This is the first time I’ve written a blog that’s not just for me. I’m feeling very honoured that SamSpaces even asked me. I’ve been thinking about what to write for a while. My life and my volunteering at the hummingbird cancer centre has led me here.
We often hear things like cancer journey, the cancer rollercoaster, cancer being our mountain to climb and how having cancer changes us. I like to call it my cancer story. This tiny play on words makes me feel like I have a bit of control and choice in my cancer world, even if it’s just choosing when to start the next chapter, turn the next page, even when you know there’s stormy cancer pages ahead.
This year I will have had cancer in my life for ten years. In August 2009, we were told the words. ( I can’t even remember the actual words used anymore.) I was thirty five with four young children. People like me don’t get cancer. I thought it will be ok, this is not gonna change me. In fact, I remember saying those actual words to this day.
Seven operations, six chemos and hormone therapy later, battling just living, well, surviving each day, takes its toll. Our whole daily life changed. I no longer did every school run, I never cooked every dinner. I was in the hospital when my youngest lost his first tooth but, we hugged and played. I was given the all clear of breast cancer after the ops and the chemo. Six years later (in 2016) the sneaky little bugger came back, this time in my lung (he’s called NORMAN) and many of my central nodes. We can’t fix or remove Norman, So I choose to live with my body squatter the best I can.
The week I found out I had stage 4 cancer was the scariest of my life. I was planning my funeral in my head. I pictured myself in the hospice and I was terrified beyond belief. I was back on the cancer rollercoaster. I am however very very lucky. With treatment, Norman is staying locked up in his solid metal box, and my nodes are behaving. I’ve had a bad scan, even found cancer in my bones, but we’ve kicked that in the butt with treatment.
I now live my life very very differently, but hopefully in a good way. Once I started to see both Norman and myself could live together, I got brave, I climbed out of my “being scared of living” box. I have the most scariest thing living inside me. I can’t always make every day count, we all need duvet days and that’s ok. but other days I live my best days possible. I live better now than I ever have done.
I started a blog to help others understand, to hopefully help those newly diagnosed feel less scared. It’s not really my thing, being a dyslexic and also a fairly private person. I am living my dreams. I’ve been trained in cancer hair care and help as many people as I can. I climbed a mountain just because I could, I wanted to prove to myself that I’m still in charge, I’m living my story, not Normans.
Last year I took part in the London Moonwalk, 26.2 miles in the night walking London in a bra, I was even filmed for the One Show. We even planned and had a wedding blessing last year, the best day of my life, so far. I’m not sure what challenges we are doing this year. To be honest, I’m just loving life! My husbands got a campervan, we are exploring new places, enjoying waking up with sea views. It’s very simple but I love it.
Having cancer makes me see the world differently to how I did. I want to cherish everything. I do often have times when I feel like I can’t cope, like I’m sinking into dark places, with no simple way out. I’ve found nature and spaces to be a great source of grounding when I feel like this.
When I have a duvet day, I have a tree that I watch. It gets blown around and is standing bare right now, but it will blossom beautiful pink blossoms in the spring. It just stays standing tall. The tree’s branches change, but the core of the tree stays the same.
My cancer story is much like a tree. During cancer treatment. my tree is bare, it’s having to cope with many storms, wind, rain and snow while standing naked. Cancer brings us many storms, and at times we don’t feel strong, but we somehow survive just like the tree does. I have fruit trees in my garden. They need a little TLC each year, to remove the dead branches, so they can flourish, When we have cancer we feel like we lose a lot of things. I know that I lost friends that I thought were close, and things like housework are never at the top of my to-do list. I think maybe before cancer my tree was a little overgrown. I was trying to care for too many branches. I now have fewer branches, but try to care for the strong ones.
A tree seems like something very simple. It just stands tall in its own space, whether that’s by the side of the road, on a beachfront, or in a garden. A tree has all it needs, roots for water, rain and sunlight. The storms help the trees to remove dead branches or blow seeds into the ground, for new growth. It’s all amazing and yet very simple at the same time. When we have cancer all our needs are usually met medically, but emotionally it’s a different story. We come away feeling like we’ve changed, not really knowing our place, being a little scared and battered to stand tall in our place. We question our roots, what was once important to us, might not be any more. How does a tree do it??
