Archives for category: Argentina
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In Buenos Aires, at a conveniently named ‘Bar,’ back before any of this ever happened

A year and a half ago, I had my very first mammogram, having just discovered the lump in my left breast while living in Buenos Aires.

Thanks to my health insurance, I had the tests and results all in the same day. Everything was fine. I didn’t have cancer, said the Argentine doctor.

I was given some printed reports and a short letter, which I read and kept, always planning to follow up with the Argentine clinic when I was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer, four months later.

But cancer is time-consuming, and it took me a year after my diagnosis to retrieve the letter and really look into its meaning. It turned out I’d been given the impression I’d got the all-clear, when in fact the medical code in the blurb actually only meant ‘Probably benign.’

Here’s what happened next…

To read the rest of this post in Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita Magazine, click here.

IMG_6429The day I quit Bloomberg in March 2012, I expected my managers to be mad at me. I was abandoning the company to which I’d devoted most of my 20s, and I was leaving my colleagues in the lurch.

Instead, the wise bureau chief gave me a hug and said “You’ll never regret leaving any job. Every time you leave a company or make a big change, things always work out for the best.”

Fourteen months on, I can honestly say he was absolutely right. Things did work out for the best. Just not exactly in the way we both imagined.

It turned out the decision to quit Bloomberg and leave Argentina was the decision that saved my life. The move to Ireland prompted me to return to the doctors for a second medical opinion, and the rest is history.

IMG_6431So, when a colleague at Facebook said the exact same thing when I told him I was leaving today, I couldn’t help but smile. Everything happens for a reason.

Some people have found it hard to see why I’ve been – for the most part – a happier person since cancer came into my life, and it’s always been a little hard to explain. Now, here goes:

When I was about six years old, I knew exactly what I was going to be when I grew up. I was going to be the editor of a magazine. From the day I learned to write, I was scribbling down stories, typing away furiously in MS-DOS and making my own magazines with cut-out pictures and Pritt Stick. Over the years, I broadened my interests and grew to love a lot of things, from acting to languages to teaching to sport. But one thing always remained constant: my passion for writing.

Somehow, though, my career took a different path. I took a languages degree, travelled the world, became a financial journalist. Seven years into my career, I left Bloomberg – partly for personal reasons, partly because I had lost track of my goals and wasn’t passionate enough about finance. I moved into a job at Facebook, continuing with my love of languages and Latin America, but it wasn’t right.

IMG_6114Then I got cancer, and every instinct in my body told me to write, write, write. And it was the easiest thing in the world: writing about something close to my heart, something I knew, something I truly cared about, something people wanted to read about.

Apart from my Mum and Dad, to whom I owe everything, writing was the thing that got me through the last 11 months of hell. My blog was what connected me with my friends, family and colleagues past and present when I was too sick to keep in touch with them in person. My blog was the thing that put me in touch with a whole new set of friends – a group of girls all over the world with whom I have cancer in common but who are by no means defined by their cancer.

But there comes a time when the Cancer part stops and the Life part starts again. I will continue this blog because there is still plenty to say and people who are benefiting from it, but I will be writing more and more about other things and the cancer part will take a back seat. It’s a shame when it takes a major illness to push you to follow your dreams, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that life is way too short.

photo(1)Tomorrow is my last day at Facebook and after that I plan to take a few months to properly rest and reflect on the crazy year I just had.

In September, I’ll be moving back to London to start the MA Magazine Journalism at City University – a course I’ve wanted to do for about a decade but never got the chance because life was too busy passing me by. I may be the oldest student in the class, probably doing my knitting in the back row and drinking cups of tea while the rest of the class go out drinking, but that’s ok. I’m doing it for me.

I will be forever grateful for the amazing times I had working at both Facebook and Bloomberg – two brilliant companies that taught me so much. From the lifelong friends I made at Bloomberg, to the people at Facebook who supported me through the hardest time of my life over the past year. I’m so lucky to have worked with so many talented, inspiring people at both companies and I don’t regret a single moment of my career so far.

When I was on sick leave, a colleague wrote a career testimonial in which the main message was “Find what you love”. A couple of weeks before me, she took heed of her own advice and jumped bravely into an unknown world of book-writing and doing what she loves. She didn’t even need cancer to spur her on.

When I announced my resignation from Facebook a couple of weeks ago, a big smile spread across my manager’s face. While there is the smallest possibility that he was just pleased to get rid of me, I’m pretty sure the smile indicated he was happy because he knew I’d found what I loved.

