Jackie scully blog

What it really feels like three years on from diagnosis day

I remember it like it was yesterday. 

I remember the quiet waiting room. I remember half reading Bridget Jones Diary and wondering whether I'd be back at work in time to make a meeting. I remember the face of the nurse who called me in. I remember the face of the young consultant before and after she broke the news. I remember struggling to get a mobile signal. I remember weeping down the phone to my parents hundreds of miles away on their way to a funeral. I remember the blur of a mammogram. I remember the stunned silence from my partner and a good friend. I remember the kind nurse who made me tea and let me sit in her office to escape the faces looking at me as I broke before their eyes. 

I remember. 

I will never forget. 

But, three years on from that day, I am not the person who sat in that chair wondering whether she would live to see another Christmas or ever walk down the aisle. 

Diagnosis day is quite unlike any other day I will ever experience. It wasn't the day that changed me. But it was, in many ways, the day that saved me. It saved me from an early death before I'd even got started.

It saved me from a life of just doing and never really seeing or living. 

It was the day I realised just how fragile life is and how easily that life can be taken away. 

Three years on, however, I don't dwell on what did happen, but on the life I was gifted back as a result of that diagnosis – a life filled with sunshine, friendship, charity, kindness and gratitude. And, most importantly, a life filled with hope.

It is only by nearly losing my life that I realised I have everything to live for. 

So today, I reflect, but I am not sad. 

I am grateful. Grateful for the people who bring light into my days and my years. Grateful for the sunsets I never thought I'd see. Grateful for a body that is stronger than I ever imagined it could be. Grateful for a brilliant family who will do anything to support me. Grateful for the fact, I can get up, run along the Thames listening to podcasts and inch closer to our marathon wedding charity fundraiser. 

I am grateful for what is rather than what could be.

So, make any milestone days in your life, days when you reflect on the bits that make you smile. The bits that you will be able to cling onto when you're lying in a hospital bed wondering when it was that time slipped away.

Bank happiness and you'll always be able to make a withdrawal.

Life lesson number nine: It’s not what happens to us that defines us; it’s how we choose to respond

If you haven’t heard the heading before, then you haven’t heard of Viktor Frankl and his utterly moving book called Man’s search for meaning.

Before you rush out to grab a copy, I should start by saying it isn’t easy reading. What it is, is one man’s account of why, when you put a group of strangers into a concentration camp during the Holocaust, only some of those strangers survive. 

It’s not always the strongest that make it through. It’s the ones with hope and a reason to live. 

And, while bad things can – and do – happen, they need not define you. You always have a choice about how you respond. 

Cancer taught me this lesson. But, it was a lady interviewing me about my experiences who showed me that this lesson is one that Viktor tried hard to share with the world. And it’s one I heard again only last week when a man was talking about breaking his neck in an accident many years ago. (I love the fact TED has a clip of Viktor speaking on their site because, I think Viktor, were he alive today, could have taught us a lot about finding meaning in our over-commercialised world.) 

So it was an absolute delight to hear legendary Bob Wilson, co-founder of the brilliant charity Willow, use that phrase to describe me when I was lucky enough to be interviewed on BBC Radio Five in December about my upcoming marathon wedding.

I say that I am the sum of my imperfections. By this, I don’t mean the physical scarring or the rearranged body parts. I mean the bits that life didn’t get right first time. It’s because of those imperfections that I have been forced to look in the mirror and really see whether I like the person looking back. It’s because of those imperfections that I know that while I’m sensitive, I am also strong. It’s because of those imperfections that I try and fill every day with a little bit of meaning.

I didn’t let cancer define me. I chose to make serious illness a force for good. 

I haven't changed my job or my career. I've changed my attitude.

I thought I didn't have time. Now I make time. Sometimes the last thing I feel like after a long day at work is writing a charity blog or drumming up support or cash for a volunteering event, but I can guarantee it's the meaningful and purpose-driven acts that feature most in the gratitude diary I write every night.

In some ways, you could say I am one of the lucky ones. I didn't need to find a cause. My cause crept up behind me and then hit me over the head.

Knowing just how important having a little bit of meaning woven into the fabric of every day is one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned. And it's a lesson I want to share with the world.

I started this year with one clear aim: to make it meaningful. I learned back in 2013 that a life without meaning is no life at all. But, this year, I really want to make it count. And the wedding is a big part of that.

If finding meaning makes your day, tweet me about it (@jackie8 #makeitmeaningful). 

Success isn’t a nice life, it’s a meaningful one. I know Viktor would agree. 

