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. Continue reading
Anyway, I did it: The Royal Parks Half Marathon in 2 hours 13 mins 1 second. That’s only 12 minutes behind my pre-cancer, pre-chemo, pre-radiotherapy record, so it’s fair to say I’m pretty chuffed.
What an amazing day.
A huge, huge thank you to my running buddy, Karen, to all who came along to watch and cheer (particularly Mum, Sarah and Dan, and Sophie), to the men dressed as giant squirrels who served as my pacemakers throughout, and to all you very generous people who have sponsored us. We’ve raised almost £2,000 for Coppafeel!
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.
It 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.
Fast 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).
It 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!
The 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.
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!
This 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.
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.
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.
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!
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, and that should be interpreted as a good thing. It means there has been no cancer news and no cancer treatment, apart from me trying to remember to take my daily doses of Tamoxifen, Vitamin D, fish oil, Co-enzyme Q-10, turmeric, ginger and 27,000 servings of vegetables…
Yep, I’ve been getting on with a thing called Life for the past few hospital-free weeks, and I have to say, I’ve been enjoying it. Yes, I am still tired from the chemo and radiotherapy and I do still look a bit like a peeled potato when I take off my eyebrow make-up, but otherwise I am infinitely hairier and simply happy to be alive, as you can see in the above photo of me and my team.
Those of you who don’t see me every day at work have been asking how my hair is doing, so here’s an up-to-date photo:
And how do I feel about it?
1. I AM JUST SO HAPPY WITH MY HAIR.
2. I am so grateful to have hair.
3. I am thankful every day in the shower when it doesn’t fall out in my hands.
4. I know it still looks kinda bald from the back, but I couldn’t care less – I love it.
5. I can’t really describe to you how amazing it feels to have just this little bit of regrowth… But I have got a lot of my confidence back in these past few weeks and I feel fantastic.
6. I can’t stop touching it.
7. I could do with a hairbrush – one of those really soft baby hairbrushes.
8. Does anyone know where I can get one?
So that’s it on the hair front, really. I did also spend £50 on some sort of eyelash-strengthening product from Boots but I’m not convinced it’s doing anything at all. Strangely, my lower eyelashes are growing back thick and fast but my upper ones (i.e. the ones I could really do with having) aren’t growing back at all yet. And my eyebrows are growing back in totally the wrong place as well, but beggars can’t be choosers.
In other news, my friend Chris decided to take on the amazing Eddie-Izzard-esque challenge of running three marathons in three days in freezing cold conditions this very weekend, to raise money for the brilliant charity Coppafeel! on my behalf. This incredibly crazy challenge on the UK’s Jurassic Coast just happened to coincide with one of the coldest, wettest, rainiest, windiest, snowiest, blizzardy-est weekends of recent years, and led Chris to endure knee-height floods, mud, killer hills and all manner of chafing. Nevertheless, he has trooped right through it and here he is looking very dapper in his orange top and sexy pink Coppafeel! accessories!
At the time of writing, Chris has raised an incredible £1,388 for Coppafeel!, which raises awareness about breast cancer in younger women. However, it’s not too late to sponsor him! Please just click on this link if you’d like to donate to this extremely worthy charity.
While I can’t quite claim to have run 78 miles this weekend, I have reached a few little milestones of my own lately too. Last week, for instance, I went indoor climbing with my team and reached the top of a few easy routes. Each 5-minute climb was so exhausting and exhilarating that I came down trembling and panting for breath, but it felt like such an achievement to reach the top and just to be able to do the same physical activity my colleagues were doing. I’m definitely not back to the same fitness levels I had before chemo, but considering there were times during chemo when I could barely even stand up, I’d say this was a pretty awesome achievement. There I am, above, looking like a little spider at the top of the wall.
It’s not all fun and games, however. Next week hails my return to the hospital, for my 9-month check-up with the surgeon who saved my life. From reading a lot of other cancer blogs in the past few months, I know my fellow surviving sisters tend to get extremely panicked about these check-ups, thinking a new lump is going to be discovered and they’ll be summoned back to hospital for endless months of stomach-wrenching chemo. Thankfully, I am not a worrier and my positive thinking tells me everything is going to be just fine. (Though keep your fingers crossed for me, just in case!)
