Not held by fear

I’m definitely an ad hock writer but learning to be ok with that. Today in church we were encouraged to write out chapters of our stories and here is one from the last few month. It’s a long one but well worth a read.

I’m going to start with an apology not many knew I was facing what I am going to talk about today but I needed the circle on this to be small and I’ll explain why later.

So I’m about to go on a sailing trip with the Ellen Macather Cancer Trust in-fact I’m writing this from the train on route. It’s my second trip of the season my first being in April earlier this year. 2 days before I had a call, you know the ones you don’t want.

I’d had a scan in February, and the results got a little lost. But eventually I got a call in April, saying ‘we’ve looked at your scan’. I’m already in hyper drive! Thinking you don’t call for nothing. Come on spit it out… ugh get to the point… What is it? what’s wrong?! Still more waffle about how what they were looking for was clear but how sometimes these scans show other things…

Ok now I’m worrying it’s not my lungs, there is no scaring. This is what the routine scan was for. What is it?

They found an enlarged lymph node… if you’ve ever faced cancer you know where my brain was at right in that moment… ok so it’s fighting again then? Is it Hodgkins? I am at a higher risk, and that weird complication I had was early signs of this. My mind went straight there!

It wasn’t crazy big, but the radiographer had requested an ultrasound scan within 2 months (we were at that 2 month mark then). He says it could be due to an infection or it could be more sinister and with my history he wanted it checked. He want it done quickly because of the timeframe set by radiology. But thinks the best way for this was to have it in Hereford as if any follow up was needed it could be done locally. He also said it wasn’t an Immunology issue so they were handing it on. In this I heard we don’t think it’s infection related (as they deal with all this) and think it could be more sinister.

See once you face cancer you end up living in this place of a fear of relapsing. Living in the unknown and having the looming worry of relapse over you. You also become an expert in reading through the lines of the doctors while it’s hard to get their tone across in this I definitely felt the need for the rush to find out.

Within a few mins of putting down the phone I was a mess. In a place where my future was uncertain, and scared at how was going to impact this life I’ve finally started to get back.

I took a moment, and thought ok let’s be rational and rule this out. Have I had any other symptoms?

⁃ tiredness, yes but that could also be down to other things…

⁃ night sweats, ohh actually yes

⁃ Bruising, yep that killer bruise from Cyprus was still lingering months in

⁃ Itchy skin- yep

⁃ Unexplained weight-loss no but it’s the only one.

Now I realised this could just be coincidence, but instead of ruling it out it brought just more uncertainty.

Within a few hours, I’d had some people come around me and pray for me. I’d hit the practical mode of planning. Ok, so if I’m fighting it will still be early stages. I’d have minimal treatment and I’d be back to normal within 6months. I’d be ok… I could cope. Right when do I tell people? Who do I tell, how would I get to treatment? Where would I have treatment.

I called the Trust just so they knew where I was at head space wise for the residential trip. They said if I needed to or didn’t think I could they would manage without me. I say I’ll be ok and they say if you change your mind at any time let us know. I love the trust and how they care for their volunteers.

I arrive to big hugs from the team and a conversation about how if I need time out just to say. Throw myself in and forget about it.

Then just before going home I have a conversation with a young person about a scan they were waiting for, my advice to them was until you know try to assume it’s nothing, what’s the point wasting time worrying for what could be nothing.

I never realised just how hard this advice really was to follow, til I started to do it myself. Hitting reality of home, I was constantly checking the mail for the letter from my consultant to my G.P for scan referral. I let the waiting consume me. I spent the following few weeks calling doctors to chase things only to experience delay after delay of getting answers. Just getting more and more worried in the waiting.

I soon realised that this was a pointless waste of time. So chose not to let the fear or worry steal from me any longer. While this was a journey that didn’t always work. I chose to refocus each time on God knowing he has it all. Knowing that worry solved nothing so why waste my time with it.

