What does that word mean to you?
What experience of it have you had?
The first person I really remember it stealing was my Nan. There had been other relatives before that who as a small child I had seen shrink before my eyes, but they were old, and they died, that’s what old people do isn’t it?
My Nan died when I was 17. She had stomach cancer. I will never forget my last view of her. I wish I hadn’t seen her like that. She was an amazing woman. She was a housekeeper for a very wealthy family in Chelsea. I would go sometimes in the school holidays and help her at the house. A truly spectacular house and garden. She lived in a flat in Battersea,her bedroom window overlooked the Thames and there were geraniums around the door. She used to give me cheese and boiled egg salads with beetroot and salad cream and tinned pears with evaporated milk. We had to put her rubbish down a chute which I thought was fascinating. She took me to Battersea Park and St James’s Park to feed the birds; sparrows sitting on my hands. She taught me that ‘It doesn’t cost a penny to smile’
Years later my Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour. On my 26th birthday April 1997 he drove home from work and couldn’t lift his arm to lock the car. That was the first indication that anything was wrong. He died May 1998. In that year I watched my Dad, a towering giant of a man, slowly die. His tumour was inoperable, but he was offered and took radiotherapy in an attempt to shrink the tumour. We found out on the Christmas of 1997 that the radiotherapy had not worked and there was nothing else they could do. He had huge fits and seizures as the tumour pressed against his brain. I remember being with him for a particularly spectacular one in the supermarket. I watched my 6ft 4 dad, a proud and highly intelligent Police Chief Inspector become a bald,(Radiotherapy) bloated (steroids) zimmer frame using, convulsing man who lost his ability to find the correct word when trying to talk. He was 58. He only got to meet 2 of his 6 grandchildren.
And of course I’ve had my own brush with it, and continue to try and stop it setting up home in me again. Because all these operations and check ups are to stop it coming back. If it comes back it’s not good news.
So without wanting, in the words of my Dad, to ‘state the bleeding obvious’ I’m not a fan of cancer but it’s not a new enemy to me.
When I was diagnosed I was in a really good place. After years of struggling to juggle work and single motherhood I had decided to take a break from work for a couple of months, destress and reassess life the universe and everything. I was chilled, my son was happier, money was tight but I was happy. I’d started investing some time in me. I finally had time to breathe. This made the diagnosis somewhat harder to take (not to mention the loss of sick pay I would of got!)
I remember my Macmillan nurse saying that what is hard about certain cancers is that you don’t look ill. The archetypal cancer patient, stick thin, bald and sick bowl in hand did not apply to me. A personal gripe of mine is when people say ‘Oh so you didn’t need any treatment then’ What they mean is that I didn’t need chemo or radiotherapy. I can never imagine anyone saying that to someone after a heart bypass.
Cancer has taken so much away from me; Loved one’s, body parts, certainty, peace of mind.
But cancer has given to me too. It has given me a priceless opportunity to find out what really matters. It has allowed me at quite a young age to truly realise that life is short and to live accordingly. It has highlighted those people who could handle it and those who couldn’t or didn’t want to. Whilst I have lost a lot of ‘friends’ it has connected me with many amazing people who I would never of met otherwise. It has taught me how to be vulnerable. It has taught me how to trust. It has taught me how to let go.
So it’s not all bad.
It’s two weeks until I go under the knife for the 3rd time in 2 years.
3rd time lucky?