Friday, 26 May 2017

Mind well and truly blown

Last night Dean and I watched an incredible BBC documentary called 'A Time To Live'. It was quite simply mind-blowing. Never have I felt such a sense of kinship and emotional engagement with twelve complete strangers.

I was moved to tears (trying to be stoic but failing miserably) as my cancer contemporaries shared their poignant, sometimes heart-wrenching, largely uplifting stories. My heart flipped with fear as I recalled a latent memory of my abhorrent but effective chemo, awakened by a young woman telling her own story of its impact on her life. I wept with empathy as an older gentleman talked about his malignant brain cancer and how it would soon claim his life (there but for the grace of God I felt). I was choked when a delightful woman spoke of memorising every aspect of her beloved husband's face, and I had a lump in my throat as a woman my age explained why she had sent her son to live with his aunt to protect him from her death and introduce him to a new life, sacrificing the opportunity to spend her precious last months with him.

But the documentary was billed as being about living not dying. And what was so insightful for me was the way that this was borne out in the re-invigorated lifestyles of those with limited time. One of the show's protagonists was inspired to run marathons, another learned to paint. Most felt positive and grateful for the time they had left.

Although I have been enormously blessed with God's healing and am no longer 'terminal', I still felt incredibly connected to their stories. Being given a terminal diagnosis is literally life-changing. I hosted a 'pre-funeral funeral' for friends, family, colleagues, clients and I was blown away by people's love and kindness. It was an emotional experience but I loved it. It was a celebration (albeit an odd one) where I was reminded that love brings us together when the going gets tough.

The lesson in all of this is that one of the many positives of facing death is the opportunity to embrace life. Tear away the daily minutiae and what's left is the good stuff. The brilliant stuff. Faith. Love. Joy. Freedom. The stuff that you don't really see when you're in full-on work mode. The stuff that dying people will cherish until their last breath.

In the documentary, the same themes kept coming up. Better a short but happy life. Keep laughing. Do what you've always wanted to do. Grasp the life you always wanted. Keep looking. Really looking. Savour every moment.

Somehow a terminal diagnosis makes everything more rich and colourful. More intense and powerful. More peaceful.

So if you don't have one, take a lesson from those who do. Don't wait for a terminal diagnosis or life-threatening event to be happy. It may be a cliché but in this case it's true. There's no better time to live.

Amanda

Not me obviously


Friday, 19 May 2017

Pink sister star

I may have mentioned before that Amanda and I attend a local breast cancer support group called 'The Pink Sisters' and it's the only support group of this nature in our area (Stoke-on-Trent).
https://www.facebook.com/pinksistersstaffs/

The support group started off with a handful of ladies and now almost two years later, this small group has expanded and there are now probably 50+ female members. They don't all go to every meeting, but most meetings have at least 25 ladies in attendance and these take place on the second Monday of every month.


One of the women who attends most of the meetings is a very young and beautiful girl who last night, a large group of the Pink Sisters had the pleasure of supporting in her quest to become Miss Staffordshire.


Madison's story so far (by Jackie, the support group leader):

Madison was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer at the extremely young age of 21 and has undergone a mastectomy (still waiting for reconstruction), chemo and specialised radiotherapy as unfortunately the cancer had travelled to her chest wall and now just two years later, was in the finals of Miss Staffordshire 2017.
Madison is beautiful both inside and out and is a great ambassador for anyone who has had cancer in showing that we can go on with our lives. She is always a great listener, fully supportive to all the members of the group, never ever moans or asks 'why me?'.
Madison is quite simply, amazing. To be diagnosed with breast cancer or any other cancer at any age is devastating but to receive this news at the age of 21 is just tragic and as a parent of two 'children' that are older than Madison, I really can't imagine how her family felt. 
Madison was at the time of her life where she was going out and enjoying herself and basically doing what a 21 year old should be doing. 
Last night Madison looked absolutely beautiful and it was a pleasure to have been there as part of a group to support her.
Madison won Miss Public Vote, Miss Fitness, Miss Inspiration 2017 and was the first runner up. 

