For a large part of 2019 I have found myself struggling to find the words to describe how I feel. If I was asked to narrow it down to three, they would have been failure, ashamed and empty. It took several months, a lot of support from the Funny Boy and more than one trip to my GP before I was finally able to admit something was wrong.
I am relieved to say that things have slowly started to improve but it didn’t happen overnight. Here are a few things which made the difference for me:
Getting Help My doctor prescribed me with regular medication and since then I have started to see a Psychologist.
Talk, talk, talk Being open and honest about my true feelings with friends and family has been the biggest help. It is through them I have come to fully appreciate that I am not alone and everyone experiences poor mental health. We need to break the taboo and recognise that mental health is equally important as physical!
Peace of Mind Finding peace of mind has been a challenge. My life sometimes feels like a treadmill of appointments but learning how to fully switch off has been valuable. Personally, I find my peace when walking the dog. No phone, no music – just me, the sound of the birds and Parsnip’s little paws plodding on the path.
Physical Activity is a wonder drug! If you could bottle all the benefits of exercise and put it on the shelf at your local shop – it would literally be sold out in seconds. Activity is so good for the body and soul. There are literally thousands of different ways to be active; sports, exercise classes, dancing and even walking! I find it incredible how something as simple as a stroll around the block can improve my mood and change the way I view the world.
Put it down on paper On the difficult days when it feels like there are too many thoughts, I find it helps to do a brain dump. Physically writing the things that rotate in my mind can help me switch off. This really helps on the nights when I struggle to sleep.
A good friend of mine recently completed Mental Health Awareness training and shared the following video with me. I hope you find it as useful as I did.
‘Depression is sometimes referred to as the Black Dog. Just like a real dog, it needs to be embraced, understood, taught new tricks, and ultimately brought to heal.’
The Funny Boy and I attended Scottish Power’s Stand Up To Cancer Gala Dinner on Friday night. I had the pleasure and somewhat daunting task of sharing my cancer story. It was a fantastic evening hosted by Des Clarke with hilarious entertainment from Ria Lina, Larry Dean, Jamie Macdonald and Stuart Mitchell. I would highly recommend checking them out!
The event raised over £60k towards translational cancer research! I was amazed to learn that Scottish Power has raised £26m for Cancer Research UK in 7 years. Every corporate could learn from their example!
Raising funds and promoting cancer awareness are two of the few benefits my diagnosis has afforded me. Finding small positives is an awesome way of saying FUCANCER and it is good for the soul too. My belief is nobody has the power to change the world for everyone but everyone has the power to change the world for one person everyday. Whenever I have the opportunity to do something that makes a difference I always grab it with both hands. My project management skills transfer well into the world of fundraising and as for public speaking, well I wouldn’t say it is my forte but it is something I am working on.
We recently formed another committee working on a once in a lifetime event raising funds in aid of Cancer Research UK. We will be revealing more details in the coming months.
You don’t have to wear a lab coat to help beat cancer so if you’d like to STAND UP TO CANCER please visit the link below to find out how you can get involved!
On the 8th of April 2014 I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I was given a life expectancy of 2 years.
Since then I have become a proud puppy mum to Parsnip, married the love of my life, ticked a few life goals and raise funds for Maggie’s and Cancer Research UK. None of which would be possible without my incredible medical team! I had a card made for a few of the key people who have helped me get to where I am.
On the 30th September 2019 I was discharged from gynae-oncology. I have been in remission for 5 years. I may still have brain cancer but for now it is time to celebrate!
It has come to my attention that yesterday was World Gratitude Day. Despite a very challenging year I believe I am more thankful than ever!
