Cancer has changed my way of thinking.
I celebrated my 25th birthday with a day in York with my friends – drinking, dancing, laughing. Fast forward a year and I had just undergone two major surgeries, including a full hysterectomy. Diagnosed with stage 3 low grade ovarian cancer, I prepared to start chemotherapy.
My entire world seemed to crumble around me. I saw no way out. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. I struggled to comprehend how so much had changed in such a short amount of time. I didn’t know who I was, why this was happening, or even how much longer I would live.
Quite frankly, it sucked.
I spent most of my time in and out of hospital, often feeling like a puppet on strings being guided by my medical team from appointment to appointment. My weight fluctuated massively. My hair came out. Days on end spent in bed, being cared for by my parents.
This wasn’t me, and this wasn’t fair.
I tried to dig deep and find the smallest amount of positivity I could. Instead of “Why me?”, I often asked in an attempt at refocusing myself, “Why not me?” 1 in 2 of us will get cancer in our lifetime. I wasn’t alone, and it was happening whether I liked it or not, so I had to deal with it.
It’s now 3 years since my diagnosis, and it would be a lie to say I don’t think about cancer every day.
That likely won’t change and of course I still struggle. I’m almost 30 now. Most of my friends are having babies – I’ll never get that joy. I still have my regular hospital appointments and my daily medication. I see my huge scar each morning in the mirror. Every now and then, I have a little cry.
Then I remind myself that there have been some beautiful things to come from my cancer diagnosis. I have met some incredible people who are also going through one of the most difficult experiences. The instant connection formed when sat in a hospital chair being pumped with chemotherapy is truly wonderful.
Two different people, two different cancers; one reason to be there.
These people understand things so much more than your other friends and family (I always said they never fully understood, and I hope they never do). They become your go-to for chats about sickness, hair loss, scan results, and everything in between. That bond really cannot be broken.
Cancer seemed to be the perfect opportunity for a clear out. Not just in my wardrobe, but in my life. All relationships changed – some for the better, others not so much. I saw who was willing to show up for me when it really mattered, and I sadly realised who couldn’t handle it in the way I wish they could. But that is okay, and I have no reason to even question it. Carrying anger or hurt won’t fix it. Unexpected relationships blossomed – old friends came back, and new ones joined me. It was heart-warming to know that I had such incredible support around me.
My favourite word became ‘yes’. I kept saying yes to doing things, seeing people, and going places because these were opportunities I might not get again!
That lovely designer handbag I saved for special occasions – waking up is special enough, so I started using the bag every day. My favourite perfume that I only rarely sprayed – I started wearing it for the supermarket. Last minute holidays – Sure, why not!
Time may be a healer, but I needed to play a key role in my own healing – physically and mentally.I couldn’t change what happened to me, but I could change my way of coping. After my diagnosis, I learned how to build my resilience and inner strength, ready to bounce back from any setbacks. I began to appreciate what it means to be truly happy.
Towards the end of my treatment, I was asked if I would like to be a Trustee of a new cancer charity. I didn’t even need to think about the answer. After months of hard work, Live Well with Cancer was born. Launched in November 2019, the charity’s aim is to help people to live fully with and beyond a cancer diagnosis.
I know all too well how difficult it can be, not just for the individual, but for their own personal support team. My friends and family were my biggest cheerleaders, but I cannot imagine how much strength they needed to get through it. No parents should have their child ask them if she is going to die.
Life with cancer is tough, but you can make it better. You can find silver linings. When I find them, I run with them! I want to be the person I wish I’d had throughout my time with cancer. With the team at Live Well with Cancer, I can be.
3 years ago, I had a brutal wakeup call. Now more than ever I understand that life really could change at any moment. There certainly is more to life than a good body and a night out. I hate cancer for what it did to me, and I will never ever forgive it. But I am genuinely grateful for some of the changes to my life and my mindset I have developed in the last 3 years.
The old me would be so proud of the new me.
Lots of love,