Feeling very happy to be approaching yet another Christmas. Since having had the boys I’ve so totally embraced the ‘magic of christmas’ feeling. They love it, they get totally overexcited and that excitement is wonderfully contagious so this has become one of my favourite times of year. As well as their excitement I love that everyone is on holiday even if only for a day or two and I just really enjoy the mixture of lazy days hanging around at home with the family as well as eating lots of delicious food and catching up with friends. This, amazingly, is my fourth Christmas since the stage IV diagnosis and whilst I don’t like the reason, I do enjoy that because complacency was obliterated I get real pleasure from just the little things.
It seems that every year is likely to be full of ups and downs and 2016 has been a very dramatic one. There have been a seemingly endless number of celebrity deaths and on the national and international front the world appears to veering off in really horrific directions. On top of that it’s been an incredibly rocky year for many of those around me and many of my friends are desperate to say goodbye to 2016. However, slightly shamefully, I have to admit to that fact that this year has been really rather special to me.
Andy and I sat in a very lovely hotel at the very beginning of this year and we dared to have a conversation about the year ahead. It was a big year for both of us with his 50th in June and my 40th in September. On top of that, I was feeling very well and dared to utter the words that if everything was still OK by September I would seriously think about re-launching my business. My plan was to do it on a smaller scale than previously but ultimately I was feeling ready to embrace a bit of normality – to work, to make plans.
Well, this was obviously a mistake. Every time I’ve made some kind of commitment since my cancer diagnosis in 2011 things have gone a little bit wrong. In May 2013 I signed up to walk the Shine Marathon – by the time the marathon came round at the end of September I’d just learnt that all my developing symptoms added up to a Stage IV diagnosis. At the end of January 2015 I was feeling fit and well and totally used to the fortnightly trial treatments and so decided to set myself the goal of running a 10k in June. By June I’d been taken off the trial because of developing colitis type symptoms, had a brief stay in hospital and was in treatment limbo. So the curse of making plans once again took hold a few days after Andy’s and my discussion about the year ahead. My scan on 7th January revealed that one of the tumours was growing again and I ended up in a period of horrid stress and anxiety having to get the trial unblinded, making treatment decisions and being once again reminded that cancer will not just sit on the backburner.
However despite the crappy setback right at the start of the year I got lucky and was able to have a drug re-challenge. I had four infusions over 3 months and other than a slight blip at the beginning of June (tumour flare) I sailed through the treatment with very limited side effects and it worked. The tumours are currently marginally smaller than they were this time last year and they’re stable and have been since the early summer. It was obviously a difficult time. Treatment, however smoothly it goes, is traumatic and despite how incredibly lucky I was about side effects there is still a level of fatigue that plagued me until a month or two ago. I only every really recognise the extent of it once it lifts and I realise that for me, lethargy is an absolute side effect and not my natural state of being.
So despite my fear of making any kind of commitment actually what I have learned is that it’s ok. Making plans hasn’t caused any of the rubbish things to happen – they’d have happened anyway but at least this way I can say that I walked a marathon (pretty speedily) and ran a 10k. Having finally learned this we decided to press ahead with plans to extend our kitchen. When I committed to it I had no idea whether the treatment would work and how I’d be but regardless it felt important to make a normal plan and the hope was (and thankfully it proved to be the case) that we’d have a lovely new kitchen at the end of it.
So, when I look back over the last year I cannot help but be struck by the huge number of really wonderful moments. Both Andy’s and my big birthdays were really very lovely – memorable, full of amazing friends – really special days. As well as that Andy and I had a truly perfect trip to New York in June and the four of us had an equally perfect fortnight in Crete in August. I feel very selfish dwelling on all the frivolous fun bits of the year but there have been so many and for me – reaching 40 was a very perfect moment. I love it. I tell everyone regardless of the nature of the conversation. I embrace the wrinkles and grey hairs and honestly cannot wait to get older.
I also realised that in that cancer is not about to disappear I need to embrace the really odd silver-linings it has brought to me. It’s made me say yes far more than no. So when asked to talk at a European melanoma conference in Belgium I said yes. I said yes again in June when I agreed to share my melanoma story at the first UK patient conference and on top of that I’ve done three television interviews – one of which I’m really quite proud of. The previous version of me would have shied away from anything like that and so I have to credit cancer with that one. I’ve also been on amazing trips to both Leuven and Krusenberg as part of the Melanoma Patients Network Europe and both of those trips have inspired me as well as allowing me to mix with a truly wonderful collection of people.
There have been other important milestones too that have added a touch of magic to the year. Some are cancer-related – in May it was 5 years since my original diagnosis and in September it was 3 years since the stage IV diagnosis but as well as these – which were acknowledged and in the case of the latter celebrated with a marvelous dinner – there have been others too. Max turned 8, Oscar turned 11 and I was more than well enough to put in his secondary school application (unimaginable 3 years ago). In April, Andy and I celebrated 22 years together and 16 years of marriage. Every single one of these days was marked in some way or other and I’m beyond grateful for them all.
So really, however selfish it sounds, 2016 has been a very special year for me.