Before cancer, I was certainly not a writer. I’ve never had any inclination to write. No novel burning deep inside me nor any aspirations to write anything. But, somehow or other, writing has become a big part of my life since my breast cancer diagnosis. In fact, over the course of the past couple of years, I have set up a website, www.tickingoffbreastcancer.com, which consists of practical tips and advice for someone going through breast cancer treatment; I regularly write blog posts and articles for other cancer organisations and charities; and I have written a book about my breast cancer experience (also called Ticking Off Breast Cancer) which is due out September 2019.
So, I suppose the question is, how did I go from being someone who didn’t write and had no interest in writing, to being someone who just can’t stop writing.
Well, there is a bit of story there. Towards the end of chemotherapy, a friend told me that another friend of hers had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked whether I would have a chat with her – we were of a similar age, had children the same age, lived in the same town and as it is fairly uncommon to get breast cancer in your early forties, she didn’t have anyone to talk to who had been through it. I said of course. So, we arranged a time for her to pop over to my house for a cup of tea and a chat. In advance of her coming over, I thought that it would be helpful to retrace the previous few months and work out what I could tell her about. Her breast cancer was the same type as mine and she would be having similar treatment. I asked myself, what would I have wanted someone to tell me had I spoken to someone after I was diagnosed but before my treatment started.
I would have wanted someone to give me:
- Practical advice to help get me through the treatment,
- A little heads up on what to expect through the treatment,
- And I would have wanted someone to hold my hand and tell me that although it was going to be a tough road ahead, I would be able to do it and I would get to the other side.
So, I started to make a few notes about the things that I could talk to her about. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. There was so much to say. I realised that over the previous seven months, I had picked up many practical tips about getting through breast cancer treatment. And to cut a long story short, I decided to use these notes (together with the results of some extensive online research where I’d found some amazing resources for people going through breast cancer) to set up www.tickingoffbreastcancer.com.
I found it very therapeutic writing out these practical tips. And so, I also started to write out an account of my life from the day I was diagnosed and throughout treatment. I’d been journaling anyway, so I took my whole experience – what had happened at each step of the way, how I felt about it all and all the chaotic, confused, anxious thoughts and reflections that were crowding my brain, and popped them into a written narrative.
It was a form of therapy in a way. All the stress, anxiety and difficulties I had faced since October 2016 were leaving my head and going onto my laptop. I was able to put my thoughts and feelings into some sort of order by writing them down. And there were a lot of thoughts and feelings – I was scared, anxious, sad, up and down a lot, overwhelmed constantly by the whole experience. Writing was a way of taking back a little bit of control. It was as if, by writing about everything, I was gradually lifting a weight off my shoulders and off my chest. There is a saying that by talking about something you can get it off your chest. Well, for anyone who suffers with anxiety you will know how it feels to physically have the weight of anxiety pushing on your chest. Writing has most certainly got a lot of anxiety off my chest. And, this personal breast cancer account is going to be published in September this year, in the form of a book by the same name: Ticking Off Breast Cancer.
I know that reading accounts of other people’s cancer experiences is incredibly supportive. You realise that you are not alone:
Someone else has felt the way you do
Someone else has had the side effects that you have had
Someone else has worried about the same things as you.
Someone else has struggled with the same issues as you.
Someone else has had the same fears as you.
And when you know that someone else has felt, thought and worried in the same way as you, you feel less alone. You feel comforted by that fact and you can take strength from those personal accounts to keep going through the tough times. I really hope that my book will provide this support to someone who is going through breast cancer themselves, and their family and friends.
And this is also why I have opened up www.tickingoffbreastcancer.com to guest blogs from other people going through breast cancer. People who may not have written anything before, but have written something and would like to share it. And people who have their own breast cancer blog but would like to share their writing with a different audience. Everyone is welcome to contribute. Just get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.
