Every cancer diagnosis and treatment plan is unique. There is no one size fits all solution, but where possible surgery is invariably the first port of call whatever your type. Cancer is after all a disease and left untended will grow and spread like a predatory weed.
This does not mean that it is an easy option. Major surgery comes with major risks but when balanced on the precipice of life, it is a welcome one and one that few I suspect decline.
As I fast approach my 51st birthday I cannot help but feel nostalgic for this period last year when the arrival of February signalled the start of the final count down to my midlife status.
Now a year on, it would seem that “life on the other side” is an apt descriptor not only for this beyond midlife stage but also for this period following my surgery.
So how is it? Well challenging and different, for sure.
Not surprisingly the predominant post-op emotion is one of relief. The build up for surgery is so intense that to wake and see the blue gowns and hats of those who hours earlier had spent time getting to know you the individual rather than you the sick patient, whilst they hooked you upto a vast array of equipment, is a euphoric moment. This is of course swiftly surpassed by a tsunami of emotion at seeing the reassuring and smiling faces of your loved ones.
In the wake of joy, however, there is often fear, both of failure and the unknown, after all waking up does not signify success and it is by no means over yet. Once you have been abducted from your perfect life and placed on the cancer train there is no emergency exit, you have to stick to the route that has been designated for you until, with any luck, you are let off and this is not easy to come to terms with.
Tessa Jowell’s inspirational R4 interview on her cancer experience the week of my admission, drew attention to the raw fragility of human hope in the face of this most tenacious of diseases. Positivity, heralded by all as being key to winning the fight, is all very well but grief for what was, what could have been and what will never be is to be expected and indulged.
Amidst all this darkness, however, there is humour which comes from the most unusual places. In my case it was the giggles of my teens at the sight of the ridiculous surgical stockings which made my already skinny pins look like pipe cleaners. Add to this the joint hysteria of my husband and I, when after being discharged from intensive care onto the ward he took charge of operating the disabled chair to lift my bruised and battered body into the bath.
Yes the humour was all at my expense but it was a much needed bridge to normality and in a perverse way an attempt to claw back control from the cancer that has dominated my family’s nightmares for the last six weeks.
Hospitals are by their nature a cocoon, the outside world is suspended in time whilst you come to terms with how your new body looks, feels, functions and moves. It is a period of rebirth, a new normal.
Relief at this point for being “on the other side” is accompanied by gratitude for the selfless expertise and guidance of the nurses caring for you. Nothing is too much trouble as they work towards helping you prepare to leave and leave you must.
My first steps outside the doors of the hospital were accompanied by an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. Cancer aside I had entered a strong, fit midlifer eager to embrace the second half of her life. I left weak, wracked with pain and full of uncertainty.
Now the battle really begins as I learn to listen to my changed body and work with it not against it, to cope with the weeks ahead. Forwards not backwards, upwards not downwards, outwards not inwards – one step and one day at a time.