The Beauty Of Friendship

I’ve always known how important my friends are, but the last few weeks have highlighted just how lucky I am to have a solid cohort of friends behind me.

I am lucky to have spent last weekend with some of my oldest friends, and no matter how much times passes our friendships remain intact. We may not see each other often, but we are still there for each other in times of need (thank goodness for mobile phones and what’s app).

The vast majority of my friends are well and truly settle down and some have children too. I am very aware I’m a fair few stages behind when it comes to these matters and I always count my cancer diagnosis as part of the reason for this. It’s shaped who I am today, much like my friends own experiences, but ultimately we still have a close bond.

The great thing about our friendship is that we love and respect each other, even if we don’t always have the same opinions. We don’t all have the same interests either; I love theatre, eating out, and travelling, but I am not a fan of Love Island, and it doesn’t matter. As teenagers we had similar interests, such as being old enough to go out in town and go drinking for the first time, it was fun at the time but as adults we embrace our differences. I prefer to stay in and watch Netflix than go out to a bar, and that’s ok too. We’ve learnt to embrace our differences, and it’s probably one of the reasons we have stayed friends, each to their own after all! We are all individuals however together we work. I am lucky to have many friends from my school days, some that have stayed in the midlands and other who live close by in London. I was also lucky to find some wonderful friends and University too, as well as in the various jobs I’ve done since graduating.

In the last month I have caught up with two friends who have visited the UK from Australia, one from Japan and two from America. These are not people who are in my life of a daily basis, and I met them and different times during my life, but despite the distance they are frequently in my thoughts. We communicate as often as we can, sending long updates about life via what’s app it that occasional Skype call.

I often wonder where in the world I would be be without these people? Nothing compares friends getting together for a good catch up full of laughter, and last weekend was no exception.

True friends are those you can be 100% honest with, and they still like you anyway despite what they know. These friends are people you can sit in silence with for hours and it not be awkward. These are the ones who will be with you during the best and worst times and lift you up when you are in a bad place. I’ve had my fair share of rough rides and I am eternally grateful to those people.

Some friends are relatively new ones, but they are just as important to me.  During an average week I spend more of my time and work and socialising with friends than seeing family which makes friendship (and of course family) so key to my overall happiness. I feel fortunate that I have those I can confide in, act like counsellors, and overall support systems. I am always trying my best to be a good friend in return.

Whilst I await my next PET CT scan results I am forever grateful to my wonderful friends for keeping me sane.

Independence Day

I write my latest blog post for America on July 4th, celebrating Independence Day with one of my oldest and closest friends. Unsurprisingly I’ve felt really happy and content during our trip so far, as I’m removed from the realities of my daily life. It’s exactly two years since I started taking Pembrolizumb after my second bowel surgery to remove a tumour from my small bowel.

Thanks to Pembrolizumab I’m celebrating another kind of Independence Day; one that is free from cancer and all the worries that come alongside it. I’m in full on vacation mode right now and it feels lovely to have a long break from work and get some headspace.

Ten years ago at the age of 21 I studied in America as part of my university degree and I made some incredible friends from all over the world along the way. I was lucky enough to be a bridesmaid for one of my closest friends in Maryland over the weekend. America and the people I met remain very special to me, and I feel very fortunate I’ve been able to return to the states over the last decade, even though there have been times when I felt it would never be possible again.

Looking back, I wish I’d gone travelling on my gap year, however nowadays I feel even more grateful that I was able to experience living in another country as a young 20 something.

Health insurance can mean the America ends up being one of the no-go places for cancer patients, particularly those who haven’t been given the all clear or are classed as in remission, however I managed to get a reasonable insurance cover policy through a company called Insurance With. They recognise Immunotherapy treatments alongside chemotherapy which has made the insurance process much easier.

I’ve been caught up with everything at home over the last few months; a new job, moving house, a charity trek and the never ending cycle of hospital appointments. So much so that I hadn’t realised I need to take some time out. Walking through a stunning National Park yesterday made me feel like I hadn’t a care in the world, I’ve been so relaxed in the beautiful setting in Maine I’d even forgotten what day it was. I’ve been spending time with my oldest friend who I only see around once a year, so it’s even more special. If you follow my social media you’ll see my various holiday photos.

