Single Gemma With Cancer
From my point of view
I’m acutely aware that I didn’t update my readers on the situation following The Night Before Test Results. Yeah…sorry about that. Thank you for sticking with me anyway, and for coming back to this badly-designed website to read and learn with me.
The Bad News
In April 2021 I was re-diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time. This time, following many tests (much cannulation), having a port fitted for the second time, and my first experience having a PET-CT scan, I received a call from Dr Shah explaining that they could see it throughout my skeleton and that they refer to it as the whole skeleton.
I just wrote down the body parts he said – sternum, pelvis, upper arms, femurs, spine, neck and ribs. Oh, let’s not forget the bloody lymph nodes too. But no evidence of cancer in any organs yet.
Dr Shah emphasised that it was treatable.
All I heard was that I’m definitely going to die from cancer. And whilst we don’t know when that will be, I won’t live to old age. I was absolutely devastated and could hardly stand when I got off the phone. I was alone at my parents’ house and just stared out of the window as it sunk in.
What the FUCK. What the fucking fuck is going on. I’m actually going to die.
And then it all came out; I let the floodgates open. I wanted to document it sooner but I didn’t have the words. So I filmed it. I wanted to share what true horror feels like.
So many damn thoughts in my head. Mollie. My business. My parents. Lack of money. Being alone. Having to probably use a wheelchair one day. The house. The sad feeling that I just came here for a short while and messed everything up then fucked off again. The sadder feeling that I would be leaving this world feeling that I’d never made a meaningful, long-lasting and secure romantic connection with a man.
I am now receiving a cocktail of drugs to stabilise cancer and improve my quality of life. Whilst this is palliative care, it isn’t end-of-life care which would be something different. The main drug is an oral medication called Abemaciclib. You can’t get that on the NHS, but you can get it through the UK’s cancer drugs fund (CDF). It does pretty much the same as chemo, without the nasty side effects. Right now, with the NHS under severe pressure to tackle the backlog created by COVID, I couldn’t be more relieved to be receiving treatment privately. Even though it’s RIDICULOUSLY expensive, especially now that Covid has forced those that can afford it to go private.
In addition to Abemaciclib, I’m receiving Fulvestrant as an intramuscular injection, and the usual Zoledronic acid to strengthen my bones, just on a monthly basis now.
And the mental health…?
I hadn’t realised, until I started this medication, just how sick I’ve been inside my head, heart and soul. Anxiety and mental exhaustion are veritably debilitating. When business got tough in the first half of this year, I was throwing up every morning and I didn’t know why. I was on work calls, muting myself and staying off camera so I could vomit, then coming back and continuing the meeting. It felt like no one cared. My weight dropped, I lost motivation, couldn’t handle meeting friends and I stopped cleaning and gardening.
In the week of my diagnosis, it felt like my life was falling apart.
I desperately needed to take time off – the doc wanted to sign me off sick and I said to him “It isn’t going to happen; if I take time off, there’s no one to steer the business.” Work-wise, we were at a key point, dealing with one of the most narcissistic and malevolent clients I’ve EVER had to work with. I couldn’t see a way out.
It took six months, a gastroscopy and reaching the point in July where I felt nothing was worth living for, that it’d really be better if I was just gone already, that the professionals stepped in and prescribed pregabalin. I won’t say it’s healed everything, but I feel far more able to cope and function. Writing this now, seeing my face in so much mental pain – it hurts.
Single people with cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, “Single people who have cancer often have the same physical, psychological, spiritual, and financial concerns as people with cancer who are married, have a partner, or are in a relationship. But for single people, these issues can be more concerning and getting through treatment can be harder in some ways.” You’re telling me.
As you may know, I had a double mastectomy and a reconstruction back in 2018. I decided not to bother with nipple reconstruction; this is an incredibly personal choice and I respect that many women choose to have them reconstructed in order to feel whole again. In my view, I couldn’t see the point, because I have zero sensation there. So having nipples wouldn’t have served me. During the throes of our breakup, my ex-husband quipped “At least I’ll get to play with a woman who has nipples now.” Dismissing this as his dark humour, which I had previously accepted in other forms, he cackled as I stared back at him in disbelief, definitely not laughing. The insensitivity was shocking.
In fact, since then I’ve found that decent people don’t care about the damage to my body. It tells a story of resilience. Dating, however, is an entirely different ball game.
Who would date me now?
I’ve given up and ditched any desire to nurture a romantic relationship since I found out I was ill again.
I was seeing a lovely man earlier in the year and we broke up because I couldn’t fit him into my life – motherhood and the business completely took over and with us being under lockdown it was hard to keep going. When he dumped me as a self-preservation measure, I accepted that I couldn’t meet his needs. In spite of that, we developed a closeness afterwards, and by early April, we seemed to be back on. Until I got my diagnosis, and he said he couldn’t bear to lose me, so he couldn’t be part of my life as a love interest. At the time, I was unbearably hurt. But I understood completely where he was coming from. After a break without contact, we’ve got back in touch and we now enjoy a secure friendship.
As a walking contradiction, of course I sometimes wish I could meet somebody new – but I don’t want to put them through the pain of losing me. And I don’t want them to see me as somebody who’s broken, who needs constant care. I have more confidence in my body image than I’ve ever had before and I make friends easily; I’d be lying, however, if I said there’s no layer of holding myself back because of this stupid death sentence.
It has taken me 2 years to recover from my last relationship and I still don’t feel like I’m fully there yet. I went from being a confident person, to an anxious wreck, and it’s been hard to bounce back. But I am getting there. I’ve made peace with that experience and I enjoy a lovely social life now, with kind, good people, and I don’t feel alone with them. They know who they are. Thank you from the bottom of my soul.
I feel alone when I have difficult decisions to make, or tough conversations to have, and I find myself reaching out to people I trust for help with them. And then I feel incredibly guilty about it; people have had tough years of their own since Covid hit. They don’t need to hear me whinging. I still sometimes feel out of control of my life. Like I’m weak and I don’t deserve the success I have had in my career, because of things I missed early on, or mistakes I made whilst learning. I’ve had malicious tweets from people who know what I’m going through and still want to kick me. Believe me, nothing / no one can kick me harder than I do myself. But my soul is healing and most days I am okay. I just take each day as it comes.
On with the job
Treatment has become routine, I am tolerating it well, and I’ve been on a journey of self-reflection, grief and emotional healing. Physically, I feel well, aside from a couple of side effects. There are a few things I’ve been working on for the business that have come through for me, with support. Now my focus is on strengthening further and learning to stick up for myself. The greatest lesson is in handling toxic people, and learning to handle my situation without the support of a loving partner. A person can only take on so much at once.
Thanks very much for reading this; I’ve tried to be honest and share what I’m comfortable sharing. I must emphasise that I don’t need/want anybody to feel sorry for me. I just wanted to shine a little light on what it’s been like, because it helps me process this, and I know I want to read the stories and truths of similar people, so maybe they might want to see mine. There’s a lot more, that I’d prefer to discuss in person. And there’s more I will write when I’m feeling up to it. Much love, Gem x