A kinky tale | Chemo curls after breast cancer treatment

After finding out I was being made redundant back in April, it felt like life was conspiring to push me out of my comfort zone. Rather than go against it, I decided to go with it, to embrace it and get amongst it!

comfort-zone-alliemoonjourney

Step into the fire of your fear. Or, as one book title says, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” You don’t need to be free of fear to make a bold move out of your comfort zone. You just need to step right through it. – lifehack.org

First off I ditched my wig. What had been a terrifying prospect to get used to wearing out in public, had ended up serving as an enormous comfort blanket for a period of over 7 months. Ironically, it felt weird and rather frightening to be going out without it.

butterfly4_alliemoonjourneyAfter being on garden leave for a period of time during the redundancy process, the day I went back into the office I decided was the perfect opportunity to go in without my wig on. It felt daunting, people had got used to seeing this new version of me. I had to go through that vulnerability all over again but in reverse. Despite this fear, I actually found it really rather liberating. I felt like I was saying sod you to those who were doing this to me, whilst also taking a bit of control back. I walked with my head held high and thought to myself ‘You’re not knocking me down!’

For the vast majority of my 20s and 30s, I’ve had long, straight, blonde hair. I’m a creature of comfort when it comes to hairstyles and had never had the balls to do anything drastic to my hair (apart from those days, way back, when my hair was permed and I resembled a poodle on heat!).

Now, after having chemotherapy last year, I’m sporting the complete opposite of my previous locks – it’s dark, it’s thick and it’s very curly. The curl didn’t really show in my hair straight away because it was so short, but oh yes, it is growing in a way that I never imagined it could from my own head! Very mad indeed.

Friends and family have been complimentary about my hair and a lot of people have said they prefer me with darker hair and that I also suit having it shorter. Of course, they could just be being polite and kind. If I had a pound every time someone said “You must be really pleased with it,” I’d be, well no, I wouldn’t quite be rich, but I’d have a fair few squid in my purse!

I know that when people say this they’re just trying to say something nice, something positive, something to make me feel better about myself. Something I’d likely say myself if I were stood in their shoes, no doubt trying to conjure up some feel good factor words. I’m too polite to say that actually, I’d rather not have one-inch thick curly hair. I’d desperately like to have my longer, more feminine hair again. To experience the feel of soft hair around my face and neck again.

shorthair-alliemoonjourneyI often feel very boyish with short hair. I once had all my hair cut off when I was about 11, a stick-thin, prepubescent teenager and I looked like a boy – I vowed never to have my hair cut short again. Now, even if I’m wearing a dress, I sometimes feel when I look in the mirror that a man wearing a dress is staring back at me.

My first trip to the hairdressers felt quite odd. I’d not been for 10 months and my hair was getting quite unruly. I’m told I need to wait for the top part (fringe etc) to grow out and to keep having the rest trimmed and eventually it will be the same length. Each time I have it cut I feel like I’m taking a step backwards as it’s shorter again. I don’t realise how much it has grown until I look back to photos taken earlier on this year and I can see that it has (hair diary post to come!).

With each bit of growth, a newer, slightly different way of styling is needed. I’ve never had so many styling products on my dressing table! I used to be able to get out of bed and my hair would pretty much resemble how it looked when I had got in it the night before. Now, I wake up looking like Elvis after a weekend-long bender in Vegas!

But this is the way it is to be for now. I have been forced into having a new look and, whilst it wasn’t through choice, I’m trying to embrace the many changing faces (or hairstyles) of the new Allie Moon.

A couple of recent events have brought it to the fore once again just how short life is and to enjoy and make the most of it every way we can whilst we’re able to. My new found liberation after ditching the wig has also led me into trying other new things. I’ve started trying to eat differently and choose a variety of foods that I wouldn’t normally. To say ‘sod it’ more and try something new, you never know where it might lead you. In the words of Brian Mayne “Find the thing that makes your heart sing.”

I’m now contemplating joining a singing group following a recent guitar class. In my lesson, my teacher introduced singing along whilst playing on the guitar (something I’ve not managed to master to date!). It was such an uplifting session, I felt so elated and I sang all the way home in my car like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music!

Interviewing for a new job was also quite stressful and terrifying but as the people I was meeting were all new, they had no idea that I looked completely different to how I used to. The fear of interviewing quickly changed to positivity and satisfaction as I gained encouragement after each meeting I had.

“Stepping outside your comfort zone is supposed to feel uncomfortable because we’re in new and unfamiliar territory. Being uncomfortable is a sign of success, NOT of failure! So if we are uncomfortably outside our comfort zones, then than means we are growing!!! And THAT is cause for celebration!” – Roz Savage

I’ve also volunteered to help the Breast Cancer Haven in a local event that they’re hosting. This wonderful charity has helped and supported me tremendously over the last year with counselling, reflexology sessions and their younger women support group. This will be a great opportunity to be give something back and do some fundraising for them.

Has your hair gone crazy after chemo? How long has it lasted for and do you have any tips on styling and looking after your hair that you can share?

You might also be interested in my posts about New beginnings and Canciversary.

Images by smartandrelentless.com and magnificatmealmovement.com.

Incidental finding following breast cancer screening

Whilst going through the process of being diagnosed last year, I had an MRI scan of my breast area (the lump I found did not show up on the mammogram). At the subsequent follow-up meeting with the consultant, he had told me about the ‘incidental finding‘ they had found.

