The other C word …

… cancer.

When you’ve had cancer and been one of the fortunate ones, there’s a feeling that you must make a difference, with how you make that difference being the only question. Like many of us, I flounder about in a variety of ways, but one of those ways is writing about it. And I have … once or twice.

There was the tale of the Storm Riders, the support group I was fortunate in finding during my treatment , of the devastating loss of Lulu to metatastic breast cancer, some suggestions of what you can usefully do when you know someone who has cancer – or any other challenging medical condition for that matter.

Since I wrote the tale of the Storm Riders in April 2015, there have been further losses to our little group. Currently two are suffering once more – one with a new breast cancer and the other because her previously ‘cured’ breast cancer has spread into her bones. Remember, my little band are 8+ years post treatment …

So, from a personal perspective, this year I’d ask for your awareness of the fragility a cancer patient in remission feels. You’ll notice I don’t use the word ‘cured’ … for so many reasons. Instead my friends and I say no evidence of disease – or NED. It’s both the technical term used by medical professionals and accurate in the moment. It doesn’t talk about what might – or might not – be ahead. And that’s how we like it. For that’s a subject that’s always on your mind anyway …

Now, my prognosis is terrific, the best it could be. But the brutal fact is that when your body has let you down before, especially when you were “no more likely than any other member of the population” to get cancer, you don’t feel enormously reassured being returned to that particular group. I’m 8 years post treatment. My drug regime ended 3 years ago, and yearly mamograms at my cancer centre were to continue for a further 5 years. But in the last couple of weeks, I received a scrappy note informing patients of a change in treatment policy due to new NICE guidelines. With immediate effect, I return to the normal screening programme – every 3 years, in one of those vans. Naturally, I’m being a swan – all calm on the outside – but there’s a massive conflict going on internally. My rational brain says that as I expected mamograms to cease 3 years ago, I’ve had a bonus 3 years, but my cancer rattled brain says oh shit. I feel cut loose and adrift. I’m coaching myself into a more rational and adult place, but it’s – you know – the C-word, so it may take a little bit of work.

But enough about me and back to the programme. For pink October, or breast cancer awareness month, can I remind you to check yourselves. And here’s a little clip demonstrating how you do it …

… but whilst watching, can we also take a moment to notice the other awareness issue here – that of social media’s squeamishness over female bits?


Debra Carey, 2017

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