When I was first diagnosed with eye cancer, almost two years ago, I was desperate to meet others, not just people with cancer, but specifically with eye cancer. I searched for groups, but due to its rarity, there were none. This is where the online support group became a lifeline. Set up by the charity Ocumeluk, it’s a closed group where basically ‘stupid questions’ can be asked and normally a more intelligent answer is given as a reply.
There have been murmurings over time about people setting up meetings. Getting together. But as time has moved on for me I was seeing this as something less important. Life takes over and I wasn’t sure that I wanted a reminder about the fear, sleepless nights, and anxiety that befriends you and takes you in hand when first diagnosed. Keeping a safe distance was a healthy option for me. But when a ‘Facebook’ friend suggested a meeting I surprised myself by wanting to be involved, maybe it was because he was diagnosed at the same time as me, so we have messaged each other regularly over time with queries such as, ‘do you have a sore eye?’ ‘Can you see properly?’ and ‘Do you get scared?’ Over time we form smaller packs within the larger group. We are part of the Spring 2015 pack. We know who we are, some of us have moved on and had babies, some of us are having problems with our sight, and some of us are just putting our head in the sand whilst drinking bubbles, but that person shall remain anonymous.
So that is how a London meeting was set up. On Sunday I met up for lunch with eleven other eye cancer ‘friends.’ This is something I wouldn’t normally share as it is perhaps of no interest to others, it merely requires a passing comment, a footnote, but I felt quite overwhelmed by the time I arrived home. Lying in bed that night I felt emotional and I was trying to work out why and that is what I wanted to share with you today.
There are times in life we all feel that immense pride for others, strangers, that fill us with passion, inspiration and the feeling that life is there to be grabbed with both hands and lived. I feel it when I watch the London Marathon (yeah, yeah I know, going on about the marathon again! Did I tell you I ran one once?!), I feel it when I hear a story of how a youngster has overcome immense challenges to become the person they are today. Pride in strangers. And that’s what I felt on Sunday. I felt I couldn’t really do them justice by saying they inspired me, they are brave, it comes across as insincere and shallow. These people left me feeling far more than that. These people left me breathless.
One lady had arrived with her young, gorgeous children in tow and asked us, whilst they were out of earshot, to not mention that she is terminal as they don’t know that yet. Without pausing for breath she gleefully asked me if I knew where platform 9 & 3/4 was as the kids love Harry Potter. That was a moment in time I just wanted to shake her by the shoulders and question where it comes from? The ability? The strength? The perseverance? The whatever it is, I know that I lack and whatever life throws at me I know I will never have. In that second I wanted to remove my own leg and kick myself up the arse for being so pathetic. I was in awe.
It didn’t stop. We were amongst ‘friends’ where we could share stories and ask questions. A lovely elegant lady told me that she was conscious of her prosthetic eye, however much I stared I struggled to see which one it was and when someone assumed that it was her real eye, so asked her how her vision was out of it, we had a little laugh as she responded “zero. it’s glass,” but I think that was the proof that no one else could tell, she looked amazing. She went on to tell us a story of how she had sat at the traffic lights once and was too vigorous in her eye rubbing. Yes you guessed it, the eye popped out! She was racing to put it in before any terrified passerby’s spotted it. There was no fear or horror from these stories. We were amongst peers, just as yummy mummies may share poo and vomit stories with no qualms, we shared our eye and cancer stories. One lady, far from home, was working here whilst on a work visa when she was diagnosed, she has been dealing with this while being far from family and friends, again a moment when I wanted to boot myself.
Someone else made me realise I had missed a trick, as whilst in hospital having her eye dressing changed every four hours, she had decorated it with make up and pens in a different style each and every time. She then got so bored she started target practise with a nerf gun. I’m sure her aim was pretty poor so I wouldn’t have liked to have been her nurse. There was a gorgeous older lady, well passed retirement age who discussed research papers she had read about various treatments. I struggled to keep up with her sharp brain. And of course there was someone who may have noticed on my blog that I am fond of bubbles, so introduced me to the joining together of two of my favourite things. Bubbles and chocolate. And what is so wonderful about those two things are, I can have them during the day without being considered an alcoholic.
So strangers no more. Thank you, I felt truly privileged. I feel a small celebration is in order, so I’m off to pop a champagne truffle in my mouth.
Until next time.