5 years

Tomorrow, May 24th 2016, it will be five years since the dermatologist looked at the mole on my back said – ‘it could be melanoma’ and arranged for it to be excised there and then. I suddenly understood, that the slight worry that it might be something bad had become a reality. I asked her whether it would kill me. She said, with great confidence, ‘go home, give your husband a big kiss and thank him for sending you to see the doctor and saving your life’. There are a lot of bits of that summer and the subsequent frights along the way that I’m a little bit foggy about but I remember that encounter ever so well and for so long I held on to her words and trusted them. I’m still here but at this point along the cliched ‘journey’ I know she was wrong. Getting me to see the GP when he did has almost certainly given me longer  – the earlier you catch the bugger the better – but it will kill me. It keeps trying and it’s only the miracle drugs that keep stopping it. I also remember that the doctor who performed the excision described it as being like cutting the bad bits out of potato – you can just keep on cutting larger bits away and that will deal with it. Again, I took comfort from those slightly gruesome words. The thought of surgery never worried me – my fear was always about those other kinds of treatments – chemo, radiotherapy……

Claire and I still laugh about the fact that she’d told me with great confidence that even if they did think it looked sinister there’s no way they’d remove it there and then so I ought to drive, so I did. Thankfully my poor sliced, cauterized and stitched up back was so full of local anaesthetic I was indeed fine to drive home. Although, now the very fact that she’d come with me to that appointment suggests we both knew things might not go well. I am so grateful to her that she was there – she was, as she always is during hospital situations – amazing. She manages to get the perfect blend of humour (often gallows), kindness and a kind of no bullshit practicality which is always exactly what I need. I’m sure the fact that she was with me that day – right at the beginning – is part of why I’ve continued to find it such a comfort having her with me at all the major milestones and treatments along the way.

As I’ve said before the removal of the offending mole was just the beginning of a long summer of appointments, surgeries, stress and misery and there’s no need to go through all that again. Instead, like all anniversaries, this one is making me feel reflective. It is making me realise how incredibly different my life has become. I am so used to the new normality that I forget that just 5 years ago the outlook was very different. Had I not been diagnosed with cancer would I have had another baby? I was only 34 when I was diagnosed, I hadn’t dismissed the idea of a third. Would I have continued to grow my business had I not been told in Sep 2013 that my prognosis was so bleak? Would I have a proper catering kitchen and staff? It’s all nonsense of course. What ifs are pointless and if I’m going to start taking them seriously I might as well add the possibility that one of those proverbial buses might have hit me in the last 5 years too.

Funnily looking back I don’t actually feel too regretful and that’s probably because, with the exception of the damn cancer, I really like my life. I’ve said before that I live my life far better than I did before. I’m incredibly lucky that I don’t need to work and so do get to spend a huge amount of time with my lovely boys. I can hang around in the park after school with them without having to rush home to bake, or deliver orders or make yet another visit to the supermarket to buy another 10 dozen eggs or a few kilos of sugar. Whilst I was pretty heartbroken when I closed my business down I’ve discovered that I can pick it up back up, on a much smaller scale, whenever the mood takes me. I can host a pop-up shop, or just take orders for a week and that satisfies any need I get to do something productive. I’ve also enjoyed the time I now have to see friends, go for coffee, lunch without that pressure that I ought to be working. Most of all I find that the simple things – listening to my boys laugh together – fill me with the most joyful feeling and I’m not sure I would have appreciated it so much before cancer became a part of my life.

I’m not an idiot – I truly wish that I didn’t have melanoma. I hate that it’s constantly there threatening to take me away from my boys, family and friends but sometimes you just have to not look to far ahead and in doing that, I’m able to really enjoy the now. It’s how I’ve got through the last 5 years.

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5 years

Hurray!

To my absolute joy, my scan results on 25th April were even better than I’d even dared hope.  My hope was that the tumour that had been shown to be growing in January would have either stabilised or shrunk and in fact the scan showed that all my tumours had shrunk! This was a far more positive outcome than I think anyone could have expected and in fact the tumours are now smaller than they’ve ever been since they made their presence known back in September 2013. So, even two weeks later, I’m still heaving a massive sigh of relief and feeling that for now, I can be a little bit in charge of my life again.

It was decided that it wasn’t necessary to move straight on to the maintenance dose of Nivolumab and as there’s still a possibility that this initial phase of treatment will keep things stable or possibly even cause further regression. So, i’m having a very delightful break from treatment. I’m due to have a further scan in early  June and depending upon how that goes a decision will be made about whether I need to start on the Nivolumab then or possibly delay again for a further 6 weeks if it’s not deemed necessary.

It’s difficult to describe quite how relieved I’m feeling about it all but to me it feels as though the giant black cloud that has been weighing me down since January has lifted. I’m obviously not out of the woods. I never will be, I have Stage IV Melanoma but I feel like I’m being allowed to take a little holiday from the worry and the fear.

The first thing Andy and I did when we returned from the hospital was to book a trip to New York to celebrate Andy’s 50th birthday. The trip is booked for 21st June, nearly 2 months on from the 25th April meeting and I realised it was the first time in nearly 5 years that we’ve felt able to book something so far ahead. Usually, I had to wait to do it immediately post scan (in this case, I already knew I’d have another scan before we go) as the fear that something frightening showing up was too great. This time, I feel fairly confident that the worst thing the early June scan will show is that I need to start on the Nivolumab and mentally I’m ready for that anyway. So for once, I feel like I might be just a little bit in charge and the damn cancer can give me a break.

 

 

Hurray!