I was told my life expectancy would change

People or Google don't have the final say on how long your life is

I was presented with a choice: absorb the data around my cancer diagnosis or choose to believe a higher power had my life covered. I chose the latter. It wasn't really an option. I don't want to move forwards with my life worrying about how long I might or might not have. My cancer doctor told me to cross my fingers, but I told him I'd definitely be praying instead. To not be fazed about the data surrounding any challenging situation, you've got to look at something bigger. Something grander, more steadfast and powerful to hold onto.

Well, guess what? It's raining in Manchester. I know, shocking news. But I'm just mentioning that in case this highly sensitive microphone picks up that noise in the background, there's just rain bouncing off the window. I'm feeling closeted in and cosy though, chatting to you. We're going to go from chit chat about the weather to being told that my life expectancy would change. So, I mean, there's no easy gear shift from those two topics. But um, yeah, context. I hope you've heard some of the previous episodes. I share the fact that I've basically been underground for about 10 months. Not on social media, not posting, not writing or putting out any podcast episodes because last May, I basically couldn't eat and I was diagnosed with oesophagus cancer. So I'm sharing my journey about what's happened. And my recovery. The amazing news is: it was treatable, and I am in remission now. So it's incredible. But the surgery was quite major. As I've shared on the last episode, I had part of my oesophagus cut away, the tumour removed, my stomach reshaped. I have a whole new relationship with food now.

There's a number of specialists I've seen along my recovery journey.

Some of the treatment was at my local hospital, which incredibly specialises in oesophagus related issues. The upper GI Ward, oh my gosh, their expertise is second to none. And also, we've got a large cancer treatment centre in Manchester called the Christie. So I had chemotherapy there. In both those places, both consultants reinforce this idea around the issues of aggressive cancers which oesophagus cancer is. They're expected to do that as part of their job, they have to manage my expectations. One of the things I was told was, without any numbers attached to it, was my life expectancy could change. Now, I have to admit, as horrendously entitled as this sounds, I'm one of these people, probably like many, that's just assumed, I'm going to reach old lady status. Loving life and having a full life, into my 80s. Assuming that I'm somewhere at the halfway point of it all, which is obviously a massive assumption.

I don't know what the future holds in terms of that.

I definitely don't sit around, after having had this diagnosis, worrying about how long my life is going to be. I've actually had the fortune since being a teenager really, of always trying to live life to the fullest. I think that's just the best way to live. And occasionally, I've slipped into being tempted to have an easier life or wanting to coast. But that can just be excessive work or tiredness talking. And I think we all want phases in life where we crave that. I would generally say my default is living life quite fully and making things that matter. One of my values actually, is not just have dreams or things that I journal about. But make them into actual reality. I choose to try and live like that.

When I heard the doctors say about life expectancy stuff, I just didn't really take it.

Not in an arrogant way, but genuinely I was like, this doesn't change anything about how I continue to live. And I think the other thing that I put a stop to early on, in my treatment, was a bit of a habit of going on Google, and looking up stuff around oesophagus cancer. I know, some really dear friends did admit that they also did something similar. And I'll be honest, like any serious illness, Google will present the data that falls in the more extreme end of things. Or it's just not very refined. I'm an anomaly with the data as very few women of my age get this illness. So it's like comparing a fit and healthy 40 year old woman who, (okay smoked back in the 90s as a teenager) and comparing it with someone that's in their 60s or 70s, that might still smoke or only quit smoking five or 10 years previously. So your life expectancy, of course, is going to change with all those other variables. So yeah, Google, I just ditched it and I asked friends to not bother doing that. I think, for me to be so clear about having the confidence to rebuff, or not absorb what a medical professional said to me is, I just don't feel the doctors have got the final word on something so huge as my life expectancy.

What weighs in for me, is the fact that I have God in my life.

Specifically, I focus on the character and what I know about God to be like. His kindness, His Majesty, His vastness, His power, His love. The way He can absolutely transcend difficult situations. That's where my energy and focus go. I think it's a big reason I absolutely wasn't incapacitated mentally, or just riddled with anxiety. There were honestly some supernatural things that happened. Because I do struggle with anxiety and had a rough ride with my mental health. I tend to assume the best about how God is doing something so outrageously good, basically, in spite of all these challenges. I know I've had a few years of shitness basically. I'm approaching my future and even just building something with this brandโ€ฆ courage has such a huge impact on our creativity. I do that because I believe it's something God has just put in my heart to do and I feel his smile on me.

