Dear Cancer Part 3

Dear Cancer,

Well, it has been a few months since we were last in correspondence and given this past week’s events I thought it was an opportune moment to put pen to paper again.

I don’t mean to be rude but you didn’t bloody keep your side of the bargain did you?! I asked you really politely to let the chemotherapy subdue you and help me to feel less pain. All you had to do was in essence lose a little weight and go to sleep. Then we could have continued our symbiosis for a good while longer. But you didn’t want to play did you? No doubt for your own dubious reasons.

Scrolling through the CT pictures detailing every nook and cranny of the inside of my body on Tuesday left me feeling deflated to say the least. Perhaps more accurately an overwhelming feeling of “what was the point of all that suffering?” You were almost laughing back at me. I didn’t want to see any lymphadenopathy, but no, my pelvis was full of it. I wanted to see smaller pelvic masses, but no there they were, chunky as ever. At least you had let the disease in my left upper quadrant gently melt away as I am really not ready to have to endure a bowel obstruction quite yet.

I’m now trying my absolute hardest to stop regretting choosing to poison you again. I made the best choice for Chris and me at a time when I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. There were no easy answers or solutions. How does one choose between probable rapid death or a toxic treatment in the full knowledge of how horrible the experience of undergoing that treatment will be? And I know I can’t rewind and repeat the last few months. I guess I’m just being greedy and had hoped for more. I hoped the chemotherapy would help me more than it has. I hoped I would be opioid free by now but remain as dependent on the hardcore drugs as ever. I hoped I would be closer to being able to work again but every day I wonder if that goal is slipping further and further from reality.

So I’ve definitely taken one step closer to the end. Second line treatment complete. Third line treatment options massively limited. A battered body struggling with fatigue, pain and riddled with infections that may or may not resolve. Being positive though, through tear filled eyes there are also some exciting things I really want to live for on the horizon. I’m not going to let you stop me achieving those goals. I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction. After June though I think it may be time to hang up my stethoscope and let you do to me what I wanted the chemotherapy to do to you. My internal desire to keep on keeping on is slowly but surely ebbing away the more suffering I accumulate. Who knows what your plans are for my demise, but please be gentle and consider how much I’ve already been through…

I would like to finish by reminding you when I die so do you and then where will you be?

Best wishes,


183 thoughts on “Dear Cancer Part 3

  1. Dear Kate,
    I am a Senior Nurse in Southend and recently heard you speak at the NHS Expo in Manchester and was totally hooked! We read your books, signed up to the hellomynameis campaign not only individually but across our Organisation. People are adding the # prompt to thier email account which then links to your blog if you click on it. This is includes, Nurses Surgoens and our Directors of Nursing. Your inspiration of such simplicity reminded me that just showing we care, listen and understand both verbally and through touch can be so very important and moving. I wanted to share with you that your idea born of such great struggle is making a difference and is allowing us to make simple changes that will hopefully mean our patients journey is just that little bit easier. Thinking of you and your family, much love
    #hellomynameis Helen Sanderson
    Lead CNS Wound Management Services

  2. This is the first time I have read your blog Kate – How does one choose between probable rapid death or a toxic treatment in the full knowledge of how horrible the experience of undergoing that treatment will be?? My mother and sister had this decision to face and my husband and I came close to having to make it for our daughter. I wish I had an answer for you. . You write from your heart with such honesty, Kate – truly inspirational. If best wishes could kill your cancer – mine alone would do it. Christine

  3. Hi Kate
    Just wanted to say I have just read your article in today’s Guardian, and I agree entirely with everything you have said about the use of ‘military’ words. I know from experience that others, friends, family, use these words because they think it will help. Maybe it makes them feel better (and I am in no way condemning them for this), but for me it conjures up a vision of cancer patients being ‘victims’ if they fail in their ‘fight’, and cancer therefore ‘winning’!
    I love your comment that if anyone describes your life as a ‘battle’ against cancer, you will come back and curse them. Brilliant. Maybe we need to spread this message and people may start to begin to understand what it is like to live with cancer.
    What can I say to you. I don’t have the words, but just want to say I will keep you in my thoughts every day. Your writings are inspirational.

