From nurse, to patient, to blogger - meet Dawn
Dawn is a talented writer, with an incredible story that includes a brain tumour, breast cancer, multiple operations and medical treatments. And when she answered our questions, she made it all look so easy.
The incredible story starts with an earthquake…
I celebrated my 45th birthday in style with afternoon tea at the Ritz. Then that November I came home from work feeling incredibly agitated so took myself out for a run. In bed that night I woke with a start when my legs started shaking, then my whole body was consumed by an earthquake and I sunk into a black cloud of unconsciousness. My husband rushed me to hospital and the doctors discovered I had a tangerine sized brain tumour which had spread across my head like icing. They operated the next day and I lost the use of my legs.
That first operation was complicated by a brain abscess requiring more surgery and removal of part of my skull to create my ‘sun roof’! I lost any use of my legs I had regained and also the use of my left arm. Also as a result of that surgery and infection I developed epilepsy too.
So I re-started recovery as a no legged, one armed Happy to be alive, kind of girl! I worked hard in the physio gym and at home and regained the use of my left arm and right leg but my left leg remains stubbornly lazy.
I was lucky as my brain tumour was a Meningioma and -even better- it was low grade. (Brain tumours are graded 1-4 depending on how they behave. Grade 4 is malignant and fast growing whereas 1 is slow growing and it often referred to as benign). At the current time there is no cure for any of them. However, I had radical surgery to remove almost the entire tumour and have annual brain scans to watch for any re-growth.
Then in 2014, after my breast screening mammogram, I received the devastating news that I had grade 2 breast cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes. I have now popped out the other side of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, ready to get on with my life again. With the breast cancer, I consider myself to be like a piece of ham, cured!
With the brain tumour I started the blog a few years after the initial trauma of the life changing diagnosis and surgery. On the other hand, I blogged all the way through the breast cancer diagnosis and treatment which I believe helped me to recover from the trauma and shock sooner.
How Dawn’s blog started
In 2008 I discovered I had a brain tumour which hit my world like a tsunami and shattered my life. I was a nurse in a high profile job and after a year of recovery I attempted to return to work. But several months later it became apparent to me that I couldn’t continue although everyone else had worked this out long ago. So in an hour-long meeting, some weeks later, my 30-year career was terminated. I gained a badge ‘retired due to ill health’ and I was devastated.
I then started scribbling in a note book, well ranting really, to get my emotions out of my tortured head and gradually my ranting took the shape of my story. I had heard people talk about Blogs but had no idea what they were, so I hit Google. When my husband came home that night, I proudly announced I had started a Blog! Setting one up was that easy.
What’s in a blog name?
I called my Blog Mind The Gap for three reasons
a) because the tumour left such a gap in my life
b) because the tumour left a huge hole in my head and
c) because I lost my driving licence as a result of the brain tumour surgery and epilepsy so I had to take two taxi journeys and a train ride to work. I was walking with two sticks and my balance was poor. My heart would start racing as we neared my destination when the train driver announced Mind The Gap. I knew if it was a wide gap between the train and the station platform I would fall flat on my face trying to get off or preferably fall into the arms of a stranger!
I added the The A-Z as a way of organising my writing. If you look back at my earlier posts, my first few all began with A, then B and so on. But when I was diagnosed with breast cancer I lost all focus so wrote a post called Breast Cancer Blows the A out of Z then stopped using any order after that.
From blogger to writer
I find writing my blog cathartic. Writing helps me release the angst inside my head, stops me ruminating, by putting things into words it helps me accept the changes and challenges I face. After my brain tumour, I struggled to find any support once I was discharged from hospital. Therefore I hoped by writing my blog and sharing my story I could show others, on a similar journey, that there can still be life after such devastating changes and that life can be good as well as challenging.
As a result of my blog, my ‘writing career’ has taken off in a way I could never have anticipated or imagined. I used to write academically as a nurse but never creatively. However, I believe, now my brain has been freed from the pressures of every day work, I have time to think and be creative. I have taken advice from a willing author and friend who taught me some of the tools of the trade! I write for a local cancer magazine, have had articles published in a gardening magazine, have written guest blog posts on request and am currently researching for a book which is completely unrelated to health! I would never have believed that the changes brought about by the tumour and starting a blog could have resulted in me becoming a writer.
Getting tips from other bloggers
I read other blogs as I like to pick up tips on living healthily with cancer. I also like to review the writing styles others use and how they approach blog writing.
One blog in particular that I feel anyone going through cancer, either directly or indirectly may benefit from is Chris’s Cancer Community. Chris does remarkable work to improve the care (internationally) and support available for people with cancer while living with cancer himself.
Get your emotions and thoughts onto paper!
I often encourage people who are going through changes in their lives, health related or not, to buy a note book and start writing, make lists or write about the thoughts you are having, good and bad. Writing a blog is not for everyone but getting emotion and thoughts out of your head and onto paper, even if you then rip it up, is a healthy way to deal with challenges. I am currently encouraging a Mum of a young man with Down syndrome to start a blog. They are an amazing pair and readers could learn so much from them. But I am a great believer that people do what is right for them and we are all different.
On dealing with cancer, directly or indirectly
Personally, I don’t like the words fight or survivor. I have never seen myself as being in a fight with cancer as for me the word fight evokes anger. I also don’t see myself as a cancer survivor. I prefer to find ways to overcome and live with health challenges and I certainly have my fair share of those!
My message to people who are friends or family of someone with cancer would be:
Never say keep strong or stay positive when they are telling you how hard it all is for them. Just listen, um and ah and listen some more. Make contact even if you find it hard to pick up the phone.
Don’t say if I can do anything please ask. Offer specific support if you mean it; suggest things like:
I will cook you a meal for the freezer.
I will come and take you out for a ride into the countryside or to the beach (even if all they can do is sit in the car)
Offer to change their beds, do the washing or take their ironing home…
I would say to people with cancer that charities relating to the cancer you have, often provide a huge amount of evidence based information and support. Also don’t be afraid to use social media as a means of information and support. I have made many ‘twitter friends’ as a result of my health journey and have gained a huge amount of support from them all.
But most importantly be kind to yourself, try not to be afraid, as on this journey you will be surprised by the resilience you will discover within yourself. I never knew I had the inner strength to overcome so much!
More about Dawn’s blog:
Blog name and link: www.mindthegapa-z.blogspot.com
Twitter handle: @dawn_hamill