So, let’s go be successful! Starting now…

Happiness hacks #10: Say thank you - every day

I thought today would be remembered as the day that I came back from injury to run my first 10k race in eight months. 

But, while heading out on a wet Sunday morning in January to face a few challenging hills and test out your newly-rehabbed legs is a pretty memorable way to spend the say, it’s not the race that will forever stick in my mind. 

It’s the volunteers.

It’s one thing to get up early on a Sunday and run. It’s quite another to head out even earlier to put up signs and then stand in an oversized high vis jacket on one of those hills just to make sure each and every runner finds their way.

As I reflect back on my rather laboured performance on this challenging course, I think not of the hill that wanted to take out my lungs or the 6km point (which I was convinced was 7km), but of the selfless people standing in rain doing their bit.

Because of those soggy high vis jackets and wet hair, I conquered a ‘back-from-injury’ demon today. 

And, for that, I will be eternally grateful.

These volunteers, however, didn’t just stand there dripping. They clapped. They smiled. They looked concerned. They offered encouragement. They were kind. And, they gave me the confidence to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could call myself a runner once more.

And, so I thanked them. I thanked the man who looked more drenched than me – for just being there. I thanked the lady with the brilliant smile. I thanked the man who handed me a much-needed cup of water. I thanked anyone in high vis in Greenwich Park. 

And it felt really good.  This currency called kindness makes us all millionaires. 

So, I encourage you to thank the next person you see that makes you thankful.  

I didn’t imagine it would take a run to get me thinking about thanking. But, I’m glad it did. I shall try harder to thank people as often as I can. 

So to race volunteers everywhere, I thank you. I thank you for the early mornings and the soaked clothes. I thank you for your energy, your time and your commitment. I thank you for your kindness and your willingness to help. 

And, I thank you for the opportunities you offer others and the gifts you share every day just by existing.

Life lesson number eight: Kind words are always worth sharing

thanks.jpeg

In November, I wrote to a friend who had sadly been taken into a hospice (last stages of breast cancer) and I told her how much she had touched my life – and the lives of those around her.  I wrote that she was, for me, the very definition of inspirational and that to give so much of herself even though she had little time left, was incredible.

Why am I telling you this? 

I’m telling you because her mother replied. My friend had passed away in the night and would never find out just how much I thought of her.

I should have known better really. Three years ago, I had my own lesson in kindness. It was for Christmas 2013 that I decided to make more than 200 handmade gifts for friends and family – an act that took me away from those friends and family for a good three months.

I thought that what I was doing was the ultimate gift of kindness.

Turns out, I didn’t really have a clue. Then cancer came along to make sure I'd really learned my lesson.

The kind words are the words I remember going through breast cancer treatment. And, by kind, I mean everything from shared memories to a paperclip and a message about helping me to hold it all together when times got tough. People told me how I’d helped them, changed them, made them laugh and made them smile. I guess they thought there was a chance I might not be around long enough to hear those words in the future.

Words moved me in the way they have the power to move us all. They forced me to reflect on just how little we tend to say to the people that inspire us or make us smile. 

So, I decided from that moment on, that words would be my currency. I started a pink hearts campaign while on active treatment, which involved writing a thank you and sharing the memories I treasure with the people who have touched my life. To this day I am still delivering them (and the accompanying hearts) to remind me of the pledge I made to myself. 

I don’t always get it right (as the above example demonstrates). But I start each day with a plan to reach out to someone and tell them I care.

So, as you reflect on the year, ask yourself this. When was the last time you turned to a friend and thanked them for just being there? When was the last time you contacted an old acquaintance and told them just how big an impression they have made on your life? When was the last time you thanked someone and meant it from the bottom of your heart? 

People can’t guess you’re your thinking unless you tell them. When the business of life gets in the way, it is hard to step back, reflect and not take all those you love and admire for granted. 

But, I can tell you now, there is so much I want to say to people while they are still around to hear it! 

People come and go in life, tucked away in chapters. But, their kindness will live on through you. I’d love to think that if someone were to cut me open (in a nice, non-cancer-surgery kind of way), I would be made up all of the brilliant people who have touched my life.

Make today the day you thank someone who matters to you. What is it about them that makes you smile? What it is you should have told them years ago, but never thought to mention? How have they helped make you the person you are today? 

I guarantee you’ll feel good saying it – but not as good as the person hearing it (especially if it’s for the first time).

Make today the day you start following your heart. Trust me, there’s no time to lose.