Trying To Live My Best Life

It’s well documented how hard a life with cancer can be for those going through it, however what seems to be less recognised is how hard life can be post treatment, not just from a mental health perspective, but emotionally and physically too. The past couple of weeks, for whatever reason, have felt especially challenging.

I am desperate to get on with my life and try to move forward, but having to balance this out with the expectation from others that I am doing amazingly makes it harder and harder to navigate. I’m forever living in an ‘in-between’ state from scan to scan. I am doing really well, but it’s not an instant ‘fix’.

Now I’ve been drug free for over six months I am slowly finding out what a life away from being a cancer patient is really like. I went to the GP yesterday for the first time in weeks, which feels strange considering my life revolved so heavily around doctors and hospitals appointments only a few months ago. Whilst this can only be a much needed and welcome change, it’s also been tricky to adjust to. I feel traumatised from the last 14 years of my life so it might take me at least another 14 to begin to move on.

I have been trying my best to take it easy, but also live life to the fullest as much as I can, and the two seem to juxtapose each other. It feels like I’ve been given a second chance in life I never thought possible but I’m not going to be skipping down the street in the rain anytime soon.

My friends would say that on the whole I am very positive, however it takes a lot of hard work to put my game face on. I still feel as though my life is restricted and will be short lived. I’m waiting for that lightbulb moment where the switch in my brain goes off and I start thinking otherwise, however I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, or if I’ll be able to find said switch.

I try my best not to think too much into the future, no one ever really knows what’s in store for them, and no future is ever mapped out to perfection. Recently I overheard a conversation on my commute with two people talking casually about future plans, which honestly made me feel scared for what may lie ahead. I still have the fear that I won’t be alive. I feel like I don’t know who I am without the cancer patient label. I attempt to push these thoughts to the back of my mind but it’s so hard, particularly when discussions such as this are frequent and often. The fear is what takes me to a dark place.

Over time I have learnt that nothing can ever be planned out like one would hope. I certainly don’t have a five year plan, It’s more like a five day plan to try and get through the working week and remain as sane as possible

A few weeks ago I finished my last counselling sessions and I currently don’t have any follow up lined up. I’m feeling ok right now, however I’m concerned about not having that outlet where I can fully speak my mind and not worry about judgement or upsetting others.

The phrase ‘Living My Best Life’ is thrown around so often, but for me this is it. This is the best it’ll get and it isn’t an Instagram worthy hashtag showing photos of me drinking cocktails on a beach. I feel like I am trying to balance on a unicycle, and if you know how challenged I am in that department when it comes to riding a bike, you’ll know just how difficult that is. Hopefully I’ll find a way to balance soon.

Learning To Love Myself

I feel like I am under a constant storm of clouds right now, just trying to stay dry whilst chaos ensues around me. I’ve finally caught the cold I seem to always be on the edge of and I also have a chest infection so I’m feeling a little sorry for myself this week. I’ve been spending as much time as possible in bed, where I finished this post I’ve been working on for the past four days. Still, I’ve got a weekend away to look forward to which I am very excited about! I just want to feel well; like when I wake up in the morning I can tackle the day ahead, rather than struggle to get out of bed. Hopefully a dose of antibiotics will do the trick!

It’s been a year since I wrote my blog post Singles Awareness Day. As I am sure we are all aware, today is February 14th aka Valentines Day; this is a day when everyone focuses on love, relationships, red roses and pink heart shape gifts. Perhaps, if you are like me it makes you focus on the lack of the above.

The suggestion is always that one needs to be happy in themselves before looking for love. It’ll probably always be a challenge for me to learn to be truly happy and love myself (scars and all) before I can let my barriers down and let anyone else in. I need to feel better from the inside out, I’ve neglected myself a lot over the years and this needs to change. It’s not going to happen over night, but if I’m not happy in myself, I’m certainly not going to let a man get close to me. If I don’t feel proud of my achievements, how will anyone else? Self love sounds very cheesy, but if I cannot see the positives in myself others around me won’t either.

At 31, if you’re not settled down It appears as a society we question it. I think others must think there is something wrong with me, but there is! I have incurable stage 4 cancer! I still have single friends, but increasingly couples are settling down, moving house and starting families. Days like Valentines Day serve as a constant reminder I’m not at the same stage in life. My successes (staying well, managing to work full time) are not the same as my peers, these are a given for 90% of those around me, they are just ‘the norm’ for others. I’ve been told multiple times over the years that I am ‘not the norm’ and boy do I feel that now!