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My latest blog post for Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita Magazine:
breastcancercare.org.uk/news/blog/hair-regrowth-after-cancer-why-i-ditched-wigs

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IMG_4719I’ll never forget Valentine’s Day 2012 because it was the day I went to the Clinica del Sol private hospital in Buenos Aires to get that lump in my breast seen to. There was nothing romantic about getting my boobs out in front of the grey-haired old male Argentine doctor, nor was it particularly sexy having them squashed like pancakes into the vice-like clamp of the mammogram machine. But hey, at least I didn’t have cancer! Or at least I didn’t find out about it until later.

The good thing about Valentine’s Day 2012 was it set the standards low for 2013, so I wasn’t too disheartened when the heart-shaped card in my letterbox turned out to be a thank you card (a nice one, at that!) and not a display of love from one of my many (elusive) secret admirers. Nor was I too bothered about spending a second consecutive Valentine’s day in the hospital, because at least this time it was for my penultimate round of radiotherapy. But it’s fair to say I’ll be easy to please come 14th February 2014.

IMG_4688So that’s it: radiotherapy done. And with it, the end of eight long months of cancer treatment.

One operation, six rounds of chemo, 33 rounds of radio, roughly 80 injections, 40 self-injections, more than 50 hospital trips, five nights in hospital, three seasons, one birthday and a whole load of cups of tea.

It’s been quite a journey.

But if anyone thinks that means it’s ‘over,’ they are very much mistaken. I managed to avoid hospital for the first 29 years of my life but I’ll be going back every year for the rest of my life without fail. The first check-up takes place in 4-6 weeks, the next shortly after that, and another one in July. For the rest of my life I’ll be having mammograms and letting strange doctors feel my boobs. But I’m fine with that, because I feel safe when I’ve got someone checking up on me. In fact, it’s widely said among the cancer community that the hardest part comes after the treatment ends. Once there are no more daily hospital trips, no more doctors and nurses monitoring your progress, the mind starts to wander and the insecurities and fear set in. It feels pretty overwhelming after such a long time under constant medical care.

IMG_4687But at least I get a little reprieve from the daily hospital trips for a while.

The sun came out in Dublin for my final day of radiotherapy, affording me the rare opportunity to walk to the hospital via the beach. After so many weeks of gailforce winds and torrential rain, this felt quite symbolic. It also allowed me to take off my hat and get some much-needed vitamin D to my face and head, which I’m sure will help my hair grow.

IMG_4716The last radiotherapy session was the same as all the rest. The final eight sessions were ‘boosters,’ directed towards the area where the tumour was, instead of the whole breast. I was expecting to have a bright red boob by now, but in fact you can hardly see the effects of the radiation at all. It may get worse over the next few weeks and it’ll be a while before I can shave my armpit and use normal shower gel and moisturiser, but I was expecting it to be a lot worse. I’ve included this photo to the left so you can see what it looks like to be under the machine. Bear in mind this is just for blog purposes – in reality I’d be naked from the waist up!

After the final session, I went up to the Breast Care section of the hospital to say goodbye to the nurses who were there when I was diagnosed. One of them, Maeve, congratulated me on finishing and asked me how I was feeling. I could barely find the words to answer because the question made me want to burst into tears. The poor woman must think I’m an emotional wreck because every time I’ve seen her, I’ve welled up. But the truth is, I can’t go back to that little room where I received my diagnosis on 22nd June 2012 without breaking down a little. That little room with its wonderfully friendly nurses is the place where all this started and it just brings a big lump to my throat. Most of the time I manage to cope by taking each day at a time, but that place brings back the whole unbelievable overwhelmingness of it all.

The effects of the radiotherapy will continue to work for a few more weeks. IMG_4693The tiredness has already hit me and is getting worse, but it’s a strange kind of exhaustion that comes in waves. I sleep for 8-9 hours but often in the afternoons I feel the kind of sleepy you feel when you’ve had a few glasses of wine and a big meal in a really toasty room – a kind of after-lunch sleepiness where it’s hard to keep your eyes open.

For the final session, I decided to wear the heart vest sent to me by my fellow breast cancer survivor and Fighting Fancy founder, Heather. I wore it not because it was the day after Valentine’s Day, but because it was my last session and it kind of symbolised what myself and all the other girls in my global cancer support network have been through. From the one who’s currently in hospital after her fourth mastectomy surgery, to the one who was admitted to hospital with a horrible mid-chemo infection last week, it’s been great to be able to share my experiences with people who really get it.

IMG_4643As all those girls all know, the journey is far from over, but at least I can start to regain a little normality in my life and slowly get over the effects of the treatment. Now if only my hair would grow faster so I could stop looking like a cancer patient…

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