What has having cancer taught me, five years on …

My cheeky fella, aka Hubert – Our wedding day 7.7.21. Photo by Charlotte Snowden.

I am just about to celebrate my five-year milestone of being Cancer free, six years with my now husband and seven years since I lost my mother.    But I am here, and I will continue to take a magical pill, in the form of Tamoxifen for a further five years.   

I have to confess that I have been slightly apprehensive about this review, as due to the pandemic one doesn’t get to see the doctor and I was told I didn’t need too anyway, as everything they needed was in the notes and biopsies from the initial operation when the Cancer was removed back in December 2015.  So, it was just a hormone blood test for me.

When I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer in late November 2015 it wasn’t a shock as, I knew something wasn’t right with my body but what it did do was it gave me a wakeup call.    I hadn’t had an easy 18 months prior, nursing my mother through Cancer and then the perils that go with sorting out probate and families.   Let’s just say we all manage bereavement in different ways.   

Then, at the anniversary of my mother’s death, which is 7 years today, I met my soulmate but someone I had known for over 40 years.   

In that split second of hearing, you have Cancer all I could compare it was with my mother’s recent death, but I wasn’t ready to die and having kissed a lot of frogs before I found my Prince, I realised I needed to wake up and change my lifestyle, which I did in a heartbeat and I am now a happily married lady.

I wrote a weekly/bi-weekly email during my treatment and the other day, I looked back at some of those and chuckled to myself as, I did have some fun experiences with Anoushka.    As like many things that happen in life, we choose to forget things or we put them in a box and file away.   I have however been inspired by others in the Cancer Club such as Emma aka Limitless and Deborah aka Bowelbabe, two ladies who are amazing and great ambassadors for cancer and the Royal Marsden.    Some of my friends say that I am like them but I don’t see that.

The other day, when I was in the hospital (Royal Marsden Chelsea) where I volunteer, I was talking to one of my old chemo nurses, Laura who is just about to go off and have a baby and I said to her, ‘that I felt that Cancer had been a good thing for me as, it made me evaluate my life and it had made me a better person in myself’.   Not necessarily something many people would say but she understood where I was coming from, and I really do believe that I have learnt a lot about myself in the last six years.

Chemotherapy and the infamous ice cap – January 2016
End of Chemotherapy with my Chemo buddy, Christina – July 2016

When I had my treatment, it was 18 months out of my life, or my life was in the hands of my doctors at the Royal Marsden and I really had to listen to my body to be here where I am now.   After the operation I was told that I wouldn’t be able to travel for a year and may not be able to work, well that was the biggest hurdle for me and I just kept saying well put me in a box now.    My girlfriend, Anoushka who I couldn’t have gone on this journey without was amazing and, had to have firm words with me as it wasn’t sinking in.   I didn’t get to travel for the duration of my treatment but boy did Hubert and I make up for it in the February 2017, with a very special holiday to Kenya.   

My journey was a lumpectomy and some lymph nodes out, followed by chemo, resulting in a hospital stay for five days between chemo 1 and 2 and being neutropenic the whole time so that meant injections in my stomach daily, not something I could do myself so off I popped to the hospital.   Then I had a couple of weeks break and then embarked on the radiotherapy for 15 rounds (3 weeks).  Alongside this I had the hormone jab, Herceptin alternate weeks in my bum cheek and bloody hell that was tough, as it was like a bee sting and took about 5 minutes to administer, I was known for my choice language during this time.     I had some interesting times with chemo with the ice cap and I am sure I was the only one who used to have massive icicles on their head at the end so, after three stopped that, also my hair was coming out and I embraced being bald.

Something that helped me was the support of charities which you don’t always know about but are key to the support you have on the journey to recovery.  Having worked at Maggie’s following my mother’s death to Cancer in September 2014, I knew what was on offer but I didn’t want to be go their but found support in the Breast Haven and also ‘Look Good, Feel Better’.    Now that I volunteer in the Marsden and have been since March 2017, one of the things I promote, is the support of the charities and at least sharing that there is support available and in fact as an NHS patient you can get 10 hours of support/treatment.

Everyone handles their cancer journey differently but something I was told early on, was not to let it define you or, you will let it get the better of your life and, those were such wise words and I often share.

After my treatment, I was bald and I remained bald for about six months and kept my hair short as a reminder as I got used to my tamoxifen.   In the March, I decided to walk the Marsden March which I was really proud of myself, a half marathon on my own.

Banham Marsden March – 2017

The tamoxifen it changed my body and also the side effects brought on by menopause, something which wasn’t fun and, I really didn’t like my body for about a year.   I was luckily in a secure relationship and had wonderful friends but that was what sucked about cancer, my body changing was its cancer or my mindset?     I soon realised, I was the only one who could control how I would come out the other side and, thanks to lymphatic drainage massage and amazing therapists and alternative Chinese medicine I got my body back.     Then, I changed my lifestyle and no longer the party girl dancing on bars though I did boogie five days after the operation and may have ripped my stitches.    Then, we bought a new house 2 ½ years ago and since then have taken up walking and I have not felt so good in a long time, which I do put down to been married but that was only in May of this year.

I chose during my treatment to work and was really fortunate to be working for Coming Home part of Haig House with a dear friend, Henny Cochrane and that gave me a focus, it wasn’t always plain sailing and I would get to work some days, only to be sick and have to go home to sleep but it was a routine.

Now, I volunteer at the Marsden and started on Meet & Greet, did some time in the shop, did water in Outpatients, helped in the café, helped with MDU trolley and basically found a niche for been able to give back to the place that saved my life.   Now, I am the co-ordinator for Meet & Greet and have a team of 24 amazing people and a core team of 14 who have been working throughout the pandemic supporting patients on what has been a very strange journey as no visitors and masks and PPE.       A lot of people ask me why I still volunteer at the Marsden and do I not find it depressing, err hell no, I love it and I hope that from my experiences and compassion that I can help people.

Where do I want the next five years to take me?  I want to remain Cancer free and I will be on a tablet a day as that gives me some assurance I can continue to stay cancer free but, I need to be aware of my body and I need to avoid stress, easier said than done but I want to grow old with my husband and travel so here’s to that.   And, something that I never did before but I do try now, is to live in the moment and only do things that ‘spark joy’.

All I can say is thank you to the Royal Marsden Chelsea, thank you to the Friends at The Royal Marsden for letting me volunteer to give back and thank you to the patients who I whole heartly believe benefit from me as I know what they are embarking on.

Cancer is shit but the journey doesn’t need to define you and the hospital will become like your second home.   Remember we are in it together, there is a cancer club, so whereas friends and family may be a great support sometimes, its others who you meet in the blood rooms or in the waiting rooms, who can share a few words that lift you.

Take care everyone that reads this and please if you have anything unusual appear get it seen at the GP.

I am writing this to honour my Mum who died on 21.9.2014 and to say thank you for introducing me to my soulmate on 21.9.2015. 

My Mum and Sister – summer 2014

About sjdeventsltd

Owner of a Consultancy Company, specialising in offering flexible services for all types of events, including fundraising projects in the charity sector.
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