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Secondary breast cancer: It’s all in the ending

Ismena Clout
sharon 300x225 Secondary breast cancer: Its all in the ending

(GETTY IMAGES)

When you are living with an incurable form of cancer as I am, you can’t help but think and plan for the end of your life. When I was at my sickest and we didn’t know if I would see the year out planning for the end was vital, my will was being written and I was talking to friends and family about my wishes – all things a 36-year-old as I was, shouldn’t have to think about.

Now that I am doing well in remission it has moved to the back of my mind. But it does pop up again when I read something in the news or hear of a friend’s story. It’s a big old topic and something I’m quite frankly a bit scared of. It’s the part of this damn cancer  journey that I’m trying to avoid as it’s so hard but I know at some point I’m going to have to man up about it all and deal with it properly.

I remember in the early days of my new diagnosis, my best friend and her husband lived with me for a month to look after me.  They were travelling around the world and happened to be home for Christmas when I was diagnosed. In a move that I can never repay, they delayed part two of the trip to spend time with me. One night we got quite drunk and were talking about the seriousness of the situation when Jennie asked me the killer question: ‘Have you thought about what it will be like at the end?’.  This is a perfectly reasonable question but the exact one I’d been avoiding; I hadn’t wanted to extrapolate my thoughts to that place.

My knowledge of death and in particular cancer death is pretty much non-existent, it’s a big black vase of information that’s empty and only every once in a while do I put little nuggets of information in. I think one thing that scares me the most is I don’t know how I’ll act or behave when the time comes. So far on this journey I’ve been proud of the way I have handled things, I’ve been careful of friends and family, brave in the face of treatment and stoically got on with things, but will that always be the case? Will I keep my dignity?  I just don’t know. Since Jennie asked me that question I have picked up those nuggets of information here and there from blogs, books and films and I’m happy with this slow process. I figure I’m finding things out at a pace that suits me.

Not all of us secondary ladies get to choose our pace though, one of my lovely friends Francesca Marvell wrote beautifully last week about how she is at the point where there is only one treatment left for her. She has to choose whether to risk it with all the side effects which could ruin her time left but extend it. Or just let nature take it’s course with a better quality of life. It’s the sort of choice that will come to all of us in one way or another and it’s not an easy choice at all – but the important thing is that it is our choice to make.  I know Fran will make the right decision for her and her husband, family and friends will support her choice.

I remember a life that was full of choices, do I whizz off on holiday? Maybe I could move to the United States? Do I wear this push up bra? I still don’t know if my genes have taken all these choices away from me. My cousin was also ill last year and has started the process to find out if we have the BRCA gene. I don’t know how I’ll feel if I find out we do.

I suppose I’ll be filled with a whole lot more ‘what if’s’. Would I have a had a double mastectomy and reconstruction? Me now would say yes as I have ended up with no boobs and no reconstruction anyway, but would younger cancer free me have done that? I’ll never know if I would have been as brave as Sharon Osbourne and go for it, I’ll never know.

I think one responsibility we have is to make sure our wishes are well-documented and that our family knows when to keep going or when we want to be put on a programme like the Liverpool Care Pathway that has been in the news. I want it to be my choice and I couldn’t bear it for my family to have to make decisions like that, they will have enough to cope with. I suppose it will be my final chance to control this illness, my final fight back, my final choice.

For more information visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk/secondary

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  • Paul Squid

    I recently read a lovely book KNOCKOUT by Suzanne Somers which gives anyone concerned with cancer hope and a real chance to lick the dreaded disease. The author had breast cancer and chose alternative medicine in lieu of chemo as treatment to build up the body rather than tear it down. Definitely a recommended read (ISBN 978-0-307-58759-6) it’s available at Amazon.

  • ivandenisovich

    Christ. Wish I hadn’t read that. Now I feel really depressed.


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