IT’S Christmas time and it all feels a bit weird.
There’s joy, tears and feeling downright miserable. Like the rest of 2020, it’s gearing up to be an emotional rollercoaster.
My heart sank along with millions of others when London and the South East was plunged into Tier 4 last weekend.
And it sank even further yesterday when more of the country was told they’ll join us on Boxing Day.
How much more can we really all take?
With all the sh*t 2020 has hurled our way, this was the thing that almost tipped me over the edge.
I know Christmas is just a few days, and we can always just celebrate it another time.
But for lots of people like me, it’s not that simple.
For lots of cancer patients, and others with incurable diseases, this could be their last Christmas.
When you’re living on borrowed time you don’t have the luxury of the Ghost of Christmas Future – not all of us can be certain of our futures.
So to hear Boris Johnson promise “many more Christmases together” was hard to swallow.
I burst into tears, feeling crushed by the news. I like millions of others have family I am longing to see, and hug.
The one thing getting me through the last few months was the thought of getting Christmas together.
But this week I have come to see the whole sorry situation from another perspective after visiting my wonderful team at The Royal Marsden.
As much as I am sad, and desperate to spend Christmas with all my family, sacrificing that is my gift to them this year.
I do understand why this needs to happen. It’s impossible to ignore the mounting pressure on our hospitals, up and down the country.
Winter is already their busiest time of year, then you’ve got Covid – and the fact these superheroes have been working flat out for months and are exhausted.
And on top of that, they are all working to try and get through the backlog of cancer treatments and screening and other non-Covid care that was put off during the first lockdown.
If we don’t protect the NHS once again, more people will die – and not just from Covid.
One thing I have learned since being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer four years ago, is that you can understand something is right and know you have to do it, but feel sad and angry at the same time.
Today is all I have
For me, living with incurable cancer means today is all I have.
That cheesy saying ‘make everyday count’ really is the mantra I live life by. There is no extra fuel in the tank, or hours in my life to wish time away waiting for this monstrosity to be over.
I have lived the last four years of my life, since being diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer, under a dark cloud of uncertainty.
I know what it feels like to have the carpet whipped from under you at any moment, with no warning.
I have lived from one scan to the next, terrified that while the last one was clear in an instant that could change and I could be riddled with new cancer.
I’ve had to rip up my diary at the last minute to start new treatment or have operations.
I know what it is to hope that the next news is good news, and gives time to take a breath.
Just like Covid, cancer means that everything in my life is out of my control.
Just when you think there’s a Christmas-shaped glimmer of hope on the horizon, everything can come crashing down.
It feels horrible to have your plans crushed at the last minute, especially after the year we have had.
How to cope with bad news
So how best to navigate the emotional rollercoaster?
I have learned a few things from my time with cancer that might help.
I might be good at picking myself from the heap of rubble my disease leaves me buried under on a regular basis, but Covid really does add another dimension.
Where once my coping mechanism was to get dressed up and go out to prove to myself I AM living, that’s been taken away.
There’s loads of advice on social media, how to feel, how to cry, how to feel angry, how to rise up.
How to stay positive, how to keep calm and carry on.
The reality is there is no right way.
Just like cancer, this whole sad situation feels different for different people.
We’ve all got our own aches and pains, our own scars. It’s not universal.
And so trying to control or predict how you will get through it isn’t easy – plus all it does is add another layer of pressure that none of us need right now.
The more you think you ‘should’ be doing something, the more likely you are to feel a failure if you don’t achieve it.
My wonderful friend Emma Campbell, who lives with breast cancer, put it better than I can, sharing her thoughts after Saturday’s announcement.
She posted on Instagram: “I’m going to regularly mumble thank you under my breath from the moment I wake up until the moment I close my eyes.
“I’m going to look for as many reasons as I can to feel appreciation rather than frustration or resentment.
“When it all gets too much I’m going to stop, acknowledge it, and reach for lighter thoughts.
“I’m going to see this as an opportunity to just surrender.
“Baileys, below deck, candles and kindness also helps!”
So in taking Emma’s advice just remember you are allowed to feel sad, while knowing you’re doing the right thing by staying at home and cancelling plans.
You’re allowed to feel angry that you can’t be with your family, while knowing it’s best you don’t put them at risk.
You’re allowed to do the right thing, but feel crap about it.
But when you feel all that and look at it as a Christmas present to our incredible NHS, it does help make it all feel a bit better.
So Happy Christmas to you all, and especially all those working for our NHS – thank you for everything you have done this year, and every one before it.
We owe you so much.
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