My family, my friends, my medical team and Maggie’s are top of the list of who I’d like to show my appreciation for. I simply wouldn’t be where I am today without them. The reality is the list is a lot longer. I am grateful for the ingenious researchers who made my cancer treatment possible and the phenomenal NHS who I’ve become far too familiar. It’s quite apt that I am writing this blog from a hospital bed…
Unfortunately I had a seizure last night which resulted in another trip to A&E. Every trip to hospital, especially when visiting the emergency department, I feel like a drama queen wasting precious time and valuable resources. Once again I was reminded of how hardworking and caring the NHS team are. From James, the reassuring and thourough doctor who gifted me his banana as a snack, to the ever cheerful nurses who are always on hand and the super thoughtful porter who searched the wards to source me a toothbrush and toothpaste. They are simply amazing.
Following a CT scan, a good night sleep and a slight change to my medication I am happy to report that I am back home with lady Parsnip and the Funny Boy. I am not ashamed to admit that the only time I experience homesickness is whenever I am forced to stay in hospital.
With family living in Canada and a slight insight to the cost of medical treatment – I realise how much I take a funded health service for granted. Within the last 12 months alone I have required two operations, spent multiple nights in hospital and received several MRI and CT scans – the cost of which is more than tens of thousands of pounds. To put it simply, if I lived in another country I doubt I could afford to have cancer!
So in light of World Gratitiude Day I want to show my appreciation for everyone who lifts me up but especially the NHS. You are incredible. We are so lucky to have you. Thank you!
Cancer has been a part of my life for 5 years. In that time I have grown immune to the range of reactions people give:
“But you’re so young!”
“You must have a history of it in you’re family”
“But you’re back to normal now?”
And another common response is one of silence carried with a look of disbelief. I am an open person and frequently use my story as an opportunity to raise awareness. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t introduce myself as ‘I’m Heather and I have cancer’ but if the topic does come up in conversation I will reinforce how important it is to regularly check your boobs or balls, attend your screenings and go the GP if you do notice any changes. I do wish cancer wasn’t a part of my life but it is not something I am ashamed of. I think it is important to educate people that cancer does not discriminate which means we are all at risk. There is no history of it in my family and unfortunately life never goes back to ‘normal’.
Cancer has a huge impact on mental health and over the last few months I have really struggled. At first I thought it was just a blip – it has been a crazy year and at some point the emotions were due to catch up on me. After a gentle nudge from the Funny Boy I finally visited my GP. I explained how my mood was impacting my work, relationships and even preventing me from making simple decisions. She diagnosed me with depression and suggested I try taking an anti depressant. I left the surgery with my prescription and dismissed her diagnosis. I was stubborn and embarrassed – I had no intention of taking the medication.
Unsurprisingly my situation didn’t improve. I felt like I had failed at everything and even started questioning ‘what’s the point?’ Once again the Funny Boy intervened. We booked another appointment with my GP and planned a trip to Maggie’s. I was honest with my doctor and admitted I hadn’t started the medication. At both meetings I explained how ashamed I felt – I wasn’t prepared to accept or admit that I was depressed.
Thankfully, with the support of my GP, Maggie’s and Funny Boy I started to take the medication and see a psychologist. More importantly they gave me the courage to start talking about my mental health with my family and friends.
According to statistics 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Or to put it another way at some point pretty much everybody will experience poor mental health in their lifetime – so why is it still a taboo?
Why did I fear telling people?
Why was I so scared of being judged?
And why, why, why do I find it easier to say i have cancer than admit I have depression?
I am definitely beginning to feel better but it hasn’t happened overnight. For me everything began to improve when I admitted there was a problem and I started being honest with my nearest and dearest. The reality is my family and friends have shown me nothing but love, support and understanding.
Funny Boy here, I felt compelled to step in and write a blog because I don’t think Heather will reveal what happened last week…
It has been a very busy summer for Heather. Not satisfied with organising the annual STICK IT TO CANCER (SITC) tournament, she took on the challenge of organising 2 additional events.
In between the hockey festivals we flew to Canada to celebrate the wedding of Heather’s brother, Gareth and the lovely Katie. It was an incredible trip and we returned refreshed, if slightly jet lagged.
We arrived at 9am on Monday morning and from the moment our flight landed Heather opened her TO DO LIST for the final Stick It To Cancer tournament.
