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Finding the joy in the darkness

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

I’ve lived knowing I have cancer for seven months now. Sometimes when I think about life before my diagnosis I feel pangs of sadness. I was existing in blissful ignorance, meeting milestone after milestone with my children, business and personal life. None of that has really changed - I’m still here, but I’m now learning to live with the uncertainty that comes with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. It is a new normal for me. And while I’d give anything to be cancer-free, it’s not all bad. Since receiving the fateful news that day, I’ve sought out ways to find joy in the darkness. Even in the middle of the longest nights filled with tears and utter despair, I've found hope and happiness. I’d like to tell you how.

Dealing with the darkness

On November 10th 2021, life changed for me, as it sadly does for thousands of people around the world. I’m not unique in this experience, and so with that in mind, I'd like to share some of the things that have helped me manage the range of emotions I’ve experienced. We all know too well that cancer robs life of so much. It leaves the patient living in constant limbo and uncertainty of the future, it robs children of their parents, parents of their children… I could go on and on, but sadly we all know too well what it can do.

Looking back now I can see the state of shock I was living in. I hardly slept for all of November and most of December. My mind raced at night. I knew I had to be present and happy for my children, and I knew I was the only person that could choose which way to look at all of this. I felt for the people around me, my friends and my family (especially my babies). I realised how important it was to me that I didn’t go into this being a victim.

Positive research

The internet is an AMAZING resource. I had one really bad night back in the November madness where I pretty much cried for hours. I was more scared than I had ever been and my thoughts were eating me up.

Even in this pit of despair and sadness, I realised that this was not who I needed to be - it wouldn’t do me or any of the wonderful people around me any good. So I picked up my phone and googled ‘I beat stage 4 cancer’. And you had better believe it - I spent all night reading story after story from people that have LIVED and are still LIVING after a stage 4 diagnosis. It really helped me and I found JOY in the darkness that night. I shed tears of happiness and sadness over what so many have had to go through.

These stories gave me the hope and courage to get up, put my vintage sequins on and face each day with a genuine smile on my face. I spent so many nights doing this, and still, do when I feel that despair creeping in. I really believe that while it won’t cure me, it definitely creates a strong mindset which in turn will help me to fight this beast.

Getting moving

Anyone who follows me on Instagram will see that I’m a big fan of exercise. Running mainly but also walking, biking, swimming - anything that gets the body moving really. I’m even trying to skateboard again in my 40’s. Watch this space… Maybe I’m having a midlife crisis, but I no longer give a monkey’s, nor have time for negativity: life is for living, loving and having fun.

I didn’t really do a great deal of exercise in the two months following my diagnosis, but January brought the usual new year's resolutions and it dawned on me that I was no longer getting those much-needed endorphins. I was also really struggling mentally with what the steroids had done to my body. It embarrassed me to feel this way, as I was grateful to be alive, but I had put on some weight and felt I had a ‘moon face’. If I’d enjoyed all the food and that was why I looked and felt different, I may have accepted it, but this was such a horrible reminder of what was going on inside me.

So I made my new year's resolution to make incremental fitness changes. I started by walking every day - just being out in nature. I still ran every Saturday with my best friend Roosje but I knew to feel my happy old self I needed to do more. I was given an Apple Watch for Christmas and I honestly think for me it's been one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Fast forward to June, and I now run pushing a buggy with Remy in it, who is 20-months old. I run around three to five times a week. I also go on my exercise bike for 20 minutes if I can’t get out for a run. I promise you, it has been incredible at helping my mindset and guess what… if I can do it with stage 4 lung cancer I believe anyone can do it. It’s all about those incremental fitness changes.

Making memories

Living with uncertainty has been a new way of living - I love Bowel Babes ‘Rebellious Hope’ phrase. It's a feeling I've had very much all along.

About a month ago, my dear friend, Leah, who has the biggest heart and is also a very busy mum of three boys, set up a Go Fund Me Page. The aim of the fundraiser was to raise funds to help my family make memories that my boys will never forget. I have been blown away, not just by her doing this for us but by the generosity of friends, family, old work colleagues and total strangers.

When Leah approached me about it I felt a little embarrassed, but I soon got over that when I thought about the boys and Nick, and how we could do some really amazing things together as a family to create some incredible memories. So, planning fun things has been a real game-changer for me. So far we’ve taken the little ones to Peppa Pig World, and we are planning a trip to Disney this summer (it’s a surprise for the boys so if you know them please keep it quiet!). We are also planning on a holiday somewhere fun in October half-term and then hopefully a trip of a lifetime over Christmas.

I’m creating a bucket list (which I think everyone should have, cancer or no cancer). I have some girly trips planned and Nick and I are arranging a night away, just us. I’m also off to Glastonbury in a couple of weeks - I've never been, so I'm super excited to tick the first thing off my list!

Obviously, I'm aware that treatment plans change, which will affect trips - we’ve already had so many disappointments along the way. Being open to that helps, and not letting it get you down. I deal with it by seeing the positives and arranging something else.

Turning to the light

Lastly, prioritise activities that make you laugh, smile and light up. I find watching funny romcoms, reading uplifting books and listening to inspiring podcasts really help.

A glass of wine or fizz with friends always puts a smile on my face (my oncologist jokes about keeping on with the wine treatment). We can be pretty hard on ourselves about food and wine, and my motto is everything in moderation is good for you.

Beach days, listening to live music, hanging out with friends - all of these things should be prescribed to fill your life with love and to support your loved ones who are also processing the emotions that accompany a cancer diagnosis. And most importantly LAUGH and SMILE and do this however you can, because laughter, love and friendship are the BEST forms of medicine in my book.

Love always,

Amber xxx

I know I've already mentioned it, but I’ll say it again: a MASSIVE thank you to Leah and David for setting up the Go Fund Me page and a MASSIVE thank you to every one of the amazing souls that have donated… follow my blog and Instagram to watch us make the most amazing memories over the next year.

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