The temperature has plummeted; it’s impossible to enter a supermarket without making your way past a tin mountain of Roses and Quality Streets, and social media seems to be full of angry people getting into spats about when it is acceptable to put your tree up. Ahhh, don’t you just love this time of year? Yes, Christmas is nearly upon us.
The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?
This time last year I was gearing up for hosting Christmas and checking the food order list, not once, not twice, but numerous times. By now I had made at least two Christmas cakes, the presents had been ordered and I was excitedly decorating the Christmas tree. However, beneath the seemingly perfect scene of festive fun I was panicking. I knew that I wasn’t well.
All year I had been feeling increasingly lethargic, low mood and my bowel movements were erratic. The other day I was clearing out one of my shelves in my wardrobe when I found a notebook. It was a notebook from January and inside I had noted my bowel movements. At the start of the year I realised that I was getting blood in my stools. On a good day I was going 1 or 2 times with no blood. On a bad day I was going 8 times plus with intermittent bleeding. I finally went to the doctors when I spent the weekend in agony on the toilet with enough blood that it resembled a horror scene. It was only when there was no denying that there was blood that I went to the doctors. Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, I should have gone a lot earlier. When I did go I felt the doctor wasn’t taking me seriously, and so I started tracking everything in that little black notebook. Those scrawls revealed that I really wasn’t well, that I was dying. But, I had no idea just how ill I was.
As I was basking in the rosy glow of fairy lights, hanging baubles on the Christmas tree, and listening to the children excitedly talking about Christmas presents, I could feel the shadow of doubt encroaching. I had started googling my increasing bowel movements and I knew that a lot of my symptoms matched bowel cancer. Nevertheless, I would still have a run of good days and then I would tell myself that it was nothing serious, that it was just my food intolerances. I didn’t have every single symptom of bowel cancer. There was no lump, and yes, I was tired, but I was still functioning. That’s how I would reassure myself. Plus, I was too young, fit and healthy to have bowel cancer. Oh, how naive I was.
However, that December the worry kept niggling away at me. I woke up one night having a panic attack. I clawed at my throat and gasped for air as I tried to calm myself down. At the time I put it down to the Christmas overwhelm, even though I had never had a panic attack like it before. Was it actually my body trying to tell me something? In the end I told myself that if I was still having symptoms after Christmas I would go to the doctors, and as we know the rest is history. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer and this year I have been fighting for my life. I have survived 8 cycles of combination chemotherapy and two major bowel surgeries and I’m still standing. My marriage has survived and my children don’t seem to be scarred by what they have witnessed this year. We have made it through, or have we?
I might no longer be under active treatment for cancer but I feel that now is when I must really dig deep. Now is the time I have to fight to keep my thoughts from spiralling away from me. This is the time I have to find my inner lioness and fight for my new “normal”. As we all know, I recently had to have another colonoscopy and going through the whole procedure again shook me up. It took me back to the start of the year. It unearthed just how fragile I was feeling under the steely determination and repeated mantras of “it’s going to be okay”. No-one can be positive every single minute of every single day. It’s normal to feel scared, overwhelmed and sad at times. I also believe that it’s important to acknowledge those feelings and to try and find a way of dealing with them.
What both Mr C and I now have is hope. We are so lucky that we have that and on those challenging days we cling onto hope. We are navigating our new life by taking each day at a time. If you remember there were polyps found in my latest colonoscopy. Last week we found out that they were all benign. Not a cancerous cell between them. Did we celebrate? No, we never really feel like we can celebrate because we never know what’s around the corner. Nonetheless, we were delighted, and we felt we could breathe a little more. Every time we have a scan coming up, colonoscopy, medical appointment or a blood test, we start holding our breath a little more and we just focus on getting through each day.
I am so grateful that I have finished chemo when so many others have to endure chemo for the rest of their life. For the last couple of weeks it has felt like I have been bombarded with news of people dying from cancer, people dealing with the devastating news that their cancer has returned, and healthy, young people being diagnosed with bowel cancer. Every time I read their news I cry at the unjustness of it all. I rage at cancer. I then feel guilty for those that are still having to endure cancer and its hellish treatment when I have been given a second chance. I hope that the next scan reveals that there is no evidence of disease. Every night I cross my fingers and I hope and hope that the next scan will be clear. But, every night I can’t help but think of those that are still having to fight for their life, that are praying one day they will have hope like me. I feel lucky, grateful, guilty, relieved and hopeful. I’m in turmoil. I feel like a tightly coiled ball of conflicting emotions but most of all I feel positive. I need to get through the next scan and I will learn to relax just a little bit more.
A Clean Colon!
This time last year I was heading towards Christmas with a massive tumour in my bowel and some polyps in my colon. Now I am heading towards Christmas with a sparkling clean colon and bowel. I couldn’t be happier.
Next stop is my first scan and blood test since treatment, which should be happening in December. Hopefully, we will get through that and then, perhaps, we will feel we can look a little further ahead.
I can do this. I have been given a second chance and I’m not going to waste it.