The tree’s roots have to travel through dark and often lonely places, but these roots are strong and find all that the tree needs. I have some amazing friends around me, the friendships have very strong roots, they need to, as sometimes it’s hard to stay standing tall.
I think cancer has changed me, just like the seasons change the trees, but my tree trunk, my core, my true me is still me. LOVE and HONESTY, have always been me and they still are. Cancer takes away some of our branches. We even lose our blossom for a bit and we have to stand naked in the storm. Sometimes it feels like winter will last forever. but given time and love, all our trees can flourish.
Trees are amazing, even those trees at the roadside can blossom. However, the trees that get extra TLC and care do the best. Cancer is a terrible hard storm, often we don’t realise the damage done until the storm is over. This is often when the normal world thinks we are ok, but when we need the most care.
I’ve been looking at lots of trees and some of the most interesting ones are the ones with branches covered in ivy. Their branches look thick and tough, they look protected by armour. I think these branches are pretending to be ok, they are trying hard to cope, to find their sunshine through the ivy which is putting the branch into darkness, but even that’s ok. The tree has other branches, it has its core and its roots but maybe today it needs to feel covered, feel that the ivy is hugging it. These branches look the strongest, but are actually the weakest. Always always be kind to yourself. The ivy won’t get your good branches.
One of the biggest things cancer has taught me is that its easier with help. Talk, shout, scream, climb a mountain, climb a tree. but please know your happy place is still there, your tree trunk core is still strong. and given some sunshine, your tree will blossom.
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!
Who are we?
Our names are Dympna and Helen and we are professional organisers and declutterers (I know sharp intake of breath!). We set up Your Space Sorted and working together, we help people who are overwhelmed, clear their spaces. It could be their business space, in their homes or just the under-stair cupboard. We help people get organised, we love doing it and here’s why…
Why did we start?
Door one: Introducing Helen
I was living in Edinburgh with my husband and my daughter age 5 and my son aged two. We had moved four times since my daughter was born, taking with us the same boxes from house to house! The reason I knew this was that each time we sealed a box, we wrote the date on the box. The oldest unopened boxes dated back to November 2009! My son had finally been given a place at a lovely nursery a few mornings a week and a good friend who lived up the road gave us a lift to drop my son off while her own son was at nursery. We would often sneak off for a cuppa but inevitably had chores to do at home as well. Before dashing through our separate doors, we would check each other’s plans for those precious few hours. My friends reply was usually a bit of house work and putting her feet up to watch a film, my reply would often be I’m going to sort through a few things and tidy up. One day after our usual check in with each other and clearly my too often reply, my friend retorted “I really don’t know what you have to sort all the time!” more or less chuckling to herself! That was the trigger – that was it-why was I spending so much time on “stuff “! I started reading books about decluttering dipping my toe into minimalism and began to purge our belongings-I wasn’t going to waste a moment more of my “me ” time tidying away and sorting through things and I felt passionately anything we didn’t need some else would use and appreciate. I had no desire for the cream coloured perfect show room – I just wanted a simpler life where my belongings didn’t own me! The more things we let go of as a family the happier I felt – I could feel the strong connection between freeing my physical space and my mental space almost immediately.
I met Dympna shortly after one of our many moves and even after, we moved away again, we kept in contact and spoke often. Time and time again our conversation would turn to best way of organising things. How could we manage our homes better? It was so clear Dympna was on the same road as me ………
Behind door two: Dympna
First, I wanted to say I’m no neat freak, I’m not OCD about cleanliness or even that naturally tidy, but I have always been organised. In my city job I set up offices, systems, managed people and things.
However, I had a wakeup call when I found it hard to leave my house with a tiny baby in tow, feeling blocked in. I couldn’t go out without tripping over or things falling on me. I became frustrated with no energy, incapable of thinking straight, couldn’t remember the word for ….. and unable to do basic tasks. Still recovering and being exhausted from no sleep and all the new challenges of being a mum, I was shocked at how difficult things had become.
