As I write this from my hospital bed it is safe to say that it has been a tough week. I am still waiting for a confirmed date for surgery and the ‘unknown’ has been causing some stress.
I have had ongoing issues with my bowels since completing cervical cancer treatment four years ago. At a recent appointment with Gastroenterology they found a build up of faecal matter (aka POOP) in my bowel. The advice was to start a daily dose of a bulking agent and a hot water cleanse. I also recieved a ‘how to guide’ on the correct way to poop. Apparently I have been doing it wrong for 32 years!! I chose to delay starting this as I thought it might impact surgery but after receiving the go ahead from the Neuro team I began the process on Tuesday this week. Long story cut short, I was taken into hospital on Tuesday evening after experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea – lovely!!
The doctors initially ran some tests which found a fever, high white blood cell count and low blood pressure so I have been kept in since. Today I am preparing for a sigmoidoscopy – another unwelcome surprise!
Anyway, before all the drama (including me being sick on all fours in the middle of AnE whilst a little girl asked her mum ‘why is that lady being sick in her hat?’) I prepared the following vlog which I still stand by. So if you are having a crap day make sure you get outside and at the very least go for a walk. That is the first thing I will be doing when I leave here.
For the past year I have been working as a Fundraising Manager for Cancer Research UK. Having gone through treatment for cervical cancer in 2014 I was left feeling in awe of the work they do and after a lot of deliberation, I finally took the plunge and left a career in sport (my first love) to pursue one in a new-found passion – fundraising!
I recently returned to work after taking some time off following my new diagnosis. My first team meeting in over 2 months led me to the Cancer Research UK Centre in Edinburgh. When I began my role I was surprised and impressed to learn that research was happening literally yards away from where I had been receiving treatment at the Western General Hospital. As part of my induction I had a tour of the labs where I met a few of the researchers.
I don’t come from a science background. My strengths at school were PE, Sport and English – if organizing was a topic then I would have passed that with flying colours but alas chemistry, physics even biology were a challenge! The idea of meeting researchers, especially those who focus on cancer was slightly intimidating.
On my first lab tour I was amazed at how the researchers were able to breakdown a very complex process into layman’s terms. What really struck me though, was their passion! I LOVE passionate people – the topic itself isn’t so important – but when I meet someone who is dedicated and determined to a particular cause I find it very appealing. I am not shy in admitting that upon finishing the lab tour I had a crush on several of the researchers!
About 6 months ago I walked past one of the researchers whilst I was shopping with my mum. He wouldn’t have remembered or recognized me but upon seeing him I had the same reaction to the one I had when I saw Rod Stewart in Harrods: I grabbed my mum’s arm, pointed and repeatedly whispered his name! Basically the researchers, in my eyes, are total rock stars!
So, how does it feel to have cancer whilst working for a cancer charity?
In two words I feel lucky and proud!
My job has allowed me a backstage view to some of the ground breaking, life-changing, life SAVING research which is happening right now! I have met the real life superheroes who are actively bringing forward the day where we will find a cure for cancer. I have also had the honour of working with just a few of the thousands of people who support Cancer Research UK. From the Tartan Monster in Selkirk, to the phenomenal Lanark Local Committee who are celebrating their 50th year and reaching their £500k fundraising milestone to people like Pete the ‘Can Man’ who has single-handedly raised several thousand pounds through collection cans across the capital city. These volunteers have taught me the valuable lesson that you don’t have to wear a lab coat to help find a cure for cancer.
It is because of all of them – the researchers, the volunteers and my awesome colleagues that I feel lucky. I know there is a an almighty army of people who are continuing the fight everyday. Together we are stronger and I am beyond proud to say I work for Cancer Research UK.
In 2016 I ran the London Marathon for Cancer Research UK. As part of my preparations I remember training on World Cancer Day and putting the following post up on Facebook:
“1 in 3 people will develop cancer in their lifetime. But the impact of cancer goes much wider. Like a pebble hitting the water the ripples spread far and wide. When an individual is diagnosed it changes life for them and their family and friends. Today is #worldcancerday and it is a #adaytounite everyone who has been touched by cancer. Grandparent, parent, sibling or other. Stand up and say #fucancer If it wasn’t for Cancer Research I wouldn’t be here today.”
Personally, the hardest part of being diagnosed for a second time is seeing the impact and strain it has upon the ones I love. Regardless of how hard they try I can see the concern in their faces. I can tell how worried they are and I know how desperately they wish this wasn’t happening to us.
Similarly, since my new diagnosis I have been reminded of how awkward cancer can be for friends and acquaintances. The reactions can range from invasive questions about diagnosis, treatment and even to query if it runs in the family (it doesn’t by the way) to complete avoidance: ‘don’t make eye contact, don’t engage in conversation, just sidestep at all costs’! On some occasions I can virtually see the panic on peoples’ faces desperately looking for an escape route as they prepare to flee. I don’t believe it is me they are running away from but most likely a fear of saying the wrong thing.
I genuinely believe most people are good at their core but we are human and that means we make mistakes. The good news is that is how we learn! So here is a valuable lesson to help everyone in this scenario – a gift from me to you…
It was during my treatment for Cervical Cancer when I was referred to the very useful article and diagram below on ‘How Not to Say the Wrong thing’.
I find Silk and Goodman’s ‘Ring Theory’ to be a VERY useful tool and one to be shared. This theory can be applied to anyone facing a crisis or a challenge. And let’s face it we all have difficult times at some point – it’s part of life I am afraid! Likewise, the theory helps set a precedent for the family, friends and acquaintances and even includes suggestions on what to do or say.
If you have found this useful please consider sharing.
On Wednesday I met with the specialist to review the results of my scans. Following his advice we have decided to go ahead with surgery in September which will aim to remove as much of the tumour as possible. Due to its location this comes with inherent risks which could lead to long-term impairment physically, sensory and visually. In an attempt to minimize these potential side effects the surgeon will be performing an awake craniotomy. If, like me, you are a Grey’s Anatomy fan then you will know what this entails but as the name suggests – they plan to wake me up mid-surgery. In doing so they will ask me to perform certain tasks so they are able to remove as much of the tumour as possible without impacting the surrounding areas.
As the reader I am sure you will find it a lot to digest. Major surgery… on your brain… whilst awake! Crazy hey?!
So, how do I feel? In all honestly I feel very calm. After an hour long appointment with the surgeon where myself, the Funny Boy, Iceberg and Buggernuts asked many questions I left feeling strangely at ease. This is the most relaxed I have been since having the seizure and I think it is because knowledge is power! It’s cliché but it is true! I hate life in limbo – the not knowing, impossible to plan, unable to see my future beyond the next few weeks is difficult. At least with this I now feel like I know what I am up against over the next few months.
Many of you have already been in touch asking how you can help. So here are two things I need from all my family and friends..
I want to make full use of all my abilities whilst I can so over the next few weeks I want to do as many fun, active, outdoorsy things as possible. Particularly if they are things I have never tried before. I will be using my annual leave before surgery and hopefully making some trips – so, if you have any suggestions and would like to join in please let me know.
I want NEED you all to PROMISE me that if my motivation drops or changes when I come through surgery that you will remind me of how stubborn, determined and able I really am! You have full permission to kick me up the butt!
I am not one to dwell on things, I am looking forward and I would strongly encourage you do the same too. Before I draw this entry to close and head off to play hockey, I have a secret obsession with Winston Churchill – what a man, what a life! He has a wonderful way with words so I will finish with one of his many, famous quotes:
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts!
Actually speechless – I filmed this at 10am on the Sunday morning after STICK IT TO CANCER 2018! Huge thank you to all the volunteers, donors, players, spectators and everyone who has supported SITC this year.
I frequently nag the Funny Boy for over-indulging in Sky Movies and Box Sets. He is a big fan of America’s Next Top Model whereas I couldn’t care less. I believe I could easily live without TV but, as he regularly reminds me, I am guilty of nurturing an addiction to social media. Anyone who follows my instagram will be all too familiar with pictures of Parsnip and I dare say anyone who is a friend on Facebook and Twitter will know what SITC stands for.
For me social media is a necessary evil. It allows me to keep in touch with friends far and wide, it permits me to promote my fundraising plans and I am pretty sure it is how you (the person reading this now) has come to view my blog. It’s all promotion of some sort, and like many others I am very guilty of only portraying the bits I like. Take the most recent Festive Season for example. You’ll easily find the photo I shared of me on New Year’s Eve when I’m dressed to the nines with a full face of make up but you will struggle to find the pic of me on Christmas Day when I was fighting the flu.
When I started this blog four years ago I described it as being a ‘brutally honest insight’ to what life is like living with and beyond cancer. Granted, I didn’t think I would be dealing with a second diagnosis but the sentiment remains: I want to be honest.
It has been six weeks since I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Although I continue to be very open with my words – I have carefully selected when to ‘vlog’. This has largely been dependant on when I have thought tentatively about what I want to share and timed to ensure I have mascara on and at least some decent lighting.