Incidental findings are defined as a ‘chance discovery in a patient which may warrant further investigation.’ I was told at the time that they didn’t believe that what they had found  was sinister looking and they recommended parking any further investigation until I’d completed my active breast cancer treatment.

In March this year I went to visit the chest surgeon to follow this up and discuss further. He started the conversation off with “So we’ve had a letter about a spot of bother on your lung.” This immediately made me feel anxious as they’d never mentioned anything about my lung before. He said there is a bump where the lung is, away from the chest wall, and that this is not usual and it shouldn’t be there. He said it was slightly in contact with the big artery coming out of the heart, but that the scan he had in front of him wasn’t detailed enough to be able to make a judgement on it and so he requested I have a further CT scan with dye contrast.  This scan with contrast would allow him to see all the arteries, any relationship to them and if there was any blood supply going into it.

He said if it’s something that the report indicates is initially benign – usually, round  smooth things are not as sinister as things that have spikey bits sticking out. Cancer is the Latin word for crab (most likely applied to the disease because of the crab-like legs projecting from a tumour). He said that’s why people think if things are nice and smooth it’s less likely to be cancerous which is what they think this was likely to be. This appeased my anxiety a little, but doctors have to caveat their statements and can never say that they are 100% sure what something is. He went on to say that some things can grow in that location and cause problems, not necessarily by spreading around the body, but just from them growing locally and causing problems. He said it was right for me to be referred to them to ask an opinion on whether it is something that can be left or if it needs to be taken out.

The resulting CT scan showed that the cyst had not grown in size and was roughly the size of a grape. I was then presented with two options – I could either have it removed, or we could take a ‘wait and watch’ approach where I would continue to have regular scans to see if it changed in size etc. Given the events of last year, and the fact that it was something that wasn’t meant to be there and could potentially cause issues later on in my life, I knew I absolutely wanted to have it removed. I would then not have it hanging over my head and be worrying about what it might be.

Because the surgery was non-urgent, the consultant said they could pretty much fit it in around my schedule and work. By this time it was April and I knew if I agreed to have it done then, good old sod’s law would be at play and it would probably be scheduled for my birthday in May. As we’d already had to cancel our holiday last year due to my surgeries and this was a special birthday, I wanted to make sure we got away as planned so I suggested that June would be a convenient time.

lifeschallenges_alliemoon

As is the way of life, nothing seems to run smoothly and there is always a curve ball or challenge thrown into the mix to keep you on your feet. I had a couple of challenging episodes (one for another post!) in the lead up to my proposed surgery date so I had to request that it be rescheduled. Luckily the hospital staff were very understanding and enabled me to have my op on another date.

One of the reasons I had asked to re-arrange my surgery was because I was at second stage interview with one particular company. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to drive for four weeks after the op and I didn’t want it to ruin my chances of getting the job. I’d hoped to be able to secure a job before I had my op so I could rest and recoup without the worry of having to job hunt. Luckily the afternoon before I was due to go into hospital, I received a phone call from the company I’d been for an interview with on the previous Friday to tell me I’d been successful and that they wanted to offer me the job. Yaaaaaayyyy! Apparently, I’d come out scoring on top out of all the interviewees for both the written test and the interview. Thank you, a bit of luck at last!

It was my lovely friend Katherine’s birthday that evening and ideally I wanted to be tucked up in bed nice and early ready for the super early start at the hospital the following morning. But it was a special birthday and I didn’t want to not be there for her. Due to the fact that I was driving that night and with my op in the morning I didn’t really get a chance to raise a glass and celebrate my new job offer. One for another time!

I was going in to have Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS) to remove the cyst from my left mediastinal area. The operation would take 45 minutes to an hour and would involve the surgeon making three incisions down my left side in the chest wall near the ribs. This would allow the insertion of video/camera equipment and surgical instruments. He would use the existing scar I had from surgery last year to save making an extra new incision. My lung would then be collapsed and a thoracoscope placed into the chest. The thoracoscope allows the surgeon to see inside the chest. After successful removal of the cyst, a chest drainage tube is inserted and the lung is re-expanded.

vats SURGERY

Whilst I just wanted to have this thing that was inside me out, I was really quite nervous about the operation. I’d have to stay in overnight – I’d never stayed in a hospital overnight before, not even with the ops I’d had last year. They were going to collapse my lung which did frighten me somewhat. What if it doesn’t inflate again? What if they find something unexpected? What if they have to convert to open surgery?

Once again the amazing NHS staff were all extremely friendly and made the whole experience more bearable and less nerve wracking. I did have a rather long wait, having arrived at the hospital at 7.30am I didn’t go down for my op until 12:30 –  I was missing my morning cuppa!

The anaesthetists seemed to have great difficulty this time in locating a good vein, so after a few attempts I had a smaller one put in my wrist area and they said they’d put a larger one in once I was under. “It will still be as effective won’t it?” I asked worryingly. “Yes it will, don’t worry you won’t know anything about it,” he said reassuringly.

The next thing I knew I had awoken in the recovery room with a nurse sat next to me and I had things on both of my ankles inflating and then releasing periodically. I vaguely remember my surgeon coming round and tapping me on various points on my legs and asking me whether I could feel him tapping those points.

