Thursday, 16 June 2016

One Year On ~ Vicky

Earlier I came across this quote, “We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges when life puts us to the test.”, which today is very apt for me.

It’s hard to believe that it’s days away from the 10th anniversary of my primary breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 31.  A small, low grade cancer with no lymph node or blood vessel involvement and with an excellent prognosis.  My Oncologist suggested dealing with it by surgery alone and agreed for me to go ahead and have the family we had been planning (I’d experienced a miscarriage only 4 months before). He told me in the nicest possible way to go away and to never darken the doorstep of Oncology again! So off I went, welcomed my two children, gave a nod of acknowledgement to the 5 year cancer-free milestone as it passed by, got married, next stop 10 years which seemed to be in my grasp until a new bomb dropped.

One year ago today I climbed aboard a roller coaster and was told that I wasn’t allowed to get off.  I can still see that day clearly, extensive spread of breast cancer into the lymph node and bones, treatable but incurable. My world crumbled around me. I struggled to hear what the doctor was saying, all I heard was screaming in my head.  My first words after what seemed a lifetime: "My children are only 6 and 5, I need to be here for them”.

So here we are 366 days on, a year of ups and downs, but life does move forward. There are times when I forget for a few hours, feel normal even, then other times when I cannot shake off the waves of grief and anxiety surrounding what is facing us. It’s a bittersweet moment, because of course being here is cause for celebration, but there’s sadness too as it’s an anniversary which brings our sense of time into sharp focus. Our mind starts to be drawn to the future as well as the past.  

Over the year I ventured back to support groups, made new friends and met some amazing women sadly in the same boat. After joining the psycho-educational group belonging to The Research Centre for Building Psychological Resilience in Breast Cancer, which brings both primary and secondary women together, I was recruited by Professor Naz Derakshan to assist running the Centre along with Tamsin Sargeant. The work we have done together has seen us create this blog ‘Panning for Gold’, as a platform for women with a breast cancer diagnosis to share their stories and showcase their talents.  My first venture into blogging was here, titled ‘Stage IV and beyond…, and since then I have co-written two blogs with Tamsin for the HuffPost UK.

Secondary breast cancer can be an isolating condition as it is so widely misunderstood. It cannot be cured, so the treatment for it never ends and both this and the cancer cause physical side effects. The psychological impact of living with the condition can be crushing.  Thankfully, the online groups are supportive, caring places, somewhere to go where other women understand, where we can share good and bad news and also where there is a mine of information. Sadly over this year I have seen too many women die from this relentless disease, all at different stages of life, many young women with children and those who were denied that chance.  This has to stop, but we don’t have the answers.

So looking back what advice would I give myself upon diagnosis.  Initially I would say it will seem like a living nightmare but gradually you will find a new normal, so it is important to carry on with those tasks which allow you to connect with normal life.  Give yourself time to adjust as your head will be full of questions (a lot of which can’t be answered) and you will feel every single emotion…probably all at the same time and sometimes at inconvenient times. Acknowledge these different emotions and face your fears, otherwise they will rear up and strike when you’re least expecting it. But most importantly, keep the HOPE.


Stage IV and beyond...

Panning for Gold: Stories of Resilience after Breast Cancer

We Need to Talk about Secondary Breast Cancer

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