Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The language of cancer

As a 'brave' 'survivor' who has 'battled' cancer and won by 'staying positive', I find myself reflecting a lot on the language of cancer. If I'm completely honest I hate it! I hate the inference that I am in any way in control of the outcome of cancer, and find it a little disrespectful to those who have died. I don't for one second believe that 'staying positive' will mean that I am one of the lucky ones who won't die of this disease, nor do I believe that those who have terminal cancer are in some way responsible for their condition. I also don't think I'm any braver than anyone else, just that I've had to experience something that was horribly challenging, physically and emotionally and I got through it. Cancer treatment is really rough on those who have to experience it. It's also rough on those who love the person who's going through it. But it's an indiscriminate and random disease. Of each ten women who were diagnosed with triple negative grade 3 breast cancer like myself (and now Carol McGiffin), six of us will be around to tell the tale in five years' time. It won't be the brave ones who make it, or the most positive, it'll just be as random a selection as those of us who got it in the first place.

I think that people who have experienced this shouldn't be made to feel that they can't be truthful about their feelings in case they're not being positive and then are less likely to make it. I want to feel that I can be positive some days, and wail and cry and complain on others. I hope and pray that I will be one of the lucky ones. But if I'm not, then I haven't lost a battle, or my spirit. I can still have been brave and positive. But I will simply have been unlucky.

And, who knows, with all the developments in cancer treatments, maybe it will be even more of us that can share our hatred of the language of cancer in five years' time. Even better, perhaps it will be such a distant memory that we won't even notice!


Along those same lines, there may be times when friends or relatives try to reassure you with comments like “God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle,” or “God must have a reason that this has happened.” Yes, really, I've had these comments!! 
Sometimes these words might make us feel better – we want to believe them! But sometimes they have the opposite effect. While people say these things with the very best of intentions, if you are struggling with spiritual doubts, the thoughts and feelings invoked by such comments might only add to your stress.
Sometimes people say these things because they just don’t know what else to say. You may feel very annoyed and even angry. Sometimes this can be a good topic to talk over with another cancer patient.
 Amanda and I have had many a laugh at some of the comments we've received, including people who can 'guarantee' that the cancer won't come back.
How do you respond to such comments? Cancer is a battle you just don’t want to fight.


See what I did there

Lumps, frights and cold sweats - life after cancer

A mere seven weeks after my clear mammogram results and cancer reminded me of its constant presence in my life. After Christmas, like half of the UK, I developed a hideous cough and flu-like symptoms. I battled on, as is my usual way, but couldn't fight the nagging (and often melodramatic) fear that this could be something more onerous. Three weeks on and the cough had cleared, but a gripping pain in my left breast, aggravated by innocuous activities such as sneezing, lying down or turning, prevailed. I went to the local walk-in centre, and due to my history, the resident Doctor checked my breast. I was instantly chilled by the "I'm sorry to have to tell you this..." line and the 'brace yourself for bad news' sympathetic face and the news that I had a 2-3 cm lump which was hard with irregular edges. I was absolutely gutted, even more so than last time oddly, fearing the whole hideousness of going through chemo again far more than the possibility that the cancer could be terminal. I booked an appointment with my breast care surgeon straight away and was seen within two days. During a jovial round of appointments in which I was pummelled by two handsome junior Doctors, examined by my surgeon, covered in jelly, inspected by ultrasound and then went back to the experts, I was told that it was benign. I was beside myself with joy and honestly felt like I was given huge reprieve. Particularly since many of my contemporaries are still bravely facing the challenge of enduring chemo and facing a poor prognosis. So my tip would vigilant, but don't panic. Go and see a specialist as soon as you can and don't worry about wasting anyone's time - that's what they're there for.


Only when you've been through cancer can you truly relate to the fear and anxiety that arises when you're about to have your annual mammogram (first one since B.C for Amanda and I).
Yes, well meaning people will tell you to 'stay positive' and 'you'll be fine' and 'you won't be that unlucky to get it twice'...I didn't realise that luck came in to it when I got it the first time?
I had my mammogram two weeks ago today (05/02/15) and two days ago, I received a phone call from the Breast Care Nurse to ask me to go back to the hospital for an ultrasound. She said my mammogram was clear but I needed an ultrasound as this is how my original cancer was picked up.
Amanda can verify that part of my brain didn't believe the nurse and I convinced myself that she was lying just to get me go back for the ultrasound. She wasn't!! My ultrasound was clear too but the anxiety and nervousness I felt having the ultrasound was very real. I can now breathe and relax and hopefully get on with my life until I'm thrown back into 'the zone' when I next have a review or examination.