Sara is the founder of www.tickingoffbreastcancer.com, a website dedicated to helping people through their breast cancer treatment from diagnosis to living life to the full once treatment ends. Aged 42 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Sara decided to set up the website to support those who do not know which way to turn for help after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis; those who are overwhelmed by the breast cancer resources online; those who may be scared to go online for fear of what they might find; and those just looking for a comfortable, safe, calm place to turn for help. The website provides practical advice for each step of the way, together with many links and signposts to other online resources. Follow her on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram. Sara’s book of the same name, Ticking Off Breast Cancer, is due out September 2019.
Hi, I’m Caroline and I just wanted to share with you how Tropic changed my life and my skin. I trained as a beauty therapist over 25 years ago and in that time, I worked with a lot of skincare ranges, some very expensive! Over the years my skin became increasingly sensitive particularly with outbreaks of eczema on my hands, and neck from working with fragranced products that unfortunately my hands became so red raw with eczema that I had to give up being a beauty therapist all together, which for me was heart breaking.
Only last year I heard about Tropic through a friend so I thought I might as well give it a go. I was always on the lookout for something natural and without irritants but I could never seem to find it, in the past I’d tried so many creams but to no avail. The lovely Tropic lady recommended that I should try the Super Deluxe box which came with the cleanser and bamboo cloth, spray toner, moisturiser and exfoliator, and apparently THE amazing “Super Greens” serum to help repair my skin, so I decided to give it a whirl, the results were truly amazing. Within a few days my skin was noticeably different, it appeared smoother, visibly nourished and my redness just seemed to vanish, even my friends noticed! And guess what? my eczema went from my hands! It really was a life changer for me, so within 6 weeks I joined Tropic and started my own beauty salon up from home doing what I loved best, treatments! I couldn’t be happier and I love spreading the Tropic love of “Good for you” skin care to my clients and I’ve never looked back!
Tropic is created by the inspirational and passionate Susie Ma who is about “greener beauty with a conscience”. All her products are FREE FROM: – parabens, alcohol, mineral oils, methylisothiazolinone, Triclosan, Talc, Lanolin, Gluten, Petrochemicals, Beeswax, Phthalates, Microbeads, phthalates, toxic chemicals, and more… …Also, Tropic is made locally in Surrey and freshly made for you so it’s never more than 2 weeks old when you receive them so beautifully fresh. Tropic is the fastest growing skin care in the UK and they have won over 70 awards and still being added to.
Tropic is also vegan and cruelty free. “Pure, Honest and Effective.
I love everything about Tropic and there are so many gorgeous products to choose from including body washes, body smooth exfoliator, whipped body butters to self-tans, body shimmers, body and bath oils, and lavender pillow midst to help you sleep! Tropic also has natural bare mineral makeup and hair care that is silicone and sulphate free and still new products to be released this September, so can’t wait for that.
I would love you to give Tropic a go because I know they are truly amazing products, nothing hidden just great products and they always offer a 30-day money back guarantee so nothing to lose.
Here are some details of my favourite products;
This is one of my favourite products! This is a gorgeous serum that helps reduce redness, repair and nourish the skin and contains all those Super Greens including Kale, Maca root, Tamanu and Marula oil.
It’s literally a smoothie for your skin, love it…….
This has won so many awards!
BODY SMOOTH – This was Susie’s first ever family recipe which she recreated. A beautiful exfoliator using sea salt, lemon myrtle, macadamia oils golden jojoba, bergamot and lime essential oils. Leaves your skin feeling unbelievably soft!
BODY LOVE – This is another favourite of mine and smells divine! With cocoa butters, pink peppercorn, hibiscus, coconut oil and lemon essential oils.
Ooh La la!
“SUN DISCOVERY KIT”
Don’t forget summer is here! I love this collection as it contains everything you need for your holiday
SPF 30 (100ml)
SPF 50 (100ml)
Sun Soothe after sun (100ml)
SPF 50 Sun balm for areas prone to burning.
Great for children/adults with eczema.
*Sun products also available in 200ml
If you need help and advice my number is 07775 896233. I would love to hear from you!
