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.