The new diary of my ‘cancer’ journey

Tuesday 5th January 2016 is a day I will not forget in a hurry, it was the day I returned to The Royal Marsden to meet Dr Roeche and get the treatment plan news for my newly removed breast cancer.   Having returned on Christmas Eve to get the results that they had got all the cancer out when they did the operation on the 15th December so I could have a good Christmas and that I certainly did.

I was told that I couldn’t go on holiday and that hit the hardest.  Already from being diagnosed to the operation has been hard but,  I was planning a nice holiday during or after treatment which was expected to be a few weeks but sadly this was not to be the case and it will be September before I can plan that trip.

The second blow was that I would be signed off work – bollocks to that I said, and I basically told them to measure me up and get the box ready because if they took that off me I would have nothing to work too.  I don’t think they realised just how head strong I am and whereas I will not do anything to jeopardise me treatment if I can work then I work.

The reality however,  was that the tumour was bigger on inspection so grade 3 which is the biggest and it was stage 2 cancer and not stage 1 as initially thought.  So, treatment would be more intense and that I would be starting in two weeks.   It would be 6 to 8 months of chemo every 3 weeks and then a bout of radio therapy for a month to prevent the breast cancer spreading.   Then, I would need a further month of radiotherapy having decided I didn’t want a further operation unless life threatening for the nymph nodes.  Why, because one had been cancerous and this is where it can spread.

What did I think after the Dr told me?  It was shock as not what I had imagined.  But, more importantly ‘fear’, but I kept my head together and heard my mother saying ‘for goodness sake keep it together’.  I went home and that evening as I sat on the sofa with my boyfriend I did have a few tears but shielded  him as he didn’t really sign up for this but I have to say has been an amazing rock and for that I love him.  I do have to tell myself that whereas we have only been together for 4 months we have in fact known each other for over 30 years.

I know that if I want to cry I must cry, if I want to scream to scream and most importantly if I want to be alone to not feel guilty and friends and family will have to get over it.

For a while, I need to become selfish to think only about myself to stay healthy, eat healthy and stay positive.  This will be achieved with my positive healing music that Nadya introduced to me and my healing hippo that sits by my bed which she also gave to me.

When they told me about the chemo and needing a cold cap, I was like, well I will loose my hair so what does that matter.  However, I will be signing up to the cold cap as I have heard of people who just loose eye brows, well that would be one to save on threading!   However, I am going to go and have my hair cut in preparation but not bother to colour and then if I loose it, when it comes back maybe I will come back as a fiery redhead – ooh that would be fun!

The most important think now is to laugh and continue living my life as it is not a death sentence just merely a few months of my life where I need to put my life in the professional’s hands and stay focused and know I will be coming out at the end a strong individual.

To all my friends you have all been amazing and for that I can only say a huge thank you and this is just the start of a journey that will be full of experiences but I know I have you behind me wherever you are.

 

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Receiving news that change your life in a split second

My journey started six weeks ago and I am only at the beginning of what will be and interesting few months ahead, with no doubt some ups and downs but I am extremely strong in the belief that it is a mere blip in my life and that 2016 is going to be a very good year for me.

So, turn back the clock six weeks when I identified a lump on my right breast and immediately headed off to the doctor and was fast tracked within 10 days to an appointment at The Royal Marsden Hospital.

I had a mammogram and nothing showed up, the excuse was I was too tall for the machine – really was my response.  So, next it was a scan and that showed the lump and immediately I was told it was 2cm and not a cyst and immediately had a biopsy which was interesting, as the sound of the test was like a staple gun and they did three times!

