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Midlife Reinvention: Gillian Young talks about how having cancer took her life in a different direction

Article by Gillian Young

gillian young how cancer led to a midlife reinvention image

My name is Gillian Young and I live in Worcestershire with my family.

Throughout lockdown, I’ve been working on my latest book. Being an author has been a dream of mine, but reaching this point has not been easy. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I like to dwell on the positives – and there are plenty of those. Family. Friends. Home. Health – well, kind of – my dogs, and my books.

I’ve always loved writing, but it wasn’t until I became a Mum that I considered publishing my stories. At the time, my children loved Beatrix Potter and every night I’d read Tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny and Squirrel Nutkin to them. I then had the idea of writing stories about my children and our dog.

I sent manuscripts to publishers and agents, but without success. With every submission, I’d think: this could be it. Then, that generic letter came back saying: ‘thanks but no thanks,’ and my heart would sink.

Then, 2015 happened.

I’d been working for the same company for nearly 10 years. The company had recently undergone a take-over and everything was unsettled. Then, my Auntie died. She was 90 years old, but her death was very sudden. She was like a second mother to me and I was the closest she had to a daughter. There was much to sort out; house clearance, funeral, solicitors and estate agents. We’d recently moved house too, so everything was hectic.

Eventually, life settled – and then, four months later, I received a letter from the doctors inviting me for a routine smear test…

A couple of weeks after the hospital asked me to return for a colposcopy. My initial reaction was to forget it. I was too busy at work and the last thing I needed was time off. But reading the words Cancer Screening across the letterheading made me reconsider.

During my appointment, the Gynaecologist asked if I wanted more children. Then, when I mentioned our holiday, she looked concerned until I said we were not travelling abroad – why?

Being diagnosed with cervical cancer

A week passed. I remember thinking; no news is good news. But, later that afternoon the hospital called. The consultant wanted to see me urgently.

Mark and I were told I had Cervical Cancer. At that time we had no idea how advanced the cancer was. There were no lumps. No bleeding. How could I have a disease that had the potential of killing me when I didn’t even feel ill? Yet, I had CT and MRI scans – all confirming it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity.

The Gynaecologist advised a robotic, radical hysterectomy. Afterwards, I’d have six weeks of recuperation before returning to work and getting my life back on track.

Following the operation, Mark and I waited for the laboratory results. It was the end of November. I hoped that by the new year, I’d be fighting fit and able to write off 2015 as a bad lot. Bring in 2016 a fresh. We’d convinced ourselves that after the operation, that would be it; cancer gone, normality returned. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be.

The tumour had spread. If even one cell had been left behind, then, six months later, we’d be sat in the Consultant’s office again being told the cancer had returned. So, I was referred for intense Chemoradiation.

Mark was by my side – thank goodness, because at that moment, I may have looked steady on the outside but I was crumbling on the inside. The smile I usually have had well and truly gone at this point.

Christmas 2015 was like living in a bubble, sealed away from the outside world. Yet, there was something good and exciting amidst all of this – and that was Poppy.

We’d talked about getting another dog months ago but agreed to wait until we were settled in our new house. We found a breeder and when I phoned her it was like talking to an old friend.

On the 9th January 2016, Poppy came home. She followed me everywhere. When I fell asleep, she’d curl up beside me and sleep too. She was and still is, my angel.

Near the end of the treatment, I was admitted into hospital for a course of internal radiation. This involved a four-night stay in isolation. I remember staring at the ceiling thinking: One minute, life’s fine, the next everything’s a mess. What next?

A week later, I heard from work. The head office was relocating. This meant many were offered voluntary redundancy – including me.

The future was frightening

Life – the future – was frightening. There was no question of looking for another job, not whilst I was battling the side effects of chemoradiation.

One day, whilst watching Poppy lolloping around the lawn, I remembered a story I’d written years ago. I have no idea why this story came to mind. I rewrote it, renaming it, POPPY ON SAFARI. This gave me a distraction from all the worries brought on from the aftermath of that hellish year. I discovered that writing was my medicine.

Publishing my first book

I sent my manuscript to The Literary Consultancy to be critiqued. It was through TLC that I met a brilliant editor.

I attended a self-publishing conference. Afterwards, I contacted Matador Books and, with the help of my editor, POPPY ON SAFARI was published.

Since then, Poppy and I have been invited to our local primary school and bookshop – and we’ve loved every minute.

My second book, TAMMY AND WILLOW is out now in paperback and ebook. I’ve teamed up with the wonderful LitPR who are helping me to market these books.

Cancer leaves its scars. I suffer from exhaustion, brain fog and lymphodema. Finding a new normal is not easy, but what works for me is concentrating on the positives. Most recently, I had the all-clear from cancer. Now there’s a positive!

My gran always used to say, “As one door closes another opens.” I think she was right.

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