There’s no doubt this is a tough journey but I think it’s equally as hard for those around you who offer you support. They’ve literally no clue what to do, what to say, and generally feel helpless. You change as a person massively. I don’t think anything that strips you right back to the core could do anything else. I asked some of my friends, the close ones who really helped me through this for their thoughts. This is what they wrote:
“Late December 2015, we sat in our usual corner booth to assist in diluting our laughter, chat and occasional swearing! We had our usual, “shall I have diet coke or coffee” dilemma, chatted briefly about Christmas Day, etc., and then Vicki told me she had the results of her biopsy…it wasn’t good…fuck. She hadn’t wanted to tell me Xmas eve when she found out because she didn’t want to ruin my Xmas. Typical Vic always thinking of others and how things might make them feel. As much as I wish she had told me straight away, I totally understand why she didn’t and in hindsight she was right (she likes being right!).
“Inside I was completely and utterly gutted, my stomach flipped and turned over and I had a golf ball size lump in my throat but I wasn’t going to cry. The last thing she needed was me snotting and snorting into my coffee. Luckily, I’m quite good at the stiff upper lip thing when in emotional situations. We talked very practically and very positively about what the coming months were going to entail, from appointments, scans, blood tests to chemo, surgery & radiotherapy. I listened carefully to what she wanted, what she didn’t want (this was very important haha!) and how she was going to handle things.
“To be honest, she had already worked it all out and had everything under control (again, typical Vic!). We said our goodbyes, cracked some inappropriate jokes and arranged to meet the following week. I got in my car and cried, drove home crying and then cried again at home as I relayed everything to my husband. It felt good to get it out but that was it; no more snot, no more tears, I was going to be strong and be the best friend and best support I could possibly be. OK, there may have been a few other private snot occasions in the oncoming months but sshhhh… don’t tell Vicki!
“On reflection, I guess Vicki made this whole experience for me as one of her best friends so much easier to deal with…her positivity, strength, energy, honesty and unique look on life meant that how could I be anything other than all of those things too. I needed to take her lead and assist her in any way I could in order to smash the absolute arse out of this irritating, inconvenience called Cancer! (Vicki’s words!)
“Has Vic changed? Vicki is still the kindest, funniest, super honest, unbelievably positive and unique person that’s she’s always been. However, I think having cancer and this whole experience has taught her to slow down a little, to accept help and to have a healthier, calmer lifestyle (although she can still get very excitable!!).
“Vicki was fabulous before cancer and she’s sure as shit even more fabulous after it!”
“I have this friend. She’s amazing.
“Vicki. She’s had more than her fair share of challenges in 2016 (starting Christmas Eve 2015 to be exact). A brush with cancer.
“So here we are, Vicki. You wanted a few words from me add to your blog. Now, where do I start?
“You said with this blog that you wanted to change people’s attitudes and perceptions of cancer. The bit I’ve learned this year is a) I knew nothing about cancer really b) I did have perceptions – all based on dire chemo stories or terminal cases and therefore my attitude was that ‘it’s a bloody scary thing and I’m going to keep my distance (thank you very much) until I have to.’ My own experiences with cancer until you found your lump were in the very elderly or folks I didn’t really know. And despite (as I’m often reminded) being a small drain on the NHS myself, even when I did the race for life I put a generic story on my race number. But now? Let’s just say that this year, you changed all that.
“15th December 2015 you told me you’d found a lump. ‘Does it hurt,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ you said. “Oh, that’ll be fine,” I said, for both of us. “Google says breast lumps that are cancerous don’t hurt…” So although I worried about you worrying, I didn’t worry about you having cancer. Denial, I think they call that!
“Of course, today we both know that was bollocks. We’ve both changed a lot, I think, and most interestingly for two folks who we thought were pretty similar in many ways, it’s shown me that I don’t think we are so similar after all.
“I LOVE that we’ve laughed and cried our way through this. I had never seen you cry, you didn’t do crying, or hugging for that matter and look at you now!!!
“I especially have loved our texts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrolled back and laughed until I’ve cried at our nonsense. One day I am going to get some 9-year-old to show me how to download it all and then I think we can sell the movie rights for millions! And that would be just one more positive on a huge list of positives that your really shit luck has brought us, eh?
