And still I wait

The results of the CT scan were inconclusive. Or rather, the report on the CT scan said I had a 2.5cm mass at the site of the previous surgery that is consistent with a malignant tumour (either new or left behind from the previous surgery) but the opinion of the oncology-gynaecologist surgeons who operated on me and of my oncologist was that this reading is wrong and that it is probably just scar tissue or a benign cyst.

So they sent me for a pet-ct scan last week for a more in-depth look at my abdomen and the suspicious mass and I have an appointment with the surgeons the day after tomorrow for further examination, tests and the results.

It doesn’t look good though. My oncologist said last week that if the results from the pet scan were clear he would ring me in a couple of days to schedule my final frontline chemo treatment. He never called.

This indicates to me that he’s saving the bad news for a face-to-face, as he tends to, and that I won’t actually be having my final chemo treatment as we will be shifting to a different chemo protocol as the first one clearly hasn’t worked.

It’s hard not to get too down about this. I am doing my best to remain positive whilst also being realistic and preparing for the worst. At least if I am prepared for the worst then I will be in a better position to take rational decisions regarding treatment. I am doing my research now so it won’t be all too much of a shock when the gynaecologists let rip with the latest diagnosis.

There is still a tiny sliver of hope that I might still be nearing the end of treatment, as it was originally scheduled but trying to cling on to that hope as it fades away is actually more painful and anxiety-provoking than just accepting the worst and making plans to deal with it.

Please continue to hold me in your thoughts and set your intention for the best possible outcome to come out of Wednesday’s appointment.

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Prognosis pending

This is a post I never wanted to write. This is a day I never wanted to see. At the age of 47, married and mother to a nine year old boy, I have cancer. Stage 3 C, high grade ovarian cancer.

I was diagnosed 4 months ago, unexpectedly, via surgery for a large but seemingly-benign ovarian cyst. There rapidly followed a further operation a week later, an aggressive attempt to rout the cancer. Open abdominal surgery to remove my womb, ovaries, omentum and several lymph nodes left me scarred, battered and bruised; physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Three weeks after surgery I was flung into 6 cycles of hard-core chemotherapy, combining both intraperitoneal (direct into my abdomen) and iv chemo. I knuckled down to the task at hand and managed to keep on trucking through treatment with a super-positive attitude. Chemo wasn’t going to beat me.

Earlier this week I completed cycle 5 and on Tuesday I had a CT scan to take a look-see at what is actually happening inside me in response to all this treatment. I should have the results within a week to ten days. Then, and only then, will I know if the surgery and chemo have done their job. Prognosis pending.

Currently time is barely moving. Next week feels a lifetime away.

My focus now has to be simply on making it through the next few days without completely losing my sanity. It’s feeling like a mammoth task. I’m hoping this blog will help.

I’ve never felt more truly alone in all my life. I’ve never felt more terrified.

Spare a thought for me today and please send a little love out to the Universe on my behalf and for all those people who are feeling alone and scared and who don’t know which way to turn. A little positive intention can go a very long way.

 

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The first results are in

The first results are in and they don’t look good. Tumour markers for the ovaries are high. The cyst is 10 cm long. The gynaecologist rang and pushed to move my appointment for a scan forward to this week, so it is on Thursday instead of in 10 weeks time. Great that they did it. Worrying that they found it necessary to do so.

I’m having to face the fact that it is likely that I have ovarian cancer.

What can I do now? Keep my appointments and find out what I’m looking at. Keep a positive attitude. Continue to eat well. Meditate and do qi gong daily. Avoid alcohol. Appreciate the good I have in my life. Exercise. Write.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Hang in there.

Living with cancer

I have lived with cancer for as long as I can remember. I was eight years old when it finally took my mother from me completely.

Cancer continued to pick away at my wider family, laying an aunt low to treatment here, killing an uncle there. It left my widowed father struggling to raise 3 daughters on his own and with an unhealthy paranoia over every lump and bump and skin discolouration that should rear its ugly head on his body.

Cancer also buried itself deep into my consciousness. It became part of my story. Perhaps the biggest part. A motherless little girl attracts a certain kind of pitying attention from friends and adults alike. I could never bear pity.

I remember one particular lunchtime at school – it must have been soon after my mother died, because I was still at my first school and I was only there for 6 more months – and my classmates were testing my grief. Some bright spark had come up with the theory that I welled up whenever the word ‘mother’ or ‘mum’ was mentioned. So our time in the dinner queue was spent with my 8 year old tormenters getting me to spin around to face them as they hurled the words at me repeatedly and inspected my face closely for signs of impending tears.

I bit those tears down and spun on my heels with a grin as wide and bright as a showgirl. Now my heart breaks for that little girl but back then my only thought was suppression for survival.

Being treated to such a masterclass in cruelty so early on made me learn quickly and really well. I became a world-class represser of untidy emotions. By the time I was an adult I had become so skilled at beating them into submission that even I didn’t really know what I was feeling any more. On the upside, no-one else did either and so no-one could hurt me. Or so the unexpressed but deeply-felt theory went.

Having had cancer shove its big, scary face right up and close into mine at such a young and formative age also made me react in a way opposite to my father. While he dogged his doctor with requests for ever-more checks, tests, scans and biopsies, I developed a deep distrust of the medical profession and a desire never to look cancer in the eyes again. So I retreated from their orbit.

Ask no questions and you’ll hear no bad news went this second, unexpressed mantra to live by.

Only it turns out that’s not actually true. It just means that you’ll hear the news later and that it will inevitably be worse.