In church and academy we sang this song called follow you anywhere by passion. Part of the lyrics are ‘there’s a million reasons to trust you, nothing to fear for you are by my side, I’ll follow you anywhere.’ One week we were singing this and I broke. Into such a blubbering mess, because I realised I’m singing this and truly meaning it. But that following God anywhere also means anywhere even back into the fight.

A week or so later I go on a walk with God. It actually felt more like I’d gone 10 rounds with Him. After an hour he says to me that I fail to have desires of the heart all because I’m too afraid of them being ripped out from under me, and while yes I was surrendered it was only because I had nothing to surrender.

The days that followed I went on several more walks and realised just how right this was. I was ready to fight but part of the reason for this was because although yes outcomes were unknown it would bring in a lot of known to. I’d be re-entering my comfort zone and the place I thrived, being a super patient who knew how to navigate through. This was my comfort zone.

I soon realised as I had a plan for if I was to fight I also needed one for if I wasn’t. I needed to put those dreams and desires in my heart again, and not be so afraid of loosing the things in my life that I refused to live. In this I realised just how long I lived in the fear of loosing it all.

Yes I’ve written about this before and I’m not saying I haven’t been living, or acting on this by going on the journey of truly living. What I’m realising tho is there is always more. ALWAYS MORE!

I won’t say right now what those things in my heart are. But for the first time in the longest time I can truly say I have dreams, I have aspirations and I’m chasing after them unafraid of them being swept away again.

Oh yea the lump.. It’s taken 6 months from my initial scan to answers. But I had a scan about 2 weeks ago and it’s nothing! NOTHING! The lymph node is still enlarged but completely within normal range, and so nothing to worry about.

Yes I cried when I left the hospital seems like even though I wasn’t letting the fear of future hold me. There was still a huge sense of relief that my future didn’t look like more drip stands and treatments.

I would have told people if it was something but I felt that worrying others as well was silly and unnecessary. I also decided I didn’t want to make a big deal about it and felt it would help with this.

Sometimes we are taken on unexpected journeys to unearth and uncover different things.

This chapter of my life has taught me

⁃ not to live in a place of fear or worry.

⁃ That my faith is strong and knowing I can trust God makes life that bit easier.

⁃ That not everyone needs to know every battle you face, for me this helped because I wasn’t constantly being asked for updates from everyone. It also increased my faith because I chose to lean on God in these moments more.

⁃ That doctors are over worked humans who can forget to send letters but be patient with them.

⁃ That I have a future

⁃ That I can really live

⁃ That it’s normal to have dreams and aspirations and these can be from God too.

⁃ That prayer works

⁃ Having people that speak life into situations of death and uncertainty is so helpful for keeping you positive and worry free.

#thisismystory #MyStoryHisGlory

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Survivorship Guilt- Loosing a Cancer Friend

Yep this one is hard to write- but after spending a little while searching I realised its not out there enough in those moments where we need it.

Tonight I found myself scrolling through Facebook to hit a post that had me stunned into shock. Another (yep I’ve been dealing with this for 8 years now) cancer friend has passed away. I’d met this person through the sailing charity I’m a volunteer for and remember really clearly having a very long and deep conversation with this young person she was something special. I now choose not to be informed by the trust if a young person I’ve met passes away (simply because I have to protect myself from feeling like I did tonight) but also now they don’t do this either. I had a mutual friend with this person and through a shared social media post I found out.

I’m going to describe what its like simply because tonight when I had no words I wished I had the explanation to pass on to my ‘normal’ (non-cancer) friends as I was completely unable to talk to. Please understand this is my experience but I’m also writing it for my friends to also use in these situations.

