Tag Archives: cancer

Radiotherapy begins…

6 weeks ago I was preparing for my third craniotomy. Tonight I am preparing for the first of day of radiotherapy.

It has been a busy fortnight. The Funny Boy returned to work so I’m getting used to flying solo again. I continue to visit @maggiescentres to help prepare for the upcoming weeks and months, and I have started wig ‘shopping’ which is proving to be a surreal experience and really testing my decision making skills. I am hoping I’ll find something I like this week.

70s chic?

Over the last few days I have been blown away by family, friends and colleagues who have shown me their support. From a surprise crew of runners from my hockey club at Park Run on Saturday to lovely hampers in the post and a ‘Radiotherapy Advent’ of treats to open everyday of treatment – I am a very lucky girl ❤️

I’m sorry for the slow response but I will reply to everyone. I want to say thank you and let you know your kind words of encouragement mean so much!

As always #FUCANCER

I love our NHS

With surgery on the 9th of December and the small matter of a general election 3 days later, the Funny Boy and I have confirmed a postal vote so we don’t miss out. In the last few years I have found political news fascinating – it is so gripping it resembles a Netflix blockbuster series! From Independence to Brexit there has been plenty of drama.  It is hard to watch and at times even harder to believe. For one programme we simply have  too many villainous characters – I don’t  know who to trust!

Two major hospitals in Scotland have experienced huge challenges under the Scottish National Party: The Glasgow Queen Elizabeth Hospital is facing one problem after another and as for the revamped Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh – that was due to open 4 years ago but can’t due to problems with air conditioning and risk of flooding.  As a Neuro patient I was promised the move to the new department in May 2018 but to no avail – a date is still ‘to be confirmed’.

More so than ever before, I have people asking me who will get my vote and the truth is I am still unsure. 

It is fair to say that I’m a hospital patient more than your average person in their 30s and on each occasion I always leave feeling in awe of  the doctors and nurses who support me. Their dedication and passion is second to none and I have never met a harder working group of people. On more than one occasion I have watched nurses work  a 12 hour shift finding no time to finish a hot cup of tea, let alone a proper lunch break! 

As for the Conservative Goverment – they have steadily reduced budgets,  the number of nurse training places has been cut and they abolished bursaries for trainee nurses. The result of which is 93% of NHS trusts falling short of the number of nurses they need: that’s three times more than five years ago. Nurses are being substituted with untrained assistants. 

Ultimately the front facing team who deliver healthcare are not able to do their job to the best possible standard meaning people’s lives are at stake. 

Now, there is proof that our current Prime Minister has initiated conversations with the USA which suggests that privatisation of our NHS could be a reality in the future. This terrifies me! 


The average cost of someone being treated for brain cancer in the USA is $150,000 per year. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must be to face a cancer diagnosis whilst dealing with the financial implications. 

Today I had a four hour appointment to check I was fit for surgery. This allowed time for me to discuss the procedure with my surgeon, anaesthetist and nurses. Living in the UK, I don’t need to worry about the cost of treatment because we have the INCREDIBLE NHS. This is what our taxes pay for – the NHS is our lifeline that is there when we need it: 7 days a week, 24 hours a day!  I am genuinely frightened that our vital lifeline could be lost within the next two decades. 

In my lifetime I have had 8 operations. In the last decade I have had over 20 MRI scans, countless blood tests and more. In the last 18 months I have required 5 ambulance trips and spent  more than 40 nights in a hospital bed. Every morning I take three types of medication which I depend upon to get me through the day. I have a medical team which includes specialists from surgery, oncology, neurology, epilepsy, psychology and even menopause.

Cancer doesn’t discriminate, accidents happen and everyone will experience poor health at some point. Let’s not jeopardise healthcare based on who can afford it. As you prepare to vote, please take time to appreciate our NHS and consider how your vote can protect it.

As always, FUCANCER

I would prefer to have a picture of my medical team – especially Mr Liaquat but I’m afraid this will have to suffice.

