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.

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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!

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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!  

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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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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.