In the beginning, I couldn’t understand why it was so hard, I never had problems with sorting things out and achieving in my job. Then I realised I had never spent so much time in my home as I was always out early and back late. If I needed something quick and on the run, I would just get it. I had never devoted any time to setting up our home to work well for us. It was just a place to store our things not a place to live in. I found being more confined to home and with so many new items inevitably coming in, I began to feel overwhelmed. It was hard to do all the activities I needed to do on a daily basis because either there was no system or routine or too much stuff to manage. For example, the old me would: if I hadn’t made lunch that day, just buy it, on the way out, or if someone was coming over I would shove things in cupboards and pray the door would stay shut or if I hadn’t got around to laundry, get a new top on way home from work, not a sustainable or viable option for me now. My home had been neglected I had never reviewed the things in it, as I would have done at work – I started to ask myself questions. Is this working for us? do we use it? what is it? do I even like it? I met Helen shortly after having my second daughter and we instantly got on. Even miles apart we would still talk about organising! On a visit back from Edinburgh, Helen told me all about her attempts at reducing down their possessions and I was hooked too. I made a throw away comment about what I would really love to do, would be to help people organise their houses now as we had our own. The seed was sown.
What we now offer?
We simply offer sessions to help you do what we did! We have fun while we do it and help review and reduce your belongings to make your space, your home, completely yours how you want it and it work more simply for you. We help you make room for life. We hope to join you in the new year for a fun packed work shop, and if you want to get in touch before then please give us a call or drop us a message.
More info and tips can be found on our Facebook page.
So why do I run laughter sessions? I’d love to have a big story behind this but I really don’t.
The fact is I just love having new experiences and meeting new people, I guess in a way it gives me a self esteem boost. Well apart from the disastrous time I learnt to ski but I won’t go into that now, that’s for another time and another blog. So back to laughter. I happened to stumble upon ‘Laughter yoga’ about seven years ago, I immediately felt curious and knew I had to give it a go. I don’t tend to mention the yoga bit as it might put some people off, I’ll come back to this point later.
Right, so here I am heading to my first laughter session, feeling quite nervous and a bit silly. Why am I paying to laugh with a bunch of people I don’t know? I walk in, do the session, have the best laugh ever and walk out again without really talking to anyone – how ridiculous is that? The best way to describe the benefits is that you feel you have made best friends, no communication is required, you just laugh and breathe with each other (the yoga bit) and you feel this wonderful sense of connection that stays with you for hours perhaps days. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. It allows you to be creative and productive, the endorphins rushing around your body make you feel great as though you’ve participated in a high impact physical sport. The health benefits are important to mention too, you sleep better, you reduce stress and anxiety which allows you to deal with life’s challenges more effectively and did I mention it even boosts the immune system!
So how does it work I hear you asking? Is someone telling jokes to make the group laugh? I am pleased to say it’s not that at all, as I’m sure not everyone would get my warped sense of humour. Let’s say ‘you fake it till you make it’ – that’s all I’m going to say for now.
I’m really hoping to see you early next year as Sam has suggested running a laughter session for the group. I can’t wait to laugh with all you lovely people, it will be so much fun. And remember if the lead up to Christmas gets stressful remember laughter is a wonderful tool that we have access to anytime, anywhere. It’s absolutely free and diffuses lots of situations, after all ‘Seriousness is bad for your health’
Rebecca is a Life Coach, Laughter Facilitator and Consultant with a passion for anything wellbeing related.
At Suburban Turban we‘ve been designing hats for women coping with chemo hair loss for over 11 years. Our studio started small back in 2006, (my spare room!) I’d been an ‘Ascot’ milliner for 10 years and had never considered designing hats for women at time when they had a real need for elegance and soft headwear. I responded to a friend’s request, a surgeon at Royal Surrey Hospital, to organise a GRACE (http://www.grace-charity.org.uk/) fashion show fundraiser and the rest as they say is history.