It is all too easy to share the pictures when I am on top of the mountain or kayaking with a postcard-perfect view in the background but revealing the down days that #FUCANCER brings is a challenge. I don’t need pity or sympathy, nor do I seek it. But I do want to provide insight so hopefully people can understand the emotional roller coaster cancer takes you on. More importantly, I want it to provide hope to others who are facing a challenge. Be it cancer, mental health or whatever. You are not alone.
So the vlog below is exactly what I hoped my blog would be: ‘brutally honest’! No make up, no notes, no agenda. Just exactly how I am feeling. A little scared, very vulnerable and unsure of what the future holds.
Before I begin I thought I should provide some context. Over the years the Funny Boy and I have fundraised for Cancer Research UK and the Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Edinburgh. Never one to shy away from a free T shirt and with a strong dislike of waste, the Funny Boy always makes use of items within his possession…
It has been a particularly emotional start to the week. A trip to the GP, long chat with the epilepsy nurse and a huge list of cancer admin has left me feeling – how can I put it? Lousy? Crappy? Simply bleurgh!
The GP was great and after a long chat (well beyond the allocated 10 mins) she reiterated the advice Maggie’s offered: take more time to process everything; try to focus on facts not thoughts; don’t feel guilty and practise self compassion.
Likewise the epilepsy nurse was very helpful and after explaining the cause and effect of my seizures she offered more practical advice. Just to be clear I have a non epileptic seizure disorder which is a symptom of the tumour in my brain. This conversation did result in more ‘Cancer admin’. Cancer admin is what I am calling all the forms to complete, appointments to fulfil and general to do lists caused by the tumour. I don’t recall cervical cancer causing this much paperwork! One of the tasks on my list is surrendering my driving license to the DVLA. Goodbye independence! Hello bus pass! So after ploughing my way through all the necessary cancer admin I was suitably grumpy by the time the Funny Boy arrived home.
As always he practically skipped through the front door looking for Parsnip and I. We, Parsnip and I, are very rarely apart – I like to call her my sausage shaped shadow! Anyway, I debriefed the Funny Boy on my day. I shed a wee tear, cussed a LOT and by the time I finished my emotional dump the Funny Boy had miraculously put a smile back on my face!
So, I decided to follow doctor’s orders and practise some self compassion by drawing myself a bath. However due to being high risk of seizures I can no longer do this alone – it’s not as sexy as it might sound! The Funny Boy didn’t join me but he did pop his head in or call out to check I was ok every few minutes. Not ideal and definitely not as relaxing either! After my bath I came downstairs and picked up a mindfulness colouring book which was gifted to me by my brother and sister-in-law to be.
I caught myself moaning this weekend. I said to the Funny Boy that I feel alone and like nobody understands. He never challenged me on this. And as I settled down to start ‘Colouring Weiners’ with my own wiener cuddling on my lap I looked at the Funny Boy playing his Xbox and realised I was wrong. I don’t know if he did this on purpose or if it was his subconscious – in fact I’m not sure he was even aware what he was wearing – but either way he is right: TOGETHER WE ARE FIGHTING CANCER and I am beyond lucky to have him!
I have cheated this week and opposed to blogging I have decided to try my first vlog. There is definitely room for improvement but hopefully it gives you a little insight on what life is like in cancer limbo – that awkward place between being diagnosed and waiting for more tests to decide what is happening with treatment…
I met with the neurosurgeon on Wednesday. It was a very different experience than when I first met my oncologist. When I met my oncologist she was very direct and came to the appointment armed with a clear plan of how they intended to treat the tumour in my cervix. I was prepared for a similar style meeting – I had planned a list of questions largely focusing on treatment, side effects, timescales etc. But this appointment was very different.
Any treatment – regardless of where it is targeted – comes with it’s own set of risks and repercussions. But it is only now I am beginning to fully appreciate how complex an organ the brain actually is. Treatment in such a delicate area and the side effects are all the more acute. A lot was discussed and it has been a huge amount to take in. The anti-seizure medication alone warrants its own set of side effects, one being ‘rage’ – not the best news for someone who’s nickname used to be Ragebox! (Watch out Funny Boy!) The situation is far from straight forward and each option has a range of potential risks and benefits. Decisions need to be made and in order for those to be thought through thoroughly more information is required. I struggle to decide what to wear on a day-to-day basis so this is going to be tough. For now we are taking time to do more tests, time to review our options and time to decide our plan of attack.
So how am I feeling?
My good friend put it best when she said ‘Cancer f*cks with everything’ and on this occasion I have an extended list of life admin as a result of my new diagnosis. I spent today drawing up a spidergram to help manage the tasks within my control. I feel completely unprepared for how life is going to change. I am trying hard to pre-empt and where possible minimise these changes but already I am feeling a loss of independence – the luxury of being able to drive wherever and whenever I want is something I definitely took for granted. My poor dad is definitely feeling the strain as chauffeur – not because he hates driving – because he can’t listen to the cricket when I’m in the car!
I haven’t had a big emotional break down yet. Despite glassy eyes on several occasions I have managed to keep all tears at bay but this is not to be confused with me ‘putting a brave face on’! Believe me – I have the best support system who are actively waiting, encouraging, hoping I’ll cry! But the reality is it still doesn’t feel real and despite breaking the news to friends and family I don’t feel like this is happening to me. I don’t feel scared for what lies ahead I simply feel unprepared.
It’s been one week now since I left hospital and I am not due to meet my neurosurgeon until the middle of next week. Excuse the pun but I still can’t get my head around it – I have a brain tumour! Even the fact I will be having an appointment with a neurosurgeon is something I thought I’d never have to say. The only neurosurgeon I’ve ever been interested in is Derek Shephard aka McDreamy! Fingers crossed my guy is as good as the fictitious character from Grey’s Anatomy.
So what do you do when you receive devastating news and all you can do is wait?
Well this is my second time dealing with this kind of news and I do think I have learnt from my previous experience. I would not wish it upon anyone but should you ever find yourself in a similar situation here are a few tips which have got me through the past week.
I am so lucky to have a solid support system. For those who have followed my blog since my experience with cervical cancer you will be familiar with the top team of Iceberg, Buggernuts and the Funny Boy. I’m delighted to say I have an additional side kick this time and that is my miniature dachshund Parsnip. Since being diagnosed she has barely left my side – even in hospital she came to visit me twice a day. This support system also includes my AMAZING friends who have driven across the country to be with me, took responsibility for breaking the news to others and even gifted me their final can of Irn Bru with the original recipe! So identify your support system, use them and remember like a good bra they are there to lift you up, make you look better and never leave you hanging!
Practise Self Compassion
There are a lot of thoughts and emotions being processed. I am also experiencing major paranoia: ‘is it the fact I’m simply forgetting things due to stress or is it my brain tumour eating my memory?!’ The best thing to do is be selfish – or to put it another way – practise some self compassion. I know from experience how crappy cancer treatment can make you feel so in anticipation I have allowed myself to do the things that make me happy. For me this has largely included surrounding myself with friends and family, enjoying the sunshine, BBQs and kayaking! Lots of kayaking! Find what makes you happy and do it!
Allow Yourself To Be
I have been overwhelmed with messages from family and friends telling me I am strong – I will indulge my ego and agree. But being strong for me is knowing ‘it’s ok to not be ok’. For the large part of the last week I have felt upbeat – but there are moments when fear creeps in: When I wonder what the future holds. When I lie in bed scared to close my eyes in case I wake up to find a room full of paramedics again or worse. So how do I cope? I allow myself to feel those emotions and I talk about it. I confide in the Funny Boy, I prioritise a trip to Maggie’s and if necessary I have a little cry. Inevitably I always feel better after allowing myself to just be and letting off some steam.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a planner. The weekend before my diagnosis I was updating my various calendars and realised I was not due to have a weekend free until the 14th July! As someone who loves my job this isn’t as intimidating as it might sound but it did highlight my work/life balance was maybe off-kilter. To go from jam-packed diary to being signed off work for at least a month is unnerving especially when it easy to allow negative thoughts of cancer to occupy your time. My remedy? Make plans for the short and long term. So next week the Funny Boy and I are booking that table at the restaurant we really like, we are having a spa day and – health permitting we are planning some day trips with Parsnip. Equally as important we have picked up some travel brochures and are planning our next overseas adventure!
On that note – I hope you have some great plans for the bank holiday! Thanks for reading and as always #FUCANCER!
In the early hours of Wednesday morning I woke up to find 3 paramedics in my bedroom. The Funny Boy had called 999 because I was having a seizure. I don’t remember this clearly. Even sat in the ambulance I found myself struggling to remember what I had done the day before or even recall my boss’ name. As soon as I arrived at AnE they prepared me for a CT scan which required a cannula.
