Cancer & me 35 years on - Vol 11 Good news, bad news

Cancer & me 35 years Vol 11 written next to a sketched portrait of Paul by Willo.

We are back today with the next instalment of Willo’s blog series ‘Cancer & me 35 years on’. Willo is a member of our Community who was diagnosed with Anal cancer in 1986 while living in Zambia and has been sharing her experience of life post diagnosis, as well as her amazing artwork, in her blog series with us since last summer.

So far Willo has covered her experience of moving back to England for treatment, her Brachytherapy and Abdominoperineal Resection and the amazing friends and family that helped her through. In today’s blog we pick back up with Willo as she prepares to start a university course in Graphic design at Liverpool Poly.

A detailed pencil sketch by Willo of a busy train carriage full of passengers.

Sketch by Willo - Wigan to Euston

'Once more I heard him snort – “see your solicitor – write to your MP – don’t give up!” I did just that and got my grant.'

A few weeks after my interview I heard that I had been accepted onto the BA (hons) Graphic Design course at Liverpool Poly. I was ecstatic and applied for a grant. It was refused on account of me not being resident in the country for the previous three years. Downhearted I attended an open day at the college and there once again I saw Mr Tall – now known as Paul – and told him his efforts had been in vain as my grant application had been refused. Once more I heard him snort – “see your solicitor – write to your MP – don’t give up!” I did just that and got my grant.

The summer was spent with friends and family, sketching and doing the pre-course work we had been given. I spent several weeks house-sitting for friends in Folkestone (Marion and Juan, in whose house I’d had a studio in Zambia before they moved back to the UK), where they had also invited my parents to stay awhile.

‘I had such a good time in spite of my colostomy and the cancer seemed a million miles away.’

My sons came to visit too on separate occasions and with each of them I took a day trip to Boulogne. I had such a good time in spite of my colostomy and the cancer seemed a million miles away. (Marion actually said that she thought the recurrence of my cancer had been a positive thing as it prompted me to walk away from an oppressive marriage!)

Sketches by Willo of the faces of her friends and family who attended a dinner party.
Sketch by Willo - Faces at a Folkestone Dinner Party

Come the autumn it was back to reality and down to work. I took the course very seriously and found it quite hard, especial the art history - and the thought of writing essays filled me with dread (I’d even failed my O Level English some 30 years earlier!).

‘Field trips were a problem too – youth hostels or cheap hotels with no en suite bathrooms are not conducive to easy living for ostomates, but I coped.’

Field trips were a problem too – youth hostels or cheap hotels with no en suite bathrooms are not conducive to easy living for ostomates, but I coped. Another big problem was the wind. Farting is a wonderful way to ruin a lecture! I developed coping strategies like coughing or knocking my books to the floor. I’m naturally dyspraxic so that came in quite handy as a cover.

‘Another big problem was the wind. Farting is a wonderful way to ruin a lecture! I developed coping strategies like coughing or knocking my books to the floor.’

In May of 1989 (during my first academic year) I attended a Well Woman Clinic and they discovered I had carcinoma in situ of the cervix and so I went into my local hospital to have a cone biopsy and a labial cyst removed. I came around from the anaesthetic only to discover they had been unable to perform the operation as the uterus had slipped into the cavity where my colon once was. It was decided just to monitor the cells with six-monthly smears. The cyst wasn’t removed as they ran out of time!

‘I came around from the anaesthetic only to discover they had been unable to perform the operation as the uterus had slipped into the cavity where my colon once was.’

There were other mature students in my year and I became particularly friendly with Carol, a few years younger who had lived in South Africa, so we had that magnificent continent in common as well as our art and marital status. We sat back to back in our little workspaces and over that first year, Paul, who was one of our tutors on Mondays, would frequently come and chat to us. I discovered he drove through my hometown every day on his way to and from work and he offered to give me a lift. I declined, preferring to drive my old banger to my nearest station and then taking the train to and from Liverpool.

‘There were other mature students in my year and I became particularly friendly with Carol…We sat back to back in our little workspaces and over that first year, Paul, one of our tutors, would frequently come and chat to us.’

One evening I received a surprise phone call from Paul inviting me out for a drink. I was snowed under with college work – and had been determined never to get involved with another man, so declined. He said, “I thought you were my friend!” Well, I went for the drink – and as they say, the rest is history!

 ‘Well, I went for the drink – and as they say, the rest is history!’

Painting by Willo showing a room in a Tudor period style house showing a woman in period costume.
A painting by Willo - 'Samleslesbury, Where I Once Lived'                                                                      

We want to thank Willo for sharing her experiences and artwork with us here today. Why not take a look at the rest of Willo’s series so far? Simply click the links below to see more of Willo’s writing and amazing artwork.

Vol 1 - ‘To begin at the beginning’
Vol 2 – ‘Best friends forever’
Vol 3 – ‘The journey home’
Vol 4 – ‘Brachytherapy

Vol 5 – ‘Jolly hockey sticks!’
Vol 6 – ‘The Abdominoperineal resection with colostomy’
Vol 7 – ‘The recovery’
Vol 8 – Lanzarote & Menorca
Vol 9 – ‘The interview’ – International women’s day

Vol 10 – ‘A chance encounter’

Whatever you go through after diagnosis, our Community is here for you and our Life after cancer group is a space for cancer survivors and those who have finished treatment to come together to support one another. In this blog post, Willo talks about her experience of being diagnosed with a carcinoma in situ of the cervix and her experience of having 6 monthly cervical screening tests. For more information of cervical screening, why not visit our information pages on Cervical screening on the Macmillan website. Do remember you can also call and speak to our Cancer Information nurses about cervical screening over the phone on 0808 808 00 00 7 days a week 8am – 8pm, or via our live webchat by clicking here and selecting ‘Questions for a nurse’ from the drop down menu.

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