Moments

Sometimes the Cancer Research adverts still make me cry.
Even Now.

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On Angelina Jolie & Breast Cancer

Like Ms Jolie my mother died of cancer (technically a secondary cancer that spread from the original breast cancer). She was a few days shy of her 46th birthday when she died after 4 or 5 years of fighting the illness.
I know that because of this statistically my chances of contracting cancer are approximately double that of the rest of the population but I have never been tested for the faulty gene that Ms Jolie carries. Partly, this is because I’m neither very old nor a mother and partly its because my mother is the only member of my family to have had such an early onset cancer.
Her elder sister has fairly recently been diagnosed with breast cancer much later in life [this probably means that despite the location it was an entirely different type of cancer] and my Father’s aunt also has cancer but of a different type.

Nonetheless, I have been thinking about what a genetic risk of cancer means for me and what I might do about it. After my step-mother was also recently diagnosed with breast cancer and with my 30th birthday fast approaching my father has recently asked me to talk to my Doctor about screening. It seems a big step to consider what options the NHS might have for me with regard to earlier and more frequent tests (not normally offered to lower risk younger women) and an even bigger step to consider both genetic testing and a mastectomy. Yet, I want to be responsible and to think about the impact of my health on the people I care about – if I could prevent my loved ones watching me go through debilitating treatments and potentially dying 20 odd years before my time should I do it..?
My immediate answer must be yes. I wouldn’t wish my childhood experiences of cancer on anyone. But..
(You knew there was a but right?)

I’m not quite 30 and I don’t have children. At this stage in my life the idea of having children and possibly breast-feeding them is still more important than a statistical chance. I don’t think my breasts are the arbiter of my femininity or that I am less me without them (though I imagine it would be a shock to the system) and I don’t think that breast-feeding is a sign of true motherhood but I do think that personally I’d rather try for kids before messing with the status quo. Furthermore, I’m not ready to deal with the potential hormonal and emotional repercussions of such testing and surgery whilst kids are still a possibility. If (like Jolie) I already had children perhaps I would be more concerned with their future and how much time I could offer them but right now I am well aware that the knowledge of genetic issues combined with the physical effects of mastectomy might be enough to stop me from ever having children and I don’t want that to be the reason for our choice.
If I have a mastectomy I want it to be after we have children – and if I test positive for the gene, removal of the ovaries is also a consideration – but after kids.
Maybe that is selfish. Maybe its naive.  But the fear of not being enough of a mother because I don’t have one to guide me can’t be enough of a reason to cut out a part of the mother I want to be. I would – will – actively protect my family through surgery if necessary but I can’t give up on making the family stronger because I am afraid of statistics.

And So Goodbye..

Sleep well G.

It is a year now since you were told it was terminal; more than 7 months since you found the next new tumors and began another round of treatment and 3 weeks since the pain told you something else was wrong. A week in a hospice is enough for anyone so I hope that the quietness of whatever is next is better.
Whilst it is not my personal choice I am consoled by your faith and in the most simplistic of terms I am grateful for the end of waiting and the confidence that beyond all else the pain is over.

I don’t know how to say how I feel – I’d like to say I’m surprised or hurt but it’d be a lie. Not only have I been waiting for this phonecall but I am relieved by it. Yes, the reminders of my mother’s decline run strong and painful but each person has their own self and deserves to be remembered in their own way.

Getting Ready to say Goodbye

When someone’s cancer progresses to a certain stage (or indeed as people begin to show certain side-effects of aging) there is a certain inevitability about their death that looms just on the edge of sight but eventually you have to tackle it straight on.

Today a friend is being moved to a hospice in order to get round the clock palliative care and end her days outside of the anonymity of a hospital ward with some kind of ‘dignity’. Her family have asked that people don’t go and visit her at the hospice in order to preserve the best image of her (though I have no concept of what her preferences are/have been). These last few weeks the decline has been rapid and painful and though perhaps we as her friends have been shocked at the speed – I for one am not surprised by this outcome.

Today I prepare to try and see her one last time, in the sure and certain knowledge that my next chance will be the funeral. I wonder about the wisdom of traipsing in, of the loneliness of knowing there are people who you will never see again as your body gives up on you. I wonder what ways there are of making it a little easier…

There are no answers only a sense of disappointment in the inadequacy of words and the fragility of life.

Waiting

Have you ever waited for someone to die?

There are many ways of waiting, we are most used to it being years in the future but sometimes we can watch it get closer. Even when you don’t know the person well any sort of personal connection makes the experience surreal. You have to start planning for when they aren’t there any more and your brain starts make leaps between present and past tense.

Tonight some distance from where my wife and I have our marital home her uncle is in the final stages of cancer. He has recently been moved into a hospice and now its just a matter of time. There is nothing we can do and no consolation to be offered we are just waiting for the call to say its over.

It brings back bad memories – but right now I just want to be supportive.

Somewhere nearer to home a friend is fighting to keep her fight against cancer going. She’s been told its aggressive and that she’s dying. This time the radiation barely kept it under control for a couple of months and as her body gets weaker she wants to keep trying. Soon I will find out whether they have decided she is well enough for a new round of chemo. I can only visit her and talk so she doesn’t feel alone and try not to feel like I’m waiting for the next round of bad news.

UPDATE:

W’s uncle has passed away quietly.

My friend is out of hospital for the time being and hoping to start chemo on thurs.