Often I feel as though I’m living in the shadows of the life I had before, but not today. Despite tiredness and aches and pains from hiking up a beautiful mountain yesterday I’m ready for a new day. It seems crazy to think just over a week ago I was having Chemotherapy back home, my 34th cycle of Pembrolizumab. What a difference a few days can make! I have vivid memories of having this drug for the first time; I remember the smell of medicine and cleaning products on the ward and the long wait for treatment whilst sitting in a side room. I thought the wait was a one off before I understood how the drug is made at the hospital pharmacy.

Two years is a long time to constantly receive treatment, especially as I’d been on other treatments before, but I’ve been given another two years of a good life, so no complaints there.

Happy Independence Day!

What Could Have Been

Since writing my last blog post, Life Through A Lens, I had a week long break from social media, and I feel so much better for it. Now I am focussing on my summer rather than what other people are doing. In a few days I will be heading up to Edinburgh to enjoy the fringe festival. I went last year for the first time and had a great weekend.  Despite the fact that I am a Drama graduate, I had never been before, so when the chance came to go again I couldn’t turn it down. I have been pretty easy going about the trip and have left it down to others to organise, so am looking forward to sampling what the festival has to offer for 2017. I love to travel and the fringe combines a lot of my favourite things; travelling, theatre, sightseeing and eating out.

My first ever experience of the city of Edinburgh was during my failed attempt at starting university back in 2005, which I wrote about in my original blog post 11 Years. Since that disastrous week I went back in 2008 with a friend from University, and then again in 2016. I love the city, however being there last year struck a chord with me.  If It wasn’t for finding out that I had melanoma, I would have studied there for three years, and who knows where that path may have led to? It is a question I ask myself a lot, wondering what could have been.

Last summer, on my last day In the city I became very upset and tearful about my situation as recollections of what happened came flooding back to me. At 18, I felt that I had no choice but to have a gap year, since I only found out about my melanoma the day before I flew to Scotland, and I was nowhere near ready to be so far from home with a stage 1 cancer diagnosis hanging over me. I was lucky that one of my sister’s best friends from school had already been there a year when I showed up to study.  She came to see me, finding me confused and upset.  I clearly remember my lightbulb moment, I told her that I wanted to be at home with my family, without bursting into tears. Knowing it was the right choice, I returned to Northamptonshire after just six days, and eventually began the quest for finding a new job. I did not want to return to my previous job working at the cinema, after all people would be sure to ask me questions about the scar on my neck, and why I wasn’t in Scotland. As I had only been working there a very short time I did not feel tied to the job, or have a desperate need to return. I think I was only there for a couple of months.

I feel as though cancer has ruled my life since that initial diagnosis, and subsequently I have chosen paths in life that I wouldn’t have chosen had I been well. I get very upset and sad to think cancer will now always be a part of my day to day existence. It rules my life, rather than the other way around. When last in Edinburgh I felt angry that cancer dictated what happened to me as a young adult, and that impact will never go away. I feel as if it has taken away a lot of my freedom, and limited my choices in life: from where I live (I wouldn’t be able to live anywhere as far away as Scotland these days), to the type of job I have, and the prospects that it offers. Having a part time job means saving money is a non-existent luxury, so I feel limited. Perhaps this wouldn’t be the case if I were able to work more? Who knows?

I can’t help but think about what could have been if I’d been able to stay in Edinburgh to complete my degree. Would I have lived there afterwards? Possibly I may have performed at the fringe myself during my time there. One thing is for sure, it always seems a lot colder up there, so if anything, I guess, that is a bonus!

People often say everything happens for a reason, but I fail to see why this has happened to me. I will never understand why. I hope this year I will enjoy the festival and try not to dwell over lost opportunities and memories I didn’t get the chance to create.

Lastly, I wanted to say a huge thank you to those wonderful friends who contributed towards the  2017 fringe fund for me. My lovely friends set up a collection for my 30th birthday so that I could ‘go big’ at the fringe and it has paid for my all my tickets and spending money, I would have struggled without the funds people so generously donated. Absolutely amazing!