Then it was to meet the doctor who would be my surgeon and she said that she was 85% sure it was Cancer but would confirm to me two days later once results back.   The next 48 hours were sleepless but to be honest in my hearts of hearts I knew the outcome and my immediate reaction was, just cut it off.  She then explained in detail, that it was the most common breast cancer and that I had caught it early and it was a simple operation where they would remove the lump and that I was lucky with its location from a cosmetic point of view.  It all seemed so final, but as she explained,  1 in 8 women of my age get breast cancer and every case is unique, something I heard about 18 months ago when my mother was diagnosed however the success rate is very high.   Having experienced breast cancer with my mother 23 years ago when she was 46, I wasn’t totally surprised of what to expect however she opted for a mastectomy and never had further treatment.

It didn’t really sink in initially but I knew I had to be strong and be logical and I think the fact that I have been working at Maggie’s helped, as I had spoken to some amazing ladies while getting stories for Culture Crawl who had come out the other side as they say.  However, when I went to go to Maggie’s West London to get information and speak to one of the nurses it wasn’t easy, as suddenly I was the patient and not the volunteer who made coffee and tea around the kitchen table, but once I had taken the plunge it was fine and I know that this centre will become part of my healing process.

My first thought was not of death but what would happen to my new relationship and would /should I tell him that he doesn’t need to stay with me.  Stupid maybe but my insecurities started to raise their head however, when I told him I got an unexpected but expected response which was, I will be at your side the whole way and as a result we have got closer.

Who knows what journey I am about to embark on and I know for sure that I do not want sympathy and to be wrapped in cotton wool.  Christmas is going to be hard enough to deal with, with my sister’s separation and the kids first Christmas without their Dad and it is really the first Christmas without Mum.    But we have Christmas sorted and I am looking forward to having some long walks and catching up with friends.

I now have my perfect job lined up working for a military charity, Coming Home (Haig Housing Trust) helping wounded serviceman with adapting their homes which will be three days a week.  And, the servicemen that we help are inspirational and if they can come back after loosing limbs to lead a normal life, I will come out the other side too.

My flat is finally all sorted after the summer leaks and after an initial nightmare when I chose the wrong paint colour, wanting a champagne tone however, not realising I had in fact chosen a pink which was  definitely not happening.  So, in stepped a girlfriend and now I have ‘pebble’ which is stunning and has created warmth which is what I needed.

So far the Royal Marsden have been amazing and as next Tuesday gets closer when I have the operation, I am sure the anxious thoughts I am having will start to raise their heads but the Cancer nurses will be on hand as will my friends who have all been rocks.

I have had a dream a couple of times since I was diagnosed, where I am the lion in the Wizard of Oz, so this weekend I will be downloading the film and watching it as, it must have a meaning.

Why have I written this post, well I needed to share my experience and I have always found it easier to write it down than to talk?   For some, they may not believe that, but while I nursed my mother through Cancer what kept me sane were the weekly emails to all friends and family with the ups and the downs as nothing is black and white.

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Where does a year go after loosing your best friend and mother?

mum at her 70th

Today, marks a year exactly since I lost my mother and best friend to pancreatic and liver cancer following a short battle.  Sometimes it feels like only yesterday but other days it feels like a lifetime since I had my Sunday night phone call, about our weeks had gone and heard her gossip and I really miss that.

I never thought I would be someone who would talk out loud and have conversations with her but I do and I know she is out their watching over me and in the last twelve months I have certainly gained strength.

Strength to believe in myself and not need constant reassurance from a authorative figure and I have also learned how to toughen up and build boundaries.  However, not all my friends will agree but how to you change your ways after 45 years!

On a lighter side, I have overcome my fear of spiders and bloody large ones at that and thank goodness for the hoover, sorry for those of you who can catch them with a cup and paper but no way not that brave.

So, what have I done in the year since my mother passed that I know she would have been proud of me for?

Well I have jumped out of an aeroplane to do my skydive for Combat Stress and won’t be doing that again.   I have stopped a thief on the Kings Road and hailed a heroine in the Evening Standard by tripping him up and a quick right hook while holding a baby!   I have had my face on the exterior of the Tower of London, which was a first and was merely a test before the launch of the For Queen & Country campaign for Coming Home.   And, I have done a 15 mile walk for a cancer charity, Maggie’s in her memory.