#MeetandMove

Cancer has been a part of my life for over 5 years now and regular followers of my blog will know how much I have relied on Maggie’s during that time. It really does make a difference to meet other people who understand what living with cancer is really like. The centres are safe places, very similar to a friend’s home opposed to the clinical setting you become so familiar with. The most important aspect is meeting others who simply ‘get it’!

At times my diagnosis has left me feeling ostricized. There are not a huge number of people who fully appreciate cancer limbo; agonising over appointments, tackling numerous side effects and struggling to maintain a social life whilst keeping the raging hormones at bay. There are even fewer people who are at a similar age and stage of life who fully understand how cancer touches every aspect of life. People who know how hard it is to be told that you’ll never have children or fulfil your career ambitions and worse.

On three occasions I have gone to events specifically for cancer survivors where participants have assumed I am either running the session or delivering a fitness class. This is probably because on all occasions I have been the youngest person in the room by at least two decades.

In September, the Funny Boy and I attended Meet and Move organised by Trekstock and hosted at the Maggie’s Centre in Edinburgh. Trekstock is a charity specifically targeting people in their 20s and 30s who are living with cancer. The event was described as being a day of wellbeing, getting active and meeting others who get it.

As eager as I am to participate in these events I always feel anxious, especially when you don’t know what to expect. We were greeted with a very warm welcome and a busy agenda. The day kicked off with a choice of yoga or circuits in the sunshine. We then regrouped in the centre to chat with the Maggie’s counsellors followed by a delicious lunch and nurtition session delivered by Kellie from Food to Glow. In the afternoon we discussed fashion with Cabi clothing and had an intro on skincare from LUSH.

It was an awesome day with lots on offer but the highlight had to be meeting the other participants. I didn’t feel like an alien anymore. Everyone knew what life with cancer is really like. We shared our journeys, compared our horror stories and even laughed at some of the shocking situations we have found ourselves in. There is nothing more validating then when you talk about what you’re going through and see people nodding because they understand. It was powerful!

The Funny Boy was the only male participant in the room but even he got a lot out of the day. He has now committed to a weekly face mask which I must say is doing wonders for his skin. And if you see him he will probably be rocking the French Tuck!

I would highly recommend Trekstock to all young adults living with cancer. For those of you based in Scotland, we have created a Facebook group for future meetings in Edinburgh. All of which include some form of physical activity. We are getting together on Saturday 30th November – please join the event or Facebook group by clicking the links below:

Trekstock Facebook Group – Join us!

Edinburgh Trekstock Meet Up – Sign up

As always, FUCANCER

Circuits in the September sunshine
Enjoying delicious & nutritious food by Kellie from Food to Glow
Funny Boy and I enjoying LUSH massage products

Discharged!

Standing outside the Edinburgh Cancer Centre on the day I am discharged from Gynae-oncology! Note the superhero pose!

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!

#FUCANCER

 

Why is it easier to say I have cancer than admit I have depression?

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.

As always, FUCANCER!

I agree, Mr Crosby

This week I spent an evening helping my mum  finish decorating  the ginormous Christmas tree which now sits in her living room. Once it was finished we settled down in front of the fire and put on a firm festive favourite, White Christmas. One of the many songs sang by Bing Crosby has the line:

‘When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.’

Despite seeing  this movie countless  times, including a stage adaptation, I never realised how true these words are. Counting  my  blessings is  something I find myself doing  frequently.

A number of people – friends, family even my medical team often ask me ‘How do you cope?’ It is impossible and unrealistic to expect myself to not have negative emotions: Cervical Cancer at 27 was pretty harsh. Losing my fertility, being catapulted into menopause and managing the ongoing side effects has been a challenge too. Brain cancer four years later and  discovering not one but TWO tumours  with their own set of  life-changing side effects. It is a simple reminder that life sometimes is just not fair. That being said everybody faces hardship and  I doubt anyone will walk this earth  experiencing no form of heartache. Another sad truth is regardless of how tough I think I have it there will always be someone who is worse off.

