2019: some lessons & a look to the future!

I started 2020 at 4.40am on the 1st, buzzing on a steroid high and simultaneously wracked with pain drawing the outline of my pelvis. It’s an odd sensation to be able to “feel” the shape of your pelvis. This fun pain, although not new, was the first major side effect of my latest chemo which was administered over 9 hours on the 31st. How did you bring in the new year?!

Thanks to that well timed chemo I was laid up in bed, not partying, but it gave me time to reflect on our year, what we’ve achieved, what we’ve survived, and what we’ve learnt.

Here goes.

2019 you were a teacher

Cancer is everywhere. The probability of both of us being diagnosed at our age, stages and within the same year is exceptionally low. However, it’s not so unusual that we’re a special case unfortunately.

A lot of people have asked why we both developed cancer, what caused it. A number of people also offered up causes for us to consider: not washing vegetables, Chernobyl*, EMF from our smart meter, stress, white wine.

The reality is Cancer is everywhere. 1 in 2 of us will develop it in our lifetime. You’re more likely to get it if you live in the Western world, but thanks to medical advances you’re also more likely to be diagnosed in the first place, increasing the likelihood you’ll survive.

In the developing world diseases we’re thankfully vaccinated from are more likely to cause significant illness or death. Different continent; different population; different diseases.

There’s little you can do to guarantee you’ll never develop Cancer. It’s caused by too many factors to count and many are outwith your control. But we can survive it and Keith and I will keep donating money to CRUK and body parts to clinical trials in order to keep cancer treatments advancing.

Appreciate what you’ve achieved. For fuck’s sake stop and revel in what you have around you: friends, family, food, heat, shelter, job, success, support. Recognise and enjoy everything you’ve achieved and stop incessantly chasing that next step.

Really, stop. I can guarantee that you haven’t paused and appreciated the life around you in a long time!

Keith and I have fully shifted our life’s vision. We were that couple who wanted - needed - the next house, the next pay rise, the next ‘thing’. New bathrooms, kitchens, another holiday, the car our IFA calls the ‘vanity purchase’ (he’s right), we’ve pushed for it all and more.

Yes, we all need goals, but step off the ‘need more’ hamster wheel that society has beaten into our psyche. Make your goal a crazy big interesting vision. Something impactful. Don’t chase the stuff.

Yes it’s a cliche, but when you think it’s all about to disappear with your untimely death you take a proper look around! You don’t need more stuff, you need more memories and fun instead.

Health really is all it’s cracked up to be. Do some exercise, eat a bit better, drink a bit less. Don’t make crazy plans to flip-reverse your life or weight, but put your mental and physical health before anything else if you can.

Be aware of stress and be aware of living life with only just enough energy because you’re spread a bit too thin. You cannot help others if you’re knackered yourself! (Been there, tried it.)

And you’re not as fat as you imagine. The media, the perfect images on instagram and other social platforms, it’s all bullshit.

You are beautiful! Smile more and take more photos.

Be kind. You don’t know what’s happening in people’s lives and one smile, one door held open, one moment of not being an asshole just because you can be an asshole (which says more about you and your reactions than the person you inflicted it upon), is worth it.

It’s so needed in this mad world and this new decade.

I have never been kinder to strangers than I have this year, and it will continue.

Look for the positive. It’s easy to say and hard to do. You cannot be positive all of the time but if you focus on the good, on the upside instead of the down, it permeates and it will make a difference to your life and your health.

Please champion the NHS and ensure it is protected and nourished. The things it does for patients, for science, for the community, the medical world, is incredible.

The humans who work within the NHS are especially fantastic. The organisation is manned by true superheroes who give their expertise, care and support to us with politeness, kindness and humour, despite working in conditions that are bananas.

Pay them more respect, complain less, appreciate more.

Yes your GP might take weeks to see you. No you don’t always need antibiotics. A&E is tough. Prescriptions will take 48 hours to repeat. But in a life threatening emergency you will be swept into the heaving bosom of this medical machine and be rescued.

It has failings, mistakes happen - they’ve happened to us. NHS Lothian also missed my cancer start date target by 10 days which sticks me on the wrong side of a statistic, but this institution is saving my life.

I cannot be more thankful and I’ll campaign for its protection for ever more.

This hasn’t been very groundbreaking…

It’s no real surprise that our lessons from last year are not that inventive. In times of peril you do look at life and realise the important things are your people, your experiences and your loves in life.

So 2020! Don’t give yourself vapid resolutions, create a massive, exciting vision to live towards that doesn’t focus on just gathering shinnier ‘stuff’. Smile more. Spend time with your people. Appreciate. Enjoy your health. Be fucking positive!

*The Chernobyl disaster didn’t cause my Cancer. The Chernobyl plume resulted in a raft of thyroid cancers for people living in Poland in the 80s - yes I asked my awesome consultant! - but it hasn't been linked to many cancers in the UK, and it hasn't been linked to cancers in children born the year of the disaster.

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