BCSM, Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Screening, Cancer, Health, Mammogram, MRI, UK, Uncategorized, Women's Health

The MRI Results

Some happy Friday news. I got my MRI scan results, and all is good (or, at least, ‘satisfactory,’ to use the doctor-speak). Here’s what the consultant said:

This is to inform you that your recent MRI scan of your breasts performed at Wythenshawe Hospital was satisfactory and showed no sinister features. We are reassured by this.

We will see you again as planned.

What a relief. I must admit it’s terrifying that I’ll have to wait another year until I have any kind of test again, but in the cancer-survival world, no news is good news.

Standard
Baldness, BCSM, Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Hair loss, Health, HuffPost, UK, Uncategorized, Women's Health

HuffPost: We Are More Than Pink

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.

Standard
BCSM, Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Care UK, Cancer, Coppafeel!, Running, UK, Women's Health

The Half Marathon After the Marathon

IMG_4701

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.

Continue reading

Standard
BCSM, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Emotional Health, Health, Humor, Humour, Manchester, MRI, Radiotherapy, UK, Uncategorized, Women's Health

The Trauma Trigger

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.

Standard
BCSM, Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Screening, Cancer, Health, Mammogram, UK, Women's Health

The One-Year All-Clear

Mammogram letter

Five weeks after my mammogram and three weeks after the two weeks they said it would take for me to receive my results, this letter came through my door. FI-NA-LLY. Well it’s a good job I wasn’t panicking, isn’t it?

It’s exactly 12 months this week since I started chemo and it’s amazing the difference a year makes. I’m going for a very long-awaited month of overseas adventures now and I’m having a complete break from any kind of blogging, so for those of you who’ve rolled your eyes at the three posts I’ve sent your way this week, rest assured there’ll be no more for a while so you needn’t unsubscribe just yet.

No news is good news!

Standard
Breast cancer, Cancer, Health, Running, UK, Women's Health

A Race for Life to #Beat CancerSooner

IMG_0147It was inevitable the Race for Life – my first competitive run since before diagnosis – would fall on one of the hottest days of the year. I signed up in February, back when I imagined I’d be running 10ks effortlessly by July, with a view to improving my fitness while raising money for Cancer Research.

It was only in mid-June that I realised it was going to take me a lot more than just four months after radiotherapy to actually be able to effortlessly do anything and, secondly, that I am much less tolerant of the heat than I was a year ago. Still, I figured I could handle it.

IMG_0152Fast forward to 14th July 2013 and I am running along with thousands of other brave, sweaty and slightly crazy women in Hyde Park under a blazing hot sun, panting and feeling like I’m about to pass out, while thinking “Jesus, what exactly possessed me to sign up for this?!”

Still, I crossed the finish line in an hour and six minutes, hot, sweaty, feeling rather pukey and with what I am pretty certain was a mild case of heatstroke that lasted several days afterwards. (Not sunburn, though, I hasten to add – I was covered from head to toe with factor 50).

IMG_0148It was all worth it, though, and I had a tear in my eye pretty much all the way round from reading all the messages to loved ones on the runners’ backs, including some of my friends, who were running for me. When you’re just about to give up and thinking you can’t keep running, there’s nothing like a note “In memory of my amazing Mum/sister/Dad/grandad” to bring you right back down to earth and make you keep going. So congratulations and thank you to all the women who ran that day, including my very speedy girlfriends!

IMG_0143The two groups organised by Stylist magazine (who kindly provided us with Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes after the event) raised almost £3,000, but if you’d like to help us hit that big round 3k, please click the link below and sponsor us: http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/team-stylist-10

A huge thank you to all who have donated us so far!

Tying in rather nicely with the Race for Life is Cancer Research’s new campaign, Beat Cancer Sooner, or for the hashtaggers among you, #beatcancersooner. It’s an initiative to reach 1 million actions against cancer, and they want as many of us as possible to get involved to help bring forward the day all cancers are cured.

1MAC_140How can you help?

There’s loads of ways to get involved, from fundraising to volunteering, to sharing info about cancer and campaigns on social media. For those of you who love gadgets, games or a bit of science, you can even go to the Cell Slider website and have a go at classifying some cancer cells – you can actually help Cancer Research by doing this. And please, please send out a tweet or Facebook post about #beatcancersooner – the more people we can reach through this campaign, the closer we’ll one day be to a world where nobody’s brother, sister, mother, father, best friend or partner has to die of cancer.

It’s actually thanks to Cancer Research UK that I’m alive today. So, to anybody who has ever said to me “Anything I can do to help, please let me know,” now is the time.

There are some really simple ways to help, so please just click this link and see what you can do. Thank you!ISUPP_2048SQ

Standard
BCSM, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Fertility, Health, Menopause, Oestrogen, Periods, Tamoxifen, UK, Vita Magazine, Women's Health

Vita: Let’s Talk About Periods

IMG_0318Last month, I got my period. This wouldn’t normally be headline news, but considering it was the first one in the eight months since my penultimate chemotherapy session, it was rather a big deal to me.

I’m writing about this because it’s a seldom talked about part of the breast cancer experience, yet for many pre-menopausal women it’s one of the single greatest concerns during treatment. Will my periods come back after chemo? Will I still be able to have children in the future?

So, despite the fact that we don’t talk about periods, I decided to write about mine. Here goes…

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

(And if you don’t want to read the post, have a look at this picture of me and my survivor girlfriends in Daymer Bay, Cornwall last week!)

