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!
Today I am really excited! Not only is it my first ever VLOG (video blog) but I have began working towards one of the tasks on Project 30!
I have loved sport my whole life yet as I have grown older I find myself shying away from trying new ones. The reason for this? Honestly? It is a fear of being bad at something. A fear of people looking at me and laughing. Thank goodness the 8 year old me never had those fears otherwise my life would have taken a totally different course. I have no doubt that my active lifestyle has supported me in overcoming cancer and moving forward which is why I dedicated item 18 of Project 30 to try a new sport. In hindsight that was a little tame. The past year has taught me that life is way too short and that you should NEVER let the fear of looking stupid or other people judging you prevent you from doing something you love. I work in sport, I promote sport, I love sport – it is high time I stop preaching and start doing! So number 18 on the list has been revised. Instead I have set myself the challenge of trying 30 new sports! Over the course of the next 13 months I am looking to try, play and compete in as many sports as possible.
I was hugely inspired by the #thisgirlcan campaign and was pleased to be involved in the BBC’s Get Inspired #thisgirlcantoo promotional video. It is off the back of this I have chosen to include 30 sports before 30. In doing so I hope to generate interest so I can raise awareness of the two fantastic charities: Maggie’s and Cancer Research which all in all works towards me saying #FUCancer!
This is where I need you to share my story and get involved!
I have twelve months and I am looking for suggestions and invitations to try new sports. Each sport will have a dedicated post with corresponding videos – my GoPro will be getting put to good use! I am prepared to try anything and everything so please spread the word and do not hesitate to get in touch if there is something you think I should try.
Yesterday was the first time in four and a half months that I have seen my mother cry. I finally heard the news we had all been dreaming of: I am in remission.
On the 8th April at approximately 3.30pm I was told I had a tumour. The following week I was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive type of cervical cancer. I am the 19th recorded case of it’s kind. I was told I had to ‘buck the trend’. The journey that has since followed has been an emotional roller coaster where I have celebrated the highest highs and endured the lowest lows.
Upon hearing my results this week I have received literally hundreds of messages from friends and family to say how happy they are for me. As you can imagine I am relieved. Upon arriving at the hospital on Wednesday I had tried to prepare myself for every possible scenario: more treatment, losing my hair, I had even began to contemplate my funeral. So here I am with the best possible outcome and how do I feel? Physically exhausted, emotionally drained and more vulnerable than ever before. It possibly sounds ungrateful but in all honesty I wouldn’t say the feeling I have right now is happiness. I simply feel angry. I feel so excluded from what I used to call my life I don’t know where to start.
Breaking the news of my diagnosis to my family and friends was one of the worst things I had to do. Trying to cushion the blow and await their reaction led me tears. It quickly highlights the ones who were there for me. Some people would say the wrong thing but the worst were those who said nothing. I heard someone excuse this with ‘I just find the whole cancer thing a bit awkward!’ —–> really?!
Two months on from completing treatment and I am still recovering. The fatigue is an ongoing fixture in everyday life which is a massive source of frustration. A large part of my social life revolved around being physically active and as the new hockey season starts I am beyond jealous to be missing out. For the first time in years I am without a team.
I am adapting to life with menopause and learning to accept what that means for the Funny Boy and I. The picture I had painted for myself has changed. When the time comes for the Funny Boy and I to start a family we will be looking into adoption. I had always imagined myself being pregnant and fantasised about everything that comes with it. Sharing the news with my friends and family, feeling a life grow inside me, watching my belly take shape and that amazing day when we get to meet mini Huffer for the first time. Pregnancy has always been a miracle to me. However the Funny Boy and I will have our own miracle one day which will be equally special – it’ll just have a different route. Losing the opportunity to be a mother is a price I have had to pay in order to save my life.
I imagine as a reader you must think I am very ungrateful and there are 10000s of people wishing they received the news I did this week. Perhaps if you had been in my shoes then you would understand. I have always said I want this blog to be an honest journal of my journey with cancer so here it is. Unfortunately the news of remission does not automatically bring back my old life. Life is different now and my perception of the world has changed. What I am grateful for are the key people who have helped me on my journey so far. You know who you are. The chapter of treatment is complete but the one ahead is focusing on how I recover and rebuild my life. For now I will just celebrate the relief:
Treatment finished five weeks ago now. I am relieved that after an arduous fortnight of pyrotechnical side affects it appears the symptoms have managed to settle and although I have a pitiful supply of energy it is good to have a bit more freedom and independence again. I have immense gratitude being able to visit the toilet without some form of pain relief.
