And so, since some of you may have noticed in the interim that I’ve been rather abruptly and conspicuously absent from my usual online hangouts, you might even perhaps have concluded, as is often the case when I’m not boring the arse off you with status updates about my telly habits and tweets about my toilet habits, that something is up. And alas, I’m afraid you'd be right, you clever buggers.
There is no easy way to explain what must come next, so I’m just going to launch it at you as necessarily abruptly as it was launched at me mere moments before that fib of a tweet. So here it is: my cancer has returned. Not as a localised recurrence, but a distant spread. It’s now grade 4 (as we know, there is no grade 5) which is also known as a secondary cancer or, to be blunt, a cancer which cannot be cured.
The spread is to my bones: not just in my back, as was first my suspicion, but everywhere, in the form of dot-like tumours (worst in my spine, hips, shoulders, ribs, clavicles, sternum). All of which explains the increasing pain I’ve been in recently whose severity I have, for longer than I care to admit, been denying to those around me – most of all me. (It’s funny – I always used to wonder as a kid whether I had a superpower of some sort, and had an inkling that it might be a superhuman pain threshold... turns out an oncologist has since confirmed just that, albeit in a somewhat less superhero-ey manner. Henceforth expect to see my undies on the outside of my leggings.)
To repeat what I said above, this cannot be cured, but it CAN be managed. So here’s some good news. In terms of my prognosis, we’re not talking months, but years: hopefully lots of them. (My ultimate goal, bizarre as it may sound, is to outlive Sgt Pepper.) And here’s some more good news: there is NO spread to my organs. Hence I’m told that there are plenty of things we can do to keep my pain to a bare minimum, to keep the dots at bay, and to ensure me a very good quality of life. Those things began on Monday/Tuesday this week when, after a several-weeks-long battle to get taken seriously about the pain in my back, shoulders and head (yep, we’re back to that fucking Tupperware again), a final trip to my GP turned into yet another trip to A&E, which then turned into an emergency trip to my beloved Smiley Surgeon, who kicked enough ass to get me a skinful of morphine, a canister-full of ‘laughing’ gas and an ambulance trip to a ward at the Royal Marsden, from where I type this post.
The time inbetween, if you’ll excuse me glossing over the detail (this, alas, is no time for detail: I can barely even get my mind around the headlines) has been a terrifying whirlwind of scans, X-rays, tests, CTs, MRIs, bloods, checks, scary conversations, tears, and confirmed – and re-confirmed – diagnoses.
My schedule of treatment remains to be decided – the ever-reliable Curly Professor is charged with choosing the necessary course later this afternoon – but it will most likely include a number of methods designed to keep my secondary cancer at a manageable level for as long as the NHS is able. Such methods will include (again, forgive the childish terms for now; I’m still learning the language) a three-weekly intravenous infusion of ‘bone juice’ to transfer calcium from my blood to my bones (where it’s most needed), as well as new injections of hormone therapy, pain-reducing radiotherapy wherever necessary and – sharp intake of breath – a possible course of chemo which, I am assured (oh, who am I kidding – which I have insisted) must NOT be like my last experience. ‘You’re talking about quality of life?’ I said to one consultant. ‘Well this,’ I declared, tugging on a strand of shoulder-length hair, ‘is my quality of life. AND I’M KEEPING IT.’
I apologise, dear reader, for this shitness landing in your inbox/Twitter stream/Facebook page so unceremoniously. But frankly, it’s news that just needs to be out there now and this seems as good a method as any to do it. I further apologise for the lack of replies I’ve sent to your lovely declarations of support following my last post about my panic-attacks (oh, how I hate having been right about that worry); and I apologise yet further to all the people who have been hearing this devastating news throughout the course of the week, only to get in touch with immense offers of assistance and affirmations of love and hear nothing back from me. In time, I hope I will be able to reply to most – if not all – of you, with something that’s strung together a bit better than this barely cohesive stream of worrying words.
All of that said: I am, of course, happy to answer any questions you might have, whenever you might have them. I want to be as open and matter-of-fact and kick-ass about this as possible, and I want you to be too. This is, of course, utterly devastating, but Peter and my family and I want to do our utmost to see it as a relief (hey, it could have been worse); a privilege, almost; an opportunity to live as exceptional an existence as we can for as long as we are able. Which, in my language, pretty much translates to continuing to live the incredibly lovely and happy life I currently enjoy (just, y’know, without the regular angry emails to Sky/BT/British Gas).
I’m sure there’s plenty more you’d like to know but, at this early stage, I would encourage you not to Google, please, and – if you must – instead refer to this info sheet from Breast Cancer Care, until such a time as I am able to be more specific.
What I need from you now – and yes, I’m getting all cancer-bossy again: deal with it – is to please remain calm, to keep your seatbelts fastened, your senses of humour intact and, if you have the ability through a phone or an email account or a Twitter reply or a Facebook message, then please please just BE A MATE to my husband and my parents and my brother and my family and my friends. As shitty as my health outlook is at the moment, I’d still much rather be in my position than theirs, and it would thus make me immeasurably happy if you’d just, y’know, be there for them.
Because I’m a lucky bugger (ha, yes: lucky me) with a helluva lot of mates both in person and online, there may be a number of responses to this post. I will, as ever, be hugely appreciative of them but, again, please forgive me for not replying. I’m tired and I’m emotional and I’m on a dizzying treatment schedule and my first priority must remain keeping my pain at bay. But now I’m back in the world of the strangely cathartic therapy that is blogging and social media, this will, again, become my preferred point of contact and I promise I’ll do my best to be available online as regularly as I ever am, whingeing just as much about X-Factor contestants as cancerous bones.
I’m sorry for bumming you out with all this, just as I’m sorry for lying to you in that tweet on Tuesday morning. I just needed to buy some time, is all: for the hospital admission, for the scans, for the treatment, for the management of pain, for the confirmation of my diagnosis, for my Peter, for my family, for my friends and, of course, for the inevitable return to the shit jokes and cacophony of expletives that must follow any cancer diagnosis. For the sentence which followed ‘I’m so sorry, you guys, but my cancer is back’ wasn’t a motivational message or an inspiring anecdote, or a go-easy-on-everyone nugget of wisdom, but instead a Lisa Lynch standard: ‘oh, and I’ve left skid marks in the loo and you’re just going to have to fucking well deal with them.’