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.
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!
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!
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 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!
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: