This is an odd time to be writing a blog – it’s 5am and the steroids I’ve been on for the last couple of days due to yesterday’s 3rd chemo blast are REALLY doing their thing. I’m knackered yet totally wired. But that’s OK, whereas before I would have got totally pissed off and annoyed about that, now I just come downstairs with the beautiful quilt made for me by my glorious friend Tabitha, get a mug of sage tea on the go (FOUL but v good for hot flushes, yes I’d forgotten about that – menopausal symptoms from the chemo smashing my ovaries – it’s lovely), get iplayer going and hope I drop off again shortly. I *think* I’m getting better at just going with it, cos I don’t have any other choice and screaming and fighting against the situation just makes it worse.
I now visit a hospice on a regular basis where I have a palliative care team and a fantastic counsellor whom I see once a week. That place is a godsend – when I first went there I was of course terrified to see “Marie Curie Palliative Care Centre” above the door but as I’ve spent more time there, they’ve really helped me face the possible practicalities of what could happen if I got ill, and where I could go. Not that I’m planning that any time soon and come on, IF I get accepted onto a brand new trial that clever Alison has got me an appt to see the trial director in Harley St about, then who knows? The longer we just keep this little shit at bay, the better cos then we get to access what could be the next generation of treatment.
Anyway the people at the hospice really know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about. And frightening as it is to tentatively discuss your own mortality with someone, it’s so helpful. The thing is, you and I are no different in that we are all going to die and, God forbid, something like this could happen to any of you – I certainly wasn’t planning for this at 32. You could have a freak accident, get run over by the proverbial bus everyone keeps talking to me about. Yet the difference is that I get, in some way, to prepare a little for my own death. Which is BIZARRE and terrifying. But is also part of a very long process. People who live with secondaries for a long time arguably have a harder job – the longer they stay well, the better. But that means the cloud that reminds you that something could start to go very wrong at any time stays with you longer. The trick is to try and give it its proper place. And work round it.
My counsellor has been brilliant at helping work towards really and truly living in the “now”. The future is too strange and vomit-inducingly awful to contemplate while I still feel so physically well (apart from chemo obvs). So I’m not going there, it does me no favours. Instead, I now try, even on the bad days, to take a long hard look at my life and see that I’m very lucky in lots of ways. Ways you don’t really even think about when you don’t have to cos you’re so tied up in your own problems. I have a job that I really like, and pays me enough to live quite happily. With colleagues and bosses who really do give a shit how I am and make life so easy for me. I have food in the cupboards, a car outside my house, my bike in the shed. I come home every night to someone I adore, not someone I have to cower from like thousands and thousands of women around the world. I have a home that is warm and filled with love. I have unbelievable friends, some I’ve become very close to as part of having cancer. I’ve seen kindness like you would not believe. I’ve laughed till I cried, I’ve loved till my heart feels like its about to pop and had that reciprocated. My family are – I can’t lie – still stunned but we’re getting there with that. My life is not all bad and I’m getting so much better at appreciating all those things, every day, and counting them all as the blessings they are. I’ve even started doing very twee things like not listening to my iPod on my way into work and actually paying attention to what’s going on around me, seeing what is literally in front of me, and it’s good.
If there was one piece of advice I actually felt completely qualified in giving to ALL of you, it’s for God’s sake try and be grateful for your lot, even in the face of crisis and trauma, especially when it feels like you have nothing. It’s the one thing that can keep you going, just for a bit. The major drawback to my life is that I can’t plan in the way you can, not really. (incidentally I read an article about people’s last thoughts as they are dying and every one of them said ‘health brings a freedom you never knew you had until it was gone” – I don’t think I’ve ever identified with something more). I can’t even plan a holiday when three years ago I could have just randomly jetted off to anywhere, at any time. So much depends on my next scan in a few weeks, which will determine how much longer I stay on this drug, assuming it’s worked. If it hasn’t, it’s applying for special drugs on the Cancer Drugs Fund, more tests, more schedules when I’ve just got used to this one. But that’s for The Boss to worry about, I literally only have the time that is right in front of me to do anything with, so I’d better make it good hey? That’s not morbid, it’s turning a bad situation on its head and finding the positive, SOMEHOW. I don’t always get it, far from it, but when I need reminding of that, the people at Marie Curie are there. Thank God.
Where am I going with all this? I’m not entirely sure, I’m so buzzed up on drugs but a plea I suppose. Not all this “live every day as if it were your last” rubbish and go skipping out of the house every day – we’ve all still got hassles with work, flat tyres on the car, family probs, bills to pay, January to be a bit depressed in. Firstly, not to feel sorry for or pity me. I don’t want that, not yet. I’m doing OK, I’m working through it and I have a lot of good stuff in my life. No head tilts please. But mainly to try and do the same in your own lives. I know of many people who have faced or are facing unspeakable traumas, you could be one of them, and somehow every one of their surviving spirit has pulled them through. Life could be better for a lot of us, but it could equally be a lot worse. I mean, Christ, could you imagine being homeless at Christmas and in this weather, with literally nothing? No thank you.