I recall this one time a year ago when I was driving my beast of a car back from oxford to London along the M5. I was traveling (at the rate of the fast lane!) during rush hour when suddenly my car flatlined – it went from 70mph to 10 in the space of 5 seconds. Life moved almost in slow motion. As I saw the cars slamming their breaks on at breakneck speed in my rear view mirror, some divine intervention came into play and I found myself alive and safely in my car on the hard shoulder unscathed with the motorway ground to a halt behind! Despite causing chaos for anyone trying to get back to London that afternoon, there were no injuries and no damage to any of the cars involved. Thank God.
The police came and calmly got the traffic going and comforted me in a somewhat shaken state of affairs. A few hours later, as the adrenaline had disappeared and I was sat in a pick-up truck on my way back to London, a sense of relief and appreciation for life came in its purest form. Despite being emotionally shattered, you find a desire to celebrate and shout ‘I’m alive’ and dance until the wee hours of the morning (with a few tequilas and fab friends!), knowing and recognising the fragility of life!
Coming round from an operation can fill you with that same ‘Im alive’ Joy, albeit with a drug induced glow but certainly with the same appreciation that you made it this far!
I wrote my last blog on the eve of my pending lung resection to remove 2 tumours in my right lung. In summary the operation went well, the surgeon is pleased with my recovery to date, both tumours were fully removed and confirmed as being metasized from my Bowel (which was expected), I have a new found appreciation of fentanyl and I’m paranoid I’m classified as an alcoholic!
The night before my operation was, for the first time, not totally filled with dread Whilst I was certainly worried, I was very appreciative to be able to have the operation at all. Through my blog and social media, I’ve met many people with stage 4 bowel cancer like me, who unfortunately are deemed in-operable. So I knew this was a positive step, if going through the pain of a thoracotomy could have positives!
I managed to squish the lurking nerves adequately with some wine and friends the night before which led to me not feeling on my best form first thing in the morning during admission into hospital!
Going through the pre-admission questionnaire we got to the alcohol section. I normal just lie – I generally write down what I think I should be drinking rather than what I actually am. (Come on admit you do it too!). I tried tracking my intake once through an app which made me so depressed, so I just deleted it.
Overcome with the realisation that for once I should be honest just before being sliced open, I started calculating my actual intake in the previous week. Now keeping in mind we had just been on holiday where the buffet breakfast provided Champagne and I like getting value for money, I wrote down a number that certainly made me cringe. The lovely clinical nurse, started probing me and before I knew it I was prescribed an alcohol withdrawal tablet for my stay in the hospital! With no time to argue my corner I was ushered into theatre and knocked out in the calmest of fashion.
When I came round from the operation (I was woken in theatre) I asked my surgeon if they had started already! I had been pre-warned by the team of the pain I would experience. A thoracotomy (which is a cut through my ribcage by my shoulder blade), is known as a painful surgical procedure. Mainly due to the complex nerves in the area and the lack of rest due to consistent movement from breathing. If pain is not well managed, complications like fluid and pneumonia are common so it was paramount I accepted the drugs this time! Having had a slightly bonkers reaction to morphine before, we just went for the hard core fentanol on demand. With an epidural providing direct numbness to the area alongside my magic green button to hand, I managed 8 hours sleep over night in intensive care! A miracle in comparison to the 3 hours sleep I achieved over 4 days in my first operation!
As I slowly came back to life, I started questioning some of the tablets I was consistently being given. When the clinical nurse came back to visit, I immediately starting protesting my alcoholic innocence. I was comforted by the protocol at this hospital to give these tablets to anyone drinking even a glass or 2 of wine daily (aka: everyone I know!), to ensure there was no withdrawal symptoms to have to battle with alongside operation recovery! As I increasingly realised the tablets were actually brilliant, my surgeon quickly whipped them off me and prescribed a glass of wine instead! I can’t win, just when I’m considering cutting down, there I have the doctor ordering me to have wine! If it’s doctors orders, maybe I’m not that bad after all and just maybe I’ll deal with reducing my wine intake after I’ve conquered cancer!
I managed to escape hospital early to spend Easter at home which was not the plan, but glad I did despite having to navigate through the pain. Managing pain is a difficult one for a bloody minded person like myself. One week after the operation I stupidly decided I’d had enough of tablet taking and went cold turkey on pain killers so I could start driving again. Big Mistake…..I ended up with a mini infection, a chronic cough, raised temperature and feeling rubbish – all because it hurt to breath and cough so I didn’t do it properly! A few days in bed and an X-ray showed I was however back on the road to recovery.
(first night out of hospital!)
Much to the delight of my surgeon I haven’t exactly been taking it easy since the operation – without a doubt I’m a lot more tired than normal (perhaps because I have just had an operation!) and whilst I’m not back running just yet, I’m certainly running around keeping myself busy!
A week post op, my lovely friend Lynn, organised a photo shoot for some of my friends, colleagues and family at hers. The lovely Leela Bennett produced a fab collection of shots, including our attempt at giving the ‘loose women’ a run for their money in some ‘Calendar Girls’ naughtiness that of course ended up in the Sun-online
With the lighter evenings, we are coming into my favourite time of year where the Britishness in us all starts to rear its proud head and contemplate cranking on the BBQ and popping that rose cork! If someone however could give the sun the memo to catch up that would be fab. I love outdoor theatres, and my friend Sarah got us some tickets to the globe last week, which was fab, despite us being wrapped up tightly hardcore style to brave the weather!
I even recently signed my son up to Friday night cricket for the season, in the hope I (alongside some friends) could be the ‘lush’ in the corner, soaking up the evening rays with the rose as Hugo attempts to decipher the rules of cricket and calm his desire to fill pitch boredom with karate kicks! Again the weather hasn’t quite caught up with my plans!
