In August 2008, one month after having surgery to partially remove a malignant brain tumour, I was perfectly lucid and had taken the opportunity to read the Daily Telegraph – something I never have the time to do normally - where I found this article that, five years later, still sticks in my mind - Can I be ill and happy? Although not available in 2021, it still resonates with me. The writer was suffering from a untreatable lung condition, and asking herself this question.
I was a 38-year-old HR Manager, who had worked at Cisco for 3 years, and had been diagnosed with brain cancer. My world had just been turned upside down. I didn’t know if I could work again, and my head was spinning to try and work out who I was. This article helped me to clarify my thoughts.
I guess the key difference between me and the author of the Telegraph article was I never went through the anger phase. I did cry – A LOT! However, I retain a morbid sense of humour, and one of my best friends (only she can do this!) insists it’s “all in my head”! It’s not such a bad place to be - in permanent denial! :-)
Something that’s become increasingly obvious to me is that there is a world that you miss while you’re out at work. I did not know my neighbours or their children when we were both working full time, but because of the three years that I was either in hospital or wasn’t allowed to drive (due to my epilepsy- a “gift” from my tumour), I had to build a life outside of work.
We have no children so I couldn’t even rely on the "school gates" avenue. Initially it wasn’t easy, but slowly over a number of years I managed it. I’m now the secretary of the local History group, got involved with reading in local primary schools, and have weekly piano lessons (which I’ve wanted to learn from a young age). I am also attending weekly Pilates sessions (all pre-covid).
My life is much more “inclusive” in all senses of that word – I lead a much fuller, richer life than before.
Having a life-threatening illness does really change your perspective and earlier this year I thought I could do something positive with what had been a truly awful time in my life.
In May 2009 we launched the EMEAR arm of the Cancer Support Network in my company.
Its objective is to encourage people to talk and to raise funds to combat this terrible disease. Culturally in some countries it’s not the “done” thing to discuss, and some people just don’t know what to say. I found that talking to my Macmillan Nurse every day really helped me. You need someone to ask the tough questions to, and hopefully the CSN will provide a support for all.
I’ve returned 3 days a week to work and the process of setting up the Cancer Support Network has been really cathartic. It’s amazing how many people have some illness or disability in their worlds. You just need to ask and perhaps your own perceptions may change. I have taken part in lots of events around raising money for research into why people get cancer - Movember, Against Breast Cancer Walking Events, the Shine half marathon.
13 years later looking back, I do think did I really go through that? I have annual MRI to check the tumour is not being “naughty” but am now nearing my 50th birthday and realising that my specialists really didn’t think I’d make it. I am one of the fortunate few.
My family were hugely impacted- it was a complete shock - I'm slowly learning that the family needs equal care as the patient, and Cisco are wonderful at providing benefits to the employees families.
After a few years, I recontacted the author of the article - she was still alive! Medical science had created a cure for her "incurable" disease - just like the vaccine now is creating a preventation to the Covid Virus! How wonderful modern science is!
Although we cannot avoid death or illness, we can change the way we think about them.” Havi Carel