Despite going back to my GP job at the end of 2008 I found it difficult to focus fully on the demands of medical life. My illness had changed my perspectives and my stamina. I wanted more energy to focus on my my children and husband. Therefore, I reluctantly decided to give up my clinical work at the beginning of 2010. Whilst I had been the one making the decision I was still left feeling bereft. I had set my mind on being a doctor from a young age and had worked very hard to gain a place at medical school. The junior doctor years were tough but I persevered because I felt it was my true vocation. Medical life was a hard slog but it was also really rewarding. I enjoyed connecting with my patients and the fulfillment of helping them through their major life events. I had not realised that leaving clinical medicine would throw me into a massive crisis in identity. The weird thing was that although I had been given a second chance at a future through my treatment it felt empty without patients.
The Fish publishing flash fiction competition has a very special place in my life. I submitted an entry at the beginning of 2010. It was the first time I had ever entered a writing competition. I was in the midst of the biggest emotional dip in my life.In November 2007 I had been diagnosed with stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. At that time I had four children under 13 and was feeling very uncertain about the future. Just three weeks prior to the diagnosis I had just started a new GP post and was excited about the future. My youngest had started school and I therefore felt able to progress with my career. My new job was offered with a view to a half-time job-share partnership in 6 months if all went well. However, my bubble had been burst within weeks of me starting. I had a year off work. I had intensive chemotherapy into the summer of 2008 followed by a further 2 years of biological maintenance treatment.
I was pondering on what F to focus on this week when a Fish Publishing e-mail reminder popped into my inbox. It prompted me that this year I was going to write an entry for their annual flash fiction competition.
Our eyes locked. I had become adept at avoiding her gaze but my defences were momentarily lowered by the damp air. We slowly scanned each other’s faces. We had an unspoken connection. We had always stolen special moments, shared precious emotions. I recall her tearstained mascara when her grandmother died and her radiant beauty on her wedding day.
Weeks had elapsed since the devastating diagnosis. Our exchanged glances had become non-existent. My initial numbness had gradually drifted into a deep despondency. Ignoring her, I thought I could protect myself from the excruciating pain of an empty future. I knew too that she felt I was to blame. The overwhelming guilt clung in the air.
Suddenly breathless, I was shocked at her ashen features. I was a doctor. I helped patients face demons every day.
‘Why abandon me?’ her eyes implored. Our eyes narrowed, searching deeper.
Simultaneously, with tears silently trickling down our faces we shared the thought of her beautiful children, motherless.
Her image was becoming hazy, fading. Sobbing, I reached out and touched her face. In frenzy, I rubbed wildly to keep her with me, the steamy atmosphere engulfing her. Her panic stricken eyes, barely visible, were still fixed resolutely on mine.
A gentle tap, like a key, unlocked the moment. ‘Mum. It’s my turn to use the mirror.’
I looked back briefly. A faint glimmer of hope flickered between us.
I had been forced to face my demon.
That flash fiction entry marks the beginning of my rebuild. It was the catalyst to me enrolling on an Open University creative writing module which soon extended to an English degree. I am due to start the last module of my degree this autumn and finish it in the summer of 2017. I will be coming full circle by ending my degree with the advanced creative writing module. This year feels like the right time to write another flash fiction for Fish publishing.This blog, my English degree and my other writing projects sprouted from that first Fish flash fiction competition.
Looking back at my entry, Facing Demons, it has become apparent that it was heralding a personal turning point. It was showing me that I needed to find the strength from within myself to move forward.
I had not only been given my life back but also a fresh canvas to reinvent myself.
I am so grateful that being shortlisted in 2010 catapulted me into the inspirational world of writing. It not only gave me the confidence to continue to scribble but also the confidence to try lots of different new endeavors. However, the most important gift I received from that e-mail notification was a life of renewed purpose. Lifting me out of the dip enabled me to move on in my medical career and obtain a job as a Medical Advisor for The Ministry of Justice. I work flexibly which allows me school holidays with the children and lots of pockets of time to study for my degree and pursue my varied interests.
I am looking forward to producing an entry for this year's Fish flash fiction competition and am curious as to what's in store for me after my English degree. I have learnt not to fear the future but embrace it head-on with a life filled with family, friends, a multitude of fun activities and fit in some work too .
Fact: Flash fiction is a style of fiction of extreme brevity but with all the features of a complete story.
It was in that void that I started to scribble in the early hours of the morning. I was compelled to jot down thoughts, feelings, story ideas and lines of poetry in a chaotic fashion. I can’t recall how I came across the Fish publishing website and their flash fiction competition. However, I do remember how ecstatic I was when I received an e-mail notification of being short-listed. It was the first time in a very long time that I had experienced such intense enjoyment. I phoned a friend who said that she could feel my buzz down the phone.