In September 2016, I sat in a white hospital office, with a young asian doctor saying how sorry he was. I was 44 years old, and he had just told me that without successful treatment, he expected I would be dead in 6 months time.
When I first got sick, I became a prolific reader of any and every piece of online intelligence I could get my hands on. I liked credible scientific sources like pubmed, but also forums like these (especially when wanting to guage side effects of treatment and other personal experiences).
I won't re-hash "My Story", I'm not here for that. I just wanted to write to YOU.
I sat in your chair, I read through all this stuff, grappling for some kind of hope to hold onto (I have 3 quite young kids). I was trying to find ways to understand and move forward, and ideally .. to fight.
I just wanted to tell you: it's not over.
Whatever the situation, however grim, you're still here. I hope you win your fight against cancer, and if you don't, I hope all of your remaining days have some touch of hope and ideally happiness in them.
Cancer tries to rob you of that. It's the dark reality of the disease.
You can be hit by a bus and die, and every day leading up to that point, you lived your life untainted by the worry and fear and isolation of being hit by a bus. It robbed you of your life, but not your hope, your dignity, your sense of place in the world. Cancer isn't like that, it doesn't just try to take your life, it wants to eat away at everything.
Don't let it.
I was given 6 months. My disease was advanced. I was in grim, mortal peril. I went through awful, gut-wrenching treatment.
Today there is no evidence of cancer in my body. Yes, I live with a fear of recurrence, But I also live with the hope of living at least another ten years or so (it's absolutely paramount to me, that I steward my children into adulthood without subjecting them to the grief of a lost father).
When I think back to that hospital room, and those first days and weeks, and how .. adrift I felt .. I wish I could go back and coach myself a little. But I can't. But maybe I *can* help you.
Don't give in to the fear and anxiety, find a way to accept the things that you can't change, so that you can squeeze all the happiness available to you out of whatever time you have left.
(I think that actually applies whether you have cancer or not).
But yeah. Six months. And now I'm sitting just shy of 2 years post-treatment. At that 2 year mark, my statistical risk of recurrent cancer drops dramatically. There's no guarantee that your treatment trajectory will follow a successful path .. but however things land for you, it's largely outside your control.
What you CAN control is your short-term choices.
Try and enjoy the people you love, make the most of them, and if you can .. have a little fun.
Don't let the fear knock you over.
If you're here grappling with the "I have cancer ?!" experience, before you get into the nitty gritty, I think it's important to recognise that you're still alive, and although you're afraid .. numb ... angry ... grieving .. depressed .. (or any combination of these), it's worth finding a stance that is a bit protective of your mental health .. and recognising that it's not GAME OVER just yet, you're still kicking, you're still a viable passenger on Spaceship Earth.
I don't know what your situation is .. but .... they gave me six months to live.
I have 3 small children (my youngest was 5 at the time, FIVE !), and they gave me six months. I had a chance at treatment, but if it failed, I needed to 'tidy my affairs'.
That was more than 2 years ago. Today I'm cancer free.
Six months. 40% chance of survival. In the clear.
Those words shouldn't mix together, but I'm bloody glad that they do. And they can for you. So before you deep-dive into your numbers, wrap your head around your scenario, start to deal with all of the horrible, scary, devastating things that cancer can bring along as fun +1 guests to the party ... just remember .. you're not dead yet.
Between now and the end, there's potential for horrible suffering, sure.
But also for love. Joy. Indescribable sweetness.
Find those moments. Anticipate them, cherish them. Don't forget to do that. Please.
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