Please Don’t Limit Your Unity

Today is World Cancer Day (apparently we’re having all the awareness days this week!).

The hashtag for the day is #ActOfUnity.

I think it’s wonderful that people are coming together to stand in solidarity with cancer sufferers. Cancer is scary, cancer is a life-wrecker, cancer is, let’s be honest, a bit of a dick.

I struggle with days like this, because thoughts go round and round my head: ‘why did others recover?’, ‘why didn’t Mum?’, ‘why did this happen?’, ‘why isn’t she alive to say “I kicked cancer’s bum”’, ‘why did this happen’, ‘why, why, why’. Then I feel angry, frustrated, and go and look at puppies or something instead.

My plea, for this World Cancer Day, is that in your ‘unity’, you include friends, family, and carers. Not just those ‘actively’ affected, but also those who have had someone close to them die from cancer. In fact often, a few months after the person has died is the time when they need more support, because that’s when the busyness ends. When you’re not spending your life running between hospital/uni/work/home/sleep/appointments/everything, and then home/crematorium/funeral planning/funeral/family/uni/sleep, that’s when everything hits you. It doesn’t just hit you once, either, it hits you time and time again.

When Mum was diagnosed, I remember emailing a well-known cancer support charity asking what help they could offer me and my family. Their response? They couldn’t offer anything unless the ill person triggered it (and Mum wouldn’t have done that – her and Dad decided given her job we had a lot of support already). I understand where my parents were coming from, I understand that the charity has to have cut-off-points, but it was still a tricky response to hear, particularly because if I had a pound for every time someone had told me to go to them over the last 3 years, I’d have a deposit for a mortgage. Everyone assumed they would offer help to those affected-by-extension. But they didn’t. Why was I left out of their compassion?

Cancer doesn’t just affect the ill person, it affects all of those around them, and it keeps on affecting them, even after the person is in remission, even after the person has died.

I didn’t used to get angry. I didn’t used to panic that my family were dying/dead. I didn’t used to feel sick when my phone went off. My asthma didn’t used to be this bad (a lesser-known side effect of stress). I used to be able to sleep in my childhood bedroom. I used to be able to be able to see cancer adverts on TV and ignore them. I used to be blissfully bumbling through life thinking I had all the time in the world left with Mum. I used to be able to get angry at her and know she wouldn’t leave. I used to be able to give her a hug. I’m terrified of leaning on anybody because if your Mum leaves, then who won’t?

I’m not writing any of this to make anyone feel sorry for me, or because I want anyone to offer me life-changing advice. Life happens. There’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent or cure Mum’s illness. I’ve had a lot of support through it, even now, because I’m really, really, lucky. My family are wonderful, Hope Support do a group Facebook chat every two weeks, my GP continues to either help me through life, or drag me through it depending on what mood I’m in, the welfare tutors at uni were brilliant, uni counselling helped a lot while I was there, my uni college administrator is an excellent hug-giver, I have some incredible friends who understand that sometimes I need to talk, sometimes/always I need to craft, and sometimes I need to just be quiet, and my work are super supportive.

Having people around you makes such a difference, even if you don’t want them around you, just knowing that they’re there can help.

So this World Cancer Day, please do unite. But please don’t limit that unity to those with a cancer diagnosis. Please stand in solidarity with the family and friends of those affected by cancer. Please stand in solidarity with those in remission from cancer. Please stand in solidarity with those who’ve had a loved one die from cancer (however long ago it was). Cancer doesn’t just affect people while it’s happening, it affects them for the rest of their lives.

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.