Saturday 27 December 2014

My Cancerversary

Today is my one year cancerversary: twelve months to the day I learned I had cancer.

What do you think I'm going to tell you today? the consultant surgeon asked at 2.30pm a year ago, a nurse by his side. My heart slipped a little closer to my stomach.

During the mammogram and ultra sound tests a week earlier, a couple of comments about the lump (which I'd satisfactorily convinced myself prior to the appointment was the innocuous result of hormones) made me nervous. I asked the radiographer what he was looking for. The mammogram suggests pre-cancer, he said. Pre-cancer, I considered, I like the sound of 'pre'. Yes, he said 'pre' is good.

I left the tests to enjoy Christmas, knowing I'd be returning on the 27th December for the results. Then they'd tell me whether I had no cancer or pre-cancer. Or so I thought.

I'd learnt about pre-cancer over the festive period. I didn't go near the internet - am way to cautious to trust my sanity to Mr Google - but instead consulted with my wonderful friend who, rather fortuitously for me, happens to be an oncologist in breast cancer. Pre-cancer wasn’t to be taken lightly, I was told. Dependent on the extent of these cells at the first abnormal stage, a mastectomy might be necessary, together with hormone therapy, perhaps, even a dose or two of radiotherapy. But no chemo and, crucially, no risk of death at this pre-cancerous stage. If there's a sentence containing 'cancer' as well as, 'no risk of death', it's hard to feel anything but relief.

I looked at the surgeon and the nurse and I think I smiled. It was OK, I'd prepared for this and the way he'd phrased the question made me certain. You're going to tell me I have pre-cancer, I finally answered. The surgeon and the nurse continued their gaze, not even a twitch from either of them until the surgeon said, I'm afraid it's much worse than that.

February: 8 inches cut off my hair
And thus I trot towards 2015 with three operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy behind me and with much more optimism about the future than I had last New Year's Eve. Nonetheless, I'm celebrating my cancerversary small; just poking a superstitious toe into the festivities. No parties this year, just gratitude for the brilliance of modern medicine and for the love which has helped me step over the pebbles. Some people have to deal with cancer and other crises on their own and I can't begin to imagine how hard that must be. Being with my family around the gold star-bedecked table, clutching a tiddly wink cracker, brought me to tears this Christmas and not just because I burnt the pigs in blankets. I'm lucky to be here and my cancerversary is a time to give thanks for that.

September: first re-growth
Next year I hope to celebrate two years clear, then three and four and onto five. Five years is a milestone I pray to reach and a significant goal in the life of Grade 3 breast cancer. That's when we can really believe it's finished: every last stray cell gone, no new little blighters gaining strength and preparing to strike. December 27th 2018 is going to be one heck of a party.

Meanwhile, I shall keep thanking my lucky stars for no signs of recurrence or secondaries. I shall keep checking - you must too, because early detection is your biggest weapon against cancer. Do it on the same day every month and then you won't forget. Boys! Enough sniggering at the back, you know you have to check yourself too, right?

2014: not all bad by any means...
And most of all I shall keep having fun because none of us know where our life is headed. In the inimitable words of the Cold Feet opening credits: Life's a journey, travel it well.

Please raise your glass with me for my cancerversary and here's to a happy and healthy 2015 for all of us!

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Change the Record

Thank goodness, a frost at last! The fire's stoked, Harrogate smells of mulled wine and cinnamon and I've had my first mince pie – or two. I love the change of season, love Christmas and never more so than this year.

I was just thinking that it was time to change the record, that I wanted to talk of something different to the thing-I'm-not-going-to-mention today. Then late one Friday night when I really shouldn't have been messing about on the pc but felt the urge to do yet more research into an all singing and, err, spinning, spinning bike to replace the tired one in my not very Homes and Gardens kitchen, an email plopped into my lap. It was from Black Pear Press and it hoped I would be pleased to know that my short story, Fly Joe, had been shortlisted in its annual short story competition. Pleased? I'd have screamed if the rest of the house hadn't been sleeping – as much out of relief as delight as I'd done my usual of convincing myself that the story was ridiculous and I'd been a fool to enter the competition. 

And then I learn that the story is to be published in their anthology, hopefully before Christmas. Who needs Christmas presents?  

Next I hear from the talented and oh so studious, Judith Arnopp, writer of intricately researched historical fiction, that she's awarded me the One Lovely Blog Award in recognition of bloggers who share their story or thoughts in a 'lovely' manner. Thank you, Judith, I'm honoured to have been chosen. Judith writes her own lovely blog packed with book reviews and news of her own seven titles which can be found here.

Something I must do when accepting the award is declare seven cool facts about me. However, in the absence of anything cool - embarrassing moments, on the other hand, give me a minute and I'll fill you a page -  I found myself rambling about my life, all 46 years of it. My seven points currently read more like a memoir. I shall spare you the read, as it's Christmas, and return with a pruned and smoothed version just as soon as I've written some Christmas cards, iced the cake – oh, baked the cake – finished present buying, made the Stollen (no, I'm buying the Stollen), and made more mince pies than I eat.

This is Jon Bon Jovi, not my husband...
One more piece of news before I go. I have had my first haircut. I sat for an hour, read my book, chatted and drank their tea. It was a most pleasurable step back into a more normal reality. It's funny the things you miss. The style is not one I'd have chosen but to use a writing analogy, I see it as a Work In Progress, an advanced enough draft to expose it to an audience, and a cue for me to wash and pack away my wigs. They've served me well but I'm oh, so tired of them now.  Even better, my husband has also had his hair cut and so for the first time in ten months, my hair is longer than his. He's not exactly Jon Bon Jovi himself, but it's a step in the right direction.

Have a great week! I'm off to prune my words.