Thinking about what to write in this blog post, and it occurred to me that the last few months have been lots of talking, and how wonderful it is to talk and share. I’ve talked and written about my personal experience of cancer ever since diagnosis, and it constantly amazes and delights me how this sharing opens up conversations with others. Complete strangers will tell me their private stories of cancer, loss and hope, and there is an immediate connection and sense of mutual support. It feels such a privilege when people expose their vulnerability, and we have to handle each other’s vulnerabilities with care. It also deepens the relationships with those we hold most dear.
As I mentioned in my last post, I signed up to a course on mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR). I completed the course in September, and have since been practising mindfulness most days, even if it’s only ten minutes. It’s amazing the difference it makes, and I’d highly recommend it to everyone. There’s great comfort in knowing that I can centre myself and be in the moment. It doesn’t stop life being stressful, or feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear and anger from arising, but it does help to limit how overwhelming these moments can be.
In September I also had my last counselling session. My Macmillan funded counsellor was excellent – we had a great rapport, which is so important. It’s now two years since I went to see my GP with stabbing pains in my boob, and the start of my life with cancer. It certainly feels much less raw than a year ago, and counselling has helped me process this and look after my mental health.
Feeling more like me, looking more like me.
In the past few weeks, I’ve had a number of people say to me that I’m looking good, looking like me again. Can’t tell you how great that feels. There’s been a progression from being told I look well, to being told I look good – a subtle but important difference.
Such comments also cause me to reflect on just how much cancer treatment assaults us physically. I’ve had a couple of holidays and it felt great to be in my bikini on the beach and feel joyous that my body is strong, healthy and hopefully cancer free again. And whilst I do have cellulite, a pot belly and freckles rather than a tan, I’m no longer struggling with hair loss and afraid in my own skin.
Tamoxifen – not a barrel of laughs
Having said all that, I’m also accepting that how I am now is my new normal. Frequent hot flushes, low mood, brain fog and occasional crushing fatigue are all side effects of tamoxifen. I had hoped these symptoms were the overhang of treatment, but I think this is how the next few years will be. There was an article about this in the Daily Mail recently. Most days I’m ok with this, but sometimes it really gets to me. For example, last week I was due to go to a gig at O2 with some friends, and I had to cancel as I was just too fatigued and knew I could not make a late night (believe me, 11:00pm is now a late night!)
Hearing of deaths from cancer, especially breast cancer, impacts me much more than it used to. There’s a feeling of huge empathy for the individual and their loved ones. There’s also a natural reaction of “that could be me”.
Recently I learned of a young colleague at work who died from breast cancer. Taken far too young. And in September, Rachel Bland died from breast cancer at the age of 40. Rachel was one of the driving forces behind You, Me and The Big C, a truly ground breaking podcast talking about all things cancer, including her own death. It is an honest, uplifting, powerful listen – I love it. It’s helped me so much. So her death really hit me, as I felt such a strong affinity. Through my blog I was contacted by a BBC journalist, and was humbled to share my thoughts on the considerable impact of Rachel’s podcast.
We need to change the conversation around cancer and death – the more we talk about these things, the more we dispel their mystique and the fear they engender.
Show me the stage!
In February I spoke about the patient experience at my hospital’s annual cancer conference. Afterwards, I was approached by a Case Studies Officer from Macmillan asking if I’d like to be one of their case studies. I happily agreed and this led to me being filmed at home for a Macmillan staff training video. It’s a good film (you can watch it here), the cat even makes an appearance
This film led to me being asked to be a speaker at the annual Macmillan Christmas concert. The readers included Dame Diana Rigg, Celia Imrie, James Dreyfus and Sir Matryn Lewis. Eek! I agreed without hesitation.
The concert was superb. My brother and sister in law accompanied me, it was so special to have them there.
The case study video was played (the cat got a bigger reaction than I did) then I was invited on to the stage to be interviewed by Zeb Soanes. My brother recorded it, here it is:
How privileged to talk to 500 people and support Macmillan’s fundraising. The most hair raising moment was to look out to the audience and see Celia Imrie watching me. Gulp.
At the reception afterwards, I was given a beautiful bouquet and a number of people approached me to share their appreciation, and in a few cases, their personal stories of cancer. It was a fabulous experience, both humbling and overwhelming. I have found such a passion for improving our lives through sharing and talking, and this concert epitomised the power of human connection.
My cycling holiday earlier this year led me to meet Liz O’Riordan and Tanja Slater, two amazing women. They’ve created a new website, Cancerfit, to support anyone facing cancer and champion the benefits of getting and staying fit. I was chuffed that they published a couple of my blog posts.
Liz has also just published a great book about breast cancer, which I would highly recommend.
Breast cancer awareness month
October was breast cancer awareness month, and I took the opportunity to do a couple of talks at work. Hopefully it’s encouraged more women, and men, to check themselves, know their bodies and go to the GP with any concerns.
Another year nearly over, and what a year it’s been. Wishing you all a superbly sparkly, love filled Christmas, and a peaceful, happy and healthy year in 2019.