”Where were you one year ago today?”
I love to Google, and I love quotes. One year ago today I had a nasty surprise, so naturally for this post I Googled ‘quotes about one year ago’, to make sure I ticked the ‘dramatic’ box. On 4th November 2014, a man and a woman put their fingers in my lady pie. Unfortunately, it was not a sexual frisson. They both wore gloves, the lights were very bright and neither had offered to buy me a drink first. One year ago today, I was finding out that I had cancer of the cervical variety. Dun dun dunnnnn…
So today is my ‘you have cancer anniversary’. 6/7th September is my ‘symptoms anniversary’, 18th November is my ‘you definitely have cancer anniversary’, 27th November is my ‘the cancer hasn’t spread to your womb, bladder or arse anniversary’, 9th December is my ‘tumour removal anniversary’ and so on. I’ve had cancer, so I’m going to milk the anniversary cow.
I’ll do another ‘update’ post soon (my definition of ‘soon’ is about 5 months), but for now here are 25 things that this 25-year-old has learned in the last 365 days.
1. The ‘Two Week Wait’ was the worst part so far.
There was a two-week wait after finding out I had cancer, before I knew that it was definitely cancer and what the plan of action was likely to be. This fortnight was worse than any physical pain that ensued. I think I went a bit loopy from having 3 hours sleep a night, and the constant fear of being told ”that’s your lot, Karen.” Uncertainty is hideous. That being said, my stomach got a bit flatter as I was too stressed to eat my usual amount of food. Every cloud and all that.
2. You can’t piss out a tumour.
I drank A LOT of green tea when first diagnosed. Thanks to Google I had read several articles claiming that it’s linked to curing cancer. I thought I’d fast track Mr Ind’s treatment plan for me, and drink gallons of the stuff, wait until I was really desperate for a wee, and then urinate with such force that my tumour would sort of come off and I could flush it down the toilet. Surprisingly, it didn’t work. I also got really excited when I would see bright red liquid in the toilet bowl. ”YES, I am bleeding out my tumour!” No, Karen. You just had beetroot for lunch.
3. Airport staff are nice to cancer patients.
At the beginning of August I went to Italy with this lovely lady:
We only took hand luggage, so had to fit all of our liquids into a small plastic bag – and seal it – each. Sally travels a lot (I tease her about this, how spoilt she is and how many items of silk clothing she has, on a very regular basis) so has mastered the art of packing. I, have not. I approached the security conveyor belt with two plastic bags full to the brim and very much unsealed. The security man said ”you’re going to have to throw one of those away.” I looked at him and whispered ”I have cancer.” To which he responded with ”Jason, let all of this lot through, mate.” Bingo.
Then at the end of August, I went to the U.S. of A with my Fishy. Here we are in Nashville:
We both cried at check-in and got bumped up to seats with extra leg room. Maybe if I had said that this was my last holiday, I could have gone all the way to 1st class.
4. Getting ‘Get Well’ cards and presents is really fun.
5. It’s better to get cancer in the Winter.
Nobody really does anything during the Winter months anyway, so it didn’t really matter that I was a bloated, stitched-together mess. Then when I did make the odd (okay, fairly frequent) social appearance, people must have felt like they were drinking with The Queen. Of comedy. And cancer.
6. Having cancer = a ‘free prescription’ card.
I now don’t have to pay for prescriptions if I present the pharmacist with my cancer club-card. The irony is, I have never paid for a prescription in my life. Apart from the odd cold, I have only been ill once. If you’re going to do something, do it properly.
7. Morphine can make you believe that you are Kate Winslet in Titanic.
8. Doctors, nurses and all medical staff are incredible.
I couldn’t have been looked after by more amazing, hard-working and caring people, especially my life saver, Mr Ind.
9. People will surprise you in good and bad ways.
My friends are the best friends anyone could ever ask for. Fishy, Jarbie and Big Claire came with me to appointments, my hospital room was overflowing with visitors, and I had a list of people I had to report every movement to. But there are people I speak to or see all the time, who just couldn’t handle the cancer thing. For whatever reason, they just didn’t ask how I was, and this was a bit disappointing. However, I think it’s probably because they didn’t know what to say or found discussing cancer very uncomfortable. It’s a shame but it’s also okay. I also had – and still receive – lots of messages from people who I hadn’t spoken to in a while, strangers and friends of friends, which was – and is – lovely. If you know someone who has cancer, and you want to say something but are worried that the words will come out ‘wrong’, just say it anyway. It will mean the world to them.