  4. Kate, I am unable adequately to put into words the respect and empathy that your writing evokes. Other correspondents have referred to its power and inspiration, which I second. Having heard you speak a year or so back at Leeds University to a small gathering of students and health professionals, I will always remember your practical and dynamic approach to your illness, treatment and attitude of the caring professionals. Your refreshing talk changed my practice and I lent your book to a colleague in HODU, which has done the rounds, although I’ve never seen it since then! The Guardian article on how doctors view death is pinned to my noticeboard and often provokes discussion. I do hope that you and your husband are able to do everything that you want. Wishing you all the vey best and lots and lots and lots of luck.

  5. PS Just read your Guardian piece from 25 April: brilliant, apposite. Am going to MS Life conference this weekend, where will be confronted with the “Let’s Beat MS” slogans. May just hand out your article in lieu of arguing. Too exhausting!

  6. Hi Kate – If only sending our love could cure you, we all would – so many people love you. Please take a look at – Fiona Shakeela Burns has recovered twice from cancer and tells her amazing story. Lots of love, Sue B.

  7. Dr Kate, I read your guardian piece the other day, I can’t thank you enough- Finally someone had the courage to say it.The whole Hero/Brave/inspiration thing drives me mad, I just never dared say it before.I am reading your books/blog and I love your honesty and openness both as a terminal cancer patient and talented medical registrar. I don’t have cancer but I do have an incurable degenerative illness, and have spent the last 12 years in and out of hospital with DVT/PE/Pneumonia/Pneumothorax, and beyond the patch up of the emergency, it’t increasingly futile and pain control is a huge issue for me, and I have kids, I became ill during pregnancy and therefore knowing when to call it a day on treatments has something we have never openly talked about. Your experience has encouraged us as a family to do that and to make a management plan. It has been so good to hear someone else with your experience and skill on the same page as me with regard to being in their thirties in hospital and the treatments, hospital politics and pain control. The last two times I have left hospital mentally traumatised. Now I know it’s not just me being a difficult patient!

    Sometimes it takes more courage to walk away from treatment and let the illness take it’s course, often in the face of friends and family still hoping for a miracle and wanting you to eek out every ounce of life at any cost which often culminates in agonising, traumatic and futile treatment. People don’t appreciate how much pain and suffering treatment entails and living daily with pain is not a choice or a battle, no-one sane would make such a choice. We just play the hand we are dealt, and try to do it with dignity and grace and knowing when to stop is the toughest choice of all. The whole battle, hero, brave conversation is so unhelpful, I find it patronising and feel like I have to listen to everyone’s latest idea’s of how to cure me that they read in some uncredited rag and if I fail to hope with blind hope and follow every option given to me I am letting everyone down and giving up. It’s a pressure that is not needed in an already tough situation. No-one would choose to live with long term or life limiting illness, so it’s not brave or inspirational, its not a battle, nor is it cowardly to decide not to continue when there is nothing to be gained and quality of life to be lost. I cringe when people say such things, so walking away when you have had enough or there is little to gain is certainly not cowardice, or admitting defeat. It’s the toughest decision to ever make.

    Thank You so much. You covered the issues no-one else talks about, the emotional blackmail, the social isolation and the hospital politics being so ill and in hospital brings from all sides. Death and dying really shouldn’t be a taboo subject; It’s part of living, and your book is frank and honest, it reminds me how important it is to know how to live well with what we have rather than throw all our energies into delaying an inevitable death. More than anything, if it paves the way for those who are dying to have a good death, without fear and pain, then there is no greater gift than you can give as a Doctor.

    • Bravo Helen, well said, there’s too much pussyfooting around in end of life care, time is of the essence in these matters.

  8. There are some very powerful sad but enriching, comments here, all inspired by an inspirational lady in Kate. Hopefully this is also reaching many in the medical profession who perpetuate the bad language, false ambition, and mislead too often.
    We need to empower people to believe in themselves much more.

    • I should have added a huge “here here” to those who have observed that the cancer charities are some of the worst in use of misleading language. Their “battle” is often related to their own status, fund-raising etc and trying on the emo-tug to extract our £’s!

  9. I’ve never met you, probably never will but I love you. You are amazing. Cancer picked the wrong person, or maybe it picked the right one. Thank you for making a huge difference.

  10. Please don’t give up just yet Kate! Your story is truly amazing and after reading your blog I know that you can live a little longer and keep on inspiring (in the breathing sense)!!

