I may have mentioned that I love Christmas. I love everything about it. It actually annoys me if people have festive disdain. So I will ignore the doubters and just keep wearing the sequins and drinking the mulled wine, if that’s OK.
This is a short blog so we can all get back to wrapping gifts, eating mince pies and icing cakes. I want to take a short moment to reflect on this year.
The year started well… I had a few days of not feeling brilliant over last Christmas, but generally things were on the up. I was back at work and starting to feel like I was returning to my self. February loomed and I knew I had to go back to the hospital for the first annual check up. I wasn’t particularly concerned but I knew this was a chunky milestone so I approached it with the apprehension it deserved. My mammograms and ultrasounds were all clear. “Great news” they said, no cancer in your breasts. “Thanks” I replied. Except, I didn’t feel brilliant so I pushed my consultant a bit. He suspected it was the drug side effects but agreed to run a simple blood test. What followed was a hideous nightmare from mid February to, well forever really, but essentially the first bit of good news waited until early July to arrive. Tests, radioactive bone scans, biopsies, liver stabbings, MRIs, CTs, endless terrifying phone calls. Blah blah blah. I can barely remember any of that, but I can distinctly recall the absolute terror. Not being able to sleep through abject fear. The worse news on top of bad news and that cycle just kept on going. The upshot being multiple liver and bone metastasis. Stage 4, incurable, terminal breast cancer spread though out my body. I asked the Prof what my prognosis was, he refused to answer my question but, looked me in the eye and told me we had to get the spread and the organs under control and quickly. I asked my orthopaedic surgeon why my full body scan was glowing. He told me the diseased bone shines brighter than healthy bone and you are “lit up like a Christmas tree”. So next came radiotherapy to sternum, neck and femur followed by targeted cancer therapy and hormonal killing of the ovaries and starving my body of oestrogen. My body couldn’t cope with the dose of targeted therapy. Doses were dropped and dropped until my white blood cells were able to stop falling off cliffs. A few more visits to the MRI machine, and finally, in July the Profs letter arrived telling me the tumours were in retreat. Despite my doubting, fretting and annoying him, he had got my treatment plan right. This trend has continued, so in many ways, I end the year in a better position than I started it. It’s just that last year, I was in ignorant bliss.
There were times at the beginning of the year when I wasn’t entirely certain that I would make it to Christmas. So let me tell you; I am grateful and so looking forward to be shoving turkey in my face, arguing with my sister and staring at the twinkly lights on the Christmas tree.
Last week I went to the cancer centre for my final treatment of the year. I had 2 weeks off the targeted therapy instead of the normal 1 so as to avoid Christmas. As a result my tricky white blood cells were at 3.1 – which is the highest they have been all year. I am now doing my absolute best to avoid festive germs and keep my immune system from having a Christmas melt down.
I started writing the blog in April. I wanted to discipline myself to reflect on what was going on, maybe as a route to acceptance. I also wanted to give a bit more detail to anybody interested about what it’s like to live with stage 4 cancer. I have learnt that it is a great therapy for me. It has put me back in touch with people I haven’t heard from for years, and (mostly) that can only be a good thing. This is my 16th blog, and nearly 4000 people have read it, all around the world in over 40 countries, and, well, I’m quite proud of that. I am really so thankful to everybody that contacts me and has been part of this journey this year. Christmas kisses to you all.
I’m looking forward to 2019 and doing my best to punch cancer in the face. I will do everything I can to put up a good fight. I will be back in the blog in January.
If there is any purpose to this at all it is to raise awareness and remind people that it is possible, even in your early 40s to be hit by something so unimaginable as a life limiting illness. My Christmas message is therefore: be grateful for what you have, count your blessings, look after yourself and FEEL YOUR CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS.
Big festive love, AG xx