My cancer is incurable. That’s what I was told on Wednesday. I’m sorry if that’s a shock or upsetting to any of you reading this, but I have to face this like I’ve faced everything else so far, head on, refusing to be beaten. That’s not to say it wasn’t both a shock and upsetting, it was. The tears are flowing this week. The enormity of the situation hit home more than it has done so far, with an increasing awareness that my life is never fully going to go back to normal, or at least not to how I’d planned.
I feel like cancer and I are having a fight (I hate any kind of unnecessary violence but hey, I’m sticking with this…)
Cancer: punch in the back- ouch, bad back
Me: punch back, no big deal, a bad back’s not stopping me
Cancer: punch in the back 2- collapsed vertebra
Me: punch back- this is totally fixable, bring on surgery
Cancer: third punch in the back-it’s a tumour
Me: head high, punch back- screw you cancer, tumours can be annihilated
Cancer (getting mean): punch in the liver, lungs, couple of lymph’s too- widespread stage iv cancer
Me: punch back- ha to stage iv, still totally treatable
Cancer: big punch- actually nope, incurable
Me: heavy crash to the floor… But wait, I’m not done yet cancer. See, I’m getting up and brushing myself off. Bit bruised (literally thanks to all the needles and tubes that have been stuck into me recently) and tired, but I am oh so ready for the next round and I’m bringing in my army… meet radiotherapy, chemotherapy, the best nutritional help I can get, and a massive desire to live!
Yes team, I’m ready for this. No prognosis is taking away my hope, strength and positivity. I love my life and my family and friends waaaaayyyy too much to even vaguely begin to give up. And actually, when I rationalise, incurable doesn’t have to change anything I’m doing right now. It sounds scary, but in fact, with what I’ve learnt both in college and in the mountains of cancer literature I’m currently reading, I am increasingly understanding how sometimes it possible to live with cancer and manage it like any other chronic disease. There are many many incredible inspiring stories of people out there who are doing just that (check out Kris Carr https://kriscarr.com/meet-kris/ if you want an awesome example). Sure it may mean some lifestyle changes, but many of those I’ve already done and I love healthy living. Honestly, I’d choose a salad over a takeaway any day! And other things I’ll just get used to. Staying alive is a big incentive for pretty much anything I can tell you!
So the next week or so is all about preparing myself for treatment and building up my physical and mental strength for the next round. My oncology team will be using a combination of radiotherapy on the tumour in my spine (that’s a powerful, targeted form of X-ray to kill the tumour cells and so shrink it, hopefully relieving the pain and nerve compression it’s still causing), and chemotherapy. The radiotherapy I am okay with. I mean, it’s not something you’d do for fun (neither is spinal surgery), but side effects are generally limited, both time and body location wise given it is a targeted treatment, and it’s my spine that I am desperate to fix; that is after all, my only outward symptom of this disease. The neurosurgeons and radiotherapist have to agree how soon it can go ahead given recent surgery, but it will almost certainly be in the next few weeks and treatment will probably only take a few days.
Chemotherapy is also planned to start soon, probably in the next week or two, and is something I struggle with far more. Chemo is putting drugs into your body to kill the cancer cells. The problem is, those drugs kill and damage other parts of the body too. Because my cancer is fairly wide spread, the drugs they will use are fairly systemic ones. That means they aren’t as targeted specifically to the cancer cells as some chemo drugs, so they can have delightful side effects ranging from nausea, to hair loss to (in the most rare and extreme circumstance) death. Yup, I had to sign a consent form stating that I understood this treatment could kill me. That’s a tough one to swallow! I’m the kind of person who hates even taking a basic painkiller, always preferring a natural route if possible (increasingly so since I started studying nutrition and learning more about the body), so the cocktail of drugs I’m on and about to go through is mentally incredibly tough for me to accept. It makes it harder knowing that this also isn’t expected to get rid of the cancer, but just control it, but it’s something that I have to face up to.
So what can I do about it? Well, I do have a huge respect for the wonders of conventional medicine, and fully accept that given the extent of my cancer, it does need a certain amount of treatment, so I will get my head around this and prepare myself mentally for it. And on the physical side, I am doing everything I can to prepare and protect my body for and from the drugs using complementary medicine and by living my healthiest life as far as possible. Recovering from surgery makes this tough in some ways. Ideally I’d be getting plenty of exercise, oxygenating my body (cancer cells thrive in an anaerobic environment, i.e. they hate oxygen), but for now, even deep breathing and gentle stretching is painful. It’s something that will improve with time though so I’ll persevere; I even got my yoga mat out this week! What I can, and am doing, is focusing hugely on what I am putting into my body in terms of food and some special supplements. And you know what, this is actually really quite enjoyable and interesting! I mean, I’m going to ace the oncology section of my next exam at college aren’t I! I already had my diet pretty covered (I’m going to talk more in a future post about it), but I’m working with a nutritional therapist and functional medicine doctor who is highly experienced working with cancer patients to support and guide me. So far she has given me a few extra pointers on diet and introduced a supplement protocol to help boost my immune system, support blood circulation (getting the oxygen that cancer hates around my body as effectively as possible) and support the apoptosis of the cancer cells (that’s the body’s way of killing off bad cells which is essentially what goes ‘wrong’ in cancer, allowing them to multiply). I’ve also made a number of other ‘healthy living’ adjustments to my home and life, but again, these deserve their own post so I’ll come back to them.
So a pretty big and scary week in my cancer journey, but to take my own advice from the last post, I’m going to end on a few positives. Firstly, apart from my bad back and loss of hand function, I have not been suffering any symptoms of the disease, so if we can fix my spine and the nerve compression, I don’t see why I can’t go back to feeling healthy; after all, I looked and felt the healthiest I ever have before my back went earlier this year! Secondly, the cancer isn’t on my brain (woohoo, I’m pretty proud of my brain so would be gutted if it got in there), and none of the tumours are large or causing pressing damage to any vital organs. The two on my liver are small, and although there are lots on my lungs, again none are large. There is a tumour in my pelvic area, and a few lymph nodes are enlarged which could mean they’re cancerous, but again, nothing big, and it appears to be gone from my colon altogether. So in my mind, keeping it stable and managing it rather than curing it is actually okay. I can live with that (I mean that literally and metaphorically). It’s not easy and of course there are changes I have had to and will have to make to my life, but increasingly I am at peace that I am living with cancer, potentially have been for a little while in fact, and hope I can continue to do so for a long time to come.