My thought for today is ‘hope’. It’s a word that, for the last 16 years, I’ve tried really hard, (actually that’s not true, I’ve tried really, really hard) to use as part of my everyday vocabulary even on days when I haven’t felt hopeful; saying the word out loud anchors me and reminds me of what might be on the horizon. It provides me with comfort, inspiration and motivation.
What is it though, this concept of ‘hope’ that has such a fundamental role in life? The Oxford Dictionary describes hope as:
- A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen
- A person or thing that may help or save someone
- Grounds for believing something good may happen
Based on those definitions, it’s clear why hope plays such an integral part in every chapter of our lives; each page has hope embedded within it. Our hopes and dreams are what give us purpose to our existence and form part of the building blocks for a happy life. But life’s pathway isn’t always smooth and I believe that every one of us has challenges that we have to face throughout our lives; cancer happens to be the biggest of mine and it will be for the rest of my life.
A cancer diagnosis can be life threatening and forces an individual to open the curtain on their life and glimpse through a window where the scene outside might not include themselves in it. How must that feel? Well hopefully, lots of you reading this blog will never have had to do that; unfortunately, if you’re reading this and you have faced a cancer diagnosis then you know the feeling. I have yet to meet anybody who has undergone treatment for cancer who has never thought about dying from the disease and I’ve met a lot. If you’re still reading, I promise it’s going to get more upbeat!
I really started to think about the concept of hope when I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, the incurable form of the disease; the breast cancer that started in my right breast had spread to other areas of my body. In my case this was my lungs and pleural lining of my lungs. It was December 2007 and I was 40 years old. Back then, my daughter Megan was a week away from her 10th birthday and my son Jack was 6 and my hope was that I would live long enough to see Megan start secondary school and for Jack to get nearer to double digits. (I’m sorry if I sound as though my hopes were a bit limited back then but my prognosis was 3-6 months if I chose not to have chemotherapy and a couple of years if I opted for chemotherapy so you can see where I was coming from!)
Breast cancer reared its ugly head the first time when I was 34; Megan was 3 and Jack was 5 months old. Uninvited, it decided to visit me again three years later when I was 37. My attitude to it then was cavalier in the sense of, ‘Does it know who it’s playing with here? I’m a busy career woman with a husband and two young children. I haven’t got time for breast cancer.’ But in 2007, I slowly came to understand that breast cancer doesn’t care who you are, what you do for a living or if you have children or not and when I realised that, I really started to understand the meaning of the word ‘hope’. Forced to look at life through a fresh pair of eyes and stare at my own mortality with crystal clarity, hope and I really got to know one another.
My sense of hope has changed over the years. It’s been hard to remain hopeful all of the time (my nautral tendency leans heavily towards the school of worry!). Hearing the news that tumours had grown whilst undergoing chemotherapy was soul destroying but having hope that the drug regime to follow would work more effectively gave me courage to try the next treatment option on offer.
The psychological impact of living with secondary breast cancer has been enormous; I’ve experienced and continue to experience some very difficult days but through help and support, in particular from Dr Annie Hickox and my involvement with Breast Cancer Care, my emotional wellbeing has been nurtured and hope has found a resting place within me. The psychology of hope is something in which I’m no expert but I know how being hopeful makes me feel, compared to the stomach wrenching knots that fear can instill in me.
I’ve far exceeded my original prognosis and I’m inching closer and closer to a very small group of people worldwide who are alive 10 years on from a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer; life expectancy following a stage IV breast cancer diagnosis is difficult to accurately assess and varies due to a number of factors including type of breast cancer and the extent of spread to other areas of the body. I’ve lost friends to the disease who died five years on from their secondary diagnosis and others who tragically lost their lives after a year or so but the general picture globally means that reaching the ten-year survival milestone is a bit of an empty room.
My hope for the future then is this: that the room I currently sit in gets filled with people like me; people who live for many years with the disease who have had chance to live their lives, spend it with their families and friends and who can wake up on a morning with hope that their drug regime will allow them to see milestones reached and their dreams achieved. And, bigger and better than that, is my hope for a future where breast cancer becomes something that nobody dies from; a future where it’s a disease that can be controlled to the natural end of our days.
I was always taught in school to ‘aim high’ and my hope is doing just that.
‘Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul…..’
Emily Dickinson, December 1830-May 1886.