Coronavirus and cancer: Another ‘new normal’

The coronavirus outbreak is causing worry and heartache across the world with people feeling anxious, afraid, overwhelmed and a whole host of other emotions. We are all having to adjust, make sacrifices and get used to a ‘new normal’.

I spoke to someone this week who interestingly related how people are feeling in the current crisis to the Kubler-Ross Change Curve (created by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969). This is also known as the five stages of grief and includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Having read a little further into this, I can see how relevant this is right now.

Kübler-Ross-ModelThe Kuber-Ross Change Curve

Marie Skelton also illustrates how this specifically relates to COVID-19 in the ‘Coronavirus Change Curve’ below.

Coronovirus-Change-CurveCoronavirus Change Curve – Where are you on this curve?

Not everyone goes through each stage, and some people spend longer in one stage than in others, while others skip some stages altogether.  Marie Skelton

Not only can I relate to this in the current coronavirus outbreak, but also as someone who has previously dealt with a life-threatening disease. There are many feelings that people across the world are experiencing right now that I recognise having had cancer.  Over the last few weeks, so many memories and fears around being diagnosed with breast cancer and having treatment have strangely resurfaced. This might seem strange to someone who has not had cancer. But I have seen many other cancer patients drawing parallels between dealing with coronavirus and their own cancer experiences.  Many have said they feel that having chemo has been a rehearsal for this lockdown that we are all currently in.

There is that feeling of being utterly scared for your life and completely overwhelmed when you are first diagnosed. In those early days and throughout treatment, your whole world changes and life as you once knew it is turned upside down.  You have no idea how your future will pan out anymore. You are faced with your mortality at a stage in your life you didn’t think you would be. You have constant dark and worrying thoughts that drain you and you’re unable to concentrate.  You wake up in the morning with a feeling of absolute terror.  You are constantly researching about the cancer you have, the treatments available and people tell you of all sorts of supposed cures. You lose the sense of normality you once had and the feeling of being in control.  There is a sense of grief and loss of things you once enjoyed and future dreams and plans being hijacked.  You are hypervigilant and on a constant state of alert about everything that is going on inside your body that you wouldn’t normally worry about. That every slightest little symptom, ache, pain or high temperature could be something life-threatening when having chemo, or years down the line living in fear that your cancer may have returned.

Amongst all the darkness, worry, distress and pain there is also an outpouring of love, care and kindness. Not only from friends and family but also corners of the world you never knew existed before. Someone to hold your hand, to give you support, to check in on you that you’re okay and giving you their support.

Even the darkest night will end quote

Cancer patients are already all too familiar with adapting to a ‘new normal’.  But they have had to come to terms with this on their own. Some seek out the support of others who have been through the same experience. Now, there is this other new normal to cope with and it feels a little strange that everyone is experiencing it at the same time.

Life isn’t quite the same after cancer. Over time you begin to feel better – physically and emotionally, you gain strength again and re-evaluate everything. After going through treatment and coming back out the other side, I began looking at life through a different lens. Whilst I am still very driven and tenacious in my working life and want to achieve my personal goals and dreams, I decided to go down to a 4-day working week. I wanted to gain a better work-life balance, to reduce the stresses of work and protect my health. I wanted so much to fill our days and time with fun things and living life to the full. Ticking things off my newly formed bucket list, going on holidays, getting together with friends and family, days out, gigs, experiences and treating ourselves to a little bit of well-earned luxury. Now all those things are temporarily off-limits.

It’s hard to believe whilst you’re going through it at the time, but there have been many positives following my cancer experience.  Not only did I feel the amazing love and support from my husband, family and friends, I have also connected with many other breast cancer patients – through local face-to-face support groups, online communities and my blog.  I have made friends with others through a connection with breast cancer.  I have helped to give back to those charities and organisations who were there for me and supported me in my hardest times.

