Cancer is a word we don’t like to say. It sticks in your mouth like treacle. It doesn’t feel nice. It doesn’t sound nice. It’s a word that invokes fear in some, memories in others; to some it means nothing.
This Thursday is World Cancer Day, a day designed to get people talking and thinking about cancer.
I’ve written about Mum for months; about her last months of life, and our first months of life without her.
But through all these blog posts, I’ve never really gone back in time and spoken about her full story.
Mum was diagnosed with cancer, initially, in August 2012. She found it super early – before even a mammogram would pick it up. She had a lumpectomy that September and started on a course of chemo. We were upset, but not overly worried. She had caught it early so prognosis was good. The chemo, and radiotherapy were to wipe up any remaining cells rather than to target a particular lump. Mum spent a week at home after each round of chemo, and then went back to work for two weeks. When radiotherapy came around she’d simply pop down during her working day, get zapped, and head back to work. Cancer was annoying, but she wasn’t about it let it get in the way of living her life.
By Easter 2013, cancer was gone and life started to get back to normal. Mum was on tamoxifen, a drug developed with help from Yorkshire Cancer Research, but apart from that cancer was a thing of the past and we all moved on.
In February 2014, Mum found herself somewhat achy and decided to get checked out before going on holiday. That was when we found out that the cancer had returned, and was terminal. Mum had a good six months of relative health while on hormone treatment. When it stopped working and she started chemo again, there were a few hospital stays but Mum was still working, right up until her brief coma in February 2015 (February isn’t the best month, apparently!). She never worked after that, and though her health picked up a little for a short while after, it then declined steadily until she died in October 2015.
Mum’s story is one cancer story. One story out of the 338,263 new cases of cancer in 2012.
Cancer didn’t die with Mum, either. I might not have cancer, but I’m still affected by it. I don’t want cancer to be a part of my life anymore. But like anyone else who’s encountered cancer, I am hyper-vigilant for any lump or bump, any mole… anything that might indicate that cancer is making an unwelcome appearance in my life.
My Mum died. She was an incredible human being and will always be part of me, but she’s not here anymore and it hurts. It’s been over three months since she died and I still cry most days. I still have trouble sleeping, rarely sleep through the night, and dream about Mum dying over and over again. I still keep my phone on me at all times and check it repeatedly. Images and memories of Mum’s illness play over and over again in my mind.
One night I worked out that Mum’s cancer was all my fault (don’t ask). As much as people tell me it is in no way my fault and just a random cell mutation, as much as people reason with me and explain this to me, I still get dark nights where I feel as though I’m being crushed under the weight of guilt.
Cancer didn’t just take Mum’s life, but it took some of mine, too. Some of my brothers’, my dad’s, my aunt’s, uncle’s, grandad’s. It reached my friends, through me, and the friends of all my family members. It reached my lecturers and others who have helped me. It’s not something which is isolated to the sufferer and it’s not something that goes away when the person dies.
This World Cancer Day, if you do nothing else, please just check yourself for any suspicious lumps or bumps. Cancer Research UK has a guide on checking for cancer on their website. Catching cancer early can increase your chances of recovery. Life gets busy and it’s so easy to procrastinate these not-so-fun tasks, but please take it from me: it’s important.
If you’d like to donate to Yorkshire Cancer Research through my JustGiving page, please click here.