Bob, Me and the HGV

Being bald isn’t actually that bad. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to it. I find myself taking Bob off when I leave work and drive home. I’ve had some funny looks but to be honest I really couldn’t give a shit… so what??? And it’s soooooo comfy. I do seem to spend a lot of time touching my head which is a bit weird I guess. Now we’re all different, but I can’t bring myself to buy one of those “look at me, I’ve got cancer” headscarf things. I just think it’s a bit tragic. If I’m truthful I don’t think I look that bad and apparently I have a “nice” shaped head. As IF people say that to me!

I’d completely forgotten I’d left Bob on the passenger seat so when I opened the window to ask what was wrong the look on his face was absolutely priceless…

Now, I haven’t mentioned this before but my really good friend Karen had a stroke a couple of weeks ago so we’ve now changed who visits who. She’s clearly the most poorly. What I didn’t appreciate is that a stroke isn’t a one-off incident… it’s a forever illness. She has some issues down her left side with her leg and face (she’s always had problems with her face though, lol). What has been amusing is our conversations. We are very similar; we’re both usually a million miles an hour and cram in as much as we can to our day, and night for that matter. What this also means is that her brain, like mine, is usually so active and we both talk way too quickly. But due to her stroke and my chemo brain we’ve had some hilarious nonsensical conversations whereby we either forget the word, forget what we were saying, lose our train of thought or say the wrong thing. I told her it was Monday when I meant Thursday so nothing too important, but potentially changes the outcome of the conversation. All good sport and we’ve laughed so much about it.

So I’d decided to take a drive over to see Karen again. I was busy chatting on the phone to my friend Heather whilst I was navigating my way through the back roads to get across to the A43 and then the A14. While I was gassing, I arrived at a junction and was waiting for traffic. Directly opposite the junction was a bald Spanish lorry driver who was out of his cab and dodging the traffic to cross the road to me. I asked Heather to wait a moment and I wound down the window as he asked in broken English whether he could get his HGV down the road I’d just travelled (no chance, by the way, much too narrow). I’d completely forgotten I’d left Bob on the passenger seat so when I opened the window to ask what was wrong the look on his face was absolutely priceless…he was faced with a bird who was as bald as he was. His English, which by the way was actually very good, was somewhat stunted as his brain processed that I was without hair… really amusing!

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Friday 8th April

Gosh, time is flying. It’s now the 8th April and it’s chemo day 4 again, which means in my head I’m over halfway. In fact, I’d go for 60 per cent and only two left after this one. However, I’m really dreading this if I’m honest. I’ve felt SO well this last time, almost back to normal. I’ve had to look after myself and be careful about having early nights, eating sensibly and not doing too much, but I’ve just felt great. I’m changing from Docetaxel to a drug called FEC; means nothing to you or me but apparently what happens is the cancer realises you’re trying to murder it so the same chemo stops being effective. I’ve been assured this one is easier but I guess everyone is different and we all react in different ways. I’m staying positive, naturally, but there’s always a ‘but’. I’ve planned to have this next week off as I usually do so it almost doesn’t matter what happens… but I’d so like to stay feeling well AND keep my eyelashes.

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Wednesday 13th April

Five days later and we’ve got to 13th April. It’s not been too bad. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I feel OK. The nausea has relented a bit but I feel so thick, a bit like when you’ve got a mega hangover and your brain can’t process information properly. I find it embarrassing. I can’t hold an intelligent conversation and my ability to recall what I was saying or even finish a sentence properly has been compromised. Still, it’s not forever. Another weird thing: My teeth hurt. And the tips of my fingers. Really is the most obscure feeling ever.

I’m not sure that’s what you do to someone on their birthday never mind someone who’s ill…

I got a text today from the ‘friend’ who posted the Facebook comment that had upset me back in February regarding the head shave. I was due to see her on Friday but she was texting to let me know she wasn’t coming because she was going to work – arguably not important, but Friday is my birthday and whilst I might not be ready to party, frankly I’m not sure that’s what you do to someone on their birthday never mind someone who’s ill… It’s the strangest thing but I get the feeling that there’s a cabinet reshuffle on the horizon – I’ve got a couple of ‘friends’ who seem to have got lost along the way. This journey really is a ‘buckle up and let’s see what happens next’ ride and not for the faint-hearted! Not only is it having a dramatic effect on my mind and my body but some of the people whom I thought were friends have been a bit of a disappointment.

Why am I So Pissed Off on My Birthday?

