Once you have been diagnosed with cancer, life changes forever. For you and for your family, it is unlikely that you will ever look on life in the same way. Sometimes that can be amazingly positive, and sometimes, sadly, it is soul destroyingly awful. Whether you get through treatment and survive, whether you get through treatment and relapse, one thing is true….a cancer diagnosis is one of the few things that is forever.
I think I would be right in saying that in general, Nick and I have been massively positive in how we have lived our lives since I was first diagnosed with myeloma in 2009. It was obviously a massive upheaval to our lives in the early days, and hugely scary to think that our children might not get many years with me. But, as we went through the treatment regime, we got stronger and stronger together. I think we learnt to accept the myeloma as part of our lives, and for me, I did my fundraising as a means of controlling it. And in the main, my myeloma is NOT my life….it is just that unfortunately it has a nasty way of getting away of my life when I don’t want it to.
I will always remember a strange part of the journey where I just wanted the treatment to start – I wanted an end to the ‘unknown’ and I thought that once I had my chemo and transplant and had recovered, that life would go back to normal. Little did I realise, that the ‘unknown’ never really disappears with myeloma, you never quite get to sit back and totally relax, especially when you are at hospital on a monthly basis for your maintenance therapy. But even without that, I would imagine us mm patients aren’t unique in the fact that the word cancer is always there, hidden, in the back of your mind and in the way you make decisions.
In fact, you end up living with a kind of guilt and frustration that are hard to put into words but I am going to try to.
I know, from the bottom of my heart, that I am REALLY lucky to still be here today to write this. I know, that when I was diagnosed 8 years ago, that I thought I would have gone by now. I know that I have said goodbye to too many myeloma friends that I have met on my journey, who have not had the positive response to their treatments, that I have had. I know that my life is pretty good when I take that all into account.
But I sit here writing this feeling nearly as sad as I have done in a long, long time. Why? I am ill again. Not badly ill, but ill enough to lay me up at home for a number of days (expected to be at least a week) and to make me dependent on Nick and the kids for everything. This comes on the back of looking after my son having the same thing for two weeks and at the same approximate time, breaking a bone in my foot for the 3rd time in 2 years.
The reason for these things? Well, my immunity is permanently low due to my maintenance therapy and my myeloma so I pick things up pretty easily. Whilst I am much more relaxed about being around people these days, I still rely on people to make sensible decisions about seeing me when they or their kids are ill…otherwise it can lay me up – and that isn’t fair on me or the family. And my breaks? Well, I still that they are due to the bisphosponates I was on for so many years….but I’m no expert.
The reason I thought I’d write is because I want to help people to understand how hard it is to live with cancer ‘under the surface’. To everyone around us, I am now pretty healthy…and I am in comparison. I look well. I smile (most of the time!). If people ask how I am, I rarely talk about the myeloma anymore. But behind it all, Nick, the kids and I, have to deal with so much more on an ongoing basis.
I am lucky to have the most supportive husband I could ask for. He drops everything when I am ill or hurt and makes sure he is there for me. But this time, I think it has hit us both emotionally and we are both exhausted from what this life means for us at times. I think we want to think life is normal again, but the reality is that ‘normal’ isn’t what it once used to be….and I don’t like the new normal that much. I’m someone who is active and on the go all the time, but if I do that now, it makes me ill and the family suffers. I’m not sure how it impacts the kids…..they don’t really talk about it, but I see them so concerned when I am laid up in bed with a temperature, again. I think they’re ok. I dearly hope they are.
Even with work I find it so frustrating. Given how much I have been ill/ injured in the last couple of years, I can’t think of many companies who would take on someone who worked like that. And if I take on a role that is too stressful, it makes me ill. So I’m trying to set up my own business doing social media and admin pieces for small businesses who don’t want to do their own….fingers crossed that doesn’t lead to more stress than is good for me. The reality is there is no ‘standard’ job out there for me that works though, so it is this or nothing….and that feels hard in itself.
And all of this is with the knowledge that my paraproteins are very slowly creeping upwards. They are so slow it will probably be a couple of years before anything needs looking at, but unless you are living with that, it is unlikely that you can begin to understand how that plays around in your head with every decision that you make. One minute I’m talking about us in our retirement together and the next we’re having a reality check and discussing the alternative if we knew we only had another ten years together……..an eye opening discussion I can promise you…which limits Nick massively, as well as me.
But if you ask me next week how things are, I’ll likely tell you it’s good, smile and carry on….