I don’t think I know of one single person whose life hasn’t been affected in some way by cancer.
It makes my blood boil to even write the word ‘cancer’ because it is such a disgusting and vile disease. How it can just come into someone’s life and turn it upside down. How ruthless it is in the abundance of agony and suffering it causes.
Aside from the distress that comes from the endless rounds of gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy, there’s also the time limit cancer puts on your life. Will it come back? Will I still be here in two years time?
Imagine living with these thoughts every day. Imagine being unsure whether to make plans for next year because of the effects this horrific disease has had on your body.
Kate Harding knows how this feels only too well. Seven years ago, she was diagnosed with myxoid liposarcoma cancer during a gap year visit to Australia, where she had to go through six weeks of painful chemotherapy which caused internal and external burns.
She had radiation but two years ago, received the devastating news that her cancer was terminal.
Now Kate, 38, and her wife Saffy, who have one of the happiest and stable relationships I have ever seen, live by their own admission, ‘on a three month basis’ which involves hospital trips to Christie’s for scans, blood tests and X-rays.
She has just been for her latest scan which has shown that there are no significant changes and her condition is stable, meaning she and Saffy can make plans for the next few months. It’s not a nice way to have to live. But if there’s anything Kate despises, it's pity, and what she has learned most of all from having a terminal cancer diagnosis, is the importance of appreciating life.
“My cancer is now inoperable via surgical intervention based on its location on my spine and close to my spinal cord,” she explains. “I have exhausted radiotherapy now so I cant’ have anymore because I actually glow.
“I cope simply by taking each day as it comes. Cherishing those around me who I love and who support me, enjoying every moment. An uncertain future is the same for everyone - with or without cancer. None of us can plan ahead and be truly certain of things.
“Life is ever changing. I just accept what is given to me, smile and move on. Support from my friends and family and having a loving understanding partner make my life easier, knowing I have someone to talk to, and laugh and cry with,” she adds.
“I live on a 3 month basis and have yearly CT or MRI scans - if I notice any changes I can request one sooner. But I suffer from something called ‘scanxiety’ where a few days before your scan appointment, you build up to it, worrying ‘what if it’s bad news’? Just one appointment can throw your whole life into turmoil again.
“But my advice to others in my situation would be to bear in mind the following three points:
1. Accept but challenge your situation. Use your anger as a fighting mechanism.
2. You can’t physically change your diagnosis but you can change your lifestyle. Eat healthy. Look after your body. Be positive all treatment or surgery will work. Be accepting of it. Trust your medical team and always ask if you don’t understand things or you’re not happy about your care for example. Remember this is YOUR body, YOUR treatment, YOUR future.
3. Never suffer. If you’re in pain, speak up. My motto through my years of fighting is ‘just because I have to endure this cancer diagnosis and treatment it doesn’t mean I have to suffer.’ I find that accepting what life I have left, be it cancerous or not, never waste moments dwelling on my situation. Wasted moments like these only fill you with sadness and remorse over what I could have done differently or guilty of living a life badly through poor diet or exercise etc. Enjoy every moment. Share your feelings good or bad. The best treatment for anyone is humour in big doses. It always helps to have humour.
“I realise we’re both so lucky to have such wonderful love and support from friends near and far around the world.”
From the other side
But what about when you are living with someone living with cancer? It is not just Kate who has been given this ‘life sentence’ - Saffy, a nurse, also has to experience the effects of cancer.
“As Kate’s partner, I feel guilty seeing what she goes through and not being able to help heal her,” she admits. “I admire her strength and positive mental attitude. We enjoy every moment as best we can and I try my best to make her laugh.
“We plan and live for the short term as we don’t know when her health may decline. I attend every appointment and scan with her and am always there to hold her hand and listen.
“We talk about everything and know one day her time will come. It’s hard imagining a life without her as she truly is my everything. Knowing she would like me to go on and live a good life after she has gone is hard, but I will do my best to make sure she is proud of me when looking down on me from heaven. I will stay strong for her and her family also, as they have become mine too and mean so much to us both.”
“We have good friends who have lost their partners and friends who are suffering greater suffering as their partner’s health declines. All I can do is offer to be there for them offer them love, prayers, compassion and support.”
Many of us, including myself, can learn a valuable lesson from the positive approach to life taken by Kate and Saffy. And if there is any shred of good that can come from cancer, it is the fact they have come into my life through their various fundraising attempts, and become two of my closest friends.
As Kate would say, always look for the silver lining.