I have awarded myself a medal! I just happened to have three kicking around the house, from when I did the ‘Race for Life’ in aid of Cancer Research UK in 2004, 2005 and 2007 in memory of my mother and a university friend who both died of cancer. So when I completed my sixth chemotherapy on 10th March there was a small reward ceremony to mark the end of this stage of treatment. Of course, I never imagined when I ran those 5 Km races that the funds raised would help to save my own life. Very appropriately, I finished my chemotherapy treatment in Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and I encourage anyone who is not sure of the symptoms of this disease to check out the websites at either Target Ovarian Cancer or Ovacome.
As I’ve discovered, treatments have come a long way since my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. My initial horror at the thought of having to undergo chemotherapy for ovarian cancer was based on fear and ignorance; the reality is that my chemotherapy drugs zapped my disease effectively and, most surprisingly, allowed me to enjoy a reasonably good quality of life during treatment. There were other things that helped too, and I list them here in the hope of encouraging others who find themselves on the same path.
WALKING. Nothing has helped me more than daily exercise and nature. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t climbing the mountains I used to climb – in fact, I like the new walking routes which look very much like this:
Which leads me on to FOOD AND DRINK. Coffee, scones, pub lunches – all have fortified me on my way, and we’ve bumped into lots of friends and had a pleasantly social time.
CHOCOLATE: It deserves an entry of its own. Thank you to all who took note of its therapeutic effects and supplied me!
TALKING. I have kept on talking – to my family, my friends, my chemo nurses, the other patients. It’s been good to be open and to give and receive support. I feel truly blessed to have such a great social network – thank you!
LIVING AS NORMALLY AS POSSIBLE. Yes, there are times when you are tired and will have to cancel things. You have to listen to your body. But, for a lot of the time, just doing normal things and being treated as normal is the best way to get on with something as big and scary as this.
AVOIDING CANCER GOOGLING. A little goes a long way. Trust me, googling symptoms and survival rates will NOT make you feel better. Forums are good if you read good things; they are bad if you read bad things.
ACCEPTING AND ENJOYING COMPLIMENTS. Nod, smile and feel good when people compliment you on your new ‘hairstyle’, your slim figure and new clothes. Some compliments are quite unexpected – recent praise of my ‘excellent veins’ from a nurse made me feel good for the rest of the day.
MAKING AN EFFORT WITH YOUR APPEARANCE. Aim to try with your appearance and clothes even when you’re feeling a bit rough.
INDULGING IN THE OCCASIONAL REWARD CEREMONY. Celebrate each milestone, and yes, you can mix a little Prosecco with your chemo. I had a rule not to do alcohol in the week after treatment, but after that a little was ok.
So now the journey continues. It’s a bit like doing a course at the big University of Cancer. After a bit of post-chemo ‘scanxiety’ I was told that my response had been excellent, better than expected – 9/10! My cancer hated that stuff and went running. But there is a risk of recurrence. Continued work is needed to keep it at bay, so I will be having a little infusion of Avastin every 3 weeks until next January.
It’s been a harder few weeks since my last chemo – I’ve taken longer to get over the tiredness this time. My eyebrows, which held on through five treatments, now need more artwork to make them look realistic, and even though I’m grateful for the help of Miss Wiggy I can’t wait to ditch her before the hot days of summer. The baldness thing gets you after a while, although it’s a small price to pay. Oh, and a bit of rethinking is required as I devise my ‘new normal’ – cutting out some of the things I used to do, concentrating on what’s important and learning to pace myself, enjoying the moment, looking at diet and lifestyle, booking myself on to a ‘Living well with cancer’ course with Penny Brohn UK. http://www.pennybrohn.org.uk/
The recovery jargon tells you to set some meaningful goals now, so I hope to play my harp in a concert in June, go to a wedding in Germany in August and … oh yes … I have 17 Wainwright tops in the Lake District still to climb. Onwards and upwards.
Some of you have asked if I’m writing about the cancer experience. And at this point I’d just like to thank everyone who has bought and read ‘Shifting Sands: Tales of Transience and Transformation’ and said good things about it. There are some lovely reviews on Amazon! Over the winter it’s been too difficult to write something new; my own story has been too big. I have stuff in my notebook, and I may write about cancer sometime, but now doesn’t seem the time; in a way I want to put it behind me. I’ve been working on some poetry prompts in a small online group run by Helena Sanderson who studied with me on the OU course, and this has kept my brain in gear through the months of treatment. Thank you, Helena! The prompts took me in lots of directions and have given me things to work on for the future. Only two were about the cancer experience, and I finish off with one here – it’s a ‘shape’ poem written for fun during one of my chemotherapy sessions.
From now on, expect my blog posts to less about cancer and more about life.