Dear Cancer Part 5

Dear Cancer,

I should wish you a merry Christmas and best wishes for the festive season. But as you’ve recently decided to wake from your slumber and cause no end of disruption to my life, I’m not sure I can find it within myself to wish you well.

I already knew what the images would show as I assumed the position, lying down with my arms above my head on the scan table, and felt that familiar warmness rushing through my body as the contrast was injected. The symptoms of abdominal distension with colicky pain and the distinctive fatigue that never resolves with sleep are such objective measures of your progression, I hardly needed the scan’s different shades of grey to tell me you were on the move.

What is it with you? Could you not face seeing me happy and contented professionally? I know you; you thought you’d wait until I’d settled into my new job then make your move; striking just before Christmas and forcing me to keep it from my family to avoid ruining everyone’s fun. I never thought I’d be able to be a Consultant. My Acting Up job is wonderful, immensely challenging but so fulfilling. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. And you’re going to steal it; seizing all my professional dreams and dumping them firmly in the bin.

And now I am faced with the arduous task of having to break the news of you to everyone. The pain etched in my poor Dad’s eyes as he struggled to hold back the tears was almost unbearably painful to watch. The break in my Mother-in-law’s voice as I imparted the terrible truth over the phone made my tears flow uncontrollably but silently.

Last time we were in correspondence I told you I had some things to do that you were not going to get in the way of. Well you I’m pleased to say you didn’t; I’ve cuddled my brand new niece many times and had the pleasure hearing my youngest nephew call me “Aunty Kate”; I’ve jumped out of a plane from 10,000 ft; I’ve somehow acquired two Fellowships; I’ve been taught how to make brioche by the wonderful Michel Rous Jr; we’ve continued to work hard with the fundraising for the YCC; I’ve spearheaded a campaign to improve patient experience across the world which has received so much positive recognition. Considering I should be dead by now it has been quite a year…

As is tradition I will conclude by wishing you a happy New Year. I am about to confront some of the most challenging decision making I have had to on this incredibly tough journey. I’m not sure how I will. Do I give the poisoning another shot? Or do I bow out gracefully now? Will treatment have an outcome that we will be satisfied with? How bearable will the toxicities be? Nobody can answer these questions for me and to coin one of my favourite phrases “no one has an accurate crystal ball”. 2015 is likely to be the year you finally get the better of me, but at least I can look back on a life well lived with a true purpose. I’m really scared so please be kind in the way that you decide to take my life.

Kind regards,

K x


100 thoughts on “Dear Cancer Part 5

  1. Dear Kate,

    I haven’t met you and only stumbled upon your blog today, but I was overcome by sadness when I read that you’re feeling scared. I carry you in my heart from this point forward, as so many people already do.

    You’re part of the unending stream of life, and those who follow you will live happier lives because of the work you’ve done. We all – even the strangers among us – love you immensely.

    With love,


    • What wonderful sentiments and the truth in what you have written is I am sure felt by everyone who has any involvement with Kate

  2. Hi

    I have never said hello on here before but I have followed your blog for sometime. I just wanted to say as I am sure many have, you are an inspiration to me. I am so sorry to hear that it has reared it’s ugly head again and that you are feeling scared. Squeezing you tight in my thoughts and hoping you will find comfort in the people you share your world with and who will help you to make the desicions which are right for you

    Take care lovely lady

    Lisa xx

  3. Hellomynameis Michael
    I can’t imagine your emotions and how you decide what course to take with your life but from meeting you though volunteering on ward 41 and seeing how wonderful you are with people I can bet you have taken others feeling into consideration more than your own what ever you decide to do I wish you all the best for the 12th your strength and courage is amazing
    Take care

  4. Dear Kate

    Have you read ‘A Time to Heal’ by Beata Bishop? An account of her courageous journey back from stage 4 malignant melanoma.

    Holding you in the light in your present dilemma.

    Love and best wishes.

  5. I don’t want to sound like a horrible person but I cannot fathom how people see her as a sort of hero. She basically gave up on her life the first rounds of chemotherapy. Yeah she wrote a book, but haven’t other 538491 other people that have faced adversity. I hope this year treats you well kate, because I understand 100% your pain, but telling people specially others with this cancer that it is a death sentence is not the most heroic thing someone can do. Especially from a doctor who is supposed to give people hope and help them as most as they can. I don’t know its just my opinion.

    • Do you have any idea how hurtful it is to read a message like that Bradley, especially as I am about to embark on chemo part 3? You don’t know me. I made a hugely difficult decision to stop beating my body up in 2011 when I knew that in the presence of metastatic disease I would not be cured. To say I gave up on my life is so far off the mark. I did not go to the DSRCT community and say follow me… It was a very personal individual decision that was completely right for me and allowed me to work and enjoy a full and active life for 18 months. When the time has come again twice I have listened carefully to my oncologist and chosen to embark on further treatment, but for the least amount of time possible to get me well again. I am a Medicine for Older People physician so yes it is true that we try to get people well again after acute illness and are hopeful that we can achieve that. But in my patient population patients do die – 10-15% of them in fact. Not addressing that fact opening and honestly I think would be to do those people and their loved ones a huge disservice. I am therefore just as realistic with my own illness. I’ve never desired praise from others; I just wanted to share my journey, primarily to get healthcare professionals to think about how their behaviour influences their patients. I’m so sorry to read about your own pain but please do not offload your own anger on to me… Best wishes, Kate.

      • Time is precious and what you have achieved and will achieve is 10 fold to what most of use will ever achieve to see what Bradley wrote was horrible and to say you had given in was as far from the truth as could be if people conducted themselves and gave as much as you asking for nothing in return this world would be a better place and for sure Kate you have made a change to peoples lives and attitudes and sometimes that’s hard especially with Bradley’s around So big hugs to you and your family for the coming months x

      • Your writing has inspired countless within and without of the health and social care field – a legacy to be proud of – and one that is humbling watch unfold
        I wish you kindness from your cancer

      • Dear Kate,
        I cannot believe people actually take the time to sit down and write such a nasty, and completely useless, message. Your books were a great inspiration and comfort for me and infused me with newly found energy. THANK YOU. I hope you are doing as fine as can be and that the latest therapy produced results. It’s not in our hands but still, would be nice to have you around a little longer. 🙂

    • Bradley, totally uncalled for. Kate has never preached what others in her situation should do, so why would you impose your own agenda upon her? Her ethos is about listening to patients and allowing them to be empowered to make their own decisions. If Kate chooses to have treatment or not, it is not a statement about what another person suffering from the same (or any other) illness should do.

      How on earth have you drawn the conclusion that Kate ‘gave up on her life’? Have you actually read any of her books? Tweets? Her blog? I can’t believe you have because you would have found quite the opposite of this to be true.

      I can’t speak for anyone else but I shall tell you why I consider Kate to be heroic. Life has dealt her a most cruel hand but she chooses not to mope, dwell, withdraw and instead demonstrates an attitude that shows great strength and dignity. That’s not to say that she hides the lows or the rawness of her experience but ultimately, she finds ways of coping, which is incredibly humbling to witness. She thinks of others, has raised a great deal of money for charity, launched a successful campaign to improve patient care in the NHS and demonstrates a work ethos that (in itself) is hugely inspirational.

      So, rather than knock her down, why not pay closer attention to what she’s actually saying? I feel confident that you’ll want to retract your comment if you do.

    • Well, Bradley – for someone who doesn’t ‘want to sound like a horrible person’ you’re not being very successful. As someone who was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in 2011, and who knows what it is like not to dare to make long term plans, I can say that Dr. Kate’s books have been refreshingly honest and hopefully have inspired a large number of members of the medical profession to know how to communicate with their patients in a better way. In future if you can’t post anything other than negative comments, please consider not posting at all.

    • Bradley we all have are opinions and you are entitled to yours but I think you should have read about Kate before commenting and for someone who is going though cancer themselves you should know the cancer is the enemy and to fight ignorance is not what need when the the battle is a long one

    • Quite extraordinary that you feel your post is in any way appropriate Bradley. Do you actively search out cancer patients to make hurtful remarks? Kate makes a difference, a very good difference. She has spent her entire adult life helping patients, and now she is helping others in all sorts of ways, when she could, quite legitimately and understandably, have hidden away and not shared her experiences. But no, she started a campaign for compassionate care, and let others benefit from her experiences. I hope one day you’ll achieve a thousandth of what she has in her life so far. In the mean time can I suggest that you find something productive to do?

