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!
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!
As I write this from my hospital bed it is safe to say that it has been a tough week. I am still waiting for a confirmed date for surgery and the ‘unknown’ has been causing some stress.
I have had ongoing issues with my bowels since completing cervical cancer treatment four years ago. At a recent appointment with Gastroenterology they found a build up of faecal matter (aka POOP) in my bowel. The advice was to start a daily dose of a bulking agent and a hot water cleanse. I also recieved a ‘how to guide’ on the correct way to poop. Apparently I have been doing it wrong for 32 years!! I chose to delay starting this as I thought it might impact surgery but after receiving the go ahead from the Neuro team I began the process on Tuesday this week. Long story cut short, I was taken into hospital on Tuesday evening after experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea – lovely!!
The doctors initially ran some tests which found a fever, high white blood cell count and low blood pressure so I have been kept in since. Today I am preparing for a sigmoidoscopy – another unwelcome surprise!
Anyway, before all the drama (including me being sick on all fours in the middle of AnE whilst a little girl asked her mum ‘why is that lady being sick in her hat?’) I prepared the following vlog which I still stand by. So if you are having a crap day make sure you get outside and at the very least go for a walk. That is the first thing I will be doing when I leave here.
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!
According to my brief research online, a cancerversary is a significant date within someone’s journey with cancer. It could be diagnosis, remission or the beginning of treatment, or it could be the date of someone losing a friend or family member. It could be one date or several. The definition of a cancerversary is unique to each individual which is no surprise because everyone’s experience with cancer is different.
As I write this I am sat by the pool wearing nothing more than a bikini and factor 30 sun cream. I am on day #6 of my pre wedding getaway with the Iceberg in Corralejo. With a wedding only days away and a honeymoon directly after, it’s hard to answer: can life get much better than this? But despite the bright future ahead of me and the lavish life I am living in the here and now, I do find myself contrasting with where I was this time last year. It was on this date in 2014 that my life changed forever.
I don’t dwell about my experience with cancer but I do try to talk openly about it, welcoming questions in a bid to make people more aware and more comfortable. On a few occasions I have been told ‘It’s all behind you now, you need to focus on your future’ and although I agree with the latter part of that statement I regret to say the first part is far from the truth. There is not a day that has gone by since the 8th April 2014 where I have not thought about cancer. A day hasn’t gone by without realising the implications it has had on my life and those I care about. I struggle to put into words how my life changed, it was if the world beneath my feet ceased to exist. It stripped me of everything I prioritised and left me at point zero. Yet, as I celebrate my first cancerversary (and, yes I am celebrating) I feel grounded and stronger than I ever dreamed of being. Cancer has allowed me to detox my life. In all the cliche terms you can imagine it has given me a new perspective on love, family, friendships and work. I believe it has taught me how to live life more efficiently and, effectively, how to be happy. Now – if that is not a good enough reason to celebrate then what is!?
So for me, my first cancerversary (I have two) is marked by the date I was diagnosed. This was the date I began the marathon I didn’t sign up for, when I launched my fight for #FUCancer and when I fully began appreciating the people in my life. I doubt there ever will be a day where I am not reminded of cancer but why would I want to forget something that has already taught me so much? So happy cancerversary to me! Let’s hope I make it to the next milestone on the 27th of August which will mark a year in remission.
The twenty fifth of January signals the launch of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. According to Jo’s Trust* more than a fifth of women do not attend cervical screening in the UK. In light of this I want to share my experience. This is not a scaremongering tactic. I am sharing my story because I am someone who has always attended a cervical screening appointment when prompted. I take a proactive interest in my health. I know that if I can get cancer, anyone can. Unfortunately it is one of life’s lotteries which is out with our control. However, we all have a responsibility to better our chances against cancer. Wether it be looking at what we eat, our physical activity levels or lifestyle choices – there is plenty we can do to protect ourselves.
Between January and April I developed several key symptoms related to cervical cancer.
– Abnormal bleeding between periods
– Passing blood in my urine
– Achey pelvis
– Discomfort during intercourse
– Persistent cystitis
Of course I had no idea that the source of my problems would be cancer but I did know that something simply wasn’t right. I visited my GP on four occasions before I was finally referred to the hospital. Initially the GP prescribed antibiotics and on the third visit I was told that ‘unfortunately some people suffer with chronic cystitis and there is little they can do’. Thankfully, I was adamant that something was not quite right. I knew in myself that something was wrong. I dread to think what the situation would be now had I not been so persistent with my GP. I was finally referred to gynaecology where the doctor found my tumour almost immediately. Following a series of tests and various type of scans it was confirmed I had stage IIb cervical cancer and within three weeks of being diagnosed I began treatment. My treatment was a gruelling process which left me feeling physically and emotionally drained. The multi-pronged attack of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Bracytherapy had the desired effect so I am one of the lucky ones. Although I am beyond the side effects of treatment I have been left with irreversible damage. The nature of the treatment has left me unable to have children. At the point of diagnosis I wasn’t even in a position to consider freezing my eggs. Cancer stole the opportunity of me ever carrying my own child.
In light of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week I want to share my story with the hope that someone in the 20% changes their mind and prioritises attendance at their next invitation to a cervical screening. It scares me to think that over twenty percent of women would choose to ignore a simple process which could help prevent the experience I have endured. I have learnt that we are each responsible for our own health. I am proud of myself for having the confidence to challenge my GP when I identified something was wrong.
Whilst reading this if you know or suspect your friend, daughter, sister, mother or auntie is within the 20% then please share my story. At the very least let’s help spread the message that cervical screening saves 5000 lives a year. Don’t have the fear, get a smear!!
*For more information regarding HPV, cervical screening, or cervical cancer please check out Jo’s Trust using the link below.
Working in sport development, it is probably no surprise that my favourite subject at school was PE and Games. I was never very academic. Mathematics, science, even foreign languages were a challenge. That being said, I did enjoy school. I particularly enjoyed my time spent with the English department. I was never a huge reader. Even now I have an endless list of books I want to read. A list which I rarely seem to make a dent in. But I did love reading Shakespeare and exploring the subtext. My time spent studying English at school helped secure a love of writing. As a teenager I kept a diary. On occasions I find myself revisiting these and reliving memories from my adolescence. I shudder at the thought of anyone reading them but they do supply a few giggles. Since graduating university I have not maintained a diary but I have continued to satisfy my love of English by trying to learn new words. In all honesty, this is partly fuelled by my competitive streak and a love of scrabble too! Today, I learnt a new word:
Hypophrenia; A feeling of sadness, seemingly without cause.
This is a word I can relate to. A feeling I find myself experiencing frequently. I have a great deal of things to be happy about; I’m getting married in less than 90 days, I have a new job, everyday when I come home I am greeted by an elated puppy (and Parsnip!) and I have overcome cancer. Fantastic, right? I am a very lucky girl? You bet! So why do I simply feel sad sometimes? I don’t know why but hypophrenia is a frequent visitor ever since I found out I was in remission.
I have just completed my second full working week. It may not sound like a huge achievement but I am quietly raising a glass to myself. In a world where normality no longer exists I finally feel like I’m blending in. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t think about cancer or reflect on the scars it has left – physically and emotionally. But I do feel stronger.