Thursday 14th April

What can I say about today? Nothing other than I feel THE most emotional I’ve ever felt in MY ENTIRE LIFE. What’s this all about? I’m crying for literally no reason. I’ve had some visitors over but I bet I’ve been a complete prick today. People are so lovely though – so understanding. I’m really struggling with this crying shit coupled with the chemo brain I don’t even know my own mind anymore. It’s really scary. As I said it’s a bit like a bad hangover but 50 times worse. At least with a hangover, you get to have some fun first. It makes me feel so thick. I forget things and it makes my brain work slower, not a big deal you might be thinking but for someone like me who rarely makes mistakes, this is horrific.

On the bright side however, I’ve got a friend who’s told me she’s thrilled for the first time in our friendship she can keep up.

I know that I’ve said this before but I really don’t want you to underestimate just how debilitating it is. I forget what I’m saying, I can’t remember basic words and I struggle to follow what’s being said to me. It’s not that I get bored but I just fail to comprehend the simple stuff. It’s like my brain is thinking “Unless it’s happening in the next 5 minutes, I probably don’t need to know” and deletes any brain cells that might have been used for storage. It’s been extremely humbling. I’ve made mistakes regarding work, I’ve had to admit that I can’t remember what I’ve been told, I struggle to make the right decisions and it’s like I can’t get my brain to do what it normally does without much effort. On the bright side, however, I’ve got a friend who’s told me she’s thrilled for the first time in our friendship she can keep up. My usual communication style is a little bit of a scatter gun approach and often leave friends with a number of half-completed stories. It’s funny but I guess a bit irritating.

Friday 15th April

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! It’s 15th April – HURRAH, another year on the planet. I LOVE my birthday always have… so why do I feel so bloody pissed off? I woke up crying and basically spent the rest of the day doing pretty much the same thing. The friend who cancelled me has left a gap in my day which just adds to how pissed off I’m feeling. I got ready to drive over to Northampton to see Karen for lunch but as I couldn’t stop crying I aborted the journey after about 15 minutes.

I’m not overly vain but honestly, can these chemicals take anything else that distinguishes me as a woman?

Thankfully she’s really understanding and gets it, but what an utterly shit birthday. To add insult to injury the boys gave me my card but said that my present hadn’t arrived. Now whilst this might not be a big deal, trust me today it was like the end of the world. Very dramatic and unreasonable behaviour from me but to be honest that’s exactly how I feel – unreasonable and grumpy.

Oh, and as an extra special gift for me, my nails have started to lift. My beautiful natural nails that I look after, nurture, love and which are a bit of trademark are about to fall off. REALLY??? Anything else? I’m not overly vain but honestly, can these chemicals take anything else that distinguishes me as a woman? I don’t feel so bad with the nausea and fatigue this time just finding the emotional side hard to deal with. Early night for me with the attitude that tomorrow will be brighter…fingers crossed.

Thursday 5th May

May 5th and it’s my next spa day. A little out of sync but I had a day out booked for yesterday that, come hell or high water, I was NOT going to miss, nor was I going to turn up feeling special. I wanted my personality in attendance not one of my thick days. I’d won the chance to spend a day with the Red Arrows. It was a superb day and well worth putting off the treatment for. However, now I’m feeling special. FEC can feck off. I had it administered not 3 hours ago and already I can’t stop bloody crying. FFS…how bloody annoying. It’s alright, it’s not for any reason whatsoever. I’m not built for this crying shit. It’s just utterly pointless AND FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER. I got annoyed with the boys when they got home from school, who were only trying to help me. Honestly, this is a bigger bloody challenge than feeling ill.

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Monday 9th May

It’s funny how you can change. It’s 9th May and I’m sat in bed like I do most chemo week mornings and am watching telly, chatting to the kids, drinking tea and generally doing nothing that works to a timeline, and do you know what? It’s just great and never in my life did I think I’d be saying things like this. I’ve never just done nothing, didn’t really know why you’d want to, but it’s great and I seem to have so much headspace. My thinking, although slower, seems clearer in a really odd way. I also seem to have so much time as well, which is just great. But I have to say this drug really does make me moody. My poor kids have no idea what they’re going to get when they come home, I’m either euphoric or roaring I’m irrational, hormonal and special… #chemojoys

Tuesday 17th May

Tuesday 17 May and I had my usual appointment with Karen the oncologist today. They’ve found a lump under my scar where the lymph sentinel node was taken from. She said it was probably nothing to worry about but was sending me for a scan anyway and that if the radiographer was concerned he would take a biopsy. So I trotted along the following day about 5 pm (private health cover is the best) and had the scan…and a biopsy. I had a meltdown. I was told I’d get the results in about two weeks. I couldn’t pull myself together. How can I get cancer when I’m being treated for it? If it was scar tissue, why did they do a biopsy? I know they can tell the difference. The chap on Xmas Eve was VERY clear. The super lovely lady who is usually in the room for the procedure was trying to chat to me about stuff, but I just couldn’t hear her or reply.

This has seriously tipped me over the edge – I’ve literally got to my MAXIMUM coping capacity.

