Wednesday, 12 November 2014

100 reasons why I'm thankful I was diagnosed with cancer - Part 1

I recently wrote a blog post called "I am not my cancer" which was inspired by an article by Kayla Redig (on Twitter at @iamnotmycancer and blogging at Love Conquers All).

I've been reading Kayla's blog and have been inspired again! Kayla has written a list of 100 reasons why she is thankful she was diagnosed with cancer. I want to do the same. Here's why....

Cancer happened to me. I didn't ask for it. In fact, before diagnosis, I was terrified of it because of my family history of breast and ovarian cancer. I'd become somewhat obsessive about trying to avoid getting cancer myself.

I spent several weekends researching every single ingredient (we're talking several hundreds) in the products I used - toiletries, cosmetics, household products. I identified known or suspected carcinogens or cancer-risk-increasing ingredients in just about all of them. I went on to search for products that were "safer", and I spent a small fortune replacing everything I used.

I set up a massive spreadsheet of foods, researching and recording which ones had which kinds of anti-cancer properties (for example, some encourage cell death, some boost your immune system, some prevent microtumours growing the blood vessels they need in order to become full on tumours and so on) and planned what I ate each day accordingly to get a good mix. I became almost completely tea-total (you wouldn't believe it now, I know!) because alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer. I drank green tea, which I brewed for at least ten minutes even though it made me gag, because of the anticancer properties it's believed to have. I replaced all the plastic tubs I used for food, with ones that are "BPA free".

I started running regularly - exercise decreases your risk of breast cancer. I already walked a lot, but I didn't do anything more than that.

I spent a lot of time, and money, trying to reduce my risk of cancer because I was so afraid of it. As I've said before, my fear led me to counselling at Coping with Cancer. The thought of what happened to my mom happening to me was eating away at me. She suffered so much. I didn't want it to happen  to me- but more significantly it made me look at my life in a different way. I saw that life was short. I wanted to make the best of it before getting cancer. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer anyway.

I can't change the diagnosis. It happened. It can't be undone. It will be with me forever (however long forever is for me) . I could easily sit here and write a list of 100 reasons why I am pissed off at having cancer. But what would be the point? When you are forced to face your mortality, and truly understand how short life is, you don't want to waste time. My time is precious. I don't want to spend it unhappy. There's horrible shit to deal with but it doesn't need to take over me.

So here goes... The start of my list of 100 reasons why I’m thankful I was diagnosed with cancer (not in a set order!) This post will just be the first two seeing as I've written so much already! I will be back with another instalment very soon though!

1. My friends have been shining so brightly that they dazzle me every day

A cancer diagnosis can take you to some pretty dark places. When I was very first diagnosed I was really worried about how it would affect my existing friendships. Information on the MacMillan website says "It can be difficult to deal with other people’s emotions and reactions to your situation. Some people can’t cope with their own emotions and may tend to avoid difficult situations. So people might prefer to stay away from you, rather than accept that they have strong emotions they can’t deal with." I thought "Shit! How many people are going to end up distancing themselves from me?" There are a few, which does make me sad. But I don't think there's anything I can do about that. I don't want people to feel in any way obliged if they feel uncomfortable or something, just out of guilt, or pity. That won't work for me anyway.

But overall I have been absolutely stunned by the support I have had from my friends - including some that before diagnosis I didn't even know so well or hadn't seen in a long time. I am surrounded by the most incredible, strong, positive, supportive friends in the world. I am humbled by everything that my friends have taken the time and thought to do for me. Accompanying me to hospital appointments, sending me cheesy motivational song lyrics by text, stopping by with roast chickens and bunches of flowers, inspecting my nightmare-inducing bald patch for new hair growth, helping me create fake eyebrows, walking my dog, knowing when I need a beer and making sure I get one, helping me with DIY, sending me DVDs to watch when I'm ill, listening to me talk for hours even when I'm being irrational or making no sense, just getting in touch and letting me know they are thinking of me. I could feel very alone right now, but I don't. Even when I'm actually on my own, I don't feel like I am. I have a constant stream of messages popping up on my phone, in my emails, through the post. (And I am so sorry because I have been so disorganised and am really behind in getting back to some of you. Please forgive me!)

My friends brighten my days, they are absolute superstars, and I am so lucky to know such incredible people. I owe you all big time, and I will be honoured in the future to support you any time you need me. XO

2. I've made new friends who I would never had met if it weren't for cancer

Cancer can happen to anyone. But based on the women I have met and made friends with through the Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK) it seems to really be targeting a lot of incredible, beautiful, energetic, funny, kind, intelligent, young women. The kinds of women who light up a room. My life is richer as a result of these new friendships. There are too many to mention everyone individually and I know this list will keep growing but there are a few in particular who I want to thank here.

Kate - who was the first person I met from YBCN(UK). We live just around the corner from each other and very soon after I was diagnosed we met for drinks. I was amazed by Kate. She was partway through radiotherapy, having had chemo and surgery before that. She looked so well, and she was so happy and positive. She made me change my perception of what cancer treatment would be like and how I could handle it. I didn't want to be a miserable, sickly cancer patient. I wanted to be just like Kate! I'm trying, every day.

Laura - another local YBCN (UK) member my age who recently finished all of her cancer treatment. There are some things, not entirely cancer-related but not entirely unrelated either, that you need an evening to talk about with another girl who understands, cocktails in hand. Massive thank you to Laura for being exactly the friend I have needed on certain days!

Jojo - has finished chemo, and just had surgery. From day 1 of joining YBCN (UK) Jojo has had me in stitches. I love someone with a rude and disgusting sense of humour. Thanks to Jojo I can laugh at cancer. I can laugh instead of cry at the more unfortunate and gross side effects of chemo.

There are so many others too! Laura, Rosie, Claire.... many, many more, plus new friendships developing all the time. I could go on forever but I should probably save that for another post now and go and get ready to go to the hospital for chemo #5!


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