Archives for category: Emotional Health

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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I was a bit nervous about writing this one. Despite everything I’ve shared on my blog over the last year and a half – fertility, periods, dating, the works – it somehow feels more personal talking about my career and why I decided to do an unpaid internship at the grand old age of 30 (/31).

20140107-141117.jpgBut I figure at least half of my friends would love to quit their jobs and start again if they could, so maybe some of you will find this relevant.

Anyway, here it is, my latest blog for the Huffington Post:
Is 30 Told Old to Start Again?

As always, let me know what you think, and Happy New Year. Laura xx

It turns out the mere mention of the word ‘cannula’ (a thin tube inserted into the vein to administer drugs) is enough to make me cry.

IMG_2358I had gone to the Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester for my MRI scan – a routine check-up on my breasts that’s recommended for women under 40 because it’s more reliable and doesn’t involve harmful radiation.

I have never been one to dread scans or be afraid of them in any way. I sailed through 33 rounds of radiotherapy because it was just a case of going into a room, lying down under a big whirring machine and waiting. No pain, no dark tunnels. So, for my first ever breast MRI on Thursday, I breezed into the radiology department, all smiles and regular heartbeat, expecting to be in and out within an hour or so.

I just had no idea I was going to need a cannula. It was just a pin prick so they could insert some dye half-way through the scan, to allow my boob matter to show up on the images (or something). It was actually the smallest type of cannula available, used for babies, no less. (I say this so that you know just how much of a wimp I am).

But as soon as I heard the word ‘cannula,’ I burst into tears in front of the nurse, because to me, a cannula isn’t just a little needle-like thing. To me, a cannula is synonymous with chemo. Just a whiff of the saline going into my arm was enough to make me want to vomit, bringing with it all the traumatic memories of six months of chemo. The nights in the hospital when it took three different nurses to finally (and painfully) get a cannula into my hand, and the gut-wrenching feeling of those toxic drugs seeping into the veins…

IMG_2361The nurse handed me a bunch of tissues and told me a story about how she can’t go down the catfood aisle in the supermarket because it reminds her of the cat she lost three years ago. This story of association was supposed to make me feel better but, of course, she didn’t know she was talking to Cat Lady Supremo, for whom any tale of dead, unhappy or injured cats is enough to bring on the waterworks. So, naturally, that just made me feel worse.

So I lay there, horizontal, on the MRI machine with my face squashed into a squashy pad looking down at a white space, tears streaming down my face, cannula in arm, strapped to the machine, for about 40 minutes. As we all know, when you cry, your nose runs (especially when you’ve had flu for the last week), and when you’re lying face down, without the use of your arms because they’re strapped to a machine, there’s nothing you can do about it. So I lay and watched a large bogey slowly drip, drip, drip, along with my tears, until it finally hit the machine. I hope it doesn’t interfere with my results.

It really wasn’t a painful experience, and the staff in the hospital were amazing, but sometimes it just takes a trigger to bring back every horrible thing you go through with cancer. I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the past few weeks and I’ve been quite emotional.

The results won’t be back for a while yet, but hopefully it’ll be another all-clear. And – with any luck – I won’t have to go through all that again for another year.

photo (2)A few months ago, I put myself on an Internet dating website. I was still having radiotherapy for my breast cancer and barely had a few sprouts of hair on my head, but after eight months of being cooped up at home during surgery and chemotherapy, I was more than ready to put myself back out there.

The question was how to advertise myself. You see, an Internet dating profile is like a CV. Just as you have to find a way to explain the massive cancer-shaped hole in your resumé, you also have to think about how to factor your illness into future relationships.

Should I post an old picture of myself with flowing locks and bushy brows and not mention that I ever had cancer? Or should I use a photo of my natural, bald self and come clean about my possible infertility, ongoing treatment and scarred breast?

To read the rest of this article on the Huffington Post website, please click here.

When I left my job recently, one of the last things I had to do was give back my laptop and iPhone – not the end of the world by any stretch, but nevertheless two pieces of technology to which I had grown accustomed and somewhat attached.

20130630-130509.jpgI’ve been without mobile internet for over a month now and, frankly, I’m loving it. Of course, I don’t wish to be completely internet-less because the truth is the web has been a wonderful support throughout my cancer experience and I’m just as addicted to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as the next person. But there is definitely something to be said for going internet-free for a while, particularly as a recovering cancer patient in need of some head-clearing and soul-searching.

To read the rest of this post in Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita Magazine and see my Six Reasons to Switch Off Your Smartphone, click here.

 

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