My website is www.beautyandsole.co.uk
P.S. Download the “Think Dirty” app and find out what’s in your skin care products, you might be quite surprised……
Last weekend, I was literally on top of the world! By climbing to the top of one mountain, I achieved so much more than just reaching the summit. Being fortunate to have a birds eye view over that little corner of the world, gave me perspective. It was a realisation of how far each of us can go, physically and mentally, despite all the dips in the road, boulders and U turns we have to face, not just in every day life but in business and in ourselves.
After speaking at a wellbeing day with The Lewis Foundation last year, I had been talking to the amazing Lucie Joels, who climbed Snowdon with one of our Samspace bracelets and agreed that to actually take on the real deal myself, would be a fantastic experience and something worth doing.
Climbing an actual real mountain, four months post hysterectomy, seemed a little punchy but six weeks after my operation in February, I met up with Sarah, one of my Safespace women, who said she was going to climb Snowdon with two mutual friends from our yoga group, for the Pituitary Foundation.
Sarah is an ambassador for The Pituitary Foundation, after being diagnosed with this more rarer cancer a few years ago, in the form of a tumour. She lives with the physical and physiological effects every day; on her hormone system and body temperature, which, in turn, affect hair loss, bone health degeneration and an increased sensitivity to stress, among other things. In Sarah’s case it cannot be operated on. After radiotherapy and chemo and a consistent ongoing maintenance treatment, alongside holistic approaches, she has continued as active a lifestyle as she can. As well as working for herself, she comes to yoga three times a week and her positivity shines. She says Samspaces has totally changed her outlook as a person and given her confidence and the unique type of support post treatment, that she was looking for.
So as the sun rose last Saturday, 23rd June, a large army of orange ants wound its way up this ‘little’ Welsh mountain, like something out of the Noahs Ark, all marching in two’s, side by side, carrying their climbing essentials in their backpacks, like little tortoise with their shells, waving the flag for Pituitary Cancer. The charity is only twenty-five years old with no official funding except all the efforts of local and national fundraising. Jay does an incredible job organising it all and trying to keep momentum going. No easy task! Yet, for this event, the sky had never looked so blue, the grass so green. Nature in all of her splendour. The path snaked away in front of us and all I wanted to do was follow it to the top.
It was beautiful. I won’t waffle on about every view and photo opportunity. Suffice to say, there were a lot of them, but as we began the ascent and followed the uneven and often rocky pathway to each meeting point, I was amazed at the magnificence of nature. I revelled in feeling so small and insignificant. A mere ant. The vastness of the sky and the expanse of the land around me, was space optimised. There was a sense of surrender and the rawness of the surroundings gave me a greater connection with what was happening right at that moment.
Reaching the top, conquering that last steep incline, was a phenomenal feeling. Heidi had nothing on me, marching up those practically vertical paths! Thankfully I saved the public my rendition of ‘Climb Every Mountain’ but only because i was out of breath!! I felt so energised and happy. Maybe there is something in that mountain air after all? I remember thinking, everyone up here is smiling. Not one person looked sad or unhappy. It was pretty crowded but there was such a sense of achievement. The sense of space was empowering and exhilarating and never before has my Sutra quote on my home page been so apt!!
What made it even better was that Sarah’s train arrived at the same time we had. Due to a knee injury, she was sadly unable to walk and her metaphorical mountain had definitely been a huge climb emotionally in the lead up. It is never easy being told we cant do something when we had our hearts so set on it and were so determined. However, the body is a fragile and precious thing, and it was clear that the far reaching side effects of her pituitary condition were still prevalent and this needed to be respected.
It was important for Sarah to be there though, not just for the foundation, but for us and for herself. It was still a journey for every individual there; a challenge for mind and body, strength and resilience. Meeting her at the top was wonderful. It didn’t matter if you had walked, run, cycled (yup, no, I’m not kidding!) flew (see glider picture below!) or taken the train to the top. You were there, breathing in the clean air, staring at the incredible scenery, standing on a flipping mountain top, 3,560ft above sea level! Trying to stand on the summit for a photo was a separate challenge in itself! Everyone jostling for position, both for feet and selfie sticks! Oh to have had that summit to ourselves.
