Archives for category: Hair loss

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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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.

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IMG_3350This time last year, I had just finished the last of six rounds of chemotherapy and was preparing for my first post-chemo Christmas. It’s hard to believe a whole year has gone by, particularly as I still remember the day I was ‘sentenced‘ to eight months of treatment as if it were yesterday.

Since then, I’ve met a lot of people going through chemo and I’ve been surprised at the varying advice given to them by different hospitals, for example the woman whose nails went black and started falling off after chemo because she had never been given a simple tip to help protect them.

With this in mind, I’ve written a list of ten top tips to get through chemo for this month’s post for Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita magazine. Click the link to read the list.

Merry Christmas all!

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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