Heather works on STICK IT TO CANCER throughout the year. She has a GANTT chart, a mood board and is constantly considering new opportunities to improve the event and ultimately raise more funds. I, too had been preparing for SITC – My preparations started about 6 months ago.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with SITC, it is a fancy dress hockey festival. The tournament offers prizes for the Champions, Best Dressed and Spirit of Stick it. Determined to be a contender for Best Dressed I decided to dress as one of my all time heroes – Mr Freddie Mercury. In order for it to be convincing I knew I needed to grow a beard for the sole reason of having a real moustache. So as of January my prep began.
I knew Heather wasn’t fully on board with my new look. As Gareth’s wedding drew closer she said to me “the photos from the wedding will be around a long time, are you sure you want to look like that?”
I considered what she said, but while Heather had been making spreadsheets, recruiting volunteers, contacting donors and managing social media I had been doing my prep; pushing the follicles out of my face was hard work.
The eve of STICK IT TO CANCER arrived. Heather and I woke early with a busy schedule of moving equipment, setting up the pitches and one final shopping trip. When we finally arrived home I knew we wouldn’t be going out again. I decided it was time to kiss the beard goodbye and style my Mercury moustache. I stole Heather’s mascara and blackened my new tash and eyebrows. It’s fair to say the results were ridiculous; My hair bleached blonder than usual from my two weeks in the Canadian sun contrasting with my new matt black moustache and eyebrows.
The preparations were complete and Heather seemed happy so there was nothing left to do but relax. We snuggled up on the sofa with Parsnip and put on the TV.
All of a sudden Heather sat up and repeatedly told me she felt dizzy. She was conscious and talking but as she got up to walk her coordination was missing. She continued talking but nothing she said made sense. It t took me a good few minutes to realise that Heather was having a seizure.
So it is 11pm on the night before SITC and I had no choice but to take her to hospital.
It took Heather about an hour before she started to feel better. She couldn’t remember how she got to hospital or indeed anything in between.
As usual the staff at St John’s hospital were amazing. They spent a few hours performing various tests on Heather. As she started feeling better and began to realise what day it was Heather quickly focussed on the hockey tournament (which was due to start in a number of hours) and started pleading with the doctors to let her go. SITC is arguably one of the biggest days of the year for us, Heather was desperate to be there.
Heather has a team of amazing volunteers and a committee that help with planning the tournament, but she is responsible for a lot of what happens on the day.
I had the startling realisation that if I had to lead the event on her behalf then the only work I had done was growing a moustache. This leads me onto another point: Once again I am back at St John’s hospital in the early hours of the morning supporting Heather. This Accident and Emergency Department is now the scene of just a few of my less-than-proud moments; passing out and cracking my head open was pretty spectacular and on another occasion I vomited all over the back of an ambulance. The staff seem to remember us but thankfully on this occasion I did not faint or feel the need to be sick.
Determined to be a good husband and leave with a good reputation this time, I stuck by Heather’s side. Unfortunately the seizure left Heather unsteady on her feet so I escorted her to the toilet. Within the cubicle I glanced in the mirror and to my horror saw a slightly altered looking reflection staring back. A small peely wally bloke with very blonde hair, black eyebrows and a large black handlebar moustache.
Once again, I looked like a total muppet.
Back in the hospital bay and after completing the numerous tests the consultants agreed Heather could return home, provided she was with a responsible adult. The doctor’s tone suggested this was more of a question, rather than an acknowledgement of my presence. I then explained the reason for my strange appearance to which he replied “I did wonder what that was all about”.
We left the hospital at 3 am.
The next morning we were up at 6.30am and set off as planned. Heather insisted on going but I did make her promise that she would go straight back to hospital if she felt unwell.
Then Heather did what she always does, she threw her cape over her shoulder and flew over to East Fettes Avenue. Nobody at SITC would know that her super powers had been temporarily affected by a dose of kryptonite the night before.
