On 30 June 2016, I went under the knife for a hysterectomy due to a borderline ovarian cyst which had a 90% chance of being benign. Following the operation, whilst drugged to the eyeballs on anesthesia and morphine, my surgeon broke the news to me that would change my life forever. One year on, here is what I have learned...
I am a warrior
I had often wondered how I would cope when faced with a cancer diagnosis and assumed - as many people do - that I would fall apart.
However, I have learned that I didn't...
And I haven't...
When faced with adversity, I look it straight in the eye and say "f&*k you"!
I have always been an action rather than words person - rather than talking about something, I prefer to make it happen.
And my cancer diagnosis was exactly the same. This is what I have, what am I going to do about it? There isn't any point getting upset or angry, they are futile emotions which are not helpful.
So I tackle the situation head on, because I am a warrior...
I need to be in possession of all the facts
This is happening to me so I need to be in possession of all the facts, even if I don't really understand them. I need to be able to see the full picture and have all the information available to me.
So whilst I am happy for my oncologist to recommend treatment for me, I will go away and research everything I can about that treatment.
This is my body and in particular, MY cancer, and there is an awful lot which is beyond my control. However, by being knowledgeable and in possession of the facts, I claw back some of the control.
Cancer is not a death sentence
My work with cancer organisations had already taught me this and I think this also prevented me falling apart at the point of diagnosis.
I know there are many treatments and new research is coming to light literally every day. So there is hope. And it is important to be positive.
With current statistics of 1 in 2 people being diagnosed with cancer, it needs to be viewed not as a killer disease but as a long term chronic condition which can be managed with drugs and, to a certain extent, diet and lifestyle, no different to someone with heart disease, for example.
Lust for life
I have always lived life to the full, largely driven by losing my father when he was so young. He didn't have the opportunity to live a full life, so I will live it for him.
I am not a reckless person, but I have taken (calculated) risks.
I am not an adrenaline junkie so skydiving or bungee jumping are not for me.
However, if I want something, like a handbag or pair of shoes, I will do what I can to purchase them (without bankrupting myself).
And I can be impulsive and have been known to jet off to Paris (on a budget airline) on a whim for a weekend.
The way I see it, life is full of uncertainty, none of us know how long we are here, so we might as well enjoy the time we have.
Now, living with cancer, my life is slightly more uncertain than it was before but that isn't going to stop my lust for living...if anything, it has made me demand even more out of life than I did before!
Chemotherapy has more side effects than hair loss and sickness...
When people hear that I have cancer and am having chemotherapy, their first comment is usually " but you haven't lost your hair!" This is because there are so many different chemotherapy drugs - and drug combinations - to treat more than 100 types of cancer - and not every chemo drug causes hair loss.
As chemotherapy attacks not only the cancer cells but also the healthy cells in the body, it causes so many more side effects than hair loss and sickness. So whilst I was lucky enough to retain my locks, I have experienced the following (in no particular order):
build up of mucus
WIND (oh my God, so much wind!)
joint pain and stiffness
scalp sensitivity and scabs
loss of sex drive
change in appetite
loss of sense of taste
swollen ankles and feet
chemo brain (forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, clumsiness)
I am not invincible
I can't do everything I want to do and I have no choice but to listen to my body, because it knows what I am capable of doing and when.
This is really frustrating because I have always been independent and done what I wanted, when I wanted. I had lots of boundless energy which kept me on the go.
Now, I have to conserve my energy, especially if there is something I particularly want to do, I have to pace myself.
The fatigue doesn't just creep up on me. It just appears, very suddenly and I am stopped in my tracks, whatever I am doing, wherever I am. It happened on the slopes when I was skiing earlier this year, I just couldn't move anymore!
I have had to learn to ask other people for help, something which does not come easily to me. I have always been the person on whom friends depend, NOT the other way round.
However, I have learned that it is OK to ask for help and there are always people willing and able to provide whatever assistance I need.
(I still don't like it though).