As we journey through life, there are certain events which have a significant impact on us and often change our lives in ways we hadn’t anticipated. How we react to these events is entirely up to us.
Towards the end of 2017, I found out that I had stage 3 cancer of the colon and surrounding lymph. It doesn’t matter how gently those words are spoken it still feels as though the bottom has fallen out of your world and you are filled with a kind of numbness and a dissociation from everything going on around you. When something like that happens, it is normal to go into a state of shock, a state of disbelief, and it is difficult to anticipate how you are going to react.
For me, there was never any anger, no “why me?” I am a big believer that things happen for a reason. It is so easy to get caught up in all the negativity that surrounds cancer. I was determined that this wasn’t going to be me and I decided very early on that this was going to be a positive experience and was convinced that there was a lot I could learn from this diagnosis.
I cannot fault the NHS in Sheffield, where I live. Following on from my initial diagnosis, everything happened very quickly. I was told that I needed a major operation and the date was set for 5th January 2018. I knew that to give myself the best chance of recovery, I needed to do everything I could, both mentally and physically, to prepare myself for the operation, including changing to a predominantly plant-based diet, cutting out sugar and all processed foods to name a few. My main aim was to make my immune system as strong and healthy as possible in the time that I had available. I also started doing a lot of research into cancer – both the causes and also the things I could do to prevent the cancer from returning.
When the operation date arrived, I was as mentally prepared as I could be – apprehensive at the thought of a 5 hour operation, but at the same time excited, because as far as I was concerned, the cancerous tumour was being removed. It had served its purpose and it was time for it to go!
I remember coming round from the general anaesthetic with a smile on my face. As far as I (and my Surgeon) were concerned, the tumour had been removed. That meant I was cancer free, but it also meant that I was on a mission to stay that way.
The next bombshell came when I was referred to the Oncology Department to discuss the option of having a course of Chemotherapy. Once again, I started my research – into the pros and cons of chemotherapy. It felt like one of the most important decisions of my life and my ultimate decision was going to be an informed one. Initially, the whole prospect and enormity of the decision I was faced with were really stressful but I soon settled down to my research and started to approach things more logically.
It soon became clear that to go down the chemotherapy route would be coming from a place of fear and that is never a positive approach to anything. I took ownership of my own health rather than simply going along with the flow without questioning it (and believe me, I had a very long list of questions for the Oncologist). For me, I believe chemotherapy would have done more harm than good, but no two situations are the same and each individual needs to make their own decisions, without pressure from other people (yes, I had some of that too). As soon as I had made the decision I could feel the weight lift, and it then made me wonder why I had taken so long to commit to that decision.
I have to be honest, I totally underestimated how long it would take to recover from a major operation – even though I had been told a number of times that it would take a year to 18 months – I didn’t believe them! Recovering from an operation or major health issue involves a lot of rest and times when you have very little energy. I personally don’t find “resting” restful – it involved far more time than normal at home alone. Doing very little is something I found particularly challenging. I am not alone in having felt this way – other people I spoke to said exactly the same, and I am sure there will be people reading this who can relate to what I am saying. It is a long process, but I also believe that having a positive attitude and a sense of humour makes a huge difference.
As I write this (January 2019), I am now in the monitoring phase, and all the tests are returning as normal, which is great news and a great start to 2019.
It is fair to say that 2018 was extremely demanding – there were many other life’s challenges hurled in my direction, but at the same time there were some truly amazing things that came about as a result of that initial diagnosis. A year on and I sit back and look at all the things I have learnt. I am truly grateful for the way things have turned out and I do feel as though my life has been enriched by the challenges and experiences I have faced and overcome.
I hope that I will be able to use this first-hand experience of cancer, together with my Complementary Therapy knowledge to help other people faced with a similar situation.
"It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light"