After a hasty cup of hot steaming tea, the best egg mayo sarnie I think I have ever tasted and a change of socks (fantastic advice from a dear friend!) the descent beckoned. It had been much cooler at the top. The sun had disappeared while we fought for photo space on the edge of precarious vistas, but as we started downward and became more sheltered again, it became warmer and the on/off fleece, stayed off!
I spoke to some amazing people that day. It was one of the most inspiring experiences I have had. I can stay true to my talks and presentations with the knowledge that walking down a mountain IS harder than walking up! Yet, walking together, listening to such courage and learning about other peoples conditions, illustrated to me that those faced with adversity can always find a way to rise again, bigger, better, stronger and even more determined and having a hand to hold helps ease that journey. Having a focus, a goal, can make a fundamental difference and generate a much greater sense of positivity. There was only equality and integrity on that mountain, every orange ant helping the other; caring, sharing and coming together to celebrate life. Not so insignificant after all.
Arriving back on tarmac was a slight shock to the lower back! I was getting strangely used to the rocks and cobbles! Thanks to Lou and a fabulous chap from our group, I didn’t have to carry my backpack for the last ten minutes as my tum was sore but boy, did it feel amazing turning to look back up to where we had just climbed. Our group raised a fabulous £4,000 for The Pituitary Foundation that day and I am so grateful to everyone who sponsored us. This money will help quicker diagnosis, more support and better treatment as well as raising much needed awareness. After a quick drink and thank you with the guides and some of the other climbers, we drifted back to our little cabin to rest, eat and nurse our aching legs.
One large bowl of macaroni cheese, chilli and Bridesmaids on Netflix viewing later, as I was wondering how to navigate the ‘child friendly’ ladder of the bunk beds I was sleeping on the top of, I moved my phone and saw I had a message.
The gorgeous Gemma, who I met last year but feel I have known forever, had gone to the MPower award ceremony in London as she had been nominated for her incredible Ways Gone By products. Due to my commitment to climb, I had been unable to go. I had been so incredibly honoured to have been a finalist and the love and support for us all had been so amazing, but as the phone beckoned with its ‘LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME NOW light’ I saw the message, ‘I won and so did you!!!’
I double and triple looked and let out some weird scream. The girls thought perhaps some kind of man eating spider had gate crashed my top bunk manoeuvring routine but I flew into the sitting area and suddenly the aching thighs, sore feet and throbbing groin miraculously disappeared and I was jumping up and down, punching the air, laughing, crying (or was that the pain and sheer fatigue?!) like a mad woman. The pride was overwhelming and thrilling.
Needless to say the eyes were wide, the mind was buzzing and the heart was thumping (not just from finally managing to heave myself into my top bunk!) and since those are such perfect conditions for deep sleep, not, there was a longer wait than I had anticipated for some rest and recuperation to wash over me that night, but as I lay there, on my cosy top bunk, I felt so grateful.
Samspaces started as my handwritten journal and scrap book, marking every metaphorical climb, descent and pot hole. Then it morphed into a blog to offer some solidarity to younger patients. Then a website to provide inspiration and practical tips for empowering our recovery. It grew from there into a support group, then came the idea of meeting for practical wellbeing workshops. A network developed and now an active community with a growing doula extension. We have come so far.
I wrote in my last blog about power and passion, why the nomination had meant so much in the first place, but to win is not just recognition, it is an acknowledgment of the awareness society need for those adjusting to life after cancer and the complexities of this, with an appreciation of the bigger picture. Sarah’s knee, my hysterectomy, these are just prime examples of the far reaching effects. Cancer doesn’t always end when the treatment does.
As I listened to those awe inspiring people, climbing that mountain after facing a life threatening diagnosis, some as recently as a couple of months ago, and fully appreciating every fear and hope they may have had, I felt so proud. Proud of them, proud of the friends I have made through Safespace and proud of who we all are after facing any adversity. Breathing that air, looking at such beauty in a view that cost nothing, I felt unbelievably respectful of human strength, nature and all its wonders.
