I’d resisted buying new ski gear for years but last week I finally succumbed. I blame Storm Ciara and cancelled flights – and a sudden, enlightening realisation that while I might have advanced cancer, it’s up to me how I choose to live with it.
My old ski outfit had become something of a standing joke. Not only was it very much past its best and dangerously close to being not fit for purpose, I’d lost lots of weight in the past few years and it was now far too big for me.
There were various reasons I hadn’t already replaced it. A key one was that a few years ago I essentially stopped buying stuff I didn’t need. This year there was an additional reason. Last April, I found out that the primary breast cancer I’d been treated for in 2015/16 had spread to my bones and bone marrow and could not now be cured. It’s treatable and I’m doing well but ultimately it’s incurable.
After my diagnosis last April, I assumed I wouldn’t go skiing again. When I realised I would in fact go this year, I convinced myself I shouldn’t buy new gear because I might get only one season’s use out of it. To be honest, the thought that my cancer might recur was always in the back of my mind in previous years – another reason I couldn’t bring myself to buy new kit. In the end, last week, I bought new trousers and a jacket in what I can only describe as a major act of defiance against the fact I have this cancer.
I’d had my old ski trousers for at least 15 years. They’d long lost any claim to being waterproof and indeed for the past couple of years had offered very little protection against the wind. The jacket was in fact a hiking jacket with none of the niceties that make a ski jacket a ski jacket. These include a little pouch on the sleeve for your lift pass – and, more importantly, inner cuffs in the sleeves and a “snow skirt” inside the body of the jacket to stop the white stuff going right up the inside should you fall. I say more importantly as I tend to fall, at least once every trip.
I’m extremely fortunate that, in normal circumstances, I get to go on more than one trip a year. I went with friends a few weeks ago and I’ve just got back from a week with my husband – our first ski trip together without the children in 19 years.
Having seen a photo of me on the trip with my friends where even I have to admit I look like a bag lady without the bags, I was almost persuaded. The photo’s there; see for yourself. In the end, though, even that wasn’t enough.
I read an article a couple of years ago about consumerism by the American author Ann Patchet. I was never that materialistic to start with; even so, this article changed the way I live my life. I’ve also just read a book by Vicky Silverthorn called “Start with your sock drawer”. If you read either or both and like what they say, you’ll appreciate my reluctance to buy anything new, never mind kit you only wear once or twice a year. Having this cancer adds another huge dimension. “How much use will I get out of it?” and “Do I really need I it?” are questions I ask myself every time I think I might buy something new. On balance, I felt I couldn’t justify new ski gear.
So when I packed last Saturday to come away with my husband, it was my old gear that I folded into the suitcase. Our flight from Gatwick to Geneva was the following day, at around lunchtime.
And then Storm Ciara happened. First thing last Sunday we found out our flight was cancelled. Over breakfast while we tried to reschedule our flight for the following day, I had an epiphany. That’s it, I announced, I’m getting some new ski gear this afternoon. And that’s exactly what I did.
The miracle is that I’ve gone skiing at all this season. When I got my secondary cancer diagnosis last April, I thought I’d be kissing goodbye to this particular activity. When you hear you have cancer in your spine, you don’t think, great, that’ll set me up nicely for skiing.
The closer it got to the ski season, however, the more I found myself thinking I might be able to go.
I did a thorough risk assessment before booking anything.
I hadn’t had any pain in my spine or anywhere else for months. I was feeling fit and well. Despite an initial scare towards the end of last year, an MRI scan failed to find any sign that my cancer had progressed. I was taking bone-strengthening drugs as part of my treatment. Finally – and this final factor was given extra weighting – I just really wanted to go!
I promised myself that if I did go, I’d be really careful. Sure, I might still have a catastrophic accident but I ride my bike downhill at speeds most people would think were fast and no-one is suggesting I don’t do that. And, as we all know, any one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow. It’s highly unlikely, but you know what I mean.
On to treatment.
Between one ski trip and the next, I had my monthly blood tests and appointment with the oncologist. I went ahead with the tenth round of the monthly treatment I began last May. The blood test results were good enough to keep me on this treatment but that blasted blood tumour marker keeps going up. This means there’s active cancer somewhere, but at the moment we don’t know where that is. I have my next set of scans – MRI and PET-CT – this coming week and they may or may not pick something up. The results will determine whether I stay on this treatment or move to another.
I’ve said this before, if you think scans and other types of diagnostic tests are “just to check everything’s ok”, you’re very much mistaken. It’s the total opposite; they’re to see if they can find anything wrong.
Back to the new ski gear. No, it doesn’t make me ski better* but I feel like a total badass wearing it.
I have so little control over what’s going on in terms of this disease – most importantly in terms of how it will progress but also in terms of the appointments and the blood tests and the scans and the treatments. This wasn’t just about buying a new jacket and trousers. It was about taking control and confronting my fear about the future. I’ve done just five days’ skiing in my new kit. I’ve already had more than my money’s worth.
*That’s a nod to my brothers. We come from a sporty family and even now, when someone shows off a new piece of, say, cycling kit they’ve just bought, someone else is always quick to ask if it makes them pedal faster.