Reflection, Michele McMahon
I would like to Thank Prof Ray Donnelly for inviting me to share my story with you today, I hope by doing this I will bring hope to other people who are living with cancer and also to their families and friends who support them, cancer in some way will affect most of us during our lives.
I recently spoke at the Manchester Pause for Hope service and I was touched by people who came up to me after the service and told me that they felt much more positive and recently after a press an article appeared in the Echo a lady took the time to write a letter to me even though she was starting her own cancer journey and was frightened it just proves that people and their families who are facing cancer really want and need hope.
I have recently lost my lovely mum and fantastic dad to lung cancer so myself and my family know how painful cancer can be, to everyone here today whose loved ones are no longer with us please believe that just being there for your loved one would have given them great comfort and a sense of inner peace.
In early 2000 after returning home from a busy shift as a nurse I began to cough up blood, despite many investigations and biopsies over the years the drs could never come up with an answer so It just became part of my everyday life, I was busy making plans for the years ahead, spending time with Neil my husband looking forward to my family and friends, watching my children grow up, working for at least another 20 years in a job I loved with people I loved However in 2007 during a family holiday I just felt that something wasn't right I had lost weight (which wasn't a bad thing) had developed pain in my lung and felt nauseous all the time.
When I returned from holiday my hospital appt was brought forward and although the Dr was quite insistent that nothing had changed on my CT scan I too was quite insistent that I wasn't leaving that room until I had a plan.
I was admitted for a bronchoscopy and when I went for the results I could tell by the Drs face that something wasn't right. I was admitted again the following day for a further bronchoscopy and remember the Dr telling me in the recovery area that he had seen a new nodule. I only told my husband at this stage and my closest friends. I didn't want to hurt my family by telling them this news.
The following week when I went for my results I just knew that it would be cancer. The surgeon told me it was advanced non small cell lung cancer and that they were unable to operate as there was a tumour in the upper lobe of my lung but also there were lymph nodes involved. I asked the doctor will I be alright…. he said I don't know. I decided there and then that I would be! I was a mum. a wife, a daughter, a sister an auntie and a friend…… I had to fight this. The worst part for me was telling my children that I had cancer no mum wants to hurt their children by telling them this but I was always honest with them I needed them to know that if they wanted to ask me anything they could and I would tell them the truth. I saw my oncologist Dr Joe Maguire the following morning and was told I was suitable to take part in the SOCCAR trial which was combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy I had to trust him with my life and I did!
I was 39, fairly fit, sometimes working upto 60 hrs a week but if there was a side effect I got it, I was hospitalised 4 or 5 times throughout my treatment, blood clots, uncontrolled nausea and oesophagitis which led me to being unable to swallow properly for months and which still affects me even now. How did I get through it…. In my opinion I had the best Dr looking after me I had fantastic support from all my lovely family and friends no matter what time of the day or night it was I knew I only had to pick up the phone and they would be there. I had fantastic care from all the staff who cared for me in the hospital and the community nurses too. I used to think about the older people who lived alone how on earth did they manage.
I was a nurse so I had a bit of knowledge, sometimes it helped and sometimes it didn't. I knew what could go wrong but I also knew what to ask for when things weren't right.
I knew the hospital routine I knew when the bathroom would be free so I could go and have a long soak and a good cry if I needed to. I listened to the advice that people gave me I tried going to sleep listening to music but soon discovered that westlife was probably not the best idea as I would end up sobbing. I made time for myself sometimes just to be quiet or to go for a massage, here I found the one person who I could tell my fears too. she would sometimes just listen. sometimes advise but she never judged me she got me through my hardest days.
I never told a lot of people about my diagnosis I just wanted to be me, lung cancer was not part of my life plan. My family and friends adjusted their lifestyles to fit in with me and how I was feeling on any particular day, however they still drank the champagne on the orient express so they obviously didn't love me that much! The worst things about having cancer was having to watch my family hurting and giving up my job which I still miss every day.
Well Its now 8 years since I was diagnosed and its hard to believe when I look back how poorly I was I was so weak I couldn't even stand up in the shower. There were days that you have to force yourself to get out of bed but from somewhere you find the strength.
I still have good days and bad days but if I want to do something I will do it even if it means resting a few days before and a few days after. I think having a sense of humour and making an effort to keep in touch with my friends has helped its ok to say I don't feel up to seeing you today but when you feel stronger try to push yourself a little bit harder to get back to a bit of normality, make plans so you have nice things to look forward to my mum and dad took me to Mauritius at the end of my treatment and I planned and went on lots of holidays with family and friends, my friend Bev and I had a great 40th party and soon we ll be planning our 50th birthday party.
My faith has definitely helped to make my journey easier.I never ever thought why me….Throughout my life I have always had my faith but I believe in times of illness it can become much stronger and deeper. I remember in the early days when I was first diagnosed I felt an inner strength that I never knew I had, I knew when I prayed whether it be for me or for the people around me who were also hurting that our Lord was listening to my prayers I knew that we weren't alone. I used to pray whenever I woke during the night Please God just let me see my children grow up and I ll never ask for anything again, I wasn't worried about me I just wanted to make sure that they would be ok. Of course my prayers were answered and I am looking forward to becoming a nan in December.
I also took great comfort that people, some of whom I hadn't even met were praying for me, that they too truly believed that the power of prayer would help me. My friend June who lives in the Isle of Man asked people to pray for me and they became Team Isle of Man, my friends mum Dot wanted me to know even when she was really poorly herself that her prayer group still prayed for me after all this time.
My Faith gives me HOPE, it is what makes me who I am, which in turn gives me my strength and positive outlook that whatever the future holds that I will be ok, that I am not alone.
I think whether you go into a church or pray alone God will hear you and guide you. I myself prefer to come to this Cathedral, it is a special place where I feel closest to God, sometimes I just find myself here especially if Im struggling a bit and I always leave with an inner calmness that God is beside me and will never leave me especially when I need him most. Cancer can test your faith you may think why me but in my opinion cancer likes negative energy being positive can help you take control of your health back.
I find this short verse from Isaiah chap 41 verse 10 to be very uplifting on the not so good days...
So do not fear for I am with you, Do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand