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A life in the cancer lane

THE MAN, THE LEGEND

In my last blog about inspirations, I said I wanted to dedicate a blog to my old friend and massive inspiration, Gareth. Gareth went through a incredibly scary period in his life whereby his life was in the balance. To explain further I asked him a number of questions which he kindly answered and now I want to share with you to give you an insight of how amazing this guy is!

TELL ME THE FULL NAME OF THE CONDITION YOU HAD?

Guillain-Barre syndrome (pronounced ghee Ayn bar ray)

GIVE ME A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF WHAT IT IS.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disorder whereby the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the peripheral nervous system. The initial symptoms are typically changes in sensation or pain along with muscle weakness, beginning in the feet and hands. This often spreads to the legs, arms and upper body with both sides effected. In some instances such as mine, it can result in total paralysis and respiratory failure, requiring mechanical ventilation and treatment in an intensive care unit. The cause of the condition is currently unknown but research has shown that the condition can be triggered by a viral infection, the immune system fights the virus and once destroyed, instead of stopping the immune system continues to fight,targeting the peripheral nervous system.
GBS is a rare and serious condition affecting approximately 1 in 100000 people every year. Globally death occurs in about 7.5% of those affected. Treatment together with supportive care and rehabilition will lead to a good recovery in the majority of cases, however recovery can range from weeks to years with about a third left with permanent weakness or residual effects.

IT MUST HAVE BEEN DIFFICULT BEYOND BELIEF TO WAKE UP AND NOT BE ABLE TO MOVE OR TALK OR INTERACT?

Defiently, it was by far the scariest moment of my life!
I was married to my wife Amanda in August 2014. During the second week of our honeymoon I started to get headaches at night along with a slight numbness and weakness in my hands and feet, we just thought it was either a bit of a cold, tiredness or the effects from the heat in Tenerife. The first week back to work I was feeling really unwell and the symptoms were getting worse so I decided to see my doctor on the Friday. The doctor thought it was a bad flu or viral infection and advised me to give it another few days to see if it would improve. That evening the numbness, weakness and pain were getting worse so I went to the out of hours doctor for a second opinion but they advised the same. By Saturday evening my entire body was aching and I was struggling to walk or stand without help so we decided to go to A&E. I was admitted to the medical assessment unit in the hospital where they could keep me in for observations and tests to determine what was wrong. One of the tests was a spinal tap-biggest needle I’ve ever seen stuck into my back to draw off cerebrospinal fluid. From this test the doctors thought I had viral meningitis and advised that the symptoms would likely get worse before it gets better and bed rest was the answer. I was discharged on the Monday.
As the doctors said,the symptoms were getting worse. Tuesday night was the first time I felt real fear, I was finding it hard to breathe as if someone was sitting on my chest. I remember saying to Amanda not to let me fall asleep as I didn’t think I would wake up again. Wednesday morning I was essentially paralysed from the waist down. We rang the doctor who came to the house. Upon seeing me and making her assessment she said that it wasn’t viral meningitis but most likely GBS. As I was unable to move my legs and already experiencing breathing difficulties she called for an ambulance.
In a&e resus the doctors agreed with the GBS diagnosis and the icu team were brought in to explain the next step and treatment process. I was told that I needed to be put on a mechanical ventilator as a precautionary measure against the respiratory failure for approx 5 days and hopefully by then, with treatment, I would be on the road to recovery. As you can imagine this wasn’t the news that I wanted to hear, and I’ll admit that I was scared…really scared… not just for me, but for Amanda as well. We were only married 3 weeks and this wasn’t part of the plan. The doctors said I would be sedated for roughly 5 days while on life support so not to worry. There was nothing for it then but to get on with it. Sadly things didn’t go to plan…My body didn’t appear to be responding to the first round of treatment. After a couple of days my body experienced respiratory failure and became completely dependent on the ventilator. Since this was going to be longer term I was given a tracheotomy (breathing tubes through the throat) instead of the ventilator through the mouth. This also meant that the level of sedation was also reduced.
I remember bits and pieces during the first couple of days in icu,even while sedated. The main thing I remember at first was the confusion over why I couldn’t move my body. I quickly realised that I was completely paralysed,from head to toes, I couldn’t even blink. My eye lids were frozen in the open position which thankfully meant I wasn’t paralysed in darkness-a small mercy but one I would happily accept nonetheless.
My main frustration was the lack of communication. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully explain to someone the feeling of having your ability to communicate stripped away from you and how difficult it is being fully paralysed and unable to speak because of the very machine that is keeping you alive. Thankfully I was able to move my eyes and my wife decided that they could work out what I wanted to say by asking me a series of closed questions and I would respond by looking up once for yes, and twice for no. Slow,frustrating and limited but it was something at least and far better than nothing!

