I’ll never forget when I found out Lou had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in the garden with my one year old twins; I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t process it. I still can’t. The year that followed just seemed like one long nightmare for her as she bravely faced operations, chemotherapy and everything else that was thrown her way. Finally getting the all-clear in 2017 was the best news ever. Her pain, anxiety, hideousness of the last year had all been worth it, my beautiful friend had beat cancer and could start looking forward and making plans for the/her future. A bright future.
It was July 2018 that Lou mentioned she didn’t feel quite right. In true Lou style she massively played it down and put it down to her diet and needing to eat more protein. Nevertheless, under coercion, she told her nurse who referred her for scans, just to be on the safe side.
On 3rd August 2018, Lou received the news that she had incurable bone cancer in her sternum. She ended a text message to me with the words “ I’m ok, it is what it is, could be way worse”.
Well it isn’t okay and it wasn’t okay. None of this is f****** okay. I was in complete shock. I pulled myself together and rang Lou. She was calm and collected as Lou is, as she relayed the facts and what the next few weeks consisted of as they sorted out her treatment and a plan going forward. She spoke about it as someone might do a bad trip to the dentist. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t crying, she was accepting and brave. So incredibly brave. And by brave I don’t just necessarily mean not crying, I mean her resilience, her positivity and her acceptance. I, on the other hand was not. I probably used the F word about 20 times in 20 minutes. I was angry, in fact beyond angry, furious. Angry for this amazing person, angry for Steve and the life they should be planning, angry for her Mum and the anxiety and worry to come, angry for her family and friends, angry for my children who love her and above all angry at the universe for dealing such a cruel and devastating blow to this amazing person.
In truth I’m still angry, but that’s not going to help Lou. Lou has faced this diagnosis with a bravery that I didn’t know was possible and we have to follow her lead.
It’s difficult to know what to say and whether you’re saying the right thing to someone with a diagnosis like Lou’s. So I’m following her lead and hope I’m doing alright. In the weeks that followed she has been out buying DVD’s for my children (she couldn’t believe they’ve never seen Despicable Me), we’ve made various concoctions of sloe gin and we’ve eaten a lot of cake!! You see, this is the thing about Lou, despite what’s going on in her life, she’s always thinking of other people and doing thoughtful things to make them happy. We moved house this year, into a blank canvas that needed everything choosing. Lou spent hours and hours with me, helping me to pick every tiny detail and must have spent hours at home too, sending me photos of things she had found or seen that she thought I would like. She seemed to know exactly what I would like even before I knew! She has the most incredible gift for interior design and home furnishings. Really she needs her own design business or Instagram page as the girl is truly talented!! She’s not interested in that though. I’ve often told her she should start her own business but she won’t because she likes making one-off pieces with different people in mind. See what I mean about her prioritising others happiness!!
Lou’s asked me to include something in here for other friends supporting their loved ones with cancer (trust her to always be thinking of others!!). It’s so hard to know how best to support someone living with cancer. I guess it’s not always about the big gestures and necessarily being there face to face. Having small children who have a constant stream of bugs I can’t always be there in person for Lou. But I think (know!) she appreciates the little gestures like cards or small tokens through the post, or dropping something off on her doorstep after a shi**y day at hospital. There are good days and bad days and I think it’s important to recognise when friends need space but you can still let them know you’re thinking of them. Of course being there in person is just as important and we’ve put the world to rights many a time over coffee and cake. It’s sometimes hard to know what to say and I think it’s okay to say just that, it’s the being there that counts.
Despite the diagnosis, the new cocktail of pills and undoubtedly feeling rubbish, Lou has decided to push her body to the limits and sign up to do a 140 mile coast to coast bike ride raising money for cancer research. As she put it “to help others and find a cure”. She’s thrown her heart and soul into this challenge. To come to terms with this diagnosis is one thing, but to come to terms with this diagnosis and then throw yourself into an immense physical challenge to help others, is entirely another. I know for a fact she’s not been feeling good these past few weeks, no doubt the cocktail of drugs doing what-they-do, but she’s still out there, training. Pushing herself to the absolute limit to not let any of her co-riders down, when no doubt she would love to spend the day under a duvet or sat in her PJ’s.
Lou’s bravery and self-less attitude never fail to amaze and humble me. I’ve never once heard her berating the situation, or others who complain about so much less. I can’t help but wonder how she copes with the everyday torture of waiting for hospital results, feeling so poorly from all the meds she can barely get out of bed and of course constantly wondering what the future holds. As ever, she faced being dealt the statistic of “five to ten years” with bravery and (what shocked me most) humour. Even aptly nicknaming the Doctor delivering the news “the grim reaper”.
Everyone has read a story about that person who has beat a terminal diagnosis and to me, this person will be Lou. There are no other options. Medications and treatments are changing and advancing everyday, not to mention the work of amazing charities such as cancer research who work tirelessly for a cure. Those statistics are based on the previous ten years, not the future ten years. Sadly what happened in other people’s lives, not Lou’s life and not where we are today.
If I was asked to name a person I admire , I would name Lou. I feel honoured to have her in my life and call her a close friend. She is an inspiration and I love the time that we spend together.
But despite the brave face I hope you know Lou, that you can come to me in the dark moments; no matter how dark the moment, love, hope and laughter are always possible.