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7 things you learn when your best friend gets cancer

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….

  1. 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!

  1. 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 🙂 !!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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).

  1. 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)

  1. 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!

Things you learn when your best friend gets cancer
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Stressed

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!

#FUCancer

Stress

From one marathon to another…

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.

BRING IT ON!!

#FUCancer

  

Buckaroo to Boxing

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!

Competitive Buggernuts Buggernuts loves doughnuts Buggernuts or David Attenborough

Dream Big!

It has been an exciting week for #FUCancer…

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…

Dream it!
Believe it!
Achieve it!

#FUCancer

Dream BIG!
Dream BIG!

Project 30: Get a selfie with a celebrity


What better way to celebrate my 1st cancerversary than by ticking an item off Project 30. Here is how it happened:

Please note the following video contains bad language

In addition to an unforgettable experience Adam bought me a bottle of wine to say congratulations! Not only is he a brilliant comedian but a wonderfully kind and generous guy.

#FUCancer

Cancerversary Gifts

#FUCancer on the Radio

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:

#FUCancer on the Radio

Next on the Project 30 Calender is ‘bag a Munro’ which I plan on doing next weekend with my besties! Fingers crossed the weather improves!

#FUCancer

 

The day I said ‘I do’

Today is my birthday. Despite overcoming the tail end of flu and being riddled with guilt for missing another event I organised through work, it has been a great day: the Funny Boy and Parsnip woke me with breakfast in bed and array of generous gifts.

As today marks my 29th birthday I am now on a tight schedule to complete Project 30. In all honesty I had hoped to have ticked a few more off the list by now but I am confident (and excited) to see where it takes me. Here is an update of how it is going so far:

1. Take in the Northern Lights
2. Ride a Motorbike
3. Plan an A to Z Roadtrip i.e. Visit Anstruther, go to the Beach, play Cricket
4. Complete the 30 day photo challenge Check
5. Learn a new skill: juggling In progress
6. Try scuba diving
7. Appear on TV
8. Enjoy an authentic breakfast in New York City
9. Watch Sunrise & Sunset in the same spot
10. Get a tattoo with my Mum Check
11. Fundraise for Maggie’s and Cancer Research UK Ongoing
12. Complete another Marathon
13. Plan a camping holiday with the Funny Boy and Parsnip
14. Get something I have written published
15. Plant a tree and visit it from time to time
16. Write 30 letters to 30 people
17. Scare myself by jumping out of a plane aka skydive!
18. Try a new sport (suggestions welcome)  Try THIRTY new sports
19. Send a message in a bottle
20. Say “I do” in front of my friends and family Check – see below!
21. Buy my first home
22. Read Shakespeare In Progress
23. Meet an exotic animal in it’s natural habitat Check 
24. Host a fancy dress themed party
25. Get a selfie with a celebrity
26. Go on a family holiday
27. Travel First Class
28. Bag a Munro
29. Complete another hockey season
30. Make a Project 30 Scrapbook

As I look back on my 28th year I have a accrued a number of highlights including an awesome hen party, unfortgettable honeymoon and attending WSLA but the number one has to be the day I said ‘I do’. Here is a snapshot of the best day of my life… so far!!

I look forward to the adventures, lessons and memories that lie ahead… Bring on 29!

#FUCancer and today #FUFlu

NUVU Photography
NUVU Photography

 

Minging

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog at 2am but the badly behaved bowels are back and to make matters worse I am choked with the cold. I’m feeling suitably tired and the weather isn’t helping. It’s July and today I wore a jumper, jacket, boots and woolly hat to walk the dog. In the words of a true weegie ‘the weather is minging’ and my mood isn’t much better.

Everyone has low weeks. It appears this would be my turn for one. It would be very easy for me to use this space to rave about Project 30 and share the reflections I have been gifted through this process but it would be dishonest of me to not share moments like today. Days where I simply feel overwhelmed, angry and out of control. I have an internal battle where my head is saying ‘you should be over this by now! Get yourself together’ and my heart is saying ‘I just want to cry’. I feel compromised and allow myself to shed a tear. A tear for the life I once knew. A tear for the babies I’ll never have. A tear for feeling misunderstood.

Being a huge TED fan I often turn to their creative productions for inspiration. This 3 minute video is my current favourite. I urge you to take the time to listen and think. If you find yourself having a low week then consider the message in Stacey’s video.

The Best Gift I Ever Survived

#FUCANCER

Minging

Project 30: Get a tattoo

Prior to starting treatment I had to get three small tattoos around my pelvis. This was so the radiotherapy team were able to target the radiation accurately. The tattoos are nothing bigger than the dot of a bic pen. They could easily be mistaken for a few dark freckles. At the time Iceberg and I joked about getting a tattoo. We made a pact. Here I am 15 months later and true to our word, the Iceberg and I have got our first ‘proper’ tattoo. Technically you could say it’s my fourth but I don’t think the NHS freebies count!

If I was ever asked to describe my family I would use the words competitive, weird and loyal. It goes without saying that a family who has a heavy interest in sport is going to be competitive. Some of the biggest arguments Buggernuts and I have ever had have been caused by an innocent game of tennis. Individually we all have our weird traits. The Iceberg has a spoon in her handbag at all times. The reason being it can prevent static on clothes whilst serving its original purpose. The Funny Boy has an incredible gift for locking himself out of the flat and breaking back in. It’s a talert he shows off regularly. I, myself, have more weird traits than anyone: whenever I am alone with Parsnip I have a sing and selfie marathon. The products of which often circulate whatsapp. But for a weird and competitive bunch my family are powerfully loyal. We are a pack and we support each other as one would expect.

When life puts you in tough situations, don't say 'why me'. Just say 'try me'
When life puts you in tough situations, don’t say ‘why me’. Just say ‘try me’

The picture above is one my brother sent me mid treatment. The clear message of ‘Don’t ask why me – instead say TRY ME!’ Is one I have constantly referred to. I am not a huge believer in astrology, that being said I can’t resist reading my horoscope. I am a Leo  which is represented with a lion mascot. Lions are a common symbol found across different cultures and religions. The majority of these use the lion to represent the following characteristics: courage, strength, loyalty and leadership. One of my favourite lines is:

“the lion wins the prize for most relentless fighter in the face of life challenges.”

My mum is the most incredible person I know. She is strong, brave and forever putting her family needs before her own. She is a true lioness. So, if anyone asks me what my tattoo represents? I’ll tell them my lioness is my mum. It represents my pack, my family who I am immensely proud of. And finally, my lioness is a reminder: when life puts me in tough situations simply say ‘Try Me!’ I am a fighter.

#FUCancer

Lioness