Waking up on Monday morning, most of us wouldn’t choose to begin our week with ten hours of radical surgery.
Especially when you’re not the person being paid to wear the hospital scrubs while brandishing the scalpel.
But that’s just what I chose to do in 2006 at the age of thirty-four despite many doctors advising me against it.
I wasn’t feeling sadistic nor was I particularly bored that day. I was spurred on by the fact that I knew I carried a potentially deadly cancer-inducing gene called BrCa 1. I knew I had an 85% chance of developing breast cancer and 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer, so I opted to have a double mastectomy and both my ovaries removed.
The radical surgery was meant to protect me from developing cancer. Post surgery I was down to a 5% risk.
Nobody as young as me had ever had this surgery in Ireland. The doctors really didn’t want to do it. After all I was healthy and had no signs of cancer. But I had two young children. I was taking charge of my body and I thought I’d pipped cancer at the post. For a brief moment, I thought I’d changed my destiny.
A year later, my worst fears were realised however. I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time.
It was breast cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes of my neck, shoulder and under my arm.
Obviously cancer was my biggest fear. I had done everything in my power to avoid it invading my body but it wasn’t enough.
At the time I assumed a cancer diagnosis would mean instant death. My conception of cancer was that it killed. I’d lost family members to the disease and hadn’t any up-to-date information on the medical progression that had been taking place before my eyes.
That first time back in 2007 I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are many new treatments for breast and all types of cancer.
My doctor assured me that my prognosis was good.
So I endured six months of chemotherapy and thought I’d done my time with the big C.
Alas, life doesn’t always go to plan and over the next eight years I was diagnosed a grand total of nine times.
I have recently finished 50 fractions of radiation therapy and I’m currently having three-weekly chemotherapy.
I know it all sounds rather dramatic and if I’m honest, I’d gladly put my hands up and say enough-is-enough at this point. But, I don’t have a choice as to whether or not I get cancer again. I do know I can certainly control how to deal with it.
The medical advances are happening all the time. Treatments are far more specific now. More people get better.
Too many people still die from this curse of a disease, but if you’ve just been diagnosed, please take heart from my story.
Don’t think for one moment that the past eight years of my life have been dismal either! Oh no. I’ve found certain light at the end of the tunnel.
I began writing while I was sick. To date I’ve had eight books published and my ninth is out in time of Christmas 2014.
Writing is the only job I could possibly have kept up with during my illness. What else could I have done from my bed – apart from being a high class hooker, but quite frankly it wouldn’t have been too lucrative – I wouldn’t have had the energy. Also, writing takes me away to a world that has nothing to do with sickness. In my imagination I am never ill nor am I in pain. It’s the best therapy.
People don’t even like the word cancer and why should they? It’s no friend of mine. But when I was first diagnosed I was stunned to find there’s still a bit of a taboo about it. Nobody knows what to say to you, for a start.
Secondly, many of the breast cancer media campaigns are aimed at older women. I found myself wondering why so few younger women were sharing their voice.
That’s when Talk to The Headscarf was born – a title dreamed up when my hair fell out after chemo and I was having a permanent bad-hair-day.
I’ve always been a positive person. My sickness wasn’t going to quell that. So in my memoir, Talk to the Headscarf my aim was to scoops you up and take you through a snapshot of the life I have lived over the last few years.
I hope it demystifies some of the scary aspects of cancer. I’ve also tried to answer some of the questions I know I had when I was starting treatment.
This fly-on-the-wall style memoir takes the reader in as a confident and gives a frank yet witty glimpse at how I dealt with cancer. A misery memoir it certainly is not.
The way I see it is this; a cancer diagnosis doesn’t require a shovel and a pine box every time. More and more people are surviving. There is light and hope and every day there are positive advances.
Instead of the outdated image of a bald person sweating and crawling the floors in pools of vomit, my story highlights the real and wonderful reality of modern day medical advances. I am living proof that cancer doesn’t always have to win. I like to keep score. So far, it’s Cancer: 0, Emma:9.
I don’t want to scare the living daylights out of anybody. I don’t want to leave a wave of depression in my wake. I want people to know that there is always hope.
Forget doom and gloom. Life is for living and even if you hear those dreaded words – ‘you’ve got cancer,’ please don’t give up.
If you or someone you love has just been diagnosed, there is lots of help out there. Contact your local cancer support group or indeed check in with the Lazarus Community Forum and share your thoughts. Talking is powerful and I know I would be a quivering mess without it. You are not alone and I hope that you will beat this disease.
Love and light to each and every one of you,