  11. Just watched your film – it’s moving, personal, humorous and inspirational. I’m sure that adjective is often used without much thought but in your case it is totally accurate. Thank you for sharing your life and work with so many – it will never be forgotten and leaves a brilliant legacy of change in the NHS and around terminal illness.

  12. Thank you for sharing your experiences and reflections with the rest of the world. I have nothing to offer you in return but good wishes.

  13. As someone who also has cancer I was reading your blog with interest and then I read this line that you wrote :-

    ‘ I would like to finish by reminding you when I die so do you and then where will you be?’

    I copy below a poem written by a cancer patient who had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia.


    Divide and Conquer
    Alan Sullivan wrote this poem. He was diagnosed in 2005 and sadly is no longer with us.
    Thank you Alan. Rest in peace.

    Divide and Conquer

    The cells divide. The cells that will not die
    divide too well and so they multiply.
    They kill the host to keep themselves alive.

    The blood goes bad. In vain physicians try
    to purge the veins with drugs the cells defy.
    The cells divide. The cells that will not die

    mutate anew. The hardy few survive.
    The few recruit the many teeming by.
    They kill the host to keep themselves alive.

    They colonize the nodes from neck to thigh.
    The tumors grow, and scanners never lie.
    The cells divide. The cells that will not die

    stifle the very organs where they thrive.
    Blind, stupid things—their purpose gone awry—
    they kill the host to keep themselves alive.

    Exploding through the flesh, they multiply,
    but immortality eludes them. Why?
    The cells divide. The cells that will not die
    kill the host to keep themselves alive.


    Dick Morris

  14. You started off the same age as my youngest GP daughter and are now the same age as my eldest daughter…I just send you huge huggable Mum hugs x x x x…

  15. Kate you are beautiful and inspiring. As a nurse, thank you for the courage to speak up and share your experiences so that we as health professionals can learn to make the patient journey just that bit less scary and help bring to light those things that are often overlooked as ‘unimportant’ .. and as young female you are inspiring and I am truly in awe of your courageousness to continue to work, study, teach and promote health care and hellomynameis. Stay strong and keep inspiring! The world needs more people like you

  16. My name is Trina Hills , I live in Indianapolis, Indiana United State Of American I have a testimony to share to you all after been infected with a deadly
    cancer of the lungs and my lovely husband also infected with a mesothelioma cancer we thought that the whole world have ended because the doctor said our
    days are number we feel so very bad, One day we came a cross a Lady Nurse in a hospital were we went for weekly checkup after explaining our problems to the
    nurse she was deeply touch and she told us not to worry that we shouldn’t take this meds anymore is not helping us she know of one Dr Kelvin Moss who treats
    all kinds of cancer and virus with a powerful Cannabis oil so she introduce us to the Doctor she gave us the Dr Email address and Phone number to contact he which we did accord to the instruction she gave to us are son Eric contacted this very doctor the follow day we got a reply from him telling us no to worry that our cancer problem we be a thing of the past we’ll definitely get our life back all we have to do is to get some grams of the Cannabis oil purchase we
    did everything accord to the instruction from the doctor right now after taking the medication for just about 2 and a half months everything is gone and the
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  17. Kate I have just finished reading your books,read both in a day.If only you had been looking after my man and dad when they died from cancer.
    God bless you and yours.

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  19. Dont read the Guardian ,so missed your Cancer blog part 3 Kate .I have now – – and Im in tears when you talk about ‘ the end’ may be around the corner .You are an inspiration to all us cancer sufferers and Im sure to all who follow you on twitter and through your books .Im sure a special place is reserved for you in Heaven – but please – stay with us a little longer ?

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  21. We were told on Thursday that the chemo regime (Gematabline and Cisplatin) that I was on hasn’t worked, apart from giving me , amongst other things, deep vein thrombosis which resulted in flashing blue lights to hospital. I think Friday we felt more down than when I was first diagnosed in January. I am hopefully starting a new chemo regime this coming week ( Capecitabine and Oxaliplepin), I wasn’t prepared just to wait for the cancer to do it’s worse. Growth has increased despite the ravages on my body from the chemo and more found in my lungs. I’m cheering myself up with the knowledge that it isn’t pancreatic but aware of the the implications of moving from liver to lungs. It’s been a real surreal journey so far but thank fully blessed with wonderful support from family and friends.
    Onwards and upwards!

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