After a period of time, I was then wheeled up to the women’s thoracic ward and was monitored every 15 minutes by a nurse. I had an oxygen tube going into my nose and I felt tired and a little away with the fairies.

Thankfully Pats came in to visit me later that afternoon and after we had made jokes about the very fetching thigh-high white embolism stockings I was sporting, he presented me with a little goody bag. It had a cute get well card in it, my little fluffy bunny that my sister had brought me a few years back and some treats to eat. It was too painful to be able to shift myself to sit upright so I drank water from a straw and, having not eaten for over 20 hours, managed to scoff down a cheese sandwich. Pats had bought me in some baby bells (got to have a cheese fix!) and a nice healthy green smoothie.

embolism stockings_alliemoon bunny

Pats set up the TV for me and as he left I began to start watching the Andy Murray/Tsonga tennis match at Wimbledon. There were five other women on the ward and there was an older lady down the end to my left who I had heard whilst Pats had been there. As the evening progressed this lady progressively got more and more vocal. She was demanding things left right and centre from the nursing staff without so much as a please or thank you. I had to take my hat off to the nurses that night, they all had the patience of saints and continued to come to her calmly and professionally each time to take care of her every need.

By this point, I was in a lot of pain and even the shots of morphine weren’t easing it. It was a bit of a surreal moment really, I was laying in this really strange place in agony – I literally felt like I had multiple stab wounds in my chest and was desperately clutching my little bunny for comfort .. I felt like a child who wanted her Mummy!

In the morning a nurse came and tried to take my bloods but after two attempts she couldn’t get a good enough vein. I was still in a lot of pain and so continued on the morphine shots. I was feeling decidedly sorry for myself – I consider myself to have a pretty high pain threshold but this had brought me to tears. I laid there feeling really rather silly trying to hide my visible display of emotions from the other ladies on the ward.

Another two nurses arrived and said they would be removing the drain from my side. Oh, joy! I had to roll onto my right side, which was even more painful, and take a deep breath in. As I gradually breathed out they whipped the pipe out. Man, this sucked!

Another nurse came round to give me a wash in bed, a slightly odd experience, but it did make me feel slightly better. Afterwards, she suggested that I try and get out of bed and sit up in the chair. She helped me over to the chair and for a while, I sat quite happily drinking a cup of tea and munching on a digestive biscuit. I was feeling pleased with myself that I was making good progress. All of a sudden I came over feeling really odd, light-headed, sweaty and I thought I was going to be sick. The nurse said my blood pressure had dropped so helped me back into bed. Bugger, not so fast then!

By this point, Darren had come back into see me and my surgeon came round to discuss the op. He said they had removed a ‘nerve cyst’ and it was more tricky to get out due to it being attached to nerve endings.This was why he was tapping various points on me as he was concerned it may have affected my sensations in various areas (luckily it hadn’t). Whilst the MRI had shown the size of the cyst to be roughly the size of a grape, the consultant indicated with his fingers it was much bigger (approx 5cm). The cyst had been sent off for analysis and I would get the results in 10 days’ time. We discussed my funny turn on getting out of bed, and he said I should try again a bit later. It’s better for your lungs and chest to be upright and mobile as this prevents getting a chest infection or pneumonia.

A couple of hours later I tried once more to get out of bed and sit in the chair and luckily I was okay. I could see other ladies getting themselves up out of bed and going off to have a shower. This seemed completely unachievable to me at that point. Pats walked me to the toilet – oh the joyous things my poor beloved husband has had to do for/with me!

Once I knew I was going to be okay whilst sat out of bed I just wanted to get out of there and be at home. I was finally discharged at around 5pm the following day and given a bag of painkillers to take home with me. I was really sore on the journey home in the car as the pain relief I’d been given in the hospital was starting to wear off. I got home and when I looked at the paracetamol and ibruprofen in the bag I realised that was not going to cut the mustard. I rang the hospital medication number and the lady was surprised I hadn’t been given anything stronger to take home with me after what I’d been having in the hospital. Luckily Pats had some co-codamol in the cupboard so I took those and that started to ease the pain.

Shoulder pain is really common after lung surgery and I had awful pains in my left shoulder. It hurt so much to cough, blow my nose and even take breaths at times. That evening we started watching an episode of One Foot in the Grave on the TV, but it was making me laugh and cry with pain at the same time so we had to turn it over!

Pats looked after me so well that weekend bless his heart. He’d brought me a funny card and two lovely plants that he put in our bedroom so I could enjoy looking at the flowers. He’d made a scrummy dinner that night and helped me in dressing and getting in and out of bed etc.

Over that weekend my best friend Tara came over with a lovely bunch of sunflowers and my sister and her boyfriend sent a lovely bouquet of flowers and popped in to see how I was doing. I was also lucky and very appreciative to have received some very beautiful flowers delivered from my friends Lou and Debs and Jon and some thoughtful get well cards.

Andy-Murray-Wimbledon_alliemoon

I spent the majority of that weekend watching Wimbledon (well done Murray!). Pats had been to buy me some juices so I could have mocktails whilst watching the tennis so I didn’t feel left out. He is such a thoughtful babe!

Being mobile, moving about and walking  is key to recovering from VATS. Movement helps shift the phlegm that sits on your chest. When I left the hospital I was (agonisingly) coughing up brown bits (sorry, too much information!) which gradually faded to green, yellow and white. I walked around the house and garden and up and down the stairs trying to keep myself active.

