Three good things happened to me last month. Here they are (in order of occurrence, not importance):

  1. I had laser eye surgery
  2. I got discharged from my oncologist (forever, I hope)
  3. My three-year MRI scan came back clear

I’ll start with No.2.

After examining me, my doctor said, “It’s been three years, so it’s very unlikely the tumour will come back now.” Then he said “I’m sacking you! When your oncologist sacks you, it’s very good news!” Then he laughed, then I laughed, and then I cried.

If I hadn’t been crying constantly for the preceding 24 hours as a result of the laser surgery then everyone in the waiting room might have noticed my happy-emosh tears, but since I showed up dressed as a D-list celebrity in sunglasses and a visor (yes, A VISOR) to protect my puffy, red, light-sensitive eyes, I think I probably got away with it.

Now for those of you wondering about the laser surgery: well, I had LASEK, which is unfortunately not the one where you can go back to work the next day with perfect vision. I had the one where the laser works on the surface of the eye instead of cutting a layer below it, which means you can’t see properly until a couple of weeks later, when the surface has healed. It’s incredibly painful for the first couple of days and makes your eyes constantly stream with tears and your nose with snot, which is why I had to go to the hospital in celebrity disguise.

Kym Marsh

Channeling Kym Marsh exiting the gym

The laser surgery itself was fine – just 47 seconds on each eye, and the green laser beams reminded me of radiotherapy, so I felt strangely at home. (No, really). Afterwards, you have to be skilled enough to administer 127 different kinds of eye drops without actually being able to read the label on the bottle (thanks, Mum), then you have to be cool enough to pull off regulation one-size-fits-all goggles sellotaped to your head, and it feels like having chlorine and grit rubbed into your eyes for two days. But apart from that, it’s fine.


A strong look, I feel

Would I recommend it? Well, two and a half weeks later, I still can’t really see that well, so maybe ask me again in a month.

Finally, onto news No.3: the annual MRI scan. I hadn’t heard anything by early this week so I called my surgeon’s secretary. “We don’t have any record of your MRI scan,” she said. So nothing changes.

They now seem to have got hold of it though and everything’s fine, apparently. So that’s good.


Third annual regulation hospital gown selfie

Being discharged from the oncologist is of course a big deal, but I will still see my surgeon once a year and have the annual MRI scans, and I’ll be looking out for anything sinister in the mean time. But it still feels like quite a significant milestone, so I’m happy.


Facebook tells me it’s three years since the chemo chair ice-pack challenge

And so it was that almost three years to the day of my original surgery, I found myself going under the knife again. This time it was to remove a cyst that emerged after my original operation in June 2012 and recently got infected. So, no biggie. However, as with anything in the world of boobs, hospitals and health, it was not without its fair share of drama.


It started a couple of months ago when I noticed that the cyst in my armpit, which had always been about the size of a sesame seed, had suddenly grown to marble size. It was also red, sore and painful, so naturally I thought “oh God, the cancer is back”. At the same time, I had been feeling exhausted and weepy, but had put this down to jet lag after returning from a trip to Asia, and certainly hadn’t related it to the lump.

My GP didn’t relate the two either. In fact, he put the tiredness down to a urinary tract infection and then took one look at the glowing lump in my armpit and gasped “gosh! Well you’re going to have to take that out! If anything, for aesthetic reasons. I mean, if this is what it’s like after three years, imagine after five!” Fortunately though, despite his barely concealed horror, he was fairly sure it didn’t look like cancer.

I managed to get an emergency appointment at my hospital a few days later, at which point the cyst had grown so red and sore and my exhaustion so pronounced that I realised it must be an infection. Even cancer doesn’t grow that fast, I reasoned.

Sure enough, the doctor agreed, and gave me two options: 1) we give you antibiotics, drain the cyst now and then wait a month or so until it’s gone down before removing it or 2) we put you into emergency surgery to remove the cyst now while it’s still infected, but be warned, the results will be “pretty ghastly”. Er, I’ll take option 1, thank you very much doc.

So they drained the cyst and I went around for a week or so with a large dressing under my arm, braless with unshaven armpits and no deodorant – a strong look for the start of summer. The cyst duly shrunk to its original size, the GP gave me a vitamin D prescription and I was my usual self just in time for my holiday.

When I was having chemo in the middle of summer three years ago and painfully watching all my friends’ holiday snaps appear in my Facebook feed, I used to write lists of all the places I would go to when I was better. Colombia was on that list and it definitely didn’t disappoint. I ate my weight in fresh fish and crispy fried patacón (see below), drank my way through the national coffee supply and partied like 2012 never happened.


Fast forward to last Wednesday and I’m all set for my operation with the lovely surgeon who did my original op three years ago. However, just as I’m about to leave the house, I get a call from Stepping Hill hospital (if the name sounds familiar, it’s because you read about it in the recent poisoning scandal), telling me the surgeon has cancelled due to unexplained ‘personal circumstances’.

After much waiting, umming and ahhing, I eventually agree to have the surgery the following day with a different but similarly qualified surgeon, since I’ve already made the trip up north, planned the days off work and prepared myself emotionally.

The next day, I’m just about to leave for the hospital again when I get another call. This time they ask me if I can come in sooner. You may notice that I am having a bad hair day in the picture at the top of this screen. This is, firstly, because I washed and dried it the day before, in preparation for my weeks-in-the-planning operation with surgeon No.1, and secondly because on day two I rushed out of the house without brushing it when the hospital asked if I could come in earlier than planned.

It turns out I was lucky to get my operation at all, because the entire Stepping Hill computer system had gone down, and the hospital was in complete chaos, with surgeries being cancelled left, right and centre.

“Everything’s broken, nothing’s working, it’s an absolute nightmare” were the last words the nurse said to me before she took me in. Not exactly what you want to hear before you’re wheeled into the operating theatre.

Anyway, all went well and I was taken to a recovery ward and given a couple of slices of buttery toast with sugary tea. (One of the tiny joys in life is having a sugary tea after a hospital procedure – see photo below of me and Linders enjoying proper teapot tea in my luxurious private hospital after the 2012 op)

Tea and toast

Unfortunately, just as I took a bite into my buttery toast, the poor woman across the ward looked over at me with puppy dog eyes and started to make conversation. It turns out she had been nil-by-mouth since 6:45am, waiting for a general anaesthetic that kept getting put back due to the technical outage. And all around her were post-op people drooling over their buttered toast…

Anyway, the operation went smoothly and I have to go back for my results in two weeks, just in time for the three-year anniversary of the Big Scary ‘C’ Word. Life has thrown up rather a lot of other great material for me to write about lately, but you’ll have to wait a little longer for that. In the mean time, the major news is that my hair is finally long enough to go into a pony tail. Give it another year and I might be back to pre-cancer hair length.

Clove Club


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.


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.


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