Human nature is awesome. The kindness, support, solidarity and care that I saw that weekend warmed my heart so much and gave me faith. Winning the award gave me faith too. Faith in women, empowerment, recovery and healing and belief in a new genre of business and in myself. Cancer gave me a reason, writing gave me a purpose, climbing gave me a goal and winning gave me a dream come true.
There just aint no mountain high enough to climb up, and maybe more importantly, down, now!
If you haven’t had a chance to donate yet but would still like to, click here for our Just Giving page.
Thank you to everyone for your generosity and support.xx
Just before I heard that I had been nominated as a finalist for an MPower award, I had made a decision. No more seeing the Big C as the enemy. As I have entered another decade, I have felt a huge shift in myself. I still get stressed, I still yell at my daughter to hurry up, I still worry about my hubby when he is travelling and battle with that negative chorus in my head that always wants me to doubt myself and think the worst, but I genuinely feel that I have a greater sense of who I am. Maybe it’s just an age thing and this is ‘being forty’ (so there are a few good things aside from wrinkles!!) but given the last twelve years, I wanted to express why this nomination means so much.
I literally can’t believe I have been nominated for this award. As I found myself reading the email on Thursday night, by myself, it felt like a giant thumb poking out of the sky with a neon light saying ‘Its You!’ However, what truly astounds me are all the other women out there who are doing truly amazing things. I am honoured to know two other finalists in other categories whose help, support and friendship is invaluable. MPower is shining the spotlight (big thumb!) on Women In Business all over the UK and they just turned on a very bright light!!!
Adversity just makes us stronger and more determined. We have a heightened sense of what needs to be done, because of what we experienced first hand. We are living through the gaps, we are challenged by the lack and putting something back. It is so incredible to watch and I feel humble to be a part of that. We are focused, we are fuelled by passion and we are driven by our precious feminine emotions. If it were not for them, half of the things we are doing, would not be being done! It is our sensitivity, our awareness and our core caring nature that I think builds the foundations of a women in business.
If it were not for cancer, I would not be doing what I am doing. It sounds mad, but the Big C gave me a P – Purpose! Recognising a lack of support for survivors and those adjusting to life after the hospital environment and routine of treatment and appointments, as well as experiencing the anxiety and confusion that came as part of life after cancer, gave me the focus of finding a way to help myself. Common threads of vulnerability, frustration and loss of direction encouraged me reach out and build the Safespace support group. The hardest challenge, of secondary infertility, helped me recognise the lack of support for mums affected directly or indirectly by cancer and chronic illness during pregnancy and post labour and I am currently in the process of launching my Post Natal Doula business specialising in these amazing mums who need that deeper level of support and nurturing.
Being welcomed into a community who always have each others backs, who cheer and yell from the side lines for every little milestone, is precious. Networking groups like How Does She Do It remind us how women, in any culture, have always supported each other and how vital all our friendships are. I have to thank Jo Ferrone for putting myself and three others forward, without our knowing! She believed in us. That is power in itself. We all met through each other and this particular networking community is so much more than an outlet to push a business. In this day and age, with careers, financial pressures, children and the fast-paced-highly-dependent-on-technology-life we lead, we are giving each other the opportunity and solidarity to think outside the box and embracing it! The sky is literally the limit. No idea is too small.
I really needed support post cancer so I had to make it. I started an adventure which has been a journey of healing and recovery. That loud voice I mentioned earlier has its fair share of rants and self doubt plagues me every day, but, after falling down the rabbit hole (that was each diagnosis) it is as if I stayed in wonderland and made it my home. In doing so, I gained an incredible group of friends, a network of warriors and I am always learning so much about self care and wellbeing. I have pushed myself out of the confines of my comfort zone (and from someone who loves a throw and a cosy pair of pjs, thats saying something!) with talks, workshops, radio interviews, podcasts, new hobbies, like writing, and I have been empowered to make huge decisions, that a few years ago, I would never have done.
