During this journey I have never wanted to shied away from sharing my highs, lows and the parts that make you question everything. It is mental health awareness week this week, where people are openly talking and sharing their stories about mental health and their own struggles to help de stigmatise the subject.
This is my story.
When you are first hear those three words ‘you have cancer’ it is like time has stopped. Everything goes into slow motion and your mind struggles to catch up. The room suddenly fills with people and you are passed woefully inadequate tissues and you can see that the Doctors are talking to you, explaining carefully all about the treatment and how successful treatment is these days but your first thought is simply ‘what if I die…. I’m not ready to leave yet….I’ve got so much left to do in this world…. what about my family.’
My first thoughts were about my children, how it was going to affect them, what could I do to protect them…. how could this be happening…. I am a dragon, fierce and protective and there to make sure that my kids grow into remarkable humans. My mission if you like… how can I do that if I was dead. How would Mr Me-Myself-And-Eye cope with everything, without me….? He didn’t know which drawer I keep their sports kits in or which socks they like to wear to school that I wash on a daily basis to make sure that they have them, how to make ‘egg in a cup,’ a staple food that they eat when nothing else will do and the little poem that I say to F before she goes to sleep every single night. You know, really stupid stuff in the grand scheme of things, but important, and stuff that only I know and I actually didn’t want him to know as they were MY things.
I remember being in a bit of a daze as they sent me for my first scan to see if it had spread to my liver…. I don’t think I really understood the implications of it if it had. It only hit home when Mr Me-Myself-and-Eye and I were sitting in the closed canteen of the Sheffield Hallam hospital surrounded by exhausted staff half eaten dinners and the sound of sad relatives comforting each other. Rhona (the Ocular cancer specialist nurse at Sheffield) rang and told me that no METS had been found on my liver, she said that she wanted to tell me straight away to put my mind at rest. Once I told my husband and he immediately broke down with tears of relief, it hit me like a brick in the face, that was a BIG deal. At that moment, I was going to be ok. The prognosis would have been a whole lot different if that phone call had had a different outcome.
I am not a religious person, but I do believe that there is something out there which influences your outcome, something bigger than we don’t know about that looks after us and helps us on our way through life. Some force greater than me made me go for my eye test on that particular day, helped me choose the optician that I went to and has allowed me to continue living.
So in that respect, this story does have a happy ending…I am still here…However, I have lost my eye, my sight and I still live with what feels like a traumatic event and with a ticking time bomb of when or if it might come back. 6 months, a year, 5 years from now, It will always be in the back of my mind.
Every person I know is dealing with their own shit, every single day, we all do it in our own way. I have chosen to share my thoughts and my story as it helps me. This isn’t the same for everybody and I get that. People are dealing with a lot worse in their lives and I get that too, people close to me are dealing with so much…..but everyone is different and just like I don’t compare my body to anyone, I also don’t compare my challenges or ways of dealing with things to anyone else, the way that we deal with everything is so personal.
I have plenty of days where I want to bury my head in the sand and I feel uncomfortable when people say I’m being brave. I feel a fraud because I don’t feel brave on the days I decided can’t take the kids to school because I don’t want to have another conversation about my patch or what has happened. I have many days where it feels like a dark cloud is hanging over my head that I just can’t shift and when I look at myself I see someone who is so so sad and the light that once shone from my eyes has dimmed and I know that I not coping. But up until now I haven’t really written that much about these moments…..because my grief is something still so raw and out of control that if I share it outside of my little world and head then it will blow up into something that I have no control over…..
So why share it now (I am literally in tears writing this) well…. I want people to know that for me, being brave isn’t all about ‘sucking it up’ and getting on with things. Yes that is a part of it, but to be honest, I don’t have much of a choice because the dragon side of me needs to fiercely protect my children and show up for them every day. Bravery for me is about showing vulnerability, being open to accepting all the emotions that happen which makes us human. The resilience that comes from crying, shouting, laughing and talking your way through something that has torn through every fibre of your being. Being truthful in your heart and soul about your feelings, not only to yourself but to those around you…. and so I guess this is why I am sharing this now…
This week is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health, but mental health issues are not confined to just a week, it’s everyday, every hour, every minute. It affects ALL of us from children to grandparents. If we as humans can be an ear for someone who needs to talk. Check in on each other. Smile and tell someone that ‘ it’s ok not to be ok’ then we are heading in the right direction to make sure that mental health issues are at the top of every bodies agenda and everybody’s issue.
For now, I am going to carry on and let my tears fall. To stop and reflect, take some deep breaths, pop my trainers on and welcome this glorious day into my life.
For anyone who is struggling at the moment, there IS help out there. The Samaritans offer a free help line, open 24 hours a day. For anyone who think their children need help, Young Minds offer help and advice and signposts for parents and children. #itsoknottobeok #itsoktotalk #mentalhealthawarenss