Having a cannula is a familiar process for me and one the Funny Boy has witnessed thousands of times. However, the shock of seeing me have a fit and perhaps the early hour took its toll on my poor Funny Boy – as he slowly let go of my hand and proceeded to headbutt the X Ray machine I watched him plummet to the ground. He had fainted. This was enough to send me over the edge and as I cried out for him, the nurse called out for assistance. Our bay was quickly filled with more staff and a doctor eyeing up a pretty spectacular cut above the Funny Boy’s left eye. As the Funny Boy regained consciousness the doctor said ‘I think you’ll be leaving here with a few of my sutures…’ – he was right! Before I knew it the Funny Boy was lying in a trolley next to me with four new stitches and a pretty impressive black eye!
Unfortunately my treatment wasn’t quite so simple. The CT scan identified a lesion on my brain and as a precaution the hospital staff didn’t want me to leave until I had a MRI. I was transferred to the Observation Ward whilst I waited.
Life can be pretty bizarre sometimes. For example, a fortnight ago I was stood at a Ladies Lunch in front of over 460 people sharing my experience of cancer. Within that speech I actually said ‘my life is in a pretty good place’ and that’s because it is. As a Fundraising Manager for CRUK I have a job I am very passionate about, I have recently completed my first full season back on the hockey pitch, i am feeling fitter and stronger than I have in years and to top it off I not only have the BEST collection of family and friends but an awesome sausage-shaped sidekick too.
So, to be sat here breaking the news that I have a new cancer is unexpected to say the least. On Friday the MRI confirmed I have a tumour in my brain. Thankfully, I have been allowed to return home whilst I wait for my referral to Neurology. I don’t know how I feel at the moment – more than anything I can’t believe how unlucky I am! On a lighter note, at least I look a lot better than the Funny Boy… Fingers crossed his fainting episode was a one-off!
It has been over a year since my last entry and several years since I updated this space regularly. There have been a number of developments lately which has given me the inspiration to resurrect the blog if only for a little while.
Following treatment I really struggled with pain in my pelvis and chronic fatigue. Completing the marathon in 2016 was not only a huge achievement but a big struggle. On crossing the finish line I found myself battling one infection after the other – a sign perhaps on maybe taking it on too soon. That being said I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was an incredible experience. However, it did convince that returning to hockey was impossible. The prospect of training and weekly fixtures seemed out of reach.
In Spring 2017, one year after completing the London Marathon, I noticed a change. The sluggish fatigue was beginning to subside and I found myself beginning to have more energy. Simple tasks which would assume my full effort were easier and slowly but surely I began to feel stronger! As summer rolled in and I was surrounded by my extended hockey family at STICK IT TO CANCER* I decided that this was the time – the time to dust off my stick, re-mould my mouth-guard and get back on the pitch!
Although I felt strong in body, it was now my mind which needed the encouragement. It had been nearly four years since I had played the game. Rules were different, the club I had once been a member of had a number of new faces and despite being 31 – the idea of being the new kid brought the usual anxieties! I can’t remember myself ever being that nervous going to a training session – but I knew this would be the hardest part.
To you, it may not seem like a big deal but for me this has been a huge step in my recovery! I am absolutely delighted to share that yesterday I completed my first full season back on the hockey pitch. Rewind a couple of years I never thought this would be possible! Big shout out to the club for being so welcoming, my team – the ESM Ladies 1s, our coach Steve who’s one piece of advice was always ‘Enjoy it’ and to Anna Kelner who texted me throughout the 3 years encouraging me to come back! Thanks for everything and bring on Hockey Season 2018/19! I can’t wait – Hockey Heather is back!!
*STICK IT TO CANCER is a fun, friendly, fancy dress 7s hockey festival raising funds in aid of the Maggie’s Centre in Edinburgh. For more information please click HERE and be sure to share with your extended hockey family!
Three years ago I had just completed cancer treatment. Sat in chemotherapy, in a very comfy Lazy Boy style chair, I had the idea of organising some form of hockey festival which could raise funds in aid of Maggie’s whilst also saying a massive #FUCANCER. Today, sat at my not-so-comfy office desk, I am in disbelief at how that idea has developed into a reality.
Yesterday marked the second STICK IT TO CANCER HOCKEY FESTIVAL. For the second year running we welcomed over 100 hockey heroes dressed as heroes and villains to unite in the fight against cancer. I am delighted to say that the event raised £2175.27 which will be going straight to the Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Edinburgh. A place very close to my heart. I don’t know if it is because I have neglected this blog for so long that my writing skills are very rusty or if it is the fact I am absolutely exhausted from an incredible 24 hours but I am struggling to find the words to share how much this event means to me. Instead I will share the video below (click where it says STICK IT TO CANCER 2017) to give you a flavour of what the day is all about and finish with these words:
“Together, ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results” – Becka Schoettle
Thanks for being a part of it…
All the teams and their supporters, friends and family who came along on the day! Edinburgh Academy & George Sutherland; Harry’s Bar & Ben Ashcroft; Luca’s at Morningside, Edinburgh Leisure; Scotch Whiskey Experience; Butterfly & Insect World; Scran & Scallie; Ryze; Cineworld; Pinkk; Stewart Brewing; Camera Obscura; Morrisons; Sincy, Batch, George & Kyle. Craig Muir. The THRIVING umpires, George & Grace. The SITC Top Team – Nicola, Christian, Amy, Jenny, Marie, Buggernuts & Iceberg. And finally, more poor husband Funny Boy for putting up with me everyday!
In hindsight my previous blog, although well intended could cause concern. I neither need, want or seek sympathy. The insight (or overshare) was aimed to encourage women to prioritise their health. My frustrations lie in the fact a high percentage of people are not doing this and therefore putting themselves at unnecessary risk.
Aside from the aforementioned side effects, which I am mastering daily, life continues to treat me well. Even now I am sat next to the pool with a view of Spinalonga which just so happens to be the subject of my current novel, The Island by Victoria Hislop (highly recommend it by the way). This sunny retreat comes at the end of a very busy few months and therefore not only feels deserved but essential! In my last update I was training for the Virgin Money London Marathon. It is with great pride I can share that I completed this in April and raised £4000 for Cancer Reaearch. A month after crossing the finishing line I flew to Toronto to visit my brother who I hadn’t seen since the wedding. Alongside the Funny Boy and Gags’ girlfriend, Katie, the four of us (dubbed the new Wolfpack) ticked off another item of Project 30 and enjoyed several ‘proper NYC breakfasts’ in the city that never sleeps. Whilst overseas I recieved the welcome yet unexpected news that I had been shortlisted and selected to win the Edinburgh Evening News Bravery Award. An accolade I don’t believe I am worthy of but delighted and grateful beyond words. The start of July would see the inaugural STICK IT TO CANCER hockey festival. An idea I had whilst sitting in chemo two years ago finally came to fruition after nearly 14 months of planning. Over 150 people united in various superhero outfits to say an almighty #FUCancer. The result of everyone’s efforts was a phenomenal £3700 raises for the Edinburgh Maggie’s Cancer Centre and another big tick for Project 30!
Baring in mind the Funny Boy and I moved house at the end of November by the time July came it had been a manic few months. I had promised two months of no ‘extra curricular activities’. No marathons, no fundraising, no more bonkers ideas for two months. However, this changed when I had an opportunity too good to miss. Hidden from public view and in line with Project 30 I was looking for the next step in my career. An opportunity arose and after speaking to my counsel (the ever reliable Iceberg, Buggernuts and Funny Boy) they urged me to go for it! A new job in an exciting role with fresh challenges lie ahead of me. This does mean I am extending my ban on extra curricular activities until at least Christmas. But, with my new job, hens, weddings and a reunion of the Wolfpack on the cards I doubt I’d have time to get much done anyway.
Life is great. Yes, it has its challenges but I am one of the lucky ones who continue to thrive!
Hello old friend! Apologies for the delay – I could sit and list the excuses of why I have neglected you but to put it simply: life got in the way! Several people have asked when I would get back on the FUCancer wagon and update my blog. To this I always reply ‘when I get the urge’. I must admit I didn’t think that moment would occur whilst sat on a sun drenched Cretan balcony on day 1 of a holiday which has felt long overdue.
So why the sudden need? What did I find so compelling that I allowed myself to be dragged away from the turquoise view and honeysuckle scent? The shocking news that attendance at cervical screening is at its lowest in 10 years! http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-37285353 (Yes, I admit that checking BBC news whilst on holiday is not the best way to relax and unwind) But seriously ladies? Have a word with yourselves! As someone who ALWAYS attended screening when invited I find it really difficult to understand why someone would neglect it. The fact is Cervical is one of the few cancers which can be prevented and if caught early has a high survival rate. I can only assume the reasons or excuses people use to put off a potentially life saving check up which literally takes minutes. Opposed to my ranting it would perhaps be more helpful if I gave an insight as to what life is like for me now as a cervical cancer survivor:
– Radiotherapy literally killed my ovaries which catapulted me into an early menopause. Alongside hot flushes, mood swings and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, it also destroys your libido!
– Imagine someone kicking your lower back which after a while leaves a dull ache. That is the pain I have had on and off for the last two years since going through treatment.
