Thank you

As the time is approaching to wave goodbye to 2015, I felt it only right to express my heartfelt gratitude for the love and support I have received this year. My illness has taken many things away from me, but over this time I have also gained so much and have been utterly overwhelmed by the love, kindness, encouragement and help that I’ve received. Not only from my husband, friends and family, but from work colleagues, and new acquaintances from corners of this world that I did not know existed before.

My hubby has been my absolute rock and strength. I wasn’t expecting the in sickness and health part so soon in our married lives, but he has been true to our wedding vows and has been the shoulder that I’ve leaned on and the rock upon which I’ve rested. He has been so strong for me in my darkest hours, shining a light on the path that we are currently walking together.

He has been at my side every step of the way, caring for me, comforting me, protecting me and holding me up when I have been at my weakest and lowest. He has juggled working full time and taking me to and from appointments (at two different hospitals at times). He has been my best friend, nurse, cook, cleaner, hairdresser, my voice, my ears, my everything. He has supported me through all my operations and treatment, keeping me in good spirits and always telling me how beautiful I am, even when I have looked and felt absolutely hideous! I am truly blessed that a soul so beautiful as his, walks this path with me.

All of my friends and family have been so wonderfully supportive I absolutely couldn’t have got this far without them. They say you find out who your real friends are in situations like this and I have to say I am truly blessed and lucky to have such kind, caring and loving people in my life. Whilst the path has been a hard one to travel, one thing having cancer has done, it has shined a huge light on the many special, down right amazing people who I’m lucky to have in my life.

I have been comforted by the support gained from the lovely ladies I have met through twitter, my blog and the forums I have joined – the ‘sisterhood’. Their posts and writing have served as knowledge, inspiration and encouragement for me. I had the pleasure of meeting in person with one of these ladies, who was just as lovely in person as she is online. She moved me to tears when she presented me with a beautifully wrapped basketful of presents. All had been so carefully thought about and lovingly wrapped to be opened at various points in time. Each one had a message tag attached such as ‘Open me when you need to feel calm,’ ‘Open me when you need to smile,’ ‘Open me when sleep won’t come’ and ‘Open me when flowers arrive.’ Such an expected and lovely gift from someone who has only so recently come into my life.

If 2015 has taught me anything, it is that I am loved and I thank everyone who has taken the time to be there for me. So, so many kind gestures have been made for both Pats and I. Our house has been continually filled with an incredible amount of beautiful flowers and get well cards. I have been moved to tears by the amazing and really thoughtful presents which have been so gratefully received. Cards with such heartfelt emotions, positivity and support, well-meaning and encouraging phone calls and text messages to spur me on. I can’t tell you how many times a simple gesture has lifted my spirits and kept me going through what has been the toughest chapter of my life.

My employers have been the most lovely, understanding and supportive you could wish for and I really cannot thank them enough for their kindness and generosity.

I owe a very big thank you to the brilliant NHS service and all the fabulous doctors and nurses who have cared for me this year and helped saved my life. I have nothing but the utmost respect, admiration and appreciation for them. Their professionalism, expert guidance, compassion and patience with the millions of questions I’ve fired at them have all helped to make the whole experience that little less horrid.

I have also received tremendous support from some absolutely fantastic charities this year – Breast Cancer Care, Macmillan, The Haven, Look Good Feel Better and The Willow Foundation. I shall be doing my best to give something back to them over the coming months and years.

Thanks to all who have taken the time to read my blog and for all the supportive comments and help and advice offered. I’ve found writing this blog to be a very therapeutic, healing and powerful tool over these last few months. I hope it’s helped to keep my family and friends updated – and I apologise for the times when it may have been a little too honest and raw.

I wish you all happy holidays with your loved ones and I hope that you have a wonderful year ahead. Life really does throw you lemons at times, that’s the one given in this world. I do know that in the depths of the hardest points in life, there is also so much love and positivity to be gained (although it’s hard to always see this). The low times can also remind us how bloody awesome life actually is. Don’t waste it – grab it by the balls folks. Dream dangerously. Be awesome. Hug your loved ones tight and tell them you love them. Appreciate all that you do have, rather than what you don’t. Be wise, be kind and be thankful.

thank-you

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Liebster award

I am delighted to have been nominated for a Liebster Award by the lovely Donna Marie. Donna is passionate about films and if you are a movie fan you will absolutely love her blog! Check it out here http://iheartfilmblog.com/.

