Just Another Day

Christmas day was a challenge. It’s never great spending Christmas without my boys but I want them to do what they want so I can’t honestly say I’m loaded down with Christmas spirit at the best of times BUT I am very positive and always approach it with the ‘it’s just another day’ attitude. But I’d woken up in the night having a little panic thinking I was dying. My body didn’t feel right. Oddly, I had a moment like this at a friend’s a few weeks previously. Except in the middle of the night, alone, you do literally think this is it; this is the end for me, I must be terminally ill. It then dawned on me that over the previous four days or so I hadn’t eaten much, and I’d walked about 26 miles so that was the actual reason my body was having a mini crisis! I needed food, so at 3 am I got up, raided the fridge and started to feel a little more human. It’s funny what your brain does to you, it plays games and tricks especially in the middle of the night.

I still felt a bit down when I woke up so I walked the dog for about 8 miles. It was great thinking time. By the time we’d got home, I’d realigned my brain. Excited with myself, came back and wrote down my thoughts:

The C Word

Facts

• I could have died in a car crash last week.
• We are all going to die.
• Having the big C doesn’t mean that I am going to die, it’s a just a small jab in the ribs, a wake-up call – maybe for everyone – I think sometimes the kids take me for granted a bit.
• My life’s been relatively easy for the last 13 years to be fair and pretty close to perfect so, to be honest, something like this may be needed to happen to make me realise again just how lucky I am and realign my thinking.
• It’s not my kids or anyone else I love.
• I’m strong. I can do this.
• I have something that needs fixing that all, it’s just the words that are scary.
• If they tell me it’s terminal I will still fight the fucker… I usually win battles… and anyway we all have to die sometime, I would just have been given an early warning… more than most get. I’d be pissed off that I was wrong though (I’ve always said I’ll die when in 92 and even had a party this year to mark the halfway point!).
• I’m fit and well.
• I think we got it early – it’s not in my lymph nodes.
• I’ve got amazing support.
• The more you dwell on the negative the more the negative becomes reality… tell less people.
• Financially I’m OK…I’ve got cover of some description.
• If I sit and wallow, I could make myself ill, there’s nothing wrong me… I have a lump, I’ve survived far worse.
• This is a blip.
• I’m not scared. This is no different to anything else I’ve had to face.
• I will win.

Philosophical

• This has definitely happened for a reason.
• Maybe I need to slow down.
• Maybe I need to reassess work and find people that can run it without me to enable me to sell it and stop fannying around with it. The model is right I just seem to think only I can do it… bollocks.
• Maybe I need to do more of the things I want to do and stop saving for a rainy day… it’s currently fucking raining!!!
• Maybe I need to get on with children’s homes (this is my long term goal).
• If I don’t experience this, how can I help anyone else that might go through it.
• Maybe I need to chill out a bit about the things that don’t matter.

Emotionally

This is going to be a test of my strength. I will fucking win.

I’ve made a decision too. I’m only going to tell my fave people only:

Cath
Clips
Sally
Karen
Conor & Oakley – I’m going to tell the boys tomorrow…I’m going to sell it to them, focus on the positives.

Positives

• I got it early
• It’s not in my lymph nodes
• The process wasn’t as painful as I expected
• Staff were amazing and honest
• I’m fit well and healthy
• I feel great
• It will fix
• I will win
• The situation in itself does bring positives…financial, opportunity to refocus realign and rethink… none of which I would have done.

It’s D-Day, or Rather C-Day

This never-ending nightmare comes with a whole host of illogical thoughts usually delivered in the middle of the night when everything becomes worse than it already is. Erm… is that actually possible??? So I woke one night in a panic about the fact that I’d lost about half a stone within the last month or so. Now I had eaten less and walked more BUT tonight I had this goddam awful panic that I was ACTUALLY dying, terminally ill. Oh, and I defy ANY of you going through the same thing to not have these irrational thoughts. Trust me, I’m THE most positive person you will ever meet but boy this is a challenge.

So I figured the best solution was for me to eat more do less and see if I put on any weight. Well, for the very first time IN MY ENTIRE LIFE, I was delighted to have put on 3lb in about 4 days. I honestly can’t even begin to tell you happy this made me, it also made me laugh so loud, like most women putting on weight is NOT what I want, but for once I was thrilled. Funny how something that once would have made me gutted actually made me happy. This, in my logic, means I must be ok, well, not dying, back on the positive track we go.

I love work so the meeting kept my brain on charge and I didn’t have the time to dwell on what might be.

The weekend was great and odd all at the same time. I drove up to Catherine’s – it hadn’t dawned on me just how much the experience would have affected her. Her husband was lovely but just a bit different towards me and the same again on Saturday night when I went to collect Clips for an evening out: her husband looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. People just don’t know what to say to you – I asked him how he was, he said “Yeah thanks, Vicki. I’m fine thanks,” and looked absolutely petrified about asking me how I was. I completely understand but it’s also hard to be on the receiving end of people behaving differently towards you. It’s confirmed to me that I’ve made absolutely the right decision about not telling the world about it.

It’s so hard for everyone because it’s like the worst news ever. Only Derek, Sally’s husband (who is VERY similar to me) knew what to say. “Vicki, Sals told me what’s happened I don’t want you to think that I don’t care but I also know you don’t really want to talk about it. Just know that I’m always here for you in you need anything.” What a sweetie. I really am very lucky.

