Sunday, 30 November 2014

December 2014 and Beautiful People

Tomorrow is December, I've been waiting for it, and I'm glad it's here. November can do one.

Bye bye chemo
On Wednesday, assuming my blood levels are ok, I will be having my last chemo. Last chemo! I'm so relieved. I'm not sure I can stand much more of it, so it's a good job this is the last. It's been hard, and as I've said many times, I got through it because of amazing friends. I want to say thank you to the people who have stood by my side the whole time. I don't want to name names because I'm scared of missing someone out accidentally, so I will just hope that you know who you are. Like I said at the start of all this, I'm not a strong person, I'm not brave. I'm only still standing, just about, because of the strength of some incredible friends. (Oh gawd, as I am writing this I've started to cry! I'm too emotional, see? Not strong. New Year's Resolution: Toughen the fuck up.) I don't know what I'd do without you, and I love you very much.

I also want to say a specific big thank you and a big FUCK YEAH WE'VE (nearly) DONE IT! to the friends I've made who are also about to have their last chemo. I've had a lot of support from, and made a lot of friends, who have/have had breast cancer and are going through/have gone through cancer treatment. Massive big love to everyone.

Hello Christmas
So if my last chemo is this Wednesday, 3rd December, then I can expect to be ill for up to 8 or 9 days after. (I have no intention of being ill longer than that at the most cos I have people to see and places to be from 12th onwards). Seeing as it's December, I'm preparing for this last stint of chemo-induced houseboundness by putting up my Christmas decorations, and getting all my dvds of Christmas films out and ready. I hate that I'm going to be ill again, but at least I can make this one festive!

And then the celebrations begin, and I can't wait because I get to spend lots of time, not ill, with the people who matter to me most. A few of the highlights include:
  • Fake Christmas Day at my house with Charlotte and Emily who have been my rocks over these last few months, so I cannot wait to spoil them rotten.
  • Christmas night out with my favourite work peeps who have organised the date around my last chemo to make sure I can be there! So I will be there with (jingle) bells on.
  • Despite having not read the book I'm planning on rocking up to my book club/beer club night in December to remind them who I am cos I've not been in so long.
  • Leicester YBCN Christmas meet up
  • Standard Christmas Food Orgy with The Girls (and their boys), another group of people who I need to spoil rotten for being so ace.
  • Plus a bunch of other nights out using Christmas as an excuse for drinking cocktails and champagne and putting the world to rights with various friends.
And for Christmas itself I'm being temporarily adopted by the family of my unofficially adopted sister/part time housemate/all round amazing beautiful, wonderful friend Emily.

When I think about all this I feel really happy. I'm glad I wrote this all down, it's a good reminder.

Anyway.... now to just prepare for LAST CHEMO! My milking the "I've got cancer" thing has paid off as I have a friend coming round with homemade crumble shortly, then I've got a mad busy afternoon/evening sorting shit out and christmassing my house, work tomorrow in the day, tomorrow evening will be spent telling Emily how brilliant she is while she makes me cosmopolitans, work Tuesday in the day, and then out celebrating last chemo in town with Amy Jay on Tuesday night.

Then bring on Wednesday. Bring it on.

About pretending: Fake it til you make it

Sometime very shortly after diagnosis I was out and talking to two people I work with who have been going through some major, major shit too. They have a motto: Fake it til you make it.

Life throws a lot of shit at you. Well, it really is throwing a lot of shit at me lately anyway. You can't stop that from happening but you can choose how you respond to it. My go-to response is to be positive and optimistic and I've spent a lot of time genuinely feeling that way. There's nothing I'm writing in my posts about being thankful that isn't true. I have a lot to be happy and thankful for, and in many ways I am really, really lucky.

But there are points when the shit gets too much and any genuine positivity or happiness gets beaten right down. I don't think you can stop that from happening either, but again you can choose how you respond to it. Wallow in it, or pretend everything is ok and keep your fingers crossed that at some point it will actually be ok again. Fake it til you make it. That's what I'm going to have to do, because right now if I allowed myself to even begin to wallow, even just for a moment, I'm not sure how I'd pull myself back out of it.

So I'm going to focus on the good, pretend away the bad, until it's all ok again. In the meantime, maybe people can please handle with care.


I'll keep this brief....

When you have cancer, and you go out and find out about someone with incurable cancer, it sorts you right out. Doesn't fucking matter what was bothering you, you haven't got incurable cancer. You've got a life.

I might not be the cleverest, or the funniest, or the prettiest, or the coolest, or good enough in whatever other way, but I have a life and I can live it. So I won't waste it.  

