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Has my decision to return to work normality played a part in my cancer returning?




Beth Purvis, aka Bowel Warrior, writes a column for the Indie about living with stage 4 cancer as a 40-year-old married mother of two.

This past year I have started getting back to some sort of normality. I went back to studying, something I started before cancer; the aim is to qualify as a lawyer. I managed to complete my degree but didn’t get to the professional exams before... well, cancer. With everything going so well, I decided to finish what I started and signed up for those exams.

On Friday January 17 I took my final professional exam; well, if I pass it will be the final one, so fingers crossed. To qualify though I also had to go back to work, and anyway that’s the point: to work as a lawyer.

Beth with husband Richard and their children Joe and Abi. Pic: Vikki Lince (27727432)
Beth with husband Richard and their children Joe and Abi. Pic: Vikki Lince (27727432)

Four months since returning and it feels like I've never been away. Where did those two years of chemotherapy, surgery, holidays, pony fun and family time go? I have to wait till March for my exam results; hopefully that time will go just as quickly.

To take my mind off my exams the NHS kindly invited me for my latest scan, the results of which were available the next day. Exam boards could learn a lot – although I’m definitely keeping my fingers crossed that the exam result will be more positive than the scan!

That’s right, the scan results were not great. It seems that the cancer is back. There’s now a 19mm growth in my right lung. Chuck in your favourite expletive here, one beginning with ‘B’ and ending in ‘R’ just about sums it up.

Beth Purvis with daughter Abi and Ruby the pony. Pic: Vikki Lince (27727406)
Beth Purvis with daughter Abi and Ruby the pony. Pic: Vikki Lince (27727406)

My oncologist has referred me back to my lung surgeon, so I'm hoping to get a chance to catch up with him very soon and see if he can be persuaded to cut this little invader out. For now though I have to just wait – wait for an update from my oncology team and, if he thinks he can help me, an appointment with my surgeon.

All this waiting, just hoping appointments come through more quickly than exam results. I'm not good at waiting. I've always been impatient, and it makes me quite grumpy and snappy – my poor husband!

While I wait, I can’t help wondering if I made a mistake trying to go back to my previous life rather than embracing change.

Previously, cancer made me re-evaluate and spend more time with my family, more time doing the things I love, spending time in the fresh air with my horses. I was living a much more active, healthy, happy, less stressful lifestyle. Things were going really well for me, I was feeling the best I had in a long time.

Did going back to work in an office – being more sedentary and not getting that all-important vitamin D, along with the added stress of exams and work – play a part in the cancer waking up again? Is my body trying to send me a message?

If I don’t qualify as a lawyer I feel like cancer has won; it has stopped me doing something I want to do, something I worked really hard for – and I don’t like losing. On the other hand, will qualifying mean I miss out on special moments with those I love?

What if the extra fresh air and exercise during my time off work was helping to keep the cancer at bay? Is having less time on this planet worth it all, because I won’t have won then, will I?

It seems like whatever I do, cancer wins and I lose. If I give up on my dream of becoming a lawyer and doing a job that challenges me, I lose a huge piece of me – and I don’t do giving up. Also, the money from work does come in rather handy – I have to pay for those ponies I love so much somehow.

These ups and downs living with cancer always send me into a bit of a spin. When things are going well I never know whether to make plans for the future and risk jinxing it all. When things aren’t going so well I question everything and wonder if I need to reconsider my priorities.

If only I had a crystal ball and could see into the future – not only could I guarantee a lottery win but I might be able to make sensible decisions about how I want to spend my time. Knowing how much future I have to plan for would be quite nice.

Given I am lacking in any kind of magic powers and I don’t own a time machine, I guess I just have to wait for the doctors to give me some insight into what my future might look like.

Is there more treatment available? How effective might treatment be? What will the physical effects of any treatment be?

Waiting for exam results isn’t really that bad after all – they’re not life and death, are they?


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