Liebster (which means ‘favourite’ in German) is an award that is passed from blogger to blogger in order to help readers find new blogs to follow.

Thank you kindly for the nomination Donna, and here goes!

The rules:

  1. Acknowledge the blog that nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer 11 questions that the blogger gives you.
  3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 5-11 blogs you think are deserving of the award that have less than 200 followers.
  5. Let the blogs know you have nominated them.
  6. Give them 11 questions to answer.

RULE 2: My 11 questions and answers are:

  1. What’s your favourite film and why?
    Bridesmaids for its hilarious comedy and feel good laugh out loud moments.
  2. Tropical or Ski vacation?
    Tropical
  3. What inspired you to start your blog?
    Having been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, I initially started my blog to keep my family and close friends up to date with what was going on. However more latterly it has developed into a way to share my experience and connect with and help others who are walking a similar path.
  4. What’s your favourite post?
    Never Hide by Nalie
  5. Pumpkin or Sweet Potato Pie?
    Neither!
  6. Favourite animated film
    Up
  7. Where have you always wanted to visit but haven’t?
    The Maldives
  8. Your best day?
    Marrying my gorgeous hubby in front of our family and friends in the beautiful location of Ravello, Italy 🙂
  9. Dog or Cat?
    Cat
  10. Five blogs you follow?
    1) Young Women’s Breast Cancer Blog UK (http://youngwomensbreastcancerblog.blogspot.co.uk/)
    2) After breast cancer diagnosis (http://www.abcdiagnosis.co.uk/index.php/blog/my-blog)
    3) Alice… what’s the matter (http://alicewhatsthematter.com/)
    4) When it rains look for rainbows – The new normal – Living not suffering after cancer (https://whenitrainslookforrainbowsblog.wordpress.com/)
    5) Writing the wave – My journey with breast cancer (http://writingbreastcancer.com/)
  11. Favourite cartoon?
    Snoopy and Charlie Brown

RULE 3: 11 random facts about me

  1. I adore VW campervans (split screens are my favourite).
  2. I once appeared on TV in a makeover programme.
  3. I have an aversion to the words rubber necking, pamphlet and punter.
  4. I have a rather nervous disposition – the smallest things make me jump.
  5. I absolutely love Marmite (and cheese!).
  6. My parents said if they’d had me first they wouldn’t have had any more children!
  7. I’ve got a gap in my front teeth.
  8. I dislike peas, cream and custard.
  9. I’m related to Mary Quant.
  10. I’ve travelled around the world.
  11. I have been on stage with Derren Brown. 

RULE 4: My nominees are:

  1. Detrice Matthews – A young Mum’s journey through breast cancer and beyond (https://detricematthews.wordpress.com/)
  2. Cystaract – Leading #TeamPositive from diagnosis to all clear (https://cystaract.wordpress.com/)
  3. The small c – One woman’s perspective on one life event
    (http://thesmallc.com/)
  4. Living my Pink Life (http://www.livingmypinklife.com/blog/)

RULE 5:  My 11 questions are:

  1. What is your favourite quote?
  2. What inspired you to start your blog?
  3. What’s your favourite post?
  4. Where have you always wanted to visit but haven’t?
  5. Five blogs you follow?
  6. What’s the one thing about you few people know?
  7. What has been the best day of your life?
  8. If you could have dinner with five famous people, who would they be?
  9. If you could be or do anything what would it be?
  10. What type of music do you listen to?
  11. What would you like to know more about?

Starting Herceptin, Zolodex and radiotherapy treatment

I can’t quite believe we’re nearly half way through December already. Here we are with just under two weeks to go until Christmas and I’ve now started the next stage of my treatment. Last Tuesday morning I had the first of my Herceptin (Trastuzumab) injections which will continue for the next year. 