WHEN I WENT THROUGH CANCER I HAD DAYS WHERE I NEVER THOUGHT THE PAIN WOULD END, DID YOU EVER THINK THAT YOURSELF? WHEN I VISITED YOU I JUST SAW THE LOOK OF DETERMINATION IN YOUR EYES NO MATTER HOW HARD YOUR DAY WAS!

We all think we have experienced the worst pain at some point, just think how many times we say “I’ve never felt pain like it” or “there’s nothing worse than…” I can honestly say the pain throughout my whole body was excruciating and something I could have never imagined or thought possible. Except for my inability to move and speak I would have been thrashing about the place and screaming. I couldn’t do this so I had nothing else to do but persevere.
I think the biggest thing that got me through my whole GBS journey (10 weeks in icu and 3 months of rehab) was the support from my family, friends and my faith in God,
It may sound strange but I knew from the beginning that I would get through this and I would be ok, I just needed to learn patience. I completely rejected the possibility that I could die or I wouldn’t recover from this.

I ONLY THOUGHT I HAD TO START FROM SCRATCH WHEN I FINISHED CHEMO BUT YOU LITERALLY HAD TO. YOU HAD TO LWARN THE BASICS AGAIN, ALL THE THINGS WE TAKE FOR GRANTED! WHAT INSPIRED YOU AND DROVE YOU TO GET YOUR LIFE BACK?

Yeah it was difficult-I had to relearn how to hold a pen to write, hold a glass to drink, eat stand and walk. It’s been a long process.
As I’ve alluded to previously, as well as support from my family and friends, my faith was my determination. I knew that I was going to be ok, there was no question of it in my mind, I just needed to be patient and work hard. Don’t get me wrong, there were some low points and plenty of frustration along the way.

I NEVER TOLD YOU THIS BUT YOUR ONE OF MY INSPIRATIONS AND YOU AMAZED ME IN THE WAY YOU HANDLED SUCH A LIFE THREATENING ILLNESS. YOUR SENSE OF HUMOUR AND STUBBORNNESS TO SUCCEED SHOWED ME WHAT WE CAN ALL BE CAPABLE OF. I JUST WANT TO THANK YOU FOR THAT.

Thanks mate, I honestly don’t know how to respond to that…
Your an inspiration yourself, dealing with and battling cancer at 20, not to mention all you do for friends of the cancer centre.

I’VE ALWAYS SAID THAT CANCER CHANGED ME FOR THE BETTER. NOT EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS THAT COMMENT BUT YOU HAVING GONE THROUGH A POTENTIAL LIFE THREATENING ILLNESS ALSO, CAN YOU SAY YOU’RE THE SAME? HAS IT MADE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE AND ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS EVEN MORE OR WOULD YOU HAVE DONE ALL THAT ANYWAY?

Yeah I completely agree!

I found my faith again through this illness and learnt a lot about myself along the way.

When I was young I had a relationship with God but I lost this in my late teens through some difficult times. Around a year or two leading up to GBS I started to ask questions about God again and got involved with some church type activities but never made any commitment with God.
Sometimes we need a nudge in the right direction, other times we need a kick… I think GBS was my kick from God.
In a&e resus when I was told the news and what would happen, I decided now was the right time to make that connection with God again and I decided to fully lean on him. It was at that exact moment that I knew I would be fine, I felt a peace or calmness and I knew that I could overcome this and anything that was thrown my way.
Since GBS I have said to people that I wouldn’t change a thing. It brought me to God and I learnt how to be more patient and that I had a strength and determination that I previously didn’t realise. It also made my family closer.
With respect to achieving goals, I think it has definitely made a huge impact on that aspect of my life. It’s made me a more determined person and when I set my mind to something I’ll do everything I can to achieve it. I believe I’m actually fitter now than I’ve been for a long time. I’ve taken up going to the gym and yoga 3-r times a week. My most recent achievement was completing the strabane-Ilford half marathon.
I’m sure there will be plenty more challenges and successes to come in the future, watch this space!!

