The last chapter

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Artwork and imagination courtesy of my bro

So we have established I’m a procrastinator. An overthinker. The last post pointed to a further update and then resolutely stayed silent.

This is now the last blog I will write on bananagiraffes.com.

Which means this is impossibly hard to get right. I’m genuinely out of ‘recognisable’ vocabulary, unable to find any word which manages to combine both insane happiness and responsibility.

First for the insanely happy bit. My nearest & dearest know, but I’ve taken some time to process it in written form. So here goes.

November 27th. Sitting in the waiting room on scan result day, hearing my previous surname (through a lack of trust in NHS record keeping, or a desire not to have my old cancerous bits leak into my new ‘surnamed’ me), the outstretched hand, the impenetrable expression, the motioning to the 2 upright seats positioned next to his rotating seat, and in eyeline of the scrambled, occasional seat for the nurse in the corner. The screen angled just enough for me to see, but not enough for me to read. The huge file on the desk starving the room of oxygen and time hanging weightlessly on a thread.

This place holds so much history. 7 years to be precise.

Where my father had first accompanied me, holding his finger over the little recording device on that very first slapathon that was treatment option day. Where my brother had once taken my place when I had been too terrified to hear out loud the sentence I already knew was coming. And where John and I now held our hands and breath.

And here it was finally.

“Your scans are excellent. I now consider after 5 years with no further relapses that you are cured from stage 4 bowel cancer. As you know, this is very good news. Please put all this behind you and go and live your life”

Impossible happiness and responsibility condensed into one sentence.

I can not and will never know why me and why not them. There have been so many.

So many people who prayed and are praying for a fraction of the things and time I will never again take for granted.

I’ve prayed, lots. And given thanks lots. As have so many others, which is incredibly humbling. Thank you just falls hopelessly short. And the list is too long. I’m getting used to this feeling of indebtedness. To God first and foremost. To my dearest family. To all my surgeons. My oncologist. My doctor. My dear friends. And my supportive social media family.

And so onto the harder bit, the responsibility.

Now I have moved back considerably from the edge of the precipice I owe it to those still hanging on and those gone, to do something good and valuable with my time.

I am going to have to think about what this means. I don’t have the luxury of wallowing. I am ashamed to be anything other than grateful. In some ways facing death was an amazing gift. It got my attention and turned it towards things that were more important and I don’t want to loose that feeling.

You know when you get an unexpected Christmas gift of money and before long it’s absorbed into your bank account and leaves no trace of where it went. Well, I’m scared of that. So I’m putting it out there now, publicly to stop me falling back into the same old, same old.

I understand the need to do something meaningful with all this. But I’m not at all sure what that is yet. But if anyone has suggestions, wants to join me, I’m really open to anything! Please do get in touch.

In the meantime, I probably need to be a bit more financially savvy as my son would say.

Living on borrowed time was expensive. Finding out I’m now cured has also been expensive!

Thank you all for your love and support and God bless anyone facing or living with cancer in 2019.

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Good news travels slowly

It’s taken me a while to commit to putting fingers to keyboard and update my last cliff hanger so apologies for keeping you waiting. But you can now all say “Told you so” and go and have a nice cup of green tea as a celebration.

My mate Andy tells me our brains are programed to pay more attention to bad news than good. It’s a survival thing. So on that basis, this little update is now floating around in the ether and will soon disappear down the back of the internet.

But my incredible news is the MRI scan I had a few weeks ago on the chopped liver is still unremarkable, NED or just plain “we still can’t see any cancer and believe me we looked long and hard”. A funny word or sentence to describe something so miraculous.

I have struggled to write this because for the life of me I don’t want to come across as smug or preachy. I am more than aware of the extraordinary miracle that my life has become which I am also more than aware, I can take no credit for. I know I have been inexplicably lucky, but I can’t understand that any more than I can explain those who haven’t been or why bad things happen to good people.

