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Faith, fiction and cancer stuff.


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Two years later…

I realised this morning that it’s two years since my double mastectomy.

Thinking about how much has happened in those crazy couple of years, it actually seems much longer. I would love to say that as soon as active treatment was finished, that my family and I went straight back to pre-cancer ‘normal’ life… but that would be a lie. The truth is that nothing is ever quite the same again.

Your illness bubble suddenly bursts (and lots of people  stop praying for you: it’s almost a tangible difference), everyone says how well you look, and you are expected to pick up exactly from where you left off, with nothing more than some scars and shorter hair to mark the ‘journey’.

The reality is so much more complicated and difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it.

Perhaps some stats will shed a little light:

“At least 500,000 people in the UK are facing poor health or disability after treatment for cancer –

At least 350,000 people living with and beyond cancer are experiencing chronic fatigue.

Around 240,000 are living with mental health problems, which can include moderate to severe anxiety or depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

This is a small part of a long list, provided by Macmillan cancer support.

Many relationships break down soon after a cancer diagnosis as well, especially when the patient is a younger woman. And with the hormone treatments that I was on for a while, they are so soul-destroying that the fact that any marriage survives them is a miracle.

Cancer’s slimy fingers reach into every aspect of your life: your health, your mental health, your relationships, your parenting, your career, your finances, your vision of the future, your life expectancy.

I want to say that I am actually very optimistic about the future, and I am not afraid of cancer or even of possibly dying young  (although would rather not); but it’s no use pretending that I am the person that I was before. And Mike and the kids have been through the mill too: their lives have been massively affected and changed too.

The best advice that I could give to anyone who is close to someone with a life-changing illness (or their partner or child) is to be kind, listen and don’t fob them off with “Oh, but you look so well.”

 Anyway, I was meant to be talking about my double mastectomy… it’s only boobs, if you have to have one, you’ll get over it, and I would much rather be alive in an imperfect body than be a gorgeous dead person. 😊 

I’m still fabulous, I’m still here, and I’m going to live the best life that I can. 

#breastcancerreality

 

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Farewell Nabeel

An amazing man died this weekend. He had stage 4 (incurable) stomach cancer, and the doctors had put him on palliative care. It wasn’t a big surprise that he died, but it is incredibly sad.

Nabeel Qureshi was born into a devout Muslim family in the US. A Christian friend who he met at university strongly encouraged him to disprove Christianity. Nabeel was desperate to do so: he was full of faith in Allah. Of course he could not prove that Jesus is not the son of God, no matter how hard he tried. He was born again, after finally realising the truth.

He has degrees in medicine, Christian apologetics and religion. He was studying for a doctorate at Oxford University when diagnosed with cancer.

It is painfully unfair that someone so young (34), intelligent and full of faith in God, died. He could have achieved so much more if had lived longer. His daughter would have had a father; his wife a husband.

So many people around the world were praying for a miracle, that he would be healed. It is easy for us as Christians to get angry at God for allowing Nabeel to die. How dare he?

The problem is that we just can’t understand it. Why would God allow this young man to die? Unfortunately, we will only get the answer to this and many other questions, when we too die. Then, as believers, we will be able to ask God face-to-face. I have no doubt that our all-knowing creator had perfectly good reasons for this, and other suffering, to happen… it’s very hard for us to get our heads round it though, right? It just seems so unfair.

We don’t see the full picture, we can’t understand, and sometimes that sucks. We like to believe that we have all the control in our lives: choosing our friends, our jobs, who we marry, how many kids we have and when, where we live, etc. And of course we do have a lot of decisons to make, and responsibilities.

But we never get to choose when or where we are born, who our parents are, and when we die. We like to think of ourselves as masters of our destiny, but ultimately, when it comes to life and death, this is an illusion.

The fact is that every day that we live is a gift from our maker, God. We may rage at his unfairness is taking away young lives, but in reality, we were never promised long, healthy, wealthy lives, without a moment’s pain. Quite the opposite in many cases actually, especially for Christians.

