Cancer. It’s such an ugly word. Wouldn’t you agree dear reader? The mere mention of it on one’s lips signals pain, uncertainty and death. It changes lives in seconds and spreads quicker than runny icing on an stale fruitcake. It impacts and destroys everything it comes into contact with. But, with us being a strange and stubborn breed we refuse to let it assume control so we challenge it; “Give me your best shot, I dare you!” We fight and fight until the bitter end.
Today on the blog I am reviewing What Doesn’t Kill You…The Highs, Lows
and Unexpected Gifts of Surviving Cancer (Published 10 Mar 2020) By Rachel Haynes. A big thank you to the publishers Watkins Publishing for my copy to review, always appreciated.
About The Author
Rachel Haynes met her husband 6 weeks before she relapsed with stage 4 bowel cancer again. Miraculously she survived and lives happily (spoiler alert) with her husband.
She wrote ‘What doesn’t kill you…’ to give hope to anyone wanting to find anyone alive and well 5 years on from an advanced cancer diagnosis and also to talk about what surviving a life sentence like this does to you, both the ups and the downs.
After surviving cancer, she decided to leave her job as a Marketing Director for a software company and set up her own branding agency which she runs successfully with her brother. Rachel has also recently trained as a transformational coach to help cancer survivors find new purpose after the treatment has ended. She is also donating all profits from this book to the charity Bowel Cancer UK.
Her two children who were 11 and 13 when she was first diagnosed and lived their teenage years in the shadow of cancer have also gone on to train in both mental health nursing and as a medical student.
Her first book The C List was written in 2012 and just as the book was being published, she relapsed. Promising her friend, she would live to finish the story, this follow up includes for context an edited version of the story with part 1 – telling the story of physical survival and a new section part 2 – dealing with the aftermath, psychological survival.
What Doesn’t Kill You…The Highs, Lows and Unexpected Gifts of Surviving Cancer
Rachel Haynes survived bowel cancer, not once, but twice. This is her story about facing treatment, the joy of remission, followed by the heartbreak of relapse and finally unexpectedly a cure. Rachel reflects on the messy psychological legacy of survival in all its raw highs and lows. And of her overwhelming urge to finally make sense of a life she never thought she would see. With taboo-breaking humour and honesty, she vividly describes her experience of cancer, the impact it has on her loved ones alongside a tender description of how life has brought her full circle back to love. It is a rallying call to wake up to what’s important in life and to never give up hope. A quest to get to the answer of what to do when you have a second chance at life. Rachel Haynes faced a 7% chance of survival when she was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer at the age of 45. All profits from the book will be donated to Bowel Cancer UK. What lies beneath survival is the realisation that the end of treatment is not the end of the story.
Whenever you read about the C word in the news or in books it is rarely about bowel cancer. It is often skipped over and pushed to the back of the class to await further instructions. We don’t hear about it often and therein lies the problem, we don’t know anything about it. What it is, what it does and the treatment that is involved.
Rachel Haynes has fought and survived cancer twice. This is her story. Haynes takes the reader from the early stages of being diagnosed to five years after and facing its return. Haynes honestly reflects on her survival rate and breaks taboo by using humour as a support, the old ‘if you can’t laugh now, then when can you?’ She is forced to make sense of a life she never thought she would see, and that dear reader has got to mess with anyones’ head.
What I like about Haynes is that she is honest and quick witted. She doesn’t want fame or fortune as all profits from her book are donated to bowel cancer research. She wants to help people, to let others know they are not alone. She doesn’t want to be told she’s an inspiration or given that sympathetic look that she is doing great with the added thumbs up. She wants to share her story truthfully while remaining respectable and show first hand the reality of what the mind, body, everything goes through when it is under attack from cancer. Not only does cancer impact Haynes’ life but it explodes into her loved ones’ lives too. Her family are supportive and the reader sees the damage that cancer can do. To say it’s a wake up call to what is important in life would be an understatement.
I figure I have had an interesting and full life and tempted the arrival of the Grim Reaper a number of times, so it is a waste of time complaining and regretting anything. And one thing’s for certain, there’s nothing like the Sly Old Fox of cancer to knock the shine off my mojo!
Many things got chucked into the lost-property basket:
bits of body parts, bikinis, hipster trousers, short-term memory…but one thing I hope has not gone missing, or at least will be returned to me at the end of term, is my sense of humour and optimism.
As I was about to now enter phase three, the chemo long slog, this was to become more important than ever.
My mouth was left gaping to the floor as I read about the amount of treatment that Haynes had to undertake. The keyhole surgeries, drips and wires everywhere, needles and the psychological drain that takes over the mind. I was naīve to not be aware of how much the body and mind goes through when duelling with such an grotesque enemy. It opened my eyes to this horrible part of real life, people are going through this every day.
There were many times I wanted to give Haynes a quick nudge and tell her to stop feeling guilty. After everything she has been through the last thing she should feel is guilty. But then again I know that personally I would probably feel the same. She feels bad for her family worrying about her and how much it has challenged them. This shows how extremely selfless Haynes is; a good, kind, caring person that worries about everyone else except for herself. She takes time to realise that there’s no harm in putting herself first sometimes and you do a little victory cheer when she finds love and begins to find herself again.
A funny thing happened on the way to the shower a few days after surgery to remove the portacath. I caught sight of my body in a full-length mirror. For the first time in over 18 months. I was suddenly aware that I had consciously avoided this moment since the shock of realizing that it had been letting me down all those months ago.
It was quite a moving experience. I did not see myself as someone who was scarred from three major ops, two minor ones and eight gruelling months of chemo but as a new whole person. I knew turning around and viewing myself from all angles, and I did not see the lumps and bumps and scars. I saw past all this and saw a strong body that had taken all that medical science could chuck at it and still bounce back for more. Stronger, I hope. No, I am not going all Californian on you, but I did feel more beautiful for it.
I give What Doesn’t Kill You…The Highs, Lows and Unexpected Gifts of Surviving Cancer By Rachel Haynes a Five out of Five paw rating.
Haynes writes with humour and honesty hand in hand. She doesn’t shy away from graphic detail, something I personally appreciated. I’d rather know how messy or unpleasant it was, rather than a glossed-over version of everything being fine. Life isn’t pretty at the best of times so why pretend that it is? Why not expose the reality and make people more aware of what happens to help encourage a better understanding? Let’s fight this thing together and shout it from the rooftops that it is not welcome here and we will fight it every step of the way. Together.
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