I hope this doesn't sound too cheesy. I think, doing this podcast and putting stuff out about courage to try and help other people. And if this story does impact other people, my desire is to impart courage. You know, things will actually get better. I'm living proof of that. I think a couple of things occurred to me in terms of what I had to work on, even before I had cancer, which put me in great stead for when I was ill. I had to deal with two things, which was a lot of fear, and a lot of offence. I've shared in another episode the issue of heartache and how I was very heartbroken about a business that didn't work, how and I ended up with terrible burnout and just felt completely at sea when I had to exit this startup that I'd part created and put my heart and soul into. It had a lot of recognition: in national press, it was picked up by The Sunday Telegraph, Vogue, BBC. It was a dating app that was affecting a lot of people's lives. It was even, you know, basically matchmaking, people that were in my close circle. Oh, boy, the absolute bittersweetness of watching people fall in love via something that you've created, but can't actually partake in it. Gosh, it is such a headmash, that's putting it politely. I was so hurt and so angry. And yeah, it was like literally, for the sake of my own sanity, I had to deal with fear and offence. Otherwise it would totally skew anything that I wanted to make creatively speaking. I'm not this type of person, but (unresolved) over time, it would breed cynicism and real uptight bitterness. And I think that's something that ages people, and repels good things in your life from happening. I've seen people from a distance that have not forgiven or been so offended by something that's really hurt them, trauma, genuine trauma. And it's not been processed out.

I was so fortunate that I had incredible friends that were able to sit with me and speak to me and work out where the goodness of God was in all the mess.

And also, I did see a life coach as well who I love to bits. But I think if you don't have those structures in place, and those safe sounding boards, I think, offence can eat people up. It's so saddening, and it really is evident. I think in people's creativity. it stifles the big potential that people can have to make good stuff, particularly stuff that can serve people. And I think there's something powerful when our creativity is serving people or solving a problem or helping people. I think that's when creativity is potent. Thatโ€™s near on impossible if you're trying to lead with so much offence or fear going on, on the inside. So I was determined to deal with it. I'm not embarrassed to admit this, but it probably took me 18 months - two years to properly work through.

Then there were some things that happened rapidly. Iโ€™m the first to admit that I had a lot of rage. It was lingering as I was working through Call On Courage. I still felt the rage of why a lot of things didn't make sense and why some things in my life were going at a snail's pace. I saw people that were being blessed in certain departments of their life. It's easy to compare, isn't it? The cancer dealt with a lot of that anger. If you commit to doing the work of overcoming pain, itโ€™s one of the most powerful, liberating things that you can invest in yourself. We focus on knowledge and education and achievement and abilityโ€ฆ But processing pain is, oh my gosh, it undergirds all of that stuff. All of that stuff in such a big way. Do it with safe people. Talk it through and get upset. Have a space to be angry and pissed off. But do it with people that you can really trust who are wise and can see your life from a perspective that maybe you can't always see.

One thing I put to my surgeon: indirectly or not, did I actually cause this cancer?

Lifestyle wise I was doing some things that were excessive when I was in the startup. Particularly around parties and going out. I'd get totally shit faced. I was running on adrenaline because of my job role. Alcohol fueled some unhelpful stuff. I wanted to know, had some of that behaviour contributed to me having a tumour? I don't know if I was just told this out of sheer kindness. What alleviated so much guilt I was told unequivocally, no, you haven't caused it. A couple of people had asked me about my lifestyle and this illness - it was obviously going through their head. It was super helpful to separate myself from that fact. It's unhealthy to make that connection. Whatever type of illnesses, to really linger on the fact that you think you've played your part in making yourself unwell, is a layer of shame and guilt thatโ€™s not good. To detach myself from that was great.

The other thing that I wanted to share was a very powerful conversation the second time I went to A&E. This second time I was on a Saturday and a locum doctor got to see me. This guy was not English. I can say that in the most lovely way possible. I think he was Iranian because he did something culturally, just a British doctor wouldn't do. He really spent some time doing a thorough physical examination. He pushed a lot around my stomach to see if there were any lumps or just areas of pain within my tummy. And there wasn't really. So he couldn't come to a full diagnosis.

But he was probably the first doctor in that setting that asked me some questions around my lifestyle. He probed and everything came out of me, very raw, around the burnout. The sense I'd screwed up, and lingering sense of failure with it. I've since let go of that idea. But at the time, I was really feeling heavy. Heavy feelings of failure. And this doctor literally asked some questions that hit a nerve, and I was upset, visibly upset. He was the first doctor that just held my hand, and let me cry it out. He made space for me in this way, in a private room, in a very busy A&E. It turned out, he was a Muslim, a man of faith. And when he heard about this issue with the start up, and the fact it was a Christian business, one of the things that he reiterated to me, he just said,

โ€˜God will never hurt you. And God will never do anything deliberate, to cause harm in your life.โ€™

I really just needed to hear that at that time. Because it was taking time to really rebuild trust between me and God with everything that happened. And that sentence really cut through at that time, it was just absolutely what I needed to hear. I think when you're in pain, those conversations weigh in heavy, heavier than normal. They really stand out. And yeah, kindness is so powerful in that situation. So I hope you've enjoyed this episode. Thank you so much for listening.

Keep being courageous x

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