Archives for category: Breast Cancer Awareness

Today marks six years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I’m not quite sure how to sum up everything that’s happened in the last 24 hours, let alone the last year or six years. So here’s a list, in no particular order, of random thoughts and people who have inspired me.

  1. Five-year all-clear

It took six attempts before I finally managed to have my annual MRI breast scan last Christmas. You’re supposed to have the scan at a certain point in your monthly cycle, but in 2017 my periods went quarterly (they’ve since returned), which made the whole thing quite difficult. And of course when I finally got a period, the MRI scanner broke and I only found out after I’d made the train trip from London to Manchester. But we got there in the end and after 26 phone calls I finally got the letter through the post in March to say that nothing sinister had been found. God love the NHS.

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  1. Saying goodbye to my surgeon

Due to the aforementioned difficulties in appointment scheduling with a hospital that is 200 miles away, I finally decided to move. This is easier said than done because of the emotional connection I have with Mr Sharif, the surgeon who saved my life. But I haven’t seen him once in the last two years – there was always a different doctor at every follow-up – so it was time to change. I have my first appointment with the Royal Marsden in Sutton next week and I’m hoping they’ll agree to continue with my yearly MRI scans. I never got to say goodbye to Mr Sharif and Dr Chittalia, but I love them both to bits.

  1. Tamoxifen, periods, brain fog and mental health

I’ve been on the hormone suppressant tamoxifen for five and a half years and although I haven’t suffered the horrible side effects that many of my friends have, I’ve still had plenty of unwelcome effects. One of these is what I can only refer to as a sort of brain fog or haze, where I feel spaced out, depressed and utterly exhausted, rather like a migraine without the headache. It is hard to explain to work that you are unwell when you don’t have obvious physical symptoms, and this in turn leads to feelings of guilt. But in a world that is increasingly paying attention to mental health, I’m doing my best to be kind to myself.

  1. New eyebrows

Of all the things to worry about when you have cancer, you’d think hair wouldn’t be one of them, but of course it affects the way you feel. So after five years of hating the way I looked without make-up and doing a terrible job of drawing my eyebrows in, I finally invested in the painful procedure that is microblading, or permanent eyebrow tattoos, at a brilliant place in South London called Beauty Clinic Simone. I am so pleased with the results and can’t tell you how nice it feels to wake up and feel vaguely confident with the way I look. Here’s a before and after – just bear in mind I’m wearing make-up in the after pic.

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  1. Serpentine Swim and Plymouth Half in memory of Laura Weatherall-Plane

When Laura died just over a year ago aged just 37, it affected way more people than she probably ever knew loved her. She was one of the most caring, selfless people I’d ever met and she dedicated the last few years of her life to raising money for CoppaFeel! to try and prevent young people from being diagnosed with breast cancer at the too-late stage. She ran half marathons right up until a couple of months before she died, and she never stopped. So last September, a bunch of us swam 2km in the Serpentine lake, enduring far-too-cold temperatures and mouthfuls of duck shit. Then in May this year, Laura’s husband Jon gathered a group of 150+ people to run the Plymouth Half in her honour, raising almost £20,000 for CoppaFeel’s livesaving work.

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  1. Running retirement

I’m pleased to say the Plymouth Half marked my official retirement from long-distance running, because my body has told me very firmly it’s not good for me. I’ll still do up to 10km runs and I will definitely get my nip on again because I’ve discovered open-water swimming is one of the best things ever – it’s great for mental health and, curiously, I’ve also found duck shit to be a natural face and hair mask. When I announced my official retirement on social media, I received a card in the post from Jackie Scully – quite possibly the biggest legend of the physical challenges world – saying that I had been the one to inspire her to take up running after cancer. From the woman who ran a marathon on her wedding day and has undertaken to run, cycle and swim 2018 miles in 2018, this really meant a lot.

  1. Writing a novel

Part of the reason I’ve been so busy and stressed for the last couple of years is that I’ve spent every weekend and holiday trying to write my debut novel, Single Bald Female. I am still a way off finishing it, but from September til March this year I did the Faber Academy’s (brilliant) Writing a Novel course, and yesterday the class of 2018 had our work printed in an anthology, which was sent to agents. I am incredibly excited to have already received some interest from agents and this has certainly provided added motivation to finish the book as soon as humanly possible, so watch this space.