    • Bradley, you do sound like a horrible person unfortunately. This was not the forum to make these comments. You are entitled to your opinions but you also need to consider the appropriate and timely occasion to voice them. Some thoughts are best left inside your head or confided to those near to you, not used to attack nor diminish the efforts of those who are trying to do something worthwhile with their lives.
      Kate, be heartened that your messages and observations are making a difference and helping others to face difficult times.

  6. Dear kate,
    I apologize for sounding insensitive. My intention was not to hurt you. I know chemotherapy is horrible, but it is the only option there is to survive. My intentions were to say rather that never giving up and doing all that’s possible is what should be done. I hope chemotherapy is not as bad this time to you, if it helps marinol pills help a lot with the nausea and even medical marijuana but i don’t know if that is legal in the UK. Again I did not want to hurt you because I feel your pain. But all I wanted to say is that at least for me giving up will never be an option.

  7. Why I see Kate as a hero:
    She is an unfailingly reflective and compassionate doctor. She is a gorgeously warm, direct, caring person, whom her family, friends and colleagues clearly adore. She has a fantastic sense of public-spiritedness – she’s done more to help other people both as part of her job and as part of her charity work than most people ever dream of. She has an amazing amount of drive, despite feeling so ill a lot of the time. She’s an unusually rounded person – so creative and imaginative and musical, as well as practical and logical. The photos of her cooking make me weep with longing. And she has a brilliant sense of humour – some of her posts/ tweets are hilarious.
    Kate is always quick to say that she’s not a hero/ heroine, that she’s just ordinary. I can think of few people who have shown time and time again, and so movingly, how the ‘ordinary’ can become so extraordinary.
    Kate – if I were ill, I’d want to have you as my doctor. And thank you for teaching all of us – whether or not we’re connected to the medical profession – to think of others with more compassion and empathy.

  8. Hi ive followed your blog and tweets since i was diagnosed with nsgct yolk sac , ok the primary in my abdomen was a tad big, but it was suppossed to be oh so treatable, yea right
    15 chemo. Including high dose with stem cell X3 three surgeries and its still bloody their smirking at me in my right and left lung, so i know the fear especially when going to work
    But good luck i love to tell you cisplatin will be ok , but if you tweet me i be so happy to get though the two more thoracotomy i need which for long term disease control.

    • Dam was suppossed to leaving a comment to praise you and wish you luck and joy, then prattled on about me, cant get that right either,, so good luck and enjoy your life with Chris,

  9. Ah, Bradley, we all have different ideas on what giving up, giving in, and kicking cancer’s butt looks like. Good luck with your fight.
    Kate, your story truly does share another side, and one that will go far to advance empathy, understanding, and debate……so poignant, so important, full of grace.

  10. Hi Kate , It appears you may have the power of changing even a discontents heart & mind . That’s what I call power, real power.
    Love Ya Kate.

    p.s Would love to hear about your thoughts on the House of Lords debate today 16.Jan on the Assisted Dying Bill. Methinks you should have been their, or maybe you were.

  11. I came across your blog today. I know maybe hearing such things from a stranger is ultimately not worth much, but I’m keeping you in my heart. I hope when the time does come that you won’t be scared anymore and you’ll be surrounded by so much love, and you’ll just close your eyes and go to sleep.
    You are such a strong woman and an absolute inspiration.

  12. Dear Kate
    I am overwhelmed, your words are so honest and so very brave. I wish you strength to keep on living the best possible life all the way to the end. You are an inspiration.

  13. Kate–I’ve followed you for some time now, on your blog and Twitter. My sister in law lost her battle to this monster 25 months ago (having battled for 13 months)…4 days before Christmas, leaving a husband and 3 young children. This disease is is so heartbreakingly painful for all involved. I admire your strength and honesty in sharing your fight. I pray that you are one of the rare survivors. Your strength is what is getting you thru…never give up! And as a side note…I am an RN who is instructing beginning nursing students…I always tell them about your “Hello, my name is…” campaign and require it to be the first thing they do after knocking on a patients door! You really are inspiring…all the way in Kansas, USA.

