The death of Rachael Bland was very sobering for the cancer community, particularly for younger women with breast cancer. There’s no doubt that Rachael’s straight talking and humour has made great strides in tackling the stigma that is still attached to this crappy disease. And stigma there is… I saw a news article recently about how Asian women are over represented in deaths from breast cancer because they are afraid to speak about it and seek medical help. It’s with gratitude and respect that many women will remember Rachael. Rachael’s death has shaken me. Bar an extremely successful career (she should have chosen the NHS over the BBC 😜) there are so many parallels and synchronicities between us. We were born in the same year, both have young boys (Rachael’s Freddie calls his grandfather Grumpy as Teddy will my dad), reading her blog I thought several times I could have written it myself (albeit less eloquently), some of the early entries felt like she was inside my head, even down to her wondering if she’d outlive the dog (she didn’t. Now I’m not a dog person and inherited Norbert when I met my partner… he’s the dog I hate least but I still hope he dies first). She was upbeat and positive, and down to earth and funny, explaining things in a way which removed some of the fear from a world we all hope we never have to learn about. Chemo was effective for her like mine is proving to be (tumours have shrunk significantly already), and she completed active treatment with relatively mild side effects, like me so far. But the cancer came back and when it does that you have very little chance of beating it. A side note- there has been discussion in the press about the language that should be used to discuss people’s experience of cancer, that using phrases like “winning (or losing) the battle” implies that people have some control over it- personally I couldn’t give a toss about terminology and to me it IS a fight. Rachael was unlucky. Her death brings home to me that life will never be the same. If I am lucky enough to have a good pathological response to chemotherapy, and for surgery and radiotherapy to do it’s job such that the magical acronym NED (no evidence of disease) is decreed at the end of my treatment it will be bloody fantastic. But I’ll never be free from the anxiety that it will come back, and the fact is that cancer will most likely kill me sooner or later. Learning to live with this is going to be hard. Lots of people in my shoes talk about coming to terms with the new normal. I’m getting there but there’s a long way to go.
I realise now that it’s not just cancer trying to beat me. Cancer has a whole host of horrible little henchman that it’s brought to the party- not just physical ones (and physical ones are starting to kick in, although I’m relatively unscathed by the worst side effects it looks like the veins in my right arm have given up and I’m not even half way through the life saving poisonous treatments being pumped into me every three weeks). Its other side kicks are of the psychological variety. It’s sunk its horrible little hooks in my mind… telling me it’s weaving its rotten web in my brain, clutching its claws into my throat, its slimy scales into my skin. Cancer has a mean little friend called Agoraphobia too, whispering to me that it’s not safe out there, and another evil ally, Social Anxiety, telling me I can’t look people in the eye. Deep breaths. This is the new normal.
My counsellor tells me I have to turn these negative thoughts into positive ones. So rather than beat myself up about being a bad parent because Super Ted’s favourite toy is the remote control, I’m going to accept that the next few months are a write off and enjoy autumn and winter with my little boy being cosy and watching shite TV. I’m going to get a new armchair and a posh blanket, rearrange my furniture and get snuggly in front of the wood burner (let’s see how that works out once Ted is mobile). I’m not going to worry that I know the ITV schedule from 6.30 am to 6.30 pm off by heart, and even the sponsors of every bloody programme. I shan’t let it bother me that Teddy probably thinks the Loose Women and Bradley Walsh are members of his family and I’ll try not to get irrationally angry about Ben Shepherd smugly correcting the contestants on Tipping Point. (It’s easy when you’ve got the answers on the ruddy card Ben! Jeremy Paxman you are not. ) Thank god for my family and my hardcore friends that can deal with the fact that my world has shrunk such that the big bastard C is my only topic of conversation. The new normal. Sigh.
Not many lolz this week guys. But the wig lady at least didn’t let me down when I went to pick it up (put the sandwich board AWAY!) I still haven’t had the front to go out wigged up- I feel like all I need is a pair of size eleven stilettos to complete the drag act look. And on the subject of hair, if there is a god, she’s got a twisted sense of humour- while I’m desperately hanging on to about half a dozen strands of hair on my head I notice the coarse black chin hair that sprouts periodically continues to laugh in the face of the chemo drugs.