Being a fancy dress tournament there were a lot of people dressed as super heroes. Little did they know a real one was selling their raffle tickets, making the day run on time, oh and raising over £10,000 for Maggie’s!
Plans for 2020 are already underway. If you would like to be part of STICK IT TO CANCER next year please follow FUCANCER to be kept updated on all the events.
Three months on from my last check up at the hospital and on
the surface everything appears to be going well; I am back at work on a phased
return and the preparations for the Junior and Adult STICK IT TO CANCER (SITC)
hockey festivals are well underway. I feel like the human equivalent of the
swan analogy – I may appear graceful and contained to the outside world, but below
the surface I am furiously paddling.
It is no secret or surprise that cancer has a huge impact on mental well-being. I have always been open about how I felt following my diagnosis in 2014. The range of emotions included fear, anxiety, loss of confidence and in hindsight a total loss of identity. Life as I knew it was gone and I had to find a ‘new normal.’ I have worked hard over the last 5 years to ensure cancer does not define me or hold me back and during that time I have definitely grown as a result. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr ‘The Ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy’.
It feels like the dust has began to settle on what has been a very demanding year and it is only now that I am adapting to the ramifications of another new normal. Despite a reduced visual field and weakness on the left side of my body, I have accepted the physical changes. It is the emotional impact that requires more tender loving care.
As a result of my seizures I had to surrender my driving license and kiss my beloved car goodbye. Making plans now includes debating if I have enough energy to endure an hour-long bus journey into the city before my day even starts. Simple things like meeting a friend for lunch and playing hockey have become a logistical conundrum. Having spent months relying on the Funny Boy and Buggernuts as chauffeur I am starting to find my independence, but it is not easy. I don’t want to be an imposition, and I struggle to ask for help which means I feel isolated.
Due to our circumstance the Funny Boy and I have lost all hope of having a little human family of our own. I am yet to fully admit how this really feels. Anger, failure and broken-hearted are the words that come to mind. I suspect it something we may never get over, but I am hopeful it is something we will come to terms with in time.
Overall, I’ve been a useless human lately. I have focused all my vigour into returning to work and preparing for Stick it to Cancer. I have skipped meals and even forgot to take my meds. I seem to have lost sight of what is important. As you can imagine a hungry Heather minus her daily dose of hormone pills is not someone you’d want to live with. As a wife I have more baggage than the average airport terminal. I am a nightmare and the Funny Boy deserves so much more.
Further treatment is inevitable. It is an overwhelming prospect and I would be lying if I said it doesn’t bother me. Quite often I think about how to prepare myself for what lies ahead but the reality is I can’t. Nobody really know what the future holds. The only thing I can do is start taking better care of myself so when the time comes I am physically, mentally and emotionally ready to fight.
So maybe I do appear calm and collected whilst deep down I fight fiercely to keep moving forward but I wouldn’t compare myelf to a swan. Most swans take a strong dislike towards Parsnip and if I can’t have human babies then I guess there is nothing to stop me from adopting another dacshund. Every cloud…
On Wednesday this week I finally met with my neurosurgeon to get the results of my 3-month follow up MRI scan.
As usual he uploaded the 3D images of my brain on the monitor and began to talk through the results. My surgeon is not solely responsible for my treatment. He is part of a Multi Disciplinary Team (MDT) which includes different kinds of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals working together as part of a specialist cancer team.
The MDT are confident the surgery has led to a 90% resection of both tumours – this is good news. The bizarre reality is I now have two big holes in my brain which were previously occupied by separate Astrocytomas. The not-so-good news is there is a ‘grey patch’ at both sites which could be inflammation and scar tissue or it could be leftover tumour. Unfortunately the imaging is not advanced enough to make the distinction. The MDT discussed options and have agreed that surveillance is best so I’ll be returning in August for another scan. If either of the ‘grey patches’ grow in size this indicates it is tumour and therefore surgery may be required
Overall, I would say this news is neither negative or positive. Yes, there is a small relief that all going well I won’t need any treatment for the next 5 months. But, beyond that who knows? I am effectively stuck in limbo.
