I preach a lot on this blog, but I do not always follow my own mantras. On Monday 31st Jan, I was cooking with my mum and Anna in the kitchen. Together, we were all preparing some food for that evening. My mum had gotten some beefburgers out of the freezer and was attempting to separate 2 that were attached together. She decided to try and do this with a knife, which is surely against all Knife Safety 101 guidelines. I wasn’t privy to exactly what happened next, I just heard a screech from behind me. Upon turning around, I saw my mum holding her left thumb, and I saw blood.
“It isn’t too bad, don’t worry,” she said as she wrapped some kitchen paper around it. Anna wasn’t convinced, and I was already panicking. “Are you sure, mum?” I asked. She lifted the kitchen roll from her hand and showed the wound. It was deep and bleeding. A lot. “You need to go to the hospital now!” I wasn’t doing a great job of being brave, staying strong, controlling what I can control, anything really. I was shitting it, to put it one way.
After some debating about whether Accident & Emergency or a drop-in centre was more appropriate, my dad took her to A&E. To our amazement, they were back after about 2 hours, which is very fast for a UK A&E department. Her thumb had bled a lot at the hospital, apparently. The wound was a ‘good bad’ scenario in the end. She hadn’t damaged any nerve endings, no ligaments were severed, and it wasn’t too close to the nail. The nurse had closed the wound using Steri-strips and then had bandaged it up. That was it. She was told to leave the bandage on until Friday, then take it off. I’d be leaving it on for at least another week I thought to myself, but I’d also faint if I looked at that wound for too long, so I’m probably not a force of reason around the issue. To my amazement, she took it off last Friday, and it has healed impressively given the wound.
So my confession is this, there was a minor emergency, and I responded like it was a major disaster. My mind was running a million scenarios – the wound would get infected as she was dealing with meat at the time, that she had irreversibly severed an important part of her thumb and would lose movement, etc., ad infinitum. It felt like the mental equivalent of doomscrolling.
It made me reflect on what I ask of my close family and friends in relation to my cancer diagnosis. I’ve said a few times that I think the situation is worse for them than for me, and I am absolutely certain that is the case now. The entire time my mum was at the hospital, and for a couple of hours after she got back, my brain was in emergency mode. It wouldn’t settle or accept that the situation was ok. I replayed what happened to her over and over in my head, pictured her in pain at A&E, felt her anguish as the nurse tried to treat it. But it was all false; my mum didn’t seem phased by any of it. It is proof that practising what you preach can be extremely difficult, especially in emotionally charged situations.
Of course, it is impossible to hold yourself to such a standard all of the time. I can think of few people I know who would respond calmly to an array of bad, stressful situations. There are some people I know that I suspect would respond with a very calm, collected approach, but I am also sure that if I looked up ‘traits of a sociopath’, these characteristics would all appear on the list. That’s how I make myself feel better about my lack of those traits, anyway.
I’ve spoken in previous blogs about how I have a tendency to be a pessimist in the face of stressful situations. It doesn’t last long, and I have managed to get much better at fighting it, but my first response to stressful situations is seldom positivity. I need the panic to wash over me before I can inject a level of measuredness in my response. After being diagnosed, I spent a week certain that I would die and thought that the task at hand was to accept this fact. The idea that I could fight to stay alive took a while to sink in and feel realistic. I needed some help from the doctors, too – I needed to hear some positive words that told me it was possible, which I eventually got from my specialist at The Christie. This is an extreme example, though, and it takes a solid mind to respond productively to such news. Especially when the news was so unexpected.
I know myself, though, and I know that the way I responded to the situation with my mum was very ‘me’. I’m really not sure how I would deal with a family member or close friend being diagnosed with cancer like I have. It makes me respect all of those around me who are doing such an incredible job, of which there truly are too many to start listing by name. The support comes from all angles, including from people who only know me through social media and the blog. I have met amazing people and receive uplifting, wondering comments daily through the blog, Twitter and the Just Giving page for the Run 40 Campaign. But the real support, the nitty-gritty support where I have to be spoken down from awful places or propped up after a hard day, can only come from those around you. It can be tough to reach out and say exactly how you are feeling to those people who are so close to you, though.
That is where the blog is strangely helpful. Sometimes, I catch myself off guard with the things I write in these posts. Sometimes I will throw myself at them, feeling that I know exactly what the message needs to be and just write it. It happened most recently with the World Cancer Day post. After running 5K and obsessively thinking about the fact that it was World Cancer Day, I felt that I had essentially written it in my head. All I had to do was get home, shower, open up my laptop and write. The rest was history. I barely thought about a single word in the post and it all just came together.
In other posts, however, I don’t really know what I am going to say; I just know that I am feeling a certain way. On these days, the posts can take several twists and turns. In these posts, I realise more about what is bothering me than if I had not written at all. By writing, I allow myself to explore some of the parts of my subconscious that I perhaps don’t allow myself to access so regularly and readily without the blog. It does concern me, though, as I regularly see my mum crying as she reads the posts, or I will receive messages after releasing a post asking if I am Ok. It can be hard to strike a balance. I want to get across the positive feeling, the mental athletics and the ‘better’ sides of the cancer experience, but it also feels important to capture those other, more authentic moments of hardship.
What I can say is that I have had many comments from close friends and family who say the blog is very ‘me’ and reads as such. This is something I really am proud of. The inception of the idea for the blog came from quite a bleak place, really. I was lying in the hospital bed the night after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was late – probably 3am, 4am. I was contemplating the emergency procedure that I needed to have in about 12 hours to install a stent in my bile duct. I was terrified of the cancer diagnosis that I had been informed of only 8 hours prior. As I said earlier in this post, I was quite certain my task was to deal with my own mortality at this stage.
Suddenly, I felt obsessed with my legacy, not in an egotistical fashion, but in a far more human sense. I felt sure that I would die of cancer during this period at the hospital, just after diagnosis. I wasn’t sure when, but I felt like the doctors had little hope for me, and I wasn’t in a position to start fashioning any myself at this point. I was in shock. I wanted to do something that would harbour a piece of the true essence of me for my family and friends. I’m not the sort of person who would feel confident enough to vlog – I hate my voice, my mannerisms, and it would come off very disingenuous. I decided that writing was the most effective way of leaving a piece of myself to those who cared enough to read. I hoped that it would allow them to get into my head, to hear my voice again and relive the things that make me ‘me’. Every time I get told that the blog has my humour, voice, etc., I feel I am fulfilling that brief. It feels good.
As I develop in my diagnosis and manage to piece together more hope for survival, I find myself desiring that the blog serves more of a purpose than just this. It seems to be helping people for a multitude of reasons. This, of course, makes me feel extremely fulfilled and happy too. The fact that it extends beyond just my family and friends consuming these words is a wonderful thing, and I hope whatever currently interests you in the content continues to be a pull.
But, to bring this back to my original point… The situation with my mum has really proved to me what an amazing job all of my close friends and family are doing in dealing with the diagnosis. For all the support, love and unfaltering determination that you all show, you make me learn so much more about myself and my ability to fight through the difficulties of this situation. I am only the way I am because of all of you, so every compliment to my character is directly attributable back to you all. Though I am glad to not be finding out how I would respond to any close family or friends receiving a cancer diagnosis, I really hope that the way that I am coping with it offers you some solace, no matter what happens in the end.