As each day passed I improved and by the Monday I was able to walk to the local shops. Thankfully I was able to ditch the lovely white stockings after a week as they were really annoying!

I’m pleased to say that I’m recovering very well, and apart from hurting when I sneeze and a little tenderness (mainly in the night and morning) I’m not in any pain anymore.  I have also now had the results back from the analysis of the cyst and it was completely benign and nothing to worry about. What a relief. The human body absolutely amazes me in its ability to heal itself. Once again, thanks to the amazing NHS and to all the doctors, anaesthetists and nursing staff at Southampton University Hospital for taking such good care of me.

 

Images by genomesunzipped.orgsearchquotes.com, lwjuan.com, diapers.com and nanonews.org.

 

An emotional goodbye

I heard the very sad and devastating news that a colleague I had previously worked with had recently died of cancer. He had been ill for well over a year and after finishing his treatment, sadly his cancer had returned and now it had stolen him from his loved ones.

He had such a friendly nature, he would always take the time to stop for a chat and say hello. He was diagnosed around the same time as me last year, and through a shared friend, we would ask about how one another was doing and pass our best wishes onto each other. I wouldn’t have described him as a really close friend, but we had a good relationship at work and we had an unspoken shared bond through our experience of having cancer.

He had served in the army for 22 years, and ironically had survived tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to be taken by this cruel disease in the prime of his life.

There were so many people at the memorial service – family, friends, comrades and colleagues. The crematorium hall was filled to overflowing with mourners who wanted to say their final goodbyes. You could see just how popular this man was and how many lives he had touched.

Emotional friends and relatives shed tears as they paid tributes and shared stories and fond memories of a much-loved father of two. He leaves behind a young wife and their two daughters. My heart went out to his poor family who are going through such pain and sorrow at this time. Life really is so bloody cruel.

Although I’m clearly overjoyed to be alive, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty that I had survived cancer whilst my fellow colleague had not. In the beginning when I was diagnosed, I had hundreds of questions whizzing around in my head and I’d asked myself on more than one occasion “Why me?” Whilst paying my respects yesterday I also asked myself the question “Why not me?”

life is amazing
A couple of recent events have made it even more crystal clear to me that life presents so many ups and downs, traumas, sorrow and joy, happiness and sadness. In amongst the suffering and stressful times we must make the most of those good days, when the sun is shining, when we are healthy, when life is good and when we are at peace with ourselves and the world. The funeral was another stark reminder of how short life is and that we should grab it with both hands and make the most of the precious days that we have.

This poem by David Harkins was read out at the memorial service:

He is gone

You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

 

Images Simple Reminders and AllGreatQuotes.

 

Embrace birthdays – they’re not written in stone

Dreading birthdays isn’t that unusual, is it? After all, who really wants to get old, wrinkly, saggy and creaky? Following a couple of recent poignant events and having recently reached a rather big milestone myself, I really do feel that getting older and birthdays are a privilege and not something to worry or get sad about.

embracelife_alliemoon
With age comes experience and along with that, hopefully, wisdom. As you get older the lessons that life teaches you enable you to be more confident about who you are in the world and where you are in life. We tend not to care as much about what other people think of us and are less judgemental ourselves. I think we worry less about how we look – or how society thinks we should look. All those anti-ageing cream advertisements have lost their appeal, I just don’t believe the marketing hype anymore, and anyway, wrinkles mean that you laughed!

wrinkles_alliemoon

I hit the big 4-0 a few weeks ago and, whilst I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t contemplated and thought about where I am at this mid-point in life, I’m eager to see what hopefully the next decade has in store for me. I didn’t want to be feeling sad about reaching this milestone – 40 years young I say!

For my 40th, my hubby pulled out all the stops and made such an incredible effort in making sure my birthday went off with a bang and was one to remember. He had been reeling with excitement for weeks and absolutely bursting at the seams trying not to let on what surprises he had in store for me. I knew we were going away for a holiday so I was excited, but as I like to be prepared and organised for things I also had slight trepidation in not knowing what we were doing!  

40_bday_alliemoon

On the morning of the day that we were due to go away, Pats presented me with a beautiful box, which upon opening had an envelope inside (and various other little presents). Opening the envelope with anticipation, I pulled out a picture of the most beautiful camper van. “Mallard”, a 1966 VW split screen – this was to be our new home for the next week!!! Wow. For anyone who doesn’t know me well, I absolutely love VW splitty camper vans. Inside the envelope was a carefully crafted piece of paper detailing a fun itinerary of what we would be doing that week. How exciting!

We would be spending the first couple of nights with a group of friends at a campsite near Lymington. We would then travel onto Bournemouth and stay overnight in a hotel and go to a ‘cheese and wine’ bar. Mmmmm my favourite!  From there we would truck on down Lyme Regis to a jazz festival and then I was free to pick the places we could go to after that. On a scale of 1-10 of sheer coolness, this rated about 100!

Pats had organised so many thoughtful little surprises for my birthday – he’d bought bunting and heart-shaped  lights to decorate the camper van with (I have a huge obsession with hanging hearts). He had bought bubbly for us all to drink for a birthday toast – out of proper glass flutes too. This man does NOT do drinking out of plastic – even when you’re camping in a field! He’d also wrapped up other little presents to be opened at specific times throughout the holiday.