Within the final weeks of treatment I had got to a point where I was constantly in the company of Iceberg, Buggernuts or the Funny Boy. All of whom adopted the role as my carer. I had around the clock supervision. They bought my food, prepared my meals, washed my clothes. I was chauffeured anywhere I wanted to go. Even at nights if I couldn’t sleep someone would sit with me. Sometimes I would get upset thinking about the unthinkable where other nights it would simply be the steroids keeping me awake. It is only now as I get back to ‘normality’ I can see how dependant I had become. I was actually proud of myself having slept at home alone whilst the Funny Boy was on a night shift. I was anxious ‘What if I don’t feel well? What if start to feel scared again? What if…’ But these are the things I am learning to accept as my new ‘normality’.
What is normality? Normality was life before cancer (BC) where I would happily be at my desk for 8am every working day. Where a pre-work run and post work gym or hockey session happened most days of the week. Weekends BC were jam packed. Saturdays were dominated by hockey fixtures, family visits and the odd glass of wine. Sunday mornings BC were made for long runs along Crammond promenade followed by a guilt-free afternoon where I could eat whatever took my fancy. Goal setting BC was a favourite of mine, wether it be holidays, marathons or career aspirations – I loved having something to work toward. As I await the results I am stuck in limbo waiting to move to the next BC (life beyond cancer). Getting back to ‘normality’ in the meantime is difficult. ‘Normailty’ now is uncomfortably hot flushes, limited energy supply and an increasingly short temper – largely fuelled by frustration. I get frustrated by the fact one game of table tennis leaves me needing a lie down for the rest of the day. The sound of bells made me think of Christmas, possibly my favourite time of the year, and I was angry at the thought of how many more will I get to enjoy? I get upset knowing the Funny Boy and I will never (biologically) have children. This is my new normality. I am adapting to the changes – both physically and emotionally. As I am reunited with friends and colleagues I have been flooded with messages of ‘you look great’ and ‘nobody can tell you’ve been ill’. This has been a source of comfort especially as I look at myself and struggle to see beyond my sweaty brow and increasingly large love handles! My peers still see me – the old me – and that is good but in some ways it’s difficult. They can’t understand why one day I will be fit to sit at my desk all day and the next I will struggle to get out of bed. They won’t appreciate how a simple ‘See ya later skiver!’ is the last thing I need to hear when it’s taken all my strength to get me to work in the first place. How can I expect my peers to understand something that I am still getting accustomed to?
As I rebuild my social life and return to work I find myself setting new goals with a firm understanding that these can easily be changed following my next appointment. However I refuse to let cancer deny me the life I am living right now. The Funny Boy and I had an incredible engagement party surrounded by loved ones which inspired us to start planning our wedding. The date has been set, groomsmen and bridal party recruited and our honeymoon is rapidly turning into the trip of a lifetime. When I ran the marathon last year I had to prepare my body and mind. I am learning to adapt to my new normality and much like the marathon this means listening to my body and more importantly thinking positive thoughts. So #FUCancer! I am Heather, I am strong and I won’t let you beat me.
The cocktail of pain killers is having an affect on my creative writing skills.
What a week! Unfortunately the cystitis continued into the penultimate week of treatment. Yet again I found myself playing a game of Russian Roulette when going to the toilet. It would be a gamble wether I would escape the porcelain throne pain free or resort to setting up camp whilst the agony in my cramping bladder passed. At the start of this week I spent hours in the bath tub as it was the only source of instant pain relief. The Funny Boy started bringing me my meals whilst I was sat surrounded by bubbles watching endless episodes of Modern Family. It sounds a lot more relaxing than the reality!
It wasn’t until my final session of chemotherapy that I was completely honest about the severity of my cystitis. I wasn’t hiding the pain intentionally. The doctors and nurses had given me ample opportunity to discuss this. I just found it difficult to admit that cystitis was so painful. Also, the symptoms tend to be worse at night and by the time morning came around I always assumed it was getting better. Once again the impeccable staff at the cancer unit at Western General Hospital reassured me that there is always something they can do for the pain and that I just need to be honest. Upon completing chemo on Tuesday I breathed a huge sigh of relief – I feel like I am in the final stretch now.
Friday was challenging. I had my first session of bracytherapy. I had been mentally preparing for this for weeks. I knew what to expect however nothing can help avoid the fear of the unknown. At 7.30am I arrived at the hospital armed with my front runners; Iceberg, Buggernuts and Funny Boy. They did a great job at keeping me calm and distracted whilst I waited for the anaesthetist. The Funny Boy made me a card, Mum showed me wedding dresses and Dad… Well, dad managed to stay awake! I couldn’t get through any of this without them. When it came to say goodbye to them I could see how nervous they were but they all smiled and it was easy to leave knowing when I returned they would be there waiting for me.