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  1. Stylist piece

In October I wrote a piece for Stylist magazine for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They sent a photographer round my house and she did some wonderful portraits while my cats tried to sabotage her technical equipment. The article was republished online last month on National Cancer Survivors Day, which is a weird one because it makes people living with secondary cancer feel excluded – and they are the people we need to supporting the most.

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  1. Kris Hallenga and Emily Hayward

CoppaFeel!’s founder, Kris Hallenga, is the ultimate in human beings and she has inspired me so much over the last few years – just read this post on How to glitter a turd for a brief taste of how much she is smashing it. She has been living with cancer for almost 10 years – which also means that CoppaFeel! turns 10 this year. You can support her ongoing efforts by purchasing tickets for Festifeel, which I can verify is actually awesome. Anyway, through her last blog, Kris introduced me to Emily Hayward, another magnificent human who has been YouTubing her way through a two-months-to-live cancer diagnosis and being the ultimate example of how not to feel sorry for yourself. Her wife Aisha deserves a special shout out for just being awe-inspiringly incredible.

  1. Werk werk werk

I never achieved the goal of becoming a women’s magazine editor that I set out to do five years ago, because I got side-tracked along the way when I went to intern at Restaurant magazine and heard about a job at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants that seemed like it was made for me (food + travel + writing). Four years later, I have somehow become part of an incredible family of chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders and foodies from all over the world and with every event I feel more at home. It has been one of the hardest, most stressful jobs I’ve ever done and it very much contradicts my post-cancer aim of leading a calmer life, but somehow I have stuck around because I love it and I love my team.

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Just this last week, I had the opportunity to do a live interview on stage with one of the people I most admire in the gastronomy world and whose restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns is simply incredible – Dan Barber. I also fluffed my way through interviews on Spanish radio and produced a 56-page book in the space of two weeks. It is not what I imagined I’d be doing four years ago but it’s pretty cool.

Needless to say, it’s been one of the most intense weeks of my life and I’m exhausted, sleep deprived and an emotional wreck, but I am SO HAPPY. All the love to everyone who’s supported me through these last six years xx

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In August, I’m trekking 60km across Iceland (the country, not the supermarket) to raise money for a small but perfectly formed charity named CoppaFeel! Despite the daunting prospect of sore knees, blisters, sleep deprivation from the four hours of nightly darkness and the small matter of raising £2,695, I’m up for the challenge. 

Here’s why:

1. The story behind CoppaFeel! is inspiring

CoppaFeel! was set up by twin sisters Kris and Maren Hallenga. When Kris found out she had breast cancer at 23 years old, she also discovered the cancer had spread to other parts of her body and was incurable. Kris is now 30 years old and frequently refers to “living with cancer” – not dying from it. I can confirm this is 100% true – despite the fact the disease is all over her body and she spends much of her time in and out of hospitals, Kris Hallenga is without doubt the most alive person I know.

Aside from being a kick-ass CEO and lobbying the government on cancer education in schools with her #RethinkCancer campaign, she also throws festivals for charity, has a host of A-list celebrity backers (Dermot O’Leary, Fearne Cotton, Russell Howard, to name but a few), and somehow still finds time to make sexy bobble earrings for charity. She also just ran her first half-marathon, despite making no secret of the fact that she HATES running, so it goes without saying she’s a bit of a ledge.

2. Vicky Pattinson and Chloe Madeley are doing it

About those celebrity backers I mentioned… well, I was umming and ahhing over whether I could really raise almost £3,000 for charity, but when CoppaFeel! announced this lovely pair would be joining us on the trip, the deal was well and truly sealed.

I’ve never watched Geordie Shore (honest), but Vicky was an absolute legend on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! last year so I’ll be damned if I’m going to pass up an opportunity to become her new BFF. (Yes, I’ll do my best to get the goss on Spenny, and yes, I’ll happily do my Geordie accent/Cheryl Cole impression in exchange for sponsorship).

3. Exercise makes me feel alive

Almost exactly three years ago, I finished chemotherapy and went back to work while I started radiotherapy. People in the office assumed I was cured and congratulated me on reaching “the final straight”. But with cancer, there is no “final straight” – it’s something that affects you for the rest of your life, and the fear of re-diagnosis never goes away.