But, most importantly I have realised that my sister and I are the only two left and we have built a strong bond over the year and I really hope that this will remain as I look to move on from the family home and start a new life in 2016 with my new cottage in the country.

We needed to think of ways to mark our mother and her memory for her friends too and so we have a plaque in the church on a pew next to Dad.    But today, Monday 21st September 2015 we have unveiled a Community Notice Board in Goring at Jack’s (aka Westholme Stores) which will become a central point and I know she would have been pleased especially as it is Conservative blue!

photo of notice board for mum

Memories are very important and I thank all my friends, family and Mum’s friends who have been amazing to me and Catherine and I hope that they will remain part of my life for many years to come.

Lastly, thank you to Simon Campbell who created the memorial board and has become a friend .

This is my Mum which was sent to me by family friends in the summer and i think sum’s her up perfectly.

Mum in Spain driving the boat.

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Rainbow Warriors and Maggie’s West London and Culture Crawl London

rainbow warriors

It’s almost a year , till I will be marking my Mum’s first anniversary and so I decided to mark it by participating in Culture Crawl London for Maggie’s West London.

Mum didn’t benefit from one of the  Maggie’s Centres sadly, as I think it would have been amazing.  They are people’s life lines and are drop in centres where they create a relaxed atmosphere, home from home where they can offer you support, or just a place to reflect and meet people around a kitchen table but the feedback I have had from cancer patients who have benefited, is that it’s a safe haven.

So, rewind three months and I started to volunteer at Maggie’s Head Office working on the event and thought perfect, I am going to take part and do it for Mum and that I did.  However, I managed to rope in seven other friends and we formed ‘Rainbow Warriors’.   The choice of name, came from me, and was based on the motto ‘No Rain, No Rainbow’ that is on my Maggie’s sweatshirt which I saw as inspirational.

My team members were all walking the 15 miles with me to remember a loved one so it was really special to have friends with me and I was making them all dress up.  We all had to raise £200 and we managed to reach our target so really chuffed.

Now, we fast forward to yesterday, Friday 18th September and the walk itself.   As a volunteer, I was to arrive earlier to help set up, so off I headed on the tube from Earls Court to St Pauls ready for the walk  and of course got a lot of looks!

Start of Maggies, tube attire.

We all congregated

team 'Rainbow Warriors'

and then  headed off at 6.30pm from Paternoster Square, stopping at some iconic venues along the way

Maggies Culture Crawl

from the Foreign Office where we had a Royal Ballet performance to Maggie’s West London.  We then did a slight de-tour as we went from a team of 6 to 4 and decided to go back via the Old Brompton Road to see who we would know and ended up with a quick pit stop in the Zetland Arms, not a pub we would normally go to.   This was an interesting experience!   We got a bottle of wine and sat down to rest our aching bodies.  As it was now 11.30pm, I asked a chap ‘excuse me please, what was the rugby score’ only for him to hear ‘excuse me please, can you rub me’ errrr, so we drank up swiftly and moved on as some strange people their with arm wrestling also going on behind us and men taking shirts off (not attractive, trust me).  As we left and said farewell to one more Rainbow Warrior, a Canadian/Texan chap ran after us to tell us he’d bought us a bottle of Verve and we had to stay well you can’t waste that so hence we had the hour or so pit stop.

Zetland Arms having been bought a bottle of Verve

Following this pit stop it certainly put a skip into our walk and at the next stop which was the V&A it was interesting.    Sadly, I can’t really share our story here but think large statues of Greek gods and a photo booth!    From here it was to the Serpentine Pavilion for the amazing exhibition where we did an interview and my fellow Rainbow Warriors were asked to be quiet and let me be the spokesperson, though if truth be none I was probably the most tipsy as I was running on major lack of sleep but then I was Eloise.