I wasn’t however going to let a rainy bank holiday ruin my chances of a rosette at a local dog show! As the competition heated up, I was gutted that my sisters dog ‘Charlie’ casually rocked up and won in a pedigree category – it would help if I’d read the instructions and entered my mongrel Winston into the right groups! Despite trying our luck in 13 classes we won a rosette for best tail waggle and the one I’m most chuffed about is best 6 legs for which I shook my arse and winked shamelessly at the judge in desperation!
I didn’t quite realise how seriously people take these things – next step, teach dog not to shit in the arena!
A small glimmer of sunshine, allowed me to get on my bike 2 weeks post op (just to prove I could do it) and cycle albeit in wobbly fashion through Isabella plantation in Richmond Park and in my emotional ‘stage 4 cancer’ state of mind, stare in awe at the beautiful azalea and rhododendron’s shining in all glory.
The fun part of last week was visiting the Sun offices, getting on the Sun bus, seeing where all the action takes places and talking about some exciting stuff we are going to do moving forward! So watch this space for more details!
People kindly ask me – what’s the plan, how long are you on chemo for, what’s the prognosis? The reality is no one knows. If you want the cold hard facts, it’s that only 30 percentage of stage 4 bowel cancer patients survive for one year, 10% for 5 years – but those statistics were not designed specifically for me. Not everyone is operable, or my age or as crazy as me!
I write this on the eve of starting the next part of the revised #cockoffcancer action plan. I’m waiting at the Marsden, as I write, for another post op and monitoring CT scan and then all being well I will start my new chemo and immunotherapy regime tomorrow. I may turn up to find my bloods are not good for chemo, that they found something else etc etc – the scary list goes on. Today my oncologist is positive, tomorrow may be a different story. For the moment however, all being well, I start 6 months of chemo on a combination called FOLFRUI, alongside an immunotherapy drug called AVASTIN. We do however still need to tackle the tumours in my left lung and how we do that will depend on 1) if they shrink with chemo, 2) if they grow 3) if more appear 4) if more appear elsewhere! So it really is a watch and wait situation.
In reality I’m playing with fire, trying to keep one step ahead, and if someone asks me how long have I got on chemo – they are taken aback when I joke that it could be forever! It might be, there are so many unknowns with stage 4, that you really have to learn to look at life in the now, and not live 5 years into the future.
No one can predict my prognosis for sure, but then the same can be said for everyone of us, cancer or not.
If truth be told, there are 2 sides to every story and as I’ve previously mentioned I’m great at putting on my game face! After the elation of surviving the near miss, the brush with death, the car accident, the operation, the sliding door moment, the reality of ‘living’ with stage 4 cancer has started to creep in.
Because of this difficult unknown road we travel, I’d be lying if I said I was always positive. I cannot thank my family, friends, colleagues and strangers for following my story, reading this blog, reading the Sun-online articles and continuing to support me through the journey. I genuinely couldn’t do it without you. I’m aware that many of you have been writing to me and I have to say that receiving a card really does lift the mood. As I look at letters and emails both long and short, I just feel immensely grateful for the effort that goes into putting pen to paper and thinking of me. I’m sorry if I haven’t responded to all messages yet, but rest assured I’ve read them all and very much appreciate them. I do think writing is something we should all try to take up more. I revived a lovely letter from this organisation and I think it’s a lovely idea. Do check them out. https://www.frommetoyouletters.co.uk
Thank you also to those survivors who have reached out to share their stories with me. Those who have been through the run of the mill and come through it stronger and with a new appreciation of life.
Like in my car experience I mentioned at the start, sadly too many of us have experienced moments in our life where in a split second we, or someone close to us are not dancing in celebration. The haunting memories of receiving a phone call from my Aunt when I was 19 in hysterics because my cousin Vicky had just been tragically killed in a car accident aged 17 certainly sticks in my memory as the stark reality that none of us can predict what the future holds. And that life, whilst so wonderful, can provide us with twists and turns that create deep scars which if we like it or not, we carry around with us.
I look at my ever growing scar collection as a constant reminder of how strong we can be when faced with life changing news, but also as a stark reminder of the delicate nature of our existence – and how the floor at any moment can be whipped from beneath any one of us.
(Wearing my recent scar with pride above)
People tell me I’m brave, positive and resilient – I’m not – I just have no other choice. No cancer patient or ill person does- we didn’t chose this path, we don’t want to have to ‘fight’ to stay alive, we don’t want to be defined by our cancer scars, and yes we do get angry and feel that life can be unfair at times. I could curl up in a ball, run away and essentially let the cancer take over, and trust me there are many days you feel like doing that. But instead like most others would do, you grit your teeth awaiting the next big scar, use strength and support from those around you and take one more step along in the journey – it may not be pleasant, but you can do it……And you may as well drink as much good wine, laugh with great people, be grateful for the life you do have and love those around you along the way.
I suggest we aim to carry our scars with pride, knowing they have built us and not defined us. And try to remain as positive as possible even when our sliding doors story doesn’t slide the way we thought it might. We are of course….
“Braver than we believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think said Christopher Robin to Pooh Bear”
So let’s live life as though we are robust enough to enjoy it forever and appreciate it is precious enough to leave us tomorrow.
‘C’est la vie’.
Ps. I cannot thank you enough for your continued support through me to Bowel Cancer UK. We have a good team of @bowelbabe people joining in with two up and coming events:
London 10 mile – http://www.london10mile.com
Royal parks half marathon. https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/royal-parks-half-marathon/
And then come join our just giving team page here! https://www.justgiving.com/teams/bowelbabe