Tag Archives: depression

2019

2019 has been a tough year.

We opened January with me still in recovery from my second craniotomy and within the second week I was back in theatre having my appendix removed. Unfortunately I picked up a post-op infection which kept me in hospital for another 10 days. I was the most physically sick I have ever been and lost a stone in weight.

Appendectomy, January 2019

Fast forward to Spring when I returned to work which brought it’s own set of challenges. The culmination of two craniotomies, one appendectomy and a second cancer diagnosis in less than five years was beginning to hit me. No matter how hard I tried to move forward I struggled mentally. After a long internal battle and huge dose of gentle encouragement from the Funny Boy, I finally sought help. I still find it easier to say I have cancer than admit I have depression but I have learned the more I talk about my mental health, the easier it is to manage.

With the family at Tiny, Ontario – June 2019

June was a definitely a highlight. Thankfully I was allowed to travel to Toronto to see my brother get married and spend two weeks with my family. Upon return we had the fourth STICK IT TO CANCER which raised over £11k meaning since its inception in 2016 the festivals have raised over £30k for the Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Edinburgh.

STICK IT TO CANCER 2019 raising over £11k for the Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Edinburgh,
July 2019

In August, whilst walking Parsnip with my mum and the Funny Boy, my mum collapsed. I thought she suffered a stroke but when the ambulance arrived and she eventually regained consciousness, it was apparent my mum had experienced her first seizure. This day is a vivid memory filled with fear.

As we waited for my mum’s appointment with the Neurologist, my mind wrestled with facts over thoughts. My seizures led to my brain cancer diagnosis. The specialists told us that less than 8% of seizures are as a result of cancer so as always I stayed optimistic but I found myself imagining the worse.

Pumpkin (L) & Parsnip (R), October 2019

October saw the very welcome arrival of Pumpkin. Another highlight! Our family has grown and our hearts are richer as a result. Parsnip has been promoted to big sister and the Funny Boy has dropped down another rung of the ladder in our home but everyone is happy.

Pumpkin’s first holiday. Ballater, November 2019

November brought the news of another craniotomy. My mum had another seizure but this did escalate her appointment. We finally got the all-clear from her MRI scan which was a huge relief. She has since started anti-seizure medication and hopefully that means no more episodes.

In December I returned for my 3rd craniotomy and now I am here – recovering from major surgery, digesting the news that my tumour is a stage 3. Getting ready to meet my Neuro-oncologist next week and preparing myself for radiotherapy in the New Year.

3rd Craniotomy, December 2019

The hardest part with all of this is seeing the impact it has upon my parents. They are at a point in life where they should be enjoying retirement and only stressing about where to go on holiday. Instead they are chaperoning me to appointments, babysitting me whilst I recover from surgery and doing anything in their willpower to make life easier for the Funny Boy and I.

Cancer is very isolating. Being unable to play hockey and exercise is a huge loss creating empty evenings and Saturdays. Surrendering my driving license means I don’t see my family or friends as much as I’d like. I really miss my independence and all of this has contributed to a rapidly shrinking social circle. Cancer really teaches you who your true friends are.

The ‘cancer life’ is a treadmill of appointments, making difficult decisions and dealing with the ongoing emotional and physical side effects. The Funny Boy and I are addressing issues the average couple in our peer group have never experienced. It is an evolving challenge which we are constantly adapting to. We sometimes imagine what life would be like without cancer and at times we feel alienated.

But, we do take time to appreciate how lucky we are. How grateful we are for our loyal friends who keep in touch and consistently show up when the sh*t hits the fan. For our new friends who surprise us with FUCANCER brownies, who send sausage dog decorations in the post and leave lovely letters decorated with Parsnip and Pumpkin illustrations. We are truly blessed and no matter how challenging the last 12 months have been we are reminded that in the worst of times, you often see the best of people.

On behalf of the Funny Boy, Parsnip, Pumpkin and myself I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone for your generosity and support. Wishing you & your loved ones a joyous Christmas and a new year filled with love, laughter and good health.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas & prosperous 2020!

As always, FUCANCER

I have a black dog

Today is World Mental Health Day.

For a large part of 2019 I have found myself struggling to find the words to describe how I feel. If I was asked to narrow it down to three, they would have been failure, ashamed and empty. It took several months, a lot of support from the Funny Boy and more than one trip to my GP before I was finally able to admit something was wrong.

I am relieved to say that things have slowly started to improve but it didn’t happen overnight. Here are a few things which made the difference for me:

Getting Help
My doctor prescribed me with regular medication and since then I have started to see a Psychologist.

Talk, talk, talk
Being open and honest about my true feelings with friends and family has been the biggest help. It is through them I have come to fully appreciate that I am not alone and everyone experiences poor mental health. We need to break the taboo and recognise that mental health is equally important as physical!

Peace of Mind
Finding peace of mind has been a challenge. My life sometimes feels like a treadmill of appointments but learning how to fully switch off has been valuable. Personally, I find my peace when walking the dog. No phone, no music – just me, the sound of the birds and Parsnip’s little paws plodding on the path.

Physical Activity is a wonder drug!
If you could bottle all the benefits of exercise and put it on the shelf at your local shop – it would literally be sold out in seconds. Activity is so good for the body and soul. There are literally thousands of different ways to be active; sports, exercise classes, dancing and even walking! I find it incredible how something as simple as a stroll around the block can improve my mood and change the way I view the world.

Put it down on paper
On the difficult days when it feels like there are too many thoughts, I find it helps to do a brain dump. Physically writing the things that rotate in my mind can help me switch off. This really helps on the nights when I struggle to sleep.

A good friend of mine recently completed Mental Health Awareness training and shared the following video with me. I hope you find it as useful as I did.

I had a black dog, his name was depression – Produced, written and illustrated by Matthew Johnstone in collaboration with the World Health Organisation

Depression is sometimes referred to as the Black Dog. Just like a real dog, it needs to be embraced, understood, taught new tricks, and ultimately brought to heal.

As always, 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!