From dark and testing times in life, there often comes strength, courage, bravery and resilience.  My cancer experience has taught me how to be stronger and to be able to better cope with change and times of uncertainty. It has taught me to focus on living in the now, to not put off doing the things I want to do and to not take it for granted that tomorrow will be as it is today.  To not sweat the small stuff in life and live with more gratitude and kindness.

Life is amazing and then it's awful quote

I too hope that as the world emerges out the other side of this crisis, that there will be many positive changes in people and how we live our lives, how we interact with and treat each other and reflect on what is important in life.  To not take our days for granted, to be kinder and look after one another. To be thankful for the unsung heroes who have cared for and looked after us in our toughest times.

Whilst I am not undergoing current active treatment, my heart goes out to those patients who are having cancer treatment (as well as all those who are vulnerable and have other underlying conditions).  Having cancer is a frightening enough experience to try and cope with without having to deal with being at risk from coronavirus on top.  From the newly diagnosed to those with metastatic cancer and those in palliative end of life care.  Those patients who are facing delays to their surgeries and treatment, who are scared to go to the hospital to have the treatment they desperately need or cannot have physical contact with their loved ones.  And of course, we owe a depth of gratitude to all our amazing doctors, nurses and carers who are working tirelessly to keep us all safe. 

I will leave you with this poem. Unbelievably it was written in 1869, yet feels so current and as if it was written in our day:

And people stayed home
And he read books and listened
And he rested and did exercises
And he made art and played
And he learned new ways of being
And he stopped
And he listened more deeply
Someone meditated
Someone prayed
Someone was dancing
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed.
And in the absence of people who lived
In ignorant ways
Meaningless and heartless,
Even the earth began to heal
And when the danger ended
And people found themselves
They mourned for the dead
And they made new choices
And they dreamed of new visions
And they created new ways of living
And they completely healed the earth
Just as they were healed.

~ Grace Ramsay ~

When the sun rises again and we can emerge from the safety of our homes, the world is going to be a different place.  I’d be interested to hear your views on how you think our society will change and also what changes you will make to your own life post-COVID-19.

You might be interested to read my other posts on Inspiring and motivating poetry , What makes us human?  and Thank you.

Stay safe and best wishes to you xx

Images by: and

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.


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.


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.


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.

Demystifying chemotherapy

Pats and I attended a session called ‘Demystifying Chemo’, which was run by two senior chemotherapy nurses, and was held in the Macmillan centre at the hospital. As we’d been away on holiday it felt like ages since we had been to the hospital – such a nice feeling!

The workshop was scheduled to be a 3-hour session. Each person had a partner with them and we were asked to complete an initial questionnaire around what our preconceptions of chemotherapy and some of the side effects were. The nurses then went through the questionnaire and talked around each subject. I think everyone had different ideas and thoughts around differing areas and it was a really useful session. 

They also told us about the phone app called Cancer Emergency Response Tool (CERT) which is downloadable for free from the App Store. It allows patients to rapidly manage symptoms that need urgent hospital assessment and we were asked to input the hospital’s 24-hour emergency number which would be dialled from the app should it be needed.

We were all provided with a free A5 Macmillan chemotherapy organiser folder which held various sections relating to our treatment and pages to store important information and contact numbers. If we were planning to travel a distance they said it would be advisable to take the folder with us so that in the case of an emergency, any other hospital or medical establishment could see exactly what treatment we were having.

They recommended that we keep a record of how we were feeling throughout each of our treatments, recording our mood, levels of fatigue, what food we ate and medication etc. There was also a notes sections to record any questions, concerns or effects we wanted to talk to the chemotherapy nurse or our oncologist about. She also recommended that each time we come in for treatment to ask for a copy of the letter they send on to our GP to keep in the diary. When coming in to have our chemo, we should also ask the nurse to write down what treatment we’ve had and what our blood results are in the book.

The nurses said there would be days when we don’t feel amazing – the ‘sofa days’ they called them, but they recommended writing down one thing in our diaries at the end of each day that made us smile.

