A cancer diagnosis over Christmas and New Year has turned my world upside down and it will never be the same again.
This time last year I was in party planning overdrive preparing for my 50th birthday celebrations and flying the platinum flag for being fifty and fabulous. This year I am busy getting ready for a series of gruelling treatments.
“So what do you have? How did you know? What were the symptoms?" These are the irrelevant questions of those unused to dealing with people shell shocked and reeling from any kind of tragedy in their lives, whose fallback is to focus on the quite frankly superfluous detail.
It's not their fault. It’s tough knowing what to say and in their defence I fall outside the box of what is normal. My cancer is predominantly a young person’s disease. The domain of those in their 20’s and 30’s apparently.
“This is unusual in your age group. You have been unlucky. We will be looking into this.” Shock affects us all in different ways. My husband went white and reached for my hand. I smiled, batted his hand away and said “That doesn’t help where I am now, what is next?”
People that know me will vouch that I am a control freak, uber organised, an obsessive compulsive even. I do what I have to when I have to. This just doesn’t happen to people like me. At a party over the summer I nagged a dear friend in her mid 50’s who hadn't had a health check in 15 years to get on with it before it was too late. So how come I am where I am?
Well returning to those questions about the symptoms, yes I was displaying some changes but despite chats with my GP about concerns I had, those early warning signs for what I have were the same as those you would expect from any woman going through the menopause , it is after all a period of change. Well their reassurances have turned out to be futile and could cost me dear. There was something to "seriously" worry about. Those menopausal symptoms as they were so reassuringly labelled, were actually an indication of something more sinister.
Right now I am terrified. Despite the huge amount of love I am guaranteed from my nearest and dearest - the inner and select sanctum of people who are fully aware of the minutiae of what is going on and watching my back, I am alone in my bubble of fear, just like everyone else I assume who receives this kind of diagnosis. Platitudes and well-meant reassurances of "You will be OK. You are strong. Stay positive" fall on deaf ears at this stage even though of course they are right. Oh to to be able to turn back the clock or wake from this living hell.
I want to see my teens grow up, graduate from university, pursue a career with passion, find love and happiness and go onto have families of their own. More than anything I want to be there for them every step of the way just as my parents have been and continue to be for me.
This midlife stage is meant to be a period of new adventure with my husband too, free of our children, indulging each other once again in our joy and love of being a couple and not just parents. The thought of being robbed of that makes me feel sick, it comes in huge waves when I least expect it. Tears prick at the backs of my eyes and I find myself gulping for air and diving for cover so that he doesn't see my anxiety and pain.
I have spent days over the last couple of weeks at hospital having a series of scans. A more depressing place on earth there surely isn’t. After fighting for a space in the over populated car park, my husband and I walk hand in hand to the entrance on autopilot, staring on the way in to the ashen and soulless faces of those going through treatment. Death is literally on every corner. Alongside is despair, the false mumblings of reassurance and smiles of bonhomie, the palpable panic and the totally crushing claustrophobia of being in a group of people by necessity rather than choice.
The reverse side of this is the extremely humbling experience of being with professionals dedicated to making this rather painful journey easier. It takes a very special kind of person to commit to a lifetime of helping people and that deserves a cheer and a fist bump. Add to that the fact that whilst I bemoan my situation there are children amidst the sea of sick faces. Some as young as five. Smiling and hopeful.
Life has a way of twisting the knife sometimes but without these wonderful people, the love and support of family and friends and pure childlike hope - the journey would be tough. Mine is only just beginning. The markers are in the sand and I don’t know where this path will take me or even us, it is a detour on the route I had planned but for now it is just one step at a time.
Editor's Note: Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is the only UK charity dedicated to women and their families affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities. For more information about screening, including helpful tips, visit their website. They offer a range of information and support, both online and face-to-face, 24 hours a day.