  14. We all send you strength and love for the months to come you are a wonderful and caring person who has taken time on others needs now its your time and we are all behind you

  15. Hi Kate, I hope you don’t mind me asking but have you taken optimal nutrition into account in your battle? Chris Wark has a website with interesting articles about his own fight
    There are others of interest eg
    And I imagine that being a doctor, you will already have heard of Gerson therapy
    You are a very brave inspiring lady

  16. I’ve been reading Kate’s blog for a while, and so many of the comments / responses are quite illuminating. It certainly blurs the lines between what you could slap a tag on as a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ comment – for example; is an outright unpleasant comment any more or less thoughtless than facetious recommendations for ‘cures’ such as eating raw aloe vera or suchlike?

    I guess you’re reading this Kate, as odd as it feels talking to a complete stranger (but, maybe that’s what blogs are for?). I wanted to go to med school but left it too late and never made it, and was really pleased to see you’d managed to make it as a consultant at last. From reading your blog, I think you hate words like ‘Brave’, ‘Fighter’ etc… just as much as I do, but if they’re inappropriate descriptions for your health, I’ve got to say that putting your blog out and allowing comments as you do can ONLY be described as immensely brave. I wouldn’t like to 2nd guess how I’d deal with cancer, but I don’t think I could do that.

  17. Dear Kate
    I am penning this comment to simply say: ignore the Bradleys of this world.
    Just focus on living 1 day at a time to the best of your ability. The last thing you want or need is additional stress. The battle with cancer, for the sufferer, relatives and friends, is a very unique one: it challenges our values, philosophy and the very core of our being. If it helps you to deal with this Heinous Monster by writing and talking about it, go for it. The reader has a choice – not to be one. It is reckless for people to assume they can impose their beliefs upon your good self and thereby judge you.
    Why am I saying this? Because my 21yr old cousin lost an ovary to cancer – thankfully she is happily married and is expecting her first child in July. But I lost my only loving elder brother to small cell carcinoma of the lung in Sept 2011. When diagnosed he told me he was only going to do what the doctors recommended – I could barely even get him to take tonics. It was a very sad day when he heard the doctors say after he had had 3 bouts of chemo, that they could do no more and that he had 8wks to live. Deep in his heart he had held the flame of hope that something could be done but alas….he left us all behind, including his 82yr old mother. Not a day passes that I don’t think about him and his valiant battle with the Heinous Monster…not a complaint passed his lips during chemo, even when his tongue was pitted with mouth ulcers the size of 20p coins and he was living in the bathroom..
    So you be brave in whatever way you need to be – know that all of us who have supported someone through the journey of Cancer applaud your bravery and pray that the day when you and others like you will bid us adieu, is still a long long way away…
    God bless you dear heart
    Diksha Chakravarti

  18. Dear Kate, I know you’re fighting your own horrendous battle, but my beautiful friend Justine Ramsden is just starting hers. Right now, she’s laying – scared – in ward 97 of the Leeds Sarcoma centre, waiting for chemo round 2, having recently been diagnosed with DSRCT. Just a few weeks ago, her life was normal, now it’s a nightmare, with a hard road ahead, and even harder decisions to be made – as you know so well.
    Justine is 42, married to Dan and with three gorgeous kids. Life for them, and all the people who love her, is changed forever. I know this is not a good time for you, and I’m truly sorry, but if you’re at all able to reach out to her – just to say hello even, or give her any advice at all, it would be so very much appreciated. And on the plus side, despite everything, you can always have a laugh with her!!
    In any case, as with all the other messengers on this blog, I wish you tons of extra courage and strength to keep fighting and keep the beast at bay for as long as you can. And make sure you tell my friend to do the same!! She’ll listen to you!!
    With kind regards,
    PS She would try to contact you herself, but as you might know, the wifi in Leeds hospital is a bit rubbish! So I’m on the case on her behalf.

      • Still thinking of others when you have your own battles to fight why does that not surprise me take care x mick

      • Hi Kate, I’m amazed and so, so grateful that you have replied. I can’t imagine how bad you’re feeling right now, so the fact that you’ve managed to find time and energy to write back is wonderful, thank you, thank you, thank you! Justine has also just finished her chemo session last night, and I got a quick note from her this morning that she’s feeling OK but pretty out of it, so we haven’t heard much more today. But I have passed on your email address this evening, and I know that as soon as she can, she will be writing to you.
        I wish you tons of strength and love in the coming days recovery, and I really hope you avoid that dreaded infection. And I honestly can’t thank you enough for replying – you’re completely fabulous!!
        Emma xxxxxx

      • Hi Kate a big hi from us in NZ.
        Just found this blog today and read your introduction to my wife as we travelled to see family. I feel inspired from your writing and sharing your journey. I’m fighting cholangiocarcinoma and its inoperable and I too have chosen no treatment under recommendation of my Oncologist. I too will consider chemo once it can make me feel better than my symptoms. I too have me my own Bradleys and they offend me so I feel for you there too. I’m off to buy your books. God bless you and your family.