One of the challenges of doing our own thing, in my view, is getting our voices heard. Social media can be a great vehicle but it can also get noisy and sometimes we can feel drowned out. I have often written about my love hate relationship with Facebook but when I got the email, I felt as if someone was giving me a loud speaker and saying, join the celebration and shout it out loud. I feel very honoured to be among these incredible businesses and strong and inspiring women. Having this space to raise more awareness of life after cancer, as well as shine a light on mums who have faced adversity and challenges that can make motherhood even more precious, is a huge privilege and I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I love what I do and I can’t wait for more adventures to come.
Sadly, I can not attend the awards ceremony. I made a commitment to climb Snowdon with a special member of the Safespace group, to raise money for The Pituitary Foundation. She had pituitary cancer and came to the Safespace community a totally different lady. She is now full of hope, confidence and positivity and getting to know her over the last year or so has been such a pleasure. There are a group of four of us climbing and we have been training with every steep incline in the Surrey and Hampshire area I think!
The irony of this clash is the other reason I am climbing. I have given a few talks about the complexities of life for a survivor and I often liken it to the climb down a mountain. Getting up the mountain is hard but once we get to the top, the support can fall away and while navigating our way down, we have to manage boulders and pot holes such as mental health, fatigue and physical side effects, that perhaps are not as obvious as those on the way up. Being able to physically walk up and down this mountain is a literal challenge that I feel passionately about. I may have experienced cancer and the fall out three times but if I say its like a mountain, I think I should live the metaphor too! I am disappointed I can not do both but I guess there is a reason for everything.
Getting this far is a huge milestone for Samspaces. Being able to celebrate everything that has happened and all it has taught me is a huge positive that has been a foundation to build on. I have been led from one amazing person to another, survivor and therapist. In all our collective spaces, we give ourselves a safe space to connect and support each other, just like women in business.
People have asked me over the years, ‘Don’t you ever wonder why me?’ I always answer, ‘Why Not me?’
Look at this way, if it hadn’t been me, I may be a totally different person to the one I am now but I rather like me, thank you; not just as an MPower award finalist, but a survivor, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend and a woman in business!
‘Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations’ – Brainyqoute
1st March 2018
As storm Emma and the beast from the East collide on this freezing March (for heavens sakes!) evening, I pull the duvet up a little higher and snuggle down a little deeper. I am hibernating in the aftermath of hurricane hysterectomy!!
Two weeks post op and my abdomen throbs, a little reminder that it is still settling, still snuggling down itself, healing, finding new space. I wriggle to find a comfortable position as I move onto my right side and use a pillow to bolster my left leg to support myself. The last time I had to support myself in bed like this was when I was pregnant and then after my c section. How on earth did I manage with a new born baby too?!
Getting to this point has been a journey! Actually more of a long winded eleven year around the world challenge, but hey, its been an experience! The process of making this decision and pro actively taking this action has been challenging but has taught me that it doesn’t matter how long it takes us to get somewhere, its the journey that counts.
Two years ago I never thought I would have been strong or brave enough to put myself through more surgery, no matter how much risk it eliminated. Throughout many of my Samspace blogs and vlogs I have likened the far reaching side effects of cancer treatment to climbing down a mountain. Finishing treatment might be the summit but you still have to get down and that climb has its own set of challenges. When making big decisions, just like that descent, it can’t be rushed. It is an organic process! Life and all of its twists and turns are all part of an intricate pattern of pathways, roads and milestones, thats why its called a journey. The speed at which we travel this course is a natural process and timing is everything.
Let’s leave the mountain for a moment though and think about volcano’s! Like Vesuvius about to erupt, the side effects of one of my maintenance drugs, Zoladex, had been rumbling for a while, but I had always thought it was normal. For anyone not familiar with this drug, it is a small slow releasing pellet injected into the tummy area, in my case, every three months on alternating sides, and works by down regulating oestrogen production for hormonally receptive cancers.
