What happens when those serving and helping cancer patients become diagnosed with the disease themselves? Read more below.
When The IHadCancer Team originally asked me to write about my experience of having cancer as a cancer scientist, I initially thought, "I don't see how it affected me at all."
But thinking about it more deeply made me realise some things that didn’t even cross my mind as things to worry about.
As a cancer scientist, I have spent over 14 years searching genetic (DNA and RNA) sequences from blood and tumours, looking for mutations. Before that, I studied for a Doctorate (PhD) in Pharmaceutics (drug design and delivery) while also researching human genetics. All of that means that I know secrets about your cancer. I know them before you do. I have access to information deep in the heart of you, in the darkest, most intimate places, the nuclei of your cells. I know whether you or your children are carrying a potential cancer-causing mutation.
However, when I was diagnosed with womb cancer 6 years ago, I blocked out all of that knowledge. I refused to read any information, wouldn't look at my scars and didn't want to talk about it. Sure, I know what tumours look like and how they form. But how did any of that help me?
But what I realize now, is that I never asked "Why Me?" Maybe that’s because with all the "wrong" DNA sequences I see every day and the millions of places it can potentially mutate, I know that the more pertinent question is: "Why not me?"
I am proud to be part of a team behind the enemy lines of cancer helping to detect the mutations in affected families so that, armed with this information, future generations may be treated earlier and more effectively. I know the numerous checks and audits that we have to make to each result of every report before it is released to the family. I may know your secrets but I guard them carefully and respectfully until the report is ready to be sent to the genetic counsellor. I think of the person looking through the file - will they have to share good news or bad? I picture the family, smiling with relief, but if not, rest assured we have a great team of very capable people looking after you.
And I think that’s why, when I received my cancer diagnosis, the things I DIDN’T worry about were things like:
· Will the drugs work?
· Does the surgeon know what he is doing?
· Will my samples get mixed up?
· Have they made the correct diagnosis?
· Have they calculated the correct amount of radiation?
· Have the lab technicians calibrated the machine properly for my blood tests?
As a cancer scientist, I know that obviously things can and do go wrong. But working in a pathology laboratory surrounded by microbiologists, virologists, organ transplant teams and pathologists, has shown me that every person works exceptionally hard for the patients, expanding techniques as new technology becomes available, to increase the amount of knowledge for future patients. With all this behind us on our side ranged against a few rogue cells, I know which side my money’s on.
And as a cancer patient, I feel so fortunate to be living in a world full of scientific knowledge and trustworthy, hard-working hospital staff who helped to make my experience easier: the surgeon who did extra research to find out if I was a suitable case for HRT, the anaesthetist who gave me a sympathetic word, the nurse at the MRI scan who admired my toenail polish, the Macmillan nurse who gave me a cup of tea when I visited her years afterwards, the staff at the Cancer Support Centre who spent time with me when I was upset.
I am constantly amazed how much our bodies are able to cope with - we may be bombarded with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, but the body and spirit continue on (I don't like the words ‘fight’ or ‘battle’ in relation to cancer, but that's for another post!).
Have you ever had a similar experience? How did you handle it? Share in the comments below!