My lovely friend, Debs, had bought some delicious birthday cakes and had had some gorgeous camper van bunting made which we decorated our van with. The weather was kind to us too and we enjoyed lots of laughs in the sunshine during the day finished off by cosy evenings around the campfire.

We had planned to go camping last year, but as I’d just had my lumpectomy surgery, unfortunately, we had to cancel our trip. Our fab friends Debbie and Graham had some hilarious masks made up that had pictures of our faces printed on and had spent the weekend larking about with them on and posing for pictures with various people (even the campsite wardens!). They’d had us in absolute stitches as they’d send through random photos which made us still feel part of their weekend. They’d brought along the masks for this camping trip so we had great fun re-enacting Darren and Allie poses!

It took us a fair while to travel to the campsite in Lyme Regis from Bournemouth. We learned from this trip that driving a campervan is a rather unique experience. You don’t go very far quickly and you have to prepare for roundabouts and road turnings as well as anticipate what other drivers are doing as the brakes on the van take about a week to apply. This all added to the fun of the van (although it has put us off wanting to buy an old one!).

As we rocked up at the campsite that Pats had booked for us, we parked the van up and went inside to the office to pay for our pitch. As we were chatting away to the chap behind the counter, I glanced over at the window and out the corner of my eye saw the camper van rolling away! Oh my lordy, we legged it outside so fast and thankfully Pats managed to get inside it and apply the brakes. I foolishly stepped out in front of it to try and stop it (mmmm, not the most intelligent idea!).

As we returned to the office to finish paying, I looked at Pats and he was completely white as a sheet, sweating and trembling in shock! That was a seriously lucky escape. Apparently, ours wasn’t the first older camper van to have a poor hand break and the others had come off in a really bad way.

We had such an amazing time away and Pats made me feel like a million dollars (as always). I was so chuffed to have had the opportunity to go away in a VW campervan as this had been on my bucket list for a long time. I will certainly cherish the memories of my birthday spent with family and friends.

Some people leave this life far too young and don’t get to experience the joy and happiness of their future birthdays and getting old. I say embrace each and every year with love and gratitude as birthdays are not written in stone and are a privilege.

Images by Liam Moloney, Buzz-in.in and Spirit Science

Breast friends – our first threesome!

Well, who would have thought it? Publicly blogging about our first threesome?! Okay, well you’ll pleased to know it wasn’t actually that sort of threesome! Through the powers of this blog I have had the pleasure of connecting with many amazing women from all corners of this world. But somehow last year (and I can’t even place exactly when it happened) I connected with two very inspiring ladies – Rosemary  and Dee – who were also blogging about their own experience of having breast cancer.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Rosemary in the summer time last year when I was going through chemo. She is such a kind, gentle and caring person. Within minutes of meeting her, she had presented me with a basket of the most thoughtfully and carefully selected presents, all individually and beautifully wrapped to be opened at various times throughout my treatment when I needed a little bit of help – a bit of oomph to keep me going through the tough times, a bit of loving care.

In the new year, Dee had made a proactive and very welcome suggestion for the three of us to get together. We’d all been diagnosed around a similar time, and uncannily we had pretty much all received the same diagnosis. We gleefully set a date to all meet up at the beginning of May. (We would have met much earlier on this year had it not been for my random and somewhat crazy diary movements.)

In the meantime, and to my delight, I found out that my dear family from Canada were making the trek across the pond to come and pay us a visit. They were due here on the same weekend that I’d agreed to meet up with Rosemary and Dee. I desperately didn’t want to let them down, but having not seen my family for a few years, I obviously couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend some quality time with them, so my friends gladly re-arranged our plans.

And so, after many months of reading each other’s blogs, listening to each other’s similar experiences, messaging and supporting each other – this weekend we finally all came together as a threesome.

sisterhood

I had been looking forward with so much anticipation to our weekend together. Having been in such close contact with one another over the last year, I was excited for our virtual friendships to transform into face-to-face reality.

After initially greeting Rosemary, her lovely husband Steve (and their very friendly neighbours) Dee arrived and we all gave each other a hug. It was like meeting good friends who you hadn’t seen in a long time. There was no awkwardness, no embarrassment, we just enjoyed being in one another’s company.

Rosemary and her husband were superb hosts and they gave us the most warmest and loving welcome into their beautiful home. We were completely spoilt with delicious and tantalising food and wine and we spent the weekend eating, drinking, nattering and laughing together… the hours just literally vanished!

We talked passionately about our love of writing and blogging, what ultimately brought us together, and how much it had helped each of us throughout the whole experience of having cancer. It was very comforting to be able to talk openly about our experiences, warts and all, and to gain support and strength from each other.

support

We were also lucky enough to meet Rosemary and Steve’s charming young son, his lovely partner and their gorgeous new little baby boy – what a sweetheart!

There are many fond and humorous memories I shall take away with me from this weekend, not least the legendary magic roundabout, banana tea and the FILTHY oven (not Rosemary’s I might add!) and we are already eagerly anticipating our next meet up.

I thank all of my nearest and dearest who have so tenderly and lovingly held my hand and walked this path with me since last year. And I thank you Rosemary and Dee, despite the shitty circumstances in which we came to meet, I am truly blessed and honoured to have two such amazing ladies in my life who I can genuinely call my friends.

