Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Margaret Cahill’s memoir, Under Cover of Darkness: How I Blogged My Way Through Mantle Cell Lymphoma (O Books). We are offering this as part of our special focus this month on cancer.
Talk about being thrown headlong into 2013 … I have to say, never in a million years did I think that I would be preparing for our Christmas party on 7th December then taking a call less than a month later to be admitted to a cancer ward. Stephen and I have been touched and overwhelmed by the support that has poured in from more people than we realised we knew, and it is already impossible to keep everyone updated with the latest news. My hope is that we can use this blog to keep everyone updated—-please do feel free to post in reply. It will be lovely to stay in touch …
We got through the Christmas period with the love and support of our families and friends, knowing that in the New Year my treatment for aggressive Mantle Cell Lymphoma would start in earnest. In fact, we had the love and support of far more people than we realised.
Stephen and I both know a lot of people through our work, and word spread fast. We found we were spending long evenings on the phone repeating the same story to many different people, as well as sending texts and emails until we were absolutely sick of the whole thing.
After 2nd January the action really kicked off, and it became impossible to keep everyone updated. A very dear friend expressed upset at not being included in the loop, so at the suggestion of one of my authors I decided to start a blog. It was very strange being on the writing end of the process; as an editor with over 15 years publishing experience in my own company, I am much more comfortable working with somebody else’s precious words than baring my soul through my own.
It turned out to be a life saver. Not only did it serve its purpose and provide a place for friends to go for updates, it allowed me to work through a lot of the stuff that was, and still is, going through my head. I started writing in a diary but I soon realised I needed a much bigger forum for my thoughts; the blog was a living entity as readers could post their own comments, all of which were kindly and usually thought-provoking. I could read and comment on them in my own time, and I was absolutely loving writing each blog.
I was stunned by the response and by the feeling I had when I was writing. It was amazing to “liberate” my thoughts—-that is exactly how it felt—-and I seemed to be hitting the spot with the people who were reading. In a sense the blogs, when joined up, tell the whole story. But they also don’t. A cancer journey is far more than 1,500–2,000 words poured out once a week. There were whole back stories going on that never got a mention, as well as massive rollercoasters of emotion, and I wanted to give voice to them as well.
I eventually decided to leave the blogs pretty much intact for this book as alongside the cancer treatment they formed the structure of my life for nearly a year, and became my way of getting through some very difficult times. Once I started writing them, I found that I looked for the quirky and unusual moments in my experiences so that I could relay them to “my readers,” thereby giving a very mundane and boring event a bit of interest. I could also chronicle my battles with mainstream medicine and bureaucracy, knowing I would find a receptive audience. After all, I had to go through them—-why not share the misery?! I can’t begin to tell you how much that helped me to cope.
So here we go. Here’s how we were plunged into a brave new world with Blog #1:
… Mantle Cell Lymphoma is a very aggressive and rare cancer, and to stand any chance of survival I need to have equally aggressive chemotherapy which will see me pretty much out of action for the next 3-5 months. I usually stay well away from conventional medicine but this is non-negotiable. I will take the best from all forms of treatment that are available, conventional and alternative, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. I have some very dear and gifted friends who are advising me on the supplements to support my system as it is ravaged by the chemo, and I have a truly wonderful consultant who is taking advice from the leading expert on treating MCL. I am in good hands. I’m going for my PET scan on Monday—-that’s the one that will make me glow in the dark :-) – then on Tuesday I go in to have the Hickman line put in. Early Wednesday I start the chemo.
Stephen and I are just taking each day at a time. There is no other way for us at the moment as the bigger picture is too difficult to deal with. Our dear friend Judy Hall commented on the unusual name of this cancer—-a mantle usually covers something, and she wondered what could be revealed from this experience. I do believe there is a spiritual imbalance which is at the root of physical illness, which is why I have called this blog Under Cover of Darkness. In the hours before dawn everything does indeed appear very dark. But just as the Sun rises to bring light into our lives each day, so do I look with hope and optimism towards a revelation that will help all of this make sense to us.
The response was overwhelming—-love and good wishes poured in from all over the world, which gave us a massive boost. I always used to play my cards fairly close to my chest, but writing the blog was a huge lesson: if you have the courage to open up, people will take you to their hearts. Within days we had become part of healing circles and groups, and the feeling that we had a deep well of support was to nourish us through the long cycles of chemotherapy that lay ahead.
Margaret Cahill publishes astrology and MBS titles through her company, The Wessex Astrologer. During 2013 she was treated for Mantle Cell Lymphoma; she had chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant for this rare cancer and kept a blog throughout the treatment, which she is sure helped her stay sane. Under Cover of Darkness is the result.