It’s been more than a year since we found out, since Mr C came home and uttered those life changing words: ‘They’ve found a tumour. There’s a 90% chance it’s cancer.’
But those first few weeks passed in a daze, a kind of no man’s land where we could try and pretend it wasn’t really happening.
Then it was surgery day.
One kidney out, lots of staples in and things got real. Two months later they confirmed that the cancer had spread, he started targeted therapy and we faced the reality of life with an incurable condition.
And here we are. One year later. Still smiling and hoping for the best.
There are hard days. There are sad days. But most of all, there are grateful days when we remember everything we’ve got that’s worth fighting for.
You can grieve without losing someone
I feel very lucky that Mr C’s cancer is under control and for now, day to day life is carrying on pretty normally. But it’s a new normal. A cancer diagnosis, especially one where there’s no cure, changes the way you see the world. It takes away some of the security and long term dreams you take for granted for you and your children. You have to grieve for that and come to terms with your new uncertain future.
Don’t expect anything to be linear
The uncertainty of living with cancer is the thing I find the hardest. We didn’t know which drug would work, we still don’t know how long it will work for and there is no predicting the path ahead. I find that Mr C’s symptoms aren’t linear and nor are the emotions that go with it. We are on a three monthly cycle of treatment, scans and results which can make it all a bit of a rollercoaster.
The sadness will catch you off guard
Just like the emotions are linear, nor are the moments of sadness catch me off guard. Usually it’s around the kids when I think about what they will go through or see something sentimental and wonder if Mr C will be around to appreciate those moments. I have learnt to manage this better and have worked hard to live more in the present.
It might not be the big things that push you over the edge
I’ve found that it’s not the major steps that are the hardest, it’s everything in between. The thing that broke me this year was the news of a large scale housing development behind our house. It was unsettling, out of our control and threatened our little safe haven – all things that cancer has already done and made all those feelings go into overdrive.
It’s important to ask for help
We’ve had amazing support from family and friends but I will admit, it does all trail off a bit after the initial shock. I’m not saying this as a criticism, I know everyone is still there and willing to help, but they don’t always know when or how to step in. So you need to ask. Whether that’s practical support or a shoulder to cry on. This summer I also saw a psychologist through our amazing Maggie’s Centre and that really helped me get back on track too.
Ask questions. Always
I am a question asker – that’s how I became a journalist! When you are dealing with doctors, complex medical issues and difficult decisions, you need to know all the information inside out. One of Mr C’s team asked: ‘Are you medical’ because we had read up so much and could discuss things in detail! If you’re not sure of anything, always ask. There are not stupid questions when it comes to your health and wellbeing.
It’s all about attitude
I don’t like a lot of the language that surrounds cancer – battling it, fighting it etc. – but I do think your attitude can go a long way. Mr C has taken his whole situation stoically, like he does with most things in life. Of course he has his bad days but overall he is positive, calm and laid back. And this makes it so much easier for the rest of us to be too. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be sad, mad or scared but only focuscing on the negative can be detrimental to the whole family.
Don’t expect to be the same person. That’s not a bad thing.
Cancer changes you. Whether you are the one with it, or the ones surrounding it. It takes away some of your innocence and it makes you question the unfairness of life but for me, it has also made me a stronger, better and ultimately calmer person. I see the world now with more gratitude and am thankful for each day, I am more compassionate and contented. In no way do I believe that everything happens for a reason but I think you can learn and grow from everything.
Adversity can be the best motivator
Some days I just want to hide away and ignore the world but mostly, I feel more motivated and driven than ever. Cancer reminds you that none of us know how long we have left and we need to make the most of it. I’m not talking about grand gestures and bucket lists but about focusing on what’s important, making the most of our potential and helping others.
Statistics mean nothing when you’re living it
There is a 7% chance you will have a child with a food allergy. We have two. There’s a 0.5% chance your baby will have shoulder dystocia. Ours did. Statistics can be reassuring, they can be comforting, but when you’re on the wrong side of them, they mean nothing. The 5 year survival rates for kidney cancer are depressing but we won’t let this define us as this is our story and Mr C is much more than a number.