Then, it was the home stretch along Knightsbridge where I had to rest on the flower pot outside Rolex as The Mandarin Oriental was not going to let us three in for sure!

Sarah on flower pot on Maggies Walk

Then it was the Royal Academy for a much needed chocolate biscuit and then the last ¾ mile to Covent Garden.   By now it is 2.30am so Leicester Square at this time is not a place for three ladies!    We spent a lot of time shouting back at the drunks who thought we were on a hen and therefore up for a party, err no, we were in fact tired ladies verging on madness as we ached from the 14 ½ miles plus we’d walked.

On arrival at Covent Garden we were grateful for a glass of champagne or were we?  My life line was the bacon sandwich which was yummy and receiving my medal.  We had done it and all in 8 ½ hrs.

We certainly attracted attention with our attire along the route with people wanting selfies with us and taking random pictures.   We said farewell to another Rainbow Warrior leaving two of us trying to get a night bus but after getting chatted up, asking if we had come from heaven – really!  It was time to jump in a taxi and get us home pronto and I finally climbed into bed at 4.45am.

Today, the injures are blisters on a big toe and heel and rather than match sticks keeping the eyes open, I am now resulting to scaffolding for my eyes.

Thank you to Maggie’s London for putting on the event and I just hope we have raised lots of money and thank you team ‘Rainbow Warriors’ for marking my Mum’s first anniversary with me.

If you want to know more about Maggie’s check out the website at www.maggiescentres.org.

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Charity Tandem Skydive … never again, you must be mad

tandem skydive

Picture it, a windy Saturday in July 2013 at Downton Abbey (aka Highclere Castle) while I was shaking a tin for Combat Stress at Battle of the Proms having seen the parachute regiment land in front of us, I agreed to jump out of plane.

A year passed and then came May 9th 2014, de day for doing the Tandem skydive jump at Headcorn having managed to raise over £800 for Combat Stress.  The date being chosen was to coincide with Combat Stress celebrating its 95th Anniversary on this day.

So, down we all drove to Headcorn which is close to Maidstone in Kent and I was very nervous, couldn’t eat and though the sun was shining sadly the wind was over 20 mph and their was to be no jump.

So we re-scheduled, well to be honest two of the initial five re-scheduled and off we went on 9th August to attempt again only for it to be too cloudy.   By now friends saying well you have tried leave it.

Then, I thought right I must do this jump, if for no other reason people had sponsored me and also I wanted to prove to my late mother I could.   It was 5th May when I made this decision, only to find out that it was only valid for a year and I couldn’t do it within the next four days.   So, after explaining my situation last year and paying an additional admin fee they extended it by a month so we had till June 2015.

So, third time lucky we thought and off Tori and I went on the 2nd June only to find out we had chosen the wettest and windiest day of the year, in fact gale force winds and nothing was going to happen and we were back home by 11.30am.  However, we had a recap on our health and safety training which was helpful and to be honest that is scary in itself.

Everyone by now was saying we should get a certificate for dedication but we were not giving up.  Also, friends were saying that maybe someone was telling us something so I didn’t tell anyone other than sending the odd text and in fact last weekend had agreed with them to give up but those who know me, know I’d do it.

So, Wednesday 17th June came it was a gorgeous day so, I called Headcorn got clearance to jump and told Tori at 11.25am and we were at Headcorn by 1.15pm.   The wait was hard as we watched two full flights go off, ensuring we didn’t hear their experiences and then about 3.30pm are names were called over the loud speaker and we went off to get dressed up.  Not sure if I should have been offended as my instructor asked if it was mother and daughter which was most charming as I am only 10 years older than my colleague.

sarah ducker 019

Tori and Sarah.17th June . skydive

Comments were you look like a smurf, a telly tubby and my godson who is three thought I looked like a power ranger.

By 4pm we are heading over to the plane.

sarah ducker 022

By 4.20pm we are up in the clouds, plane door open and I am throwing myself out of the plane, thinking I am totally mad.

