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So this photo popped up on my Facebook feed the other day.

There’s nothing like Facebook to give you that big surprise surge of emotions with a visual image – whether it’s a photo of your ex on his wedding day or a school photo of you with pudding-bowl hair circa 1990 that someone has recovered from their parents’ house. Or, in my case, a pic of you larking about in a photo booth mid-chemo with a completely bald head and some ill-informed eyebrow pencillage.

I hate these photos of me, but I do look at them and think I must have been brave because I can’t imagine doing that now. What a difference a couple of years makes, eh?

Speaking of bravery, it’s been so long since I’ve written this blog that I’d forgotten the password. When you’re going through cancer treatment every day and you’re off work and living it, it’s a lot easier to share everything online. You’re sort of suspended from the real world, so sharing some of the most private details about your health with the blogosphere seems kind of natural.

Back in the real world and back at work, it’s easier to pretend the whole cancer thing never happened, so there have been times over the last six months that I’ve sat down to type a few words but I’ve never pressed “Publish” because it all somehow felt too personal.

Just because I haven’t been blogging or going through active treatment, doesn’t mean I haven’t been dealing with the many ways cancer manages to continually affect my life – hot flushes, night sweats, MRI scans, aches and pains that constantly make me think the cancer has come back, and 400-mile round trips for hospital visits (yes, I know I could get an oncologist in London, where I live, but for some reason I cling to the surgeon in Manchester who I love so much he brings a tear to my eye every time I see him).

I still read some of the cancer blogs and every so often there is something that really affects me. The death of a ‘virtual’ friend diagnosed around the same time as me, or a magazine article about a newly diagnosed girl my age that brings back all the feelings and memories. But most of the time, I manage to be the same person I’ve always been. And that scares the hell out of me because in a way I kind of blame the person I am for getting cancer in the first place.

Does cancer change you? Well maybe, in some ways, but mostly, no. I am back to being the person I’ve always been. I get stressed out with work and I push myself too hard. And now I also seem to have incorporated mild panic attacks into the mix – which I think is more to do with age than having had cancer. Even though there is no medical proof, I am fairly convinced my cancer was down to stress, or maybe the way I deal with stress.

In the two years before diagnosis, I had various stress-related ailments: acne, shingles and migraines. I was working 12-18-hour days, surviving on 4-6 hours’ sleep, and training for a marathon. So it didn’t surprise me that my body got so run down that my immune system couldn’t cope with those few tiny cancerous cells that everybody gets but that most people’s bodies manage to ward off before they start to multiply.

Two and a half years later, am I managing to be that chilled out, zen, non-stressy person I vowed I’d be? Am I hell. I mean, I have made vast improvements – I always make sure I get 8 hours sleep, I average about 10 of my daily fruit and veg (no, really), and I occasionally do meditation (like, once a month, but I will start using that Headspace app more regularly). But I still allow work and other things to stress me out and any ‘down time’ seems to get eaten up by stupid but necessary tasks. Oh, and I seem to have signed up for another half marathon.

There’s a daily grapple with myself over what to do – should I just quit full-time work forever, move somewhere much cheaper and live a stress-free, no-commute life? Or should I stay where I am and keep doing what I’m doing? I figure there’s never any guarantee the cancer won’t come back regardless of what I’m doing or how stressed I am, and it’s not worth giving up my ambition and letting the Big C win. So, on I plod.

Anyway, onto the good news. I finally got the results back from my two-year MRI scan and apparently there’s still nothing sinister to report:

Further to my previous letter I have now received the MRI scan. This has revealed no sinister focal lesion. Features were consistent with previous surgery. I am happy with this and will continue to monitor progress as planned.

I remember one of you telling me right at the beginning that if I survived two years then I would be “all clear”. While I now know this is not technically the case, because you’re never really clear of cancer, I’m relieved to get those results. (Not least because the nurse kept calling me Emma during the procedure, and when I rung up three weeks later the hospital had no record of the scan.)

The MRI was a stressful affair. I was determined not to cry this time because I knew what to expect – there’d be a cannula that would remind me of the chemo but I’d be ok with it. But for some reason, I woke up that morning with a terrible headache, which, coupled with the drive over the winding roads en route to Manchester, made me feel as sick and unwell as if I’d just had a bout of chemo. That, and the anxiety, the feeling I never thought I’d have because I convince myself I’m not bothered, that the ever-so-slight pain under my left breast (the cancerous one) might be something to worry about.

So I arrived at the hospital all shaky and sickly from the car journey, and they called me straight in for my appointment. And of course, true to form, they couldn’t get the needle in, and had to call a second nurse to help out. I couldn’t help but have a little cry. And then there was the bit where they kept calling me Emma.

