Don't ignore the signs! I looked the picture of health in days and weeks before cancer struck
The #10yearschallenge sweeping social media is no doubt clogging up your feeds.
It sent me down a rabbit hole, looking back at life BC – before cancer.
Everything in my life has changed in the last ten years, I've had kids, changed jobs and been diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer.
Yet, to look back at my photos you would think nothing has changed at all.
I loved fancy dress ten years ago, and still love it now – the bunny outfits say it all.
THREE MONTHS BEFORE
But in all seriousness, it's not my photos from ten years ago that have shocked me most, I only need to look back two years to feel that kick in the stomach.
Scrolling through my photos, I stopped – froze – when I got to those I took just before my diagnosis.
The hour before, the days, weeks, and months before.
Starring back at me in every photo was a healthy-looking, 30-something, brunette.
TWO MONTHS BEFORE
I was beaming, loving life with no clue of what was about to hit me.
On the outside I was a picture of health. On the inside, cancer was lurking, invading my bowels.
You wouldn't have known it to look at me, but my body was harbouring something that will most likely kill me.
And that is what scared me.
ONE MONTH BEFORE
It brought a tear to my eye, looking at myself and realising how naive I was about what was about to happen.
Looking through the photos I couldn't help but wonder at what point my tumour started growing.
When doctors found it, it was big – 6.5cm to be exact.
But it's hard to know for certain how long it took to get to that size.
I'd been having symptoms for about six months – but looking back at these photos I can forgive any doctor who doubted me. I looked fine.
ONE WEEK BEFORE
Yes I was passing blood when I did a poo, but not all the time.
Yes I was losing weight, but that was my active lifestyle, right?!
And yes I was tired, but my word was I busy.
Hindsight really is a wonderful thing. I wish I could rewind to nine months before my diagnosis, grab myself and pin myself down. I want to scream at my healthy-looking self, "get yourself checked, NOW".
I wonder if I had done that, would I even be writing this now?
ONE DAY BEFORE
ONE HOUR BEFORE
DANCING IN THE RAIN
THIS week has been a good week.
Just writing that sentence feelslike a massive weight lifted off my shoulders – albeit for a little while.
Christmas was rubbish, my cancer coming back was crap and my allergic reaction to my new drugs was downright sh*t.
I've been waiting and praying for my skin to calm down so I can go back on treatment – a lower dose that I can tolerate better.
I've spent the last two weeks in and out of hospital just waiting, and they whipped me back into the scanner for good measure.
And low and behold, after a few days of scanxiety, I got to read the word, "STABLE" written on my report.
Stable is good, it's excellent, it means the four new tumours in my liver have NOT grown.
Never underestimate the power of stable. I used to wish for them to shrink, but in reality all I fear is growth.
Stable means that this treatment is at least doing something so I get to plough on with it in the hope it continues to. It gives me a window to breathe – and to dance.
Which brings me on to Strictly.
It's no secret I’m a fan of the show. I bang on about it on the podcast, You, Me And The Big C – my point being, this is what living with cancer can really look like.
And yes, that means sequins and dancing.
So on Instagram I set out my New Year's resolutions… to stay alive and get on Strictly.
The first one I am deadly serious about (excuse the pun).
The second was a bit of a joke, but 10 days later I woke up to messages that a board on the Underground was campaigning in my honour.
The lovely boys behind All On The Board – the Banksy of the London Underground – have decided to take matters into their own hands, and start a campaign to get me on the show.
I was blown away by it, and will obviously have a bit of fun with it.
I figure – with everything life life throws my way, all I can do is keep dancing in the rain!
Perhaps my cancer would have been caught earlier and I'd be back at school teaching, after my close shave.
The reality is there is no point beating myself up about it, I can't change my situation.
But, what I can do is share these photos in the hope it might help you all stop and think.
Don't take your own healthy appearances for granted.
You might look well, a picture of health, but if you start feeling things aren't right, trust your gut.
Cancer doesn't have a one-size-fits-all approach.
It doesn't necessarily leave you looking or feeling like crap, especially in the early stages.
It's stealth, it hides and evades detection.
The best I can hope for is that you will take note and get checked, and so not have to face what I have to.
It's never been more important to realise – it's what's on the inside that counts.
My new book F*** You Cancer is available to buy now – and gives a brutally honest view of what cancer is really like – buy it here now
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