What the grief process is like

Because we have been so ill we have been exposed to death way more than most of our peers, but the loss of a cancer friend is so different to when you loose a family member or friend because of an accident or other illness. I say this because I often feel greater grief in this than like any other types of grief I’ve experienced simply because we also have survivorship guilt wrapped up in our grief. Now we have different types of cancer friends loss, those we’ve met and done life with over time, those we have met only a few times but also those who we have followed through social media. We also have the expected and unexpected versions of loss too. For some we’ve known are on palliative (end of life) care for some time, others have a slow decline in health, and others are completely unexpected- and happen completely out of the blue as the deteriorated over just a few days or hours.

Because we now live in a digital world, most I’d say 95% of the people who I’ve lost over the years I’ve found out through social media. So almost every time I go onto Facebook now (because of my years of experience) I prepare myself just in case I scroll to the news of a death and I know this isn’t exclusive to just the cancer world.

When your met with the news a cancer friend has passed away one of 4 things happen- 1.  your well prepared and although its still sad- and you still grieve you aren’t hit quite as harshly with survivorship guilt and your able to process through it quickly (as quick as you can after any friends death). 2 you are prepared for it but haven’t prepared how much of an impact their loss has on you and survivors guilt slaps you. 3 it doesn’t hit yet- and is delayed either due to the shock or being unable to process it there and then but it always still hits Or 4 your completely blindsided by the grief and overwhelming survivors guilt.

I don’t think there has ever been a time that I’ve experienced the loss of a cancer friend and not experienced survivorship guilt.

What does survivors guilt look like

Well it looks you hearing the news and then the complete shock of the loss- it hits you like a big giant wave knocking you off your feet completely. Your unable to breathe and you haven’t yet got to the tears but then its like a huge weight falls on you… one you can’t shake and it consumes you- that’s the guilt- yep it comes before the grief even hits but the grief usually hits very soon after so you experience them together sometimes. This guilt is tough to explain but I’m going to do my best. Its like you suddenly question why them, and not you. Why did they get taken when they had so much more to live for than you… You feel responsible for them because you’ve been through such a similar things and supported one another. You see the potential that their life had and have a moment where they are put on that pedestal of well they were better than me… You feel guilty for surviving when they didn’t. You feel guilty for not being able to help them. You feel awful because of you realise you shouldn’t feel guilty so you get guilt for the guilt. You question who you are, you question if the last thing you spoke to them about was positive. It’s the gut puncher that they won’t now get a chance of a future. The pain that you’ll not get any more words of wisdom or yea I get that too from them. Its worse when you’ve journeyed with them, or have the same cancer because you then feel like ‘you’re the lucky one’ for surviving. You question if you’ll be the next, you question if your going to relapse but it also has you questioning who you need to prepare to loose next. Plus then you have the normal grieving that everyone experiences.

What people tell you

Its hard because rationally you know the things that people tell you, it’s the same advice we give to our cancer friends when the face it… That there is no need for you to feel guilty. That the harsh reality of cancer is not everyone survives. There is no reason to why you survived and they didn’t. That you need to remember the good, the joy you brought them and they brought you. The comfort you were for each other. That they wouldn’t want  you to feel like this, they would want you to live your life to the full… this last thing though- it’s hard because you end up living your life for them.. You take them on add the name to your ongoing list of the people your living life for… I’m not sure how I feel about this but in resent years I’ve begun to realise that this is just  how unhealthy it is to do this, you cant live for them… you can live and know that they would be bursting with pride for doing so… but you cant live for them.  Yet that rational thinking doesn’t exist in that moment… sometimes it takes minutes to move through survivorship guilt and into rational, sometimes it takes hours and other times it takes weeks. I have no answers for how to move through it- other than it helps to let people in, help them understand where your at and help them understand its not just grief your dealing with. I find that hard especially in the overwhelming stage (which can sometimes last several hours) hence why I’m writing this!