As I left, I drove the wrong way home and found a layby. I sobbed for about forty minutes, inconsolable, confused and fucking gutted. I just want my hair to grow back and get back to normal. I’ve been so good, I’ve recognised that getting better relies upon my learning my lessons, staying calm, not working like a demon or conducting my life at breakneck speed. I’ve done EVERYTHING. I’ve approached it with my usual positivity. The unfairness of this is just beyond my comprehension. I phoned my friend – I didn’t speak, I wailed and delivered my third ranty, illogical, irrational meltdown since this delightful journey began…and cannot tell you how much it helped.

I had got lost in the emotional spiral which is very unlike me, I’m usually extremely practical and logical. Some 30 minutes later I was back on the right track. I almost felt like I was being punished for coping with this so well and being so positive. This has seriously tipped me over the edge – I’ve literally got to my MAXIMUM coping capacity.

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I do deal with things myself a lot and always find the bright side, the silver lining, I guess I’m just lucky that way. This IS hard, make no mistake but what I choose to share with the outside world whilst I’m going through this is my business and my choice. No one wants to hear you moaning or your sorry stories about your day, it’s not interesting and more importantly, it wouldn’t bloody help, so if you’re in the same situation think twice about it and keep your friends as friends and not carers. You’ll get through this and you don’t want people changing their roles after the event.

So the outcome. I found out two days later – thank god – that it was just scar tissue and nothing really for me to have got in such state about. I feel bad about overreacting. Really bad. It’s just stupid and can’t have been pleasant for my friend being on the receiving end of that little treat!!

Very much the same as last time only the nausea and the tiredness are getting easier to bear. Again the irrational hormonal emotional stuff is a bloody nightmare but I’m becoming more accepting of it, less cross with myself about how much I cry. So what? I seem to be the only one who gets bent out of shape about it – no one else seems to mind. Each morning I’ve woken up and before I open my eyes I’m marvelling at how well I feel in comparison to how I felt previously. Yup, I feel good enough to get a shower and gently get on with my day. My eyelashes are becoming a little sparse and I’m just praying that they stay put till everything starts to grow back, I really do not want to have to wear falsies.

 

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The Final Spa Treatment

Friday May 27th

Friday May 27th and I’m so done, in every single way. I had my last spa session yesterday, just nine days or so to get through. I’m currently sat in bed after a long sleep and I feel OK this morning. I’ve got a collection of visitors to keep me entertained again today. I’m delighted to say that this session was just one cannula and they took their time to shove the chemicals in. So now I’ve just got to batten down the hatches have lots of sleep and take care of myself.

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One thing you don’t think about is your veins. I know that’s weird, isn’t it? But you don’t and I cannot tell you how sore they become. Certain parts of your arms become so sensitive to touch because I’m guessing they’ve been so badly damaged throughout the excessive chemical warfare they’ve had to cope with. I’ve been to a therapist and had a couple of oncology qualified massages – which by the way have been fabulous. They exist so don’t miss out on some real spa treatments. Go and find someone who’s qualified to deliver, it really does help. The only issue is when they massage your arms – I kept forgetting to tell her just how much it hurt and it’s a weird pain – a bit like toothache – hard to describe but excruciating just the same.

Thursday 2nd June

I’m free – June 2nd Karen and I jet off to Spain – I know really I shouldn’t be going anywhere I’m not even a full week after the last chemo but as I said I’m at maximum coping capacity with all of this and I just need to believe and feel like it’s over. So a holiday seems like a great way to do that. Sadly however my emotions aren’t exactly playing ball and I’ve done nothing but cry since I got to the airport. Now please don’t misunderstand me, my kids have been absolutely amazing as have my friends, but this has been a battle. MY BATTLE. And whilst I might not want to moan about it continuously it has taken its toll on me.

I hadn’t actually mentioned this little jaunt to Spain to the clinical staff or the consultant. I just didn’t want to be told I couldn’t go.

I just need some time out to get over what’s happened. On the huge positive I’m a whole stone lighter and feel psychically great. I don’t think I’ve been on holiday feeling slim in years so that’s a huge positive…just better make sure I don’t eat too much whilst I’m away. I’ve packed my trainers and hope to walk 7-8 miles a day. I need the training for the 46-mile trek I’m doing at the end of the month. So I need to do it for that, but it also gives me headspace.

3 June

It’s been a great remedy to clear away all the horror of this. I hadn’t actually mentioned this little jaunt to Spain to the clinical staff or the consultant. I just didn’t want to be told I couldn’t go. I’ve not even bothered finding out if I can get insurance. I mean, what’s the point? I’m sure I’ll be fine and to be honest for four days what could go wrong? Famous last words I hear you say, but thankfully everything was fine.

