12 things I learnt in 2017

Happy New Year to you all and I hope you all enjoyed the festive period regardless of how and with who you spent it with.  With family, friends, pets, strangers or alone as long as your heart is full of love for yourself, then, you will never be alone.

For my first blog of 2018, I wanted to round up what I learnt in 2017 as a summary of  how I will be facing this upcoming year.  I can categorically say that the person I was this time next year is definitely not the person I am today.  


I can categorically say that 2017 has been the hardest year of my life.  Not only that, it has been the year where I not only questioned what was important to me but that was tested again and again.  In January, long before CancerCarerChats was ever born, I started the year jobless having been made redundant by my previous employer in December.  I lost job security and the comfortable lifestyle that I was accustomed to was threatened.  The emotion of leaving a job that I really enjoyed and an employer that I respected had left me tired and I spent a few months recuperating.  I discovered that it was ok to take a break, I didn’t miss the early morning wake up calls and enjoyed the time I spent with my mum as we went on days out.  But there remained the notion that I was unfulfilled and that something was missing.  Having spent 15 years working every single day, to suddenly not have a job left me feeling less than secure and my confidence took a knock.  I had dedicated a good proportion of my day to day life to a career that was suddenly not moving forward.  What was left????
In January, I learnt to give myself a break and re-fuel my brain with learning new things.  I took a few online courses in Agile methodology and TOGAF – Enterprise Architecture and thought about how I wanted to present myself and for people to see me as I prepared myself for a new career.  I prepared myself emotionally to take on new challenges and for a change.


In February, after my confidence had taken a beating, it was now time to put my character and skill under cross examination as I started to get interviews.  Coincidentally, after a dry period, I was invited to 3 interviews in a week.  Like anyone, I hate interviews.  I have picked up some great tips over time which I will share in a subsequent blog post but there is no magical cure for nerves.  Especially when something means a lot to you and you think at the time, that this is what I want.  Strangely, I have always in my life been someone who has had good instincts.  I’m very good at knowing, imagining when something is going to happen, when something feels right for some reason or other and for one of the interviews, the job, the recruiter just felt right.  As a result, I had worked myself into such a frenzy that the previous night, I only slept a total of 3 hours.  I was very jittery, nervous and going into the interview with a lack of self confidence where I could almost feel that I was ruining it for myself. In February, I learnt that I was more than my previous employer.  That it’s ok to be scared of new challenges on the horizon as long as it doesn’t beat you down and you get up… and just… keep going… however hard that may be.  I learnt that at the end of the day, it is just a job.


When spring came in March, I had successfully got through to the second interview and was offered the job. 
In March, I learnt what true fear is and in turn, the things that are most important to me overall, family and health.  I can categorically say that my family and my mum’s health is more important to me than anything in the world.  I know this because when I was offered the new job that I had been waiting for and anticipating, all I could think about was that my mum potentially had Ovarian Cancer.  In March 2017, 3 days before I was due to start the ‘dream’ job, my mum, who had been hoovering said that she did not feel right, her tummy felt oddly bloated and much bigger than it should be.  I remember vividly, it was Friday 3.30pm and I made an appointment to see the GP for her immediately as I was due to start the new job on Wednesday of the following week.  As we saw our GP, she answered in the affirmative to all of the questions related to symptoms of ovarian cancer:

Have you felt bloated more than 12 times in the last month?  Yes
Do you go to the toilet in the evening or more times than usual?  Yes
Are there changes in your appetite?  Yes

Fear is having your GP refer you to the hospital immediately.
Fear is sitting in a hospital waiting room until 10pm waiting to be seen by a Doctor.
Fear is being sent home with a list of possible diagnoses, one of them being cancer.
Fear is knowing, instinctively in your heart, that something is not right.

And love is sitting by your mum’s side, waiting for the results together, as long as it may take.
Love is telling your mum that she has ovarian cancer instead of the doctors because you are her translator.
Love is holding someone’s hand and them not having to tell you that they are scared.
In March, I learnt what true fear is and in turn, the things that are most important to me overall. 


In April, I learnt how to ask for help.  Though we are a close family, I am and have always been a fiercely independent person that does not like to ask for help.  I physically, cannot bear to summon the words to ask for help of people.  Except maybe of my mother, with my mother, we talk about anything and everything, I don’t need to ask and she will already know what I need.  And vice versa.  In April, I was stuck between working full time and the challenge of setting a good impression as you start a new job within an organisation where you value and respect the ethics and ethos of the company, coming to terms with my mum’s cancer diagnosis and helping her as much as possible.  Aswell as starting a new job, I took on extra responsibilities at home, organising hospital appointments and desperately struggled to do everything so as not to let anyone down and failing miserably.  In April, I learnt to ask my sisters to help me take care of my mother as I couldn’t do it alone.


A few days after my mum’s first cycle of chemotherapy, she started vomiting, and then came the diarrhoea and then came the fatigue and the dozing where she would fall aslepp as you spoke to her.  And when the high temperature arrived, so did the ambulance!! And we were off to A&E.  I will never forget May 2017 when my mum was admitted for 12 days with neutropenic sepsis.  As much as I wish to forget those times, sitting in an ambulance, my mum sleeping for days at a time and watching her vomit, my heart broke in that hospital room and I am still trying to mend it now, with everything that I do for her and offer to her now, to make her feel better, it slowly mends. 
In February, I had learnt that a job is just a job.  In May, I went one step further and learnt that a career is what you make it.  I practiced self care by reducing the hours that I work and started my blog, which could be done at home, as a way to explore and unleash my emotions and started thinking about helping others through the blog. 


