The ‘M’ word

breast cancer survivor

The triumphal image of breast cancer survivorship - not metastatic cancer

Breast cancer culture has become symbolised by images of women wearing pink who are celebrating their survivorship. Well, I don’t mind anyone celebrating something, I don’t even mind wearing pink. But this image, that is so strong, gives the impression that breast cancer is curable, that there is an end to it, that you can joyfully be who you were before. And some women can. Some women can’t. Lives are so changed by cancer, by treatments, by surgery, by multiple surgeries, by depression, by loss, by fertility issues… and on and on the list goes. And because of the fickle nature of breast cancer there is always the possibility of recurrence. Always.

This coming Thursday, the 13th of October, it’s Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness day. Metastatic breast cancer is cancer that has spread from the original site of the breast. It is currently incurable. It is also referred to as Stage IV breast cancer. There is no Stage V. Continue reading

When I ran for charity

Speke Hall run, Bugruns

2 October 2011, start of Speke Hall run

Yesterday morning I ran a 10K. It took place in the grounds of Speke Hall in Liverpool, a nearly 500 year old manor house near the river. No charity fund raising, just me, running. For the sheer pleasure of being able to. It was a humid damp day, but it was fun to do this with friends, and go for breakfast afterwards. There’s a one minute film of the run here.

Runs are often done to raise money for charities by people who’ve been treated for cancer. Me included. Last year, one of the goals I’d set myself was to run a 10K, and raise money for charity. The charity I’d chosen was Yes to Life, who had helped me during my treatment for breast cancer, and I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to them, and raise money for them so they can continue to help other cancer patients.

In November 2009, I had my sixth surgery following my beast cancer diagnosis in February 2007. I’m pragmatic enough not to say it was my last surgery, or that have finished my treatment and surgery. I’m still on prescription drugs, I still have regular check ups with various doctors, I still have minor surgery to finish my breast reconstruction. But, as far as I know, for now, I have finished the major treatment, and the major surgeries. For now. Continue reading

Real?

Summer camping at Hill Holt Wood with Ronnie.

I’ve just been away on a short camping trip with Ronnie in a beautiful wood in Lincolnshire. We had one night alone and then spent the next two days with a group of people from Hackney Community Transport who we’ve been working with over the last seven months on their ‘social enterprise champions’ project. A fabulous experience. And it didn’t rain!

Back at home, and I’m going through my emails and there is one titled ‘Sad news about Jane Smith’. No, Jane Smith is not her real name, but she could be one of thousands of women like me, who’s being diagnosed with breast cancer in their early 40s.

I know immediately that she has died. Of secondary breast cancer. Of course, the email does not mention that, it says she had ‘a long illness’. We are spared the details. I feel so many mixed emotions. Including anger. Continue reading

Show me the money

A couple of months ago I was just going into the swimming baths and a woman came in behind me and asked the receptionist, ‘Could I leave some leaflets for you to display about a local healthy eating and weight loss group?’ And the woman behind reception said without pausing, ‘No, we don’t display leaflets.’ So the woman with the leaflets turned round and left.

But that was blatantly not true, because on the counter, right there was a cardboard leaflet holder containing leaflets for a cancer charity’s ‘Race for Life’ event taking place in Liverpool. This event is not for a breast cancer specific charity, but the leaflet has a picture showing women in pink t-shirts, and the irritating slogan of ‘Join the girls’, (well it irritated me), implying that this is an event for women. At the time I had a sense of feeling that it was wrong, a health facility supporting a national cancer reearch charity, but not a local health group.

And, the ‘Race for Life’ event happened this weekend. I was reminded of that because one of my squash friends told me she was taking part in this event. I said, ‘I hope you’re not wearing a pink t-shirt!’ and she laughed. But she told me she was doing it with her friend, whose boyfriend’s mother has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and is now being treated. And she wanted to do something.

I totally get that. She wanted to do something.

Continue reading

I didn’t fight either

February 2011 – out walking in early spring

I keep thinking about that expression on Chemobabe’s recent blog post – ‎’I didn’t  actually fight cancer. The truth is, I got treated.’ And I keep coming back to wondering why we use the term ‘fight’ for cancer. Because I agree with Chemobabe, I didn’t fight either. I smiled at my surgeons, I tried not to be cranky with the nurses when I asked for pain relief,  I put my lippie on when I went to consultations, I tried to have a good attitude. But I know that none of that has any effect on the medical outcome.

In short, I just I did my best. I only ever felt that I was doing the best I could. Because why wouldn’t you just do that?

When someone else sees me undergoing breast cancer treatment, why do they call me brave? And why do some people want to label me as a fighter? I made my treatment decisions based on the evidence available to me – statistics and medical opinions. It wasn’t some kind of battle ground we were in, it was simply me and my doctors trying to give myself the best chance of staying alive. That’s not fighting, that’s just what we do everyday. Continue reading