My heart breaks for Nabeel’s family and friends, but thank God for his life. Thank God for our lives, no matter how short or painful they may be. Thank God that he sent his son to die as a sacrifice for us, so that when we die we can live forever with him. Thank God for his love, for hope and for every day that he gives us on Earth.

It’s not all about how long you live, or how many countries you visit, or how many children you have.

Much more important is knowing in your heart, on the last day that you live, where you are going. That you are going to meet your Heavenly Father: the one who loved you even before you were born, the one who send his son to die in your place.

I know that Nabeel had this faith, and that he is happy now in Heaven, probably asking Jesus some of those difficult questions. 

Seeking Allah Finding Jesus


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Inbetweeny

I haven’t written a blog post in ages, so I think it’s time for one.

Many of my blogs have been about trusting God in the really difficult times, or being thankful for the good things.

I don’t remember having written many inbetweeny posts. For those without access to a dictionary, inbetweeny is where things aren’t great and things aren’t horrendous. They are just inbetweeny. I guess that for most of us, with the notable exception of Calamity James, a large percentage of us spend most of our lives in this zone.

So, you may not know that I have been some some health problems for the last few months. I do not believe that they are in any way related to my cancer history, but it has still been unpleasant and draining.

Recently I had some investigations, which included biopsies. The nurse said that one of them was not routine. When you hear those words, some small alarm bells are set off.

I want to say that I am not anxious about this, at least 99% of the time. Having cancer has taught me to give over all this sort of stuff to God, and sharpish. I have learned that I can trust him, no matter how bleak the circumstances. So the last thing that I need to hear from anyone is ‘Be anxious for nothing.’ Thanks dude, but I learned that one the hard way and I don’t need your well-intentioned judging.

That said, show me someone who says that they never get worried about anything, and I’ll show you a liar.

And that’s what I mean by inbetweeny, because of course that’s normal. And it’s in the normal, the job stuff and health concerns and fun weekends and family times and business of life that we really need to learn to put God first. There aren’t many athiests on a lifeboat, and most of us are happy to thank God when life is awesome, but those times are just the bookends.

There are a whole lot of unreported stories, times that we may not photograph or share on Facebook, where we still, as Christians, need to learn to put God first. I’m good at trusting him with the big things, but I need to hand over all the small stuff to him too.

So that’s where I am at the moment: inbetweeny and learning to trust God with the everyday. And whenever I make the effort to focus on him, there he is with me, just like when I woke up after my operation nearly two years ago. Right in the room with us, where he always is even if we don’t notice.

 

 


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World cancer Day

What does World cancer day mean to me?
Today is world cancer day, and I’ve been thinking about why the day
is important to me.
There are three things:
1) A chance to raise awareness.
A great thing about WCD is that is raises awareness of this disease.
Yes, people have heard of cancer, but do they know what to look
out for in their own bodies? Every cancer has different symptoms, but
if it encourages one person to stop ignoring that little lump in
their breast, or blood in their stools, or stomach pain that won’t go
away; if they get the kick up the bum to make an appointment with
their GP, which means that their cancer is caught early and can
be treated, then it’s worth it.
2) A chance to raise funds for vital cancer charities.
Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Care, and Macmillan are all
charities that I, along with many others, have benefitted from.
More research into prevention and treatments, more support
for those affected by cancer, and more political lobbying is needed.
3) For those who have lost loved ones to the disease,
a chance to remember them.
For those who currently have cancer; for those who will lose their lives
to it; or those who have lost health and time and joy to it, a chance
to reflect and be recognised. A chance to stand with others
and not feel alone.
A chance to unite.
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Jake’s diary

I recently wrote this story for Brighter Futures,  the Great Western Hospital charity that is raising funds for a new radiotherapy centre in Swindon. For more details,  see Brighter Futures Web site.

By Alex Dixon

Illustrations by Connor (age 10)

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15 April

My name is Jake and I am 12. I live in Swindon with my mum and annoying little sister Rosie. I love football, X-Box and sketching. Mum works in a bank or something, and Rosie’s favourite hobby is winding me up. She also loves going to school, which is proof that she’s crazy.