Click the links below to read both of their brilliant blogs:

breast friends

New beginnings

It’s that wonderful time of year when all the trees flower into beautiful blossom, plants are shooting and new life is springing up everywhere. My favourite tree in our garden, the magnolia, has once again given us a display of the most glorious flowers and transformed the look of our garden. The spring season really is a time of change, of optimism and of new beginnings.

Since my earlier posts I feel that I’ve really turned a corner from those sad, depressing, teary days I’d experienced after completing my treatment. I feel positive, happy and feel more ‘alive’ with much more energy and motivation again.

I’ve started to see friends and family more and have had some fab times already this year with my loved ones. Life certainly feels more normal again and I have enjoyed some amazing trips away and have holidays to look forward to.

I’ve also had some challenges with work and last month I found out that my role was being made redundant. Whilst there was another similar role in the business I could have applied for, after a lot of rather stressful deliberation, I eventually figured out that this situation is actually providing me with the opportunity for a change.

I’d spent nearly a decade of my life working at that company. It has been rewarding and challenging and I’ve certainly learnt a lot and grown tremendously over that period. I’m also very lucky to have met some brilliant people who are now life-long friends. But it was also insanely stressful at times and I worked very long hours often late into the evening and at weekends and sacrificed seeing my friends and family and my personal life on too many occasions.

I can’t help but feel that if we don’t make changes in our lives for ourselves that sometimes we’re given a push by other means. They say everything happens for a reason, I’m not entirely sure I believe that as that takes away your free will, but whatever it is, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a great big neon light flashing at me and urging me to move on.

“I believe in process. I believe in four seasons. I believe that winter’s tough, but spring’s coming. I believe that there’s a growing season. And I think that you realise that in life, you grow. You get better.”  – Steve Southerland

What I do know is that now I see it as a very positive thing. Granted, if I was told at the beginning of last year that I’d be dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment and would then be made redundant I really wouldn’t have believed it. Quite rightly I would have been absolutely scared stiff about what the future had in store for me.

But now I’m out of the other side of the experience and looking forward rather than backwards. It’s quite surprising the things us humans can cope with on a daily basis and in the longer term. What seems completely insurmountable at one point then blends in with all the other challenging obstacles that are thrown in your path, and, with a lot of support from some very good people, you somehow find the strength and courage to get through it all.

I guess the events of last year have changed my perspective on many things. Shay Sharpe describes this perfectly in one of her Instagram posts:

“Cancer changes people. Our lives are different now. Our bodies look and feel different. We value life more. We see life through different eyes. The grass is greener and the sky is more blue. The old normal is gone. Evolve and find adventure in your new normal.” 

Sometimes you have to take risks in life, and whilst it’s not my go-to place to be a big risk taker anymore, sometimes you have to be brave and just go for it. When considering my next steps I just kept thinking to myself that whatever happens next can’t be worse than being diagnosed with cancer. It can’t be worse than going through treatment, than losing your hair, your fertility, your female hormones or the constant thoughts about how long you might have left to live before it may come back again.

img_4741

I’m an optimist by nature, the glass is always half full to me (and excuse me who drank the rest of my drink?!). I see this situation as an opportunity to move on, to learn, to grow, to transform, to hopefully be able to help others at the same time and also to bring a bit more balance to my life.

I’m very pleased to have received a lot of interest in me from a job hunting perspective which is really encouraging and gives me great confidence. However, I now question whether it was the right thing for me to have blogged about my experience of having cancer so openly (and now publicly visible on the internet and social media) now that I’m back on the market looking for a new opportunity.

My blog has been, and still is, a great channel to express my feelings and to connect with others. It has been so beneficial to me over the last year that I sincerely hope it doesn’t go against me.

Whilst it’s obviously illegal to discriminate against someone in the recruitment process with regards to disability, I would hope that by being a cancer survivor, my future employer will be able to overlook the fact that I have been ill and see that I have incredible strength of character, clarity and a determination to succeed as well as the ability to deal with all manner of stressful situations. I’m sure I’ll soon be able to report on what the next new exciting chapter has in store for me.

As it’s a period of new beginnings and change, the big 40 that has been teetering around on the horizon for a while now is also finally in sight. I had thought I might feel a bit odd about turning 40, after all it’s a major milestone in one’s life. With everything that’s been going on, it’s kind of paled into insignificance really.

When my hubby asked me what I’d like to do to celebrate my birthday a few months ago, I said I didn’t want a big fuss or a party because, given how I felt at the beginning of the year, I just had no idea how I’d be feeling at this stage. Instead, I’ve opted to spend quality time with people in smaller groups and to celebrate it in my own way. I know my fab hubby has been diligently organising some sort of surprise for me which he’s absolutely bursting with excitement about – I can’t wait to find out what he has in store. So onwards and upwards folks – here’s to a new chapter and to a totally awesome 40th year!

Have you been in a similar situation where you have had to look for a new job following cancer treatment? Similarly have you been blogging about your experience and feared how this might be viewed negatively by prospective employers? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any advice you might have.

 

Cancerversary

I received the letter last week for my mammogram screening appointment. The one-year anniversary, or “cancerversary”, is approaching since I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

April has always been quite a significant month in terms of anniversaries for my hubby and I. It was the month that we first met each other, when we got engaged, when we first moved in together and when we arrived back home from travelling around the world together. Now the month holds a much less joyful anniversary and brings back disturbing memories from a traumatic period in my life.