WHAT IS IN THE PLANS FOR THE FUTURE AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE FACING DIFFICULT TIMES?

Never underestimate the power of positivity! In my opinion a positive mental attitude is worth more than any treatment or therapy.
Plans for the future?… Not entirely sure at the minute, just enjoying life with Amanda. In relation to challenges, as I’ve already mentioned I recently completed a half marathon which I’m proud of considering only 2 years ago I had to learn to walk again! Nothing else planned in that sense, especially nothing like what you set yourself! Riding 10000 miles in a year, your a mad man! Going to do the mourne wall this summer, maybe a triathlon Sprint and my dad has mentioned canoeing from portadown to Coleraine, but we’ll see what happens.

MANY THANKS GARETH FOR SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH ME. YOUR AN INSPIRATION TO MANY AND I WISH YOU ALL THE LUCK IN THE FUTURE!

INSPIRATIONS

Everybody has someone or something that inspires them. It could be a family member,sports star, musician,friend,the list goes on. I can’t talk for everyone else but personally I always strive to better myself, to achieve to the best of my abilities. To push myself and get that feeling of satisfaction that you only get when you know you’ve given 100%. Sometimes I look up to others in order to prove to myself that if I want to achieve what I have in mind, anything is possible if you have the will and determination just like all of my inspirations in life. Don’t get me wrong, I have ambitions and goals that no matter what I will achieve but sometimes when things are hard and your feeling like giving up, you just need to look to those that inspire us and that puts us right back on track!
INSPIRATIONS come and go but some stick with us. They normally come when we are at our lowest and in need of a gentle push back to normality. Most of mine have come about since having cancer. I never needed role models more than when I had the disease. I look at life differently now too since and appreciate just what hard times are and how to get through them. I’ve witnessed others go through terrible times and they inspire me also.
First off I’d like to talk about one role model that is truely there for me. What I mean is, she was actually there on a personal level unlike some of my other inspirations.Kathy Cash was one of the main people who steered me in the right direction after cancer. I was in a bad place,didn’t know where to turn and upon meeting Kathy at my first cancer support meeting, she took me under her wing and from there on helped me through my journey. Words can’t be put on paper how much I look up to her. What she has went through herself but still found the time to help me is unbelievable and I’ll be eternally grateful.
While on the topic of cancer, two more of my inspirations are connected to the disease. The controversial one I’ll leave for now and talk about the other first.
Cancer survivors in General are inspiring me on a daily basis. Any of you going through it or beaten it, hats off to you. Your amazing and are true warriors. Without naming names, you know who you are. There are a select few I have the pleasure of knowing who have fought or are still fighting the disease. When I seen what they went through, my journey is insignificant in comparison! These individuals have been knocked to the floor so many times, been Ill beyond belief and faced turbulent times to the Point Whereby They’ve Nearly Given Up But They Haven’t. They dug deeper than most people know possible and refused to give in. Their drive, determination and desire for life is inspiring in its own right! That is enough to get me out of bed every morning and be thankful for every healthy living second I’m here on this earth. I know what the fight is like so I can understand the battle. My respect is off the scale for all cancer survivors!
The controversial inspiration is the one and only Lance Armstrong! Love him or hate him,what he went through on a personal level when he had cancer is unbelievable. We both shared the same cancer so I read his book to see what I was in for. Upon reading it, it scared the life out of me. If you’ve read his book you’ll know what I mean! As scared as I was it did however inspire me to beat the disease. Even after cancer much of what I achieved in life is because of Armstrong’s achievements. Yes he cheated in a professional capacity and that is controversial but in a sport riddled with doping he wasn’t the only one. He was the only one to nearly have died due to cancer and have lasting side effects and to bounce back and do what he did is the bit I have respect and admiration for. That was as much about hard work and the belief in himself more than anything and that is what I’ve always taken and used in my own life! I will talk more about this subject in a future blog though so watch this space!
On the topic of cycling, this next inspiration is somewhat new to me but blows me away with his life’s work. Mark Beaumont is what can only be described as an endurance cyclist. I’m nearly trying to replicate his goals with my own. There is only so much I can say as I’m currently reading about one of his adventures so all I can say is check him out to see why I look up to him.