New Year, new cancer treatment…
Rounds of radiotherapy done: 3
Rounds of radiotherapy to go: 30
Feeling: Pretty good!
I arrived at the Herbert Wing of St. Vincent’s hospital, Dublin, on Jan. 2 for my first radiotherapy session and was shown almost straight away into one of the radiation rooms (unmissable due to the above sign). Inside the big, spacious room full of machinery, two lovely Irish ladies explained a little about what they were going to do, while I stripped off my top half and changed into the attractive and somewhat Christmassy white robe with red and white patterns (you can’t quite see the Christmassy-ness in the below photo). I then lay on top of the platform/bed you can see in the photo and put my arms into the red arm-rests above my head while the two of them fiddled around with machinery and called out various different numbers. (A lot like being at the dentist’s).
I’m lying on my back and can see three green laser beams – one directly above my head and one to the left and right of the room. These green laser beams line up exactly with the mini tattoo specks in the middle of my body and on my left and right sides, and this in turn lines up the equipment. Once it was all lined up, the girls quickly exited the room and proceeded to control the radiation machinery remotely (so as not to zap themselves in the process).
In the below photo, you can see the large machine above my head. The round plate thing detaches from this and rotates into different positions while giving me the radiation from a sideways position so as not to give too much zapping to my lungs and heart. It spent maybe five minutes on my left side and five minutes on the right side, while I just lay there, still as a sleeping lion, listening to One Direction on the CD player, having a whale of a time. (I had read in one of the radiotherapy booklets that you can take your own CDs for them to play while you wait, but frankly with the likes of 1D on the menu, I don’t think I’ll be needing to.)
After about 10 minutes, it was all done and I got dressed again and headed home. Meanwhile Mum, who came with me for the first few days and has now gone back to England, made friends in the waiting room and managed to get the entire verbal Tourist Guide to Dublin from the very friendly pal of a fellow patient.
On Jan. 3, I went back for round two. This time I was in a different room and Duffy was playing on the CD player. Two different lovely Irish ladies (I think they said there are five in total, so I knew I’d have met them all by day three) fiddled around with the machinery this time and called out the numbers, then they fled for about 10 minutes while the machines buzzed around me and I got radiated.
Jan. 4, much of the same. I was in room two again and Duffy was still on the CD player (I fear they peaked with One Direction on Wednesday and nothing else they play will ever live up to it). This time, the girls were back in the room within about five minutes and I said “That was quick!” It turns out the part where I’m receiving the radiation only takes about two minutes. Radiation is measured in units called “grays” and I have two grays each time. Two grays, it seems, takes about two minutes to deliver, and this time they didn’t need to take any photos with the machine, so I was in and out faster than Duffy could warble something about Warwick Avenue.
And that was that. I get the weekend off then it’s more of the same for the next six weeks, every single week day. The main side effects of radiation are extreme tiredness – which I’m told will get worse and worse, peaking about two weeks after the last session (i.e. beginning of March), and red, sore, burnt skin in the area receiving the radiation. This takes a couple of weeks to kick in, so in about two weeks I’ll have a really red, burnt, painful breast to look forward to! I can’t use deodorant (so apologies to my workmates if I stink) or underwired bras or perfume around the area, and I have to lather it in pure aloe vera gel or E45 cream twice a day. I already feel like I have a little ‘prickly heat’ in the area, but it may just be the association effect of the aloe vera gel, which I only ever use when I’m sunburnt.
Apart from that, it feels great to be back in Dublin and back in my apartment, living a more ‘normal’ life. Yesterday I went for my first run since the end of June – I ran about a mile and didn’t die, so that’s progress! A week or so ago, I could barely walk up a flight of stairs without nearly keeling over, so my fitness is coming back fast.
Despite the fact that chemo finished nearly six weeks ago, I am still bald as a baby and looking a bit like a baby chick again with short hair at the back and sides but nothing on top – not a good look! I’m hoping it will start growing back as proper ‘stubble’ soon and I’ll be able to go out sporting the Sinead look, but for now I think it’s wigs all the way… Roll on the next six months so I can have my pixie back!