stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


A Christmas miracle

When I began treatment for breast cancer three and a half years ago, one of the saddest conversations I had with my oncologist was about my already begun regime of chemotherapy. He said something like,

“This treatment was developed in France.” (Great! I love France. Lots of good stuff comes from there)

“It is so strong that doctors didn’t give it to anyone for a few years as they were concerned that it may kill them instantly.” (Ummm… Ok… Less good)

“It can have all sorts of long lasting effects and we don’t know how it will affect you but it may well make you infertile.” (Whhhhaaaaaaatttttttt???)

It was that last bit that got me and sent me reeling. I wasn’t too worried about the first bit, as people had been having this treatment without instantly dropping down dead (well to my admittedly limited knowledge anyway) for some time. My heart was strong and I reckoned I could withstand the poison.

But to be told that your dreams for more children may be over, was not a curveball that I was expecting cancer to throw at me and I was so heartbroken by this idea. My oncologist said that there was no way to know now what would happen and only time would tell…

It was too much to process all at once, so we put the possible baby/no baby situation to the back of our minds, and I ploughed on with my treatment.

About six months after my diagnosis I had a mastectomy as planned. When I went to get the results from the surgery, the doctor I saw (who I had never met before) said that I was in luck! My cancer was slightly different to what they originally thought and it was actually estrogen positive. What that meant in practice was that there was another line of treatment available to me, a tablet called Tamoxifen which I now needed to take for five years. Oh, and by the way, that means that you can’t try to have another baby for the next five years. When questioned by us about this the doctor (who incidentally I never saw again) said that we shouldn’t even discuss it. That was a conversation for another day.

We left the hospital that day feeling a bit shell shocked

This was supposed to be good news, and in my head I knew that it was, as it meant another line of defence against the recurrence of cancer, it meant a better shot of survival. But somehow I couldn’t see that, all I could see was a baby that was not to be and that made me so sad.

Again, I put it to the back of my mind and carried on with treatment.

About six months later I saw on the news that the recommended course of Tamoxifen for Breast cancer patients had changed from five years to ten years. TEN years!!! I couldn’t possibly wait that long to try again…

I saw my oncologist and he confirmed this to be the case and that I was an excellent candidate to take the drug for ten years. I couldn’t believe it and was so sad at what felt like another huge blow to my future dreams.

But in end that ten year timeframe was just too long and we couldn’t accept it. It caused us to go back again and ask if they would support us in taking a break to try for a baby as I had read online that this might be possible (thank you Dr Google!). My oncology team confirmed that I could take a break and that they would support my decision to do so, but that I should be aware that it was not without some risk and I would need to take the drug for at least two years before even considering stopping.

The decision to take a break from the drugs was one that we thought and prayed long and hard about. I frequently swung between deciding yes I would stop and no, what a ridiculous suggestion. I experienced guilt over thinking of stopping, questioned myself as to whether I was being irresponsible by stopping, ran through countless possible scenarios in my head, but in the end we made the decision to go for it, to try for that much longed for baby.

And once the decision was made, I knew it was the right one for us and I had such peace about it.

We were given a very short window in which to try to conceive by my oncology team and we hoped and prayed we would be able to.

And that is where we are.

I am now 22 weeks pregnant with a much longed for, much hoped for and much loved little miracle of a baby. This baby is due just before Christmas and we are so excited and thankful for this new life. Jonty is so excited to be a big brother which only adds to the joy.

Both me and the baby are currently doing really well. Please do pray for continued health for both of us.

I can’t wait to introduce our little Christmas miracle to you all!

(Sorry about the lack of “bump” shot! It is still quite small and I just look like I’ve been eating too many pies, which to be fair I probably have! Instead here’s a photo of me and the excited big brother whilst on holiday in France this week)

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Countryfile, chocolate coins and ‘the busiest profession at Christmas’

Confession time… This evening I watched Countryfile (for those of you outside of the UK, it is a generally fairly dull show about rural Britain)… In my defence I didn’t watch the whole thing but as I turned on the TV I was drawn in by scenes of the beautiful city of Bath (a city that I will always love as it is where we lived when we were first married). I was enjoying the scenes of the Christmas market and wishing my local market in Kingston was more like this when the segment ended and a new segment about ‘the busiest profession at Christmas time’ began.

It was about, you guessed it, being a vicar (and specifically a rural vicar), and what that was like at Christmas.

As a vicar’s wife (albeit not in a rural area), I watched with interest, to see how this life, ‘the busiest profession at Christmas’ and the church more broadly would be portrayed…

Although the vicar in the programme was lovely, and obviously works hard in a large benefice of 12 churches and is well-loved by his parishioners, as the segment finished I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad.

It seemed that the focus of the segment was only on how much the vicar had to do, and with that there were lots of shots of him driving around in his car, running just a little late for services. It painted a fairly bleak picture of church life and cited stats of the declining church in the UK, and the presenter kept saying things like, “You must be so pleased when this busy Christmas season is over!” (Kudos to the vicar, who responded that he actually quite enjoyed the Christmas period!)

To me, the focus of the whole piece was only on how busy it is to be a vicar at Christmas (which is entirely true! Crazy times!), but what a sad thing to have as the sole focus! It was as if services and parish life were just something to be endured, (and thank goodness when they are over!!), rather than wonderful opportunities for communities to come together and to celebrate and give thanks for what God has done!

I suppose I was left feeling like the segment had somehow missed the point of Christmas and just focussed on the busyness of the season and on getting through it.

But, as I thought about it more, I realised that part of why I felt sad about it was that I recognised something of my own tendency to do this too. I know I can be so guilty of getting so caught up in the mad Christmas schedule and trying to get everything done (perfectly) in time for the big day, that the real reason for Christmas can become a little bit lost.

At the beginning of December I made Jonty an advent calendar (here’s the blog post on how I did it). I put a little something that tells part of the Christmas story as well as a chocolate coin in each pocket. He has loved it and every day asks me if he can open another pocket (and then after he has he asks me if he can open just one more, “Please Mummy, just one more teeny tiny pocket!”)

Today he got a pair of googly eyes and when he got it out he said, “What part of the Mary and Joseph story does this tell me about Mummy?” (I had to check because who knows what googly eyes represents in the Christmas story!!) Even though he also gets a chocolate coin, every day the Christmas story trinket trumps the shiny, delicious (yet much less interesting) chocolate coin and he rushes to put it in his treasure box with pride.

This has been such a lovely thing for me to observe but it has also challenged me on what I, as an adult, focus on at Christmas time.

Both Countryfile and Jonty’s advent calendar are such a challenge to me this Christmas. They both have reminded me not simply to focus on being busy and on making everything perfect and beautiful. The stable definitely wasn’t perfect or picturesque. It was probably dirty and smelly and simple and full of farm animals, yet it was the place where everything changed, where Jesus was born and where hope entered the world.

Both Countryfile and Jonty remind me and challenge me to remember the true meaning of Christmas, the hope brought by a tiny baby into the world!

My prayer for us all this Christmas is that our Christmases are less like Countryfile and more like little Jonty – far less about the mad rush, chocolate coins, sparkle, stuff and perfection and far more about the advent trinket, Christ, joy and hope!

Happy Christmas!