I've blogged extensively about my Cancer journey and now that I'm exactly 12 months from the end of treatment, I thought I would look back and talk about the different parts of that terrible journey ...
Cancer took a lot away from me. I miss the crazy biker chick I used to be, but I am ever so grateful to continue this wonderful and terrifying and beautiful life! I will get another motorbike though ...
There have been five distinct parts to my Cancer Journey: diagnosis, Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy, physical recovery and my mental recovery. Each of them has had their own, unique challenges.
"I was lucky to have the love and support of my friends and family!"
I really couldn't have done it without them, and I will always be grateful for the love and support they offered me. Now I feel that I am at the end of that terrible journey and, hopefully, it is one I will never have to face again.
So here are my thoughts on each part:
This is the point your entire world shatters into a billion pieces and collapses on the floor around you. Once you hear the words "you have Cancer" you'll need a good friend to write everything down because you're not going to remember anything else. After the meeting, you'll need a big hug whilst you blub your heart out on their shoulder.
Diagnosis is the smallest part of your journey, but it is the most mind-bending. Before treatment starts, you'll be trying to understand how you got Cancer. What are the things you did to cause it? If you survive, what things do you need to stop doing so it doesn't come back? What are the effects of the treatment plan they're proposing? God damn it, why me?! Trust me ... Google is your friend at this time.
I advise finding a good Cancer support group on Facebook and actively asking questions. No one will judge you as they're going through it or have been through it. Usually, it'll be a closed group so none of your friends or family are going to see you sharing your fears.
I didn't realise it, but in my journey, Chemotherapy was about arresting the development of my tumour to give them time to formulate a Radiotherapy plan. My tumour was so aggressive they weren't sure if they could treat it at first so gave me a vague 50/50 odds of treatment working.
During Chemo, there'll be vomiting ... so much vomiting. Your body really doesn't like being poisoned and I had to sleep with a bucket next to my bed. You'll sleep a lot, and there'll be varying degrees of Chemobrain. You have no way of avoiding it, and, depending on which toxic brew they give you, all your hair will fall out too (and I mean all of it, from your entire body!) It will grow back though and take advantage of the wig lady who works in the Oncology department. She'll be quite lovely.
My team were quite amazed when they did an MRI before Radiotherapy started. The chemo shrank my tumour by two-thirds, which was quite unusual, so they started using the word 'curative' in relation to the next phase of treatment.
So Radiotherapy goes like this: turn up, lie on a bed, get your cancerous body part locked down so it can't move, watch a pretty light show, get up, go home.
I thought it was a breeze at first, and was just a case of good logistics to get there every day, but after around 4 weeks (20 sessions), I was taking massive doses of Morphine and was feeling my neck and face get burnt to a crisp ... from the inside out.
And don't try and get out of that last week of Radiotherapy because you're too ill. I ended up in hospital with severe radiation burns and they still made me go and climb in the machine! Looking back, I'm glad they did, but at the time I thought they were masochists and was really grumpy about it.
You're going to need a lot of help with this, so having one or more good friends around you to cook (if you can eat) or make you take your shakes (if you can't) is paramount. You'll just want to sleep, sleep and sleep so having people around to keep you conscious for at least part of the day is a good idea.
You need to realise that following treatment, you're going to be like a cornered, wounded animal and you will lash out at people for no good reason. You will have no tolerance for anything or anyone who upsets you (and it will be very, very easy to upset you!)
You're still suffering the effects of chemobrain, you're full or radiation, your tumorous body part (and everything around it) is going to hurt like hell and will probably be burnt to a crisp, you'll be drugged up to the eyeballs to mitigate the pain ... well, this part of your journey will push your friendships to the absolute limit.
But there will come a day when you wake up and slowly realise that you feel fine and that will mark the transition from the physical recovery phase to the next one. You may even do a little jig at this point; I certainly did.
For me, it was Easter Monday 2015. The sun was shining, I was sitting on a warm patio drinking coffee and I realised that for the first time, in a long, long time, I was actually clear-headed and in no pain.
Your Cancer journey is going to affect you mentally too. I remember when radiotherapy finished, I stood naked in front of my full-length mirror and didn't recognise the girl looking back at me.
I sometimes wish I had taken a photo because the bald, burnt, grey sack of bones with dead eyes, no sparkly energy field surrounding her and various pipes and tubes sticking out of her is a picture that is seared into my memory in great detail. It will never go away.
If you have a partner, talk to them. Join a support group, go and see a shrink, a counsellor or even just your GP. If you're offered antidepressants, take them and don't come off them when you think you're healed, be honest with your doctor and let them decide.
There will be many conflicting thoughts in your head. "Why me?" is probably the most common, but as my Oncologist told me, "Why not you?". He wasn't being horrible, he was just pointing out that Cancer can strike anyone at any time of their lives, regardless of their circumstances, lifestyle, fitness levels and genetic history.
Yes, I went through a massive depression and I will admit here and now that if it wasn't for the promises I made to my cats to give them a long and happy life, I wouldn't be here now (I never break a promise; to a feline, a human or otherwise). I'm pleased to say that I never planned my exit from this life, but I often found myself justifying the reasons I should leave.
If you live with a partner or have kids, then you may or may not get as depressed as I did because you have something to live for, but you will find you isolate yourself more. Your confidence may be damaged, you'll step back from your social life, you'll find yourself comfortable in your own thoughts and you may long for a quieter pace of life.
Gardening, wandering around in nature or even fettling in the shed will become more important. Make time for art, for music, and yes, even make time for naps! You are the only one who knows what you need to do to get better.
So here I am a year later. I feel physically fine although I've got dry skin on my nose and forehead that just won't go away, some of my saliva glands still don't work, which makes it difficult to swallow. and I'm currently dealing with a mild throat infection. Each month, I visit my ENT specialist and he gives me the all clear once again.
Was it worth it? Oh yes ... I'm still here to enjoy this wonderful and terrifying and beautiful life. I've been pushed to the edge of oblivion and walked through the depths of hell, but I made it. I had a lot of support and encouragement from a lot of people, in real life and on Facebook and I found the strength to make it through. I focused on the goal of getting better and I did.
"I'm very proud of myself for getting through it!"
Now the future is bright again and I've rebranded my business a little because I thought it was about time I started to blow my own trumpet again. I've got my goals again and I will achieve them by my birthday next summer.
If you've just been diagnosed with Cancer and have stumbled across my blog post whilst researching, take heart. More people survive Cancer now than die from it, and you're being looked after by a team of people who are dedicated to saving your life.
Surround yourself with friends and family who can take care of you, understand that the next few months are going to be horrible, believe you're going to be healed and get on with the treatment and recovery.
You are a warrior my friend; you are a survivor and you are walking a path many others have walked before, and sadly, many more will walk it behind you. Be an inspiration to those who follow and kick some ass!
Love, light and logic ...
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More about Steffi Lewis ...
Foodie, sci-fi nut, cat lover, brain aneurysm & cancer survivor, countryside dweller, SaaS entrepreneur, developer and networker.
I've also worked as a professional photographer in Los Angeles, USA and been a vision mixer and producer for live television in my time.
I live in a village north of Milton Keynes with my two cats, Baggins and Gimley, and a large planted aquarium full of unruly tropical fish.