Jo Beagley, who was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in July 2014 at the age of 39 kindly writes for us this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (OCAM). Jo shares her thoughts on what life with cancer is really like, her coping mechanisms and dealing with worries. Her reflections, although written as part of OCAM, can strike a chord with anyone adapting to living with a cancer diagnosis.
Thinking about recurrence
I’m fortunate to be on a drug with the aim of managing my cancer; prolonging the period before my cancer becomes active again.
But after facing up to a recurrence, the prospect of subsequent recurrences are all the more real. After my initial treatment I clung onto the hope that I’d be fortunate to be one of those for whom the cancer doesn’t bother them again (albeit I knew the chances were very slim given how progressed my cancer was at the time of diagnosis). Now, having successfully negotiated a second round of chemo I do feel better equipped to face another recurrence, being in the fortunate position where the chemo worked a second time and other treatment options remain available. I vow to make the most of life, swinging from booking trips to ensure I get around to doing things to worrying what my health situation might be like when the trip comes around. Yet I don’t want my life to be defined by cancer. I feel resentful when cancer restricts what I do, craving normality.
My cancer hasn’t curtailed my travels and ability to do things with family and friends (aside from when I was having my chemo). I do find myself wondering whether I’ll be around to make it back to places – whilst none of us know what’s around the corner, I just don’t know how much time I have to play with before my cancer becomes active again nor how future treatments might impact my ability to do what I want to do.
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve not experienced any material symptoms from the cancer itself, just a multitude of side effects from the treatment, all manageable if not pleasant. The paranoia associated with any new ache or pain doesn’t subside. Anxieties are quick to surface thinking that it’s potentially a sign of recurrence however irrational. Fortunately my current medication requires me to be closely monitored providing an opportunity to raise any persistent niggles.
Exercise continues to play a big part in my life – both physically and mentally. My fitness is something over which I have control and maintaining a decent level of fitness can only be a good thing when faced with surgery or treatment in the future.
I elected to continue to work my part time hours throughout my second round of chemo, and with a supportive employee I was granted the flexibility in terms of where and when I worked so I could better fit it around the side effects of treatment. It felt good to have a burst of a few hours where I could focus on something other than my cancer and it preserved some confidence in my abilities at a time when treatment left me feeling vulnerable.
Realising you’re not alone
I continue to find solace in connecting with others who have experienced similar in terms of a cancer diagnosis, treatment and living with cancer – particularly those similar in age and/ or with a young family. Virtual communities connected by social media have been hugely helpful in tracking advances in treatments and sourcing advice on general well-being. This is a stark contrast to how I felt about reading up on ovarian cancer online when initially diagnosed for fear of what I might discover. There is a huge amount of information and support available to those affected by cancer, provided by businesses, charitable organisations and health professions, but it can be hard to know what exists and to physically access the support.
With cancer forecast to impact such a large proportion of the population at some stage in life, more and more of us will be living with or beyond cancer with scientific advances in understanding and treating cancer. This creates not only the need for clinical support, but emotional support, that often continues beyond treatment.
Yorkshire Cancer Research’s inaugural ‘Life with Cancer’ event in November 2017 bought together local representatives from many such services and allowed people affected by cancer to share their experiences with age no barrier to shared experiences.”