Cancer Free — Israel Keep me Safe

Last time I wrote for the Times of Israel I had just started navigating the Israeli Health System after my cancer diagnosis. I was doing it with 4 years worth of Hebrew and to say it has been hard is an understatement.

I have refrained from writing for quite a while because it felt frivolous to write about something else, without updating you about the cancer but at the same time, I really didn’t want to only write about cancer! It isn’t the most enthralling topic.. I haven’t given you every gory detail of my treatment. You don’t need it and I don’t want to write about it. Living through it once was more than enough. I’m sorry that I have been away so long but I’m back and I am here to stay.

The reason that I am back and that I am here to stay, is that today I received the news that I have been waiting for. The news that my friends and my family have been waiting for too. My MRI results came back clear. I have beaten the breast cancer. I can finally say that ‘I had cancer’ rather than ‘I have cancer’ and the feeling I get when I think about that is impossible to describe. It is a mix of joy, relief and regret. When I stop shaking and crying I am hoping that my feelings will be clearer but I really didn’t want to wait to update the Blog. I wanted to let you know that I am still here.

I have had surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological therapy. I have two more IV treatments left and then biological therapy will end at the end of January. I am now taking Tamoxifen tablets and I will take this for 5 years to give me the best chance of non re-occurrence. Thanks to great people, The Israeli health system and modern medicine I have beaten cancer for the time being. I have beaten it. It has spat me out the other side just like I said it would.

Last week we celebrated my son’s 13th Birthday and his Barmitzvah. There was once a time where I wasn’t sure I would see it. I genuinely don’t have the words to describe the gift that was given to me, both in my child and in being alive to celebrate with him. We should never forget to celebrate – life is for living. As my hair has grown a little, I thought it was time to do something with the new hair. Blue and Silver is the new Grey!

My journey isn’t over. A chapter has closed but another one has opened. Many people thought me strong because I wrote about my experience and shared it widely rather than hiding and dealing with it in private. I feel very strongly that it is only just, that I continue to share the journey, even though what I write may be ‘taboo’ for some people. I am not worried by that. I refuse to hide behind closed doors as this journey continues and I get on with living my life to the full.

I had genetic testing a little white ago and it revealed that I do have a mutated gene that means my risk of ovarian cancer is massive and my risk of getting breast cancer in the previously unaffected breast is high. For these reasons, I need to take action to keep me safe. The first thing that will happen is that I will have surgery to remove my ovaries. This is keyhole surgery and fairly routine. I have a pre-op appointment at the end of March and I think it will probably be done soon after. Although the surgery is routine, the effect of doing this surgery means that my hormone levels will drop suddenly and fiercely and I will enter what is known as ‘surgical menopause’ This can be a nasty experience because it doesn’t give the natural transition in to menopause that we were designed to have. It just hits you. Well as far as I am concerned I have done the hot sweats thing during chemo and if I have to do them again to keep me safe, so be it. BRING IT ON.

That just leaves the things that my son dreams of not hearing about in our home, just for one day – Breasts, Boobs, Tits. Ok I said it. We talk about boobs here an awful lot. It really went past being funny some time ago yet we still do it. It is very likely that I will have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. For those who are lucky enough not to know the term, it means the removal of both breasts and the creation of new ones, most probably using my own tissue (yay tummy tuck!). I can’t have this kind of surgery for at least two years after radiotherapy as it affects the outcome and healing so I have plenty of time to decide if this is what I want to do. The recommendation is that my breasts are removed as this will give me the best chance of not getting another breast cancer. It isn’t foolproof and there are no guarantees. It is cancer and with cancer there simply are no guarantees.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer I didn’t know too many people that had gone through the treatment. As time went by, many people revealed their ‘secret’ cancers and I learned a lot about how people deal with things in a very personal way. I want you to know that I am not sharing these ‘taboo’ subjects lightly. I am writing about what comes next for me because I have seen too many people go through these experiences quietly, secretly and without proper support. If my Blog makes just one person feel that they can talk to someone about their experience or can reach out to someone or talk about something openly that they thought had to be a secret, then something good has come of my sharing. I know that the moment people talk about ‘ladyparts’ the room goes quiet. It shouldn’t be like that. We are not living in medieval times. These are literally lifesaving operations, designed to keep us safe. It is about time we talked about them loud and proud. Can they take my breasts to keep me alive – HELL YES and once again BRING IT ON.

I am thankful for being in Israel during my treatment. My friends in England are not entitled to the same periodic checks that I will be and that puts that at risk. It is scary stuff and I may have to do it in my second language but I have access and I am more than grateful. I know how lucky I am. My next post will not be about cancer. It is time I wrote about something else. Before I sign off though I have some messages.

To my friends and family who have recently lost someone to cancer, there are no words. Not everyone beats it and my heart goes out to you. Stay strong. Life is for living and you have to carry on. Your memories will never die but you are here and you have a life to lead. Please cherish every moment of it.

To those of you who are fighting the cancer now, you can do it. It is hard but you can do it. You are strong, inside and out. The cancer can be shrunk, tamed and spat out. Take strength from wherever you need it. Ask for the help that you need. Do it your way and only your way. Only you know what is best for you.

About the Author
Born in Manchester in the UK, Catherine has lived in nearly 30 homes in seven cities and landed in Modi'in, Israel with her husband and son in 2010.