It’s been 3 years since my cells starting behaving badly and many dear friends have died and still many more are terminal. Of course cancer is random, unfair and ugly. But what makes it even sadder is the inequality in treatment and care which robs people of hope. It is why I am showing my support to Bowel Cancer UK’s Time for Guts campaign, for highlighting the fact that survival rates and experiences are still unnecessarily very poor for people with advanced bowel cancer. And a major reason for this is down to being offered liver surgery and the right drugs based on clinical need, not postcode. It is inhumane that survival in the 21st century can still be down to luck, location, money or how hard you are willing to fight the system. Please take time to read this and donate, make a fuss and fundraise for those who can’t.

We all need hope, something to hang on to when we get a little close to the edge. Life is unimaginably awful without it.

So that is why I am committed to keep writing or banging on about it, even when I am struggling to find the right words. I didn’t think or could see any hope when I first typed into the Beating Bowel Cancer forum “Is there anyone out there cured of stage 4 bowel cancer?” But fast forward 3 years and I can answer. It is possible, with the best treatment, even with recurrent stage 4 bowel cancer to be in remission. In my case for a record breaking year and counting. Maybe, hopefully someone, somewhere reading this will perk up a little.

And whilst I am getting all my good news out in one blog, hold on to your hats; I got married last month. To John, the man I met 6 weeks before I relapsed last July. Turned out there was one good man left who wanted to take a chance on a dodgy girl over 40 with a screwed up immune system.

Finally, if you are still with me, I just want to finish with saying thank you again. To God for giving me comfort when I was making all sorts of bargains lying down shivering in the MRI scanner. And to everyone else in my life who has to up with my constant paranoia.

As a treat, here is a little passage from “Desiderata” which Kate’s (and now my) friend, Dati read to me when I needing some of that lifting up one day. It worked for me, hope it will for you. x

Desiderata – by max ehrmann

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann c.1920

Today I have been given my life back!

So here I am facing the consultant who gave me the cancer diagnosis and stamped a ‘best before’ date on me nearly a year ago.  The same room, the same place.  My Mum, Dad, brother and Jenny holding hands and breath.

And the news is I am in remission!  But my goodness didn’t he make me work for it!

“Hello, how are you feeling?”

“Great… I hope, just need to hear the results please”

“Oh, you had a CT Scan did you? When was that?  How odd, my secretary didn’t warn me…”.

Lots of rustling around on the desk and frantic logging in on the computer. “Let me get the scan results up now”. 

Oh dear no, surely not.  Where are the hidden cameras? We are going to have to do this live, anxiously watching every twitch on my consultant’s face as he reads the scan results out aloud for the first time in front of us. 

After what seemed like an eternity discussing my bowel and liver surgeries and the fact that I had (unbeknown to me) another 1cm cyst on my liver which he ‘presumes’ my liver surgeon knew about and was therefore not cancer….he said “Yes this looks fine, you are NED (no evidence of disease) or NSR (no sign of recurrence)!” And for extra emphasis “considering where we were a year ago and how aggressive it was, it’s amazing we have got rid of it”.

I could kiss him.  He was grinning and said I looked really healthy. And believe me this is a very good sign from Mr H who doesn’t give good news lightly.

Joseph said this day was the best of his life and he hasn’t stopped hugging me.  Lois has been very thoughtful and reflective and admitted to crying on the school bus today with nerves.  I doubt I will ever know how deep this last year has affected them.

Today I have my life given back to me and I am deeply happy and thankful. 

Thankful to my 2 consultants and oncologist and the docs and nurses who have nursed me back to health.  Thankful to my Mum and Dad and brother who have loved me back to life.  And thankful to my dearest friends and close family who never gave up hope and have been by my side every day.  Especially Jenny who has been one in a million throughout these last 10 months and kept me sane with nonsense all day. And thankful to God for answering my prayers.

Now all I need to do is get this chemo out my system and start to feel normal again.  Mr H said to expect this to take about 2 months.  Last chemo tablets taken tonight and the rest of the bag of tablets chucked in the bin, replaced by a diet of Champagne! At least for this week. x