I used to hate birthdays, I hated the thought of getting older, I was never comfortable with getting fussed over or being the centre of attention, I disliked the pressure of organizing something that everyone else would enjoy, desperately trying to avoid a repeat of The Great Birthday Catastrophe of 2001 when I dragged 12 of my nearest and dearest to the Tate Britain, what was I thinking???… I hated the thought of some big countdown style clock ticking off the years of my life, having to consider a serious career, buying a house, having kids, wrinkles, arthritis, grey hair, the menopause, and then after all that grown up bollocks, slowly rotting away in some grotty care home run by granny beaters and smelling of piss… did I mention that I hated the thought of getting older?!!!
I’m not one of those cancer heroes that say, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me” or “It’s made me a far better person” or “If I could turn back time I wouldn’t change a thing”…. Personally I could have well done without nearly 8 years of cutting, poisoning, poking and prodding, not to mention the plethora of crappy side effects from the ongoing meds, but that said, cancer has taught me to enjoy my birthdays, to treat getting older as a the privilege that it is, and to embrace a little “All about me” time!!
This coming birthday is a bit special for me, “Why 42?” you ask… let me explain. I was still reeling from my initial breast cancer diagnosis in 2009 and it was a Sunday morning, I was perusing the papers and came across an article written by Gloria Hunniford about her daughter Caron Keating. Caron was a Blue Peter presenter in the late 80’s and therefor a huge part of my childhood. An intrepid and strong woman who travelled the world, abseiled down buildings and swam with sharks, and all that whilst being so very pretty too. What a woman.
“One day Mum, I want to be just like Caron off Blue Peter”
Little did I know back then that I would be like Caron one day, just not in a way I’d have ever wished for.
The article stated that Caron had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, at the same age that I was. She went through both conventional and alternative treatments, and visited specialist clinics in Australia and Switzerland for yet more therapy. Caron sadly passed away in 2004 aged 41, leaving a husband and 2 children as well as her famous Mum, Gloria.
I don’t think that I’m naturally pessimistic, maybe I was just susceptible to looking on the bleak side due to the barrage of shit that had just been thrown in my direction, but Caron’s 7 year survival rang some kind of alarm bell in my head, my heart sank and from that moment onwards I was convinced this was the pattern I too would follow, I’d die at 41 just like Caron, I had only 7 years of life left to live.
I would wake up regularly at night in a cold sweat thinking about it (actually it was usually a hot sweat, damn hormone drugs), I’d listen the positives I was given by my Oncologist, surgeon and nurses, smile and nod but dismiss them internally thinking that it didn’t even matter what they did, I’d be dead by 41 anyway. I found it hard to look forward to life past that point, any plans my friends and family would make that might involve me being over 41 I’d cheerfully go along with, but deep inside I knew I wouldn’t be able to make them.
As the months and years past and the only physical cancery stuff I had to do was keep taking the pills (Tamoxifen) and attend my 6 monthly check ups, it became a little easier to stop with the Caron Keating 7 year curse shit, to tell myself that I was an individual with a different prognosis, we are all different and that if I wasn’t careful all my negative thoughts would create a some kind of self fulfilling prophecy… to go get some counselling and move the fuck on.
It was early 2013, shortly after celebrating 3 years with no cancer, I got cancer. This time metastatic disease (A cancer or tumor which has spread from the primary site of origin, where it started, into different area(s) of the body)… in my case a small tumor nestled away neatly in my sternum bone… this is not good, I now fell into the “incurable” bracket. When I fill in DWP forms it’s incurable, travel insurance, incurable, GP’s, incurable, other patients, incurable, people I haven’t seen in a while… incurable!
This is it, the beginning of the end, it’s happening, I knew it would, I was right all along, all that I have to look forward to now is the slow decline from fit and well to sick, pale, nauseous, thin, weak…
Well, it’s 4 years since that happened, and I’m very much still here, a bit wonky but here. I know I’ll never not be monitored, poked, prodded and scanned, I’ll never be off medication of some sort or another, I am now, and forever will be dealing with this cancer crap in one way, shape or form, but what I am is 42, and for my 42nd birthday I got the best gift someone like me could ever wish for, a PET/CT scan result showing “No Evidence of Disease”.
“Happy Birthday Me”
Next to you – by Gloria Hunniford