Upon returning from surgery and waking up from general anaesthetic I was very uncomfortable and had a great deal of abdominal pain. I had to wait for the results of my CT scan and allow the doctors time to plan treatment before I could be seen. This meant several hours of lying still. I had a catheter and a machine to keep my legs from moving to prevent blood clots. In addition to the pain I found myself feeling very nauseous but also hungry. I felt helpless. As I looked at the clock on the wall I realised it was less than 24 hours until I was due to be meeting for the Queen’s Baton Relay. This was the first time I began to question wether I would be able to run the relay…
…but I was wrong!
I woke up at 7am on Saturday morning and the first thing I did was run through to the living room to put on BBC News showing the Baton Coverage live! I watched Daley Thompson pass the baton to Eilidh Child and turned to my Mum to say:
“I will be carrying that baton today!”
Upon the arrival of the rest of my family I felt like a child at Christmas! I found a new surge in energy levels which have been noticeably lacking over the past few weeks. It was an incredible feeling of anticipation. As the time drew nearer and I got into position to carry the baton I was overwhelmed at the number of friends and family who came out to support me. I was under strict orders to ‘take my time and enjoy every minute!’ which is exactly what I did. As I walked along Duke Street in Leith I took in the smiles and waves of everyone around me. I took a deep breath and remembered why I was nominated to be there. It was an incredible experience which I got to share with so many special people. Even my Nan got to watch it live in Wales!
It is hard to believe that following such a traumatic Friday I could have a Saturday which I will treasure for the rest of my life. I can’t quite believe the difference in a day: Friday was spent lying still biting my lip through the pain followed by Saturday carrying the baton giving a proper FU to Cancer! To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. I was on cloud 9! Carrying the baton was always going to be an honour but for me it was more than that. Carrying the baton was a reminder of all the fantastic things I have achieved and I am yet to achieve in my life. Top of my current ‘to do list’ is beat cancer and get married. No biggy! So as I come into the final stretch of my marathon I already feel like a winner surrounded by my Army of supporters on the sidelines. Thank you to everyone for being there! You have no idea what it means to me.
Today signals the start of a marathon which I will conquer, a marathon I never signed up for.
2013 was a great year for me. I was settling into life in Edinburgh, work was a passion where I met loads of inspiring people and I had made a whole new crew of friends. In addition to this I set a target of running my first marathon in Loch Ness. I loved the months of training especially in the Summer Sun. I found myself running on the sandy beaches of Fuertaventura, the down town streets of Toronto and, more often than not, the promenade at Crammond. The feeling on race day was electric! I was terrified but confident. Being a self confessed control freak I had created a rigorous training plan and diet which I was committed to. I knew I deserved to conquer my goal – I knew I could run a marathon, I just had to prove it. I found the experience of running exhilarating. I was surrounded by hundreds of other runners of different ages, sizes, runners with their own motivation, their own agenda. I would often find myself reading other runners vest which told of fundraising stories, people touched by disease or battling a cancer. I chose to raise funds for the Craig Gowans Memorial Fund in partnership with the Sick Kids Friends Foundation. I chose this because of a close friend at the time and many of the children I work with are involved with Sick Kids. The support of family and friends helped me raise over £1000. I was overwhelmed that my small efforts could raise an impressive amount for such a worthwhile cause. Upon completing the marathon, in an annoying 4 hours 17 minutes , I knew I had to do it again if not only to get a sub 4 hour time. The whole experience of setting a goal, working towards it and smashing it was so rewarding: it is genuinely one of the best feelings I have ever had. In the the following months I allowed myself some time to calm down from the training. (In addition to training for hockey and coaching boccia I spent the majority of my free time running) I dubbed the month of October ‘Yestember’ where I had to say yes to any social opportunity that came my way. Not so surprisingly this included a lot of drunken nights. On one occasion I met a very funny boy. This funny boy asked me on a date and despite saying no initially I remembered it was Yestember. We shared our first night of giggles over Beverly janes which is something we hev repeated over the past 6 months. So, yes 2013 was a great year for me. Loving life in Edinburgh, smashed a marathon and I met a funny boy who I am proud to say is now my funny boyfriend.
We are now in the fourth month of 2014 and it is safe to say that this year is proving to be a bit more challenging. Saying goodbye to my gran, realising who my true friends are and then there is that dark day in April. On Tuesday 8th April I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. An appointment which lasted less than an hour turned life as I know it upside down. I am currently on route to the hospital for my planning meeting which will decide my treatment. A meeting which will impact the following months with a strong goal at the end: beat cancer! There are a lot of similarities between cancer and a marathon…
– You can’t prepare yourself for it overnight
– It will take time and you have to take the ups with the downs
– You’ll discover you are much stronger than you imagined
– You’ll be overwhelmed by the people who are there to support you, to love you and help you conquer your goal.
So, did I sign up for it? No but I LOVE a challenge. What’s more I LOVE my life and everyone in it. Just like the marathon, I will beat cancer.