Amanda and I have both been called inspirational, brave and strong over the last 3 years but to all of us who know Madison, she truly is an inspiration and has shown the world that cancer has not defined her. 



Debbie

Thursday, 11 May 2017

It's just like buses with me

So, I don't write a post for weeks and then I write two together. Well at least it keeps it fresh. Here goes...

For my birthday yesterday, Dean sent me a photo card of me and my parents celebrating my 42nd birthday at the dogs in Manchester (I'm known for my sophisticated taste in celebrations). To everyone else, this was just a nice gesture. To me, it was loaded with significance.

Firstly, it was the last birthday we would get to spend together as a family. I was away last year on my birthday and Mum sadly died two months later.

Secondly, I spent the following day in hospital with a suspected stroke. I had been in the office that day preparing a presentation and was running it by some students that were working with us. They smiled politely as a stream of nonsense came out of my mouth and I told my bemused colleagues that I needed to get some fresh air.

Earlier that day on my drive into work I had experienced an unusual sensation where I felt like honey was pouring from my eyes and as a chronic migraine sufferer, I assumed that this was just another aspect of this hideous affliction (slightly melodramatic but nonetheless true). I got home and collapsed on the sofa. My husband knew that this was unusual behaviour for me (at least more unusual than normal) and took me to the emergency doctor. He was excellent, and having met me before during my many cancer call-outs, he felt it was best to go straight to the hospital for reassurance that everything was OK. Things were far from OK as the experiences were indicators of a large malignant brain tumour that required treatment with surgery and then with Whole Brain Radiotherapy. As many of you already know, only six weeks after treatment, a whole new brain cancer appeared, which had to be operated on again by my phenomenal surgeon and neurologist (thanks again to her for her brilliance).

The rest as you know is (recent) history, and sitting here in the fading sunlight, I thank God for saving my life when all appeared lost. So the moral of the tale? Don't ignore unusual happenings in your body. Act fast. Seek help from your GP (out-of-hours if necessary). It could be the best call you ever make.

Amanda

Half joke, half fact





Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Let's celebrate the cancer champions!

OK, so it's not my phrase, but it is my sentiment. Today, as I celebrated being well enough to run (slowly), with the sunlight on my face, and the wind in my (fake) hair, I thought that it was about time to champion the many amazing people who have suffered, or are suffering with the big 'C'.

So today I celebrate the following champions:
Those who put on their wig/lipstick/suit/apron and got into work - you're amazing!
Those who wore an outfit that showed their scars
Those who visited someone who has cancer and lifted their day
Those who overcame a small challenge - went for a walk, tried a gentle exercise class or cooked breakfast for the family
Those who went through treatment of some kind and made a joke with the nurses
Those who had struggled to sleep but got out of bed anyway
Those who got up and got dressed despite the challenges it posed
Those who dealt with people's curious stares with a smile
Those who battled with the physical after-effects of cancer and kept on going
Those who took care of someone's needs, no matter how minor
Those who successfully operated on a cancer sufferer
Those who advised and supported a cancer sufferer
Those who took time out to share their experiences with someone who's not as far down the line as they are
Those who worried about whether their cancer had come back, but carried on with their day regardless
Those who are waiting for test results but put a brave face on it
Those who prayed for someone they love
Those who prayed for someone they loved and lost
Those who carried on despite the pain
Those who carried on despite the indignity
Those who died, but remain in the hearts of those who loved them
Those who are nearing the end

To all of these people; you are a champion. Don't forget it.

If you know a cancer champion then share this post with them and give them the encouragement to keep on going.

Amanda




Monday, 17 April 2017

It's me, your body, can you pick up please?