– Another fun side effect of treatment is how on some days I just need to walk the dog and it feels like I’ve ran a marathon! My energy levels are unpredictable, unreliable and on occasions: unavailable!
– The menopause, the pain, the fatigue I knew I was singing up for it. The doctor makes you sign several documents to show you understand and accept that cancer treatment has devastating consequences. However, it was only recently I discovered it is now impacting my oral health. Two fillings & two extractions in the last 6 months which is largely a result of the change in my saliva. The change is a result of what? Chemotherapy and my hormone imbalance thanks to menopause.
– It is not surprising that cancer also had a negative impact on my mental health. Low confidence, panic attacks and stress have all come and gone over the past two years. Without the support of Maggie’s I dare say it is something I would still be struggling with.
– And for those who need it spelling out, the worst of these side effects is the fact I can’t have children.
So – there you have it! I would not wish my experience on my worst enemy. How many more reasons do you need to prioritise your smear? Protect yourself. For FUCancer sake – get it done!!
I am not quite sure where the time has gone but according to my calendar it is only 5 weeks until the London Marathon.
This will be my second marathon. The challenge seems far more imposing on this occasion largely due to the fact my body is still acclimatizing to the changes post cancer treatment. Unbelievable to think here I am – 1 year, 6 months, 3 weeks and 4 days in remission – and I still get pelvic pain, I still get the waves of fatigue and for about a month now I have returned to the symptoms of menopause. It appears my Hormone Replacement Therapy is no longer doing the job it is supposed. Cue hot flushes, achy joints, fluctuating moods and poor memory. Although according to the Funny Boy my fluctuating moods is nothing new!(RUDE!) As many women will agree, menopause is uncomfortable on a physical and emotional level. Personally I find it very socially awkward too! In a meeting surrounded by colleagues or partners there is nothing more embarrassing when you begin to feel the wave of heat tingle in your toes before it rises through your body. It courses through like an unstoppable force until it reaches the tell-tale point – the face. A red glow descends itself from the visible chest, neck and like an almighty crescendo ends in a beady brow and sweaty lip. The horrid sensation lasts the perfect amount of time for two things to happen: First you feel the urgent need to strip all unnecessary layers. Failure to do so, could lead to spontaneous combustion (or so the sensation dictates)! And secondly, the visible impact remains with enough time for the people you are with to look at you curiously or worse still, point out the red looking rash which crawls up your neck! I have never been so keen to welcome Spring. Until the doctors can sort out my HRT tights have been banished, light layers adopted and for the foreseeable future I’ll be residing next to any form of desktop fan or open window!
The impact of this on training has led to some light headed runs. The kind where you start to see bright dots dance in front of your eyes like a cloud of flies. As ever though, this – the early onset of menopause – is a small price to pay to be here today. I am constantly reminded how lucky I am and with the news of two of my best mates getting engaged then there really isn’t a better time to be alive and kicking! Whilst out running recently I began to think about one of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou:
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
At the end of the run I said to myself I am not entering the London Marathon as a Cancer Survivor. I am entering the race as a cancer thriver! So if you fancy supporting a cancer thriver please head to my Just Giving page by clicking here. Thank you!
Today marks the end of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week but as one calendar month passes a new one begins which means it is only 12 weeks until the London Marathon.
Training is going well. I won’t bore you with the details but I can disclose that I now share something in common with Paula Radcliffe! Thankfully it wasn’t on the roadside but I did find myself hiding amongst bare trees hoping to not be seen. I suppose it is a combination of bowels behaving badly and getting used to those long runs again! Fingers crossed its not a regular occurance!
Anyway – back to the marathon. To aid with training I will be participating in Cancer Research’s SnowFlake 10k Run. I got the opportunity to help with the promotion at the start of the year, the links of which can be found here. Since the article I have had my heart set on running the 10k and more importantly the marathon in fancy dress! Initially I thought it would be a great opportunity to dress as something to raise awarness of cervical cancer. After a quick google search it appeared that the logistics of dressing up as a cervix would be too complex – if not impossible! Top Tip: do NOT Google cervix fancy dress!! So, if you have any suggestions as to what I can dress as for the London Marathon please let me know…
In the meantime if you would like to help beat cancer sooner please consider sponsoring me at the link below:
I have lost count of the number of letters I receive like this. Another scan. Another 30 minutes in a tube followed by an agonising wait which seems like forever. I have learnt to not worry until there is something to worry about or to quote my brother:
‘Don’t put up your umbrella just because there are rain clouds’
I am confident this cloudy patch will pass. But it does serve a cold reminder of the importance of attending smear tests. In light of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week I wanted to share the facts:
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35
1 in 3 women between 25 – 29 years old ignore their smear test invitation-
8 women in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer EVERY DAY
Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that CAN BE PREVENTED!
Quoted from Jo’s Trust – http://jostrust.org.uk/smearforsmear/
Cervical cancer has had a profound impact on my life. Menopause, infertility are just two of the changes I am still learning to live with. I was one of the unlucky ones. I
Attend your smear, reduce your risk of cervical cancer
Allow me to apologise! Apart from a brief update in November this blog has seen very little action. I appreciate the kind messages of concern but truth be told I have found it difficult to sumise my thoughts appropriate for a post. Unpredictable as ever, it appears that now is the time for me to share my latest news and views. (The time is currently seventeen minutes past midnight which means today is Christmas Eve – yay!)
I have formed a bad habit. One which has been causing me a few problems. You see – having cancer startles people. Wether it be old friends, new friends, would-be friends or mere strangers, when they discover I have had cancer they simply looked shocked and awkward. Cancer does not define me but it does have a huge impact on everyday life which means it lends itself to common conversation. Marathon training, career plans, that oh so dreaded question: ‘when will you and the Funny Boy have babies’ always lead back to what my family and I had to endure last year. This conversation topic doesn’t bother me. I find it cathartic and hopeful that someone might be more cautious in their own health. That being said, I have developed a bad habit of trying to ease the shock and minimise the awkwardness by changing the subject through assuring whomever I am speaking with that ‘I am one of the lucky ones’. Whenever I sense sympathy I immediately go into ‘positive mode’.
At the end of September I found myself beginning to feel overwhelmed by the simplest of tasks. The basic question of ‘what do you want for your tea?’ On some occasions was simply too difficult to fathom and reduced me to tears. Initially I put this down to the menopause. Work became a chore: concentration was lacking and enthusiasm was gone. My Sunday night dread appeared on the eve of every work day. Away from the office I would find myself avoiding social situations, opting to stay at home, preferrably with the dog alone. I began experiencing panic attacks. At this point I felt more vulnerable than ever before. My bad habit of ‘being positive and being one of the lucky ones’ clouded my judgement. In my head I told myself that I was being ridiculous: if you can get through cancer, you can get through this. I simply told myself to get over it. But I was wrong.
It wasn’t until October I took myself to Maggie’s. This is where my bad habit began to unfold. By constantly being positive I wasn’t allowing myself to really feel the trauma or emotions cancer brings. After a great deal of support from Maggie’s I found the confidence to challenge my bad habit and visit my GP. Following a short stint on sick leave I have now returned to work. Thankfully, I do not feel as vulnerable as I did in September but I am in a challenging place. As I strive to move forward with all aspects of my life I am facing the unfair truth that old habits die hard. Lucky to survive? Yes! Lucky to have been dealt a lethal hand? Not so much. It is not something I will ever ‘get over’ but that’s ok. In time I will come to terms with it and in the meantime it is ok to say it as it is…
Three years, two months and twenty eight days ago I moved to Edinburgh. Within that time I have experienced some of life’s greatest highs and challenging lows: The loss of two family members, infertility and cancer (not to mention all the incessant drama that follows). But, in that time I have been blessed through making a whole new posse of people I am proud to call my friends. I have had two jobs which I not only enjoy but has taught me an incredible amount and shown me where I want to go next. I met a funny boy who brought a funny dog into our lives. He is now my funny husband which means we are now a funny family. All of which has happened in the last two years! Crazy to think where a whole month of saying yes can lead… 😉 So, today my Funny Family and I waved goodbye to our Edinburgh address and ventured into West Lothian. We are officially residents of Winchburgh Village! In doing so, I have successfully ticked off another item of Project 30! Huge thank you to all our friends and family in helping us get here (especially Gary & Kerry) You’re all welcome anytime…
I love receiving post. Arriving at your new home with a card waiting for you from one of your oldest and closest friends has got to be the best yet! Even better than receiving a letter from Shout magazine saying we were getting a makeover… cheers!
Today’s blog is written by one of my nearest and dearest friends. I met Brando through work three years ago. He was the type of colleague you look at and think ‘Wow! I want to be like him. How does he do it all?’ Little did I know that my inspiring colleague would soon become one of my best friends! There is a popular quote which advises ‘Surround yourself with those who are going to lift you higher’ and Brando is testament to that. He has literally stood by me through life’s biggest highs and it’s darkest lows – and on all occasions has successfully managed to make me giggle. Here is Brando’s experience of FUCancer.
