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Birthdays, Balloons & Blood Sugars

Tomorrow is my birthday: I will be 45. Sometimes I feel much older than this and at others I feel about 16 and can’t believe that I’m parent of a child soon to be that age. Some of my birthdays stand out more than others in my memory. I suppose it's the "big birthdays" that I remember more than others.

My husband and I were both 40 in July 2019. We decided to have a big 40th birthday party. It was a great evening with our family and friends. I remember feeling quite content about turning 40 and thinking that my 40s were going to be a great time in my life.

The following year we were in the midst of the Covid pandemic. Life was dramatically for all of us. I don't remember that birthday in any real sense. I know for certain that there wasn’t a party inside our house and I wasn’t "ambushed by cake." I do remember however, in much more detail the following few weeks and months because that was when I was fist diagnosed with melanoma.

When my melanoma progressed to stage 4, I started to think that I possibly wouldn’t see many more birthdays and that I shouldn’t take anything for granted. But here I am, two and a half years later. Last year, I was just out of hospital for my birthday. I had been hospitalised with colitis a few weeks before. It was so good to be feeling well and at home with my family. We had a birthday party at my brother and sister in-law’s house. I spent the majority of the afternoon playing with my nephew and niece who were 5 and 2 at the time. They love birthdays - it doesn't matter who's birthday it is in the family my niece and nephew embrace it with joy. For them birthdays are synonymous with balloons, a cake with candles, sitting together eating food and playing all afternoon. Last year I wore “a birthday girl tiara” (below) and there were lovely pink balloons on display and I played all afternoon with my nice and nephew (or the little, as I call them. )

I didn't have many plans or expectations for this last year. There were things that I wanted wanted to do but these were simple - like being able to go on holiday to Wales with my family (including the littles) go on a zip wire across a quarry, be able to see friends for a coffee, walk our dog. I didn't, and still don't, have big plans - I only ever look ahead a few months at a time, that's how I can manage.

I don't want to go into great detail about now treatment has affected me this year, but instead I'll give you the headlines - the colitis did settle but I still get anxious that it will return. I went on to have another brain metastases In November 2023 which was larger than the ones I had previously had. Gamma knife seems to have done it's job. Another lymph node in my neck popped up but other than that no new metastases have been found. This spring, I started to struggle with arthritis in both knee joints and needed crutch to help me walk, steroid injections have managed to help the pain and inflammation.

There have been many things over the course of this year that have been positive and I’m grateful for so much. My son continues to amaze me with his resilience and maturity

I can only imagine what it must be like to be his age and have a parent with cancer, but he does incredibly well I am so proud of him.

This year has also been a year where l' have continued to feel very supported. That support has come from so many places. Family is there throughout, especially from my parents. They are never far away and they help in so many ways. Friends have been there for me and I love going out for coffee I have made new friends over the last few years who are going through cancer diagnosis and treatment themselves and that has been a very powerful thing in my life. I went to my first Melanoma Patient Conference in March and that was a highlight of my year. The melanoma patient family are my strength. My husband Matt is with me every step of the way; we’ve been together since we were 21, we've grown up together and my biggest hope in all the world is that we will grow old together.

And last but nor least is our little dog: our 8 year old Shihtzu who is my constant companion. She is such a character and be makes me smile and laugh every day!

So, what is in store for this birthday - my 45th? Well, at the moment I am sat on a big comfortable reclining chair. I’m spending my days reading, watching films, cross stitching and writing. My room has a big window and I have some good views of the city. I have cups of tea and food brought to me, a freshly made bed each day. You may think that I am staying in a luxury hotel, but no I’m not, If I add that I am in a shared room, separated by curtains, I’m wearing a “bracelet" my name on and although food is brought to me, it really isn't the best. Guessed it yet? I’m in hospital!

I have been here for nearly a week because my blood sugars have been high and unstable. It is looking very likely that to be that steroids I have been talking have caused this, rather than the immunotherapy which is good news because hopefully when I am weaned off steroids my blood sugars will return to normal.

I may be in here for my birthday but I really don’t mind. I need to be in here until things stabilise. The biggest gift I have been given during this last year is the care and treatment that I have received from our National Health Service. Balloons, birthday cake and presents really are lovely to receive I have to admit, but in the scheme of things they don’t really matter. The biggest gifts are the people who give me love, care and support. When I was growing up I was taught to always send a thank you letter for any gifts I received, so this blog is a thank you letter to all the people who are there for me, you are legends.


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