I imagined it as a little bubble around my ovaries, protecting them but by doing that it forced me into a medically induced menopause, more so than the drug tamoxifen. What I didn’t appreciate was how the surge of oestrogen that I was having as the zoladex wore off, and this dramatic change in hormone levels was causing a chemical in balance too. Last autumn, that volcano erupted and the lava of anxiety, insomnia, lack of energy, disconnection with those close to me and emotional overwhelm poured out and the fiery flow engulfed me.
After realising this just wasn’t normal, I met with my breast care nurse and then my GP. It was gently suggested that some anti depressants may be a short term method of managing the anxiety as no one could give me a definitive answer as to how long I would need to stay on these maintenance drugs. The frustration was just an added factor, manifesting in this constant hum of anxiety. I was four years into my remission, approaching the big 40 and being the control freak I am (and only human!) I wanted a clearer picture of my future, but I couldn’t take any chances. I had such mixed feelings about more drugs. All I wanted was for this fog to lift but the idea of taking more drugs to help the side effects of other drugs seemed absolutely ridiculous! I felt a mix of relief and dread, shame and pride! Discombobulated was my middle name!
I saw my consultant for a routine check up in December. I recounted the last couple of months and he agreed, this was not ok! His view was that since I had had breast cancer at a younger age than most and more than once, I had more air miles left (sadly not to cash in for the Caribbean!) and therefore the treatment plan was less text book, but my quality of life was paramount. I felt like some kind of rare species!
As we talked through the options, of which there were few, we appreciated that the concoction I was on, was clearly working, but to what detriment?! My consultant didn’t want to make any hasty decisions but thought it best for me to see a hormonal specialist in London. As we talked, the words ‘maybe I should just have my ovaries out!’ spilled out of my mouth and all at once, the needle scratched to a halt and the words were left hanging between us, like music notes falling off a page. ‘What about your fertility?’ he asked,
I sighed, ’There aren’t going to be any more babies are there.’ This time I wasn’t asking the question.
On arriving to see Dr Alison Jones, I was reassured by her knowledge of my case, her professional relationship with my consultant and her experience with hormonal cancers. She was amazing. On talking through the situation as it stood, she confirmed that having my ovaries removed was a ‘no brainer’, ultimately meaning I would no longer need to have zoladex as part of my drug regime! She also told me that most pre menopausal women taking three monthly rounds of zoladex are also on the same medication I had been put on, to manage the side effects and that, given my history, another pregnancy was out of the question. With an almighty thump, I landed on Planet Acceptance, the fog cleared, I could see the path ahead clearly and the release that came with that, was immense. The journey had taken long enough!
After seeing my gynaecologist, it was suggested that in addition to removing my ovaries, a full hysterectomy would be advised too. There had been recent abnormalities and after considering my background, she advised it would be better to do the whole lot in one go. It would save any further surgery further down the line as well as reduce any further cancer risk. The recovery would be longer but I was young, fit and otherwise well.
It had been a long time coming, but the wheels were in motion and there was a sense of relief; facing up to the fact that I was getting no younger, that there would be no more more babies, that it was totally irreversible, that I would be post menopausal at a younger age than most, but that my risk of not only ovarian, but uterine and cervical cancers would be non existent and I would only have to take Tamoxifen going forward, far out weighed the concerns. It had been such a huge shadow that had hovered so heavy for so long but now I could breathe. I felt empowered that with the best advice, after going down every road I could, I had been pro active and actively considered all the options and come to a definitive answer for myself and if it hadn’t been for Mount Zoladex erupting a few months before, i might never have got to that point!
The day arrived. We had decided to return to the hospital where I had had my mastectomy and reconstruction, my lumpectomy and all other surgeries, as well as being born there! I was nervous but there was a huge sense of the final piece of the jigsaw being laid, the end of a rather long chapter brought to a close! As we arrived, all my surgery fears were put to rest by the incredible doctors. The amount of spontaneous trust we have, as we willingly hand over our lives to a medical team an hour before surgery, is always slightly unnerving!!