  19. Dear Kate,
    I have just read about your campaign about healthcare professionals always introducing themselves and wanted to say I completely agree with what you have said about compassionate care and treating people with dignity and respect after my experience in hospital when I had my liver resection for bowel cancer – well done for your efforts and what a brilliant idea you have come up with.
    I am a retired physiotherapist and worked in the NHS all my working years – I wish I had been able to work with you. My very best wishes to you as you continue with the cancer journey I will keep you in my prayers and send you a very big hug through the ether xxxx Mary

  20. #hellomynameis Vicky
    Dear Kate, I only heard yesterday about the #hellomynameis campaign when I received an email at the Health Centre where I work as a Family Support Worker. I was so pleased to read about it and I have since been promoting it both at work and privately on Facebook.
    My 15 year old daughter had 9 months from diagnosis to death – she died January ’14. She received her care across four hospitals, three Health Trusts and two countries. We live in Northern Ireland and my daughter had a rare haematological malignancy.
    In one of the hospitals where she was treated, the staff consistently did not introduce themselves and I eventually put in a written complaint about this and other issues. The staff met to discuss my complaint and all the issues were satisfactorily resolved. Never again did the staff in that Oncology Unit perform a procedure on my child without first introducing themselves.
    She had her first blood test and entered adult services on the day of her 15th birthday. We encountered many hurdles in a system that was never designed to meet the needs of young people.
    While she was dying, the blanket policies and procedures of ICU interfered with me being able to continue parenting my child. Since she died, I have addressed these issues with the directors of Critical Care in that Health Trust and changes have been made, but it is a work in progress.
    I also write a blog about my experiences:
    I’m so pleased that you are using your experiences positively to make people listen and think about what it’s like to be the patient or the relative of the patient.
    My point when I had my two hour meeting with some of the managers of the Health Trust was that the changes I was looking to implement would not cost money – they were about being humane.
    Thank you for making a difference.

  21. Kate,
    Your words move me beyond words.
    How cruel that someone who has so, so much to give will be lost to cancer.
    You are clearly utterly amazing in all you do and are dearly loved by many.
    Keep fighting lady and show cancer who’s boss for as long as you feel you can xxx

  22. Kate,

    Today I have read your blog for the first time – through very misty eyes I might add! What a brave and greatly inspirational lady you are. We have never met but I can tell from your words that you are a truly beautiful human being who is so loved by those around her. You have given so much to so many people. I wish I had a magic wand to wave that would make a difference to your prognosis. I send you much love and big hugs. xxxx

  23. I cant believe that Bradley -had he read Kates two books ,he would have realised the turmoil she went through deciding on treatment that would prolong AND give her a decent quality of life .AND she shared all her trials and tribulations with her devoted army of Twitter friends God bless you Kate . Richard x

  24. Hello Kate! I hope you are doing great. You shouldn’t be afraid of what you are going through. I am sure that you have lots of supportive family and friends who won’t leave you during this hard times. The Man from above gave you this because He knows that you could break pass this turmoil. Just remember that there is always darkness before the sun comes up. Cheers!

  25. Dear Kate,
    I am truly inspired by your honesty here on the blog and reading your books. I am a nurse and I totally believe in what you have to say. It is so important. It is about time we started a conversation about death and dying, you are revolutionary for this time. Thank you for sharing your story. I am trying to make a difference in how we, medical staff treat people who are dying by honouring their wishes. Only, this can’t be done unless we start the conversations the medicalisation of death is scary, useless and quite ridiculous. If only people new how many patients we don’t save when we resuscitate. Mostly all it does is stress out the nursing staff. And leave patients in a worse state if living at all. You are so brave, I would have given up ( I think) I don’t think anyone knows what it is truly like unless we are in the same shoes. Thank you Kate for changing the world for the better.
    May you always find peace even in your darkest moments.
    Lots of Love Jenny

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