Friday, 23 May 2014

A near death experience

When you get cancer people send you flowers!

So… it’s time for a catch up post. I haven’t written my blog for 6 months, and there is a reason for this, and not a rubbish one for a change.

Just after Christmas I was told I had breast cancer. The consultant tried to slip it in under the radar… “So, er, we found a few cancer cells” but I picked it up immediately because I am sharp like that. It was a bit of a surprise, I was probably the fittest I had ever been in my life - attending 3 kung fu classes per week plus a 50 lengths in the pool, not drinking, smoking or eating meat.

Now as a certified health freak I know all the statistics. I know for example that about 70% of cancers are caused by crappy lifestyle choices but that still leaves 30%, plus there is breast cancer in my family, and I have had (non-dangerous) lumps before.

 Just a small selection of my cancer leaflets...

Two things happen when you get cancer. Firstly your entire life is turned upside down. Forget work, forget the plans you made, the to-do lists, your daily routines, exercise, they are all out of the window because now cancer has taken over. The second thing that happens is you get a LOT of leaflets. The leaflets are mostly depressing. They carefully explain every bad thing that could possibly happen, from hideous side effects to the fact that your grasp on sanity is now considered to be on a knife edge, your partner may not find you attractive after surgery, and your relatives may not be able to cope. It’s cheery stuff and whoever wrote it all really needs a slap.

Whilst it had took a mere 5 weeks to get a GP appointment they got me into surgery just a week after my diagnosis and the offending lump was removed, along with lymph nodes to test if it had spread. After a mere 2 weeks of thinking I might die I was given good news, the cancer was low on the aggression scale, and it hadn’t spread anywhere, I had caught it early. No further surgery needed, just 3 and a half weeks of radiotherapy.

Yes this leaflet actually exists

I was given more leaflets. These were a little cheerier but stressed the fragility of my mental state. A lady in a long flowery skirt offered me a ‘Hope Course’ (hope I don’t get sodding cancer again), I thanked her but said I would rather poke something sharp into my eye. I might feel fine now she warned, but could ‘crash’ later; she has obviously seen my driving. About this time the receptionist handed me a survey to complete, full of intimate questions about my feelings, relationships, finances, fears. I handed it back, fixed her with the look I give the teen when she has gone out and left the front door unlocked, and made it plain I did NOT want to see it again. 

After this there was a wait of about 6 weeks for the radiotherapy to start. I got bored and decided I was going back to exercise, starting with tai chi which I had never done before, then kung fu, although I did avoid sparring. Radiotherapy was fine, although it made me tired, and burnt my skin.

More leaflets followed, including the hilarious 'Top Ten Tips for after Cancer Treatment'. I had stupidly thought I would get on with my life but no, there were many other fun things I could do. Cancer forums are one of those things apparently; cancer and forum being two words that should never be in the same sentence in my opinion.  But this tip was my favorite:

'Try to lead a healthier lifestyle' Good plan. HOW?

So before I had cancer I was an atheist, and a health freak and I am still both of those things. In fact one thing that irritated me (apart from those pesky rogue cells) was all the people who said ‘See, it makes no difference, all that healthy living, you still get sick’. Well let me tell you, cancer is a fight, and you don’t want to go into that fight unhealthy.

So, 6 months on from my near death experience things are getting back to normal and I can reflect a bit. I feel very lucky to have escaped with just a scar under one arm. I am truly grateful to all the friends, family, students and even complete strangers on the internet who showed me enormous kindness and to a health service that cured me without my needing to sell my house. But you won’t find me in a cancer support group anytime soon, I mean I would love to and all that, but I have a lot of stuff to do…


  1. Glad to hear you are much better and for having a very positive outlook....

    1. Thank you Phil, yes I am feeling better now, I don't see any option but to try to be positive, because you just have to get on with life, none of us knows how long we have or what is round the corner!