The nurses went through absolutely everything with us, explaining what chemotherapy does, how it affects the immune system and why they measure red and white blood cells and platelets (red cells carry oxygen, white cells are for the immune system and platelets are to do with clotting). The first day of our treatment is classed as day 1 and the cycle runs through to day 21. From day 1 to 7 our immune system will be at its lowest, slowly increasing from day 7 to day 14 and by day 21 it should be nearly back to normal.

They recommended that we invest in a digital thermometer. A normal body temperature is 37C and anything that is between 36-37C is normal and okay. If it’s around 35C or 38C that’s when we’d need to take action. I asked if we should take our temperature every day which they said no to – only if we were feeling unwell or had symptoms. I could see myself getting a little neurotic about doing that so was pleased they’d said not to!

They then went through a whole variety of potential signs and symptoms of an infection and how vigilant we must be in terms of spotting one – the side effects of chemo can be very similar to symptoms of an infection. No word of a lie, it really does put the fright into you when they say how quickly an infection can develop. You must not sit up throughout the night and wait until the morning if you have a temperature and you must call them straight away if you have symptoms. But they did re-iterate that it’s common sense, e.g. flu doesn’t come on instantly, it develops gradually with a few different symptoms. Following this part of the workshop, we could easily see that infection is likely to be a combination of symptoms rather than just one.

With regards to infections, they advised us to not come into contact with or to allow people to visit our homes who had been unwell, were feeling unwell, have a temperate or a bug or who have been in contact with ill people. I’ve since heard a tip of having an antibacterial hand wash at your front door and asking guests to use it upon entering your house!

We were also told not to have any live vaccinations or to have any for 6 months following treatment. We were also advised to get a flu vaccination.

The nurses talked about food and nutrition and said we should basically follow the diet of a pregnant lady. No pate, no unpasteurised soft cheeses, no raw or uncooked meats and no shellfish or undercooked eggs. We should wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly (even bagged salad) and ensure that everything is well cooked. Don’t risk eating things that are past their sell by date.

My darling hubby was the first to ask if we were allowed to drink alcohol whilst having treatment (which all raised a laugh!). The nurse said she had meant to bring this up herself but had forgotten and said that yes we could have a drink, not to go mad obviously, but if we wanted to have a drink we could towards the end of the cycle and not to have any at all the night before our treatment either. She said takeaways were also allowed!

Chemotherapy works by attacking fast dividing cells – cells that are in the process of splitting into two new cells. Cancerous cells keep on dividing until there is a mass of cells. This mass of cells becomes a lump – a tumour. Because cancer cells divide much more often than most normal cells, they are more likely to be killed by chemotherapy.

The way chemotherapy drugs act by killing dividing cells also explains why chemotherapy causes side effects. It affects healthy body tissues where the cells are constantly growing and dividing. The skin, bone marrow, hair follicles and lining of the digestive system (gut) are examples of cells that are constantly growing and dividing. Your hair is always growing, your bone marrow is constantly producing blood cells and the cells of your skin and the lining of your mouth and digestive system are constantly renewing themselves. We learnt that the lining of our mouths is renewed every 3 days! You obviously don’t notice this as new cells regrow and we swallow the dead ones.

The nurses suggested we buy a soft toothbrush and use a salt water mix to rinse the mouth out after eating. They specifically said not to use Corsidol mouth wash either.

They then talked about hair loss and skin changes. The hospital give you £120 towards a wig through their own supplier. You can’t have your hair treated with colour or a perm due to the chemicals. If hair loss was a side effect of the chemo we were having we can use henna or organic hair colour when it starts to grow back.

This useful infographic shows the detailed effects of chemotherapy on the body in an interactive format.

Finally at the end of the session we were shown around the day unit where we would be having our treatment. Hand sanitisers are everywhere in the hospital, but more prevalent here due to patients’ immune systems being compromised. Even the door handle into the ward has a sanitiser that dispenses gel upon gripping it. 