It’s time to stop being so harsh on myself, to stop judging; and stop putting myself under the microscope of never ending scrutiny. There is no point in comparing my life to that of my peers, we aren’t in the same place, and it’s not a competition.

It would be nice to feel like a relationship could be possible one day. As I always say, I would’ve liked the choice, but I feel its been taken away from me with my diagnosis. I know it’s even more unlikely if I don’t make some changes to my attitude. I’d admire the ‘like it lump it’ and ‘this is me’ attitudes of other cancer patients I follow on social media, but it’s just not me.

Perhaps I’ve met a man I could be with, but I’ve been too busy keeping barriers up and focussing on my health that I haven’t even noticed? The idea having a relationship still feels so unlikely; like a fictional version of my life that will never really play out into reality. Who knows! Despite how positive things are looking In terms of my treatment I feel deep down no one wants to be with a terminal cancer patient. In the back of my mind I feel I don’t deserve it because my cancer status doesn’t make me a worthy candidate.

To be honest, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. For the past nine years I’ve put my body through so much; including multiple operations and some brutal treatment options which have multiple side effects. Each leave their own harsh physical and mental scars and often it is too much to deal with.

In order to move forward I need to accept what I’ve been through, and hopefully learn to be happy in myself first and foremost. I am a huge worrier, I am am not sure I can be truly happy and content in myself when I often feel my body is trying to kill me.

Every day I panic things will take a bad turn again. Cancer has magnified fears I didn’t have before, however It’s goes without saying that it has also highlighted the strength I can find within to keep going. I must stop beating myself up over my diagnosis and worrying I could have changed things. In this instance it doesn’t always feel like time is a healer!

Here’s to waking up tomorrow and feeling more over the weather than under it! And a happy goodbye to the Valentines gifts and paraphernalia for another year.

“Self-love is not selfish. You cannot truly love another until you know how to love yourself”

Another Year With Cancer

Another year seems to have gone by in a flash! Christmas 2018 is upon us and I’ve been thinking about everything that has happened over the past year.

In some ways in been a quiet year in cancer terms, I recently had my 41st cycle of Pembrolizumab and all remains calm on that front. Luckily I have a break built in over the holidays and I am not due back at Leicester Royal Infirmary until mid January. Hooray!

My scan results in early December indicated all remains stable, which is fabulous news. It doesn’t mean I’m cured of cancer, or that I’m in remission, however it shows how amazing Immunotherapy is and that things are continuing to move in the right direction. I know my fourteenth year with Melanoma will continue to challenge and surprise me, but hopefully I can turn this in to more of a positive.

In the last twelve months there have been some highs (trips of a lifetime, new family members) and some lows (feeling overwhelming sadness for the life I feel I’ve lost, getting major FOMO, feeling left out and generally feeling not good enough for others). The stability of my mental health has been hugely challenging, and there have been multiple times where I’ve felt I had control of life; only to realise that I couldn’t be further away from feeling in control and it actually feels as though my whole world has come crashing down around me. Even as recently as last week! I haven’t felt as bad as this since I was first told I had a brain tumour over eight years ago. With another year looming I’ve began to worry about the year ahead, and the challenges living with cancer might throw at me. No amount of therapy or medication will make this disappear, but it’s slowly making things a bit easier. I know that I will have to continue combating my anxiety and depression in 2019 no matter what life throws at me.

In truth, I’ll never quite get my Christmas miracle of a cure for stage 4 cancer, but I can still dream. Deep down what really matters is spending time with family and people I care about during the holidays. Last January I started a full time job alongside chemo, and it’s meant down time has been less of a feature in 2018. That crazy thing is, I did it! I held down a full time job whilst having treatment for twelves months and I am determined this will follow through into next year and beyond. Often I don’t feel as that I have many ‘successes’ so to speak, but If I had to pick something I am most proud of in the last year, that would almost certainly be it.

As ever I’m apprehensive about the next 12 months and hoping it’ll be peaceful and calm.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New year!