Yesterday Mum sat Rosie and me down. She looked serious. Mum told us that she is poorly.

“I have cancer.” She whispered.

I burst into tears. Cancer? Cancer! I can’t believe it.

Rosie went quiet for a minute and then asked

“Are you going to go bald, Mummy?”

“Yes I am going to lose my hair, darling, but it will grow back again one day. When I’m better.”

“Maybe your hair will grow back blonde, like mine.” Rosie smiled.

“That would be cool.” Replied Mum.

I didn’t say much. After a while, I went to my room. I texted Sam to ask if he wanted to meet at the park, but he was out with his parents. I climbed into my bed and tried not to think. I fell asleep and woke up feeling angry.

Why did my Mum have to get cancer? She doesn’t deserve it. Why didn’t some nasty old person who kicks puppies get it instead of her? It isn’t fair.

I need to ask Mum something, but I’m too scared.

I went downstairs and pretended that everything was ok. I needed to be strong for Mum and Rosie. I need make sure they were ok.

16 April

It was a rubbish day today. The teachers kept telling me off for staring out of the window. I made a jokey reply to Miss Simmons, my English teacher, and she gave me detention. Just what I need!

When I got home, Gran and Grandad were there with Mum. I could tell that they had all been crying, even though they put on fake smiles when they saw me.

Rosie was playing in her room.

“Why aren’t you at work, Mum?” I asked.

“I’ve been signed off work for my treatment. I’m going to start chemo soon.” She replied.

“Oh.”

I sat down heavily on the sofa. Gran went to the kitchen to get me a drink. Grandad went to play Hungry Hippos with Rosie.

I looked at Mum. She seemed so well, so normal!

“I am going to be ill for a while, Jake. I might be sick a lot. I will be tired and might not be able to make dinner or do as much. But we’ll get through it, won’t we? And Gran and Grandad will help a lot too.”

Mum smiled but her eyes were sad.

“I can help with cooking and cleaning and stuff. I can learn how to do the washing. I’ll look after you and Rosie.” I said.

Mum started crying.

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We went to a pizza place for dinner with Gran and Grandad. Mum said that she wouldn’t be able to go out so much when she was having chemo, because of the germs. When people have chemo they can pick up a bug or infection really easily, and can get sick. Sicker. We’ll have to start washing our hands all the time: as soon as we get home; before any cooking; after we sneeze or cough. It’s going to be hard.

I was knackered by the time we got home so I didn’t get to speak properly to Mum last night. I still didn’t get a chance to ask her the question that I need to ask but don’t want to.

I woke up from a nightmare and couldn’t get back to sleep for hours. I’m worried how we will cope. I’m worried that Mum is sicker than she’s telling us. I’m worried about a lot of things.

17 April

I told Sam about Mum today. He noticed that I’ve been weird. I find it hard to concentrate at school. I don’t really enjoy football anymore. He looked really sad when I told him. He didn’t know what to say. I told him that he doesn’t need to say anything, just be my mate.

My teachers all know about the cancer now. I can tell straight away which ones have been told, because they look sad and ask me how I am. Even Miss Simmons was nice to me!

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29 April

Mum had her first chemo today. Grandad took her and Gran stayed at ours to cook dinner. When I got home, Mum was having a nap. I asked Grandad how it went and he said

“As well as could be expected.”

Mum woke up just in time to have dinner. She didn’t eat much and went back to bed soon after. Rosie was upset so I read her bedtime story and put her to bed. Gran and Grandad said that they were tired and went home, so I stayed up by myself for a while watching You Tube videos. The house was too quiet. I checked in on Mum before going to bed, in case she needed anything.

“Mum, are you ok?” I whispered.

“Yes, just tired darling.” She replied.

“Have you been sick?” I asked.

“No, not yet. I’m ok. Will you be ok getting Rosie to school tomorrow?” She asked.

