Why ‘The Cancer Gap’?

One day you are on your sister’s hen do and the next day you are told you have advanced, aggressive breast cancer. It was surreal. Even now it is like it happened to someone else, not me.

When I was diagnosed, one of the many ways I dealt with it was to ‘reframe it’. This is something I often do at work and in my personal life. It is all about perspective. I reframed my diagnosis as ‘My Cancer Gap Year’. Who wouldn’t take a year out to fight for their life?

I never had a gap year after A Levels or University, I only had 5-6 months off work when I had both my children, so this was my time. Not exactly my plan, but it was a way to manage it mentally.

I could afford to step off the accelerator of my working life and take things a bit easier. Except as a cancer gap year my way of being was to get through it as quickly as possible. To get to the finish line with the cancer eradicated and my body reshaped and looking as close to ‘normal’ as it did at the beginning.

I told myself that this year will become something that happened, something that shaped me, maybe even changed me a bit, but it would be in the past, behind me. Done.

The momentum and positivity was helpful. It was about 6 months in when the reality of a longer stint became obvious. I certainly wasn’t going to get everything including reconstruction done in a year.

Time to recalibrate. Cancer gone in a year, body a work in progress. OK let’s do this.

At 10 months the reality of a secondary cancer diagnosis meant I no longer had a curable cancer and even the glimmer of hope of a normal life expectancy (whatever that is). The cancer gap year increased ad infinitum. Bang goes the title of my blog I haven’t even written.

It was about at this time that I realised that I had to accommodate cancer (and its on-going treatment) into my life. I needed to take time to process some of the intense and difficult feelings in order to build a life around breast cancer now, not after it. The writing has and is helping with this.

The idea of ‘The Cancer Gap’ then evolved. For me this is the gaping hole it has punched right through my life, as well as the one in my chest and underarm. Turns out 96mm of cancer tumour and 23 lymph nodes, leave an emotional gap as well as a physical one. You can’t just fill this. Like grief, you have to build a life back around the hole cancer leaves.

There are also big gaps in cancer care, in insurance, in the workplace, in society. One in two people will get cancer and a lot of us won’t die from it because, like HIV the treatment is changing all the time. Cancer will be managed and controlled. However, we have a long way to go before our employers, insurers and society accommodates cancer. We can barely talk about it never mind accommodate it.

If you’ve had cancer or cancer treatment in the last year, you can’t even get a massage in most places! And yet all the hospitals and hospices know that massage, reflexology etc make a difference to well being and sometimes outcomes.

There is an enormous gap in how we deal with cancer. It’s OK to fund raise for cancer, but aside from that no one likes to talk about it much. Certainly not the side effects or the emotional side.

People think it won’t happen to them. But it might. It will definitely happen to many people they know.

I don’t tend to think or say ‘Why me?’, but I think ‘Why not me?’. And frankly ‘why not you?’.

It is not all doom and gloom though. I have had a pretty awesome 14 months in so many ways. I’ve got off my arse and done things I’ve been meaning to do for ages. I don’t mean big ‘bucket list’ things like flying over the Grand Canyon (not that I particularly want to do that), but small things like picking up the phone to old friends, like seeing more theatre, having real conversations with family and friends. Being present and living all the cliches like seizing every day and trying things you’ve never done (like this very personal blog) and not being wedded to them being perfect or a success.

So, ‘The Cancer Gap’ is also immensely positive. It got me off a bit of a treadmill. It is creating space and clarity around what and who to focus on. It is evolving all the time. I hope you enjoy this blog and connect with people in your life in a different way as a result of dipping into it.

Foundation of Life (Poem 7)

Foundation of Life

I’ve hauled my body through rough terrain
To be upon these majestic planks,
Beside others, where many have lain
To be here, alive, present, I give thanks.

A new beginning, not at the bottom, nor the top,

But up amongst the fresh and fertile hills.
A long, long time, climbing to this welcome stop
Nature’s Italian majesty juxtaposition to life’s pills


All brought together before the place animals graze
The platform down in the valley; yet high
The gnarled, knotted wood bleached by life’s rays.
When is exhalation a ‘pranayama’ not a sigh?
We stretch ourselves over and around the props,
Emulating life’s obstacles, searching for learning.
Igniting our tejas from within, as the landscape drops
How much to peel open to discover the calm we’re yearning?