Facing The Chop

I’ve been lucky enough to have my own hair (minus a wig or extensions) for almost 9 months. I can’t get over how much it’s grown, it feels like the old me, circa 2008 is back again. Now I’m 10 years older but quite possibly not any wiser.

Since my regrowth I’ve wanted to let my hair grow and not touch it at all, and I’m faced with a huge anxiety about facing the chop. Why would I want to cut my hair when loosing it meant I had so little confidence? I spent countless nights crying myself to sleep and moaning to my friends about my lack of hair and subsequent ‘cancer patient’ hair styles that it seems like cutting it would feel like going backwards. I now have a full head of thick hair but the confidence is still hugely dented. It’s one of the many things around my illness which causes me anxiety.

When I initially started systemic treatment four years ago I was told to my relief I wasn’t going to loose my hair. After various changes in treatment I did end up loosing the majority of it, with what was left turning into a frizzy afro texture.

First I had to get used to the fact I was having treatment but didn’t look conventionally unwell, then I had to get used to obviously looking like a cancer patient. I finally did this and managed to embrace wearing a wig, after all I had straight, neat hair for once in my life so tried to see that as a bonus! I also lost all my eyebrow hair so got tattoos so I could feel ‘normal’. Then, with more hair changing I got extensions, which aren’t as easy to manage as one might think. Now I have to get used to the ‘old me’ making an appearance, only I’m not that person anymore, I’m a completely new one still undergoing treatment, however to a another person in the street I look 100% healthy. It looks much harder than it seems.

When my hair started to fall out I wasn’t mentally prepared, I didn’t expect it so I was really shocked. I thought it might just be a little bit, but when the bath plug hole was so blocked the water wouldn’t drain properly I knew I was in trouble. In one way I thought if I really believed my hair wouldn’t fall out then somehow it would all be ok. Given the original advice given I failed to buy a wig in advance in preparation.

During some of my worst times I used to dream about having long flowing hair again; and being able to tie it back. I’ll never take that for granted but now I have it I really don’t want to let go.

I now have more than enough hair to colour and cut into any style I want, but I can’t face it! My hair could do with a little refresh and a couple on inches off the bottom but it feels like too much too soon after my original trauma, it took so long to grow back after all.

At the moment, I feel ok that it’s a bit of a mess because it’s all my own hair, I’m never going to get a medal for best hair style, but I really don’t care. I know I’ll have to face getting it cut in the not too distant future, but I want to hold onto the growth; to this moment of success within my treatment journey, it’s a small win, but it’s a win all the same.

Has anyone else felt the same about hair cuts post chemo growth, or is it just me?! Perhaps in the future I’ll change drugs and it’ll fall out again, so I want it for as long as possible. I know it’s slightly illogically, completely irrational and silly of me, but having cancer does strange things sometimes!

Becoming An Adventurer

I am about half way through my holiday right now, so far I’ve visited Phuket and Chiang Mai in Thailand. I’ve created some wonderful memories, taking me well and truly out of my comfort zone, perhaps I am more of an adventurer than I thought!

The main reason for booking the holiday was to be a bridesmaid for my school friend in Phuket. In total there was a group of about 50 people who had travelled from England to watch the beautiful couple say ‘ I do’. It was so much fun spending time with friends and their families, as it wouldn’t happen ordinarily. Cancer has been very far from my mind, especially sipping coconut water from a real coconut at a beach bar overlooking the ocean! The venue and wedding itself were beautiful, it was an idillic setting, despite the delayed start due to a storm. I can’t wait to see all the photos.

Whilst in Phuket my friend and I took a day trip to Phi Phi, it was stunning however the weather was awful, making the boat journey very scary, however we made it there and back in one piece and lived to tell the tale. Whilst there we took a long boat out from the shore went snorkelling. Not one of my usual weekend activities and very much in my red zone of being scary and unsafe (not the fish, but the boat itself).

I’ve also eaten numerous times on my own, apart from day time cafe jaunts to write blog posts I would never have dreamt of going out to a restaurant for dinner alone whilst in London. ‘Table for one’ just doesn’t seem like the done thing, but when on holiday anything goes!