7 things you learn when your best friend gets cancer
The day you find out your best friend has cancer is not one that you forget very easily. Having logged a ‘working from home day’, I was still in bed when the call came. Heather hadn’t been feeling great, alongside spouts of grumpiness (which had we’d all put down to the usual ‘hangry’). I still remember the tone in Heather’s voice as she spoke the words ‘I have cancer’. It was formal, shocked and not how I knew my friend to talk. I know it was because the pain of saying the words was hard and the only way she could say them. To this day I am so proud that she was the one to tell me and found the strength to utter those awful word.
This blog comes after the first, of many, Cancerverseries where everyone can’t help in celebrating the amazing achievements of Mrs Heather Duff, Funnyboy and Parsnip the Wanderdug. When Heather asked me to write this blog my instant thoughts were to write something, akin to an obituary, which told the World Wide Web how amazing my friend is, how amazing a women she is and an inspiration to those around her. I quickly scraped that idea and instead I want to share things I’ve learnt over the last year, some of them our secrets, some of them our coping mechanisms, and some of them purely hilarious (well to me anyway). So these are my lessons….
The world doesn’t fall away
When I first got that news from Heather, I thought I would feel a sense of loss and grief as if the floor was going to fall away. In fact, the opposite happened. The future warped and changed, the landscape looked different, but there was still a future and that was all that would be acceptable. Discussions about the future, fuelled by gin and prosecco, continue including adopting Jamaican babies, inspiring the world as TED speakers, weddings, houses and micro pigs (soon to become micro dogs). You may read this an think me naïve, but not once did I think there was any future without Heather, in fact the Big C meant that a new future was coming and it was going to be epiC!
People you count as family doubles…
For those regular to the blog you will know Heather talks a lot about her family, so it will be unsurprising that they are awesome! What I never realised when that phone call came through was how much I would fall absolutely in love with them all. From the brothers who gave me abuse from the first time they met me to Buggernuts who stayed up drinking at the wedding until he gave himself carpet burns from a wooden floor. Also, receiving the wrath of Iceberg when she found out I was moving to London and we had snuck Parsnip into the wedding – only joking Alma 🙂 !!
You become more thoughtful than you ever thought possible
Now without drawing out gender stereotypes with this one, as a man, I thought that talking about someone else’s vagina would be considerably difficult, not to mention the emotional hurricane that came around it. For me the moment I realised that I had changed and became more thoughtful was following the initial all clear, or Day Zero, and for 181 days after I kept a note of a word, a phrase or a prayer. I realised that writing down that positive thought, or wish, or inspirational line helped me to untie the knot in my stomach worrying that the big C was going to come back. For 181 days, between day 0 and the first six month scan, I captured those positive thoughts sending them out to the universe. Following the all clear I wrapped them individually in a box to send to Heather, it was her turn to write for six months, I’m pretty sure she hasn’t been keeping them up but that box got me through the first six months and Heather knows where that box is if she ever needs it.
Frozen or any other Disney film become essential viewing
‘Do you want to build a snowman?’ had always been code for checking in and making contact. After April, Frozen came with its own deflate button. Often when together or apart the song lyrics to ‘Let it go’ or the snowman song would bring a smile! I was found too many times singing in my terrible voice through whatsapp to try and make Heather smile, I’m sure it worked half the time.
Singing becomes a therapeutic tool to manage the rage!
Singing in the car with the music turned up to top volume is one of the most therapeutic things anyone can do, even better with your bestie! Wither that is 8am in the morning to get ready for the day, screaming ‘Let it Go’ down the road or distressing the pre-wedding jitters to ‘time of your life’ (with the local coos and family giving us some strange looks).
Mutual Hatred for bell-ends…
Any best friend knows that there are unwritten rules relating to loyalty, protectiveness, and fiercely standing up for them. Sometimes this fires up out of nowhere, sometimes its deep and long seeded, or it’s a brutal dragon then causes smoke from the nose. So bell-ends of various forms from the mutes, to the awkwards, to the downright idiotic will forever be on a naughty list (Santa told me)
You can’t say no to some crazy crazy ideas
Now I’m a big big advocate of the C card, allowing anyone going through what Heather went through the ability to drop the C word and get whatever they wanted some good things, some frivolous like free cake to important things like a decent parking spot. However, I never imagined that the C card would include me getting drawn into some crazy adventures. These have included a Made in Chelsea inspired appearance on a proposal video, including optional boxer sniffing, getting Heather to the actual proposal venue, with Brando induced hangover (sorry Gordon), and walking a sausage dog down the aisle! If this is some of the crazy stuff that’s happened in just the last year I can wait for what’s coming!
But the final and only important thing I learnt was that Mrs Heather Duff is an unbelievable individual, whose character cannot be measured by us mere mortals. The things that she will achieve are going to change the world!
I have been neglecting my blog for six weeks. Every time I sit down to write something, my fingers hover over the keyboard nervously but I am struck with the same challenge of not knowing where to start. So as always I will focus telling the truth in hope that what I eventually compose makes sense.
I had my 12 month check up at the start of September. The good news – no evidence of disease. The bad news – I have the pelvis of an 80 year old woman. Ok, so the doctor didn’t quite put it like that, however that is how I feel. It constantly aches and there is nothing they can or will do – it just a case of rest and ibuprofen. Returning to hockey seems impossible and that is getting me down.
I was selected for the Social Innovators Incubator Award to get FUCancer started. Fantastic news right? Well, it appears three hours at the end of a Monday is just too much for my tired body to handle and with a heavy heart, I made the difficult decision to put my FUCancer plans on hold.
The Funny Boy and I have been looking at houses. Again, exciting news! Yet it comes with a decent portion of added stress. Although everything seems to be headed in the right direction the long wait for completing missives seems to be taking a sweet age. That in itself is tiring.
Then there is the infertility thing. That just makes me want to scream.
With everything going on, I simply feel stressed and anxious. Even as I write this I can feel my chest tightening as though my lungs won’t fully expand. On top of that – I feel guilty for feeling stressed. I am 13 months cancer free with the prospect of a new home to move in to. I should be feeling on top of the world. Yet, I am struggling to find enjoyment in my usual pastimes. Exercise now seems like a chore. Work has become a challenge. And even spending time with my friends gives me a feeling of dread. Why? I don’t know. Furthermore, I appear to have lost the ability to make a decision. Whether it be plans for the weekend or even a choice of what to have for dinner – I find myself feeling irritable and opting to go without because it seems too difficult to choose. Despite being a morning person, the simple task of getting out of bed is becoming more strenuous leaving me exhausted most days. And when night-time does fall I lie in bed unable to fall asleep.
The good news is I recognise this is abnormal and something I need help with. The bad news is I am impatient and frustrated. I have found myself returning to Maggie’s and even my GP. Both of whom have been an enormous support. They have helped me realise this feeling is potentially a delayed reaction to the trauma of last year and in order to move on I need to start dealing with it. I am in a weird place where the last year has left me feeling stronger yet more vulnerable than ever. So there you have it – apologies for the bleak banter but it is an honest update!
I launched my blog with the title ‘The marathon I didn’t sign up for…’ and although I am not quite at the end (yet) it hasn’t stopped me looking for the next challenge! This week I found out I was successful in getting a spot for the London Marathon! I am delighted to be joining the team of runners who are participating on behalf of Cancer Research UK.