We’re now a team of 5 milliners, designing and producing 2 collections a year. The studio moved to just outside Guildford, in Surrey. Here we can create hats right from processing and pre-shrinking fabrics, all the way through to trimming and finishing. As a small artisan company I love the fact that we’re able to bring uniqueness to our designs, selecting beautiful fabrics and hand-finishing trim details. Suburban Turban has become known over the years for our dressy daywear and eveningwear styles, many of which incorporate draping fabric to create shape and volume. We also love developing head wear solutions for specific needs – the non-slip exercise hat (https://www.suburbanturban.com/rachel-sports-chemo-hat.html ) and the realistic hair fringe wig (https://www.suburbanturban.com/hair-fringe-wig-for-hair-loss.html) were created from clients’ requests. If you’re facing chemo hair loss, or know of someone who is about to start chemo treatment, here are a few milliner’s tips to help make the transition with minimal stress.
We regularly hear ‘I don’t like hats. I have no idea how to wear a hat, or what suits me?’ Many of us only wear a hat for practical reasons – warmth in the winter, or shade in the summer. Not enough of us regularly wear a ‘Trilby’ because it’s part of our ‘style look, or a cocktail hat because we want to make an entrance when we walk into a room! Hats for hair loss will need to be worn for much longer periods of time – both indoors and outdoors.
Tip no. 1 – Lightweight fabrics in soft hat styles help make that indoor/outdoor transition easy and avoid overheating. Think trying to wear your bobble hat or ski hat indoors whilst meeting the girls for a coffee – it would look suitably casual, but it would be rather warm to wear indoors. Feel the hat and remember fabrics that feel soft and lightweight in your hand will feel the same on your head. Try to avoid scratchier wool mixes, synthetic fleece materials and linings, felted wool on a sensitive scalp needs a liner, (more of this later).
What’s your style tribe? Are you a casual dresser – a busy stay at home mum with children; an office worker requiring a smarter approach; or somewhere in-between the 2?
Tip no. 2 – Look at hat styles that will easily fit with what you currently have in your wardrobe – caps for casual days – school pick-up, dog walks and supermarket trips. Beanies and turbans for casual to smart or indeed smart office days. Think about colour too – this will make the everyday ‘getting ready to go’ quicker and less stressy. You’ll feel much more confident and in your ‘comfort zone’, if the style and colour feel right.
If I buy one black chemo hat that will work with everything – right? It is understandable to think that black goes with everything, but treatment can change your skin tone. You can look paler and more tired – black only tends to accentuate these characteristics.
Tip no. 3 – Think about deep jewel colours for your hats – they add colour to your skin tone and even on a ‘tired’ day help you to look well. You are going to need more than 1 hat over what could be a 6 month period of hair loss. They won’t get particularly dirty – they may collect a little make-up / perspiration but they will need a freshen up and a re-shape. If at all possible buy 2-3 and ring the changes – your hats will last longer with a rest.
So all hats are the same I just need to pick one up and I’m good to go. Another key difference with hats for hair loss wear is that they need to be cut and made deeper at the back of the head. Sounds obvious I know (!) I know but not all hats cover the back of your head. Winter knit hats will but you may not wish to wear wool knit (or synthetic knit) next to a bare scalp and they’ll be too warm.
Tip no.4 – Look at fuller styles like Baker Boy cap, bucket hats, beanies in lighter fabrics, berets – any style that is made fuller so that when you pull it down on to your head it doesn’t ruin the overall shape of the hat and you get enough coverage. Cloches are another good style that sit deep on the head.
Many women (not all) tell us that at the point of total hair loss (sometime around chemo treatment no. 2) the hair follicle is super sensitive and a wig/ headwear can be a real struggle. This seems to last for a week or so and then settle down. We would strongly recommend you plan ahead and have a soft beanie ready for this time. This way you have something to put on and you can wait till this phase passes. You can of course plan ahead – cut your hair shorter, purchase your wig whilst your own hair colour is there for reference, purchase hats for those times you don’t wish to wear a wig. This is all very much down to personal preference and how you wish to manage your hair loss.
We’re here on the end of the phone if you need style help and advice, or indeed if you’re local enough to come and try them on at the studio. Hair loss is one of the hardest knocks of cancer treatment, but there are now plenty of solutions available – realistic textured wigs and stylish headwear. You can take control of your hair loss, reclaim your confidence and feel gorgeous again.