My expiry date

I was sat relaxing in a lovely hot bath last night after a tough day at work looking at my body, which is now scarred to serve as a permanent reminder of the cancer. There are the six recent incisions necessary to insert my new extra-anatomic stents which are still red and only just healed, the two paler core biopsy scars in my left upper quadrant, several holes in my flanks from the multiple nephrostomies and the most visible scar from the removal of my Hickman line. I know it’s silly but I cannot help feeling like damaged goods about to exceed my best-before in the foreseeable future. The wonderful Helen Fawkes, a BBC journalist and ovarian cancer sufferer recently blogged about ‘having an expiration date’. I have been thinking about this a great deal.

The 2nd January was a wonderful date in our family as it marked the arrival of my gorgeous nephew. He is so perfect and I am certainly the doting, proud Aunty. There is however this bittersweet undertone that I am not going to see the little man grow up into the self-assured, intelligent and successful person that I know he is going to be, all because of my damned expiry date. I guess I just have to squeeze as many visits in now for cuddles while I have the opportunity. I have nearly finished making him a book all about my life with lots of photos and stories. This has been an extremely tear jerking exercise but I want him to know a little about his Aunty Kate and have something to remember me by.

The birth of Jacob has also highlighted my infertility. Not that I would ever want to bring a child into this situation and not that I could as I am now a fully blown menopausal woman, but I feel the natural broodiness that most women feel around brand new babies and am no different in that respect. It might sound a little selfish but I would have liked to have a family. This is not something that has particularly distressed me before, but the recent events have made me feel sad and disappointed deep down inside. I am never going to give my parents Grandchildren, but I guess at least my brother has. The disappointments of a limited life expectancy extend into my professional life too. It is unrealistic to think that I will ever make it to be a Consultant now although this has been my ambition since setting out at University all those years ago.

Perhaps my main worry for when I do reach my expiry date is how Chris is going to cope. He is not good at being by himself and I cannot imagine how tough the loneliness in that situation would be. Although he has a supportive family and some brilliant friends I am really concerned about how he will tackle his grief. I’m not sure there is a good or healthy way to grieve properly, but I do worry that Chris’s grief may become self-destructive. I think he will be ‘fine’ initially with all the practicalities that need to be attended to after someone dies to keep him occupied, but it will be later when it hits him, when everyone thinks he has ‘got over it’.

There are some positives though. Knowing that I will not live into old age means I have no worries about developing the conditions my patients have such as dementia or disabling stroke disease. The recent doctor’s pension furore passed me by too – I could not seem to get agitated about something that was not going to affect me. I was sat at lunch recently with a group of Consultants and junior doctors who were bitching about the pension reforms and stopped the conversation in its tracks with “at least you’re going to be able to draw your pension”. Perhaps this was self-centred, but it did seem to make people stop and think. On the upside I am also no longer bound by the monetary ties the future has over us. If I want to go somewhere or do something then I do. I cannot take my money with me so may as well enjoy life now and create lovely memories for everyone else too. The expiry date also forced me into part-time work, which redressed my work-life balance and has really enhanced my quality of life with no more long on-call shifts to work in the hospital.

So having a likely expiry date is a strange place to be aged 31. It clearly has it downsides with emotional turmoil and disappointment, but there is a silver lining too if you look hard enough. I am reminded of a poem:

Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still…
(Canon Henry Scott-Holland)

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16 thoughts on “My expiry date

  1. Kate, that’s really poignant, and what a beautiful poem. May your expiry date extend as long as possible (that sounds really cheesy, but the sentiment is not meant to be cheesy)…

  2. Thank you for your honesty Kate and your calmness at seeing the positives in all this chaos! My dearest friend is terminal and fighting like mad to stay on terra firma…in fact off to Barbados soon to go SKIing (as she calls it Spending the Kids Inheritance) so cant take it with me resonates and yes ‘lovely memories’ are all anyone can leave behind.
    Your worries re Chris are understandable and it may help you to know that when my husband was terminal aged 47…I had no idea how I would cope.Grief will demand its hearing and its important to “not push the river” but that too has an expiry date. Good friends will keep an eye and will be there…and love lives on too. For me what worked was finding a special day and toasting my late husbands memory with a fine bottle of his favourite wine. Of course there are times when the grief wave hits and friends think “she’s coping well now” but I really believe I can choose between a smile because I knew him or tears that he has gone. What works one day,wont on another day and small things like white feathers and butterflies give some comfort too…..BTW I believe Chinese culture sees a butterfly as a representation of loved ones spirit……lovely to witness freedom they bring!
    You are an INSPIRATION thank you.