Before I contracted cancer, I rarely noticed changes in my body. I'm not sure if I was just too busy to think about it, or whether there weren't any that were dramatic enough to attract my attention. Now, I'm hyper-conscious of every tiny twinge, ache and sensation. Whilst I appreciate that nobody really thinks about the indicators of cancer until they or someone else is experiencing them, I can't express enough how important it is to observe these small notifications from your body. You wouldn't ignore a notification from a friend on social media, so why ignore your body when it's trying to tell you something? Me and my body have had a few fall-outs in recent years. It thoroughly hated the chemo and whole-brain radiotherapy. It wasn't keen on the deeply uncomfortable 'steroid years'. It didn't like having all its energy sapped out of it and the sustained surprise attacks from cancer really kept my body on its toes. I can understand why we stopped listening to each other for a while.

So I'm asking everyone today, well urging you really, to LISTEN to what your body is saying to you. Most people ignore the nagging feeling that something's wrong, but bodies are cleverer than us, they keep trying to get the message across. So why not put a shell to your ear and think about what you hear.

Have you noticed any changes in your breasts?
Are there any changes to your toilet habits?
Can you feel any lumps or bumps in places where they shouldn't be?
Are you suffering from headaches or visual disturbances?
Is there blood where there shouldn't be?
Have you lost weight without trying?
Are you having difficulty getting up stairs without being breathless?

If the answer's 'yes', then pester your GP. That's what they're there for. When I was working as an Early Detection of Cancer volunteer (ever so slightly serendipitous would you agree?), I watched a video of a young bowel cancer. It was like a little white pustule. As it was small, it was easy to snip away with minimal surgery. We then looked at an advanced bowel cancer which was wrapped tightly round the bowel and the bowel was barely distinguishable from the growth. I will never forget that image. So, don't ignore your body. Work in partnership with it. Check your body regularly. Go to your GP if you find anything unusual. Be a team. Most worries are simply that - worries. But some are the real deal and you'll be glad you listened.

Amanda




Monday, 3 April 2017

The big little things

So, this week I celebrated a little thing. Well, to me, and others in the same boat, it was a rather big thing. I actually tied my hair back! You may remember that a few months ago, I made a significant move in re-capturing the 'old me' by getting hair extensions. The great thing about them is that your own hair continues to grow whilst your extensions conceal the unruly little tufts that hide beneath them. My real hair at the top is now reaching just below my ears and under the hair at the back (which would, without extensions make a fine mullet that the even older me, circa 1985 would be proud of) has grown to collar length. Ergo...I can now tie it back! It's such a trivial thing set against the backdrop of the last few years, but somehow, it really matters. For cancer sufferers it's big little things like this that give you a little buzz. And, it's another step along the way to getting back to me.

Amanda

Me, before I tied my hair back this morning

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Why am I here?

Over the last couple of days Dean has been away for some gigs in Ireland. Whilst he was away I had time to reflect on the last few years. Here are the reasons that I'm still here.

1. The grace of God, without that I would have been long gone. What an enormous blessing.
2. An incredibly gifted neurological surgeon. She operated twice in a matter of weeks and I will always be grateful for her skills and optimism.
3. A top-ranking oncologist who took managed my treatment plan perfectly, whilst taking time to explain everything to me in a warm but pragmatic way.
4. My incredible father and husband who have carried me through the tough times with their unfailing support.
5. My wonderful friends who have lifted my spirits, made me laugh and listened when I needed them to. Many of them travelled from the opposite ends of the country to see me, two came from across the world when the news was bad.
6. Colleagues, ex-colleagues and clients and who supported me on my journey by sending letters and spurring me on with words of encouragement.
7. The church family, St. Lawrence's and Wesley Hall, without whose support and prayers I would not be here today.
8. Family friends and friends of friends. Over the last few years I have been overcome by the loveliness of people.

It's impossible to describe how grateful I am to everyone who has supported me on my 'journey'. I am truly thankful.

Amanda