Standard
BCSM, Breast cancer, Cancer, Dating, Emotional Health, Fertility, Health, HuffPost, Humor, Humour, Ireland, Online Dating, Radiotherapy, UK, Uncategorized, Women's Health

HuffPost Dating After Cancer: “Single, Bald Female (30) Seeks…”

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.

Standard
Baldness, BCSM, Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Coppafeel!, Hair loss, Hair regrowth, Health, Running, UK, Women's Health

Boobettes and Blood Tests

20130706-165455.jpgThis week I gave my first breast cancer awareness talk to a class of young women at Notre Dame school in south London. It was my first experience as one of the ‘Boobettes,’ a group of young women who’ve all had breast cancer or some kind of scare and who are now helping Coppafeel! spread the message to boys and girls around the UK to check their boobs.

I did the presentation with Jo, a fellow breast cancer survivor who had the disease at the remarkably young age of 21 and who is doing fabulously now, 15 years later. I talked about my personal experience while Jo talked more about the charity. The teenage girls were very receptive and asked everything from “Do you sometimes have to have your boob chopped off?” to “Are you going to be able to have children?” Ah, life’s big questions! Let’s just say I got a proper grilling, but I didn’t mind.

image (2)Here I am, coppin’ a feel, and above with Jo, Coppafeel!’s Maren and a giant boob.

The next day, I got some results back from a blood test I’d had earlier in the week at my local doctors. It was my first blood test since December, and I was quite alarmed to discover that my blood counts have not returned to normal since finishing chemotherapy. My white blood cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes are still lower than they should be, meaning my immune system hasn’t returned to normal and I’m not quite the strong ox I thought I was. There’s nothing I can do to raise the blood counts, but my GP is writing to my oncologist to see if anything needs to be done. Given that I haven’t had so much as a cold since before Christmas, I thought my immune system must be pretty strong, but maybe I’ve just been lucky.

image (3)Meanwhile, my hair has been growing pretty nicely and is starting to look a bit like my Dad’s. If I don’t comb it down when I get out the shower, it sticks up hedgehog-style, so here’s a pic of me post-shower and au naturel, with Pricey Senior. Also note my make-up-less eyebrows, which are still a shadow of their former selves but slowly, slowly getting there. (The eyelashes, on the other hand, are pretty much back to their pre-chemo state).

This morning I did my final bit of training for the 10k Race for Life I’m doing in London next Sunday (14th July). I practically killed myself running up and down the hills of Yorkshire in 25C heat today and I haven’t managed to run 10k in less than an hour yet, but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. If you’d like to sponsor me and Team Stylist 10 to raise money for the all-important life-saving charity that is Cancer Research UK, please click here.

20130706-165410.jpg

Finally, I thought you might like to see this picture of me after my first post-treatment 3k run (in the snow) in February, vs. my third 10k run (in the boiling sunshine) today. Evidentally I’m not looking quite so much like a cancer patient these days. Cancer, we’re coming to get you!

Standard
BCSM, Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Screening, Cancer, Dublin, Health, Ireland, Mammogram, UK, Uncategorized, Women's Health

My First Mammogram and a Toast to Happy Boobs

I just went for my first check-up mammogram, exactly a year and a day since my breast cancer surgery.

20130701-200704.jpgMy boobs didn’t mind the pancake-squashing machine too much and the lady who squashed them in at my new hospital in Stockport was lovely. I know a lot of women say mammograms are comparable to torture, but honestly I don’t find them bad at all – maybe it’s a boob size thing, but I’d take mammograms over needles and cannulas any day of the week.

Anyway, I’ve received a lot of sweet messages on Facebook and Twitter from friends and supporters wishing me good luck, and I just wanted to thank you for those messages and clarify that I’m actually not worried about the results of the mammogram (which should arrive in the next couple of weeks).

I know there’s always a chance of a recurrence in one of my breasts, but those chances are so low after all the chemo and radiotherapy I’ve had that it doesn’t even bear thinking about.

My Worries List is currently occupied by much more mundane concerns such as whether I’ll be able to get visas in time for my big post-cancer trip to southeast Asia and how many times it is acceptable to ask my Dad to hire a van and drive my worldly goods to whichever corner of the globe I happen to be moving to next. (On this topic, I am currently something of a nomad but will be an official London resident as of the end of September).

I know most of my fellow cancer-fighting friends spend oodles of time fretting about recurrence and tests so I don’t want to trivialise the issue at all, but firstly I check my breasts so often these days that I hope I’d detect a new lump quicker than any mammogram anyway, and secondly, the much greater risk to my health would be a metastasis to the brain or elsewhere, and that is something so completely and utterly out of my control that I do my best to purge any thoughts of it from my head the moment they enter.

I’m still waiting to hear about having a possible MRI breast scan in the next few weeks, but apart from that, my next appointment is with my surgeon in six months’ time, and then with the oncologist six months after that. Although I’ve had a lot of hospital visits in the last few weeks while I’ve been transferring from private health to the NHS, I’m now looking forward to fewer appointments in favour of making the most of my very fortunate life!

imageI’m utterly fried from a crack-of-dawn flight from Dublin to Manchester this morning, so I’ll leave you with this pic of me and my boobs enjoying a delicious pre-mammogram cocktail (Gin and Earl Grey Martini – highly recommended) last night. The three of us are toasting our triumphant survival of the last 12 months and, more importantly, a long and happy future together. Cheers to that!

Standard