“No problem. Night Mum.”

“Goodnight Jake.”

23 May

Mum has had her second chemo. She had to go into hospital yesterday because she has an infection. I’m really worried.

Rosie and I were allowed to visit her for a few minutes last night. She was hooked up to machines and looked rough. Rosie cried when she saw her and was a nightmare for the rest of the day.

I asked Mum when she was coming home and she said,

“As soon as I can. Although it is nice being served hand and foot by the nurses in here.”

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I hope that she comes home soon. Gran and Grandad are nice but they are so old! I’m not even allowed to have my mobile at the dining room table, and they treat me like I’m five. Rosie loves it though. They let her eat as much ice cream and crisps as she likes.

27 May

Mum is out of hospital now. Rosie is being clingy with her and winding me up. She’s acting like a baby, and I have to get her breakfast and walk her to school every day.

I’m knackered. I keep having nightmares. In them, I wake up and realise that I am in a strange room, all alone. I try to find a door but there aren’t any. There are no windows either. I start to panic and then actually wake up.

People are being really nice to me at school, especially the girls, so it’s not all bad.

Some people don’t talk to me anymore though. Harry used to always invite himself to mine to play X-box but he hasn’t spoken to me in weeks. I’m not bothered because I have enough friends but still.

The school counsellor, Mrs Brown, caught up with me the other day and asked if I wanted to talk. I said no thanks. I don’t know why people want me to talk all the time now! Before they always used to tell me to shut up.

30 June

I am done with cancer now. It can just get lost! Argh.

Why did this have to happen to Mum? Why did it have to happen to me and Rosie? Mum’s never hurt anyone in her life. And now look at her! All her hair has fallen out and she looks so tired and sad. I feel about 50.

Sam keeps talking about his summer holiday this year. He’s going to Florida with his parents and brother. I can’t even think as far as next week, and we’re definitely not planning a holiday.

How can we, when Mum might not even be alive by summer? She might die. She hasn’t told me that but I know it might happen.

It sucks. 😔😢😠

5 July

I finally asked her last night, when Rosie had gone to bed and we were watching Bear Grylls on telly.

“Mum?” I asked.

“Yes Jake?”

“Please tell me the truth…”

“About what darling?”

She put down her coffee, paused the show and looked at me.

“About, well, I mean, are you going to… are you going to die?” I whispered.

Mum stood up, walked over to me and gave me a massive hug.

“I am not planning on going anywhere.” She said.

“No, but what if you get another infection? What if you die during your operation? What will happen to me and Rosie?” I started to cry.

“Oh sweetheart. How long have you been worrying about this? Listen, my oncologist says that I am responding very well to the chemo. As long as I am careful, I hopefully won’t get another infection. And my surgeon and the other doctors know exactly what they are doing with the operation. They’ve done it hundreds of times. I am young and should make a quick recovery.”

She sat down on the sofa next to me.

“But, what if you die anyway?”

“If I die, which I’m sure won’t happen for a very long time, then you and Rosie will be ok. Gran and Grandad can look after you. I’m so proud of you! I know that you will grow up into an amazing, kind man. I will be ok though, I can feel it.” She smiled.

“You don’t know that mum.” I replied.

“No, but I have faith. I’m going to be ok. We’re all going to be ok.”

My mum is so cool sometimes.

25 July

It’s the school holidays! Yay.

Sam is going to Florida next week, but I don’t mind so much anymore.  Mum found us a last-minute holiday deal online. We are going to Cornwall with Gran and Gramps for a week. I’m going to do some surfing lessons and Mum is going to chill. She’s even going to go to the beach with us. But I told her to be really careful, and she must have a nap when she gets tired.

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I’m so excited! I can’t wait. 😀 🐚 🍦🕶

20 December

Man, it’s been a tough year. Mum finished her chemo in summer and had an operation in October. Her hair is growing back now and she’s doing well.