http://www.markbeaumontonline.com

His next challenge is to cycle around the world in 80 days! Yes you read that correct. Makes my challenge look pitiful but you never know, maybe one day I’ll try myself haha. On a serious note he does prove what is possible if you put your mind to something and stick to it. Just takes a pinch of belief and determination!

A completely different inspiration but one that many can relate to and that is music. Music is a massive part of my life and one band in particular that guided me through my journey IS feeder and my favourite song of all time. This song resonates in so many ways and I’m going to show you why it lifts me up and gives me hope.

Love in, love out
Find the feeling
Scream in, scream out
Time for healing
You feel the moments gone too soon,
You’re watching clouds come over you,

Torn in two,
You close your eyes for some place new,
Torn in two,

And I feel its going down,
Ten feet below the ground,
I’m waiting for your healing hand,
One touch could bring me round
I feel we’re going down,
Ten feet below the ground,
It’s just the way I’m feeling,

Glow in, burn out,
Lost the feeling
Bruise in you bruise out,
Nurse the bleeding…

So there is an insight to what inspires me and makes up a small part of who I am. It’s so important to not only take pride in our achievements but to recognise that we can’t do these things without help and encouragement. Everyone in life has that role model. Take a minute and be thankful for them.
I have one more inspiration but I feel this person deserves a blog post of their own so my next post is going to go into depths about my friend Gareth, and what an amazing man he is.

5000 miles you say, completed It mate

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Showing the guns in my celebration of hitting the halfway Mark.

IT’S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE!

I promised myself that I would do regular updates of my blog but as always being busy has got in the way. I don’t like to use it as an excuse but I’m afraid I have to. Between being busy and so shattered, it’s hard finding the time to keep the updates going. However I just had to mark this occasion as its a significant milestone in my fundraising challenge! In the past week I passed the halfway mark, that’s 5000 miles cycled in just under 6 months.

To give you a better idea of what that is the equivalent to its like travelling from the UK to the likes of the east coast of China. That sounds slightly more impressive. In that space of time I’ve been cycling for about 356 hours, or 171 days. I don’t know if that sounds impressive or just plain stupid.

To be honest, I didn’t know how hard it would be to get to this point. It’s been difficult no doubt but I’ve got fitter and more determined to succeed! In the process. I like to look at it that its all downhill from here. It isn’t quite as straightforward  as that I know however I have got this far so to do it all again shouldn’t be too difficult, could it? I’m not trying to play down the task in hand but I do understand  and appreciate what it takes to ride 5000 miles and I feel like I can learn from the experience and improve on it. If I put those theories in action, it should be slightly easier or at least that’s the plan! First off though is a well deserved rest. I haven’t taken more than a day off at a time since I started. I feel like I deserve a proper rest so I plan to take a weekend free of bikes and work. Hopefully that gives my body adequate time to recuperate and get back on the wagon for the second half of the challenge!

As you probably well know, the reason I’m doing all this is to raise awareness and funds for my chosen charity. If you find the time and have any spare change your willing to part with please donate. Id very much appreciate it!

http://www.justgiving.com/ryan-hubbard14

http://www.friendsofthecancercentre.com

THE REAL REASON FOR DOING WHAT I DO

Riding bikes each and everyday in the attempt to do good as well as work, live and play, can take a lot of time. Add in the charity work behind the scenes to create awareness of my challenge and the charity and I can be forgiven for having gone quiet on the updates to my fundraising! 

The last number of weeks have been hectic to say the least. The Pearl Izumi challenge was going well as far as the mileage goes but the fundraising has went a bit stale so step forward the back-up plan to help raise some funds! 

First up was a stationary cycle in my local shopping centre. This was months in the planning, it was always something that was planned to do during the year. My local shopping centre was the perfect place to do so. March25th was the day chosen. The Sun was out and mother’s day was the following day so this potentially could be a good haul. I didn’t want to set any targets as to be honest I didn’t know what to expect.

