PUBLISHED ON: 18 September 2020

Maureen reflects on her secondary breast cancer diagnosis during a cathartic trip to Scotland.

Maureen sitting with her mum

Seeing my family was like a weight had been lifted

I recently got back from Scotland, where I spent a whole week visiting family and friends I’d not seen since at least last November.

It felt like a weight had been lifted from me. I swear that for much of the time I was there, I came as close as I possibly could to forgetting that I have incurable breast cancer.

The main reason I went to Scotland was to see my mum. This wonderful lady is 83, has dementia and lives in a care home in my home city of Glasgow. She is very well looked after but things are tough with the pandemic. The restrictions on visiting are very tight – for example, indoor visiting is banned. In common with thousands like her, my mum is struggling to understand what is happening and is suffering from the lack of social interaction and physical exercise.

Maureen on the phone with her mum

My diagnosis feels far away from me

Over the course of seven days, I saw as much of my mum as I possibly could.

I had four 30 minute “window visits” where I spoke to her on the phone while standing outside her room with her inside at the window. I also had one 30 minute socially distanced face-to-face visit in the grounds of the care home.

I have five brothers. While my mum now struggles to remember who we are, there’s still a connection. Even if she can’t process the fact that the person standing there in front of her is her daughter, she knows that the concept of daughter is important and that the person talking to her is important to her.

I felt relaxed, cared for and loved throughout the whole trip. Despite talking about my situation at length to anyone who cared to and was brave enough to ask, I became aware many, many times throughout my stay that the fact that I have incurable breast cancer was as far back in my consciousness as it’s been since I was diagnosed over a year ago.

I spent the week off treatment

I’m currently on the oral chemotherapy drug, capecitabine, and it helped that the week I was in Scotland coincided with my week off treatment.

On the week off, I don’t have to eat at a specific time, twice a day. I can skip breakfast if I want. I can have a late supper without having to remember to eat a snack a couple of hours earlier to stay within the 11 to 13 hour range that I think is acceptable. I don’t have to think about whether I need to take that evening’s supply of tablets out with me in case I’m not at home. I turn off the “Tablets AM” and “Tablets PM” reminders on my phone. It’s nice.

I packed a lot into the week, but it never felt rushed.

I try not to worry about not being here

I try not to worry about possibly not being here for specific events such as graduations, anniversaries or weddings – the events we fear we’ll miss may never happen – but it’s not exactly easy.

A book I read when I was up in Scotland has a scene in it where the protagonist on her wedding day is thinking of her mother, who died years earlier. She senses her mother’s presence in an almost physical way and it makes her feel calm. I hope that when I’m gone and people feel they have need of me, they too will be able to find some sort of peace.

The pandemic forces us to make choices. You balance the risk of catching or unknowingly spreading the virus against your desire or need to go to certain places and do certain things. I didn’t need to go to Scotland but I chose to go. I took care on the hygiene front and on the social distancing front I did what I could. Everyone was very accommodating. Almost everyone I came across was complying with the recommendations on social distancing and mask-wearing. I felt safe.

I also didn’t need to have a massive hug with each of my brothers or they with me, but hug we did.

My treatment is enabling me to get on with my life

The first thing I did when I got back home to London was go to hospital to have blood taken for the regular end-of-cycle tests. The following day I saw the oncologist for the results. I’m tolerating capecitabine well, the relevant tumour marker is down again and all the other blood test results were good enough to switch there and then from a three-week cycle of two weeks on and one week off, to a four-week cycle of one week on and one week off, times two.

So it’s back to enforced breakfasts and reminders on my phone and, more importantly, taking the cancer treatment that for the moment at least is enabling me to get on with living my life.

Maureen's beloved mum became unwell shortly after Maureen's trip to Glasgow and sadly died on August 28th. She was surrounded by her family in her final days and had a peaceful end.

You can read the original version of this post on Maureen’s blog I am the one in eight.


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