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The time away was just what I needed, although I spent the first two days crying. Poor Karen, I’m not sure she knew what to do with me. I’d like to blame the FEC but in truth, I think I needed to just get it all out of my system. I’ve realised that my coping strategy is about ploughing through with utter positivity and then when it’s over I have an enormous meltdown. Thinking back, this is how I’ve dealt with virtually every horror story I’ve had to go through. Who cares? It works for me. Healthy or not, it’s the way I’m built and I’m not going to give myself grief for it either. So I’ve cried for two days – so what? Although I should have bought some shares in Kleenex first, I think…

Monday 13th June

So here we are, June 13th and that’s it, chemo done. In my view, the biggest horror is over. Now for the good bits: my brand new boobs and the radiotherapy.

I saw the surgeon last week and we’ve sorted out my new boobs. I can’t tell you how pleased I am about that. Mine currently weigh-in at a large 36F and whilst I do have some beautiful underwear, I’ve had to spend a fortune from specialist shops, so I’ve requested a pair of double Ds. I noticed that you can virtually get anything in a D cup and I’m a bird that likes choices. I was unaware that they do your poorly boob first then after the radiotherapy they wait six months. Apparently, the radiotherapy not only burns your beautiful new boob but it can take six months for it to get back to normal. But you know what? I don’t really care. I’m better off than many women who lose their boobs, so for me I’ve just got to have some patience…another skill I’m embracing.

Sunday 31st July

It’s the 31st July and I’m mindful that I’ve neglected my blog updates for some time. For that, I apologise but I’ve been busy getting on with my life; holidays, trips away going to see my friends, and completing the 46-mile walk. The best bit is that we came 14th place out of 280. Not bad for a cancer-ridden chemotherapied bird!!!

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Treatment Ends. So Much has Changed

I have THE most perfectly formed boob.

A fair few cancer-related things have happened during the last few months. I’ve had an operation which removed what was left of the cancer (praise be the lord) and tomorrow I start radiotherapy. I’ve also been put on tamoxifen tablets which have sent me crazy… or crazier some would say. The tablets have made me suffer from anxiety and a horrific bout of overthinking. I’ve also become very bored now of this whole cancer thing, the procedures and everything, so forgive me.

So let’s start with the operation first. I cannot tell you how utterly delighted I am with the results of my operation. I have THE most perfectly formed boob. They tend to do one at a time so that they can treat it with radio and when it’s settled down they build the other one to match… so a free boob job. RESULT! With boobs, my shape and size, trust me this is a welcome gift. My consultant has been superb, he’s explained everything to me, showed me pictures and really reassured me. He even gave me options of how the scarring could look. His compassion and care has been incredible to the point where I would have argued I was his only patient.

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On the day of the operation, I arrived at the hospital after a mini shopping trip with Clips. I checked in and received delicious menus that I wasn’t able to actually pick from because I wouldn’t be back in time from the operation…mildly irritating. As usual, a collection of nurses arrive and pre-checks were done. I’m off for a scan and to have a wire fitted. I’m not really sure what this means – I’m not stupid but what they explained seems a bit odd to me, but they assured me it would be no worse than the biopsy. They lied. It’s clearly not something they’ve ever had done themselves. It was absolutely hideous and I’m not one to complain. It nearly made me cry, it was that awful. Not so much painful as such just lots of tugging and pulling.

That completed, my consultant drew some pretty black lines over my boob. We had a really good laugh about his dreadful drawings and that was that off – I went to the operating theatre. As the anaesthetist injected the anaesthetic he said: “I’m sorry but this will make your throat sore.” I was a bit confused until I awoke in the recovery room and my next feeling was exactly that. It made me laugh. I’m not lying, it was literally a second later that I woke up and felt my sore throat. The consultant appeared after a few minutes to admire his handiwork and let me have a look. OH MY GOD…a perfectly formed boob! It looks amazing. A perky boob at my age…how fabulous.

Healing has been quick and simple. I’ve been back for a few dressing changes but all in all, nothing to complain about. I’m a bit lopsided but hey the cancer’s gone with good margins (they measure around the cancer to ensure that it’s all completely gone).

Radio therapy attire
My Radiotherapy Attire

The radiotherapy isn’t quite what you think. I think we all have this idea that because cancer is such a scary word that anything that goes with it will either hurt or be a trauma. Well, rest assured, the radio is nothing. Your first consultation is about lining you up correctly so they zap the right bit. They put three little tiny tattoos on you (a bit like X marks the spot). I asked for flowers but apparently, that’s not doable, lol. In order to not zap your heart, they need you to breathe in and hold your breath whilst they do the treatment for a maximum count of 20. It’s fine, it’s no big deal.

