Terminal

This is a blog I wrote for The Metro online…

You’ve got secondary breast cancer. It’s terminal.

Words I’ll never forget and can’t run away from.

The moment I was told I had a terminal illness was the moment something snapped in me and I became a different person. Something inside me clicked and I became stronger, more gutsy, almost invincible. I did what I had to do – I had no choice.

Don’t get me wrong, I was scared – so scared. Terminal means you’re going to die right?! I assumed it would happen almost immediately – not knowing how long my proverbial piece of string was. And all I could think about were my children – they needed me. I couldn’t die.

I’d been poorly for a few months before being rushed into hospital by ambulance one Friday morning – the 2nd of May 2014 to be exact. At first I was told I had breast cancer – that’s fine I thought, people survive. But, 5 days later, just when I thought I’d got my head around that news, I was told that I actually had secondary breast cancer and that the tumour had broken away and metastasised in my bones. My whole skeleton was affected by cancer.

Now we were playing a whole different ball game and the odds were stacked against me. I was terminally ill.

Being given that sort of diagnosis isn’t something you can just forget about. It’s always there, in the back of your mind and at first, it was imprinted on my eyelids every time I closed my eyes! Mostly, I can shut it away in its box but sometimes, it rears its ugly head and the enormity of what I’m living with hits me. It’s all very well living in my oblivious bubble but the reality is ever present.

Not only did I change as a person but my life changed quite a lot too. My attitude changed. I wasn’t prepared to just settle anymore – I wanted to ‘live’ my life. I no longer worried about the little things. I had to learn to listen to my body more, factor in rest days and remember not to use up all my spoons too quickly (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoon_theory) – it took me a long time to adjust.

The diagnosis changed how I felt about my children too. I needed to give them experiences, make memories with them and at first, I crammed so much in with them. I didn’t know how long I had so time was of the essence. We did so much in that first year.

Some people close to me struggled with the diagnosis whilst others rallied round. I can’t imagine what receiving that news must be like as a loved one looking in. It’s devastating.

As time has gone on and I’ve had stable scan results, the word terminal is mentioned less and less. It’s ever present, much like a dirty secret I have to carry with me. From the outside I look ‘normal’, I live a ‘normal’ life and that’s how I like it. I’ve always lived obliviously. But occasionally, when I’m explaining my illness to people, it pops up again and people are genuinely shocked when they find out what I’m living with.

Do I think the word terminal has defined me? At first yes.

I was a cancer patient with a terminal diagnosis – I was going to die. I looked like a cancer patient. I lived my life in chapters – a routine of weekly hospital appointments for chemo, daily radiotherapy, 3 monthly scans, scanxiety and hope for good scan results.

As time has gone on, my chapters have increased slightly. My treatment has become 3 monthly and scans have become 6 monthly.

Now, that word doesn’t define me at all. I don’t class myself as terminally ill at the moment. I’m certainly living with a chronic illness but there’s a huge difference. Chronic illness can be managed. Terminal illness is when all medical options have been exhausted and there’s nothing left to try.

Being terminally ill is like living on a knife edge. It can flip at any time and there’s not always any warning, but for me, it’s important not to live in its shadow. Life is for living.

Xx

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I’ve a lot going on at the moment. It’s been a tough few weeks and my emotions have been all over the place. I feel a bit overwhelmed if I’m honest – one minute I’m fine, the next I’m feeling deflated.

I think Daisy starting secondary school ignited some anxiety on my part. It was one of those milestones that, four years ago, I didn’t think I’d get to see and I feel so lucky. It was a huge step for her and one I wasn’t sure how she’d react to. It was either going to go very well, or not! As it turns out, she’s taken to it like a duck takes to water and I couldn’t be prouder. The little girl who hated school, had daily meltdowns and struggled with homework has gone and I’ve now got a girl who is blossoming, growing in confidence and signed up to not one but TWO after school clubs – dance and netball!! Long may it last.

My oldest daughter is poorly and is having a few different investigations to try and get to the bottom of what’s wrong with her. That in itself is rather worrying and I feel quite helpless.

To top it all off, there was a wedding at the weekend. I wasn’t invited. They didn’t want me there. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard seeing the photos on fb and as much as I tried not to let it, it upset me. Nobody bothered.

As a result of me trying to keep busy and distract myself, I spent some time in the gym Saturday and absolutely thrashed myself (which I later paid for!). The gym is my happy place and I find that it clears my head from the mess that’s inside it. I’ve also lost myself in books – anywhere is better sometimes.

I’ve realised that I’m quite hard on myself. I feel guilty if I’m too tired to go to the gym. I question myself as a person. I don’t rest half as much as I probably should.

I need to be kinder to myself. I need to remember that I’m taking 5 different types of medication – all with their own set of side effects. I need to remember that you can’t please everyone and not everyone will like you. I need to remember that I try my best and that’s more than enough.

I need to remember what I’m living with and give myself a break.

Xx