Tag Archives: health

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.


Good Days, Bad Days

Yesterday was a good day. So good it felt like nothing could ever dent my deep-seated contentment. So good it felt like there was a universal truth dangling just millimeters beyond my reach. Like maybe I was on the verge of distilling happiness and bottling it for mass consumption.

Today I woke up tired, after DIY-ing late into the night. My hands were stained black with wood tint, my hair was full of dust and my head too. I had a meeting with clients scheduled for first thing, so when I turned the tap to discover there was no water I was not best pleased. No shower to wake and cleanse me, to soak the stain from my hands, to make me fit for human contact. Grrr.

I stomped and banged about the house as I (drily) prepared myself for work. I had my meeting and it went okay but by the time I made it back home I was in a foul mood.

The dishes were stacked high on every available surface, unwashed and unwashable. Still no water. The day was hot an sweaty and I had still not fully awoken. I was tired and sleepy and couldn’t face tackling the tidying up, let alone the intimidatingly epic to-do list that awaits me in my work agenda.
So I superficially ignored the mess around me and stared at my computer screen awhile. Facebook, Twitter, news sites. Endlessly scanning, my chewing gum of the mind. Letting it all stream across my consciousness, a constant passive input.

Somehow, with a mammoth effort of will, at about six pm I forced myself to do a seven minute workout. I know, seven minutes right? A perfectly undeniably tiny amount of time that even in your busiest or tiredest moments you can squeeze in and grit your teeth through.

And grit my teeth I did. And once that was done I took the dog for a short walk and did a little training at our mini climbing gym in our garage. A minimal training session but a session nonetheless. And by the time I got home I felt better and more energized. There was still no water but at least I managed to stack the dishes neatly, clear some space and cook a healthy dinner.

And now I’m in bed, tapping out this blog on my phone. Already I feel better. Tomorrow I may just edge a little closer to that tantalizing, dangling truth. Here’s hoping. 🙂