The 24mm sized lump in my left breast did not show up on the mammogram I had last year. This is because breast tissue is dense in younger women so I had to have an additional MRI scan in order for it to be visible. At my last oncology appointment I requested to have an MRI as I was already feeling anxious about whether I would only have a mammogram. As soon as the letter arrived, a horrible feeling arrived in the pit of my stomach and my eyes filled with tears. I immediately rang the hospital to check whether the appointment I’d received was for an MRI. The nurse said the appointment is for a mammogram and explained that they always do a mammogram first and that I was also scheduled to have an MRI too.

I’m not sure if the terror and fear of the cancer coming back will ever leave me, but I know that at that hospital appointment I’m going to be transported back to the scary place from last year. The innocent and somewhat naïve approach I took to attending that screening appointment with my dear friend. The day that unfolded into having an ultrasound, laying on that hospital bed in tears having a needle biopsy and the ensuing trauma from the worrying look on the doctor’s face who sat and told me that “we are concerned”. The day my life and the plans I had for it changed, the days of being care-free ended.

Luckily my breast care nurse happened to call me this week to see how I was getting on. I told her about the mammogram and I asked how long it would take to get the results. She said I could ring her if I hadn’t heard within 7 days and she would then follow up and get them for me.

I’ve also just started my Tamoxifen medication. I had been waiting for my oncologist to let me know whether I’d be taking Tamoxifen or an aromotese inhibitor, Letrozole. He was conferring with his colleagues as to which I should take. In the meantime I’d been doing my own research and had used Breast Cancer Care’s Ask the Nurse service. This was particularly helpful as they sent me information on results from trials that have been carried out on both drugs.

I’d come to my own conclusion that as I was pre menopausal at the end of chemo and was having ovarian suppression, that an aromotese inhibitor proved slightly more effective than Tamoxifen. At my last oncology appointment I was slightly miffed at the fact that I was seen by a locum, who had to go next door to check with my oncologist which medication I would be put on. This meant I didn’t have the opportunity to understand the reasoning behind his decision. I will speak with him again at my next appointment, but I must have faith in his knowledge and experience that it’s the right choice for me.

Life, and work in particular, continues to be challenging. I’m sure I can get past this significant anniversary and continue to look forward with the positive and strong mind set I already have and gradually put this whole experience behind me. They do say that as one door closes, another opens and I have a feeling that life has plenty more positive and rewarding opportunities in store in the coming months ahead.

Special Day – Willow Foundation

Last week my hubby and I returned from the most wonderful weekend spent at a beautiful little cottage in Devon courtesy of the amazing Willow Foundation. The charity works with seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40 to fulfil uplifting and unforgettable ‘Special Days’.

I’d heard about the Willow Foundation via social media and thought what a fantastic idea it is to be able to give those living with life-threatening illnesses a special day treat. Having read the stories of others who enjoyed special days I decided to give it a go and apply. You fill out an application form providing medical details and put ideas of what you’d like to do for your special day. I said I’d either like to spend a weekend at a cottage with a log fire and a hot tub with my hubby, go out for a night out at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London or go for a trip in a VW campervan.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do, but I really just wanted to do something special with the man in my life who has been so amazing and supportive and who has held me up over the last year. My husband has supported me through all my operations and treatment, being positive, keeping me in good spirits and always telling me how beautiful I am when I’ve felt so hideous inside and out! He’s juggled working full time, taking me to and from endless hospital appointments, caring for me, cleaning, cooking and being my rock – I could not have got this far without him.

The lovely Practice Nurse who had been regularly changing my Picc line dressings at my local doctor’s surgery signed my form and I popped it off in the post. I had almost forgotten all about it until I received a phone call from a lady at Willow to let me know my application had been granted!! We decided a weekend away in a cottage would be an amazing treat and Liz (my ‘Special Day Maker’) set about organising it for us. I was so ecstatic and grateful that they’d granted my wish. It was lovely for us to have something to look forward to when my treatment had finished and for us to be able to enjoy ourselves and try and forget about the world of cancer.

We found a really lovely romantic cottage located in North Devon. As it was a popular destination they were already booked up quite far in advance, but there was a date free in March so Liz booked in our weekend for us.

I finished my radiotherapy treatment in January, and having recently just returned to work in February, it was so nice to have something to look forward to in the coming weeks. Just before the weekend arrived I received my Special Day pack. This contained all the details of our trip and booking confirmations – they even included a taste card and had printed off maps and directions for us!

We were so excited about our trip and as the date finally arrived we set off for our weekend away. We were absolutely delighted when we arrived at ‘honeymoon cottage’. For the next three days our home was an 18th century thatched cottage in a picturesque little rural village in Devon surrounded by rolling green hills.

SpecialDays2The cottage had so much character and charm with its original features, ancient wood beams and inglenook fireplace. It was beautifully decorated and had a wood burning stove, a huge free standing copper bath big enough for two, a hot tub in the garden and all manor of gadgets and a Bose surround system that was playing out music in every room.  There was even a fresh loaf of bread that had been baked for us upon our arrival!

We spent our weekend eating delicious food, relaxing by the fire, drinking champagne in the hot tub, roaming around the area and generally having an amazing time together. The weekend was a welcome break and it gave us the chance to relax, reconnect and create some very special memories.