By the time I was born my home was already outnumbered by men. With two older brothers and a rock steady dad I have been blessed (haunted) with three strong male role models my whole life. A couple of months ago my brother Gareth shared his journey with #FUCancer. This week Buggernuts takes the spotlight. And for those who are not familiar with who or what a ‘Buggernuts’ is – he is my one and only dad:
Descending from Welsh and Cornish stock, it would be safe to say that my pedigree is Celtic in nature. This can mean I am volatile, slightly self-deprecating and hugely sentimental to the point of being maudlin. The sense of hiraeth – understood by so many Welshmen – is especially emphasised in those of us who are deemed to be ex-pats, so much so it can be over-powering. Crying, therefore, comes naturally to me even at my exalted age. There is no rhyme or reason when the throat will tighten and the tears roll; obvious times like the birth of a child or grandchild, the death of a close family member or friend are balanced by witnessing an unheralded act of kindness, a display of sportsmanship, the last night of a school show or the end of something really meaningful can all cause me to swallow hard, develop a lump in the throat and the eyes to redden. Indeed as I write this I have just returned from accompanying my three-year old grandson…well, nearly four……to his first rugby international, passing over the family baton as it were. I have had a very fortunate life – a loving wife, three great kids, two marvellous grandsons and an extended family of which I am inordinately proud. My family share my love of sport. My two sons and I chat on a level playing field about rugby and cricket and rugby and football and rugby and athletics and also rugby. We have been involved in the sport at various levels over a considerable passage of time. I also have a daughter! Heather and I have a close relationship built around polar opposites; if I say white she will answer black; if I say yes she will say no and if I suggest in she will respond with out. You get the picture. We are also very competitive and the ten days we spent together in Fuerteventura were metaphorically quite bloody. Tennis, table tennis, pool, putting, paddle boarding were all undertaken with a bitter edge with no quarter asked or given. However there is also a trust and an understanding which exists between us. Needless to say I am extremely proud of her, even more so as, competition notwithstanding, she frequently asks for my thoughts, views, opinions and ideas on the important matters in her life. She will listen and appreciate my honesty and candour regardless of whether they conflict with hers or not. I am comfortable pointing out flaws and pitfalls in her projects knowing that they will not be taken as criticism but as a helpful and constructive insight. However, Heather has made me cry! I cried when she told me of her selection to play hockey for Scotland at age group level; I cried when I saw her take the field against Ireland. I cried when I saw her in her wedding dress (what father wouldn’t!) and I cried making THAT speech which, as dads we all hope to make one day but strangely, in our heart of hearts, don’t really want to. If friends and family are to be believed I cried throughout that day as I had at Owains’s wedding some years earlier. I did not cry at Heather’s diagnosis. Heather was obviously shaken but she was also strong, matter of fact, committed, driven and was challenging me to be the same. As Angela has said Heather was making it easier for all of us. Tears were not what was wanted, I had a role to play, admittedly a subordinate one made up of driving, carrying, hurrying up and waiting. It is a role all father’s play but in this case the focus was sharper, more intense. Sometimes I wasn’t very good, to the point where Heather implored my wife not to leave me alone with her; other times I was great like the day I supported her carrying the Queen’s Baton around Leith. Curiously these two days are separated by twenty-four hours! But I didn’t cry! Heather gave me the inner strength to face the situation head on. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? I did cry when I first heard she was in remission and will continue so to do. In the meantime I will do my damnedest to beat her at everything I can – from Scrabble to skittles, tiddly winks to tennis, Buckaroo to boxing. Heather wouldn’t expect anything less!
Over the past 18 months I was thrust into a world where cancer has been a daily topic of conversation. I have a new found respect for the wonders of science, the importance of early screening and long term effects of treatment. I have learnt about the numerous charities which work tirelessly to not only deliver the above but strive to support everyone affected by cancer. Their amazing efforts has inspired me to ask myself: What can I do?
My time spent at WSLA reminded me to dream big and go beyond my comfort zone. This week marks the first step of making my #FUCancer dream a reality after I was selected for the Social Innovator Incubator Award from the Melting Pot. I am beyond grateful for this huge opportunity which will help me develop and explore my vision for #FUCancer and ultimately help a lot of people! I currently feel super inspired and excited for what lies ahead…
As I spent my birthday fighting flu I have no shame in admitting that today I intend to fully celebrate my 1 year cancerversary. For those of you who have followed my journey you will be aware I have two cancerversaries; the 8th of April which is the date I was diagnosed and the 27th August is the date I found out I was in remission. Both dates are etched in my memory and will forever hold an importance in my life.
As with any anniversary, I find myself reflecting on where I was this time last year. The 24 hours which surrounded the appointment itself could be described as a tornado of emotions. The night before I was due to get the results, my family had cleverly orchestrated a sleepover for me and my two year old nephew. Wether this was to keep me distracted or simply exhaust me so I had no option of sleep I am still uncertain! Either way the hours passed quickly and I don’t recall struggling to sleep that night! On the day I recall sitting in the room with my Onocologist and Nurse whilst the Funny Boy, Iceberg and Buggernuts literally stood behind me in anticipation. Upon hearing the words ‘there is no sign of cancer’ I had to ask for clarity: Am i hearing this right? The cancer is gone? It was simply too good to be true! Upon receiving the confirmation I needed I simply thought ‘How lucky am I?’
Elated and relieved, the four of us left the appointment hand in hand and as we exited the building the sun was shining down. I stood in the hospital car park making the important phone calls to the family and friends who were eagerly waiting on the other end of the line. On that day, nobody allowed their phone to ring more than once! Aside from announcing my engagement to the Funny Boy, it was the best phone call I have ever had to make!
Upon returning home the four of us put on our best dressed outfits and headed out for dinner. Even the Iceberg joined us for a glass of champagne. It was the only time in all my life I had heard her admit to ‘feeling squiffy’ after half a glass of Moet!
Following our meal and several glasses of champagne I was suitably exhausted. The adrenalin had worn off and it was time to go to bed. I had gone to bed feeling like an athlete at the end of the marathon. I had come to the end of the race, the job was done and it was now time to relax and bask in the glory. However, when I woke the following day it was a very different story.
When the doctor told me there was no sign of cancer – I assumed that meant the cancer was gone. The marathon I didn’t sign up for was done! I imagined that magically my old life would return: Back to work, back to hockey, back to socialising, back to me. I could not have been more wrong. Physically and mentally I was not the same person. And as much as I wanted, wished or even prayed for my old lifestyle to return this was something that was never going to happen. The realisation of this began to hit me. Everything was different.
So here I am 12 months on and how do I feel?
I don’t think the marathon is done but I have come to the realisation that perhaps it never will be. I will never get back to being the old me but it does present an excellent opportunity to continually strive in being a better me! Admittedly I do have my days of exhaustion and some of my ongoing appointments are not the most enjoyable (I have a new found appreciation for sedatives! My colonoscopy is a blur) which can bring me down. However I simply have to think of what I have achieved in the past year:
Returned to work full time and got a new job!
Married the Funny Boy and had an epic adventure in Thailand
Graduated the Women’s Sport Leadership Academy
Successfully began Project 30
Here is to my first of (hopefully) many cancerversaries! Cheers!!
On Thursday this week I had the huge pleasure of speaking with Shereen Nanjiani about my journey with #FUCancer and Project 30. This was a great opportunity to raise awareness of how difficult life is in remission. I was overwhelmed to receive so many supportive messages, in particular from men and women who had been through a similar experience. In case you missed it please check out the link below:
Today is my birthday. Despite overcoming the tail end of flu and being riddled with guilt for missing another event I organised through work, it has been a great day: the Funny Boy and Parsnip woke me with breakfast in bed and array of generous gifts.
As today marks my 29th birthday I am now on a tight schedule to complete Project 30. In all honesty I had hoped to have ticked a few more off the list by now but I am confident (and excited) to see where it takes me. Here is an update of how it is going so far:
1. Take in the Northern Lights
2. Ride a Motorbike
3. Plan an A to Z Roadtrip i.e. Visit Anstruther, go to the Beach, play Cricket
4. Complete the 30 day photo challenge Check
5. Learn a new skill: juggling In progress
6. Try scuba diving
7. Appear on TV
8. Enjoy an authentic breakfast in New York City
9. Watch Sunrise & Sunset in the same spot
10. Get a tattoo with my MumCheck
11. Fundraise for Maggie’s and Cancer Research UKOngoing
12. Complete another Marathon
13. Plan a camping holiday with the Funny Boy and Parsnip
14. Get something I have written published
15. Plant a tree and visit it from time to time
16. Write 30 letters to 30 people
17. Scare myself by jumping out of a plane aka skydive!
18. Try a new sport (suggestions welcome) Try THIRTY new sports
19. Send a message in a bottle
20. Say “I do” in front of my friends and family Check – see below!
21. Buy my first home
22. Read Shakespeare In Progress
23. Meet an exotic animal in it’s natural habitat Check
24. Host a fancy dress themed party
25. Get a selfie with a celebrity
26. Go on a family holiday
27. Travel First Class
28. Bag a Munro
29. Complete another hockey season
30. Make a Project 30 Scrapbook
As I look back on my 28th year I have a accrued a number of highlights including an awesome hen party, unfortgettable honeymoon and attending WSLA but the number one has to be the day I said ‘I do’. Here is a snapshot of the best day of my life… so far!!
I look forward to the adventures, lessons and memories that lie ahead… Bring on 29!
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog at 2am but the badly behaved bowels are back and to make matters worse I am choked with the cold. I’m feeling suitably tired and the weather isn’t helping. It’s July and today I wore a jumper, jacket, boots and woolly hat to walk the dog. In the words of a true weegie ‘the weather is minging’ and my mood isn’t much better.
Everyone has low weeks. It appears this would be my turn for one. It would be very easy for me to use this space to rave about Project 30 and share the reflections I have been gifted through this process but it would be dishonest of me to not share moments like today. Days where I simply feel overwhelmed, angry and out of control. I have an internal battle where my head is saying ‘you should be over this by now! Get yourself together’ and my heart is saying ‘I just want to cry’. I feel compromised and allow myself to shed a tear. A tear for the life I once knew. A tear for the babies I’ll never have. A tear for feeling misunderstood.
Being a huge TED fan I often turn to their creative productions for inspiration. This 3 minute video is my current favourite. I urge you to take the time to listen and think. If you find yourself having a low week then consider the message in Stacey’s video.