That's all.

Much love


Thursday, 27 November 2014

Everything I've learned about.....Faking it - eyebrows and eyelashes

Hi! I'm writing this post for anyone who is going to be going through chemo and faces losing their eyelashes and eyebrows. Don't worry - you can fake them with makeup! And it's pretty easy, trust me. I'm speaking as someone who knew sod all about makeup before I had chemo. Liquid eyeliner? I'd never used it. Lipstick? I'd never worn it. Primer? Isn't that some kind of paint you put on cars?

This isn't a tutorial, this is basically just me sharing some photos to demonstrate how a bit of makeup can quickly transform your generic cancer face back in to a face that resembles what you looked like before chemo came along.

At the end though I'm going to share a couple of links that will help if you, like me, don't know where to begin in completely faking eyebrows and eyelashes.

So first of all this is my Cancer Face. (I do actually have some hair still but I've cropped it out to give a more authentic Cancer Face.)

As you can see I do have a few eyebrow hairs still but not many. I still have one chemo left at the point of taking this photo so they might disappear too. And I only have the occasional very stubby eyelash. Mascara is no longer an option for me as there's nothing to apply it to!
Here's a close up of an eyebrow and eye.
I miss my eyelashes!
Anyway. This is what I look like in my wig with no eyelashes and almost no eyebrows.

Slightly less "cancer patient" but at best looking decidedly tired/a bit ill.

Sometimes on chemo, I feel tired and ill. But a lot of the time I don't. And when I'm feeling well and I want to go out, I'd rather not look liked a tired, ill cancer patient. And this is where makeup comes in!


First of all, eyebrows. I have tried two ways of faking eyebrows. One is with Benefit Browzings (or equivalent in another brand). This works, and is easy, but for me I couldn't get my eyebrows quite right. Always ended up too thick and dark. Here's a photo of one from a while ago as an example.

It was better than nothing but I was never really happy.

Then a couple of days ago I went to a Look Good Feel Better makeup workshop (details on that at the end of this post) and was shown how to do eyebrows with a pencil. I much prefer it! The pencil I was given is Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay In Place Brow Lift Duo and it looks like this:

One end is a brown pencil which you use to draw on eyebrows, and the other end is a very light coloured pencil highlighter which you just use a little below the eyebrow you've drawn on. I don't know why. But that's what they told me to do so that's what I'm doing!

Here's me with one eyebrow done so you can compare sides:

And here's me with both eyebrows done!

Another step away from Cancer Face. Hurray! But as you can see, I'm still looking tired and ill, just with eyebrows now. It's cos I've got no eyelashes.


So, you could go and buy lots of false eyelashes and stick them on. I've never used false eyelashes in my life, and probably never will. I just can't be bothered, and I am the kind of person who would inevitably go out, lose the fake eyelashes off one eye and be unable to remove the fake eyelashes off the other eye, and look like a complete idiot. So I'd rather not bother. Instead, I'm just using eyeshadow and an eyeliner. It's amazing the difference it makes!

First of all, eyeshadow. Here's a photo of me with eyeshadow on and no eyeliner yet. To be honest - in the photo you probably can't tell that much difference, but in real life it's another small step away from Cancer Face.

Next up - eyeliner. Now, I have recently learned how to use a liquid eyeliner... BUT, having been on the Look Good Feel Better workshop I've decided at the moment, I prefer using a pencil - and I'm using a dark grey instead of black. The one I got from Look Good Feel Better is a Lancôme, Le Crayon Khol, 03 Gris Bleu!

(By the way, the photo from earlier of the eyebrow done using Browzings shows one of my early attempts at using liquid eyeliner. I got better at it than that, but even so I think it's a bit full on for me. I might prefer it when I have some eyelashes again.)

Here's me with one eye done with a pencil so you can compare with and without:

And here's me with eyeliner on both eyes. Just putting a bit of eyeliner on gives the impression of eyelashes being there.
Here's a close up of one eye and eyebrow.