19thJune 2019 

Through the Eye of the Storm (Poem 6)

Photo credit: my icklest ickle sister (24.7.19)

Through the Eye of the Storm

Not with glee or intrepid.
Started focused, calm and steady 
Blocked out noise and emotion around me.

Leading others and letting me be,
My choices. My journey. 
They said ‘you had no choice’
I prefer to say ‘I chose’. I used my voice, 
I chose my attitude; I chose some of the path,
I decided when to make people laugh.

In the dark, tuning into something bigger, deeper and quieter than you,
Your inner voice giving counsel, in the absence of a view.
Listen beneath the raging storm for your guide,
Despite the apparent lack of control; you decide.

At the end is certain death,
Timing unknown for that last breath
But sooner by their faces,
Beating this, another of life’s races.

The search for a force to pull you through, 
No direct experience to draw upon, nothing in lieu.
Umbilical cord gives you life,
But where is your thread of survival when this runs rife?

Experiences give you strength and some knowledge of endeavour, 
Loved ones around you, people worse off, all woven and twisted together,
Guiding you, empowering you, but not holding you up, not pulling you through.
This has to come from within you. 
Trusting yourself to navigate your new norm,
Your voice, your purpose, your choice, pulls you through the storm.

May and June 16th 2019

Night time Racing (Poem 5)

Fragments come in the early hours
Subconscious thoughts surface into clear concepts;
Newfound clarity, often gone by the time I rouse
Write it down and risk consciousness, recall only excerpts

Shut thoughts and ideas down to stay asleep or return to nod,
Deep calm breathing attempts to keep them at bay
Keeping busy on the daily road is a route well trod.
Go forward, do your thing, get through until again it’s time to lay

When the yielding of the goose down returns,
The light warm weight around me, the calm of dark, the cool of the cotton
The stillness of my outer shell brings time to race, my brain learns,
Time to process and develop during daylight hours is a skill long forgotten.

30th May 2019

Running (Poem 4)

Running

I tried to outrun you. And failed.
I ran to get to the other side,
To be cured and have you in my past,
It’s not that easy; my time I must now bide.

Now I run to keep up with you.
I run to stop the feelings flooding in,
Keep moving, doing and updating my kin,
I run to simply show I’m able to.

I don’t want to miss a chance to get ahead,
Out in front, not wasting time,
Not waiting for you to get me; (to my bed),
‘Do today’, keeping busy’, is always the life I’ve led.

‘Rest up’, ‘relax’ they say,
But I want to make the best of each day.
‘Focus on chemo’, they like to write,
A priority no one wants to cite.

I used to actually run to clear my head,
Now I’m manic to fill the day instead,
To stop my head clearing to face the grief, 
Leaving everything organised and controlled gives me some relief.

I’ve been running for almost a year, 
Keeping going, keeping others going, increasing pace
It’s exhausting and relentless, but I refuse to just wait for you to appear
Passivity, self pity and reflection will not win this race.

I want to find a way to take control,
Not complacent, but proactively keeping you at bay;
Without rushing endlessly through each day.
Accommodating you, without feeling you’ve eaten into my very soul.

9th May 2019

Nuclear Paradox (Poem 3)

Nuclear Paradox

It’s clean and shiny, reflecting and refracting,
The whirling and zapping is exacting.
The hands are kind and apologetically cold,
It’s a sight to behold.

The armour like bolus appears to protect,
Its position is something to perfect.
Looks are deceiving,
It’s here to trick rays into believing.

Zap, Zap, Zap

The friendliness of the people masks the radon reality
Small talk in a nuclear bunker seems like banality.
The two-foot lead wall,
Says it all.

Zap, Zap, Zap

Surgical stitches, dressings, tubes and drains,
Further encumber hauling up my body.
Node clear arms, clamped in reins.
How did radiation become my everyday commodity?

Zap, Zap, Zap

I try to welcome the beam in, searching for bad cells,
Breaking down left over bits of tumour walls. 
Imagining it blasting the baddies at the core,
Counter intuitive to endure 15 zaps, yet long for more,
Skin turning pink at last,
Before it becomes raw with each blast.

