I didn’t think I’d survive cancer to see today – it’s my 40th birthday

IT’S my birthday, a birthday I never thought I would see.

And right now I am definitely going to cry because I want to, laugh because I can – and most likely throw up with chemo side effects at some point in the day.

Reaching this milestone is really significant for so many reasons.

I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer when I was just 35.

I always knew the statistics were stacked against me. The idea of reaching my fifth decade seemed almost impossible.

I never let myself picture me as a 40-year-old.

I never dreamed I would get here.

That’s because there was no textbook example of someone like me, who had lived five years after diagnosis.

I didn’t have any hope to cling to.

But herein lies the beauty of modern medicine and scientific research.

I am alive today, celebrating this birthday with my husband Seb, kids Hugo and Eloise, my parents, brother and sister, friends and family thanks to science.

When I was diagnosed, the drugs that I was taking up until earlier this year – the ones that kept me alive for so long – weren’t available for bowel cancer patients.

Had I been diagnosed ten years ago, not five, I wouldn’t have made this milestone.

I am living proof that cancer care and treatments can change a lot in five years.

Right now, I am still undergoing brutal chemotherapy in the hope it bides me more time.

When my drugs stopped working earlier this year, my liver started to fail. 

I was rushed for an emergency operation to insert a stent into my bile duct, in the hope it would reverse the liver failure.

It worked. And it meant my body was finally strong enough to withstand chemo again.

But, beyond chemo my options are limited and things are getting a bit hairy.

My biggest hope is that a new treatment will rear its head.

My biggest fear is there are no more treatment options.

That’s why my emotions are all over the show today. I am completely overwhelmed.

Of course I am over the moon at the chance to celebrate 40.

But I am terrified that if there are no more options, no more clever treatments waiting in the wings, this really could be my last birthday.

I’ve thought that every year since I was diagnosed.

But I am pretty crippled with fear this birthday, because the stakes are so much higher and I feel more poorly than I ever have.

I am more emotional than I thought I would be. I’ve spent the week bursting into tears, crying to my husband.

I keep asking myself, "OK, I’ve made it to five years, I’ve reached my goal. Am I just going to drop dead now?"

I’ve never thought beyond this point.

I never let myself dream I would get to make memories with my loved ones, beyond today.

When I get asked what I want for my birthday, I am still in my morbid mindset.

I tell my family only to buy me things that can be passed down to my kids or loved ones – it’s a great excuse for expensive jewellery if nothing else!

Today isn’t just about me. 

It’s about all the friends I have had to say goodbye to, the cancer pals who didn’t get to live to see their milestone birthdays.

And it’s about my loved ones.

Seb and the kids are my rocks, they have been there every step of this horrible journey and are always with me.

I’m spending today with them, I can’t predict what my emotions will do so I am just going to ride the wave and be thankful for now.

Tomorrow, the balloons, cake and bubbles come out and I will let myself enjoy a party with my closest friends and family.

It’s not the massive blow out party I might once have planned, but it’s not bad for someone who only let herself believe she would still be alive a few weeks ago.

I’m totally overwhelmed, in the best possible way.

And so, while I try to take this all in, I thought I would leave you all with a kind of birthday present.

From me to you… it’s the 40 things living with incurable cancer has taught me about living life to the full. 

  1. Life will not go to plan
  2. Make plans, but don’t be scared to rip them up and start again
  3. You can face things you never thought you could
  4. Disney movies will always make you cry
  5. Your body can produce the most ridiculous amount of poo! 
  6. Sometimes it’s OK if all you want to do is cry 
  7. Your body is robust and can tolerate more than you think at times
  8. But your body is fragile, look after it
  9. Be your own cheerleader, back yourself 
  10. Sometimes a girl just needs her mum, even at 40
  11. If you don’t laugh sometimes, you will cry
  12. Sleep is good 
  13. Growing older is a privilege 
  14. Life can be tough and isn’t always fair 
  15. It’s OK to be scared 
  16. It’s OK to enjoy a slower pace of life and not want to be grinding in a nightclub until the wee hours
  17. Dancing fills me with joy
  18. Friends come and go, the best stay for the long ride
  19. I like myself 
  20. Sometimes I really annoy myself
  21. I love my kids so much it hurts at times 
  22. Sometimes I just want peace and quiet and to be left alone
  23. I can be really grumpy when I don’t have food 
  24. I really like cocktails but I can’t deal with a hangover
  25. Sometimes I feel like I'm winging it in life – because I am
  26. I still feel like my 16 year old self inside 
  27. I’m really rubbish at lying
  28. Time is very short 
  29. Heartbreak happens, we don’t all live in a Disney movie 
  30. I believe in miracles
  31. Hope is the most important thing to have in life 
  32. Getting up and getting dressed is sometimes the only thing you can achieve in a day – and that is awesome
  33. Celebrate everything 
  34. Don’t hold grudges, life is too short 
  35. Know your body, don’t ignore those niggling symptoms
  36. Ask for help. We can’t be hero’s everyday! 
  37. Be kind to others
  38. Love hard 
  39. Take risks in life
  40. Just say yes – what’s the worst that can happen?

Do me a favour, make the most of it. You never know what might happen next.

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