It was my Mum who received the results letter, because for some unfathomable reason at 32 years of age I still get a lot of my post delivered to my parents’ house. Her response, when I asked her to open it, even though I’d already had the results informally over the phone, was “I must admit I still felt nervous opening the letter. You never really know until you get the results from Mr S.”

Yep, that just about says it all really. You never stop worrying. But I’m here, two years later, and that’s all that matters.

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Thought I’d end on some selfie action to give you an update on the hair situation – see t-shirt for explanation. [The doc was slightly surprised when I turned up for my scan a few days later with red and blue paint bruises all over my arms]

Love, Emma x

Hair growth June 2014I haven’t written anything on this blog since February, which is due to a combination of having just completed a Masters degree in nine months and starting a new job immediately after, and – more importantly – having no cancer news to report.

But those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will know that Sunday 22 June was the two-year anniversary of my diagnosis, so it was high time for an update, which you can read on the Huffington Post website.

Here’s a preview:

For the last year and a half, I have taken a photo of myself almost every day using an app to track my hair growth. I started three months after chemo finished, which is why I look like a baby chick in the initial pics. I also went make-up free in all the photos so that I could track my eyelash and eyebrow growth – a whole year of no make-up selfies, if you will.

In other very brief news, I did a talk at a school in north London the other week to teach young women about breast cancer awareness. I wrote a few words and stuck a few pictures up on the Boobette blog, which tracks the work of all the other lovely ambassadors for CoppaFeel!

I’ll be back with another post in a few months when I have my two-year MRI or mammogram, but until then please assume no news is good news.

Boobettes June 2014

I didn’t know it was World Cancer Day until I woke up this morning and saw my face splashed all over the Emirates Woman magazine website – quite a surprise. I wrote the article over Christmas but I didn’t realise it was coming out today.  I wouldn’t say the headline is exactly my own words, but the rest is all me. Anyway, it’s in this month’s print issue of Emirates Woman so if you’re in Dubai, go buy a copy!

Emirates WomanYou can read the rest of the article here.

In other news for this World Cancer Day, Cancer Research UK has just released a mobile game aimed at beating cancer sooner. Every time you play Genes in Space, you analyse real genetic data and help scientists identify certain cancer cells.

So next time you go to play Candy Crush, please think about downloading the Play to Cure game instead and actually do some good! Use these links to download it on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

So I just had my bi-annual check-up with the surgeon who saved my life and I’m pleased to say it’s all good.

It was just a manual examination – no scans, no cannulas, no tears this time – but for some reason it seemed more thorough than the last time and I felt quite satisfied.

Anyway, Dr Lifesaver seemed very pleased (‘Your scars have healed so well! You can barely even see the armpit one.’) and told me to come back in October for my next MRI scan. (Well, it’s not actually that simple – he said I have to come back and ask him to write another letter to the NHS board asking them if I can have another MRI, so it’ll probably be Christmas by the time I have another one, but anyway).

I have a different hospital appointment next week for a separate chemo/Tamoxifen-induced problem that I shan’t go into, but after that, no more hospital trips until July, when I see the oncologist again. Hooray!

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As you can see, my hair has grown a bit since last time I wrote. It’s not actually as long as it looks in this hospital-gown selfie – it’s just got volume today because I went to sleep with it wet and woke up with a semi-Mohican (as happens most days). It is also getting mullet-like at the back again and needs a bit of a trim.

But the good news is I’m *almost* back to my pre-chemo pixie. I think it’ll actually be two entire years after my pixie cut (August 2012) by the time it grows back to that length, which is insane. But my latest theory is that if my cancer cells grow anywhere near as slowly as my hair cells then hopefully they have NO CHANCE.

Oh, and I figured I could get away with today’s headline since yesterday was apparently National Yorkshire Pudding Day. Didn’t know it was a thing? Nope, me neither. But fortunately I have a bezzie who knows these things and thankfully she was on hand to cook me a truly splendid Yorkshire roast. So it is, indeed, all gravy.

Ah, January. This time last year, I was just starting a course of 33 radiotherapy sessions for breast cancer and I didn’t really know what to expect. So for my latest blog for Vita, I’ve written a few tips for coping with radiotherapy for anyone who’s going through it now – I hope it helps.

Anyway, after a year of writing for Vita, I decided the new year was a good time to stop, so I’ve hung up my boots. I’ll still be writing for the Huffington Post and Big Scary ‘C’ Word though, so don’t go anywhere.

If you’re reading this and fancy trying your hand at writing for Vita, they are looking for three new bloggers, so do enter the competition. You just need to have had your own experience of breast cancer.

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