Check Your Lumps and Bumps!

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.

So Many Charities, So Little Money.

Every time I watch TV at the moment, I see an advert asking me to give money to save some animals. Listening to Spotify, I often hear someone asking me to give money to bring music to war-torn countries. Cycling down the road, I see billboards asking me to give money to feed starving children.

It’s the time of year where charities everywhere are ploughing their marketing budgets into as many adverts as they can muster, over as many different media platforms as possible. There’s an advert at every turn and you simply can’t escape them. They’re counting on your Christmas cheer, hoping that once you’ve had a little too much brandy and one too many mince pies, you might be feeling jovial enough to throw some pennies their way.

Donating is really important. Charities need money to run, and I don’t know how much of their annual income they generate at Christmas but I would guess it’s a fair sum. I really do think it’s great that people are giving to charities, and it is vital that they receive money to carry out their work.

However, what happens when you just don’t have the money to give? Life can be expensive at the best of times but Christmas is notoriously expensive. Whether you’re hosting a big family Christmas, travelling to see friends and relatives, or just having a quiet one at home – there’s no denying that it’s probably the most expensive time of year.

Like many people, I can relate to this. Our family are by no means deprived, but my bank account is definitely crying a little as a result of Christmas shopping. I hate seeing these adverts knowing that I can’t give them money. It can make me feel incredibly guilty and I know I’m not the only one in this position because others have mentioned it to me, too.

One thing you could give, if you don’t have spare cash floating about, is time. Time is so valuable and so precious. With Mum dying this year, I have learned to appreciate time in a way that I never have done before. I remember having a conversation with Mum around the start of uni when I was racking up the volunteering hours like nobody’s business. It started with a chat about how much I should donate to charity each month and we ended up chatting about other ways to help charities. We concluded that I might not give much money right now, and donate my time instead (I had spare time but not really any spare money at the time). Then when I’m older and employed in a more stable job, I’d be likely to have spare money but not so much spare time, so at that point I might give more money but not give as much time.

BBC Radio 1 are currently running a campaign called #1MillionHours. They’re trying to encourage young people to pledge their time to Cancer Research UK, Barnardos, Age UK and/or Oxfam. You can also pledge your time to another charity, then tweet them using the hashtag #1millionhours to make sure your hours are added to the campaign. They want to get 1 million hours of volunteering pledged which will then be carried out over the course of 2016.

Personally, I’ve pledged to Cancer Research UK. If volunteering for them means I can help them to raise money which supports their research, then I’m up for it. Their research could make sure that another 21 year old in 5 years time isn’t facing a Christmas without their Mum. (Side note: I’ve also started putting together a Race for Life team in Mum’s memory and you should absolutely do that if you’re able to – it’s so much fun, especially the Pretty Muddy ones!).

My challenge to you this Christmas is that if you’re like me and have the time but not much money, rather than seeing these adverts and feeling guilty that you can’t help, or just brushing them off: pledge some hours to them. Join #1millionhours, and give the gift of time to those that need it most.