Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Survivors

I spent over an hour in the waiting room of the Breast Clinic yesterday (with my lovely friend, H, who'd come to hold my hand).

I realised that there were three types of ladies waiting.

1. The 'Norms'...

....with their normal breasts, and cells that divide and multiply in a normal way. They just pop in for an annual road check to 'be on the safe side', or because they have a family history.

They sit, leafing through magazines, looking much like the ladies you see in the waiting room at the dentist. Being all normal.

2. The Newbies

The newly diagnosed. They're often waiting to find out just how bad it is.

You can spend weeks being drip fed this information - how aggressive your cancer is, if it can be treated with hormonal therapies, how much boob(s) you're going to lose, and - crucially - how far it's spread.

They usually look like they've been hit by a bus. Quiet. Pale. Stunned. Not knowing what's coming up, or how they're going to cope.

3. The Survivors

An amateur could mistake A Survivor for A Norm. On the surface, they look nonchalant, relaxed, smiley. But it's a cover.

They may flick through a magazine but they're not really reading it. The words aren't going in.

They greet all the nurses by name, and ask after their children, but what they're really thinking is I hope I don't have to see you again until next year.

Under all the false bonhomie, all they want to know is am I still okay?

Eventually, they called my name. H squeezed my hand, and I swanned in, all calm elegance (I always dress up for the Cancer Clinic. Like you do for a funeral).

A charming, fatherly, antipodean squirted (thoughtfully warmed) gel all over my boobs and starts running his (what on earth do I call the thing that doesn't sound sexual?) over them.

Within just a few minutes he says "that's all absolutely fine."

"Thank you, thank you," I whispered, "I've been really worried."

"I know," he replies. "I realise that just one word can change your life."

And that moment of empathy nearly had me sobbing all over his paper sheets.

On the way out I met a lady ten years or so older than me. She had one of those wonderful faces that looks like it had a host of stories to tell. She was also skipping, and hugging her reprieve close to her heart.

We did the 'Survivor' thing of exchanging case histories, like Norms chat about the weather.

She was first diagnosed fourteen years ago, with a recurrence (of primary breast cancer, not the terminal secondary variety) four years ago.

She said "I've stopped talking about it now, because no-one really knows what it's like unless they've been there." And we smiled at each other, members of a club no-one wants to join, and I felt I'd known her forever.

And it struck me that this blog is much like the cancer clinic.

There are the 'Norms' who pop by, just to check that they are really okay. There's the Newbies, all shell shocked and not sure if they can go through it (AND YOU CAN!), and the Survivors.

(I much prefer to think of myself as a Survivor, rather than 'in remission', or 'in recovery'. Both those words give me the heebie jeebies, as the implication is that you still have some terrible underlying sickness).

And nobody knows what it's really like unless they've been there, do they?

Much as I've hated the last few days, the good thing about going through it all (on a regular basis), is it's a reminder that you have to remain grateful.

(It's not happy people who are grateful, it's grateful people who are happy).

I re-read my post from January on gratitude, and how it can transform your mental health (click here), and today I really, really am.

Grateful for all those things we so easily take for granted. For being alive. For being healthy. For being here to see my kids grow up.

I'm grateful to my friends (like H, who came with me) and family (like my brother-in-law and niece who babysat my children), and lovely Mr SM, who pretends he's supremely confident, but who I suspect has had a few wobbles over the last few days too.

And I've grateful to for all of you, for all your comments, thoughts and prayers.

Thank you.

Love SM x

P.S. If you've just come across this blog and want to read my story from when I quit booze click here. If you want to read from when I found The Lump (eight months later), then click here.