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I started at 10.30 am. The plan was to ride an hour at a time. As I did that, Sarah the fundraising officer from ‘Friends of the cancer centre’ would chat to any interested parties wanting to know about what I was doing or what the charity did. We where there until 4pm. It was such a worthwhile effort. We got plenty of feedback and lots of interest in the charity! The exposure was better than I expected and that’s half the reason for doing it in the first place, to raise  more awareness! To top it off we raised a decent total £185. Not bad I think and gets the total amount moving again.

The following weekend same idea but slightly different approach. Collecting money was the name of the game but no bikes where involved. I wasn’t too optomistic this time as it was just me, a bucket, a few volunteers and that’s it. No props, no advertising, just the basics. Much to my surprise it went better than the previous week! Thankfully it did as standing on the spot for 6 hours isn’t as easy as it sounds! 

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All in all though the fundraising is back on the move again. I’m glad as it makes me realise why I’m doing all this, as if I could forget! The awareness of the charity is growing too! Ive been supporting the charity for 10 years and its part of my life but to others, they are oblivious and that’s been a shock. I guess that’s slightly nieve of me but I honestly thought people knew! When there is so many charities that aren’t local but people believe they are, we can be overlooked and stereotyped but when you tell people just where we are and how we help it really opens people’s eyes! Hopefully that will lead to more support. Do me a favour and take a look at the website. I’m not asking for donations. Just take a minute and look into what I’m so passionate about

http://www.friendsofthecancercentre.com 

Does your diet affect your chances of getting cancer?

Sometimes i’ve wondered is what I have eaten caused me to get cancer? Well can you blame me! We read it, watch it and we hear all about it. Constantly over the years we are lead to believe that our diet can increase our chances of getting cancer! Considering that what we eat is hugely important to our everyday lives it is understandable that people get worried and paranoid about how we fuel our bodies! Without food we won’t survive so is there any truth behind the theory?

In a world where obesity is becoming the norm, we can’t deny it’s not due to what we eat and the quantity we eat. It is said that being overweight increases the risk of getting 13 types of cancer! That’s being overweight, not obese so what are the risks with that!!

I bet most people will look at themselves and wonder, then follow that with the question ‘how do I know?’ Well I can guarantee if you think your overweight there’s a good chance you are! And with that comes the questions. It’s not as simple as if I’m overweight I will get cancer, there are many different aspects to it but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it. Many studies conducted between the association of diet and cancer have experts agreeing the food we eat can affect the risk. You only have to do a bit of research to see the many stories similar to this. So let’s assume it’s correct. What do we do?

So before stating the obvious, check your bmi or body mass index. It is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. The NHS has one on its website. Now this isn’t the be all and end all as it doesn’t take into consideration muscle which weighs more than fat. The fact of the matter is, a healthier diet could help prevent numerous cancers. First off let’s look at some of the things in our diets that are linked to increasing the risk.

Processed + red meat

Everyone has heard about the increased health risks with these. I have to admit I am partial to a bacon sandwich and the occasional slab of beef but is that potentially going to kill me? Well processed meat has been classified as a ‘definite ’cause of cancer and red meat is ‘probable’ according to cancer research UK. It goes as far as saying processed eat is a ‘carcinogen’ something that causes cancer. The evidence has been building for years and is supported by a lot of careful research but what does it mean, how much is it sensible to eat? Let’s be clear, yes a prolonged high meat diet isn’t terribly good for you but a steak, bacon sarnie or sausage bap a couple of times a week isn’t much to worry about. And overall the risks are much lower than for or things such as smoking! It’s a good source of some nutrients such as protein, iron and zinc. It’s just about being sensible and not eating too much too often.

Who likes a bit of sugar? Don’t be fibbing now, everyone likes sugar but so do cancer cells! Sugar in our food is a major problem in today’s society. It’s not even a matter of having too many sugars in our tea, or an extra biscuit here and there. So many foods contain sugar and most of us are unaware. Don’t even get me started on fizzy drinks! I’m partial to the odd energy drink or tin of coke but I don’t rely on them like I see with others. The daily sugar intake in those is scary. So too much sugar is bad but why in terms of cancer? Well sugar essentially feeds tumours and encourages cancer growth.