In June, I learnt the word ‘carer’ is the same as ‘career’ minus an ‘e’.  I embraced being a carer and joined the 6.5 million people in the UK who take care of someone who is either disabled, elderly or seriously ill.  I learnt new skills as a carer immediately that came instinctively and intuitively, without being taught, trained or shown how. 
  • I learnt basic medical, first aid skills
  • I became a PA - arranging numerous appointments with medical staff and care givers
  • I researched her condition, ensuring we understood her treatment and her diagnosis
  • I was a dietitian – crafting dishes that were healthy and nutritious, enjoyable and quick to cook
  • I was a physiotherapist, coaching her back to fitness, building her strength ready to endure further rounds of chemotherapy for which we now understood would be physically gruelling
  • I learnt to be a psychotherapist as we came to terms with our new lifestyle and how our lives would be changed forever, guided by this diagnosis and the journey we would be taking
In June, I learnt vital survival skills for a carer.


Half way through the year, month after month, day after day of living with something that had consumed our lives and threatened to take away that which was most important to me, I received a particularly difficult phone call from the oncologist reporting that my mum’s cancer was only partially responding to chemotherapy.  In July, our hopes were crushed one more time, it was one crush too many, I realised that it was too much.  Reality hit me and I broke down.  In July, I learnt to let go.  In July, we said our Goodbye’s.


Cancer is a rollercoaster of emotions and soon after the oncologist reported my mother’s mixed response to chemotherapy, he also told us that the medical team were keen for her to have surgery.  With one phone call, my hopes were crushed and with another, soon after, before I had even fully absorbed the information, the belief of the surgeons’ brought us a fresh, new road for which we were to travel along. 
In August, I learnt that when all hope is lost, there is always a road in front of you and when you’re ready, you will see the path to take.  In August, I learnt that I am a survivor.


My mum was admitted into hospital again but this time it was elective and for surgery.  Given the response to chemotherapy, her cancer had shrunk so significantly that she was now able to have debulking surgery.
  • My mother is 70 and endured a 9hr major surgery
  • She had a full hysterectomy, removal of the omentum, spleen and a restructure of the bowel
  • She was discharged after 9 days
  • She had on ostomy and now has a stoma – an opening of the bowel through her stomach where poo passes into a bag which she changes every day
  • She has 10 inch scar running the length of her abdomen
In September, I learnt that my mum, who left school at primary level, started working at age 10, travelled half way round the world to get married, has 4 daughters and 5 precious grandchildred and ran her own business, is a fighter. 


I am the daughter of a woman who is fighting cancer and we fight it together.  In October, my mum recovered from surgery and I nursed her back to health.  I learnt the importance of a routine to us and a stable and quiet lifestyle enriched with a healthy diet and saturated with love and kindness for each other and words that soothe our hearts.  Finally, as the leaves started to turn beautiful hues of brown and red and the nights started earlier, we found peace.  In October, I learnt who I am.  


Mending your heart does take time but I’ve always been someone who relates to actions more so than words.  I like to do something rather than just talk about doing something.  My journey is far from finished and the tests will continue to come.  We are 4 hospital admissions further than where we were.  We are 6 cycles of chemotherapy further than where I ever believed we could be.  We are no longer who we were in February, before my mum was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer.  We will never, ever, be able to go back.  In November, I found peace.


As winter came with the realisation that we were 10 months away from her initial diagnosis, it was time for a scan to assess my mum’s progress.  We had lived with a stranger in our house for the good part of a year, one that was not invited and we wanted to leave but refused to go away, ignoring the pain that it was bringing to our lives.  It was a stalemate.  With us hurling an abuse of chemicals at it to not only stop it from spreading but starve it of oxygen and shrink it.  Finally, the CT scan showed that we were winning.  There was no evidence of the stranger in our home, just as it had come in and intruded in our lives’, it had also disappeared.  But the scars we had endured were still there physically and emotionally.  The echoes of its footsteps still haunts’ our lives and I was still baffled by how people, other people, were doing this, day in and day out and yet there was so little real information out there to help people heal.  In December, I learnt to give back.  I wanted to use this blog cancercarerchats.blogspot.co.uk to continue to help others struggling through the same experience and looking to heal themselves.  In December, I pushed myself to raise awareness of Ovarian Cancer and volunteering and just simply helping others by doing a charitable Christmas gift guide blogmas, blogging everyday on acts to help others and actively engaging in #joinin and #joinin247 on Social Media. 

2017 was the hardest year of my life where I was tested again and again.  I did not think I would be where and WHO I am at the end of 2017, than I did at the beginning of 2017.  Though 2017 was the hardest year of my life, I can categorically say, going into 2018, that my mum and I are strong, we are healthy, we are doing all that we can do persevere and survive.  We cherish every day, every hour and every minute that we spend with each other.  We take nothing for granted.  We thank every morning, all that has been given to us and the opportunity to spend time with each other every day.  


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