Prior to starting treatment I had to get three small tattoos around my pelvis. This was so the radiotherapy team were able to target the radiation accurately. The tattoos are nothing bigger than the dot of a bic pen. They could easily be mistaken for a few dark freckles. At the time Iceberg and I joked about getting a tattoo. We made a pact. Here I am 15 months later and true to our word, the Iceberg and I have got our first ‘proper’ tattoo. Technically you could say it’s my fourth but I don’t think the NHS freebies count!
If I was ever asked to describe my family I would use the words competitive, weird and loyal. It goes without saying that a family who has a heavy interest in sport is going to be competitive. Some of the biggest arguments Buggernuts and I have ever had have been caused by an innocent game of tennis. Individually we all have our weird traits. The Iceberg has a spoon in her handbag at all times. The reason being it can prevent static on clothes whilst serving its original purpose. The Funny Boy has an incredible gift for locking himself out of the flat and breaking back in. It’s a talert he shows off regularly. I, myself, have more weird traits than anyone: whenever I am alone with Parsnip I have a sing and selfie marathon. The products of which often circulate whatsapp. But for a weird and competitive bunch my family are powerfully loyal. We are a pack and we support each other as one would expect.
The picture above is one my brother sent me mid treatment. The clear message of ‘Don’t ask why me – instead say TRY ME!’ Is one I have constantly referred to. I am not a huge believer in astrology, that being said I can’t resist reading my horoscope. I am a Leo which is represented with a lion mascot. Lions are a common symbol found across different cultures and religions. The majority of these use the lion to represent the following characteristics: courage, strength, loyalty and leadership. One of my favourite lines is:
“the lion wins the prize for most relentless fighter in the face of life challenges.”
My mum is the most incredible person I know. She is strong, brave and forever putting her family needs before her own. She is a true lioness. So, if anyone asks me what my tattoo represents? I’ll tell them my lioness is my mum. It represents my pack, my family who I am immensely proud of. And finally, my lioness is a reminder: when life puts me in tough situations simply say ‘Try Me!’ I am a fighter.
Today I am really excited! Not only is it my first ever VLOG (video blog) but I have began working towards one of the tasks on Project 30!
I have loved sport my whole life yet as I have grown older I find myself shying away from trying new ones. The reason for this? Honestly? It is a fear of being bad at something. A fear of people looking at me and laughing. Thank goodness the 8 year old me never had those fears otherwise my life would have taken a totally different course. I have no doubt that my active lifestyle has supported me in overcoming cancer and moving forward which is why I dedicated item 18 of Project 30 to try a new sport. In hindsight that was a little tame. The past year has taught me that life is way too short and that you should NEVER let the fear of looking stupid or other people judging you prevent you from doing something you love. I work in sport, I promote sport, I love sport – it is high time I stop preaching and start doing! So number 18 on the list has been revised. Instead I have set myself the challenge of trying 30 new sports! Over the course of the next 13 months I am looking to try, play and compete in as many sports as possible.
I was hugely inspired by the #thisgirlcan campaign and was pleased to be involved in the BBC’s Get Inspired #thisgirlcantoo promotional video. It is off the back of this I have chosen to include 30 sports before 30. In doing so I hope to generate interest so I can raise awareness of the two fantastic charities: Maggie’s and Cancer Research which all in all works towards me saying #FUCancer!
This is where I need you to share my story and get involved!
I have twelve months and I am looking for suggestions and invitations to try new sports. Each sport will have a dedicated post with corresponding videos – my GoPro will be getting put to good use! I am prepared to try anything and everything so please spread the word and do not hesitate to get in touch if there is something you think I should try.
Ola from sunny Jandia! As I relish my R&R time I have been making good use of my surroundings to tick off more items of Project 30. Whilst #FUCancer is in full flow off the west coast of Africa I have asked my big brother to take the spotlight and share some untold truths about cancer from his perspective.
There is no good time to be told that someone in your family is suffering from Cancer.
I had just travelled overnight from Toronto via Dublin to Glasgow when I was told. My trip was specifically planned to meet my newest nephew Ryan who had been born just a couple of weeks prior. Mexcitement at meeting the “Ryno,” abruptly dissolved however when, within hours of me landing on Scottish soil, my little sister sat next to me and said she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer a few days before.
I was only home for a week on that trip – it remains a blur. I remember moments of sheer joy whilst holding the new baby and a paralyzing fear that my entire world was about to change for the worse and there was nothing I could do about it.
This blog post however, is to describe how Cancer has affected me personally. I live 3,000 miles away from my family and only visit once or twice a year. In effect, I will be giving you an insight into my own personal long distance relationship with the worst of all C-words.
Absolutely terrified. News like that doesn’t set in quickly – for a long time I was in the “just a bad dream,” phase. When I really accepted things a fear held me that just made everything else around feel numb. I felt isolated and knew on my journey back that I would have to, in turn, tell my own support network how my trip home had gone. Long story short I was afraid my sister would die, soon. I didn’t know when I would be coming back to Scotland again, or why.
I left home in 2008 – after 7 years here it’s safe to call Toronto home. I have always felt the full support of my family and friends in my move and have never felt guilty.
Until Heather received her diagnosis. Guilt at not being there for her or for my family is obvious but I still feel worse about how lucky I was to travel 3,000 miles away from it all.
I had calendars of chemo/radio/bracytherapy programmed into my Outlook telling me where she was and what she was going through. These daily reminders helped but I was lucky to be so far away. Lucky to have the distractions. Guilt therefore gripped me daily. I wish I could have been there more and wish I could have shouldered some of the burden my family took on.
I’m an analytical person. I like to know why things happen and what makes them happen – it’s an approach I think helps me personally at work or coaching rugby. As such I wanted to learn about the various stages Heather would go through and what was involved in each therapy.
I wasn’t going to ask her – she had enough on her plate. I turned to asking my parents – frequently asking what was involved, how long things took and all the intricacies of what medically was happening. Mum and Dad were quite dismissive to my questions, instead telling me to ask Gordon (my now brother in law) who I had met once – about 5 seconds before hearing about Heather’s diagnosis for this information.
The combination of being told no by my parents and the prospect of a stranger (sorry Gordon) telling me things about my sister made me angry.
Looking back I fully understand Mum and Dad’s lack of willingness to continue discussing what was an all consuming subject was even more. My anger was selfish – brought on by the aforementioned guilt. I was unable to see past my own pain and appreciate how my parents, much closer to cancer, would need to cope in their own way too.
Finding my Place
People frequently ask me here how hard it must be living away from my family. It’s obviously tough – not being able to just pop home every now and then, spending $1000 to travel home for Xmas etc.
I have always said the hardest part of living here is the time difference. I’m 5 hours behind here so Facetime/Skype calls home (in order to catch my early to bed mother or infant nephews who are apparently on the same sleep pattern) is restricted to weekend mornings – a major frustration.
One thing cancer did do was find a use for my 5 hour time difference. Readers of Heather’s blog will be familiar with her (all too graphic) descriptions of how the body reacts to drugs and treatments. During the summer of 2014 my sister was plagued by insomnia which I was oddly fond of because she was able to message me at whenever she wanted safe in the knowledge that I too was awake and responsive.
These small chats were crucial to me coping with cancer. I felt like I had a part to play (albeit microscopic in size) in helping my sister through her ordeal. Sound selfish? Yup – but regardless a key part to my personal coping with cancer in my life.
It’s been 15 months since I met Ryan Williams – and so 15 months since Heather was diagnosed. Looking back has been a strange and dizzying process for me because in many ways the distance really softened the whole experience. I am thankful for a lot of things – chiefly that my sister is on the right tracks to full recovery. I am thankful for my family who have done everything (and continue to do more) in their power to help Heather through such a miserable time. No amount of superlatives can describe the strength my family displayed in the last year – something which makes me smile from ear to ear with pride.
I am lucky in Canada. I have a support network of friends who would drop everything to help me if I needed it. For these people I am immensely thankful.
In recent months I have watched Heather get married (to that stranger), travel round the world on her honeymoon, appear in numerous publications and lay the FUCancer Foundations. She’s inspiration in human form – not letting “I can’t,” fall in to her vocabulary instead choosing to use “I can’t yet.”
Life has changed in the wake of cancer entering my life. Heather has evolved into a role model for anyone dealing with a challenging situation, big or small. She is just getting started though.
With a conscious effort to adopt and apply the growth positive mindset to all aspects of my life this week saw me return to not one but two sports I have lost touch with.
As promised I made a pledge to dust off my hockey stick and ditch the negative attitude. On Wednesday night I joined my friends, old and new, to play in my first hockey game since the arrival of my cellular traitor. Over the course of the day I could feel myself getting nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach, sweaty palms (not conducive to grasping a stick for 70 minutes!) and an internal battle in my mind. Over the past year I have desperately wanted to return to hockey but the fear of my body collapsing into a heap of exhaustion, anxiety of how poor my skills will be in addition to the prospect of people laughing at me has simply prevented me from returning to the pitch. Inspired by WSLA I have grown determined to overcome this. In the build up to the evening I just told myself ‘the hardest part of any journey is the first step’.