The treatment involves you lying on a very hard cold stretcher/bed with your arms raised above your head and placed in rests so that you’re laying prone. It takes about 15 mins from start to finish…it’s a breeze. I did feel a little tired the first week. As the treatment can make you sore I’d been recommended some “magic” cream by one of the consultants that, so far so good, seems to have done the trick and stopped me from burning or suffering from discomfort.

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The radiotherapy is usually at the same time each day and it’s every weekday so there’s not much wriggle room for going away, but don’t worry I managed it. My consultant sent me a text me after the first week to see how I was getting on. He caught me mid-continent on a 2-night cruise to Bruges, which he has never let me forget. He couldn’t believe that I would be well enough to go on a trip away for the weekend.

Cruise to Burge
Cruise to Bruges

I’ve had to have a chat with the consultant, though, about the Tamoxifen. It’s dawning on me that emotionally I just don’t react too well to lots of hormones. Some years ago, I had the depo injection and it sent me crazy, crying all the time about nothing, exploding at the smallest thing. The thyroxin I take for my underactive thyroid gave me the worst anxiety ever. It was so bad I informed the doctor that I wouldn’t be taking it anymore. She said that was fine, but after my thyroid had stopped working and I’d gone into a coma then perhaps I might like to rethink. I did. I take them every day.

Sadly the Tamoxifen have had the same effect – they have sent me crazy. I’ve never been paranoid, nor do I overthink. I guess they’re now two new experiences to add to the list. The consultant explained that four per cent of women suffer from this, so I’m delighted to say I’m one of them and I’ve got to put up with it for 10 years. The Tamoxifen is prescribed to stop you from getting cancer again and the best bit… they bring on early menopause. Although in my case, “early” menopause might be the wrong phrase; I’m 47, not 30. Anyway, apparently, the average age is 52, just so you know. So it seems I have no choice; I have to take them. On the basis that they only drive me crazy during my hormonal week, I’ve decided next month I’m going do battle. I’m not letting a bloody tablet beat me, no chance.

Thursday 25th August

I welcome to you August 25th because today is the last day that I need to lay here on this really cold hard bed with my arms above my head, in stirrups, staring at the balloons and trees they’ve put on the ceiling so we’ve got something to look at as we lie here getting zapped. I feel a bit emosh, to be honest. It has been a long journey, which at times has felt like forever and yet now it all seems to have gone rather quickly. All in all, today has been a big day. My youngest has found out that he’s passed all 9 of his GCSEs and the eldest had a remark of his A levels and with A* and two As he’s off to Leeds Uni to study law. And me, well I’ve come to the end of my cancer journey. Last treatment for me. Yes, I have another operation but that’s merely cosmetic not cancer-related. What an unbelievable 8 months!

So much has changed.

Life After Cancer

It seems a lot of people struggle with life after cancer. For me, I’m just thrilled that it’s all over and done with, but I think the reason why a lot of people struggle is because of all the attention that having cancer brings. It’s unreal. One thing I noticed was all the new ‘friends’. Everyone wants a friend with cancer – cruel but true. Watch out for them, they are like piranhas, they want all the juicy details so they can go and share with their friends AND most importantly, congratulate themselves that it’s not them! Don’t be sucked in by them.

Some people will make YOUR illness all about THEM.

My view was very much that if I usually see you weekly, daily or monthly, great, let’s keep it that way. I don’t need the extra attention. Also, as lovely as it is that people contact you, it’s SO hard to find the time to reply to everyone. People mean well and it’s great getting 40 emails/texts each day asking after you, but when you’re nearly dying from the chemo the last thing you want to do is reply to emails. I did, however, mainly because I knew that some people’s interest would wane over the lengthy time the treatment takes and it’s really very kind of people to make the time to contact. So replying to them seems like it’s the right thing to do.

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Kobe’s new hairdo

Just be mindful that so many people say all the right things and yet deliver nothing. Their actions will be lacking, whether it be never turning up for a promised visit, or a lack of text communication. Not because they are unkind, but because they simply don’t know what to do. Some people will make YOUR illness all about THEM – I know, it’s baffling BUT that’s life, and hey, we all need a cabinet reshuffle from time to time and this is just an opportunity to get yours sorted.

They did not make the cabinet reshuffle and, oddly, I don’t miss them.

I lost two people whom I had considered to be my closest friends (and not just geographically) through this journey, who didn’t text, ring or visit… or frankly do anything. Although I asked them both why, once my chemo brain fog had lifted, I still don’t really understand their reasons. I got a lot of “sorry’s” but no real answers. Needless to say, they did not make the cabinet reshuffle and, oddly, I don’t miss them – it’s very strange. This journey has enabled me to reflect on each ‘friendship’ and crystallise what friendship is to me and what I need and deserve. I have no regrets about the time we spent together and the fun we had but for me, friendship isn’t just about the good stuff.