  1. Very glad to hear your news SM. Mx

  2. I like the idea of being a survivor. I have Beyonce ringing in my ears now. Which is quite apt as I love her other song (#runnin', runnin', runnin', aint runnin' from myself no more, I'm ready to face it all#) as it reminds me of my sober journey over the past 13 months. Great news on the boob front! LNM x

  3. Phew. I'm very glad to read your news today. Annie x

  4. Great news SM. The first one clear is very good news. Makes you understand the meaning of relieved doesn't it. And love the bit about grateful people being happy. Something to keep in mind. Xx

  5. That's great news SM :) what is great about the not-drinking journey is that (unlike the cancer one) it is empowering - it is up to us how it ends - we realise that we have the power within ourselves to direct its path. Survivors like you, through your blog, give the newbies the knowledge and hope that they can take back their power and the strength to set off on an impossible-seeming journey. X

  6. So pleased to read that the result was good.

    A good friend of mine in one of my local groups describes us as being in the one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. He reckons it has cost us all far more than anyone else would be prepared to pay to join any other club. He has a fair point

  7. Hurrah! Well done you. Hope you are doing something nice to celebrate x

  8. Woohoo! Well done! I'm glad my countryman was kind!
    And you are right about the sub tribes on the blog. I am coming to realise that as well as needing you, we need each other too!

  9. so so happy for you SM!!! Life is Good!!! No, it's Great!

  10. That is wonderful news SM. So happy for you.

  11. That is wonderful news SM. So happy for you.

  12. Delighted for your good news. x

  13. Great News SM!! So happy for you and that you are surviving it all AF. You have really inspired me! I am on day 10!

  14. So relieved! Had checked a couple times since yesterday to see if there was a new entry (UK/US time difference,,,,) and a sigh of relief to see this report. And a tear lept to my eye, as well, with that kind response about 'a word can change your life.' A little empathy does go such a long way!

    Love the quote; going to immediately lift to put into the journal I've kept since Day One.

    Hurrah...and carry on!

  15. That's such great news! "It's grateful people that are happy" !
    Thank you for that wonderful insight!

  16. Great news SM, thanks for sharing. Thanks for sharing your blog and your life with us. Of course I found your blog because of alcohol - and your insight has been incredible. But it's also nice to just follow your life or parts of it.

    As a bloke who by nature is a bit self centered - it's nice to hear the insights of a 47 year old mum. In particular because I'm married to one (a 47 year old mum). So hearing your perspective can hopefully make me a better husband and father. I know 110 plus days of abs has helped too!

    Now I'm reading Caitlin's book per your recommendation - and well it's interesting to say the least. Thanks again for all you do - and for letting us see into your life. I'm so happy that your news was good. E

  17. Tears of joy and relief for you.
    I know this isn't the end, it's just another event in the process. But I firmly believe in celebrating the good. Today is good.



  18. Incredible SM! We ARE survivors! And you are one hell of a woman! Courage, strenght, hope, and love is what your soul pours out onto this blog!
    I am forever grateful to you in my life!
    Thank you SM
    Boston Strong/Boston Sober 3/19/15

  19. Wonderful news!! If you recall I work in a retail boutique store for women and again last week I was helping a gal pick out a gift of clothing for a friend and we were lamenting about how our bodies change as we get older, the things that "give way" etc...and then I said, but I help so many woman who are fighting cancer, so I am GRATEFUL that even though the body isn't looking as hot, it still is holding up. And I got this shell-shocked look bordering on tears saying that she too was fighting cancer. I had now idea..still looked the picture of health. So, we talked and I wished her the very best. And, today I am shell-shocked and sad after seeing the obituary yesterday of a gal who went through rehab with me a few years ago. Addiction kills, make no mistake. So, SM I am very grateful that while things haven't been a "clean sweep", the days of me being AF are outnumbering the days with a hangover..thanks in part to people like you who are transparent and share and encourage people like me and you, the Newbies and the Survivors.

  20. I'm so pleased for you. Your writing is inspiring - you capture life and it's situtions and then describe them perfectly often bringing a tear or two to my eye. XXXX

  21. Great, great, great news. I knew the results would be good. They just had to be. Your work in this world is not done yet. Hundreds and hundreds of lives to save yet.

  22. I can only guess at how difficult an ordeal it was. I am so very glad that your fears were dispelled with a few simple words. Please keep writing.


  23. I am grateful for tears of gratitude for a friend I've never met. Thank you, God.

    1. I feel the same way!!! SM rocks!

    2. and so do all of you *sob*