It was here that I ended up getting really upset. I saw a lady with a head scarf on who was wheeling the trolley she was connected up to that was full of her chemo drugs off to the loo with her – another kick of reality. That is actually going to be me in a few weeks’ time I thought. Another lady got upset too and whilst we shed a little tear, clinging to our husbands, the nurse who was with us was so lovely and supportive. Even another patient who was having treatment at that time came up to me and reassuringly put her hand on my arm. She said that seeing it here like this is the worst part, that when you’re actually having it it’s all okay.

We were there for over 4 hours in the end and although there was so much to take in, we were so pleased we’d had the opportunity to attend. I think the nurse said they were the first hospital to run these sessions, and statistics show that those who have attended are far less likely to call the emergency number as they are better educated as to the effects and symptoms of their treatment. I don’t know if these sessions are being run nationally but if you are about to undergo treatment I would thoroughly recommend attending one.

My Mum and Dad had very kindly sorted an issue I’d had with my car after it had been fixed in the garage, and after we had collected it from them, Pats and I drove back home separately. Pats’ parents were due round for dinner that evening and I have to admit I did shed a few tears in the car on the way home – they needed to come out after taking all that in!

Conventional vs alternative cancer treatment? 

Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer will be all too familiar with the feeling of being bombarded with information. From booklets, leaflets and info sheets from the hospital and charities, to books and the myriad of information available on the internet (some of which isn’t necessarily true or helpful and a lot of it is very frightening). It’s easy to feel very overwhelmed by your diagnosis and with the whirlwind of beginning treatment there is so much to take in.

Well meaning friends and relatives filled my inbox with research, statistics, things to try and I filled my time reading books, websites, blogs and articles. I welcomed information on alternative treatments, and was grateful that people had been kind enough to think of me and send on different possible avenues to explore. I was also reading a book called “Choosing To Heal: Surviving the Breast Cancer System” by Janet Edwards, which I’d picked up in the library section of the complementary therapies centre where I was having acupuncture. I’ve always been interested in, and have regularly used complementary therapies such as reiki, reflexology, acupuncture, aromatherapy and crystals etc.

The more I read about the “cancer system” and possible alternatives to conventional cancer treatment, the more confused I became.  How could the hospital be recommending treatment to help to cure me, yet be part of a system, or ‘establishment’ that wasn’t looking after my best interests?

I know some are particularly dead set against conventional cancer treatment and I fully respect others’ own individual views. I admire and am pleased for those who have walked away from medical treatment and have had successful results. It’s such a personal, and difficult, decision to make. When you’re still relatively young, or at any age for that matter, and are looking down the barrel of a weapon loaded with cancer – with your life being the gamble – I decided it was a risk I personally didn’t want to take.

I know that there are many amazing professionals working every day to help people battle and fight this disease and to help find a cure and extend people’s lives. The progress that has already been made in terms of increasing survival rates over the years would not have been possible without the research and advancement in medicine and technology. If I had been born a few decades earlier my prognosis probably wouldn’t have been as it is today, and for that I must be thankful.

Once I’d finally made the decision everything seemed a little easier to cope with, no questions over your head about whether it was the right or wrong thing to do. Now I just had to crack on and get through it.

What makes us human?

Each week on BBC Radio 2’s lunch time show, Jeremy Vine hosts a series called “What makes us human?”. He has various guests on from philosophers, religious and political leaders and scientists, to comedians, writers and actors who read a short essay giving their perspective on the meaning of our existence.

I find the whole subject absolutely fascinating and have always listened intently if I’ve had the opportunity to catch the show to hear other people’s perspectives on this deep and philosophical question.

We were driving back from a hospital appointment a couple of weeks ago, when Radio 2 DJ, Johnnie Walker, appeared as a guest on this slot in BBC Radio 2’s carer’s week. I’m a child of the 70s and absolutely love 70s/disco music (amongst many other genres) and like to listen to Johnnie’s show on a Sunday afternoon.

I know now that Johnnie sadly lost his father and sister to cancer and battled with the disease himself having colon cancer back in 2003, with his wife, Tiggy, caring for him not long after they were married. Sadly, she too was recently diagnosed with breast cancer herself and now Johnnie is her carer.

These are the words of Johnnie’s essay:

“In 1965 The Who sang about my generation. No longer would people try and put us down. That repressive older generation and their establishment can just f-f-f-fade away.

Riding a wave of powerful creative energy, young people at last had their own voice, clothes, art, music and thanks to the pirate ships in the North Sea, their own radio stations. The Beetles blasted out revolution. The Theatres Act of 1968 put pay to theatre censorship. I went to see the musical Hair and in 1970 Oh! Calcutta! at the Roundhouse, both  featuring nudity for the first time on a British stage.

The old rule book had been torn up, thrown aside and there was now a new freedom. And so began my quest for the meaning of life, of why we’re here. What is our purpose? And what would be the new rules and morals to guide our life?

Like so many others I experimented with mind-altering drugs, explored Eastern and Native American philosophies and devoured books like Be Here Now, The Prophet and other books on Western and Chinese astrology and many others.

All I learnt, together with a number of experiences over the years, has led me not just to believe, but to have a deep and profound  conviction of the existence of a soul and life after death. I found it impossible to accept that we only live once. What would be the point of gaining all that experience and knowledge, for it just all come to nothing at the end?

One of my toughest experiences is dealing with the death of a loved one. Perhaps that dreadful sense of loss and loneliness could be made a little easier to bear with the knowledge that loved ones do still exist and that we will re-unite with them one day.

Many of us are familiar with people’s accounts of near death experiences, of them being totally aware of their consciousness existing separately from their body, and of meaningful events of their lives passing before their eyes. As the French Jesuit priest and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

So, if our natural state is spirit, what if, before entering this human life, we had some sort of preview, or knowingness of the lessons and experiences that this new life could offer us? Maybe that’s too much of a leap for our belief system to adopt, but supposing it were to be true? Gone would be our lamenting about how unfair our lives are, how dreadful our parents were and why is it always me that gets all the problems? If we could accept that we actually chose this life, then we could get on with discovering its purpose.

Knowledge may present the sign post, but it doesn’t make the road any easier to travel. Frequently we fail. Frequently I fail, and still do. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t be here. Forgiving sets us free from anger and hate and learning to give love is what I believe advances us the most.

Today we’re in the middle of the annual carer’s week, a time to give thought and support to the 6.5 million people in the UK caring for a loved one. It’s a very hard role to play. We all show concern for the patient, but who thinks of the carer? Often lonely, struggling with work, children, financial hardship and in many cases carers are having to deal with their own health issues caused by this extra burden in their lives.

As we think this week of their selfless acts of kindness, love and support, maybe we might reflect that loving and caring for others is one of the finest aspects of what makes us human.”

I really resonated with the sentiment of Johnnie’s words, not only from a personal belief perspective, but also having listened to it at a very poignant point in my life. A time when you question your mortality. A time when you begin to question everything in your life and its deeper meaning.

It also reminds me to look up out of the cancer fog and know how tough this must be for my carer, my darling husband. I sometimes forget that I’m not the only one battling this nasty disease.

The Nuffield Victoria Wing

At our first consultation appointment we met with a nurse who went through some questions regarding my breast surgery and planned cancer treatment.  She explained that the fertility treatment would commence at the start of my period and that I would be put on a “short protocol” to get me through as quickly as possible.

I had an AMH blood test taken – a hormone test that gives an indication of how many eggs I have left in my ovaries.  The result wouldn’t give a number of how many eggs are actually left, it would be a measure of how strong the hormone is (if the level was not very high it could indicate approaching the menopause). The result of this test would help them get the correct dosing for the medication used for the IVF.

She asked if we were self funding the treatment which we said we were because I wasn’t due to be having chemotherapy and because we were over the age of 34. She said how much of a post code lottery IVF funding is and that had we lived in Surrey we would have been able to have treatment up to the age of 39 and would have been funded for two cycles.  Damn it – we just moved from Surrey!!