“Now…how on earth could you for one second ask me to give you a few words for your blog because you think this experience has been harder for your friends than for you? Let’s get this straight – just because you’ve made this look like a walk in the park to the WHOLE BLEEDIN WIDE WORLD (INCLUDING YOUR MEDICAL TEAM), that doesn’t mean it WAS/IS a walk in the park. I do want you to inspire people so that they can better support themselves or their families and show them that you can beat it, that you will get through it… but that shouldn’t take away from the mental stress and physical pain that you’ve just cracked on and dealt with like superwomen. So yes, VC, go on and change some attitudes and perceptions, but it still won’t make it an easy thing to get through – which is why you need family and friends.
“I’m so proud and please to be your friend. We’ve got closer for sure, which is a tad different from where we started. You’ve always had stacks of friends and a social life I could never keep up with. And so actually at the start, the biggest challenge for me was knowing where to fit in, versus where to not to step over the mark and be closer than you would like. With that, the distance between where we live was a bugger. Well, I thought it would be. Me not driving and you with chemo – good job I had a hubby chauffer and you were more mobile, out and about than I would have ever imagined. From then until now I’d say you’ve become choosier with your friends. Glad I made it in!
“If I’m honest, you made December 2015 to 8th July 2016 look like a breeze most of the time. And you looked beautiful throughout. From your new eyebrows, your head shave and then Bob… that photo of you in Spain with your blue short suit and Bob on is perhaps the most beautiful (and ironically healthy/positively glowing) I have ever seen you look.
“So here’s where we should talk more positives? To make the point again, it hasn’t been hard at all to be your friend through this. I hadn’t made cakes for years but I started again to bring you a Victoria sponge – that’s a good thing. We’ve discovered new parks to walk our dogs, meeting halfway to save you doing all the driving, again! We popped to Spain so you could hug my olds. Oh and learn to love Rioja – although you said you didn’t drink red. We even managed to squeeze in a cruise – a new adventure for us both.
“I am sad that you’ve had pain and stress and worry, but as much as cancer isn’t as fatal or as scary as we perhaps all thought it was/is, it has been hard for you. You just made it look pretty easy. It wasn’t. Through this I love that you’ve learned to take your honesty and create an openness too. You love – and have always loved – being busy, but now you love just ‘being’ and taking some time out. If it was hard, it was hard to watch as it tested you, and it pained you. But it didn’t bloody get you, and we’re all left with an even better you. Bloody Brilliant!!!”
On Christmas Eve 2015, I was given a very important job that was a long way from my usual Christmas celebrations. I was attending the breast clinic with my lovely friend. She had found a rather large lump. Was I worried? YES! Worried enough to travel two hours on Christmas Eve.
I arrived at Vicki’s house and we were both very apprehensive. We didn’t need words, just a lot of hugs and love and this is where our journey began. Even with this black cloud over her, she still wouldn’t let me drive. We arrived at the hospital and a very disgruntled Vic became even more pissed off – not only could she have cancer, but she had to pay parking fees for the privilege of finding out.
We made our way to the clinic, she gave her details and we took our seats. I couldn’t believe how many women were sat there waiting for their fate on Christmas Eve. We were all just waiting for a doctor’s confirmation. It was a very quiet, thought-provoking time.
Next came the tests, prodding, poking, and tears – a lot of tears – and a heartbreaking cry from my friend who I knew inside out. It was something I had never heard before. There was a mix of fear and desperation, a wail of sadness – but never any self-pity.
Cancer doesn’t care who it effects, cancer doesn’t know the devastation it brings. My dearest kind funny intelligent loving friend had cancer. We had to face it. She would have to deliver the worse news to her boys. My heart broke for her (I’m crying as I’m writing this. I feel like I have been transported back in time). We left the hospital; two friends grieving, not sure of the future or what was to come… and Vicki still found the energy to complain about the parking charges and still refused to let me drive. What else could we do but laugh? It was by far the longest drive home, but I selfishly needed the time to process that hideous day. I let the tears flow. My best friend had cancer.
Vic started her gruelling treatment: chemotherapy, radiotherapy, reconstruction. In her mind, all there seemed to be was the start date and the finish date. It was like just another thing that had to be done and she proved herself to be a very practical, very brave, and a truly remarkable lady who beat that shit! My friend Vicki 💖