Now she gets to have a break from cancer stuff until New Year, when she starts radiotherapy in Oxford. She’s going to have to go travel 70 miles every week day for five weeks. She’ll be really tired. One day Swindon hospital will have their own radiotherapy machines, which will make it much easier for people with cancer.

I did a 5k run the other day for the Brighter Futures charity, who are raising money to get our town some radiotherapy machines. I raised £160! Mum said that she’s really proud of me.

It’s nearly Christmas! I can’t wait. I wonder what Mum got me? I bought Rosie a My Little Pony, I hope she likes it! I drew Mum a picture of us three, Mum, Rosie and me, lying on the beach in Cornwall. I also got her a woolly hat because she still gets a cold head sometimes. 🎅👼👪

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The end


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My letter to cancer

One year ago today I had a double mastectomy and lymph node removal on my left-side. My breast cancer was diagnosed as stage 3, and caught just before it spread to the rest of my body.
I saw that the charity Breast Cancer Now is asking people today to write a letter to cancer. I believe that it’s to raise awareness of secondary (metastatic) breast cancer, which thankfully I do not have, but still thought that I would join in.
Dear breast cancer
Note that you are not in capitals, because you are not worthy of being a proper noun.
I know that you are not a person and that actually you left me some time last year. I’m not sure when exactly that was. One year ago, perhaps,  after my surgery?
Or possibly summer last year when I cast you out of my body, in Jesus name, and the two large lumps in my left breast where you lived, suddenly vanished as I prayed. (My oncologist confirmed that they had gone 2 days later so I know it wasn’t my imagination. ) Either way, you have gone my unwelcome visitor.
You came to me around my 33rd birthday last year. I wasn’t entirely surprised when I got the diagnosis in April, because I had a little voice in my head for up to six months before I found you, saying that I should put my spare change in every Macmillan and Breast Cancer Now charity pot that I saw (which was several over those few months) because I would need those charities’ support one day. And yet. Your arrival was a shock.
You took from me my health, my hair, my breasts, my fertility, my ability to go to work and pop to the shops and meet up with Mummy friends and just take my kids somewhere fun; at least for a few months.
You no doubt caused my husband Mike and my kids and parents and brother and sister and wider family and friends, a whole lot of heartache that was hidden from me.
You shrank my life for a while. You kept me away from many friends.
You made me really confront the high possibility of my imminent death, in a very real way. I had to have conversations with my husband about how I wanted the kids to be raised after I had gone (actually he already knew and I knew that I could trust him with that anyway.) You encouraged me to write letters to my son and daughter, telling them how much I will always love them and that I will see them again in Heaven one day.
You caused me pain and sometimes fear. You changed my life and I can never go back to the healthy young person that I used to be.
But you did not take everything.
No, in fact you (unintentionally) gave me many unexpected gifts.
By forcing me to face the facts of this short life that we are all given, you helped me to see what’s really important.
You helped me to see how happy and content I really am, and how wonderful my family, friends and church are.
You made my marriage stronger, my motherhood more valued and precious, and my friendships kinder.
You helped me to appreciate the little joys in life, like sunshine and autumn leaves and rides at the back of the bus with my children, giggling and waving at other drivers . Even doing the washing!
You helped me to focus on God and his love for me, no matter what the circumstances. Because of you I have an even stronger faith.
You increased my self-confidence because if I faced cancer then I can face anything.  No longer will I be too shy to speak my mind when  someone is causing others pain or trouble.  If I stood up to cancer then I can stand up to annoying gits.
You increased my empathy for others because I know how incredibly difficult being ill or disabled can be. How isolating it can feel.
You wanted to take away my peace, but you increased it.
You hoped to dash my faith and tear me away from a close Father-daughter relationship with God, but you only drove me closer to him.
You helped me to see life for what it really is: short and painful, but amazingly beautiful and full of hope.
So cancer,  I just want to say,
You are nasty and cruel and you take too many lovely people away too early and I hope that they continue to find ways to get rid of you faster and easier.
But you can’t break me and you cannot steal my faith, hope or joy. You lose.
Insincerely,

 

Alex