Notes from a Cancer Patient (Part 5)


16 May 2020

There is Good in The Bad


This runs the risk of being one of those trite, over-used phrases if not handled with care. So I’m going to treat this subject with kid gloves I promise. Why? Because I genuinely believe there is good to be found in the bad. However difficult that is to hear.

And no it’s not because we have to have the bad to have the good. It’s more that to get through the bad we are forced to shift our focus.

There’s nothing else for it if we want to survive. And sometimes it’s in the middle of that shift there’s good stuff.

Choice

At University my degree was English. One of my favourite topics was a second year course on Milton. Partly I felt like a proper legit literary academic getting to study Paradise Lost (short synopsis – it’s a very long poem written by Milton about the conversation between God and the Devil)

On top of that, the lecturer on Milton was seriously attractive. A common held viewpoint I shared with many others I hasten to add. You know Jude Law with glasses in the Holiday? Spitting image. And yes the lecture theatre was always full for his lectures.

But once you get past my snobbish academic aspirations (yes my books are in alphabetical order) and my stereotypical student crush, I actually genuinely enjoyed the subject matter.

Paradise Lost is about free-will. A huge concept that oodles of scholars have written papers on, and I’m not going to compete. But I do vividly remember being nineteen years old and understanding in a new way that regardless of whether or not there is a higher power in God (my personal belief), we always have a choice. Choice is what it means to be human.

So if free-will means we have a choice, then every day, every hour, every minute, we have a choice. It’s up to us to make the most of those choices, right?

 

Finding Good in Cancer

I did not choose cancer and of course it has absolutely not been good. It’s stolen months of my life through treatment. It’s stolen my peace and it’s left me with a fear that I’ll always have of it coming back. 

I know with my rational, logical head that so much of the treatment I’ve received, and will continue to receive over the next few months and years, will work to prevent it coming back: that’s based in fact, not just my optimistic thinking. But I’m in no doubt that that fear will always be there ready to overwhelm if I let it.

Has there been good out of the cancer? (completely different question and with no assumption that the good could only come about because of the cancer)

Yes there has definitely been good out of the cancer. Good has come in the form of strengthened friendships, re-prioritising what’s important to me and definitely a sense of there being bigger things to worry about than money (the latter has undoubtedly prepared me for the now when we know our livelihood for this year is going to take a complete battering). So yes there has been good out of the cancer.

Ultimately I’ve chosen to focus on the good and at times simply ignore the bad.  I choose the positives and I choose not to give into those niggly negatives. I choose to trust and I choose faith. And without going any further (lest I descend into directly quoting  from that great Scottish classic Trainspotting) I choose life and I choose to keep smiling.

In choosing to keep smiling I’ve looked for things to make me smile and I honestly think that’s key to survival, even if sometimes you have to push yourself to look hard. As a side note it definitely helps that I have lots of crazy bonkers people amongst my family and friends so smiles are plentiful.

Where to find good in Covid-19?

Honestly? There will be days where I think we’ll struggle to find the good, and for anyone who has lost anyone ‘good’ is actually a horrific, offensive word. There is no good when you loose someone you love. I know that.

Perhaps a better word is where to find hope, where to find fun (one of my actual favourite words even though it’s so teeny-tiny and almost inconsequential) and where to find future.

I thought I’d share some of what has given me personal hope in the last couple of weeks. Please note this has nothing whatsoever to do with any political statements from any of the country leaders. If you’re looking for cutting, insightful political commentary I’m not your gal.

It also needs to start with a caveat that my world has been filled with an overwhelming tiredness that I’ve not really known before. The result of post-radiotherapy recover, or lockdown lethargy – I’m not sure?

 

Running

When I use the word running at the moment, please don’t mistake me. It means I put my trainers and my running kit on, inc my amazing Boo Buddy (email me if you want more info for running post breast surgery – thanks Mette 😉) and got myself out faster than walking pace. The air has been in my lungs and I’ve had a little bit of freedom. In truth, I’ve been fearful of going out, apart from to the hospital, so my runs are early morning or later on in the day where I can manage. It’s been a struggle but doing something active makes me feel a bit better

 

Skipping

I’m also going to let you into a secret, as well as running I’ve taken up a new hobby – skipping with Beth. It’s crazy how hard this is (to think I used to spend hours of my childhood skipping) but also it is also strangely fun… and it can be done in our garden. Note I’m definitely not sharing photos or video of this. It’s not a pretty thing.