I’ve found by cooking from fresh you can keep control of your sugar intake. Again, it’s keeping it at a sensible level! Although not a food, alcohol is another obvious cancer risk. I see more and more people’s reliance of alcohol. That generally leads to smoking too. I’ve witnessed the effects of having a taste for both through a lifetime with my dad and he unfortunately lost his life to cancer. He smoked and drank most of his life.

So is there anything that actually helps reduce the risk? On the reader’s digest page they suggest 30 foods to help prevent cancer http://www.rd.com/health/conditions  unsurprisingly it’s full of fruit and veg. Healthier diets could prevent 1 in 10 cancers. Without named all 30 I’ve picked out a few that we probably all eat and didn’t realise they have great benefits.

Garlic   ▪Broccoli    ▪Grilled salmon    ▪Ginger      ▪Mediterranean diet

Apples    ▪Coffee   ▪Antioxidants 

The governments eat well guide is a good indicator to a healthy diet. That’s if you want to of course. No harm in looking eh? No matter how much we try and help ourselves to lead a healthier lifestyle, that doesn’t mean we are immune to cancer or any other health issue. No one is immune, I guess the moral of the story is to lead it in a way which makes us happy. As the old cliche goes, live each day like its your last. This post is only a guide, a point of reference if you so wish to follow it. Just try and live without regrets. Don’t deny yourself that bacon sarnie either 😉 just don’t live on them!

PEARL IZUMI INDUCTION DAY

We ride for fun, perhaps we race or we are involved in the sport in no shortage of ways but when we are acknowledged for what we do it’s always a great feeling! I’ve been riding, racing and fundraising  with bikes for many years. I’ve never asked for thanks, or be showered with gratitude but the past weekend I got just that and it felt so great. On Friday I flew to England to go to Pearl Izumi HQ to meet the team and learn about the brand I was to represent for this coming year.

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I had been one of 50 people around the UK  to be chosen to be an ambassador. We are guinea pigs essentially as PI have never done a programme like this in the UK, only the U.S. Pearl Izumi, the biggest cycling clothing brand in the world were restructuring their advertising and marketing  in a sense and were trying to get passionate, everyday cyclists to show off the range. As we went through some presentations we learned what was expected of us and how the brand wanted to be portrayed to the cycling community. With so much competition in the market this could be a new fresh way of getting the name out there.

After our induction, ride after lunch and collection of our team gear, we all had time to reflect on the experience. Speaking with some of the brand team, they were so thankful for us all coming. They wanted people like me who dedicate their lives to their sport to showcase them. They believed in my ambitions and plans and charity work and in turn I believe in them. I felt like a pro for the first time and only time. With my current challenge I have referred to the lack of motivation sometimes with the sheer size of the distance I need to cover. This is just another little boost to the ego and mindset to get me through those hard times. Sometimes I feel like my riding 10000 miles is underestimated but I no longer do 

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The Pearl Izumi team and my fellow teammates gave me such great words of encouragement and respect to what I’m doing and for it to come from such amazing individuals themselves, all doing amazing things for their sport, charities, organizations and personal goals, it is a proud moment for me to associated with this. So the rest of my challenge and the rest of the year, I hope to do everyone proud. Thankyou my fellow Pi teammates, thankyou James Hards and the Pi team for your belief in me and the support you’ve passed on. I’m ready to go out on the bike once again tomorrow with a big smile on my face and continue to show the world just what’s possible after beating cancer!

The Cancer Family

The ‘Cancer family’ is something I’ve referred to a few times in my blogs. It’s one of the most important aspects to my recovery from cancer, I can’t stress that enough!

Now I’m not necessarily referring to my actual family, of course they where there for me. My cancer family where those fellow survivors, fighters, amazing people in which cancer had affected in one way or another. They were my support network who knew how I was feeling and made me feel ‘normal’. Because of their importance to me I feel like I should at least dedicate this to them. Some of them unfortunately are no longer with us so this is especially for them!