As it was being administered into my thigh, I squeezed hold of Pats’ hand and whilst it did sting a little, luckily it wasn’t too painful. It was quite unlike any injection I’ve had before as it took the nurse a good few minutes to inject it. I wasn’t looking, but Pats told me the nurse was gently and slowly injecting the fluid into my leg. We then had to wait for two hours afterwards to ensure that I didn’t suffer any adverse side effects (which I didn’t).

After applying a local anaesthetic cream onto my tummy, just to the left of my belly button, I was given the second treat of the day. This was an early Christmas present from my oncologist – the Zolodex injection. I’d recently heard from other ladies that this can be a really painful injection (hence the numbing cream) so I was really quite nervous about it. The nurse suggested that I didn’t look at the needle, just as well as Pats said it was rather large! It actually implants a small pellet into the skin area. My eyes diverted to every possible location in the room other than the needle going in. To my surprise it wasn’t as painful as I anticipated!

I’d  discussed hormone treatment with my oncologist the day before and he was still undecided whether to prescribe me Tamoxifen or to use an alternative aromatise inhibitor in conjunction with Zolodex. ‘Let’s switch your ovaries off for Christmas and start the hormone treatment in the New Year,’ he said. And a merry Christmas to you too!

Goserelin, or Zolodex as it is also known, is a hormonal therapy used to treat breast cancer. It works by interfering with the way hormones are made or how they work in the body. The breast cancer I had was strongly oestrogen receptor-positive (ER positive) and therefore relies on this hormone to grow. Zolodex is used to treat women who have ER positive breast cancer who have not yet gone through the menopause. It can be used after surgery to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back (typically over a two-year period). Before menopause, almost all oestrogen is made by the ovaries – Zolodex stops the ovaries from making oestrogen.

I am slightly concerned about what effect this is going to have on me. Because the Zolodex will prevent my body from producing oestrogen it will technically put me into a medically induced menopause. Woo hoo, another lovely side effect to add to the list and cope with. Having said that I am glad that my body won’t be producing the hormone which will reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. But what will this do to me? Will I grow a beard?! Will I become moody? I do hope for my hubby’s sake that neither of these are the case.

After a quick lunch break we returned for the third and triple whammy appointment of the day, my first radiotherapy treatment. There was a delay with the machine so we had a bit of a wait. After an initial meeting to discuss the treatment, side effects and do’s and don’ts, I was given a rather lovely gown to change into that I will keep for the duration of my treatment. We then sat in a smaller sub waiting room until I was called in.

clinacI walked into the room and was greeted by two nurses and could see a very large ‘Clinac’ machine. As I laid out on the bed, the nurses drew on me, lined me up with the machinery and were calling out various numbers around me. There was music playing along in the background. Although whilst this initial part was happening, a particularly dramatic and apocalyptic piece was playing which made it all feel rather intense. Luckily the nurse asked to skip on the song as it was supposed to be festive Christmas music!

I lay there looking up at the ceiling above me which was emblazoned with an image of bright blue sky and the branches of a tree sprinkled with white spring blossom, whilst Christmas songs were playing over the speaker – a very strange and surreal experience indeed.

The team explained what would happen and that they would leave the room whilst the treatment was in progress, but that I would be monitored on a camera at all times. If I needed to alert them at all I just needed to raise my arm. I laid there very still, thinking back to what the nurse had said earlier about trying to relax and to breathe as normally as possible. Quite difficult when you’re laying in a position trying not to make any movements at all!

As I write this now I have completed five radiotherapy treatments so far. I’m pleased to say that it’s not painful at all, but I am very aware of a feeling or sensation of something ‘happening’ in that area. I can’t really explain it, more like a tightness, or almost going back to a period post surgery where I was very aware of that area/my scar. I have definitely started to feel more tired, but they did say this was to be expected, especially following chemotherapy treatment.

I received some recommendations of products to use on the skin from other ladies who have had radiotherapy, so I have an arsenal of creams and gels at my disposal.

Have you had any of these treatments described in this post? Have you suffered any side effects? If so, do you have any tips you can share to help  deal with these?