 

Why I struggle with the Battle metaphor

The thing with treatment is you could be identical twins and have the exact same cancer, same stage and place. You have the exact same treatment but you could have completely different response and outcomes. No one knows why, its just the reality. I think this is the reason I struggle with the battle metaphor… by this I mean the lost their fight/battel or the you’ve beaten cancer. See there are a few problems with it, it implies that some haven’t fought hard enough or you haven’t won, that others fought harder because they survive which is simply not true. It also is hard for those who have ‘beaten cancer’ because you have you will find that people assume your ‘better’ and healthy now… you still live with the effects and the impact of the words ‘you have cancer’ (or cancer-ish in my case) will forever have on your life. At my friends Peter’s funeral this was written on the front of the service sheet and sums it up so well ‘When you die, it doesn’t mean that you lose to cancer, you beat cancer by how live, why you live and the manner in which you live’. Stuart Scott.

 

Cancer Friends/Normal friends

Your cancer friends get you like no-one else, they understand you and the problems you face unlike anyone else. I love my normal friends but at times they just don’t get it, nor do I expect them to- no amount of explaining even comes close- but with a cancer friend you know they get it… like completely! So its hard when your cancer friends are literally dotted throughout the whole country and the people you have around you in the moments when you get the news are often your normal friends its really hard,  while many of them understand grief, many haven’t lost friends and the certainly don’t get what its like to loose someone who you have shared experience of, or the survivorship guilt either. However I’m beginning to learn that they can still support me in this- I’ve just got to try and explain and understand that they wont get it fully, but that’s OK.

Loosing friends doesn’t get any easier, yes different people hit me on different scales like any grief but the survivorship guilt can vary- and often doesn’t matter how well I knew someone or not. Sometimes it just depends on where I’m at personally before the news, other times it depends on how well I knew the person, others its whether there is an accumulation effect, and others on how prepared or unprepared I was for the news. I’m learning to let my friends in, praying for peace and working it through. Maybe one day I’ll have the answer and be able to separate the grief from the guilt but for now- this is me stumbling through.

Hope this helps bring understanding to the non cancer world, and a way for the cancer world to explain it. I’m grateful for those church friends and cancer world friends who have been there for me over the last 24hrs. You guys really helped thankyou.

The start of something NEW!

Like always, its been a while. Sorry for that- its not that I’ve not had things to say it’s more been is it the right time to say it…. and for most things it still isn’t- but one day i’ll get round to then hundreds of blog post ideas and getting some of the things said that I’ve wanted to for a long time.

This blog post is about CHANGE! Something that I massively hate and have done for the longest time… but something feels different this time and I can’t quite put my finger on it- maybe I will as I keep typing. Stood in the kitchen of my friends house last night I said about how I really don’t like change and doing something new always terrified me yet I hadn’t felt like that moving out recently as I began the process of  moving from Cardiff to Hereford (I’ll explain more later).

Growing up I defiantly was someone who needed a routine and I was someone who was always busy- every night of the week I had something… and I also would often cram in swimming before school too… routine and business kept me going. Deciding to go to college, Camp America and University was all stepping out of my comfort zone and embracing change… but it was hard! Then after I got sick even the smallest of changes unsettled me- I remember how fearful I was when anything changed. Going on my first EMCT trip I remember telling my social worker I didn’t want to go, and returning to University seemed like an impossible challenge. I think getting ill worsened my outlook on change because my life changed so drastically in an instant… I went from a normal university life to one surrounded by drip machines and months of isolation. Knowing how quickly you can loose it all really rocked me for a long time.

Things however, have finally changed…. and although I still don’t like change but I’m learning to embrace it and run with it… and having faith is helping massively with that. Don’t get me wrong I still have concerns and I’m still nervous about the change but I also know that I don’t need to worry about every little thing. I’m putting faith into my faith, and knowing that whilst I’m unsure on how I’m going to manage financially or with the practicalities of life in a new place- this should not and will not hold me back from giving it a good old go!