Time and other matters

I think your time is the most precious gift you can give anyone and I’ve truly been overwhelmed with the consideration and kindness of others, so just remember to focus on the ones that do, not the ones that don’t. You’ll be amazed at how people you didn’t expect appear suddenly arrive with food and thoughtful actions that make you feel so humble and so grateful.

One thing I could not have lived without is choc ices.

Having cancer is a real emotional rollercoaster. I think the key thing is to remember that it’s the words that are scary CANCER and CHEMOTHERAPY conjure up negative thoughts and makes you face your own mortality, but when you take those words out and see that you’re having treatment for cells that have gone wrong it makes it so much easier to cope with.

A few additional things I experienced along the way that might be useful to you.

Eat well and for pleasure

One thing I could not have lived without is choc ices. Oh my God! When your mouth feels like something has died in it and your gums are sore (it’s hard to explain this side effect), choc ices are the only cure, and the fab toothpaste I told you about earlier. It’s also so important to keep your strength up, so I made sure that every day I would eat as much as I could. Usually starting with porridge with fruit and tinned milk (my favourite). I’ve eaten loads of cake and had a real thing for Victoria sponge – which for someone who before this has never had a sweet tooth, I thought a bit strange. Just eat what you fancy. Trust me, it’s hard enough to muster up the enthusiasm most chemo days to fancy anything, but eating helps to make you feel OK.

Before my first spa treatment, I made up some batches of food ‘ready cooked’ that I left in the freezer until I needed them. Not only did it save me time, but it was easy to just get one out, defrost it and know that I’d be having something nutritious and something I like.

Keep drinking (water)

Also water. I drank it by the gallon load – I kind of figured that the more I drank the quicker it would flush it through my body. I might be right – who knows, who cares. It worked for me.

If you can, get private healthcare

The hospital staff and the nurses at home have been incredible. Their attitude towards me was fabulous. I’ve always been a very upbeat and happy person and I’ve been so lucky because they have all mirrored me beautifully which I just love.

Your health is your wealth, so if you take nothing else from this, encourage everyone you know to take out private healthcare. Rightly or wrongly, you get seen quicker, they’re very much on top of your follow up appointments, monitor you to within an inch of your life, they call YOU to make sure you’re OK (the first call was a bit weird… I wasn’t expecting it!) and they fit in with you, not the other way round. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so cared for. WPA, who I use, are a not-for-profit organisation and their ethos is great. Although my premium has gone up a little (don’t forget I have enjoyed £55,000 worth of treatment), it has been nominal and if I ever get the dreaded lurgy again, I’m covered. Oh, and for everyone who clicks this link and buys their private health care, the WPA will donate £50 to charity. Everyone’s a winner!

LINK HERE FROM RACHEL

There are courses available for survivors to attend to assist with ‘life after cancer’ so if it’s something you need, then go for it – apparently, they are great. I’m not someone that likes those kind of events. I’m convinced my positivity and humour were the things that have got me through this horror story, so please stay strong, stay positive. You have to BELIEVE you will win this.

January 2019

It’s funny reading this back – oh, how I’ve changed from the impatient rude sweary and dismissive individual from Christmas past to where I am now. This really has been a blessing for me, the changes have enhanced my life and made me a better person. Now, I absolutely know this is a bizarre thing to say and arguably completely the wrong thing, but my scary main Christmas present of 2015 was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.

I’ve mellowed, calmed down and realised so much about my behaviour and I have been able to make changes that I believe this cancer came to teach me.

Whilst not on my list, the journey has delivered changes to me as a person that I think I very much needed and other than being bald and feeling poorly, the positives I got out of this journey have been utterly huge. I haven’t really changed personality-wise but my behaviour and perspective on life have, which I think is a good thing. I’ve mellowed, calmed down and realised so much about my behaviour and I have been able to make changes that I believe this cancer came to teach me. I feel like I’ve become a better person and a kinder person to be around. I’m not as angry or as sweary and it’s funny when I read this back just how much calmer I’ve become. I take each day as an absolute blessing. I don’t get cross when things don’t go my way, I embrace the hiccups and make sure I find the positive. I love doing nothing – not something I’ve ever done before but it has literally changed my life and made me feel at peace with my world.

This experience enabled me to cry and to allow myself to cry for no reason whatsoever and I think it enabled me to empty the ‘well’ in a way I never would have. I’ve learnt that being wrong actually isn’t so bad. I’ve peeled back so many layers and although this journey made me feel so exposed in so many ways, I feel like I’ve rebuilt myself but in a better way, almost like I’ve changed my foundations and rebuilt myself. It’s made me realise that I NEED people – not something I would have ever said or realised probably before this. I don’t feel so cross with the world anymore. I’ve realised I don’t need to be in control of everything and that not everything happens to my timescales. I’ve learnt to rely on others and literally put my life in their hands.

