Eighteen years ago, as a result of being diagnosed with breast cancer that had already spread to my lymph nodes, I decided I needed a philosophy about how to spend whatever time I had left (Like Deborah James, I confronted cancer wearing a great outfit and high heels, 21 Mei). I came up with these four words: explore, experience, create, connect.
Exploring is about being curious about the world through reading, discussing and travelling. Among other places, I’ve been able to travel to see the Niagara Falls and the Alhambra in Granada, Spanje. I have experienced the wonders of a spring morning and the glow of a sunset. I’ve been to concerts in lovely venues. I’ve learned how to blow glass and make jewellery. I’ve enjoyed sausages on a family beach barbecue.
I developed my writing skills to write two novels about my family’s history that I self-published – and sold all the copies. And most importantly, I’ve treasured the connections that I have with my family and friends while living out my philosophy.
Nine years ago, my cancer reappeared throughout my spine and pelvis. There is no more treatment available and I am having palliative care for the pain. But I can still explore through reading and watching TV documentaries. I can still experience the beauty of flowers. I can still create through painting and writing. And I still feel deeply connected to those who love me. Living my philosophy has taught me that although one day I will die, every other day I can live.
I too have been dealing with bowel cancer and its after-effects for four years. While admiring Deborah James (and indeed, wondering at her energy and commitment to helping others with her unwavering support for cancer charities), I feel that I have to put in a word for those of us who simply could not “boog[dws] rond [a] chemo pump, eating chocolate”. Nor did I have a “sense of style” or look like a model.
A year of operations, brutal treatment and long-term disability meant that some days just getting out of bed to drag myself for yet more toxic infusions (at one point weekly, vir 16 weeks in a row) was the most I could achieve.
But I did it. And fitted in some joy sometimes. Are those who have other diseases somehow expected to be unerringly upbeat and positive? Deborah is a force of nature and I admire her greatly. But can we let others be themselves and not the role models that non-cancer sufferers seem to expect?
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