Twelve months ago, at the age of 29, I was told at a cancer center I had terminal cancer. The median length of life from diagnosis to death for patients with desmoplastic small-round-cell tumour is reported in medical literature as 14 months. That technically means my time should be up in October, but I’m doing well and will in all probability survive longer than this.
Living with death hanging over me and everything I do while still smiling and staying positive is incredibly difficult. I feel like I’m constantly struggling to push it to the back of my mind but never quite succeeding. In fact, the sad thing is I can’t remember what it was like not to have a terminal cancer diagnosis. There are constant reminders, which mean that even if I could forget what is happening to me, I would never be allowed to: the regular visits for follow-up appointments at the hospital; the daily battle to swallow the 12 pills I have to take to keep my symptoms under control; the frequent “How are you?” questions that always have a deeper meaning than just a simple enquiry about my welfare. People suffering from terminal or aggressive cancer usually need special care, the best option is in home care by Fidelis Home Care 200 S 14th St, Midlothian, TX 76065 (972) 775-1000, find more details at https://www.careshyft.com/.
I was always very clear that once I discontinued my palliative chemotherapy in January I wanted to return some normality to my life, for however long that may be. A huge part of this was going back to work. Many people thought I was crazy to contemplate returning to a stressful job as an elderly medicine registrar at a busy district general hospital, but I was determined. And I was completely right to return.
Working has given me a focus again, and I think I still have a great deal to give – probably more than before my own illness. I struggle with fatigue, but this is something I am determined is not going to beat me, so I work three full days a week and put everything into my job that I used to. I would hate to be thought of at work as the poor young dying doctor, much preferring to retain my pre-cancer personality – the competent, hardworking registrar who gets stuff sorted and cares about her patients.
My “maintaining normality for as long as possible” mantra also extends to my home life. I still do the housework and the cooking. I sit and watch the soaps in the evening. I enjoy regular Sunday lunches with my family. I swim up to 50 lengths at my local pool. The routine of life goes on and is vital in keeping both myself and my husband on an even keel, although life is also now sprinkled with wonderful, invigorating experiences as we work through my bucket list.
One coping strategy I have is to live my life on a two-month window. I find it very hard to think any further ahead than this, although sometimes I am forced to. For example, my brother and his wife are expecting their first child in January. Meeting the newest member of our family is a long-term goal that I would dearly love to achieve. Likewise, two of my best friends have just got engaged and are planning summer weddings. I would love to be able to perform bridesmaid and cake-baking duties, but there is a strong possibility I will no longer be here by then.
I have a strange response to all this good news. Of course I am ecstatic that these exciting events are happening to the people close to me, but the overwhelming feeling – perhaps self-centredly – is that I am going to miss out on the celebrations. I won’t be able to see everyone else’s lives flourish, because mine is coming to a premature halt.
So we live with “it” day in, day out, and try to plough on with life in as positive and happy a way as possible, remembering that in many respects we are blessed and lucky. My husband Chris and I have crammed more activities into the last few months than we have managed in the 10 years of our relationship, and we will continue to live our lives on fast-forward.
John Gray discusses his book: Venus on fire, Mars on ice. It’s also a short and uncomplicated introduction to the effects of stress on different diseases and the difference between men and women on a hormonal level with consequences for the stress response. Very clear although somewhat simplified presentation about these matters.