Zap, Zap, Zap

‘After the rain’ music and lights chosen to soothe,
Keep still, but remember your breath.
Breathe deep to calm, not so deep you move,
Too much stillness and all I can think about is my death.

Zap, Zap, Zap

Tiredness creeps up on me from within,
Outside, the burning soreness from my itchy, weeping skin.
Visualising the crust of cancer cells breaking off with glee
Will this be enough?  Or is the cancer still in me?

March 2019

Seaside Ramble (Poem 2)

Seaside Ramble

Back here again brings me sadness,
Family memories flooding in,
Wondering whether I’ll be back as kin,
Wind is whistling, sea is surging, danger at the cliffs

I love the sea; it makes me feel small and insignificant,
Being at the centre of our family’s storm gives attention I do not crave,
These poems are a way to rant
And maybe understand me from the grave…

9th Mar 2019
Burton Bradstock Beach

Self Discovery (Poem 1)

Lathered up, I discovered you,
The need to check, another thing to do.
I never feared the worst, 
Preferring dark humour to outburst.

15thMay confirmed your type,
Much squeezing, sliding and punching the site.
Each appointment, test and scan with the hope of clarity,
In fact presented with enormous situational gravity.

Stepping back; disassociating; directing proceedings:
The only way to cope is through leading,
The unknown and ambiguous ahead.
The prognosis is grim from everything I’ve read.

Walking into the eye of the storm,
Facing into the horror and ordeal become the norm.
Treatment was the only thing making me ill,
Relentless chemicals were a bitter pill.

Knowingly carrying you around for six whole months,
Unknowingly growing you silently and calmly within.
Knowingly poisoning myself in the now,
Unknowingly letting go, as much as a control freak can subconsciously allow.

The time to cut you out could not come quicker,
Your tenacious invasive nature just made this trickier. 
You’d hidden deep and scattered,
You defied us all with your size and life,
No longer lurking underneath, your little cells were rife.

Your type defined by what you’re not,
No expert really knows what I’ve got.
The way forward clear only for moments,
Distorted and disfigured by new discoveries and documents.

The outcome is left unsaid, but known.
The route unclear and largely unknown.
The journey time unpredictable.
Propelling myself by embracing the ride and the unthinkable.

Cut away and stored in pathology.
Revealing you has revealed me.
Speaking my truth has become my ‘ology.
In the one sense tolerating less, in the other letting things be.

I choose to fight, but not to beat you,
Fighting to live, but not for life,
Each day is a gift of time in lieu,
Getting paid and getting on with my things to do.

It’s my choice to live, to laugh, to cry, to shout,
Being cheerful, learning as we go, is for me what it’s about.

3rd March 2019

Welcome to My Blog

Ever since being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer my friends and family have said I should write a blog or a journal. Trouble is I didn’t feel like writing. Updating everyone, answering and writing texts and WhatsApps was writing enough. Especially on the first lots of chemo that made my eyes go blurry and meant I had to wear dark glasses (even inside). Turns out one of the chemotherapy drugs I had in my first 18 weeks of treatment (Cyclophosphamide) is derived from mustard gas, so I guess that’s why.

I’m back on chemo again, but its more manageable this time. Throughout this experience I’ve been scribbling down odd thoughts in notebooks, scraps of paper and WhatsApps. The wonderful and growing number of people who are supporting me and my family are keen to hear how I am doing, so with some encouragement and an experimental attitude I thought I’d give this blogging lark a go.

I hope it makes you stop for a minute and embrace your life right now. I’d love you to have real conversations with the people who matter about the stuff that matters to them and you. Maybe you’ll look at the wonder of the natural world or be compelled to do what you’ve always wanted to do.

Maybe it won’t be for you, that’s fine too. If you don’t enjoy reading a piece move on to another or come back another day, don’t endure it. If you do get something from it I’d love your feedback. Feel free to follow and share the the blog and/or my twitter and instagram pages.

Click on the links for more information about why ‘The Cancer Gap”? or how I started writing poetry or my poems. Alternatively, just scroll down to the beginning of the blog or look in the menu on the top left of the screen. Have a nosey around, you’ll work it out.

Follow me here.

July 2019