I had to enter a calendar entry for a chest cat scan for tomorrow morning and I noticed a previous entry in my calendar on the 6th of April, 2012, it was the date I was initially told I had a massive tumour on my stomach.
That was my first foray into hearing the "C Word" in "my" world and the reminder came up at the perfect time, as I was thinking what in the hell am I going to blog about next? Then the calendar heaven gates opened and gave me my "cancerversary" as I like to call it.
So this blog is about "living" while you're "dying", yes I know and I've heard it all before, "We're all dying, I could walk off the gutter tomorrow and be hit by a bus". Um Sorry? When was the last time you put on the news and saw that someone was hit by a bus? (I apologise in advance to anyone who reads this who has been affected by an off the gutter bus to person altercation). Maybe I'm just more sensitive to it because of my situation, but I can only speak for myself and my truth is, that prior to cancer and a terminal cancer diagnosis, I was always saying or thinking, "that's ok I can do it tomorrow or we can go on that once in a lifetime holiday next year or I can see my best friend at Christmas which is 4 months away", I was always putting things off, because we don't think about our mortality on a daily basis, unless of course you are told that you have a disease, sickness or some sort of health problem that is going to drastically cut your life short, if you don't know if you'll be here next week, next month or next year, you start to think differently about living. I like to say it's like having the grim reaper constantly peering over your shoulder.
Some people hear the word "terminal" and immediately start dying, they give up, what's the point? True to the oncologist's prognosis, they won't make it 3 months, now I'm not saying if they had tried chemo or started chanting to Buddha or started thinking positive affirmations or meditating that they would have lasted 6 months, I am obviously no higher power, so I don't hold the key to what makes one person with the same cancer and prognosis live 2 months and the other lives another 9 years after a terminal prognosis, I have no idea, nobody does, it is an individual thing. This is why when I'm faced with a person in the oncology waiting room who has recently received a terminal prognosis, I always say, don't listen to the doctor, they don't know, they're just giving you answers based on statistics, not on your determination to fight, I'm also not saying that just because you say "I'm going to beat these odds, I'm going to prove this bastard cancer wrong" and you wake up every morning positive about your outcome that you will extend your time on earth or dare I say achieve every terminal cancers patient dream of the elusive miracle cure. Again I can only go on what I think has helped 'me' and positivity, hope and prayer (mixed with a few toxic potions and radiation now and then), have greatly helped me mentally and in turn I believe it can only be a good thing for your health.
STRESS⚡️🌩💥⛈🌪!!!!!! I truly believe stress plays a huuuuuge part in EVERY persons health, not just a terminally ill persons life. For a terminal person stress management is imperative, you have to get on top of it, you have to face your prognosis head on, not put your head in the sand, you have to let it scare you before you can then find coping mechanisms to deal with it and hopefully then in turn accept it and learn to "live" with it, rather than "die prematurely" from it.
Some people find counselling hugely beneficial, I didn't, I've been to a few counsellors over the years and felt like I could help myself more than they could help me, now that's not to say it won't work for you, so I always suggest trying it first, even try a few different counsellors and you may find one that works for you, which is great. I only yesterday started to speak with a Chaplain that my community nurse recommended and for the first time in a "session" I got it, she was great and I plan on seeing her again, it's just an added bonus that she actually comes to your house, so you don't even need to apply concealer, another tip that you think would be universally known, but people still do it, DON'T WEAR MASCARA to your counselling session!
If there are people or situations in your life that cause you anxiety on top of your already stressful situation, you need to address it, maybe let your friend know that her constantly crying and mourning you before your dead, doesn't help your stress levels and so on, the stresses that existed before your prognosis also don't just disappear, your credit card debt, your unhealthy relationship, your argument with your mum about where you're spending Christmas, don't just disappear into thin air, you still have to deal with the same everyday stresses as everybody else. So I definitely advise addressing these issues before they make you more sick.
Another important aspect of a terminal diagnosis is getting your "Affairs in order", it's something no-one really ever wants to do, who wants to organise their own funeral? It is what it is and if you don't want to leave that extra added stress on your loved ones, I really recommend doing it or at least defining your wishes clearly in that will and testament you also have to do, yeah again, I know you don't want to and it feels a bit like you're giving in, but honestly it's not, it's being organised, it's actually recommended that once you get married or have children or buy a house that you should at that point organise a will, so if you haven't already, get on it! When organising your will you can also organise your executor (the person who looks after the persons wishes once they die) and your power of attorney (this person can manage your affairs and financial affairs while you are alive), these are both legally binding documents, so again they remove the stress from your loved ones as decisions have already been made. Another thing a terminal patient should organise for both themselves and their carers or family is an "Advance Healthcare Directive", it's basically a living will that stipulates what should happen to you health wise (like should you be resuscitated or ventilated) if you can no longer communicate your choice or if you're no longer able to make decisions for yourself, it's a great thing to have signed copies that are authenticated by a jp for your GP, one for your carer or power of attorney, one for when and if an ambulance comes to your house and a few extras that you can hand out at the hospital if need be.
People often say they admire me or I inspire them to live differently and that's great, it's nice to know that some good can come from such an absolutely shitty situation, they often say "I don't know how you do it? How do you still find the good in life, how are you still able to smile and laugh? My response is simply "you don't know what you're made of, until your faced with it", if you had asked me prior to prognosis, how I felt I would handle hearing that I'm dying much sooner than I should be, I would have said that I would probably crawl into a ball and die, but I haven't, instead I have stood tall (yeah yeah I know ironic considering I'm 4ft 11 1/2 inches - don't forget the 1/2 inch!), I've faced my fears head on, I've made some changes to my life, one of the best things I ever did was relocating up north to be close to my family, they play such a huge part in your life and they want to be able to support you through this, I've surprised myself at how I've dealt with it. I say yes to lunch with that long lost friend now, instead of saying we'll catch up next time, I buy tickets to shows that aren't on for 3 months now and don't give it a second thought, I'm either here for it or I'm not.
One thing I want to make clear before I sign off, is that I'm not always stoic, I'm not always this strong positive person. I have my moments, those moments where a treatment has not worked and your left with damaged lungs from it and that's all you have to show for it, that and a depleted bank account from the thousands of dollars
It cost to pay for the inactive treatment. In those moments I do cry (usually lasting minutes) and I do say I'm scared, when you're first given the prognosis you may look at people with jealousy, Why is that woman a healthy mum? Why is that old lady 85 and never been in hospital? Why me? Why have I been burdened with this? You often think about things in timelines, like I'm not going to be here next Christmas, could this be the last time I see my Aunty? I'm not going to be here to see my niece start school, these thoughts for myself have dwindled over the years, I don't think about them every day like I did initially, now they're just random thoughts, which is good, it means I'm living not prematurely dying.
My name is Lisa Magill and I have been navigating the minefield that is cancer since just months after turning 30, people have been saying to me for years that I should put my thoughts into writing and as time has progressed I thought I had left it too late, well here we are nearly 4 years in and for some unknown reason I've decided to start to write today.