Sunday, 21 July 2019

Being an invalid?




I’ve been feeling like an invalid of late. It’s a shocking term, in valid, like you don’t count anymore. This was somewhat reinforced by insurances companies telling me this week that they won’t cover my existing conditions for a two week break in Europe ( FFS). But what do I really mean by invalid? I’m weary. Wabbit to use a Scottish word. Poorly is another term I rather like as it feels a kinder expression of how I am. But I’ve used invalid because I imagine I would do well draping my painful body on a chaise longue and eating peeled grapes. Some might say I’m already doing the equivalent of that! 
However in my defence, I’m now on my fourth antibiotic since my surgery and still my wound needs drained. The current one is Clindamycin and I have a rotten taste in my mouth permanently. This too will pass, I know, but I want it to pass now!! My oft heard cry is, « I want to get on with my life » and in truth I’m trying to do that, with a severe level of pacing myself. 
It’s a strange word, invalid. A word reflecting Victorian times, evoking thoughts of crinolines and pale faced ladies with parasols. It suggests the adoption of a role for life which our approach to illness would now abhor. But I’m drawn to it as at least it’s permission to rest and recover.
By contrast, I asked the oncologist if there is anything I can do to reduce my risk of recurrence beyond the surgery and medication. 
Exercise he said, not without an embarrassed acknowledgment of my damaged spine, but in fairness, honouring what I need to know. I’m longing to get back in the pool, one of the few times I’m out of pain, supported by the water. But that’s not yet safe for me and the hand cycle I used pre op last year, is guiltily tucked away in a corner. Is it strange that we only have evidence on exercise but has anyone studied the need to rest and recover too? There’s a damaging paradox in cancer recovery where so much of the treatment causes longer term harm and yet the expectations are to get past that and get back to normal, get on with life, to run or walk marathons, to ring bells and move on. The only time I cry thinking back to the first time I had breast cancer is when I recall how tired I felt....all the time. My life for many years was fighting fatigue and I really feel that damaged my wellbeing for a very long time.
So my plea is a balance in the expectations of recovery, to rest when needed, to exercise in a way that lifts your soul, to do what you love to do and most of all be kind to yourself and others. 
As Mary Oliver says in her poem the Wild Geese. 

Go well...

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.” 
Mary Oliver, Wild Geese




Saturday, 13 July 2019

What do Goldilocks and breast cancer have in common?

I’ve had breast cancer 4 times, each a separate cancer ( I have the BRACA2 gene mutation) and this time is the first time I’ve had a mastectomy. I’ve had two wide local excisions and a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction but this time I knew I couldn’t handle that. A long operation on top of still recovering from spinal surgery last year was not wise.
So I opted for a mastectomy. The surgeon did an amazing job, using a  «Goldilocks » technique which creates the shape of a breast with your own tissue and allows a good ( ish) cosmetic look with a form to help keep a prosthesis in place. And it’s worked apart from dealing with an infection currently that’s got a good grip on my breast and my wellbeing.

I’ve treated it a bit like a small child; called it my booblet even which is my current fond term. So it’s some inanimate object, like a teddy bear I need to care for. I have found many forms of denial over the years, this has to be my best one. But like all forms of denial the bubble gets burst eventually. This week was when I caught a glance of myself in the mirror and felt shock go through me. Where’s my breast gone was my sudden, heart stopping thought. Just as quickly I recalibrated and remembered. But the shock remained in my body. I don’t want to hide from mirrors and I know in time I will accept more fully how I look ( will I?). I’d prefer a symetrical look but further surgery to my left breast with no guarantee of a good outcome ( because of previous reconstruction) is just not an option. So here we are, Goldilocks and me and a whole new story to write. Goldilocks and the three antibiotics maybe? Goldilocks and the four cancers? All I know is three bears takes on a whole new meaning here, so here I am with a mythical teddy bears, baring my soul in this blog but very reluctant to bare my body-even to myself.



Friday, 12 July 2019

Fat shaming and cancer?

I was asked to write this blog for the Health and Social Care Academy, which is a programme focussed on transformational change and is part of the ALLIANCE. It’s about weight stigma but not only I cancer. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. 

https://www.alliance-scotland.org.uk/blog/opinion/challenging-weight-stigma/