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!
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…