wrote lovely letters and cards
  27. Students I taught at the University who made me a card and sent me uplifting messages (after having freaked them out when I started speaking unintelligible nonsense during their work experience)
  28. My fabulous neighbours in Spain who made us delicious Indian feasts
  29. My Mum, who despite the horror of having another daughter critically ill, managed to come to see me at the hospital
  30. The lovely curate (my age) who I briefed on my funeral requirements and insisted he would be too old to take the service and would probably have retired by then
  31. Friends who met my every need with thoughtful gifts such as audio books or box sets
  32. My Yes Agency colleagues who organised a fantastic 'pre-funeral funeral' when I had only months to live
  33. My former business partner and friend who was steadfast in his support and helped me back into work gradually
  34. Those who cried for me when they thought that all was lost
  35. Those who were sure that all was not lost and would not believe otherwise
  36. The friend who sent me comedy books for each treatment that had me laughing out loud at deeply inappropriate times
  37. The fellow cancer sufferers who are walking the walk and share the ups and downs
  38. Cancer survivors who offered hope and advice
  39. My former headmaster who came to my Mum's funeral and called regularly to see how I was doing
  40. The people who pretended not to notice my enormous steroid-induced head when I was brave enough to be out in public
  41. The kindness of strangers (which at times brought me to tears)
  42. My in-laws who provided much-needed support for me and for Dean
  43. My lovely chemo friend and fellow-blogger who has been with me on this cancer 'journey'
  44. The family friends who supported me and my parents despite suffering themselves
  45. The people who travelled from all over the country to join me at a church service
  46. Those who have died but who have left an indelible imprint on my heart
  47. Friends who continue to face cancer but selflessly shared in my good news
  48. The woman in the bed opposite me who came over to hold my hand when I was told that my cancer had returned without my Dad or Dean there to support me
  49. My former colleagues, now friends who brought me laughter and a good gossip
  50. A huge box of chocolates (and I mean a box of many boxes of chocolates for me, or was it for Dean?)
  51. The support of a bright and bubbly Dougie Mac palliative care nurse who has since been diagnosed with cancer herself but is thankfully well
  52. Friends from all aspects of my life who came to see me, walk with me, make me smile and tell me about normal stuff
  53. People from my church who came to take communion with me when I was too ill to attend services
  54. The lovely old chaps who shout encouragement to me when I run (slowly) past them in my morning run *jog*
  55. The delightful congregation of a local church made up of refugees and asylum seekers who celebrated my healing story with absolute joy
  56. My extended family who supported me and my Dad through a very difficult time
  57. The friends of my parents who have supported him practically, emotionally and spiritually through their own troubles
  58. My incredible friends (the family I chose for myself) who have been there through thick and thin
  59. My wonderful husband for whom 'in sickness and in health' was a promise he kept faithfully (but is now looking forward to the 'health' part)
  60. The awesome God who saved me despite my complete unworthiness
I really could continue this list until the light fades (literally not metaphorically) so I guess you get the idea. I am supremely grateful to everyone whose love, friendship, support, guidance, prayers and medical skills mean that I am here today. My heartfelt thanks goes out to you all.