3,2,1 out of plane

you are out.

We were in the clouds and as someone who had jumped previously said it felt like we were in heaven and as I jumped out Tori and I said we loved each other and would see other on the other side – thankfully that was on the ground about 15 minutes later.

The freefall was amazing and my instructor Del was fantastic keeping me calm and Lee the cameraman was hovering underneath me with camera in my face capturing all the lovely shots, considering at this stage you are going between 120 and 150 miles an hour.

Freefall

Then, came the parachute at 10,000 feet or whenever it was and I left my stomach at that stage.

parachute open and stomach gone

It was so peaceful and you could talk freely and Del gave me a guided tour of the sky from the coast line to France, to London to landmarks in Kent it was amazing.  However, he did ask me if I had gone into labour as I was doing a similar sound with my breathing but that was just me to stop been sick.

Then, came the sight of the landing strip as we spiralled down and all was left to get my legs up and close together, I got them up and we had a perfect landing.

coming into land

I was pleased to land even if we did land in sheep pooh and my legs were like jelly but it was AMAZING though not to be repeated I can now safely tick it off my to do list.

landed

final debrief

Everyone should do something to challenge themselves, so what’s next?

Friday 18th September the 15 mile Culture Crawl for Maggie’s as part of Rainbow Warriors.

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Volunteering for a charity is fulfilling as giving back.

Having spent the past few months reviewing my business and my lifestyle following the death of my mother last year, I have finally decided that I need a balance which means I need to give back some of my time to a worthy cause, charity.  I am still running SJD Events, however taking a back step on the weddings for a while.

I believe that everyone should do their bit for charity and be made to give a day a year but that’s another blog.

So, I embarked on finding a charity where I knew that it would be fulfilling for me, it had an affiliation to my own values and experiences and that my time would be appreciated.

For me it was important to get the balance as part of grieving is getting in touch with the inner person so alongside my amazing Jung treatment I felt i was ready.

I am therefore pleased to announce, that I am going to be working with two amazing charities on some very exciting projects namely Maggie’s and Coming Home part of Haig Housing.

  • Maggie’s (maggiescentres.org) Maggie’s provides free practical, emotional and social support for people with cancer and their families and friends. Built in the grounds of NHS hospitals, our Maggie’s Centres are warm and welcoming places, with professional staff on hand to offer the support people need to find their way through cancer.

And, I am going to be working with the event team, to assist with ensuring the success of the Cultural Walk on Friday 18th September, which I will be taking part in.

Maggie’s Cultural Walk is a 15 mile night-walk, it will be a cultural adventure through the capital where participants  gain exclusive access to a range of amazing buildings and enjoy a host of cultural stories and surprises along the way.   The whole event is being curated by Sandy Nairne, previous Director of the National Portrait Gallery. He is using the theme of People and Places to inspire storytelling along the route, connecting the walkers to hidden corners of the city.

And, I am also going to be helping at the West London Centre, located at Charing Cross Hospital.   My mother was not fortunate enough to use the Maggie Centres during her treatment and what attracted me to the charity was their relaxed approach about helping people whether the cancer sufferer or the family or the carer, which is amazing.

Then, as most of my friends will know, I have a draw to military charities so my next choice will come as no surprise.

*     Coming Home (Haig Housing) ~ http://www.haighousing.org.uk.

I am going to be working alongside the fundraising and events team on an exciting event   called ‘For Queen & Country’ which will be at the Tower of London on Wednesday 16th September.  Having been privileged enough to attend the launch event for the Poppies at the Tower with Combat Stress, I am really pleased to be able to assist with this event as the chosen charity of Lord Dannatt.   I will also be assisting on other projects as I will be offering a day a week.

They are both so different but two charities close to my heart and being part of a team again is filling me with excitement so who knows what is around the corner for me.

Newsflash – well it is the infamous tandem skydive is next Tuesday 2nd June postponed from May 2014.