After my Phuket adventures I flew North and explored Chiang Mai for four days, I’ve found it to be a relaxed and friendly city, and I’ve been able to continue my down time. A few months ago I booked a trip to an Elephant Jungle Sanctuary which feels like a must when in Chiang Mai. As many people know I am not a really an animal person, so getting up close was an interesting experience. You can see form my Instagram photos that I’m pretending I’m not petrified!

Despite having a huge cold (mainly thanks to air conditioning) I’ve enjoyed the time alone; being able to wonder around and not worry about anyone else is a bonus. I’ve slowly been loosing my voice, I’m sure it’s down to a mixture of the cold and not speaking to people very often, I’m just glad it’s nothing more serious.

On paper this trip was one of the most scary things I’ve ever done, I thought spending so much time alone would be boring and was worried thoughts of cancer, dying abroad and my upcoming scan towards the end of the month would take over, not having anyone there to distract me. Two destinations down, and two to go! Perhaps I am becoming more adventurous? So far it’s been a success, I’ve been too busy exploring to think about cancer. All the negativity surrounding my illness is very far from my mind, I just hope it lasts when I get back home.

The Fear Of Missing Out 

The past few nights I have struggled to sleep and have noticed there is a lot of tension in my jaw and I’m constantly clenching my teeth. On the whole I’ve had a few bad days but have tried to put my struggles to the back of my mind, but all in all I’ve been feeling a mix of emotions over the past few days. I think feeling fatigued and the lack of sleep can often make me very sensitive, almost bursting into tears and the drop of the hat about the injustice of my situation.

I have been part of lots of celebrations this summer, as well as exciting trips including going to the Edinburgh Fringe, but it doesn’t automatically wipe out all the negative feelings I battle with daily. I have felt very down and emotional at times. It has struck me how different my life is to that of my peers, over time this has become more and more apparent, and leaves me feeling angry and upset. I’ve mentioned in previous posts but I think my friends are more likely to attend my funeral than my wedding, and that is hard to accept. I’m envious of everyone who had a future ahead of them, or is about to embark on their next big adventure (which feels like everyone at the moment). I am genuinely happy for everyone who is travelling the world, getting married or having children, but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel sad for myself that I’m not doing those things, and it’s actually really really hard.

It’s not necessarily missing out now, but the fear about what the future holds, rather than the excitement I should be feeling. Everything is so restricted when you’re living on borrowed time.

I am able to compartmentalise my life, but only to a certain point, cancer and treatment is in one section, with all the negative emotions and thoughts. The rest of my life in others, but it doesn’t mean my sadness and grief for the life I’ve lost disappears. Lack of sleep certainly makes this worst, which I’ve felt over the past week.

In recent conversations I’ve noticed a few times people assume I work part time because I have children; so it’s often hard to continue the conversation, how do you explain you have a terminal illness?  Sometimes, when people ask what other creative endeavours I indulge in during my spare time I brush it off and say ‘oh not much’ because it’s too hard to tell the truth. The automatic thought is that I have a family, or I’m someone who works part time to moonlight doing something else I’m really passionate about, like volunteering or teaching yoga. The only thing I’m passionate about right now is staying alive!

A few weeks ago I was travelling during rush hour on the London Underground  wearing my Please Offer Me A Seat badge, its was really bush and a lady across from me assumed I was pregnant and tried to start a conversation with me that then became very awkward. I should have had ‘leave me alone’ written on my forehead. I told her I had a lot of health problems, but didn’t divulge too much. It made for a pretty awkward journey for the next few stops. Even if I were in a relationship and I wanted children I couldn’t anyway because of my treatment. So even if I’m lucky enough to meet someone who wants to be with a dying girl It’s never going to happen (thanks to that lady for the reminder that life has dealt me yet another blow). I know she had good intentions, but I thought it was very insentive, she has no idea about others struggles – it could be a really sensitive subject for anyone! I guess at 30 I am missing the boat on these options.

I’ve got the fear of missing out when it comes to future plans, which I previously touched on in my post My Greatest Fears earlier in the year. With everyone else moving forward I don’t want to be left behind. Life is unfair, and I spend many anxious hours awake each night trying to make sense of it all. Mentally, it’s overwhelming and very taxing. I used to get the fear of missing out over small things, like birthday parties, but now I feel the fears are much bigger and more justified. I know I don’t want these future options right now, but it would be nice to have the choice.

#FOMO