    • I love the concept of SKIing! When my Mum buys me a present these days she always says “well you wont need your inheritance, will you?!” Thank you for your kind reassurance regarding Chris and your other lovely comments xx

  3. Hi Kate.
    I so appreciate your raw honestly and openness to discuss end-of-life and what it looks like for you. My hope is that one day more people will find the courage that you have to express their emotions, good,bad,sad,fearful ect. I think it would take death to the next sacred level and perhaps we would come closer in that time instead of withdrawing emotionally and perhaps even physically. Your experience is real and you are amazing for sharing it!

    My partner passed away from Cancer at age 38, I’ll admit I wasn’t okay for a good while, BUT because we had such open communication about our beliefs, death, and our love for each other it made a HUGE difference. It of course made it scary and real….but I definitely feel that it has made an extraordinary difference in my grieving and healing process. Chris will be okay over time, he may even surprise you in his transformation after.

    Four years after my partner’s death, I sit here with a burning desire to be a voice for hospice and death education. Today I am taking that dive. I know Coop is proud!

    You are beautiful!!

    Erin

    • Thank you so much Erin. I wish you all the luck in the world with your education mission. I have a hope that my openness about what is happening to me might just help a few more people to talk about death and find out their loved ones end of live wishes. Lots of love xx

  4. You have touched me and my life. We are strangers but you have touched me and my life. God had blessed me through your touch. Bless you.

  5. Hi Kate.
    I have only recently started following you and thank you so much for sharing your feelings. I am a Ward Sister on a Haematology & Oncology which includes Palliative nursing. Your blog reminds me of the spiritual needs of patients which is often overlooked and the importance of meeting this vital need. I wish you well and hope to follow you for a long time.
    K

  6. I find your words and honesty of thoughts you have, so inspiring and interesting thankyou…… and are expiry dates absolutly accurate ??? Regards Kate…….. from Roni

  7. Bless you for your honesty and today’s positivity.

    We all have expiry dates, just some are more aware of theirs.

    When we lost a friend far too early and some commented that we should have had his memorial with him there so he would have know a little more how much he was loved. Impractical and upsetting as it was to hear it has prompted me to be more honest and grateful with friends and family now rather than waiting for us not to share it.

    You are doing amazing things for so many people by your honesty and openness Thank you.

  8. Morning Kate ….I’m a doctor, I feel slightly embarrassed to leave a comment as I have no sufferings nearly as grave as what you are going through .It is so brave and so inspiring of you to write this, I am sure that it will touch many outhere suffering like you , may be even alleviate a grain of their suffering.
    I worked in palliative care and I shed tears with every patient and their family.What consoled me, rather than them I guess, is my belief that they are moving to another life they did not know about and they will meet and live with their families once more….
    and on Canon’s note..

    O People! If you are in doubt as to the [truth of] resurrection, [remember that,] verily, We have created [every one of] you out of dust, then out of a drop of sperm, then out of a germ-cell, then out of an embryonic lump complete [in itself] and yet incomplete [4] so that We might make [your origin] clear unto you. And whatever We will [to be born] We cause to rest in the [mothers’] wombs for a term set [by Us], and then We bring you forth as infants and [allow you to live] so that [some of] you might attain to maturity: for among you are such as are caused to die [in childhood], just as many a one of you is reduced in old age to a most abject state, ceasing to know anything of what he once knew so well. [5] And [if, O man, thou art still in doubt as to resurrection, consider this:] thou canst see the earth dry and lifeless – and [suddenly,] when We send down waters upon it, it stirs and swells and puts forth every kind of lovely plant! 22:5

    [AND on Judgment Day] God will say: [141] “Today, their truthfulness shall benefit all who have been true to their word: theirs shall be gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide beyond the count of time; well-pleased is God with them, and well-pleased are they with Him: this is the triumph supreme.”

    I hope this helps 🙂

    My warmest wishes mixed with tears

  9. Hi Kate
    Have read the article in the DT and the blogs. I am a priest in the Anglican Church and have spent many hours with people similar to yourself. However, you bring a much more human dimension to the arena of illness – you are full of faith in a secular way if I may so, yet you are so aspirational for the future of your family and friends. I can confidently share your story with anyone in my family/congregation facing illness because it is full of hope. The unswerving love for Chris, so clearly expressed in the article, is an example to all couples/families going thru. a crisis Your story is one of courage and an amazing example – I salute and pray for you, Chris and family.

    Fr John

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