We are thrilled to announce that kicking off 2020’s guest blogs, we have our very own Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, Lynda. Lynda is a huge advocate of the Community and the amazing support you all provide every day. The beginning of a New Year can bring many thoughts and feelings, some very difficult and some more hopeful but it can be a really good time to look forward over the coming days, weeks or even months and really take time to focus on what is most important to you. Whether that is spending more time with friends and family, taking time out to make sure you are giving yourself a proper rest, or maybe booking that appointment you have been putting off. Lynda’s piece today focuses on the importance of seeking medical guidance even when it can feel extremely daunting. Sometimes the refreshing nature of a New Year can remind us what is most important to us. So, why not take a moment to read over Lynda’s thoughts?
What a recent health scare taught me - by Lynda
‘I admire the fantastic support that the online Community offers. The variety of groups ensure that people with different cancer diagnoses and experiences get relevant practical information and emotional support at times when the world must seem harsh and confusing. Reading some of the comments, I am struck not only by the quality of the information but by the depth of care that people who post there show. It’s humanity at its best.
Cancer touches everyone. In the past few years both my mum and sister have recovered from breast cancer whilst, sadly, some good friends, have lost their lives to the illness. Whenever a loved one had got in touch with me I have been proud to put them in touch with our Macmillan professionals, information centres, support line and, of course, the online Community.
However, I wasn’t so helpful to myself when a got a nerve-wracking health scare which I finally confronted last year, aged 53. My attitude made me realise that if we’re going to start diagnosing serious illnesses earlier we’re going to need some serious behaviour change.
I was training for the London Marathon in my late 30s when I first noticed a small lump on the back of my head. I would be on the sports massage table after the long Sunday runs and make an excuse not to have that part of my neck touched because I didn’t want to draw attention to or acknowledge the lump.
Over the next decade I became an expert in ignoring its slow but obvious growth. I devised strategies to stop thinking about it or to ever reveal it to anybody. These included only ever wearing my hair in certain ways, always sitting with my back to the wall in restaurants and never looking at the back of my head in the mirror. But over time I noticed my lump more and more - I felt it when I sat in the train, plane or car with my head against the back of the seat, I felt it looming large when leaning against the back of the bath, it even showed up on the more sophisticated X-ray scanners when going through airport security.
By the time I turned 50 my lump was bigger than a golf ball and I was embarrassed to reveal its existence and how long I’d had it for. By now I’m the chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support hiding a secret that I’d urge anybody else to go and get checked out. Apart from me and my hairdresser nobody knew this existed.
Six months before I got the lump seen, it became an even bigger source of anxiety. I thought about the lump first thing in the morning and last thing at night and worried about it every day. I wished that I’d had it looked at when it first appeared and worried that I’d left it too late to do anything about it. It was quite exhausting.
Two things made me act. First, I spent some time in South East Asia last year learning about what cancer services are like in this region. Hearing the stories about women who either couldn’t or wouldn’t have treatment due to cultural reasons compelled me to take up the services in the U.K. that would be ready and waiting for me whatever the diagnosis. Second, both my daughters had spotted the lump and were making it quite clear that they were really concerned about it. I didn’t want to let them down.
Taking the first step to acknowledge something that you’ve buried for a decade is hard. I started in safe territory with a conversation with Macmillan’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Rosie. I was terrified about what she was going to say, was blubbing all over my work desk and wouldn’t let her come near me to look at the lump. I don’t know what I expected - disbelief that I’d suppressed this for so long, anxiety about what this might be or judgement? - but I got calmness, compassion and reassurance. Rosie urged me to make an appointment with my GP and start a process.
Two days later I found myself in the GP waiting room with, what I thought at the time, could be a life-changing consultation. Dr Stuart, like Rosie, was kind. He could see how worried I was and was calm and reassuring but firm. He said he didn’t think it was anything sinister but that it needed looking at quickly and removing.
He referred me for an ultrasound which would give a definitive answer to what we were dealing with and lead to further treatment.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so apprehensive as I was when I attended the ultrasound appointment. It was on a Friday afternoon and my husband came with me. I couldn’t bear to let him know how terrified I was. As I walked into the examination room, I wasn’t sure my legs would carry me in.
In the event this was the changing moment but for the right reasons. The radiologist scanned, sampled and tested the lump and diagnosed an epidermoid cyst. A very big cyst but not life threatening.
I felt like I’d been given a new lease of life and I swear, as I walked home, that the spring flowers smelt better than they’d ever done before.
I was referred to a maxi facial surgeon and had the cyst removed by general anaesthetic on 13th March 2018. The cyst was 8cm long and it took 90 minutes to remove it fully.
I still can’t believe I left such an obvious problem fester for so long. I was lucky and I feel that every day and would urge anybody who has any lumps or bumps to go and get them checked out as soon as they appear.
We want to thank Lynda for taking the time to write this insightful piece for the Community News Blog. If you are concerned about any aspect of your health remember that your GP is there for you for your emotional and physical wellbeing so don’t be afraid to speak to them about your concerns. Do remember as well that you can speak to our Cancer Information Nurses in our ‘Ask a nurse’ page as well as speaking to a Cancer Information Nurse over the phone on the Macmillan Support Line 7 days a week on freephone 0808 808 00 00.
Whatever cancer throws your way, we’re right there with you.
We’re here to provide physical, financial and emotional support.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2020
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