Cancer Mum: A Year of Living Dangerously

Recently i’ve come to the conclusion that a cancer diagnosis is a series of violent events, linked together by gossamer-thin strands of something resembling normality. It’s an abrasive woollen blanket interwoven with the softest of silks.

My own diagnosis has never been neatly defined for me. There is no cracked tupperware box in my mind labeled ‘worst day ever.’ Instead it’s been a barrage of aftershocks that i’m still experiencing now.

Of course there’s the initial tremor when a loose-lipped consultant slips the ‘c word’ into what should have been a perfectly uneventful colonoscopy procedure. Next, there’s the full body shudder when a surgeon with thinning grey hair cheerfully announces that, with my consent, he’d like to, “zip me open and remove 20cms of my colon” in an operation that carries more than a fleeting percentage of high risk.

The foundations really start to crumble when, eight weeks later, I discover that the cancer is much worse than feared and I’ll need chemotherapy. Stage 1 was somehow manageable to me. I’d already neatly compartmentalized it as a momentary blip (think tupperware box again). Stage 3 is not. Suddenly cancer seemed like a never-ending ice-bucket challenge and I’ve been drowning in it ever since.

Cancer is an invasion, stealing into family life like a thick black smoke, smothering all the fun and light out of everything. It’s there in the lump in my throat when I glance at my daughter’s face during a fireworks display at Disneyland. The happiest of moments soured with all the ‘what ifs’ I dare myself to consider.

It’s the sadness in my heart when I can’t comfort you the way I want to because I have nothing left to give. Cancer has taken everything from me today.

It’s there in the quickening of my pulse when good friends announce new pregnancies, knowing that my fertility was left somewhere next to the IV stands on my chemo ward.

It’s there in my fixed smile when strangers joke about my youngest child’s upcoming teenage years, knowing that my future as her mother is constantly walking a high wire. I’m aware of the steep drops either side of me but my gaze will always be fixed on her face.

It’s the constant fear of recurrence, the exhaustion of contemplating the unmentionable. It’s the over-analyzing of every ache and pain in my body; the hours spent on the internet scouring for people with a similar diagnosis who are well on their way to smashing the magic target of three years of clear CT Scans.

It’s the scores of medical journals that I don’t understand but I’ll make myself read them just in case they hold the key to my universe. The tips. The cures. Miraculous tales of cannabis oil, turmeric and tree nuts… My head starts to swirl.

It’s the anxiety over scans and blood screening, genetic test results and colonoscopies. The moments in the middle of the night when the whole world is asleep, whereas my worst nightmare is right there in my consciousness.

Somehow I find the courage to stop and take a breath once in a while. That’s when I fumble for those gossamer-thin strands, and before my eyes they swirl and transform. Now they’re all hope and defiance, which is swiftly depicted across my social media accounts. There are genuine smiles for my girls without any subtext of fear and unease. The immediate future looks bright. There’s a splash of normality to my life, a glimpse of how things were ‘before’.

A year has passed since my bowel cancer diagnosis. The aftershocks are just mild tremors now but they are still very much present in my life. I find myself burying my hands into those strands and gripping harder and harder. I’m investing in earthquake-prevention tools like a sensible eating plan and gym membership but am I too late? Will it be enough?

The fear will always be there, whispering away in the corners of my mind, but these days my determination to beat cancer is learning to shout louder.

xx

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month.

Please visit your GP if you have a persistent change in bowel habit, unexplained weight-loss, extreme tiredness, a lump or pain your tummy &/or blood in your stool.

Visit Bowel Cancer UK for more details.

5 Comments

  1. April 23, 2018 / 9:56 am

    This is a beautifully written post. My husband has stage 4 kidney cancer and I can totally relate to that lump in your throat when you look at the children, or how a happy moment is tinged with sadness and uncertainty. That’s the part I find hardest as a wife and parent.

    • April 23, 2018 / 11:53 am

      Oh Emma, I’m so sorry to hear this. Cancer is a complete bastard of a disease. How is your husband doing at the moment, is he on active treatment? My father had renal cell cancer too. He was treated at the Marsden in Sutton who were just wonderful. I’m definitely learning to live more in the moment these days, as i’m sure you are too. Lots of love, Catherine x

  2. Laura Harris
    April 24, 2018 / 9:54 am

    Very well written post that highlights without over dramatising an already dramatic existence. I can totally relate to those gossamer threads …. As a stage 4 bowel cancer patient I can be found most nights trying to knit those finest of threads into a pair of Wings with which I could fly straight out of this one act play I’ve been in for the last18 months.
    Thank you for sharing and opening dialogue about the emotional and physical complexities of living with cancer. My greatest hope for you is that those scans keep coming back clear!
    XXX Laura Harris

    • April 26, 2018 / 9:11 am

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Laura. I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis too. What treatment are you on at the moment? xx

  3. June 9, 2018 / 1:37 am

    Stage 4 colon cancer here. Totally relate to this. My journey at scottgriddle.com

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