It’s weird and lovely too. Because no one knows at work and the vast majority of people have no idea, I honestly feel like there’s nothing wrong with me and I’ve had a super few days feeling a bit like it’s not real, really. I’m sure that Wednesday will change all that when I get my results and the plan of attack!!

A doctor and two nurses (wearing black uniforms) were there. Not exactly boding well, is it?

So results day, January 13th is here. D-Day, or rather C-Day. So after much cajoling, I agreed to take Catherine with me for my 4 pm meeting; sorry, appointment. I had a 10 am in Manchester which was great because it kept me occupied and I love driving so it was a great way to while away the time. I love work so the meeting kept my brain on charge and I didn’t have the time to dwell on what might be.

So we got to the hospital for about 3.40, purchased one of their extortionate and pretty shit coffees before we walked round to the temple of doom. We got ushered into one of the “crying” rooms and sat around a knee-high round table with four chairs and a box of tissues. A doctor and two nurses (wearing black uniforms) were there. Not exactly boding well, is it?

“Vicki, we have some news for you, sadly you do have cancer…” Before he could continue, I interrupted.

“Okay, can I stop you there? So is it fixable?”

“Oh yes, of course it is.” It was his incredulous tone that sealed it for me.

“Brilliant. Right, okay, that’s great, carry on, what do we have to do?” I settled back in my chair and all I could think about what that I was going to survive. Fucking yippee. I think the word is euphoric – that’s how I felt.

“You have grade two invasive ducal carcinoma and…”

I honestly can’t tell you the rest of the conversation because in my head I’m doing cartwheels. YES, I’m going to survive… excellent! The rest of this horror story I can do, it’s just a process. So the plan; chemo first to help reduce the size of the cancer, then an operation to remove it, then radio. Yup, I can do this. It’s fine! Sure, it’s going to be horrific and I’ll be bald BUT I’m not going to die. HURRAH!!

They wanted me to have the operation on the 22nd but I’ve got a dinner to go to that I’ve really looked forward to. Cath nearly had kittens.

I’m not sure my reaction was what they’d expected. In fact, I know it wasn’t but the bit they all failed to realise was that I already knew, and I’d spent two weeks papping myself that I was going to die. So this is great news. It’s fixable, I get to spend the critical illness money I should be getting. Not quite the attitude, I know, but you’ve no idea how relieved I am.

So the first doctor leaves, he was very lovely, I think he was bad news cop to make way for good news cop. What a lovely gentleman, he came in and was really gentle with me, he explained the plan and what was going to happen in the next couple of weeks before chemo started. I told them I had private health cover. This is an absolute godsend for people like me who have a business. The flexibility it gives is awesome. It also means I can have chemo at home if I chose, appointment times to fit with me and choices… I like choices.

The consultant explained that the next few weeks would include a consultation with him, an appointment with the oncologist, an appointment with the breast clinic nurse, a CT scan, a bone scan and an operation to remove a lymph node just to make sure it’s not spread. Apparently, the ultrasound scan isn’t 100% accurate so the lymph operation enables them to be completely sure that it’s clear. It’s more about them knowing rather than anything else because the chemo will blast anything and everything. So a busy few weeks. They wanted me to have the operation on the 22nd but I’ve got a dinner to go to that I’ve really looked forward to. Cath nearly had kittens. Speed is of the essence to a certain extent but they’d just told me that from detection they have a 90-day window, apparently my cancer doesn’t grow very quickly, so I don’t think another couple of days will make a difference. What lovely people, what a lovely attitude. I asked lots of questions, I understand the process and feel okay about it. I have two issues which I’ll explain to you, but honestly, I’m good with this.

We left the hospital, me with my arm around a crying Catherine, telling her it’s going to be just fine.

The four people in the room are staring at me, watching my every reaction but I’m honestly fine. I guess they’re expecting me to cry and wail and breakdown, but I’m just not built that way for audiences. I need to be super controlled and practical to get through. I get to live, that’s the best news I could have heard, nothing else is important. The consultant is surprised I think by my reaction. Cath’s eyes are a tad red although she’s doing her best not to cry, she knows that I need her to be strong. Anyway, the consultant leaves and the breast cancer nurses stay and talks through the detail. She was nice. She said that she’d written down everything she wanted to cover with me, but that it was all a bit pointless now. I’m guessing she was going to go for the positive angle and to ‘make me feel better.’

We left the hospital, me with my arm around a crying Catherine, telling her it’s going to be just fine and after parting with yet another bloody £2.60, drove home to tell the boys.

“Okay. So there’s good news and not so good news.”

They stare at me as I say those familiar three little words. “I’ve got cancer BUT it’s treatable so it doesn’t really matter.”

Cath is struggling I think with this, and I appreciate it’s not exactly the best delivery but you have to remember my kids have known me all their life and the way I tackle things and handle situations maybe a little unique, but it’s honest. And I’m genuinely thrilled I’m not going to die – the rest of it right now is nothing more than a battle I will win.

I did later speak to both the boys individually to reassure them, but honestly, I just don’t see what the big deal is. I explained to them if I’d said I’ve got mutating cells and I need some treatment to fix it no one would bat an eyelid – but because we say CANCER and CHEMO – everyone just shits themselves. Hey, I won’t die (well, I will at some point but not from this) and I’m back on track to making it to my 92nd birthday.

Here are my two issues with this: hair loss and the fact that now I’m going to have to tell people because unless they’re blind they will notice my lack of hair. Hair loss. Who wants to be bald?

Hmm, this is going to be a tough one.

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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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 💖