On World Cancer Day, it is my pleasure to introduce guest blogger, Marie Carberry, 56, married and mum of two, worked in the bank for years and then became a freelance journalist. Marie is one fierce woman with a wicked sense of humour!
Marie has cancer, but that does not stop her and I know you will love her philosophy on life and cancer. Can you have a philosophy on cancer? This is one post you will want to read. Share the ‘bejaysus’ out of it. This needs to go viral.
My brain is like cheese sometimes. I forget things. Like books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen. Names of people but never faces. I always remember faces. I remember the face of my breast consultant quite clearly. It was one evening in January 2010, pitch dark outside and his face was lit by a desk lamp.
On a sketch pad, he had drawn a pair of large breasts and I remember thinking, “Ah, everything is ok because those boobs are so big they can’t be mine.” I was a double AA cup which is really just a pair of nipples and little else.
How stupid was I? They were, of course, my breasts and he was showing me exactly where the cancer was. The lump I had found was a cancerous lymph node which had come from behind my left nipple.
“Triple negative breast cancer,” he explained. Triple negative is a rare but aggressive breast cancer usually found in younger women. I was forty-eight so I felt a little hard done by.
The usual stuff followed. Scans to see if it had spread. It hadn’t, so a mastectomy was carried out the following week. A lot of women asked me if I minded losing a breast and the answer is I would have stapled myself to the front door of the hospital just to have it removed.
The chemotherapy was rough but my oncologist, Professor John Kennedy, was amazing. He makes a virtue of being blunt but high on his list of priorities is quality of life. I was due to try out skiing for the first time and he delayed my chemo start date so I could go. His gung-ho attitude fed through to me and carried me over the hump of treatment.
Yes, I felt like I’d been run over by a bus but not all the time. A nurse told me I would start losing my hair on the 17th day after the first of eight chemos. She was right but I was under the impression it would just glide off in one fell swoop. Instead, it fell out in clumps. I didn’t want to go to a hair salon to have it removed because it felt too personal, so I stood outside a barbers and, when it was empty, went in and asked the barber to shave my head. He was a little nonplussed but agreed and I emerged about ten minutes later looking like a tennis ball but otherwise none the worse for wear.
A wig was an option so two friends came with me to the wig shop. Now, I have an extremely small head and what I didn’t know is that wigs made from real hair are very full. Each wig I tried was worse than the last. The girls were in stitches laughing. No matter what I donned I looked like a cross between an Afghan hound and a ten-year- old
Michael Jackson. Nylon wigs made my head sweat so I gave up and instead ordered a headscarf and a fringe on the internet. When the fringe arrived, it looked like a dead ferret in a box. My eleven-year-old son took a fancy to it and could often be seen wearing it under his baseball cap.
I got quite a bit of unsolicited advice during this time. It was usually to do with alternative therapies. Some reasonably intelligent people believe medics are in cahoots with big pharma and that treating cancer with chemotherapy is a hoax. Calmly and without any sense of irony, it was suggested I go abroad and get my blood ‘cleaned’ at a cost of about €30,000. Another said I could get a possible cure by hosing coffee enemas up my back
passage. That seemed like an awful waste of a good cappuccino to me.
When my treatment was over, I went back to John. “If it comes back, I can’t cure it,” he said in his usual blunt manner. “What are my chances of recurrence?” I asked “25%” he replied. I mulled over that percentage for a while and thought it was high enough, so we decided not to do the house extension and to travel instead. And boy, did I have a ball. Over the next couple of years, we went to America, India, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I joined
CrossFit and took up golf. I did weight-lifting and handstands and whacked a little white ball around a course.
These things were always done with my friends and we laughed ourselves sick at the vagaries of life because, while you might think you are the only one, everyone has difficulties in their life because that IS life. It was just as well. Even though Triple Negative doesn’t usually return after five years, I lucked out. Six years after I first found a lump I found another one in my neck. It was Christmas Eve 2015.
Two weeks later I was back in front of John. The breast cancer was in my lymph system and I had a lesion on my spine. I was Missus 25%.
I’ve been on and off chemo for the last two years but, as usual, John is all for quality of life. He has ensured that I can keep travelling, play golf and lift weights. He has, so far, managed to keep my cancer under control and every day I wake up and I’m thrilled to still be here.
A couple of weeks ago I was watching a lady on BBC give an interview. She is in the same place as me vis-a-vis cancer, yet her face was torn up by misery. She was fighting for the right to die. She doesn’t see why she must be in any agony and wants to be in the position to take her own life.
Life is so bloody short. I just couldn’t comprehend that she was willing to spend her last years being eaten up by dying instead of putting all her energy into living. I’m not willing to waste my time battling, fighting or trying to put cancer back in its box but I am willing to live with it in my life and really live that life for as long as I can. When my time comes I plan to be medicated up to my eyeballs.
Life is for living. Never stop.