Cancer has been a part of my life for over 5 years now and regular followers of my blog will know how much I have relied on Maggie’s during that time. It really does make a difference to meet other people who understand what living with cancer is really like. The centres are safe places, very similar to a friend’s home opposed to the clinical setting you become so familiar with. The most important aspect is meeting others who simply ‘get it’!
At times my diagnosis has left me feeling ostricized. There are not a huge number of people who fully appreciate cancer limbo; agonising over appointments, tackling numerous side effects and struggling to maintain a social life whilst keeping the raging hormones at bay. There are even fewer people who are at a similar age and stage of life who fully understand how cancer touches every aspect of life. People who know how hard it is to be told that you’ll never have children or fulfil your career ambitions and worse.
On three occasions I have gone to events specifically for cancer survivors where participants have assumed I am either running the session or delivering a fitness class. This is probably because on all occasions I have been the youngest person in the room by at least two decades.
In September, the Funny Boy and I attended Meet and Move organised by Trekstock and hosted at the Maggie’s Centre in Edinburgh. Trekstock is a charity specifically targeting people in their 20s and 30s who are living with cancer. The event was described as being a day of wellbeing, getting active and meeting others who get it.
As eager as I am to participate in these events I always feel anxious, especially when you don’t know what to expect. We were greeted with a very warm welcome and a busy agenda. The day kicked off with a choice of yoga or circuits in the sunshine. We then regrouped in the centre to chat with the Maggie’s counsellors followed by a delicious lunch and nurtition session delivered by Kellie from Food to Glow. In the afternoon we discussed fashion with Cabi clothing and had an intro on skincare from LUSH.
It was an awesome day with lots on offer but the highlight had to be meeting the other participants. I didn’t feel like an alien anymore. Everyone knew what life with cancer is really like. We shared our journeys, compared our horror stories and even laughed at some of the shocking situations we have found ourselves in. There is nothing more validating then when you talk about what you’re going through and see people nodding because they understand. It was powerful!
The Funny Boy was the only male participant in the room but even he got a lot out of the day. He has now committed to a weekly face mask which I must say is doing wonders for his skin. And if you see him he will probably be rocking the French Tuck!
I would highly recommend Trekstock to all young adults living with cancer. For those of you based in Scotland, we have created a Facebook group for future meetings in Edinburgh. All of which include some form of physical activity. We are getting together on Saturday 30th November – please join the event or Facebook group by clicking the links below:
In hindsight my previous blog, although well intended could cause concern. I neither need, want or seek sympathy. The insight (or overshare) was aimed to encourage women to prioritise their health. My frustrations lie in the fact a high percentage of people are not doing this and therefore putting themselves at unnecessary risk.
Aside from the aforementioned side effects, which I am mastering daily, life continues to treat me well. Even now I am sat next to the pool with a view of Spinalonga which just so happens to be the subject of my current novel, The Island by Victoria Hislop (highly recommend it by the way). This sunny retreat comes at the end of a very busy few months and therefore not only feels deserved but essential! In my last update I was training for the Virgin Money London Marathon. It is with great pride I can share that I completed this in April and raised £4000 for Cancer Reaearch. A month after crossing the finishing line I flew to Toronto to visit my brother who I hadn’t seen since the wedding. Alongside the Funny Boy and Gags’ girlfriend, Katie, the four of us (dubbed the new Wolfpack) ticked off another item of Project 30 and enjoyed several ‘proper NYC breakfasts’ in the city that never sleeps. Whilst overseas I recieved the welcome yet unexpected news that I had been shortlisted and selected to win the Edinburgh Evening News Bravery Award. An accolade I don’t believe I am worthy of but delighted and grateful beyond words. The start of July would see the inaugural STICK IT TO CANCER hockey festival. An idea I had whilst sitting in chemo two years ago finally came to fruition after nearly 14 months of planning. Over 150 people united in various superhero outfits to say an almighty #FUCancer. The result of everyone’s efforts was a phenomenal £3700 raises for the Edinburgh Maggie’s Cancer Centre and another big tick for Project 30!
Baring in mind the Funny Boy and I moved house at the end of November by the time July came it had been a manic few months. I had promised two months of no ‘extra curricular activities’. No marathons, no fundraising, no more bonkers ideas for two months. However, this changed when I had an opportunity too good to miss. Hidden from public view and in line with Project 30 I was looking for the next step in my career. An opportunity arose and after speaking to my counsel (the ever reliable Iceberg, Buggernuts and Funny Boy) they urged me to go for it! A new job in an exciting role with fresh challenges lie ahead of me. This does mean I am extending my ban on extra curricular activities until at least Christmas. But, with my new job, hens, weddings and a reunion of the Wolfpack on the cards I doubt I’d have time to get much done anyway.
Life is great. Yes, it has its challenges but I am one of the lucky ones who continue to thrive!
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!!
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…
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.
I initially began writing this blog to save myself the laborious task of repetition and more importantly keep the facts straight. It is wild how quickly a single piece of information being passed on through several links can become distorted. There was no poetic license needed to compose my blogs. What you read is the truth.
I have come to depend on this safe space to be my voice. A space where I can share my experience as well as my thoughts, fears and feelings. Many people who have taken the time to read my entries have admitted they now have a better insight to what life with cancer is like.
