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Faith, fiction and cancer stuff.


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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


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Surgery

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Before you go in for surgery, you have to remove most of the things that you hide behind: make-up, skin cream, deodorant, lip gloss, jewellery, nail varnish. Even most of your clothes: instead you get to wear a huge trendy NHS gown that opens at the back, and some ultra-tight green anti-DVT socks.

 

It’s a weird feeling because it makes you feel quite exposed; and I’m not a high-maintenance person who wears nail varnish or loads of make-up.

 

It makes me think of how God sees us: not as surgery patients but without all the stuff that we hide behind. We all show a certain face to other people; that may be businessperson, earth mother, geek or socialite. We may want others to see us a certain way. We show only our good sides and try to hide our faults. But God sees us for who we really are. He knows all about our past and he sees our every thought. We can’t fool him.

 

And that’s ok. He made us, after all. And he loves us no matter what we’ve done or who we are.

 

As I went into surgery yesterday, I felt completely at peace. Firstly, because I trust my surgical team; but mostly because I trust God. That doesn’t mean that I never get worried about anything, in fact I can get anxious over even small things. But I do try to remind myself that God is always in control, no matter how bleak the circumstances.

 

He has a good plan for my life. Events like surgery, trying to conceive and childbirth, remind me that really we have very little control over our lives. Yes we can make decisions, and there will be consequences, but actually we do not control our destiny when it comes to life and death. Sometimes our health will let us down; sometimes our friends and family will let us down; sometimes we will disappoint ourselves. Yet God is there with us, every step of the way.

 

 

My surgery went well and I feel surprisingly good. Hopefully I won’t need a major operation for a few years, although there are risks (like leakage) with implants. I am going to be discharged to go home soon. ☺ I won’t be able to vacuum or lift a laundry basket for a few weeks though, which is a shame.

 

Thanks to everyone for their thoughts, prayers and messages. Thanks to Mike for being the best husband, and to our parents for babysitting and all your help. And thank you to my doctors and nurses, and the caterers and cleaner too. They work so hard and are always friendly. I am so grateful to them all.

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Pre-op

We are in the waiting room and watching rugby on the TV.  Japan beat New Zealand! And soon my name is called.

“Sorry to keep you.”

I have filled in one questionnaire but there is an even longer one to complete with the nurse. Have I had other operations; what is my house like; will my husband help me when I get home, etc.

“Are you allergic to anything?”

“Yes, I responded very badly to an anti-sickness drug after my last operation. I would rather be sick than take it again.”

My poor brain struggled with that one. I knew what I wanted to say but the words wouldn’t come out. Also very dizzy, hot and cold and spaced out like an alien.

She checks my notes and they say ‘Reacted badly. Not to be used again.’

Lots more health questions. I look around the room and remember what it was like last time. But then I was sick, now I’m not. I am nearly back to normal and feel mostly healthy, besides the tiredness, headaches, occasional migraine and hormonal stuff.

“You are the first patient without complications I’ve had all day.”

It’s 6pm. I am her last patient today. 

“At least you can get home soon.”

“Oh no, my paperwork will take me at least another hour and a half.”

Then we are sent back to the waiting room for the next nurse. I find a Gideon’s Bible and read some Galatians and Psalms. It doesn’t quite feel right as the font is different from my Bible at home, but it’s still good.

“Sorry for the wait.”

“That’s OK.”

Measure my height and weight, take my blood pressure, take three vials of blood, do an MRSA swab.

“When will you get home tonight?”

“Probably about 8:30. I think I’ll get fish and chips. My husband works nights.”

“When did you start work today?”

“7:30 in the morning.”

Oh my goodness that’s a 13 hour shift! And she was still cheerful.

“Yes but it’s a vocation isn’t it?”

“Well yes, but still.”

Home time, to my parents’ to pick up the kids. This time next week my operation will be over.

God bless the NHS.


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Escape tattoo moody

I never thought that I would get a tattoo. Mostly because of the pain and I thought it wouldn’t suit me.

But here I am, lying on an uncomfortable bed and watching the young man get the equipment ready. I feel nervous but brave.

I am going to get three tattoos today: one in the middle of my chest and one on each side. I start to feel too warm and wish I could escape outside for some cold winter air. But I can’t. It needs to be done.

It doesn’t help that there are no windows in this room that I can stare out of. No cheerful pictures to enjoy. Just pale magnolia walls and the sterile equipment.

“This might hurt a little.”
He warns me before inserting the ink-filled needle into my skin.

It isn’t too bad. I can’t really feel it, although by now I am accustomed to needles.

I don’t want these but I know that I need to.
I glance up at the large machine over my head. It was used to take my measurements a few minutes earlier. They need to be exact so that the radiotherapy machine hits exactly the right part of my body. The tattoos are used to ensure there’s no movement each time.

I start to feel moody, sorry for myself, but then I shake it off. I am being looked after.
I will be ok.
I can do this.

“All done.”
He smiles, all the way up to his uniform-blue eyes.

The nurse who is also in the room smiles too. But her eyes are sad.

The tattoos are tiny. Three little dots.

I get dressed and leave the room. I never thought I would get a tattoo, but now I have three.

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This was written from a prompt: use three words (escape,  tattoo and moody) in a short story.