Let’s just hope that I have copped on to myself in time and raised my questions before it was too late.

Results day minus 6.

 

Breaking the block

I have a cyst on my ovaries. I found out yesterday, at my first gynaecological appointment in about ten years. I don’t know what size it is or much about it as I was flummoxed and nervous and couldn’t think what I should be asking. Or feeling.

I suspect it is large. The gynaecologist said I may need an operation. That sounds like it’s big. Or potentially serious in another way. He did my bloods and booked me for an ultrasound scan. He made detailed notes and marked my case ‘urgent’.

I spent the journey home googling ovarian cysts and cancer.

Once home I grasped at normality and took the dogs for a walk, headphones on as ever. The interviewee (Mirna Valerio) on the Rich Roll podcast mentioned her favourite mantra ‘I love myself unconditionally,’ which she had taken from Christiane Northrup.

It struck my like a bolt. What a beautiful affirmation. And as Mirna said, keep saying it until it becomes true. I have a horrible habit of muttering ‘I hate myself’ under my breath in times of stress or when I have failed at something. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that that can’t be good for you. And here Mirna presented me with the perfect way to push that negative habit out of the way. I’m on it already. One day in and it’s already getting easier.

The other gift this gave me was that it reminded me of Dr Northrup’s book ‘Women’s bodies women’s wisdom’, which I have owned and cherished for over twenty years. For some time now it has been sitting untouched on my shelves as life wandered on other paths. With a pending gynaecological diagnosis this was a timely reminder to pick it up again.

Reading the wisdom of Dr Northrup and the women chronicled in her pages had a grounding effect and helped me draw in, in positive reflection. The complete opposite of my earlier panicked googling.

The recurring theme attached to the ovaries in her writing is that of creativity. As someone who feels enormously blocked creatively, desperate to get started but seemingly unable to burst through my own confusion or lethargy, I responded tremendously to this. Dr Northrup sees ovarian issues, and cysts in particular, as a manifestation of blocked creativity.

My body and my mind are screaming at me in unison. And so here I am.

 

A Vote for Peace

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I was born in 70s Britain to Irish parents. I had a comfortable, middle-class upbringing in Gloucestershire, punctuated by IRA atrocities on the news. My father had a building company and employed a large number of Irish builders, as well as British and other nationalities. When the Birmingham pub bombings happened, some of his employees were taken in for questioning. For being Irish and near the West Midlands. It was a frightening time to be an Irish immigrant in the UK just as it was a frightening time to be an IRA target.

Following the death of my mother from cancer we moved to southern Ireland when I was eight years old. The evening news continued to punch out stories of sectarian violence on a daily basis. Somehow though, there in the deepest, darkest west of Ireland, the violence felt more removed than it had in genteel Cheltenham. The north was another country. A world away, although little over an hour’s drive to the border. In the UK we had felt threatened by the violence – at risk of being caught up in an attack and also of becoming a suspect. A climate of fear, division and hatred reigned. It was good to be out of it.

When the Irish referendum on the Maastricht treaty came around in 1992 I was in my final year at university in Trinity College, Dublin. About to graduate into an Irish economy where jobs were thin on the ground, where emigration was still the norm and where the box in the corner continued to spit out nightly news of bombs and shootings.

I voted ‘yes’ to further integration with Europe at that time because I saw in it the first vague hope of a peaceful resolution to the hatred and conflict that had raged in northern Ireland all my life. For the economic benefits too but primarily my vote was for a philosophy of coming together, of unity as a power for good and for peace.

And so it proved to be. The northern Irish peace process of the 1990s culminated in the signing of The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the unthinkable finally happened. The atrocities stopped. For the first time in my lifetime Northern Ireland knew peace.

Forget the Celtic Tiger, the real miracle that Europe wrought in Ireland and by extension in the UK was not an economic one. It was far more profound, far-reaching and life-altering. It helped create the political environment which made a lasting peace possible.

24 years on and we live once again in troubled times. There are terrorist threats from other quarters. The politics of division and hate are on the rise. And it is the UK’s turn to hold a referendum on their future in the European Union.

For me, the choice is clear. I cast my vote for European unity. For integration, for the celebration of our shared humanity and the resolution of our differences. I vote for peace.

 

Unsticking the Stuck

Stuck. That’s where I am. Not in the middle with you. Just stuck.

In fairness, today was a day that invited melancholy. It dawned grey and grisly, with a thorough downpour. And not forgetting it was a Monday. Factor in a house undergoing renovations (read: no roof. I repeat: NO ROOF!) and you are probably getting an idea of how my week kicked off. (Ferrying soggy cardboard boxes around as their bottoms fell open spilling my worldly goods on the ground and generally feeling sorry for myself.)

But actually the weather and the worldly goods spilling on the ground weren’t really the problem, if I’m honest. I was just having one of those stuck days. Those days where the awareness of the length of your to-do list weighs so heavily on your shoulders that you can’t hold your head up straight. But equally you’d rather check in on Facebook just one more time rather than face action-ing just one of those suckers. And let’s face it, it’s not your fault. If you can’t hold your head up high enough to look at your to-do list then you can’t really be expected to tackle it, now can you.

So that’s how my Monday went. Avoiding. Sitting. Hitting ‘like’ on Facebook. Letting my woes mount. And then it struck me. The way to become unstuck.

There is no one item on my to-do list right now that will make me feel immeasurably better through doing. But there is one thing. And that thing is writing. Which is why I’m here. Unsticking the stuck.

Please bear with me. And you? What do you do when you need to shake things up? Have you a cure I need to know?