The Cancer Update

Oi Kirsty, where did you go?

Well, I had a spot of cancer!

Anal cancer, to be precise, which is somewhat rare. Thankfully, it really was only a spot of cancer because although my tumour got to about 5 cms, it was still only Stage 2 and hadn’t spread. We caught it just in time - 5 cms is usually the size at which they expect anal cancer to start to metastasise. It was difficult, painful and hideous enough but even a couple of months later, it could have been a much more serious story. I got really lucky.

I was diagnosed last November and went through successful but brutal treatment in January and February of this year - I had 6 weeks of daily chemo and radiotherapy, which I’m still recovering from. Then in May of this year I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes on top of my existing MECFS.

As we say around here, with classic British understatement, ‘it’s been a bit of a year!’

Kirsty, a white woman with dark hair and wearing a black mask, sits under an NHS patient sign with her name on it.
First day of treatment and thankfully the only chemo injection I had (the rest was in pill form).

Thanks to the NHS, I’m currently cancer-free and if I can make it until January 2023 and my next set of scans, I will probably stay that way because if anal cancer is going to come back, it usually does so within the first year. But we shall see; there are always outliers and I’m honestly still kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. But I suspect that’s probably a fairly common emotion in cancer sufferers. Whatever happens, I will need 4 more years of regular oncology check-ups, which is daunting but necessary.

But hey, right now, I’m doing as well as can be expected. I’m slowly recuperating and I’m still making art daily and living my life to the best of my ability whilst juggling several chronic illnesses in the midst of a pandemic (yes, we are still in middle of a pandemic).

A pile of sewing bits on a NHS blanket.
I made art throughout the cancer. That day I was sewing some random bits in what we lovingly referred to as 'cancer hotel', the free NHS accommodation we stayed in during weekdays because we live an hour away from the hospital.

I can’t promise that I’ll get back to regular blogging. I would like to but my stamina is so erratic and I’ve had very little writing energy over these last few years. I’ve been prioritising making art over writing about art. However, it does feel like my brain has slowly been coming back to life lately, which is encouraging.

I’ll always have to work around the serious limitations of my MECFS but it’s obvious now that the added fatigue from the cancer was really doing a number on me. Given when I first started having subtle bowel symptoms and my general health plummeted, I suspect that I may have had the cancer for as long as five years. I certainly had it by the summer of 2020 when I first noticed a 1cm lump, which was initially misdiagnosed as piles. Pro tip, if you have piles that don’t clear up and especially if they get larger, go back to the doctor! Anal cancer is rare but it mimics piles very closely, so it is often initially misdiagnosed.

As the cancer progressed, gradually every extraneous thing that I cared about, like socialising, gardening, knitting, writing and even reading, fell away because I simply didn’t have the energy for it. At the time, it felt like another MECFS crash or perhaps a bit of pandemic depression but looking back, it’s obvious that my body was desperately trying to deal with the added burden of the cancer.

A close up of a green and brown journal page with a vintage photograph of a woman and the caption, 'I was afraid'.
An art journal page that I completed in March, just after my treatment.

Chemo and radiotherapy are hard and take months to get over but I'm definitely starting to pick up a bit now and I can clearly see the difference in my fatigue levels and my motivation. I am still housebound and disabled by the MECFS but I am starting to feel more like myself than I have in several years. So who knows, perhaps regular, longer form writing will be a thing that I can gradually return to.

In the meantime, I’m fairly reliably over on Instagram, so that’s a good place to keep up with me and my art. I aim to post there at least 3 times a week but unless I’m very unwell, it’s usually more.

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