Please do check out the two charities and maybe I’ll see you on the Cultural Walk on Friday 18th September or buy a ticket and come along to the Tower of London and be blown away by the amazing stories of our heroes.

 

 

 

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Four months on from loosing Mum

Well, as I sit in the annexe off my family home the sun is setting and it is about -2 degrees outside, with the forecast of as low as -6 for tonight and snow predicted, so who knows what I will wake up to tomorrow?

Over the past four months, I have had a lot of challenges to overcome since my mother and best friend passed away, following a short illness to pancreatic and liver cancer.  And, I am certain that I will have many more to overcome over the months and years ahead but I am certainly ready.

I realise that nursing my mother was a huge part of my grieving process, so it has helped me move on and cope in the way that I am.   And, the best part was that while I was sorting out the affairs and living in the family home alone, she and my dad kept a watchful eye over me and kept me safe.  By that I mean, in an old house you hear a lot of noises but three days before she died, to the day I moved out, I heard nothing.  However, one night when an awful storm hit the back of the house I did wonder, but they got me through it.   So, now I believe that the house is at peace and my sister and her family can enjoy putting life back into it.

Just before Christmas my mother was honoured with being made an Honorary Alderman of South Oxfordshire of which she is only one of four people to be given this honour and the first women, if I remember correctly.

Christmas was remarkably easy as it was also 13 years since my Dad passed too, but everyone got on and I think my Mum would have been proud of us as we did her proud.  Then, I filled the house with friends as I made the most of the last few weeks of having the space.   However one night, a friend decided to tell ghost stories and as a result totally freaked everyone and I was grateful they all stayed that night but never admitted to being scared.

Since Christmas, I have packed up the family home where I discovered my mother was a hoarder and for everyone who thought she was very organised – if only!    I even had to sort through a whole chest of drawers of my father’s stuff, so that was interesting and brought some tears and some laughs.  Going through all the pictures and finding my mum’s diary when she was courting my dad – and she said I was out too much!

I have had a few blue days who wouldn’t, when I have wanted to ask my mum for guidance, but I have gone to my mum’s amazing friends, who have been there for me and listened and given me words of wisdom in her absence.  Then, there is my ‘little man’ who is my godson who has been a really good tonic and of course my friends in London.   My New Year’s resolution was to live in the ‘present’0 and not in the past and learn the power of the word ‘no’ and not to feel guilty saying it out loud, and its working.

My mum’s best friends cottage was victim of arson attack a couple of weeks ago, so I have been helping her and hope that this weekend she will be settled in her new temporary home and settled. As at the age of 80, to be woken by smoke detectors to see your home of 40 odd years go up in flames couldn’t have been easy for everyone and she was amazing.  This fire was linked to that of SODC and in some ways, I am pleased my mother wasn’t here to see it especially if she had been unwell as she would have had me running around!  Then, at the same time the local funeral parlour where mum’s ashes were stored was also victim of the arsonist and we envisaged her ashes being spread across South Oxfordshire but fortunately this was not the case and they were safe.

So, the next challenge is where do we spread her ashes and what can we organise to mark our mother’s life locally.  This is when we are going round in circles as different ideas but she certainly will be spread across the farm to be with Dad and return to Durham which is where her roots are and where all her family are.

Some days it’s as if she is on a long holiday and she’ll walk through the door but I realise it isn’t the case but she is with me, as I surround myself with memories and all the orchids I gave her to mark Dad’s anniversary and now I just need to think of something can mark her anniversary.

My tip to anyone experiencing the loss of a parent or anyone they have known is to talk about them when you want to and not that I do it, but ask for help and don’t be too independent and most important know that crying in public is not a sign of weakness,  in fact it makes you human.  Friends and family only know you’re struggling if you tell them.

Remember Wednesday 4th February is ‘Beat Cancer Day’ so take some time out and remember someone you have lost.

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