The ‘Hope’ cancer support group where a lifeline for me when I needed them most. I had recently finished treatment and I was at a loss as to what to do, where to go, how to cope with everything I was dealing with mentally.I referred to the mental affects in my last blog, it’s something that could destroy you if you let it and it was at that point. The ‘Hope’ group where there for me. I thought at the time when I couldn’t find a specific testicular cancer support group to go to that I was going to have to deal with this on my own when I was then pointed in the direction of hope. They where local to me, they sounded like it was worth a go. What did I have to loose? In today’s times, cancer support groups are everywhere. Charities etc realised the importance of them and with the numbers on the rise, the group’s became more popular. The need for that help was never more in need.

This wasn’t necessarily the case when I had cancer. Although when I look back on it I know I had no shortage of support, that support is now better than ever and easier to get hold of! 

With what I felt was a lack of options for me at the time, I decided I had to give the group a go. I was nervous, nearly to the point where I didn’t go. All the usual emotions were there, will they really understand?? Will they accept me?? Will I be able to deal with my problems through this group?? 

Well what can I say! Going to the group and walking through that door for the first time was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. When I got home that first night I just knew I was going to beat this once and for all. A huge weight was lifted. I still had a long way to go but those people I met that night where exactly what I needed. That was nearly ten years ago, I went religiously every month and it took years for me to finally get to a point where I accepted it all. Even with that I still continued to go to the group. They where an important part of my life and always will be and up until last year when the group was put on hold, I attended. I still to this day keep in touch. Words will never be able to properly describe the positive affect the group had on me. I have so much to be thankful for and I can’t stress enough how much of a benefit it can be for you if you need the help. I found this more than anything to be the best in helping me deal with my demons. There is no harm in trying, it could be the best decision you make also! 

The support groups extend further than that for me though. ‘Friends of the cancer centre’ where my first port of call. The charity has been close to my heart ever since and they’re one of the main reasons I do the fundraisers I do! The charity is only small in the big scheme of things but they have a massive impact on the local cancer scene in Northern Ireland. As far as I’m concerned, they couldn’t have done more for me. From the moment I walked in, feeling confused and unsure how to deal with everything, their professionalism and just caring attitude made me realise everything was going to be ok. Even to this day they welcome me with open arms and appreciate everything I do for the charity. That’s all because of the appreciation for them though. Sometimes charities get a lot of stick for various reasons but I can say ‘ fotcc’ is one of the good ones. They go the extra mile to help the ‘cancer family’ they care so much about. Anybody looking the support but maybe find going to a group intimidating, try your local charity. They can help in various ways, even supplying a social worker to talk one to one with can be enough. Never be afraid to ask. They will all be willing to support as their main concern is you! Never forget that! 

The mental affects of having cancer.

Let’s face facts, we all at some point in our lives go through troubled times, not necessarily health related, it could be anything but something that  really hits home and affects us mentally. We’d be very lucky in life if we didn’t but then that’s all part of life?

Cancer could be one of those ‘troubled times’ . Being given that diagnosis can affect us in many ways, before,during and after the ordeal. Let me stress that this is entirely normal! Sometimes we can feel embarrassed etc for struggling with all this turmoil mentally. I felt like that and tried to bottle my emotions from everyone. This didn’t help me at all. As embarrassed as I was I knew I couldn’t continue on the destructive path I was on! Me being a typical man, I was trying to be macho, trying to ignore that I couldn’t cope. Trying to pretend that my thoughts and feelings would pass. I just couldn’t understand what was happening to me. When I got my diagnosis I kind of imagined the hardest bit would be the surgery and chemotherapy. It was physically bloody hard but never did I imagine how hard  it would be in a mental capacity!

The cancer tortured me, I even tortured myself at times and half the time I didn’t know why. Not being able to control what I was thinking was scary for me. I like control, I like being able to have things in order, be organised but the mental pressures of having had cancer was stopping all that and was turning me into someone I didn’t like!  When things got so bad I knew I had to get help. At the time I wasn’t sure how but at least I was able to admit that I needed help. It’s being able to recognise that, it’s not always easy but it’s important you do for your future.

Some people I’ve talked to have described the cancer process similar to grieving. I think in some ways it is. Grieving usually consists of a number of stages all of which relate to cancer.