So, how do I cope?  Three steps:

1. I have to accept that at times I do feel anger, heartache and fear.  As an optimistic person these feelings  – despite being perfectly natural – are somewhat alien and something I hate to admit.

2. More importantly,  I give myself the space to feel those emotions. I allow myself time to release whatever I feel rising inside. No sugar-coating, no BS just ‘how do I feel?’  My ways of expression take various forms – sometimes it can be as simple as a lengthy rant, a solid cry or even taking the dog for a walk on my own whilst mulling things over internally.  Once again Maggie’s have been an endless source of support. I prioritise a fortnightly visit which is where I do most of my emotional ‘dumping’. But for all of this to work I have learned  I need be honest. I have also found since I have started ‘allowing myself’ the space to be sad, mad or angry , the time required gets less and less. On some days a 10-minute rant about my frustrations is all that is required,  on others a 5 minute cry will do the job. A daily dog walk without my mobile phone is  probably my favourite way to achieve this which leads me onto the third and final step.

3. I always take time to appreciate the good things in life – or as Bing Crosby put it ‘counting my blessings’.  I regularly talk to Parsnip on our walks about how lucky we are. Yes, my health may not be great but I am blessed in so many other ways. It is through these blessings that I am not just ‘coping’ with cancer but I  actually enjoy life.

So to finish here are just a few of the blessings I am thankful for…

My surgeon and the whole medical team who make me feel supported, safe and grateful for the NHS. For the Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Edinburgh, and in particular  Yvonne, who I sometimes think knows me better than I know myself.

For friends who drive for over an hour at 9pm at night with a homemade lasagne so my family are well-fed whilst I’m in hospital. The Friends who insist on picking me up before our night out because they know how tired I get and want me to save my energy so we can enjoy ourselves. Friends who  send Christmas trees in the mail and organise  group Skype chats. Friends who write me an exercise programme  because they know how much it means to me but more importantly so I can exercise safely!

The neighbours we  call friends who  turn up at our door with plates full of roast chicken dinner and are always up for a game of UNO.

The colleagues who go above and beyond to make me feel included. Who have an early Christmas lunch so I can attend before my second operation .

For our lovely postman who took the time to introduce himself and offer his support.

For my amazing family  who simply do too much for me to even begin counting.

I’ll finish with the wise words of Mr Crosby and should anyone ask me in the future how I cope I’ll remind them to do the same:

‘So if you’re worried and you can’t sleep
Count your blessings instead of sheep
And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings’

As always, #FUCANCER

The chance to do more

I am delighted to report that I am back home and reunited with my ever faithful sidekick Parsnip.

After much deliberation by the medical team I have returned  with my appendix. The risk  of seizures coupled with the damage caused by  pelvic radiation makes my case a complicated one. I am due to return to the General Surgery team in the new year to discuss an appendectomy  in more detail but for now my next surgery is Craniotomy #2.

In 2018 alone  I have spent 20 nights in hospital, relied on 3 ambulance trips, benefitted from numerous appointments across a variety of specialities and been supported by a countless number of nurses. At this point, may I say I have NEVER met a harder working group of people than the NHS nurses; 12 hour shifts which  include everything and anything from cleaning a range of body fluids, literally picking people off the floor, drying tears and so much more. I do not know how they do it but I remain in awe of their energy, empathy and ability to make the worst of times somehow better!!

Today is STAND UP TO CANCER. The Funny Boy and I were due to  attend the Live Show in London but due to my recent bout of illness we were forced to cancel. It is only when you are faced with a chronic condition you appreciate how frustrating and devastating  it is to be constantly losing  out on opportunities and experiences. From the everyday things like meeting a friend for coffee, singing in your car at the top of your lungs or playing your favourite sport with your team mates to the life changing events like starting a family or going for that promotion at work. These are the things that make life and when you miss those it is hard not to  feel like you are missing out on life.