We both completed a medical questionnaire each and a whole host of other paperwork and then she scheduled in our next appointment which she said would be approx. 2 hours long. This session would cover how to do injections, how they monitor the cycle with ultrasound scans, how they collect the eggs and then create embryos for us as well as storage of the embryos and the hormone supplements to be taken.

The nurse also explained the two types of fertility treatment . IVF (In vitro fertilisation) where the egg and sperm are put together in a dish and they find each other and fertilise naturally. ICSI (Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) where they manually inject a single sperm into an egg which increases fertilisation rates. She said they would rather prepare us for the fact that we may need the latter as it would cost an extra £1,300 rather than shock us on the day. Jesus, this is all so expensive!

She said that the average number of eggs collected is between 8-10, although not all of those would be high enough quality to freeze – they would only freeze the good quality ones as they’re the ones that will survive the freezing and thawing process. As this would be our only shot at having the treatment they would likely freeze as many as possible.  The storage of the embryos would be done in a batch and would cost approximately £400.

We were then introduced to the Doctor for our initial consultation.  He immediately brought up the topic of funding, and said he couldn’t understand why our case hadn’t been look into in terms of funding on the NHS. We explained what the consultant at QA had said to us about my planned radiotherapy treatment and the upper age limit making us not eligible. He said they would apply for funding for us and see what they would say, it was worth the chance and he said in my situation they may be slightly more flexible.

He agreed that the right decision had been made in terms of having the surgery first, and that in the window between having the op and starting treatment they would take me through a cycle. He said that the recommendation after you have been on Tamoxifen for two or three years is that it’s possible to place the embryos back. Current teaching is that Tamoxifen is taken for five years, however he said that conventionally it’s two to three years (this would depend on the staging and type of cancer from the analysis).

The doctor reassured us that they will do their very best to obtain the best quality embryos to maintain my fertility and whilst it may not be my priority in terms of getting through the cancer, once I am through with my treatment that my ability to carry a baby would in no way be compromised.

He said his goal would be to get around 10 eggs, to then have seven to eight embryos, with four to five blastocysts. We would have an approx 30% chance per transfer of each of those embryos.

He offered us their counselling services and also suggested we take Omega 3, Vitamins B, C and D and a supplement called Proxeed. We were already both rattling with about 12 different vitamin supplements we’d been taking so think we were safely covered there!

We walked away feeling positive about the potential results of the treatment and definitely felt like we were in very safe, caring hands.

Back at home later on that day I received an unexpected delivery of flowers from a colleague at work. They were beautiful and I was touched by her kindness and thoughtfulness.


Discovering ‘the lump’

Up until two weeks ago I was happily getting on with a very busy life.  My husband and I have recently moved to a lovely little village in Hampshire and were enjoying living in our new home.

Once the festive cheer of Christmas had gone and we’d waved goodbye to 2014, we decided to make a start on all the home improvements we’d been planning. One of these was making the old separate kitchen and dining room into one big space.  Just before the Easter weekend we had taken a couple of extra days off so we could make a start on our next project.

Let me just tell you a little bit about my fab hubby.  Darren, also known affectionately as ‘Pats’, is a man of many talents. This is no word of a lie. (By the way he’s nicknamed Pats after the Absolutely Fabulous character by my sister on one of the very first occasions she’d ever met him due to his penchant for champagne!)  Now Pats can literally fix almost anything.  From computers and electrical gadgets, to plumbing disasters or the many things that I’ve accidentally broken over the years. He recently lovingly built me a new bike out of various parts he procured, he’s made a compost bin for our garden, installed our new water filtration/softener system and as I type, he is currently laying the floor in our kitchen.  He is also an amazing chef  and I am extremely lucky to be on the receiving end of the many delicious culinary delights  he conjures up.

