Last weekend was Dan’s birthday party & I hired a hot tub for the weekend to turn my garden into a tropical paradise for him & 10 of his friends. There were a couple of hiccups with the hot tub & the heavens opened two hours before the party started but by & large everything went according to plan. At the time of writing this blog, I’m shattered after a weekend of entertaining - I’ve held quite a few birthday parties for Dan at home, especially over the past four years, but in a more reflective moment this weekend, I recalled how I was feeling at another of his birthday parties in the house in 2010 ….
2010 wasn’t a vintage year for me – my marriage broke up & in the weeks immediately following, I discovered a large lump which was removed the week before Dan’s 7th birthday. I had my stitches out on his birthday & my consultant told me that the lump had been sent for further histology tests. I then pasted a big smile on my face & went back to my sister’s house where my family & Dan were waiting so that we could have his birthday cake & celebrate together. The following morning, I got the call from my consultant, who explained that it was probably lymphoma but that they wouldn’t know for sure until all the tests were completed, which included sectioning the tumour & using dyes to identify the sub-type. This was going to take a couple of weeks & unfortunately all I could do was wait for the results. That evening, I was making final preparations for Dan’s party since he had invited 15 friends the following day. I decided that I wasn’t going to think about my impending diagnosis at all that weekend, & that I would “put it off” until the following week & thankfully was so busy that I genuinely didn’t have time to think. That party went really well, & the temporary insanity granted by hordes of over-excited children was respite from the depths of my own fears, which returned with a vengeance on the Monday morning.
Time really is a great healer, & now, I don’t think I could really truthfully explain how awful the next 10 days were, whilst I waited to find out exactly what the problem was & what the prognosis would be. Every time the phone rang I jumped, & I don’t think that I slept for more than an hour at a time. When I got the news that the lump was malignant, I was told that my cancer was slow growing but that a CT scan would confirm staging. My consultant’s appointment was towards the end of September 2010 when I diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma at stage 3B & placed on watch & wait. Thinking back, it was definitely the worst of times, when I went into complete panic mode, relentlessly checking & re-checking all my symptoms & possible prognoses on the internet. My Dr prescribed sleeping tablets without which I would not have been able to function, let alone go to work! One day, I planned my own funeral, wrote my own eulogy (after all, I know myself better than anyone else!) & decided on my “song” - if you’re interested, I decided upon “My Way” by the Sex Pistols – thought it might make everyone smile About a month after diagnosis, realisation hit hard & it was at that point that I was given a referral to the cancer psychology unit at my local hospital.
Moving forward 4 years, & because of the support that I have received, the change in my outlook is quite remarkable. When I read about people who are newly diagnosed, who are struggling with the mental challenges of watch & wait/worry, it pains me to see others struggling as I did. Psychological support has been a massive “enabler” for me, something that has allowed me to accept my condition & to a certain extent to move on. No one can tell you how to deal with life-changing events but psychological assistance can help you to roll with it. When I speak to others in my situation I see how far I’ve come & although this wouldn’t have been my life path of choice, I don’t fight against it any longer & I try to use it to positive effect to help others. Although this may sound strange, I believe that acceptance takes away much of the stress of my situation. Fighting against something because it’s not what you want, (& believe me no-one wants a cancer diagnosis!) is exhausting, achieves nothing, &, fatigue is a very big problem for cancer patients. These days I accept that I have this issue with my health, have had to learn to live with the associated symptoms & do my best to handle the not knowing, but, I could NOT do this without the psychological support that I have received. As more people are diagnosed & remain on watch & wait there’s a mental health time-bomb here for which I hope we are prepared ….