I didn’t mention it in my last post as I don’t think I really believed we’d manage it, but pretty much on doctor’s orders, within an hour of getting my scan results, I booked a two week trip to Lefkas.
After cancelling trips to Scotland, Cornwall and Venice I had totally accepted the idea that we wouldn’t get our magical summer holiday this year. After all – what sort of idiot shields for 5 months and then gets on a plane in the middle of a pandemic……. well, it seems that I’m that sort of idiot. Honestly, I still feel like it was a pretty odd thing to do but what was just a tiny glimmer of a possibility when I realised that there was a perfect two week window between my scan result appointment and when the boys were due back in school, became a reality.
We’d mentioned to the boys that we were considering going away but explained that there were a load of obstacles that would need to be overcome. I was concerned the UK would be in total lockdown, that Greece would close it’s borders, that Greece might be in lockdown, that it would become apparent that covid spread like mad on airplanes, that there’d be nothing available, or if we got as far as getting to Greece we’d find ourselves having to self-isolate because someone on the plane tested positive. The biggest of all the obstacles though was whether or not my scan results would be ok. If they weren’t – not only would we all have been very upset but there is still no obvious next treatment step for me so things would have been very uncertain.
Thankfully we got incredibly lucky and everything fell into place. What had felt like a bit of a pipe dream became a reality. So the final hurdle was simply whether or not we felt like it was the right thing to do – was it safe, was it responsible. In the end the decision was made with the giddy high of good scan results, the approval of my doctor and the realisation that when you live with stage IV cancer, putting things off until next year is a very risky strategy.
So, six days after we booked our holiday, we flew off for an amazing two weeks on the beautiful island of Lefkas. In terms of how safe it felt I’d say that the airport and the plane felt fine for us in that everyone wore masks and there’s hand sanitiser everywhere. It wasn’t perfect as the plane was full and suddenly being that close to so many other people after months of shielding felt strange but for us it was worth it and then joyfully Lefkas really did feel safe. I’d been keeping an eye on the infection numbers there and as far as I can see they’ve only had a couple of reported cases during this whole pandemic and nothing at all for a few weeks before we arrived. Whilst the numbers in Greece as a whole have increased it feels like nothing compared to what’s happening in the England and so for us it felt wonderfully safe. Everyone wears masks in the shops and all the staff in shops and restaurants do too plus there sanitiser galore everywhere. So we were able to relax. The villa was stunning with beautiful views of the sea, the sea produced the amazing waves I’d remembered from last year and it was every bit as lovely as I’d hoped it would be.
My boys, like Andy and I, are very used to living with the uncertainty of my cancer – they don’t really know anything else as it’s been present for so much of their lives. Neither of them ever say very much about it instead they just carry on as normal and it’s only on reflection I realise how perhaps their reactions to some things are shaped by the ever present cancer. Clearly I love going to Greece but more than anything I really wanted the boys to have a proper holiday. They had to spend months shielding because of my cancer and they did so without complaint – they were amazing and throughout all of it remained sweet and good natured and just got on with it. I am more than aware that covid has been indescribably tough for many people and for everyone it has been life-changing so my own trials and tribulations pale into insignificance compared to so many but getting away was something we could do and I am very pleased that we did it. The boys are finally returning to school today and they do so having had some proper time out of the house, some space to run around and swim and a couple of weeks of something that felt quite normal.
The other joy of our holiday is we only got back on the 6th September which means before I knew it a week of my dreaded September had already passed without the usual gloom setting in. For years I’ve had scans during September as that’s the way they always fallen but the 12 weekly thing meant they landed early this year hence my August scan. So for the first time since 2012 I get to go into September knowing that right now everything is OK. It’s a strange feeling – it’s lovely and I’m hoping that it makes this month easier than it has been in recent years – but it does feel strange.
At the moment I don’t feel all unsettled and miserable instead I feel rather thoughtful. I don’t think the month will, or probably even should, just slip by – I think that part of what gets me through the rest of the year is having a few weeks to reflect on september 2013 and just keep processing all that changed and what it all means.
It feels right that I should think back to those frightening weeks and months when my cancer became something that was never going to go anywhere. I cannot help but think of some of the other patients that I met at the hospital and on the forums who were also stage IV, some who started the Checkmate 067 trial at the same time as me. It’s frightening to remember how many there have been – friends I chatted to in the waiting rooms, others who I corresponded with online – who died. For many, the improved treatments came too late but sadly, and in some ways more worryingly, for many, the treatments simply didn’t work for long enough – if it all. Melanoma remains an incredibly nasty cancer. There will never been any space for complacency. So instead – whilst it’s possible – it’s just a question of seizing the moment and as cliched as it sounds – trying to live your best life.