Saturday, 28 January 2017

A letter from me to me

Dear Amanda

Don’t be alarmed but this is a letter from the future. Before I go any further you should know that everything is all right. It’s more than all right in fact. It’s fantastic! But first I need to back-track. Let’s start with the bad news. There’s no easy way to tell you this but you have got some serious stuff to get through. I’m not going to sugar-coat it as that won’t help. You get terminal cancer. There. I’ve said it. It’s going to be rough. Super rough. And you have three years of rotten times ahead. I’m sorry. It’s tough to hear but I’ll tell you now that there is an extremely happy ending and it involves a miraculous event. But more on that later. Now cancer is not going to be fun. In fact, let’s explain. Cancer is not the enemy here. It’s the treatment. It’s AWFUL. Chemo is horrible. You get sick. Really sick and your body is ravaged by all sorts of nasties. Vomiting. Violent leg pain. Vicious migraines. Exhaustion like you wouldn’t believe. You feel tired now? Fatigue is a whole new level of tired. The kind of tired that confines you to the sofa with even a short journey to the loo becoming a Herculean effort. And I’m sorry to tell you, but you lose your long blonde hair. I know. I’m sorry. But you get it back. It’s wilder and slightly punkier, but it’s back. For a while you will agonise over whether it will return (they will tell you that it may not). But return it will.

I have more bad news to tell you, but don’t forget that this story has a fantastic ending. The cancer comes back. You have a few months where life is slowly getting back to a new ‘normal’ but then BAM! You get a sucker-punch that leaves you reeling. The cancer comes back. TWICE! In the brain of all places. Now keep your focus on the happy ending… you have a brain tumour the size of a plum that returns again after only six weeks. Whole Brain Radiotherapy ensues and it is horrific. The worst of all cancer treatments. You thought chemo was bad but this is far, far worse. You’re down. Really down. And there are times that you wonder if you can face another day. Amanda, this WILL pass. Just hang on in there and you will get through it. I know for sure because I am here. On the other side. Not heaven. Not yet. But somewhere where life is not only good but it is amazing.

There’s just a bit more bad news to tell you. You get fat. Really fat. You lose your hair again. You bloat like a bald balloon and it won’t surprise you to know that you hate this phase. But that’s all it is. A phase. When the steroids exit your body you slim right down, lose the hamster cheeks and your hair returns (albeit painfully slowly). WOW! We’re getting to the good bits now. The shallow stuff first. You get ludicrous amounts of presents. In fact you even start getting vases as presents as you have so many flowers. You get to look like a normal person again and people don’t give you pitying looks anymore. You have INCREDIBLE friends and family. They rally round you like you wouldn’t believe. You are so overwhelmed with kindness and well-wishers that you can’t help but beam. And get this. You feel at peace even when it feels like all is lost. The fat times. The sicky times. The vile migraine times. You glide through it all as you have God on your side. And that feels good.

There’s another rise as you start to feel well again. You exercise. You do a bit of work. You spend time with your loved ones and you feel like the luckiest girl in the world. But yet the story has a few more twists and turns. You suffer an unexpected but devastating loss. It knocks you for six and your family is once again cut down. Your condition is still terminal and though you still celebrate love and life, you know that time is running out.

But then. Stop press! Something incredible happens. You exceed your life expectancy and the doctors tell you that you’re no longer terminal! Your torturous migraines even vanish without logical explanation. At the end of all the turmoil, you get the miracle that everyone has been hoping and praying for. WOW!! (This news is worth double punctuation.) God is good. Life is great. And that’s the stunning end to the story. So bear with it Amanda. Be strong. Be peaceful. Rely on your faith. Rely on your friends, family and amazing husband. It’s going to be a tough old journey but you’ll make it through to become wiser, stronger and finally infinitely more grateful. See you there. I can’t wait!

Lots of love from Amanda x

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The 'cancerverse'

For the last three years, I have been living in a sub-set of the real world. I call it the 'cancerverse'. It's where one day your universe becomes inverted, shrunken, myopic and at times, completely claustrophobic. Yesterday I read a fact, for example, that the median survival time in months for someone in my position (a Triple Negative Breast Cancer sufferer who went on to experience two breast cancer tumours in the brain and then had Whole Brain Radiotherapy) is four to six months. Scary. You can live a so-called 'normal life' and forget the possibility of death until you get an unusual symptom, a scan date or news of a friend who has just been diagnosed, or who is going through a tough time. Any incident of change thrusts you back into the 'cancerverse'.

So how do you break out? The 'cancerverse' can be an oppressive place, but it is no match for love, for prayer or for hope. A friend told me yesterday that she goes out for lunch every day she's not in chemo. Another friend is travelling, and relishing each new experience, being surrounded by nature. A kind gesture, a thoughtful card, a word of encouragement, the warmth of someone praying for you. All these things seek to liberate, to enlighten and to celebrate the joy of being alive. So, if you know someone who is in the 'cancerverse', please give them the greatest of gifts. Give them hope.