How did it go? It’s safe to say I have a long way to go to get my fitness to where it was. Plus the FIH have introduced a couple of rules I need to get my head around but it was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting it to be. In the simplest of terms: it was fun!
The following morning, feeling very stiff, my friends invited me to go swimming. On most occasions when I am invited to go swimming it involves a hot tub, sauna and a couple of lengths of granny style breastroke. This was not one of those invitations. These friends of mine are excellent swimmers: one swam competitively at Univeristy and the other (a qualified swim teacher) is training for a triathlon. Internally I found myself saying ‘I can’t!’ Listing off 100 reasons why I shouldn’t: I’ve not swam properly in over a decade, these guys are good, I am a poor swimmer and even worse, I’d need to be seen in a swim suit! Then I looked at the pictures I have printed out and stuck on a wall at work:
It forced me to re-evaluate. I turned the ‘I can’t.’ Into a ‘I can’t yet…’ This resulted in me being in the pool at 6.50am the following day. Again, I was nervous, I had butterflies but thankfully nobody could tell I had sweaty palms. How did it go? I got cramp within the first four lengths and I struggled to control my breathing but at the end of the session I had swam over 1600m. Not bad for someone who has barely done a full length since being at school! To put it simply: I had fun!
To most people this may appear like a really straightforward thing and perhaps it is but the power of a growth mindset not only supports you in achieving goals but it also opens opportunities you never knew existed. Playing hockey and being in the pool has led me to wonder what other exciting prospects I have missed out on purely because I focused on the ‘I can’t’ opposed to the ‘I can’t yet…’ This realisation is leading me to explore endeavours beyond sport and work. I am currently working on something very exciting which I’ve previously avoided because I was afraid of failing. It’s going to take a lot of time, hard work and effort but I believe it’ll be worth it. Watch this space!
As I draw this entry to a close I share with you the words I have saved as the background on my mobile. Its time to ask yourself:
Inspiring. Empowering. Life-changing. I have just arrived home from an incredible five days.
It is literally a year to the day that I had my final session of bracytherapy which signalled the end of my treatment for cervical cancer. Although it was the end of treatment, which thankfully led to me being in remission, it did not lead to the end of life with cancer. Menopause, chronic fatigue coupled with a grounding reality of how precious life is made me vulnerable. I began doubting my body which led me to doubt myself. My confidence was gone.
One of my first line managers often reminded me to ‘go beyond my comfort zone’. He said it is only when we leave our comfort zone we truly develop. This mantra has been hugely influential over the past year when I have been struggling to find the confidence in day-to-day situations as a result of cancer. Yet, through harnessing this I have managed to return to work. I was successful in getting a new job. And as of yesterday I became a graduate of the Women’s Sport Leadership Academy. A title only 80 women from across the globe can boast. As quoted by the facilitators WSLA is designed to develop tomorrow’s leaders of sport. It is an international network of women sport leaders with the aim of increasing the confidence and competence of women working in sport in a range of leadership behaviours.
So, at the start of the week I flew to University of Chichester campus in Bognor Regis. This in itself was daunting. As I recently shared, my side effects are ongoing and although I have travelled since diagnosis (ah! Beautiful Thailand!) this was the first time I have flown solo without the support of a friend or family member who knows my situation. Prior to arriving at WSLA I was able to learn about the other participants who shared their biographies online. This provided an insight to the range of backgrounds and calibre of the people I would be spending the next five days with. These women were/are incredible. I was beyond impressed. I was overwhelmed.
The schedule that followed consisted of a range of themes, workshops, group tasks and more. By the end of day one I found myself realising that these women and I shared more than an interest in sport. We all had a passion to be the best we could be. I found myself thinking about what my old line manager had said about moving beyond my comfort zone. Although I found myself feeling stretched and challenged I always felt safe. The beauty of WSLA is that everyone is there for the same reason. There is no option of failure just the opportunity to learn. And that is exactly what I did. I could spend days writing about the lessons I have come away with and I would love to divulge how I plan to implement these but for now I want to highlight the key message I intend to apply in all aspects of my life: The importance of a growth mindset!
I am no sociologist and I am not going to attempt to portray myself as an expert in this but I do whole-heartedly believe in this theory. For the past year I have forced myself to go beyond my comfort zone with a philosophy of ‘I had cancer. Can it really be as bad or as scary as that!?’ Nerves at speaking at a conference, fear of rock climbing or even as simple as speaking to a stranger – I have employed the theory of just do it. Little did I know that this is an example of the Growth Mindset. Yet, in my personal life I have found myself avoiding hockey. I am scared of returning to a game I once loved. Why? Because I don’t want to look bad. I don’t want people to compare me with how I used to play before cancer. I know I won’t be as good as I once was. This is an example of a Fixed Mindset. This week is the first time I have had the opportunity to evaluate my mindset and how it has allowed me to achieve great things (WSLA, new job, speak at Race For Life) and yet in other departments it has completely held me back. At the end of the week we were encouraged to make personal pledges. As a result I have promised myself to return to hockey. This may appear like a simple task but for me it is much more. I know this will mean leaving my comfort zone but I owe it to myself to get back to the game I love. I will never know how good I can be or how much I will enjoy myself if I don’t even try.
In front of me I am now facing my personal development plan with a set of goals and areas for improvement. Of course these involve much bigger goals than playing hockey. Establish ‘FUCANCER’ as a charity for one and sit on a board is another but I have a renewed focus for what I hope to achieve and in true Growth Mindset fashion will remind myself that ‘failure is not an option, just merely an opportunity to learn’. The participants, facilitators and support staff involved in WSLA created a unique environment that embodied this. I feel so honoured and privileged to have been a part of it. Thank you to those who shared the week with me. It has been inspiring, empowering and as I sit feeling more confident than ever – it has been life changing!
Finding out someone you care about has cancer is awful. When you discover it is your child, I can only imagine it is every parent’s worst nightmare.
In my home we call my dad Buggernuts. Believe it or not this is a term of endearment. For as long as I can remember my dad has had this name bestowed upon him and as often as I refer to him with this title he responds by calling me ‘Buggalugs’. There is no rhyme or reason for it. Unlike my mum and I who talk about the big things, the little things and everything in between, my dad and I have a very different relationship. I tend to tease him about his fluctuating weight, horrendous collection of ties and his ‘not so secret’ eating habits. (sorry Buggernuts, but your scrunched up Mars bar wrappers are easily found if you leave them everywhere you go) He likes to tease me also. Knowing I’m very competitive he takes great pleasure in beating me at most racquet sports. Furthermore he has been known to abuse my gullible tendencies: did you know that Johnny Wilkinson was the son of the lead singer of Shwaddy waddy?
Our relationship was a great one because I avoided the big ‘girly’ things which made him uncomfortable and he was simply there for everything else.
I must admit when cancer arrived I did initially think: will Buggernuts even know what a cervix is? And if not, will I have to tell him? Yikes!
For a relationship built on avoiding the big girly stuff this was not going to be easy. However Buggernuts, being the hero that he is stood by my side from day one! Within the first few weeks I was attending appointments where the chat was largely focused on my treatment. On one occasion my oncologist started explaining the side affects on the elasticity of my vagina. She continued ‘We’ll give you a dilator and show you how to use it!’ Buggernuts coped with this very well! Apart from a quick shift in his seat he managed to maintain conversation without so much as a shiver.
As treatment commenced and side affects followed it wasn’t long until I suffered from unrelenting cystisis. At this point the Funny Boy, Iceberg and Buggernuts took turns at keeping me company. I was never alone. Buggernuts never asked me exactly what was causing me pain but he did offer me pain killers, cranberry juice and a hot water bottle. Even now, I doubt he understands what cystisis is but the word itself sounds pretty evil!
Towards the end of treatment I was required to be in hospital overnight. At this point Buggernuts had developed a new coping mechanism: narcolepsy! Whilst waiting for radiotherapy alongside the other patients (the majority of whom were at least 4 decades older) my dad could often be found drifting into a slumber only to be woken by an aggressive snort as he began to snore! A similar situation occurred as he waited with Funny Boy and Iceberg for me to come out of surgery. The best time was when he bought me doughnuts. I found myself having regular cravings for random food. On this occasion I had a hankering for a maple glazed doughnut. As dependable as always Buggernuts arrived with Krispy Kreme aplenty. As soon as he plated them up and sat down to watch Cash in the Attic he fell asleep mid-munch. Crumbs on his belly and frosting in his beard!
As earlier indicated, Buggernuts and I have a relationship built on teasing and avoiding the big stuff. In the past year we got thrust into a world where dilators, menopause and cancer became regular points of conversation. We have even graduated to the point where he can now joke about me getting a prescription for Ann Summers! I know it’s not been easy for him, for any of us, but I just wanted to show him my appreciation: thank you for never asking me what a bloody cervix is!
Mid treatment carrying the Queens Baton Relay with Buggernuts supporting me along the route!