Breast cancer lesson number 20: It’s amazing what cancer will take away when you least expect it

Loss and cancer are like butter and toast – they belong together. So far, I have focused a lot on the positives surrounding this frightening illness (time with friends, happy memories, mashed potato and the excuse to stay in fluffy slippers all day long). The trouble is, cancer likes to give with one hand while taking something away with the other.

By loss, I don’t mean death (I haven’t gone all philosophical on you). By loss, I mean the things cancer (or its treatment) won’t let you do any more – be that temporary or permanent. We all hear about temporary hair loss with chemo (that might turn into permanent hair loss on the legs if I’m lucky). But there are other losses lurking, waiting to crop up and catch you off guard. The only loss I was actually hoping for was a bit of weight loss, so imagine my surprise when the breast care nurse said I should prepare myself to gain up to three stone while on chemo! I give you all full permission to march me to a treadmill is that happens!  

Temporary loss is easy to handle. The loss of sensation in right my armpit doesn’t trouble me and the fact walking to the station behind my house is like running a marathon is just a small hurdle I will overcome (did one giant circuit today so am gaining strength every day). And, you could argue, not being allowed to lift anything heavier than a kettle for six weeks is a bonus!

Permanent loss is a little different. I can’t say I’ve shed any tears over the fact I can no longer use a razor to shave my right armpit (for fear of lymphoedema) or the fact I won’t be able to hold my arm out straight with a weight in it (was never very good at my Bums, Tums and Thighs class anyway). I am even learning to love my new boobie (complete with a bit of my tummy skin as well as fat) after the old cancerous one was taken away (and I will get a new nipple tattooed on eventually). No, the loss that hit me, was finding out nobody wants me to donate my blood anymore.

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This wasn’t the first loss that came to mind when I thought about life after cancer. After having received two texts and a letter about a possible donation appointment last week, however, I thought I’d give them a call to explain. I did a bit of research, which said it looked like things could return to normal after a good five years (maybe more for the hormone therapy). I called up thinking I was going to save them a bit in postage costs. I didn’t worry when the lady said she’d just have to: ‘go and check’. So, I wasn’t expecting her to say: ‘I’m sorry, you won’t be able to give blood again.’

Now, don’t get me wrong. I won’t miss the little blood bus, the pricked finger and the cotton wool ball you get at the end to cover the hole (I thought a packet of biscuits, a bag of prawn cocktail crisps and a glass of squash in exchange for a pint of blood was a fair trade though). It’s the fact that when you want to do your bit to give something back and the cancer says no, it’s quite hard to take. Loss is easier to accept, when you know what to expect. What else will cancer want to take from me before my treatment is over?

I decided early on in this process, however, that cancer won’t win! So, while I may not be able to give blood any more, I can act as a blood ambassador, encouraging all of those reading this who can donate blood to donate blood. It may just be one pint. You may get the bug and sign up for life (you do get a credit card sized membership card is that sways you). It doesn’t hurt much (unless you hate needles, go white at the sight of blood and find the whole thing a little bit weird – in which case I would say back away from the blood bus). It takes half an hour and it can change someone else’s world! In my mind, that makes it a very good use of half an hour.

I appreciate that it won’t feel as positive being the back seat passenger while you hand over your veins to a nurse. But, I want to turn this loss into somebody else’s gain.

Thanks all for giving me the strength to fight in the face of loss. For every thing cancer takes I will smile twice as hard. Maybe one day, it will get the picture and stop taking things away.

2 comments

  1. Hi Jackie, glad that you’re gaining lots of strength and learning to love the new boob! As a person who hates the sight of needles and blood, and especially the thought of veins, I can’t quite understand the anguish around the blood donating but hats off to you for trying to talk everyone else into it instead! I hope we can come and see you this week or next? xxx

  2. I had the same feeling when I learned I can’t be an organ donor. But my driver’s license says I’m an organ donor! It wasn’t that I ever imagined actually donating an organ or that it was a big item on my bucket list, but the fact that suddenly my body parts are just no good anymore…that was hard to wrap my mind around.

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