Denial and isolation

Anger

Depression

Acceptance 

Personally the first point doesn’t apply to me. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t try and deny the facts, it was happening to me! For many though they don’t want to believe it. The isolation I think happens a lot  though during the whole process. You can feel alone, feel like no-one understands and your just drifting away and in turn you push those closest away! At this point was when I really needed to get help. Not necessarily the first, second or even the third time I felt this, it was the turning point though. However I needed to be able to have people around me that knew how I felt, made me feel like I wasn’t some sort of diseased rat.

Anger can crop up in various forms. Sometimes the drugs we’re on can cause us to lash out but the one way I found the most destructive was that anger that built up deep inside us. The anger that bubbles like a cauldron. All those thoughts that annoy us, upset us, they all get added to the pot and it gets to the point whereby we believe there is no hope anymore. We become negative, we dismiss anything positive. It no longer becomes possible for anyone to simply encourage a positive attitude towards you and remind you everything will be ok because your so angered and bitter about it that you don’t care and you take it out on those around you. It’s not their fault but it’s not yours either. Falling into that anger trap is easy but getting out of the rut isn’t! There is only so many angry outbursts those closest to you will take and if they give up on you because of no longer being able to talk to you then either you recognise this quickly or hope someone just takes you to the side and tells you how it is. May sound harsh but it may be the only way to bring you to your senses! I got so angry for years after. I hated the word cancer, hated everything about it. I guess parts of that have never left me. Although I accept what happened, with looking at life differently I get angered by those that take life for granted! I shouldn’t but I do and I guess I’ll always have that in me. It’s a very small  part of my personality  but I can control it. It probably always goes back to the’why me?’ ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Attitude and then getting annoyed by those that don’t embrace what they have instead of thinking the world owes them! Getting help got me through it though.

Depression is a word I detest! Those that know me well will know my thoughts and feelings on this. I believed that the word depression is so over used. People on a daily basis say ‘oh I’m depressed’ etc. Are they really? I heard it so often and seen so many people self diagnosing themselves that I got to the point I didn’t believe it was actually  a condition. With having cancer and being involved with others with cancer over the years I began to see it was indeed a condition! When someone is clinically diagnosed with it, for that person they must be going through hell!  I was never diagnosed with depression that’s why I don’t say I was however if the way I felt after cancer was even close, it isn’t pleasant! I mentally really struggled for a very long time. I’m lucky  I’m pretty strong and over time I spent many an hour thinking my thoughts over. With help also I eventually managed to overcome my struggles. Those dark days I really didn’t know what to do. I blamed myself for getting cancer, I was nearly starting to believe the voices in my head. Some people when at this point will just not be able to cope, others will but they’ll go through many a dark day. Depression isn’t a sign of personal failure or an inability to cope. Try not to blame yourself or feel guilty.

Acceptance is the last step. Sometimes it feels like you’ll never get to that point but have faith as I know you will! Your well on your way to finally beating cancer once and for all! Acceptance can’t happen by doing it on your own. At least I don’t think so. There is no shame in getting help or even asking for it. Look at it as the doctor giving you a prescription. You need it and in using it, it will mark you better. Hopefully if you can accept having cancer you can move on with your life and live again! You can’t change the past but you can make sure it doesn’t affect the future no more.

A quick point I want to cover is the mental affects of cancer on relationships. Sometimes it doesn’t just affect the patient but the partners and loved ones also. It can be a great strain for both and can change the way the relationship works. There can be changes in roles, responsibilities. That can sometimes make you feel anxious, awkward and even judged. The moral of the story is though that both sides are probably struggling but don’t give up on each other. You don’t need to always talk about it, just stick by each other no matter what.

Don’t let cancer win and not only destroy you but those around you too! It might feel like that’s the easiest way to get it over with but believe me when I say there are amazing people out there within the ‘cancer family’ who want to help. They aren’t hard to find but when you do you won’t be sorry. They will lift you up when your down and show you there is life after cancer. The cancer family I will talk about more in future blogs.

This topic is so diverse, I’m probably only touching the surface but hopefully what I’ve written is some sort of help and kind of makes it a bit clearer. If your currently going through the stages, all I can say is your doing brilliant. Keep your head held high and in no time you’ll be happier than you’ve ever been!

 

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