Everyone faces challenges in their life but as long as you have your health you always have an opportunity to start again. This is the second time I feel my life has been put on hold as a result of badly behaving cells. In 2014 cancer stole my fertility; something  I may never truly ‘get over’ but I am slowly coming to terms with. The struggle I am facing now is  a loss of independence and an underlying fear of the unknown.  It is hard and I would be lying to dress it up as anything else. Equally, I know things could always be worse.

Never, ever take your health for granted. For as long as you have it you always have the chance to do more!

#FUCANCER

 

Not Knowing

On Wednesday this week I attended a spa day at the gorgeous Fletcher’s Cottage Spa at Archerfield in North Berwick. The day was specifically tailored for people with cancer and included a session which focused on mental wellbeing. I never thought I would find myself walking bare foot, lying on the grass and staring at a blue sky in 20 degree sunshine  in Scotland, in October! It was complete bliss and fully funded by the Made For Life Foundation – if you or someone you know is affected by cancer I would recommend looking them up!

Wednesday also happened to be Mental Health Awareness Day. I have always vowed to maintain an open and honest blog. Admittedly I have been somewhat silent over the past few weeks and a large part of that is because of how I am feeling. It has been over two weeks since we got the third dose of bad news. I am  slowly coming to terms with the fact that this diagnosis is likely to be something I will have to live with for the rest of my life and that prospect is not a welcome one.

On paper nothing has changed for the foreseeable. We know I have more scans ahead, another operation and inevitably  a discussion about chemotherapy and or radiotherapy. But it is the ‘not knowing’ which I find challenging.

Whilst at the spa day, I had the pleasure of meeting other women who are all cancer survivors. Naturally we got chatting and I found myself saying something I hadn’t realised until the words came out my mouth:

’…before I was diagnosed I had this blissful ignorance that I would live forever – you always assume you can ‘do it in the future’ but right now even planning next year’s holiday seems like a fantasy…’

Despite being in remission for four years  that blissful ignorance never returned and thanks to these (excuse the language) b*stard gliomas , I  doubt it ever will. I miss that feeling so much:  the luxury of limitless plans of what I can do and the dreams of what I will achieve.  Don’t get me wrong: I have plans, big plans,  but right now I can’t help but feel a little  envy towards my peers who have the ability to  make them happen now.

For me, life feels like it is on hold and as I do my best to make peace with the ‘not knowing’ I do have days where it is a struggle. At times, it is simply overwhelming.  My mind frequently races forward to the day where I’ll receive my next round of results and as it does I imagine every possible outcome. Today  I spent 2 hours picturing  those thoughts whilst simultaneously  trying to rationalise the tingling in my left arm and a racing heartbeat. I genuinely thought I was having a heart attack!  In hindsight, I think it was a mixture of the sensation gradually returning in my left side and stress. I suppose given the circumstances is to be expected.

I am an advocate for the phrase without mental health there is no health and with more surgery on the horizon I know how crucial it is to nurture my mind and body over the coming weeks.  Nurturing my body is the easy part but my mind will require more effort! I have already identified a few techniques which definitely work for me such as taking time away from my phone and practising sleep hygiene. But I do accept this area of mental wellbeing is something I need to work on. As always, the team at Maggie’s have been on hand to provide some practical advice and I have a few new techniques I intend to try. They say practice makes perfect so  wish me luck and watch this space!

On a separate note I just wanted to apologise for the radio silence – particularly  to everyone who has reached out via messenger, text or post!  Please do not think I am ignoring you. Your thoughtful gestures and very kind words are not only hugely appreciated but act as a source of great comfort. The Funny Boy, Parsnip and I have been shown so much love and support over the last 6 months and I can’t tell you how grateful we all are. Now I am beginning to feel stronger I hope to see you soon. THANK YOU x

As always, #FUCANCER

*Sleep Hygiene is another valuable lesson introduced to me by the team at Maggie’s. Unlike the name suggests it is nothing to do with the cleanliness of your bed sheets  but techniques to improve sleeping.  If you are a bad sleeper or like me go through phases of insomnia I’d highly recommend reading about   It at  the link below:

Sleep Hygiene