Adjusting to Life With a Less Survivable Cancer

There are some exciting things happening this month. I have been featured on Pancreatic Cancer Action’s website for the first time in support of Less Survivable Cancers Day. I’ve also written 2 blog posts for their website, which will be released later in the month, one on why I started the blog and another on exercise and why it is so important in my life. The latter supports their Jog Jan for Pan Can campaign, encouraging people to be active and raise money in support of the charity. You can find the first feature here, and I’ll post the articles once they have been released.

Perhaps I would have been raising money and running my heart out for them this month in another universe. It’s a comforting thought, although pancreatic cancer was not on my radar in my previous life. If I hadn’t been a victim of cancer, I probably wouldn’t have even considered what my pancreas’s function within my body was. I almost feel guilty demanding others’ attention to the issue of pancreatic cancer as a result of this, but I know that is an irrational thing to think. Every individual cannot care about every problem that exists in the world. There has to be some form of motivation that draws ones attention to it. In my case, the catalyst for me learning about pancreatic cancer was being diagnosed with it. Not an ideal segue into caring for a cause. For many of my friends, family and even readers though, perhaps the catalyst is my diagnosis and story. I certainly hope so because it means a lot to me now, but it’s bound to; my life depends on it. I really encourage you to raise and contribute money towards the pancreatic cancer charities. It does not take much Googling to discover just how horrific pancreatic cancer is and how desperately it needs more attention and funding. The numbers speak for themselves, alongside the fact that it is a member of the ‘Less Survivable Cancers’ group.

One of the hardest things about coping with the diagnosis is redefining the lens through which I view myself. I had made somewhat of a name for myself in my previous, cancer-free life. I was Dan Godley – the guy that loves running, entering fitness events, challenging himself, meeting people and having fun. My understanding of myself hung on many of those traits. I knew I could withstand pressure in my job because I stood up to pressure in fitness events; I knew I could get on with new people because I went to that wedding where I knew no one and ended the night laughing with half of the room. There were ways I could measure the success of my endeavours; whether I was consciously doing so or not was a different matter. I would know if I got on with people at a party or if I had performed well during a fitness event. There was evidence afterwards that told me so. I got a new PB, I made a few new friends etc. When life is going well, these prophecies become self-fulfilling, and you feel an energy pulling you towards all of the behaviours you value and cherish. That is how I used to know when things were going well for me in life – everything seemed to fit into place in the good periods, and I felt comfortable. It feels like I’ve lost those mechanisms now, and the compass that I previously would measure my ‘successes’ by is no longer available to me. I am no longer in control of the factors I am trying to control.

Losing my ability to exercise as I used to is the most challenging obstacle for me to overcome. Exercising is in my family’s blood. I grew up seeing pictures of my dad running marathons. He told me about how he used to average 120 miles a week, running 8 miles to the office in the morning, going for a run at lunch, then running the scenic route home in the evening. He and my mum met at Manchester University. There used to be an annual event called the Bogle Stroll in Manchester, where participants would run/walk the 55-mile route for charity. One year when my mum and dad had both entered, my dad ran the whole thing, came second (“the winner had a pacer on a bicycle,” he emphatically claims to this day), went home, ate some food, had a bath, slept, got up, got dressed, went back out on the course, found my mum, and finished off her race with her too. My mum found it offensive. My dad probably didn’t understand how it had taken her so long. These stories are folklore in my family.

I did not realise how much of my being relied on exercise until the diagnosis, and how much of my personality it helped define. I feel as if I am now in the middle of an identity crisis. The person I was had different goals and motivations to me. He aimed to run a 100-mile ultra-marathon in the next year and was getting stuck into a new job in a new industry; I’m not doing either of those things now. Sometimes I am forced to try and reconcile a fact about my old life with a fact about my new life. Yesterday, my good friends Drew and Em came round to visit me. We’d usually chat, laugh, mess around, maybe have a beer. I couldn’t quite make myself the person I am used to last night, though. I felt disconnected, and I couldn’t participate with the same level of wit or engagement as I usually would. Some of it is the chemotherapy drugs of course; I don’t usually have to fight falling asleep mid-sentence at 21:00 unwillingly. Maybe some of this change is down to context too – we didn’t used to have the topic of ‘cancer’ to discuss at these casual hangouts, whereas it is the foundation to all discourse now. How much of it is down to the chemotherapy, having cancer, my mood, and how much of it is my personality changing? There is so much that I have to adjust to at the minute that I cannot keep up, and I have no idea if I am the same person that I was or not.