With no DIY job impossible for him, the weekend before Easter Pats had taken it upon himself to knock the wall down between our dining room and kitchen.  You know, as you do. I’m a natural born worrier and had to leave the house at this point. Not before repeatedly asking him ‘Are you absolutely sure that’s not a supporting wall?!’

We’d had new carpets laid on the Wednesday and had to move everything from all the bedrooms (which felt like moving house all over again) and whilst they were being fitted, two chaps were plastering our ceiling and walls in the new kitchen/diner. We both worked all day outside in the garden, mowing lawns, raking, weeding and laying mulch in the borders.  I was so tired at the end of that day, I literally had to go and lay down as I felt so exhausted. That is not normal behaviour for me! I then ran a nice hot bath to soak away the aches and pains from our hard day’s work.

Whilst washing myself, my soapy hand discovered something I hadn’t felt before. I have to confess, I don’t check myself very regularly at all, but I knew this felt unfamiliar. It felt kind of hard, the size of a marble. All sorts of thoughts came rushing into my head. What on earth was it? Was I imagining it? How long had it been there? Could it be…no, it couldn’t be, it must be a cyst.

After laying in bed a few hours later, I finally plucked up the courage to ask Pats to feel it for me and tell me what he thought. He initially said he didn’t think it was anything and that I probably had something identical on the other side of my body. But as I pointed out that there definitely wasn’t one on the other side as well, he suggested I ring the doctor in the morning and get it checked out.

My doctor’s surgery were  absolutely fantastic. I called at about 9am and spoke to the receptionist, at 11am I’d then spoken to my doctor and explained what I’d found and by 11:45 I was sat in the waiting room.

To say I was apprehensive was a complete understatement. I was not only nervous about what he might say, but also at the fact that I had to get my boobs out in front of a male doctor! I know, they’ve seen it all before but that didn’t make it feel any better.

Having only just moved to the area I had no idea whether he would be young or old. Luckily as soon as I got into his office, despite feeling awkward and embarrassed as he was in fact a younger doctor, I immediately saw that his walls were covered in photos of his family and adorned with pretty pictures and paintings that his beautiful children had lovingly made for him. I instantly felt more comfortable.

After a very quick examination, he agreed that he too could feel a lump and reckoned it was roughly 1cm in size.  He said it was most likely to be a cyst and that these are apparently very common. He told me that one in four women have them and I think he also said 80 or 90 per cent of all lumps turn out to be cysts.

I felt slightly relieved by these statistics whilst he typed up a referral for me to go to the breast screening clinic at the hospital. He said the clinic was really very good and that they are  very efficient in these things.

So off I trotted with the long Easter weekend ahead of me, one I had previously been very excited about,  but now felt rather woeful and like a little grey cloud was now following me about.

For more info on what to lookout for and how to check your boobies please see

And so it begins…

I’ve always thought how cool it would be to write my own blog, but then immediately wondered what on earth I could blog about that would be of the slightest interest to others?  Unfortunately now, for not very cool reasons at all, I have a million and one thoughts in my head, that whilst may not be interesting to anyone else, I feel I need to get out of my head and onto paper (or virtual paper!).

As a rather quiet and shy person, throughout my life I’ve always found it difficult to be able to talk about my thoughts and emotions and have always turned to the written rather than the spoken word.

So this is the tale of my journey.  Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. There I said it. That horrid word that puts the fear into everyone.  It came knocking when I least expected it – incidentally who really expects it? It’s one of those things that happens to somebody else right?

Having watched the heart breaking portrayal of Lisa Lynch’s battle with cancer in the BBC drama ‘The C-Word’ a few days ago, her story resonated with me and I could relate to what was happening to her and the thoughts that were going through her mind. The story she chronicled in her blog seemed to help her get through, whilst also helping others and she has inspired me to create my  own.

If you are reading this you may already be walking on this journey with me or you may have just started your own or be supporting someone who is going through the same thing. Whatever your reason , thank you for joining me – I hope we can share thoughts, concerns, support, ideas, remedies and tips between us along the way.