People expected me to be fine, but in fact the End Of Treatment was the hardest part for me. There were no more doctors looking over me, no more weekly checks, and suddenly I was expected to return to life as ‘normal’. But when I got home in the evening and took off my wig and drawn-on eyebrows, I looked more like a cancer patient than ever.

Around this time, I got a call from my old friend, Running. He placed my trainers on the ground in front of me and re-introduced me to his best mate, Endorphins. I put on some thermal tops, my chemo beanie and a woolly hat, and the three of us (Me, Running and Endorphins) headed out in -5ºC and pounded the pavements for a good 15 minutes. A few days later, we did it again, and suddenly I didn’t feel quite so much like a cancer patient.

It’s been three years now and that rush of endorphins has never lost its appeal, so I can’t wait for the challenge of Iceland. The thing is, cancer is a marathon. You have to be positive to get through it. You’ll probably start feeling a lot of pain around mile 20, but you know if you reach the finish line, you’ll feel so elated, so full of joy and pride and sense of achievement, that it’ll all be worth it. You’ll feel more alive than ever before. And then you may be asked to run it again. But you’ll do it, because you have to.

Quitting is not an option. So I guess I’ll just keep running.

Even if I look like this…

4. I’ve never been to Iceland

Going through chemo in the summer of 2012, I spent much of my time scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, green-eyed with envy over pictures of my friends sipping fresh coconut water, exposing their tanned hot dog legs and eating the finest food. I wrote a list of all the places I would visit when the doctor okayed me to fly, and fortunately I’ve already ticked off quite a few, but there’s so much of the world still to see.

Iceland is one of those magical places I’ve always hoped to visit, and what better way to see such a marvellous country than on a trek? I’ll be sure to send you a postcard.

5. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what Kris is going through

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 years old, I was misdiagnosed a number of times. I found a lump and had it tested straight away, but I was told by several different doctors that because of my age it was unlikely to be cancer. It was only because of my family and friends’ insistence that I went back and got that final test that diagnosed me, and fortunately I’m now almost four years in remission.

Some young women – like Kris – aren’t so lucky, which is why she set up a charity aiming to stamp out diagnosis of secondary cancer due to late detection. CoppaFeel!’s small army of Boobettes – myself included – go to schools, unis and festivals around the UK to teach young men and women to get to know their bodies. It does what it says on the tin – if you regularly cop a feel, you’ll recognise when something’s different, and you’ll get it checked out.

CoppaFeel! can’t cure cancer, but they believe if young men and women are educated to get to know their bodies and recognise when something is wrong, they might be able to prevent anyone else being diagnosed at the terminal stage. They have already saved many lives in this way, and they need money to continue their life-saving work.

What are you waiting for? Go CoppaFeel!

 

Please sponsor me here: Pricey treks Iceland 2016

Shellie Kendrick, one of the creators of the Real Cancer Awareness video

Shellie Kendrick, one of the creators of the Real Cancer Awareness video

It’s that time of year again: October, aka Pinktober. The month that is now almost as well known for cancer awareness and the colour pink as it is for falling leaves, pumpkins and trick-or-treat.

There is nothing wrong with pink, and I am 100% supportive of breast cancer awareness, but there is a growing sense in the cancer world that so-called Pinkification and Pinkwashing are trivialising the disease and giving a disproportionate amount of attention to breast cancer awareness while other cancers are virtually ignored.

My latest Huffington Post blog introduces a new video aimed at real cancer awareness by cancer survivors Ashley Blair Doyle, Shellie Kendrick and Rachel Michelson. Please read it, watch it, share it and spread the word.

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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.

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What I looked like when I started running again back in Feb

Six months ago, I foolishly signed up for the Royal Parks Half Marathon, thinking I’d be right as rain by October and not quite realising just how long it takes to regain full fitness after one surgery, six months of chemo and 33 rounds of radiotherapy. Add to that the effects of a scorching British summer, a month travelling around hot, sweaty Asia and a week of extreme jetlag and flu, and you can probably imagine I’m not doing very well with my training.

Read the rest of this entry »

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