Oh, and I’ve got a new pair of tits – RESULT!!!

TOP TIPS

• Stay Positive
• Eat healthy although the odd takeaway won’t kill you
• Make yourself eat no matter how sick you feel it WILL make you feel better
• Get a good night’s sleep – sleeping tablets help to give your body the rest it needs, a 7-day dose should be plenty
• Go with it – this isn’t a quick win, take each moment and day as it comes
• Enjoy sitting in bed watching shit TV – it’s cathartic
• Encourage visitors….they make the day pass quicker and distract you from the longest dullest days – it doesn’t matter if you can’t recall what they said to you
• Take time to reflect and work out what this really about for you
• Take time to enjoy doing nothing
• Water. Drink lots of water

Supporting Your Supporters

There’s no doubt this is a tough journey but I think it’s equally as hard for those around you who offer you support. They’ve literally no clue what to do, what to say, and generally feel helpless. You change as a person massively. I don’t think anything that strips you right back to the core could do anything else. I asked some of my friends, the close ones who really helped me through this for their thoughts. This is what they wrote:

Clips

“Late December 2015, we sat in our usual corner booth to assist in diluting our laughter, chat and occasional swearing! We had our usual, “shall I have diet coke or coffee” dilemma, chatted briefly about Christmas Day, etc., and then Vicki told me she had the results of her biopsy…it wasn’t good…fuck. She hadn’t wanted to tell me Xmas eve when she found out because she didn’t want to ruin my Xmas. Typical Vic always thinking of others and how things might make them feel. As much as I wish she had told me straight away, I totally understand why she didn’t and in hindsight she was right (she likes being right!).

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“Inside I was completely and utterly gutted, my stomach flipped and turned over and I had a golf ball size lump in my throat but I wasn’t going to cry. The last thing she needed was me snotting and snorting into my coffee. Luckily, I’m quite good at the stiff upper lip thing when in emotional situations. We talked very practically and very positively about what the coming months were going to entail, from appointments, scans, blood tests to chemo, surgery & radiotherapy. I listened carefully to what she wanted, what she didn’t want (this was very important haha!) and how she was going to handle things.

“To be honest, she had already worked it all out and had everything under control (again, typical Vic!). We said our goodbyes, cracked some inappropriate jokes and arranged to meet the following week. I got in my car and cried, drove home crying and then cried again at home as I relayed everything to my husband. It felt good to get it out but that was it; no more snot, no more tears, I was going to be strong and be the best friend and best support I could possibly be. OK, there may have been a few other private snot occasions in the oncoming months but sshhhh… don’t tell Vicki!

“On reflection, I guess Vicki made this whole experience for me as one of her best friends so much easier to deal with…her positivity, strength, energy, honesty and unique look on life meant that how could I be anything other than all of those things too. I needed to take her lead and assist her in any way I could in order to smash the absolute arse out of this irritating, inconvenience called Cancer! (Vicki’s words!)

“Has Vic changed? Vicki is still the kindest, funniest, super honest, unbelievably positive and unique person that’s she’s always been. However, I think having cancer and this whole experience has taught her to slow down a little, to accept help and to have a healthier, calmer lifestyle (although she can still get very excitable!!).

“Vicki was fabulous before cancer and she’s sure as shit even more fabulous after it!”

Karen

“I have this friend. She’s amazing.

“Vicki. She’s had more than her fair share of challenges in 2016 (starting Christmas Eve 2015 to be exact). A brush with cancer.

“So here we are, Vicki. You wanted a few words from me add to your blog. Now, where do I start?

“You said with this blog that you wanted to change people’s attitudes and perceptions of cancer. The bit I’ve learned this year is a) I knew nothing about cancer really b) I did have perceptions – all based on dire chemo stories or terminal cases and therefore my attitude was that ‘it’s a bloody scary thing and I’m going to keep my distance (thank you very much) until I have to.’ My own experiences with cancer until you found your lump were in the very elderly or folks I didn’t really know. And despite (as I’m often reminded) being a small drain on the NHS myself, even when I did the race for life I put a generic story on my race number. But now? Let’s just say that this year, you changed all that.

“15th December 2015 you told me you’d found a lump. ‘Does it hurt,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ you said. “Oh, that’ll be fine,” I said, for both of us. “Google says breast lumps that are cancerous don’t hurt…” So although I worried about you worrying, I didn’t worry about you having cancer. Denial, I think they call that!

“Of course, today we both know that was bollocks. We’ve both changed a lot, I think, and most interestingly for two folks who we thought were pretty similar in many ways, it’s shown me that I don’t think we are so similar after all.