Supporting younger women with breast cancer

I recently attended a ‘Younger Women Together‘ event in Bristol run by Breast Cancer Care, a charity that provides a range of services to support those affected by breast cancer, their friends and family. The event is aimed at women aged 20-45 who have been diagnosed with primary breast cancer in the last 3 years. I’d heard about the event earlier on this year at the beginning of my diagnosis and had pencilled it in my diary for November thinking I’d like to go. After a call with the charity’s support line one day, the lady I spoke to emphasised how good the event is for younger women and urged me to go so I registered to attend.

At that time, my treatment plan consisted of radiotherapy after surgery and I thought that by November I’d be back in the swing of work and getting back on with life. Little did I know I’d just be completing my final chemotherapy session shortly before the event.

As the timing was so close to my final treatment I questioned whether attending was the right thing to do. It was a fair distance away, I knew I’d feel tired and would also be around lots of people. I’ve barely been further than about a 15 miles these last few months and I was quite nervous about driving there. This event is run all over the country in locations such as Edinburgh, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, but I couldn’t be sure when the next one would be that was relatively close to me. I really wanted to go and knew I’d learn a lot and was hoping to connect with other women my age who had similar experiences.

Because I live more than 2 hours away from the venue, Breast Cancer Care kindly covered the cost of my hotel stay for the night before the event and the following night. It took me nearly 2.5 hours to get there in the end after taking a couple of wrong turnings!

Breast Cancer Care helpfully posted an item on their forum which enabled the ladies who were attending to connect with each other before the event. They also organised a dinner for those of us who had travelled the night before.

I was apprehensive to say the least to be going for dinner with a group of strangers. As soon as we all joined each other on the table we began chatting away with ease about where we were in our stages of treatment and how we were all getting on. There were 9 of us on that first evening, and whilst I wished we hadn’t been meeting under such circumstances, they were all really lovely. I felt relief and comfort being amongst other women who knew exactly what I had been experiencing and feeling. We were all really tired that evening and retired early to our rooms to get some much needed rest.

I was glad to have met the group of ladies I did the night before as we’d formed an initial bond that stayed for the duration of the weekend. The following day all the remaining women arrived at the hotel – there must have been well over 50 in total. I was surprised there were so many, and began chatting to some new arrivals over the morning refreshment break. It was hard listening to others’ stories and experiences, but with our shared connection in common it was easy to open up and talk.

The event was run across 2 days and the programme consisted of various information sessions including: a medical update – management of breast cancer in younger women, healthy eating, diet myths and wellbeing sessions (laugher yoga and mindfulness). There were separate break out groups to choose from on both days covering breast surgery and reconstruction, coping with menopausal symptoms, relationships and communication, fertility after treatment, lymphoedema and intimacy and sexuality.

There were plenty of breaks throughout giving us all the opportunity to chat over a cup of tea. The event closed with a talk from a lady called Kelly who spoke of her own personal experience of breast cancer and the path that it has taken her on. It was very painful to listen to her tell her story and of how it made her feel about herself. She appeared on Gok Wan’s ‘How to Look Good Naked’ programme when she felt at her lowest and I was astounded by her courage and bravery to do such a thing – she looked absolutely stunning. She has since become a post surgery lingerie model and is a public speaker for Breast Cancer Care. Her spirit and attitude was truly inspirational and there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room after she’d finished her session. I felt uplifted and motivated by her talk and encouraged to know that there can be so much to life following a breast cancer diagnosis.

One of the ladies I met recommended joining the Younger Breast Cancer Network UK Facebook group. If you are a younger woman facing breast cancer I would definitely recommend joining – it’s a secret group so posts and comments won’t show up on your feed – you just need to send a message asking to be added to the group. There are also sub groups you can request to join such as fertility, pregnancy, research, end of life, moving on as well as 10 regional groups.

By the end of the two days I was maxed out on hearing about breast cancer. Whilst all the sessions were really useful and informative they were quite hard going and emotional at times. All the Breast Cancer Care staff were absolutely brilliant, they really couldn’t do enough for us and I would like to thank them and the charity for putting on such a great event and enabling me to attend. I would also like to thank the ladies I connected with that weekend – Kerry, Nicky, Sara, Cate, Criona, Amanda, Jo, Yvonne and Kerry – I look forward to staying in touch.