Cancer doesn’t care if you are a mum, dad, sister, brother, daughter, son, husband or wife?
A nice person or a bad person?
It doesn’t discriminate, so it can feel like there’s nothing we can do to prevent it destroying lives.
Since losing my Nan who raised me to cancer in 2001 and then my Brother to Cancer in 2015 and various close family members having cancer at around the same time, it’s a subject I wanted to learn more about.
In essence I want to understand it.
Because education is key.
Prevention is better than cure.
And being proactive is better than living in fear.
I myself have had pre-cancerous cells and numerous large polyps removed surgically and have undergone genetic testing.
As part of the genetic testing process, I had to go through what they call a family tree with a consultant at the hospital. This family tree showed all the other members in my close family, highlighting those who have had cancer, and which type of cancer. The Doctor had accessed my Mothers’ medical records (with her written permission) in order to do this. I can’t tell you my shock when it was revealed to me that in 2004, while I was giving birth to my first child, my Mum had been diagnosed with bladder cancer and years before she had also had cervical cancer! How I didn’t know, I don’t know????
Had I not undergone this testing process, I probably would never have found out?
Genetic testing can impact you in ways you never expected and can uncover things you may or may not want to find out?
I’m lucky, I found out that my brothers’ cancer was not genetical. I could temporarily take a sigh of relief on hearing that news…. Then I realised as over ninety percent of cancers are due to environmental factors and not genetical, I now had more control and responsibility over whether I increased or decreased my chances of getting it.
I don’t know which thought is scarier, having no control or having an element of control and responsibility?
All I knew was it was time to understand the disease from a molecular perspective, so I studied advanced cancer biology.
I was being proactive.
I don’t have cancer, so I have the time and inclination to do this, but what about someone going through this experience?
Chances are they won’t have either of those things.
Time as a cancer patient is taken up on consultations, treatment appointments and worry.
Leaving most patients full of unanswered questions, that they haven’t thought to ask or may not have felt appropriate to ask a doctor?
It can feel like you’re given a diagnosis and then you are left to discover what that actually means?
But one of the best books I’ve read, written on the subject of cancer since Rebecca Skloots ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is Alison Porters book ‘STRONGER than Before Take Charge of your Healing to Survive and Thrive with Breast Cancer.
Alison’s book is a practical yet loving guide book that offers a proactive, informative approach to managing breast cancer. That places the person at the centre, not the illness. Showing there is freedom to make informed choices, suited to each individual. Early detection of cancer is vital, but as Alison points out, weighing up all the options and taking some breathing space before deciding on treatment is a must.
Her book focuses on being unique and individual in your approach to your illness and its treatment. This is important because there are different types of breast cancer and every person is different in how and why they are affected and their treatment?
Genetic testing can help doctors to provide a more personalised treatment for a specific sub type and its cause. So, knowing all the options is vital.
Conversations with Family and Friends supporting a Loved one through Breast Cancer
I wish I had read the part on ‘Conversations with Family and Friends supporting a Loved one through Breast Cancer’ while my Brother and also my Friend, were going through their journey’s with cancer.
Alison’s advice in this section of the book applies to all people going through any type of cancer, or even any type of serious illness for that matter. It helps you to see things from the other persons point of view and offers some great suggestions on what to do and say?
I feel that’s so important for friends and loved ones to have an insight into, as it’s really hard to know what to say?
You know the person living with cancer that you care about is having an awful time in their lives. Yet, you think you are doing them a favour by acting normal?
And sometimes you are.
But I’m sure there are times when all they want is to let out how they are feeling with those closest to them and this can be so hard to do when they’re worrying about other people’s feelings too. I know when I found out about my friend’s diagnosis, the first thing I did was book us afternoon tea and prosecco in a nice hotel, to help take her mind off things.
Looking back, I can see how me going on about staying positive and offering books and meditations to my Brother, may not have always been what he needed at that time. I mean, given only months to live, I can now see how impossible staying positive would have been for him. But Pre-cancer diagnoses that is what we always did for one another. We boosted each other up with positivity and we always searched for that silver lining.
I guess old habits were hard to break?
On reflection, I wonder if there were times when he just wanted to let it all out and release how he felt?
Although he was always so strong, proud and private, I think this would have been hard for him to do. Especially as he was my big brother who always tried to fix things and look after me.
Listen & Trust
The exercises, meditations and suggestions on self -care and love, scattered throughout Alison’s book, help you to stay more present. Enabling you to listen to yourself and your body, while learning to trust what you feel and hear. All these combined seem to hold your hand and guide you down an uncertain road, laced with fear and anxiety. Helping to shed light and love on a dark journey, to discovering who you really are and what you really want from life?
She encourages you to see your illness as a transformational journey.
And this is exactly what my friend Selena did. Selena was diagnosed with HER2 positive stage 2, grade 4, breast cancer on December the 6th 2016. When I asked her recently what she had learnt from her experience with cancer this is what she said;
‘Overcoming breast cancer has shown me to appreciate all the little things we take for granted in our life. I have grown more confident and stronger through my experience. I live for today. Embrace everyday as life is a gift…it is precious!’
Freedom to Change
As Alison also discovered herself, you will change, but those changes can be for the better?
Although honestly admitting that even after recovery the fear never goes away. But feeling that fear and carrying on with life on purpose, will help to set you free on a path you may never have dreamed of pre-cancer. Knowing there will come a time when you can free yourself from identifying with cancer and move forward. Showing it’s never too late to start over and reclaim your life by changing your mindset, and positively supporting your body to return to balance.
‘What have you learnt from your dance with breast cancer?’
And that lesson or insight, I believe, is the key takeaway from her book.