10. Women need to attend their smear test appointments.
I know we all have busy lives, but when you are due to go for a smear test, please book an appointment and turn up. Nothing, nothing, nothing is more important than health. How will you go on that Tinder date if you’re dead?
11. I wish I had needed a catheter for longer. It was the best 48 hours of my life.
12. Cancer is a fabulous excuse.
There have been times when I have been a bit late for something, or haven’t felt like doing something because I was exhausted, stressed, sad, scared or in pain. These were genuine excuses. Mostly.
13. I now spend less money on tampons and sanitary towels.
Since I was 11, I have had heavy periods that last a solid – or liquid – week. Since being tampered with, I have only needed to sail the red river for 3 days a month.
14. It’s important to get help if you need it.
Having something like this happen to you can be terrifying and upsetting, and there are people out there who are trained to help you cope with the situation. A couple of months after my operation, I went to see my GP as she wanted to know how I was doing. ‘Not great’ is the short answer. I was able to function in my day-to-day life, but at home I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly and would spend hours on end staring into space, panicking and crying. She referred me to a cancer counsellor for 8 weeks, and I’m very glad she did. If you are struggling, let someone help you. I’ll write more about the counselling process another time
15. I will be neat and tight forever.
Here is a diagram of my vaginal situation before and after surgery:
16. Things always seem worse at night and better in the morning.
17. I love my body.
I have an amazing body, and so do you. We are much tougher than we give ourselves credit for. A year ago, I definitely didn’t think that my first naked Internet photo would look like this:
But there you go. I was getting ready to leave the hospital, and it took a massive amount of effort to stand up and strike that pose. 4 days before that photo, I couldn’t even sit up on my own, hence why I think I have an amazing body.
18. When asked to give a urine sample, make sure that you piss into the sample pot and not the sick bowl.
19. Talking about gynaecological diseases is important.
Society gets a bit fidgety when talking about cancer and vaginas, so put the two together and it’s the most awkward thing ever. I hope that I’m helping somehow, and showing people that talking about vaginas and having a disease or problem is nothing to be ashamed of.
20. It’s OK to eat biscuits for breakfast, crisps for dinner and drink prosecco like it’s fizzy water.
Just not every day.
21. Time passes very, very quickly.
I had 2 months off work and it flew by. I started my cancer holiday thinking that I’d read a dozen books, learn Italian, get ahead with university assignments and be a successful author by the time I went back to work. None of that happened. I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a kettle for the first month, so I’m not going to be annoyed at myself. I am however, much more conscious of how precious time is. I always said that I’d never do stand-up because ”I’m only funny when I’m in a conversation”, or it’s ”just not my thing”. Now, I am attending classes and getting ready for a stand-up show in December. If you really want to do something, find a way to do it. Stop putting things off until tomorrow.
22. I don’t sweat the small stuff (as much).
I am quite an anxious person, but am gradually caring less and less about the things that just don’t matter, or that I can’t do anything about. I can’t make someone like me, or force the TFL website to tell the truth.
23. My Mum and Dad are wonderful human beings.
I’m very lucky to have a great relationship with my parents. Here are Team Hobbs in the early 1990’s:
24. It’s good to cry and scream.
At the beginning of my cancer adventure, I frequently screamed and cried, and screamed and cried until I could barely breathe. If you are sat at your desk, and feel your eyes welling up, go to the toilets, lock yourself in a cubicle and sob. Then sob a little bit more. I did this countless times, and still do. I always feel better afterwards.
25. It’s even better to laugh.
Having cancer is not a joke, but there are many jokes to be made about having cancer. It’s funny that more medical staff than lovers have touched my genitals. It’s funny that whilst chatting to friends, I had a bag of wee clipped to the end of my bed. It’s funny that waking up with eternally swollen ankles is the thing that scared me the most.
It’s been a weird year, but not a complete disaster.
If you made it to the end of this, then I’m impressed. Thank you for reading.