Drugs Play Havoc with Your Taste Buds

Monday 8th February

This is a weird ill. It’s like nothing you can even describe.

On Monday I woke up after a good sleep at about 5.30 am, proudly achieved without the aid of the sleeping tablets, but I’d slept from 8 pm so it was a long one for me. I feel okay. Not great, but okay. I’ve got a sore throat and a bit of a cough so I’ll keep an eye on that. The decorator is in today so I intended to get up and take the dog out. That didn’t happen. Today’s been tough. I’ve had bouts of feeling okay and then utterly shite. They warned me that the lack of steroids would plummet me through the floor. They were right!!! Christ, today’s been a roller coaster. I feel rough, way worse than a hangover.

All my friends have checked in today which is just yummy. This is a weird ill. It’s like nothing you can even describe. I feel hungry but full, my throats sore, odd bits of my body ache, my mouth is sore and my eyes have leaked a couple of times. The boys and I ate the chicken and leek pie tonight, let me tell you just how great it was even with a slight tinge of metal – that’s me, not the pie. The drugs play havoc with your taste buds. I’ve eaten a lot today for me, but I think my body probably needs the energy. I’m close to rattling with the painkillers, Senna tables, anti-sickness and thyroxin.

Tuesday 9th February

And so to Tuesday. God, I hate to say this just in case it doesn’t last, but I feel so much better than yesterday. I’ve still got a sore throat and coughing a bit but I feel a lot more ‘with the programme’. I’m wondering if I can make it to a meeting in Boston I’d booked. Got up showered dressed, got Bob on, make-up done (I look shit, by the way) and arrived in Boston early.

I struggled to get the car in the garage – took me 8 attempts, I feel quite disorientated.

When I was introduced to the client, I laughingly told them all that they were ‘the enemy’ and that I couldn’t shake their hand for fear of infection, before sitting there with my water and antibacterial hand gel. It was a good meeting, although I noticed that my brain wasn’t functioning very well and I seem to lose my train of thought and forget the words I want to use. It’s rather embarrassing, to say the least. I’m renowned for being a million miles an hour and this is somewhat debilitating for someone like me. Came home utterly and absolutely exhausted. I struggled to get the car in the garage – took me 8 attempts, I feel quite disorientated. Saw my parents in the afternoon. They’d just returned from six weeks away and went through the expected conversation. It’s all a bit awkward, to be honest. We have an odd relationship – maybe this journey will help us with sorting it out. Who knows! All I know right now is I feel rough as hell and I just want to get into bed.

Woke up about six times in the night with a really poorly tummy. I’d had to take some of the medication yesterday they’d given me to help me go… yeah, sorry! Who wants to chat bowel movements? It wasn’t the best night I’ve ever had, I must say.

Wednesday 10th February

Thank God for Murder She Wrote, is all I can say.

Wednesday began. Such a beautiful day, the sun streaming through the windows. It was just beautiful. Shame I didn’t look or feel the same. Okay, so I accept I completely overdid it yesterday. My bad, I’ll learn. And as punishment, I’ve spent the whole day sat in my pit, festering and feeling poorly. I feel sick, upset tummy, earache, sore throat. In fact, my whole bloody body aches. Ankles, breast bone, it’s mighty weird.

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Kobe looking after me

Oh my God, I could just moan all day; such a shame there’s no one here to listen to me whine. Thank God for Murder She Wrote, is all I can say. I can do my classic watching skills and just half watch it. This afternoon I just feel progressively worse. Conor came home and we took a gentle walk with the dog into the town which was good and great to get out. Stayed in the rest of the day and by the time 8 pm arrived I can honestly tell you I felt like my body was dying. The only parts of my body that didn’t hurt, ache or was in pain were my toes and fingers. Everything else including body parts I’ve never even felt before hurt. I’m not much of a crier as I’ve mentioned, and I think I’ve got quite a high pain threshold, but let me tell you, today I’ve sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Unbelievable. Whilst I’ll never give in, I have to say that I can completely understand why people would rather just die than go through this. It’s indescribably awful.

Thursday 11th February

On Thursday I woke up feeling sort of okay, but then got progressively worse, slept on and off till about 9 pm. Honestly, I just wish I could articulate and explain exactly how this makes you feel. I guess the only thing I can say is that it’s like your body is dying from the inside out. Arguably that’s what cancer does, I know, but the chemical infusion I’ve had just feels so toxic and heavy and, well, just wrong.

Friday 12th February

I’m happy. I’m feeling brighter – the storm seems to have passed.

OMG what a great day Friday was! I feel soooooooo much better. Took Bob out for a visit to see a client in Chesterfield with Sarah, who by the way is doing an amazing job. This experience so far has started to teach me many things about myself that I need to change. Control has always been important to me (has that come across yet?) but having been able to do literally nothing this last week and just leaving Sarah to it, she’s just excelled. She’s got some new business in, been to see some clients, looked after the team, made some great decisions and I simply couldn’t be happier. I’m excited at the same time. It’s been like party central here this evening, friends with food – a girl can’t complain about that. I’m happy. I’m feeling brighter – the storm seems to have passed.

April 25

 

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