CATHERINE
Astrocytoma

I was 8 at the time, and if I’m honest I can barely remember the whole experience, just random flashes…. A boy lending me his blue peter book on the ward, a failed attempt to sing along to the Lion King 2, my disgust at the idea of having to go to school and my sheer excitement at being able to have chicken nuggets and chips everyday for dinner. My mum tells me I was upset at the time, crying my eyes out on the steps of Great Ormond Street, asking whether I would even survive the whole ordeal, but at the end of the day I am sure my parents desire to cry was ten times stronger than my own. I had the benefit of naivety on my side, whilst my parents were pretty well drilled in science and probably feared for the worst.

The astrocytoma was Grade 1, I had lost the eyesight in my left eye and the coordination on that side was reduced, but other than that I had made a pretty miraculous recovery. Once I returned home, my parents put a mattress in front of the telly and my sister made me chicken nuggets and chips that first morning back. Over the next year, I was charged with various balancing exercises, and I eventually increased the time spent at school to a whole day. Around Christmas I returned to the hospital for a course in radiotherapy. For the next 17 years I attended quite a few hospital appointments. When I was younger I thought it was a good reason to miss a whole afternoon of school, I now realise that maybe I should have taken these appointments a tad more seriously and perhaps assessed the general progress of my life a little more.

Now I find myself at the Macmillan centre more and more, its basically become a second home and I really look forward to the solace it offers. Reflecting on my past I’ve realised how much time I spent getting through education, getting the grades I needed and seriously working hard to appear like I fitted in. I spent absolutely no time understanding what exactly had gone wrong and how my disabilities affected me day to day. I very much had an attitude of mentally erasing that whole chapter in my life.

Recently I’ve discovered that is not a particularly clever idea. I seem to have a knack of choosing the easiest option as opposed to the right one. Whilst I had always mentioned to employers that I only have peripheral vision in my left eye due to a brain tumour, I never fully explained what this meant for me and how best to tackle the situation head on. As it stands I am now looking to start a new career because my physical disabilities meant working in an office was not the most ideal option for me. I failed to comprehend that the cancer had unfortunately left a scar, and although I so desperately wanted to forget the past and just lead a normal life, I probably caused myself a lot of emotional trauma by being so hard on myself and refusing to acknowledge my differences.

The Late Effects

Emotion – Looking back at the past decade or so, I have always reacted to someone being angry or upset with me in the same way – I have always, always resorted to tears. No matter how angry and unfair I think it is that someone would talk to me like that, I just don’t seem able to process this information properly. If I were that girl in inside out there would be no disgust or anger, just fear, sadness and joy.

Interacting with the outside world – I seem incapable of understanding that there is a bigger world out there. I keep up with the big events, but if someone goes off into an in depth conversation about politics, history, geography, economics, I am at a complete loss. My reading has completely gone out the window as well, to be fair this is mainly because I generally want to be in bed by 10.30 , but still it’s a shame this hobby just seems to have stopped.

Confidence – I’ve spent a while building up this aspect of my life, and to be honest I thought by the time I got to university I was pretty much there. However since working in the world of business my confidence seems to have once more taken a bit of a hit. I personally think this confidence issue is due to my eyesight. As a young child I never did anything unless I knew about every parameter, but now I am naturally more uncertain and hesitant. My brain just seems to jump to conclusions the whole time, over analysing simple tasks, making me anxious about acting for myself without someone there to confirm my actions.

Dealing with Life

Emotion – the cure to emotion is….. I haven’t quite worked that one out, but does it really need a cure? Out of the late effects I have, it doesn’t bother me too much. I find it frustrating in certain situations, and if I feel like I’m in a safe environment I will possibly shed a tear and look generally weepy. Visiting the Psychologist recently, we’ve discussed this issue, and the main idea seems to be that my emotion is my own strength. So my advice is don’t beat yourself up! If you feel upset or annoyed let it out, and if the rest of the world does not wish to hear you out then that is entirely their loss! An upsetting event can be ten times worse, but a happy one is ten times better [Symbol]

Interacting with the outside world – This issue does annoy me, I never seem to go out of my way to learn new information unless it directly affects me. I don’t know how to remedy this matter, or even if it is a consequence of the cancer. I feel that from a very young age I have been protected from the outside world. I remember telling my Psychologist 10 years ago that I felt like I was four years behind the rest of the world, and I still do now. I suppose the answer to this particular issue is just to give myself time to process the outside world and stop being so impatient with myself.

Confidence- I like to think I’m a pretty confident and upbeat person, but at times, particularly when I am stressed or anxious, I find it hard to pick myself up again. Again I am not sure if this is an inherited trait or a consequence of the cancer. I’ve come to the conclusion it is always best for me to make decisions when I am relaxed, when I don’t feel pressured and when I am in control of a situation. I am still learning the art of acting quickly and confidently, but I am finding the repetition of the simplest of tasks is a great confidence builder for me.

So to conclude….

“The past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or... learn from it. “ Rafiki – The Lion King

I remember thinking when I left my job how ironic it was that despite my adoration of the Shakespearian adaptation, I had never listened to the wisdom of old Rafiki. I had never looked hard enough at my own reflection and actually assessed my life. I now see it is a work in progress, there will always be room for improvement and a brighter future to work towards.