That is a word I cling onto with dear life, though – adjusting. I am adjusting to a new life, with different success criteria, personality traits, motivations etc. Everything is in flux, and I cannot always expect to know how I will feel about something, whether it will bring me happiness or if I find comfort in it. Having an identity crisis should be the least of my worries currently, but so much of how you face the world is based on your identity. If I lose faith in what I see as my major ‘attributes’ or ‘characteristics’ – things like my ability to fight through pain, to make strong relationships with others and to stick to something that I set my mind to – then it may impact my ability to fight against the cancer. I am trying to be kinder to myself and not put myself under pressure to always be the same person I was. Things are changing, but that’s ok, I’ll change with them.

For today, I joined my first workshop with Pancreatic Cancer UK on Pancreatic Enzymes and Diet. The session was beneficial, and the nurses running it had a wealth of knowledge. It was great to hear from others struggling with some of the adjustments that the cancer brings. There is amazing power in hearing a complete stranger express something that you have thought without being prompted. It is the clearest indication that someone’s experience somewhat equates to yours and that you are not alone in that struggle. Hearing others talk about digestive problems, struggling with various types of medication and feeling specific symptoms from the chemotherapy is such a relief. Even hearing someone discuss their chemotherapy schedule and it being identical to mine feels like a win.

It made me realise something about myself that is going to be essential in this adjustment phase. I get a lot more fulfilment in life when I feel that I am actively contributing to something. With work, this came in the form of owning and managing more. In exercise, it came in writing my own exercise plans and discussing running tips with people entering their first running events. Today, I wanted to contribute to the session and hope that others took something from what I said, whether that be comfort, knowledge, or hope. I’ve signed up for a few more sessions with them and really look forward to them – both for the essential knowledge to be gained and to see and hear others in my position’s experience. The lesson for myself is that I need to keep finding ways to stay engaged with my fight against pancreatic cancer.

10 thoughts on “Adjusting to Life With a Less Survivable Cancer

  1. Jo says:

    Hi Dan. I’ve just found you and your blog and, wow, so much resonates. My husband was marathon training last year when he was diagnosed with PDAC at 42. Lots of parallels in our stories and he had a successful Whipple 5 weeks ago (after initially being diagnosed “very” borderline resectable). Exercise has been his saviour physically and mentally. If we can offer you any support, based on what we’ve learned, over these past 9-10 months please get in touch. He did chemo x 2, but we also did some less standard bits and pieces. Best wishes to you on your continued journey. Jo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jo. Really sorry to hear about your husband – he’s really young to be diagnosed too. It’s encouraging to hear the similarities in the story though – almost eerie! I would really appreciate some support. I think I’m getting rolled straight into more chemo, as well as waiting to hear if I qualify for clinical trials. My personal email is godley1993@googlemail.com if you could send me a note. Thanks for commenting – it’s such a nice thing to wake up to!

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  2. Hi Dan I’m happy to have found your blog (via recommendation by another blogger). This post made me think about all the identities I have tied myself to, which ultimately may be out of my control if something were to happen to me and I couldn’t exercise eg hike, swim, run – I absolutely love my playtime and would feel bereft without it. I’m sure your new identity will evolve in due course, in the meantime enjoy the pure potential of becoming.

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    1. Hey Kate. Thanks for joining and glad to hear it’s being recommended! Bereft is a very nice word for it. I find myself doubting things more than ever – I got a lot of confidence from sticking to exercise regimes. I get quite nervous when I release blog posts sometimes and this was one of them so I’m glad to hear you’ve connected with it! “…the pure potential of becoming” is a lovely phrase – I’ll be storing that one in the mind bank for when I’m feeling fragile

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      1. Nerves are natural when you are sharing personal stories, I sometimes feel like I’m literally tearing a piece of skin off and posting it but blogging has so many benefits for confidence and finding your authentic voice that I can only see it being beneficial for you. A tip though, don’t think of those people you know reading it and judging you. Think instead of the people you are inspiring. You are only three years older than my eldest son and I cried when you said you called your Mum down to sit with you. Tom (my son) would do that, we are a very close family. Best love to your Mum Dan, and to you, keep writing, it is a wonderful outlet and you will find odd little connections all over the world to cheer you on.

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