March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month #OCAM and the charity Ovarian Cancer Action have launched their #StolenMoments campaign. I started thinking about my own stolen moments - those things which I have been unable to do since my story began back in June 2016.
Following three months of blood tests, scans and MDT scrutiny of my case, on 9 June 2016, I received an initial diagnosis of a borderline ovarian cyst, with a recommendation for cancer surgery - a full hysterectomy.
At the time, the youngest prince was in the throes of his A levels, with an offer from Oxford University riding on his results. I didn't want to do anything to jeopardise this, so agreed with the surgeon that he would operate three weeks later, the day after the A levels finished, 30 June 2016. I didn't even mention anything to my son about my diagnosis until the weekend before my surgery, when he had just two exams to go.
The decision to delay surgery stole the first of many moments from me. Prince Charming and I had plans to travel to Madrid on 6 July, followed by a drive down the coast to his castle on the Costa Blanca, for a blissful two weeks, collecting the Queen Mother and Prince Consort on the way through Valencia. Even if I had opted for immediate surgery, this holiday wasn't going to happen. Obviously it was a no brainer, surgery had to take precedence, health comes first and all that...stolen moment #1.
That summer, two friends were celebrating their 50th birthdays, both on the same day. The first was an afternoon tea, locally, so three weeks after my operation, I mustered up every ounce of energy I had to get dressed up and made it to the event, sitting for a few hours in a garden in July, eating scones, cakes, finger sandwiches and sipping tea - it felt so good to be out.
Unfortunately, this meant that I did not have the energy to make it into London for the second celebration that evening. This was a party for which I had researched and sourced the venue, liaised with the venue on behalf of my friend, logged invitation RSVPs and co-ordinated the event from start to finish. I was gutted to have to miss the celebration - stolen moment #2.
That summer saw two more key events - first, the oldest prince's 21st birthday and whilst nothing was going to stop me celebrating this milestone, I was unable to do much more than turn up, sit in a chair and be served food and drink. The second was A level results day - and the youngest prince did not disappoint, obtaining the grades required to secure his place at Oxford. Both were emotional times and for the first time since my diagnosis, I was very aware of my mortality and the fact that I may not be around to celebrate all my sons' achievements and successes - stolen moment #3.
A 60th birthday and a 100th (a couple's joint 50th) - stolen moments #4 and #5.
Carole King concert in Hyde Park and Funny Girl starring critically acclaimed Sheridan Smith - stolen moments #6 and #7
As I recovered from major surgery, my energy levels slowly returned, only to be zapped as I embarked on a weekly chemotherapy regime. As a result of lowered energy levels and ensuing nausea, I was devastated to have to decline the second wedding of a longstanding friend in Manchester - stolen moment #8.
However, not nearly as devastated as having to tell my best friend that I wouldn't be attending her hen weekend - outdoor theatre in the rain and glamping in damp Cornwall were not conducive to my fragile immune system - stolen moment #9.
Just a few months before my diagnosis, I had convinced a group of girls that it would be fun to take part in Cancer Research Race for Life's Muddy 5k, in September 2016. By the time the date came round, I was deep into my first round of chemotherapy. The girls took part nevertheless, dubbing themselves the Princess Warriors and running for me whilst I watched from the sidelines and cheered them over the finish line.
With a NED status at the beginning of 2017 and determined to join the team, the plan was for another Muddy 5k in July. The euphoria of participation was shortlived as I faced my first recurrence and embarked on a second round of chemotherapy. The Princess Warriors battled the mud once again without me.
Third time lucky, I agreed to join the girls in June 2018 - and guess what, recurrence and I'm on my third round of chemotherapy. Will I ever run - or even walk - a Muddy 5k?
Stolen moments #10, #11 and #12.
Whilst not a sporting fan, I had planned to make 2017 the year when I experienced many of the sporting events of the "season". Whilst I enjoyed Centre Court at Wimbledon and Ladies Day at Ascot, unfortunately Henley Regatta and England v Samoa rugby at Twickenham were just not possible due to the effects of chemotherapy - stolen moments #13 and #14.
The biggest disappointment - and worse stolen moment - was having to cancel plans to take the two princes to New York in September 2016, to celebrate their respective 18th and 21st birthdays. This trip had even greater significance since my diagnosis as I so wanted to have as many memorable experiences with these boys. Reluctantly, I cancelled the trip, vowing that we would rearrange once I had finished chemo - stolen moment #15.
As well as the stolen moments mentioned, there have been numerous cancelled social plans, restaurant reservations and family get togethers, I estimate stolen moments #16 through to #50.
With the realisation that I am now living with a long-term chronic condition, being managed with drugs, I am slowly reclaiming these moments. Arrangements are always made with caveats of last minute cancellation and bookings are not made without some assurance of refund or reimbursement.
In September 2017, a year after it was originally planned, I reclaimed stolen moment #15 - the princes and I "did" NY - bigger and better than it would have been the previous year. We all have a fantastic memory of some proper quality time together in an amazing city.
In April, I turn 50 and as I celebrate with my friends, I will be reclaiming stolen moments #2, #4 and #5.
In May, I will be reclaiming stolen moment #1 - we will be decamping to Prince Charming's castle, then driving up the coast to Madrid, even entertaining the Queen Mother and Prince Consort as originally planned. Cancer is NOT having this one.
Fuck it, I may even attempt the Muddy 5k in June, even if I walk the course - the Princess Warriors have said they will be walking it with me. Reclaim stolen moments #10, #11 and #12 - take that cancer!
So whilst cancer has stolen moments, it has also instilled a definite "Fuck It" attitude in me. I am acutely aware that I have a condition which may well shorten my life, so I am more determined than ever to live life to the full.
My fiftieth birthday may be the last milestone birthday I celebrate, so best celebrate the shit out of it.
I have managed to secure travel insurance to cover me for my cancer worldwide, I am going to get my moneys' worth and jet off whenever possible, as well as spending more time at the Spanish castle.
I recently decided on a whim to order myself a new car - a brand new car, factory ordered, to my exact specifications - I may never get another opportunity to do this, so why accept any compromises?
YOLO, Just Do It, Carpe Diem, Seize the Day, Smell the Roses