I was given a spinal but I couldn’t have key hole or tolerate heavy duty pain killers (more is the shame!) More needles, more poking and prodding for veins, which always seem to vanish at just the right time, and suddenly, I was coming around. Goodness only knows what I was jabbering on about before I conked out! Its funny to think how ‘with it’ we think we are as we come around from a general too. I thought I was totally coherent and was absolutely delighted that I wasn’t feeling sick. So delighted in fact, that I would tell any nurse or doctor who came over. My gynae said it was sheer entertainment! Oh dear (head in hands, shaking my head in embarrassment!!) That’s a Friday night Ill want to forget in a hurry and I didn’t drink a drop!
During my four day stay, there were emotional moments, there was sickness and there was also surrender. We forget so easily how to let ourselves heal, emotionally and physically. We have to re learn how to let it wash over us and just rest. The first week was tough, I guess it always is. Aneasthetic is a bitch! I defy anyone who disagrees! Each step was a little mountain; getting out of bed, eating a meal, having a shower, going to the loo, walking down the corridor, having the catheter out, getting dressed myself, having the staples removed. All huge, massive achievements. The little things become huge things; necessary hurdles you have to jump during the recovery process. The mind pounces on each accomplishment, savouring every inch, buoyed up, celebrating, until the fatigue descends again and sleep erases it, leaving the slate clean for the next day.
18th March 2018
Now four weeks on, on the one hand, recovery feels as if it has been slow and frustrating but after my check ups, I know I have been rocking it! After being attacked by what looked like a Rymans stapler, (staples in photo below!) the scars on the outside are healing brilliantly. I swear Rosehip oil is the creme de la creme of oils and I was thrilled to hear that the histology of everything that had been sent off for further testing had come back clear of anything sinister! Interestingly, it appeared I had had endometriosis as well as PCOS and my ovaries were the size of shrivelled grapes (god love ‘em) but hearing this was just another wave of reassurance that I had totally done the right thing. It illustrated the power of the mind body connection again, and psychologically I had known this part of me was so suppressed and inactive, it needed to come out! Like some kind of snake, I felt like I had shed a skin.
Emotionally, I didn’t realise how much I would relive my double mastectomy, exactly, almost to the day, four years ago. Everything had been a mirror image, except the area of surgery! I had compared every feeling, every sensation, every little hurdle, to my experience before. I had been in the room next door to the one I had been in before, some of the nurses were the same, it was the exact same time of year as my last visit, I had the same side effects of the drugs. My brain was not switching off either and sleep was interrupted and full to bursting with vivid dreams. I was exhausted but clearly by brain needed to process everythingl too.
Escaping from hospital was like a prison break! I had to get home! My mother in law came to stay and though amazing to have her, she had moved in for a week four years ago too. The similarities continued, heck, Death In Paradise was even on again while MIL massaged my feet (I told you she was amazing!) and to add insult to injury, I even had to wear the same blinking green blood clotting socks!!!! Love that look with floral pjs! Yet, there has been an acceptance in me that has appreciated the importance of this part of the healing process. My house became my sanctuary and the feelings of deja vu gradually passed.
It is all part of the process. The effects of any surgery stay with a patient for a while and we so quickly under estimate the effects. Not only is the process of the toxins from the drugs, working their way through our bodies, slow and debilitating, but the process of pain management and then the reflection, adjustment and acceptance are all physically and mentally challenging. Our bodies are more vulnerable, our minds are more sensitive. To heal, is to hide in a safe and nurturing space. To heal, is to surrender to the help and love of friends and family. To heal, is to let a natural process of repair and regeneration proceed, in its own time, in its own way. All we can do is succumb and trust our ability to do this. It’s not easy and being here again, has highlighted this so much, but with Spring around the corner (albeit a little late, as I look out at a snow covered garden!) and with my big birthday around the corner, this marks a new start, a new chapter, a time to celebrate, and boy am I looking forward to that part of the process!!