“I LOVE that we’ve laughed and cried our way through this. I had never seen you cry, you didn’t do crying, or hugging for that matter and look at you now!!!

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“I especially have loved our texts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrolled back and laughed until I’ve cried at our nonsense. One day I am going to get some 9-year-old to show me how to download it all and then I think we can sell the movie rights for millions! And that would be just one more positive on a huge list of positives that your really shit luck has brought us, eh?

“Now…how on earth could you for one second ask me to give you a few words for your blog because you think this experience has been harder for your friends than for you? Let’s get this straight – just because you’ve made this look like a walk in the park to the WHOLE BLEEDIN WIDE WORLD (INCLUDING YOUR MEDICAL TEAM), that doesn’t mean it WAS/IS a walk in the park. I do want you to inspire people so that they can better support themselves or their families and show them that you can beat it, that you will get through it… but that shouldn’t take away from the mental stress and physical pain that you’ve just cracked on and dealt with like superwomen. So yes, VC, go on and change some attitudes and perceptions, but it still won’t make it an easy thing to get through – which is why you need family and friends.

“I’m so proud and please to be your friend. We’ve got closer for sure, which is a tad different from where we started. You’ve always had stacks of friends and a social life I could never keep up with. And so actually at the start, the biggest challenge for me was knowing where to fit in, versus where to not to step over the mark and be closer than you would like. With that, the distance between where we live was a bugger. Well, I thought it would be. Me not driving and you with chemo – good job I had a hubby chauffer and you were more mobile, out and about than I would have ever imagined. From then until now I’d say you’ve become choosier with your friends. Glad I made it in!

“If I’m honest, you made December 2015 to 8th July 2016 look like a breeze most of the time. And you looked beautiful throughout. From your new eyebrows, your head shave and then Bob… that photo of you in Spain with your blue short suit and Bob on is perhaps the most beautiful (and ironically healthy/positively glowing) I have ever seen you look.

“So here’s where we should talk more positives? To make the point again, it hasn’t been hard at all to be your friend through this. I hadn’t made cakes for years but I started again to bring you a Victoria sponge – that’s a good thing. We’ve discovered new parks to walk our dogs, meeting halfway to save you doing all the driving, again! We popped to Spain so you could hug my olds. Oh and learn to love Rioja – although you said you didn’t drink red. We even managed to squeeze in a cruise – a new adventure for us both.

“I am sad that you’ve had pain and stress and worry, but as much as cancer isn’t as fatal or as scary as we perhaps all thought it was/is, it has been hard for you. You just made it look pretty easy. It wasn’t. Through this I love that you’ve learned to take your honesty and create an openness too. You love – and have always loved – being busy, but now you love just ‘being’ and taking some time out. If it was hard, it was hard to watch as it tested you, and it pained you. But it didn’t bloody get you, and we’re all left with an even better you. Bloody Brilliant!!!”

Catherine

On Christmas Eve 2015, I was given a very important job that was a long way from my usual Christmas celebrations. I was attending the breast clinic with my lovely friend. She had found a rather large lump. Was I worried? YES! Worried enough to travel two hours on Christmas Eve.

I arrived at Vicki’s house and we were both very apprehensive. We didn’t need words, just a lot of hugs and love and this is where our journey began. Even with this black cloud over her, she still wouldn’t let me drive. We arrived at the hospital and a very disgruntled Vic became even more pissed off – not only could she have cancer, but she had to pay parking fees for the privilege of finding out.

We made our way to the clinic, she gave her details and we took our seats. I couldn’t believe how many women were sat there waiting for their fate on Christmas Eve. We were all just waiting for a doctor’s confirmation. It was a very quiet, thought-provoking time.

Next came the tests, prodding, poking, and tears – a lot of tears – and a heartbreaking cry from my friend who I knew inside out.  It was something I had never heard before. There was a mix of fear and desperation, a wail of sadness – but never any self-pity.

Cancer doesn’t care who it effects, cancer doesn’t know the devastation it brings. My dearest kind funny intelligent loving friend had cancer. We had to face it. She would have to deliver the worse news to her boys. My heart broke for her (I’m crying as I’m writing this. I feel like I have been transported back in time). We left the hospital; two friends grieving, not sure of the future or what was to come… and Vicki still found the energy to complain about the parking charges and still refused to let me drive. What else could we do but laugh? It was by far the longest drive home, but I selfishly needed the time to process that hideous day. I let the tears flow. My best friend had cancer.

Vic started her gruelling treatment: chemotherapy, radiotherapy, reconstruction. In her mind, all there seemed to be was the start date and the finish date. It was like just another thing that had to be done and she proved herself to be a very practical, very brave, and a truly remarkable lady who beat that shit! My friend Vicki 💖

Final Word

Cancer hasn’t defined me, it’s helped me to become a better me.

Lots of love x