Life and Loss

I got a couple of bits of news this week that shook me up. Neither are my news to tell, so I won’t go into specifics but, as you can probably guess from the title of this blog, they’re both related to loss, and unsurprisingly, cancer. Two people who I know, mostly through my writing on this platform, were both killed by cancer in the last week or so. I can guarantee that these women have left behind enormous voids, holes in the lives of the many people who loved them. I didn’t know either of them well, but they’ve left a hole in my life. I can’t imagine the impact this has had on the people they’ve left behind. Once again I’m reminded of cancer’s cruelty and the volatility of the lives we are all trying to make the best of.

I don’t want to make this about me, because it isn’t. These reflections come as a result of myself and these people being in the same situation – finding ourselves on the receiving end of the words no-one ever wants to hear. The words “it is cancer”. But I know that the longer I live as a person who has had breast cancer, the more people I’ll meet going through the same or similar experiences, and the more people I’ll encounter who don’t make it through. The more often I’ll (and I mean that in a general sense as a person who is part of the cancer community) hear of the deaths of those for whom treatment didn’t work as well as mine seems to have done.

And it’s a reminder. It sounds selfish and I don’t mean it to, but it’s a reminder of how lucky I am to still be here, even when, in the throes of a depressive few weeks which have been dark and deep and suffocating, I find it hard to remember.

I think I’ve talked before about how people who have experienced cancer become a kind of tribe. Regardless of age, gender or whether you’ve had breast or ovarian cancer, lymphoma or Ewing’s sarcoma, we are kind of all in it together and we feel every loss very, very keenly. Late last year when we lost one of our fellow Boobettes, Alex who was just 26, I was devastated. I had never met her, we followed each other on Twitter, but our paths had never crossed in real life. That didn’t matter though. We were both Boobettes. She was one of us. One of our own. Her loss was a brutal reminder of why CoppaFeel! has to exist.

And there’s the fear too that comes with this kind of news. And the guilt. The fear because you can’t guarantee that the same won’t happen to you at some point in the future. The guilt for even thinking about it when you should be thinking about the person who has died rather than thinking about yourself. And the guilt that if you’ve made it through the thing that so cruelly killed them, you should be doing a lot more with your life. You should be doing it for them and every other person who has been killed by this disease that you have somehow escaped, rather than finding yourself sobbing in the shower, again, for the fourth time in a week, because cancer happened to you too.

And then I find myself thinking about the other people I’ve met who have had or are currently living with cancer. I worry for their futures more than my own truth be told, especially those closest to me. But one of the redeeming features of being diagnosed with cancer is the people you meet. Incredible people who have lived through the same sort of experiences as you. And while the risks of losing these people are almost tangible, not surrounding yourself with these people for fear of loss would be foolish. Because they are your tribe. Because you can learn from them. And if it weren’t for cancer you never would have met them.

Regardless of the feelings I have around the cruel news I heard this week, there is one thing that continually strikes me about cancer. Cancer is not avoidable but early detection does save lives. These brilliant women realised something wasn’t right with their bodies and got it checked out. In their cases, the cancer was aggressive and this wasn’t enough, but knowing ourselves and recognising any changes are positive steps towards stamping out late detection of cancer. News like this gives credence (not that we need any more) to the incredible work that CoppaFeel! are doing for breast cancer, and general education around cancer with their #RethinkCancer campaign. The three Boobette talks I’m doing this month will mean more to me than ever before.

So a couple of housekeeping bits before I go, and it’s a while since I’ve asked you this, but I’d really like you to pay your body some serious attention today and if anything doesn’t feel right, go see your doctor. Check your boobs, your balls, if you’re a woman who has had any unexplained bleeding after sex or between periods, call your surgery. If you’ve any lumps and bumps anywhere that you’re not sure about, make an appointment to go and get prodded by your GP. They want to hear from you if you’re worried about something. They really do, I promise.

And lastly if you’re having a glass of wine any time soon, I’d really like you to join me in raising it to Sharon and Margo.

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