Tori Sprott is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.
Since I have been feeling overwhelmingly uninspired by things the past month, I decided to do something different for my second piece. I interviewed my Mum about her cancer diagnosis and all things in between. Writers block isn’t always the most terrible thing.
Let’s start from the very beginning. When were you diagnosed? What kind of cancer do you have? How has this been for you?
I was diagnosed fifteen months ago. I have a blood cancer called Plasmacytoma. This cancer comes under Myeloma. It is a cancer of the plasma blood cells. The past fifteen months have been horrific, terrifying and exhausting.
Even as your daughter, I have seen how weird and reserved people can be when it comes to a topic as sensitive as cancer. Many do not know how to talk about it. Many do not want to address it at all. What would you say to those who have friends/know people who are suffering from cancer and do not know how to approach it?
Since my diagnosis I have been so grateful for most of my family and friends support, however I have been equally as disappointed and shocked by some people’s reactions. I have been told that people feel uncomfortable being around me; I have been completely dropped by so called friends. What I have also experienced is being told ‘we all went out last week but we didn’t tell you as we know you are not well’. I know I am not well, but just ask anyway and let me decided if I want to go out or not! Cancer is miserable, as is going to endless appointments. Having company is so helpful especially during chemo and radiotherapy.
What three positive things have you learned about yourself over the past year? Cancer is not all doom and gloom, I have to look at the positives. It has given me a complete different outlook on life. The material things I thought were important just aren’t. I Love being at home. Over the past year, my relationships with my sisters, nieces and nephews have strengthened. I feel so strong, which might sound strange, but I know what my body has gone through and I’m still standing. I love the courage that I have gained. I know I will win in the end.
I get my sensitivity from you. Sensitivity is stigmatised, especially within black families. What advice would you give to young women trying to navigate through the world as sensitive beings?
Being sensitive has made life difficult for me at times, but I am not a pushover; I am in fact the opposite. We all need to feel comfortable with who we are and the skin we live in. Being sensitive is okay, but you just have to learn that life isn’t easy and people will let you down. People aren’t always nice, but it gives you the capacity to be a thoughtful human being who understands that we all have different personality traits. That is okay!
When we hear about cancer in the media, there seems to be a heavy focus on breast cancer. Not to take away from the seriousness of breast cancer, but it is also imperative that we hear about all kinds. What are your views on this, and what do you think can be done to change the perception of cancer in the media?
I’ve talked about this a lot with friends, family and the lovely people at the McMillan cancer centre. I’m glad that there are a lot of cancer awareness adverts on TV, but a lot of the adverts and fundraising is directed to Breast Cancer. Don’t get me wrong, all cancers are terrible and come with there own unique problems. I have a blood cancer and feel so isolated as it’s never talked about even though the rate of people being diagnosed with it is just as high as breast cancer. I watch TV and you see all these adverts with people wearing pink, running and being bubbly and happy and that’s great, but cancer is neither of those things.
I wish the programmes were more honest in showing the real story. I was starting to think I was weak because I didn’t feel upbeat and certainly didn’t have the urge to do a marathon run while having chemo or to have a hair shaving party! Most of the time I feel crap and exhausted. The half a million tablets I take make me feel even worse, but the doctors say they are to make you better. Confusing or what?
Then you have months of chemo, which is not only trying to kill your tumour but also kills healthy cells. This gives you ulcers in your mouth, digestive tract, nausea, constipation and diarrhoea. Six weeks of radiotherapy every day, which leaves you with the worst sunburn and [like chemo] exhaustion! Then the steroids turn you into someone you don’t recognise due to weight gain and make you feel so on edge. It keeps you up all night even though you’re exhausted from all the other treatments.
So no, cancer is not pink with a lovely bow and ribbon and it is not just breasts that are affected by this evil non-discriminatory disease. There are so many different cancers. Let’s all try to be aware and try our best to fundraise for all cancers and research so that one day no more loved ones are taken from us by this horrible disease.
You regularly have counselling sessions. I have just started mine. What are the benefits of these sessions, and what advice would you give to those who are hesitant to get the help that they need in terms of mental health?
As you cam imagine being diagnosed with cancer for me was such a shock that even after 15 months I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I was apprehensive at first, as talking about feelings wasn’t something that was encouraged in my family as I was growing up. I had sessions at the end of last year and have begun new sessions and I am finding them so helpful. Talking to someone who is not family is so helpful and getting the chance to just talk openly and truthfully about how you’re feeling is so important. I feel so much better after my sessions. I would recommend therapy to everyone. There’s no shame in asking for help and admitting your not coping.
Mental health is so relevant now, and maybe us being open and talking about having support will encourage others to get help and remove the stigma around mental health. Hopefully we will encourage the government to put more money into this neglected sector.
Finally, what advice would you give to any other women out there suffering from cancer?
Stay strong and keep going, even on those days when you feel you can’t! Keep fighting and tell yourself every day that you have cancer – cancer doesn’t have you! Kick cancers arse and tell it’s evil presence that it’s not going win this battle.
Picture: Tori Sprott