I know life will never be the same for me. I have accepted that as of the 8th April 2014 everything has changed. Relationships, outlooks, motivations have all shifted in some way. I have always viewed life as being like a jigsaw puzzle; everyone has numerous pieces which click together to make a complete picture. Work, family, friends, hobbies, the love of a significant other! At times if ever I was down it would be because a piece was missing or something just didn’t fit quite right. Now, however it feels like I am starting my puzzle from scratch because the picture has changed completely. All my puzzle pieces are upside down and jumbled in the box. I have identified my corner pieces but the remaining 996 will take some time to piece together.
One of the pieces in my puzzle is how I am going to give something back to say thank you, to show my gratitude for being one of the lucky ones and more importantly support the people who supported me. In light of this I am in the early stages of hosting a ‘STICK IT to Cancer’ hockey festival & quiz night to raise funds for two incredible charities.
The first is Maggie’s who have provided a wealth of support to my family and I. Maggie’s have been helping me navigate my way through the emotional aftermath of cancer. They have offered advice on every puzzle piece from coping mechanisms to exercise and how to look good. They have become a new safe place out with this virtual forum.
The second charity is an easy choice for obvious reasons: Cancer Research. It’s as simple as it sounds. Without the research I wouldn’t have received the vital treatment which ultimately saved my life.
More details on the ‘STICK IT to Cancer’ hockey festival to follow in due course. Watch this space!
Another new piece, inspired by my experience, is how I can share my story so people can learn from it. The past six months has allowed me to realise how ignorant I was about cancer. Even in my initial diagnosis I remember asking ‘so, it’ll be a few tough months?’ Which was quickly corrected with ‘it’ll be a tough few years.’ Even following treatment I was of the opinion that being in remission meant I was over it, beyond it, it was behind me. But that’s simply not the case. I am still unsure how exactly I will fulfil this piece in the puzzle but I have a feeling this blog is a good starting point.
My jigsaw is far from complete but as I said I have the most important corner pieces already in place and that is my family and friends. Thank you for being so supportive, reliable and making me feel so loved!
It’s been a month now since I got the news I had been dreaming of since April and I am still working my way through a range of emotions.
Having had time to reflect I realise now that my initial reaction of anger and feeling vulnerable is perfectly normal. Upon being diagnosed my life became a series of appointments where I continually had a focus. First it was to see my gynecologist who referred me to get several scans which led me to my oncologist who led me to a series of planning meetings. Then weekly treatment began where I was constantly meeting with a whole host of specialists. It was as if I had evacuated my old life and someone had placed me on a treadmill. I was constantly looking ahead and pacing myself towards my next appointment. On the day of my results I reached my final goal and it felt as if someone had hit the emergency button. Everything stopped. No more meetings. No more appointments. Yet, the treadmill I had been running on had taken me miles away from life as I once knew it.
Being an optimist and receiving the news of remission brought expectations of celebrations and rejoicing. It is then difficult to accept the range of feelings I do have. Yes, I am delighted, relieved and I feel so lucky. I am truly thankful but these emotions come hand in hand with ones of frustration. The staff at Maggie’s (https://www.maggiescentres.org) have been an incredible source of support. They explained that a cancer diagnosis causes people to go on auto pilot which is why at the end of treatment it is common to feel the way I do. More importantly they advised me to simply allow myself to feel those things. Initially I felt guilty being angry: there are so many people who are still fighting for their lives, people who won’t be as lucky as me, how dare I be angry or upset. But the reality is not that I am ungrateful. The reality is something traumatic happened to me and for the past 5 months I hadn’t allowed myself to feel scared or angry. It is only now these emotions have caught up with me. Unlike my usual mantra of ‘focusing on the positives’ I need to just accept that sometimes I am sad. It’s not a weakness.
As someone who has always relied on exercise as a stress reliever it is incredibly difficult to feel this way without an outlet. I am envious of my team mates as they start the hockey season. I am desperate to set myself a new goal but I am cautious as I know my body has limitations.
On Sunday I ran for the first time in 5 months. I ran a distance of 4k. This achievement brought a feeling of elation and determination. I am at a point now where I am doing two things: Getting to know my body and rebuilding my life.
My body was my own temple which allowed me to run before work, achieve my day to day tasks and easily incorporate some socialising in the evening. It maintained a comfortable body temperature and dare I say it – I was toned. Now I have to ease myself into any task I set myself for the day. The menopausal side affects make me a hot, sweaty mess and my sleeping pattern is disturbed regularly. My once toned temple has been replaced with a lumpy, bumpy shed. I don’t have the body confidence I once did. However this body got me through cancer which is amazing and if it can do that then I will restore it so its exterior can have one worthy of such achievement!
Prior to the 8th April I lived a hectic schedule of work and play. On a weekday I would leave the house at 7am rarely to return within 12 hours. Prior to the 8th April I had ambitions of running two more marathons before I turn 30 and dreams of starting a family. I will return to my schedule of work and play. The dreams I had before are still achievable but for the time being I need to focus on setting small, smart goals. Goals which will help rebuild my life slowly. Brick by brick.
My first run in 5 months followed by a cwtch with Parsnip!