I’m leaving the life I’ve built for myself in the wonderful city of Cardiff, and its hard. This city has been home for the past 9 years, its where I met some incredible friends through uni, hospital and church. It’s a place I got to call my own, a place of safety and a place where I’ve got to be me. This past few weeks I’ve said goodbye to some incredible flatmates, my stomping ground where I’ve been based for at least 6 of those years, my favourite coffee shops and favourite places and I’ve had moments of sadness in this- not knowing if i’ll get to call these places mine again… (I’m not saying I won’t be back its just if I’m back it will be different). I’m also going embracing the fact that I could be called anywhere after Academy and I’m not ruling anything out yet…

Last night on my way to my last rehearsal with church I got teary… goodbyes have never been a strong point for me, I find them hard and I will often push those I’m close to away in preparation for it (I know this is not the way to do it but its a habit I’m yet to break- so I’m really sorry if I’ve done this- its most defiantly a me thing and recognising it is a huge step for me…so please accept this as an apology). The team I’ve had the privilege of working along side at church have been well incredible… they have taught me so much, not just in faith but in skills and in leadership qualities. They have helped me transform from a broken girl who felt like I could bring nothing to one who can get stuck in, own the vision and now I’ve been training others up too. This team have been key in that transformation they have pushed me when I’ve needed it and helped me manage my health when I’ve needed that too. I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without them and the hours of love and prayer they have given me. I’m going to miss them all massively especially Sam and Kyle who have rocked production managing and have pushed me further than I ever thought possible. Last night they gave me a lovely send off with a couple of gifts including beautiful orchid which I’ve named ‘Mac Toshi’ after the beloved big mac.

Mac ToshiThey also prayed for me which is a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget. They spoke such wonderful words about me, from the transformation that has taken place in me, to the glue I’ve been for the team… They also prayed into my future and gave me some key things to hold for the days ahead. Yes there will be a hole in the team because I’m leaving but that will soon fill with the guys stepping up and new people joining the team. I’m going to have a huge hole in my heart for this team tho- and knowing that I’m not ever coming back to the same team because everyone grows and new people will be added and others will be sent out… it does however make me immensely proud of the team that has been built here. Thank you Production team its been a blast!

I’ve got 2 more Sunday’s in church but because i’m sailing next week, which feels immensely perfect as I did my first time trip the week before I moved back to Cardiff to start University again- now i’m sailing the week before my new course. This has meant some goodbyes have already had to happen… I’ve said some goodbyes to those who I’ve known for years and thats been tough… please make me accountable to staying in touch its something I’m not great at but hope this time i’ll do better at it. I move to Hereford on the 10th September and I’ll be taking part in a leadership course with my church called Freedom Academy… it’s a ten month programme (2 days a week) designed to grow our;

  • understanding of the Christian faith
  • relationship with God
  • sight into the role and development of leadership (insight and experience)
  • growth personally

I’m super excited and think this change feels different to others because it feels so right for me, because I now have an unshakeable faith and because I’ve learnt to embrace change not fear it! I also know its the right time for me to do something new otherwise i’d just be forming a rut and one that i’d never move on from. I’ll be living with lots of people from all over and its gonna be tough and very challenging. If you pray then i’d love prayer covering  a few things

  1. My finances for the year- I’m stepping out into the unknown until I’m there I won’t know what the impact on my finances there maybe so be praying that i’ll have enough to afford to live and pay rent and course fees.
  2. Friendships- for great bonds to be formed in and out of church.
  3. Health- for my immune system to not be effected too much with the change of environment and my energy levels not to dip as much this winter.
  4. Existing Relationships- for me to navigate the best way to stay in touch with people (I’m not the best at this).
  5. Personally- that I’m able to open up, trust and give this year my all.

I’m so grateful for all the things that have helped build me to who i am today and I’m looking forward to see the change that this year has on my life further down the line… I’m looking forward to reviewing how I action some of this and seeing how I grow. Thank-you to every single person that has encouraged, challenged and pushed me I wouldn’t be facing this new challenge if it hadn’t have been for your input.