 

Virtual Hang-outs

I know I’m not the only one who has spent time in lockdown hanging out with friends virtually and I’m also probably not the only one who’s wondered why they didn’t do some of it before. I’m sure some of that will continue post lockdown. Personal highlights for me include weekly Pub Quiz night, Curry nights with our friends in Currie (see what we did there?) and Book Group… oh and this weekend brilliant friends of ours have concocted a Eurovision night so we are currently working on our film submission. Cannot wait. 

 

Church

I love being part of our Cburch in Edinburgh and never more so than in this last year. I could write an entire book about the love and support we havre received from our church family. Virtual church since lockdown began has been fantastic and such a highlight of our Sunday morning.

Throughout chemotherapy I became a little ‘paranoid’ about being in large groups as I knew my immune system was compromised. So many Sundays I chose to avoid the church gathering and listen later online as I felt safer. And now we have church in our living room. This is gold for me.

 

Home-Schooling

A challenge in many ways as we’re all learning and finding new space and routine. However one huge highlight has been Beth’s school topic (thank you school) of the 80s!!! We decided as a family to fully embrace this and have forced ourselves to watch Grange Hill on You Tube, play 80s music loud , watch some classic 80s films and go full on for the fashion and dress up.

 

Although I think I nailed Annie Lennox for the shoot, as the die fades I’m now in danger of looking like some crazy woman who is going through a mid-life crisis (should have read the memo don’t die post chemo hair for at least 6 months) Still we had fun so that’s what counts – right?

Inspiration

I promised I wouldn’t make this a trite post and so to make sure I don’t run the risk of appearing blasé, or putting useless platitudes out there, I thought I’d turn to others for inspiration, because when we come to the end of ourselves the stories of others can inspire and motivate. From the deep to the trivial inspiration comes in many forms.

 

To Read

The Book of Hope (written by children’s writers) is free to read on the National Literacy Trust. Whether you’ve got kids or you just want something beautiful and bitesized and creative then take a peak. Honestly it made me smile lots this week.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo (my current book group read) is so beautifully written and in time of lockdown in the developed world a stark reminder that our suffering can’t really be compared to being in a warzone where everything has been obliterated and a ‘new normal’ is not even an option.

The Kindness of Strangers (gifted by a lovely friend) is filled with inspirational travel writing which for now satisfies some of my wanderlust.

Oh and for all those nights when sleep threatens to evade I love listening to any Rebus story. Narrated by James MacPherson (a weegie superstar of my youth) the main character is Edinburgh. She’s pre-lockdown Edinburgh and I love her a lot.

 

To Watch

The rule in our family is that we take turns to pick what we watch. We all have completely different tastes so it pushes us to watch a variety of stuff. Now is definitely the time to expand your horizons even if it’s only as far as the TV!

I love anything with Rebel Wilson (she just makes me laugh out loud) and Isn’t It Romantic is a cracker, which will also give you a New York buzz just from watching it.

Brittany Runs a Marathon is another recent view. Not only does it mention the Zika virus, but also strangely features a Corona Bakery  (that aside it’s a great film)

If you like a documentary Losers on Netflix is a little bit of counter-cultural magic. It’s a collection of eight little films about different people in sport who fit the label ‘losers’ but have gone on to make so much success of themselves or of life. It completely challenges how we value heroes and winning.

Beth’s go-to favourites have been Glee (every episode!) and the Gilmour Girls. Jed loves anything with action and anything with epic cinematography. We have him to thank for re-starting the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Niels’ guilty pleasure?  (slotting it here and hoping he might not notice) is Australian MasterChef . It’s like British MasterChef on Steroids, with a kind of crazy neighbours theme tune intro. Just wow!

Any other fodder for our read or watch-list feel free to add in the comments below.

Laugh out Loud

You know that phrase if I don’t laugh I’ll cry? I feel as though it’s never been truer than at the moment. If I think too much about all we’ve lost: the parties and events that should have happened; the conversations; the hangouts; the new meetings; the holidays… I will undoubtedly cry. It’s genuinely horrible for all of us and anyone who says they’re doing 100% ok all of the time is not being honest.

 

Instead I’m actually going to focus on laughing out loud – a lot. Through 80s dress-up (I tell you it could catch on), playing games with the kids (I found the best hide-and-seek spot this week – shhh!), watching as many comedies as I can and deliberating connecting with the friends and family who consistently bring the humour and bants.

 

In laughing I hope to forget, even for a few minutes each day, and in forgetting I’ll hunt out the good and try to ignore some of the bad. Anyone else with me?