Being diagnosed with and treated for cancer is a truly terrifying experience and the path I have been walking this last year has been fraught with worry, fear, stress, pain and anxiety. I have had amazing support from my family and friends who I can’t thank enough. After all the months of surgeries, treatments and being in and out of hospital so much it finally feels like life has returned to some sort of normality at last.

We are so grateful for our weekend away and I would like to sincerely thank Willow for their generosity and kindness in granting me my Special Day.

If you are aged 16-40 and are currently undergoing treatment for a life-threatening illness you can apply for a Special Day here.

Mixed emotions after finishing breast cancer treatment

I did it, I’m done, I’m through, I’m finished! I’ve not posted here for a while because I really wanted to write something positive and upbeat about finally reaching the end of my treatment (well, kind of). I know loved ones would like to hear this and are eager to help celebrate my victory over cancer….but I just don’t feel like partying.

Quite surprisingly to me I actually feel the opposite to how I think I should right now. I thought I’d be overjoyed at this point, relieved that the treatment is over – hands punching in the air, lots of high fives and feeling fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased I’m still here and alive, obviously, but I really hadn’t anticipated feeling this way at all.

I’m having difficulty sleeping, my head is a whirlwind of worries hurtling round my mind and I wake up feeling stressed and anxious with my heart pounding. I feel pretty flat and waves of tears just appear out of nowhere. How can there possibly be any more bloody tears left in me? There are times when I can’t stop crying, uncontrollably, and in the most inappropriate places – it’s really quite embarrassing. My fabulously supportive friends are wanting to see me, which is so lovely, but I feel overwhelmed by it all and just want to hide away from the world. And then I feel guilty for feeling this way. My poor hubby probably wonders where his wife gone.

Oh I wish had more energy, more motivation and more life in me… I so desperately wish I could go back to being the old me. But of course I can’t. I will never be the same person I was before, I need to readjust and adapt to this ‘new normal’, this brave new world. I must be patient, my body (and my mind) needs time to heal. I’ve heard from others that it takes as long as the total duration of treatment to feel fully physically and emotionally well. There is a continual and constant fear playing in the back of my mind. I wonder whether the treatment was successful, I’m frightened by every ache and pain and I worry if the big C will reappear its ugly head again in the future. I’m sure at this point anxiety is at its highest for all cancer survivors and it will undoubtedly lessen over time.

As soon as you’ve finished treatment, I think there can be an expectation to just pick up and get back to ‘normal’. I’ve been told by nurses, health professionals and other people who have been through the same experience that the way I’m feeling is perfectly normal – and is actually more the typical behaviour displayed by someone rather than the jumping for joy feeling. I’ve been in contact with others who have transitioned through the end of their treatment phase and back into ‘normal’ life again. I’ve heard how people have struggled at this point and also felt similar emotions so at least I know I’m not alone and it is common to feel this way. After months of hospital visits, surgeries, nasty chemical infusions, being nuked and poked, prodded and punctured with needles my body and mind has taken a battering. It’s hardly surprising that, as much as I’d like to, I’m not quite ready to bounce back into life as it was before.

I guess you use all of your strength and courage keeping it together to get yourself through all of the treatment and then when the finish line appears you’re left thinking ‘what the feck just happened?’ You go from feeling relatively strong, positive and ‘brave’ to this person whose confidence is on the floor, who has difficulty keeping it together at times and has these debilitating melt downs. I was recently told that your brain purposely shuts down excess feelings until you’re ready to handle them which makes good sense.

These feelings are also being magnified by the start of my Zolodex injections. Women usually approach the menopause much more naturally with their oestrogen levels dropping off at a gradual and natural rate. Mine however have been pretty much been switched off overnight, chemically, and very unnaturally so I guess the feelings/side effects are more severe. I am told that this will level out over approximately 3 months as my body gets used to the Zolodex.

I am starting back at work at the beginning of February and am dreading having one of these melt downs in the office. My employers have been absolutely fantastic and my colleagues and friends at work so supportive, I know they will look after me when I return. I’m still petrified and worried if I’ll be able to keep up with everything. Fortunately I’m doing a gradual phased return which will help me back into working life gently. I’m also worried about seeing people in my wig who I haven’t seen since I was diagnosed. It feels like going out in my wig for the first time all over again.

My treatment isn’t technically finished as I’ll continue to have my 3-weekly Herceptin injections until November as well as my monthly Zolodex injections. As my cancer was oestrogen receptor positive I will also go onto long-term medication – either Tamoxifen (for up to 10 years) or Letrozole. I’ll continue to be in contact with my oncologist and healthcare professionals for a little longer which does provide a safety net of some sort.

I’ve been having some counselling sessions at the Haven to help me process everything and provide me with some coping strategies and I’ve also started a ‘Moving Forward’ course run by Breast Cancer Care.

I have also discovered Dr Peter Harvey, a psychologist who has specialised in supporting cancer patients and he has written an in-depth article (After the Treatment Finishes – Then What?) which accurately describes and completely makes sense of the way I’m feeling.

Just when you think you’ve come to the end of one road, it feels like another has started. I’m absolutely sure things will get better and that each day that passes life will get easier as I get stronger and my body and mind have time to recover. My apologies to my darling husband, friends and family if you’re wondering why I’m miserable or withdrawn – I promise I’ll be back soon!

Image by Power of Positivity (powerofpositivity.com).

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