When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer 5 years ago the life I knew pretty much vanished overnight. After ploughing through treatment I had to come to terms with a ‘new normal’ – one which included infertility, menopause, fatigue and a total loss of confidence.
Once again I am faced with the challenge of adapting to another new normal. There is not one part of my life that cancer does not impact. I can’t put into words how much it has stolen from me and I feel duty-bound to share how this really feels.
I am ANGRY.
I am FRUSTRATED.
I am SAD.
I am HEARTBROKEN.
It has been a very tough few years and the last 12 months in particular has been an epic challenge but I do believe in the saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!’
STICK IT TO CANCER has raised £20,000 in the last three years and we are delighted to announce that this year we will be welcoming the next generation of hockey heroes at the inaugural Under 12 and Under 14 STICK IT TO CANCER in addition to the standard tournament.
Information and a Registration form for the U14 Tournament can be found by clicking HERE
Information and a Registration form for the Adult Tournament can be found by clicking HERE. We also have an event page on Facebook you can join be clicking HERE.
As always any questions please contact Heather@fucancer.co.uk
Happy FUCANCER Friday and apologies for the long pause since my last update. I would love to report that I have been sailing the Carribean, skiing in the Alps or encountering the big 5 in the Savana but I am afraid this bitesize update is quite dull. I suppose with all the drama we have had in the last 10 months (crikey – is that all? It feels much longer) I should be thankful for some peace and quiet.
In my last update I shared my frustrations and honest emotions in the aftermath of a second craniotomy. Literally 8 hours after uploading that vlog I found myself back at hospital wearing another operating gown as I prepared myself for an appendectomy! The surgery went well (Goodbye appendix!) and I was home within 48 hours but unfortunately I picked up a post-op infection which led to another week spent in hospital. On account of the infection I didn’t eat for NINE days. For those who know me well, I am sure you can easily imagine how challenging this was for me. On the bright side I did lose a stone in weight – a goal I hope for at the start of every New Year but the means in which it was achieved is something I would never recommend.
It took me another fortnight to get over the infection but I am delighted to say since then I have been exercising! Running, Bodyattack, weights and even a single session back on the hockey pitch. I have said it before and I will say it again – physical activity is the best medicine! Physically, mentally and emotionally I simply feel stronger.
So with 5 new scars (2 from the craniotomies and 3 from the appendix) I am in a stage of limbo once again. I have had my 3-month follow up scans and the plan is to meet with my surgeon again in April. That meeting will dictate the next steps. It is looking likely that I might need more surgery and following that a combination of chemo and radiotherapy. At the moment it is largely outwith my control and I have made peace with that.
There are a number of ramifications that the Funny Boy and I have had to deal with over the last few months. Those closest to us will know we were preparing to start the adoption process. Given my health we have made the difficult decision that this is something we can no longer pursue. Cervical cancer treatment left me infertile which is something I have come to accept but this realisation feels like another devastating blow. Forgive me for sounding arrogant but I know the Funny Boy and I would have been awesome parents but c’est la vie – it was not to be!
Anyway – back to the positives! I have been cleared to fly so I am looking forward to celebrating the marriage of my big bro and the lovely Katie in Canada! I am so excited to have two weeks away with my whole family! The Funny Boy and I have quite a few weddings this year which is great because it means plenty time to catch up with friends we don’t see often. We have also booked in a few extra special dates too. STICK IT TO CANCER is on track for the fourth year with the addition of two junior tournaments. Everything kicks off this Sunday for the Under 12s, June for the Under 14s and the adult tournament in July!
Before I finish I just wanted to say how much we appreciate everyone who has been in touch. The Funny Boy and I have been overwhelmed with how generous and thoughtful our friends have been over the last year. Even Parsnip has been the recipent of handmade, personalised gifts. You have made a challenging time much easier. From the bottom of our hearts – THANK YOU!