What do you think?! Not quite screaming "CANCER PATIENT" so much now is it?!
It's not quite the same as having real eyebrows and eyelashes, but I am well impressed at how much difference a little bit of makeup can make. This is the makeup I used on my eyebrows and eyes: An eyebrow pencil, an eyeliner, and eyeshadow.
That is literally it.
Stuff you might be interested in!
So if you are going through chemo and are going to lose your lashes and brows and want to fake them but don't know where to start here is something to check out:
Look Good Feel Better workshops
Hopefully your hospital has told you about these already, but if not have a look on their website:
They are free 2 hour makeup sessions for women going through chemotherapy. The one I went to was held at the hospital I go to for chemo.
You are given a big bag of makeup and cosmetics products which you get to keep. Mine included: eye makeup remover, makeup remover, toner, moisturiser, special eye moisturiser, primer, concealer, foundation, blusher, powder, eyebrow pencil, eyeliner pencil, eyeshadow, mascara, lip liner pencil, 2 lipsticks.
And you are shown how to use all of these products in a way that leaves you looking like a regular non-cancer-patient person (unlike a clown, which is what I'd have looked like if I'd just been given the products and sent away to work them out on my own!).

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

100 reasons why I'm thankful I was diagnosed with cancer - Part 3

Hello! Following on from previous posts (Part 1 and Part 2) here are some more reasons why I'm thankful I was diagnosed with cancer.

6. I've discovered that one person (me) can make a difference
And on a bigger scale than I thought possible. Here I'm talking about the times where I have challenged The Sun newspaper on their use of Page 3 models in a breast cancer awareness campaign. I wouldn't have done this if I hadn't been diagnosed with cancer. It started with a blog post written as an open letter to The Sun. I know I keep showing off about this but I've had almost 10,000 hits on that, plus there were articles about it on Buzzfeed and The Debrief. The result was that the No More Page 3 campaign got some more publicity and loads more signatures on their petition (There were over 1,000 new signatures on the petition on the day when No More Page 3 circulated a link to my post!) Since then, I've written more, and had a response (albeit a ridiculous one) from The Sun's Head of PR. The No More Page 3 campaign is incredibly powerful - just this last week three major retailers (Tesco, Waitrose and Marks and Spencers) have decided to change their displays of The Sun to keep them out of the sight of children. I feel incredibly proud that I was able to contribute a bit to this campaign, because I think it is so, so important. And all I did was write a few blog posts. That's all I did. So it makes me wonder, what could I do in the future, when I'm not also dealing with the bullshit that is chemotherapy? I want to do more, I want to make a difference, and now I believe I could. So I'm going to.

7. I bounce back a bit quicker
I'm very sensitive. I know this because everyone tells me I'm too sensitive. I also know this because I'm so familiar with feeling hurt and feeling stupid. And it doesn't take much. If I think that you've thought for just a second that I'm being annoying or stupid then I'm going to feel upset about it. ("You" being almost anyone, but the more I care about you the more upset I get.) I'm not sure at the moment where I stand on this, whether I think I need to toughen up or whether I think sorrynotsorry, this is who I am (probably somewhere in between the two). BUT, either way, since being diagnosed with cancer I think I bounce back from the hurt a bit quicker. This is partly because of how valuable time is to me now and I don't want to spend it being sad, and partly because people are being so nice to me just now (which, thinking about it, is because I've got cancer haha!) and that cheers me up. Anyway... I think I'm moving in a positive direction.

8. I'm writing
A couple of weeks after being diagnosed with cancer I started writing about it here. I loved writing when I was younger and thought I was ok at it. I'm not sure what happened exactly but it's been a long, long time since I've done any real writing and I'd come round to thinking I was rubbish at it (for example, a few years ago in some feedback for an appraisal at work, someone said my writing skills "are good, although not outstanding". I was gutted.) I think this is now the 49th blog post I've written since being diagnosed with cancer so I've written a lot. And I love it. As I've said before, it's incredibly cathartic, taking all that stuff out my head and dumping it here instead. But also.... people have been really nice about my writing. I mean, really, really nice. I'm going to get a big head! This includes my friends who are obviously obliged to be nice to me regardless, but it also includes people who don't know me at all (and it also includes the person who had said my writing was good but not outstanding - the compliments I had from that person had me bouncing off the walls I was so happy!) So I think I would like to write more. Not just on this blog. But, in my future, I would like to write more, and I think maybe I could, and I think maybe I will. I didn't think that was a possibility for me before all this. So, thank you cancer.

9. I get to reduce my risk of cancer
Yes I know. I've already got cancer. But I'm a genetic mutant and I KNEW that, however until I had cancer, I couldn't convince the experts of my mutant status. Because of the family history they still considered me high risk for breast and ovarian cancer, but not enough to have any preventive surgery or screening until I was at least 40. So, before I had cancer, I was at risk of cancer and I was terrified, and nothing was being done about it. In my family, cancer has been aggressive, and a death sentence. I got lucky this time - my cancer is not aggressive. I should be ok. And now, while the experts don't (yet) know what gene fault I have inherited, they've relocated my file to the "Oh Shit, Definitely a Genetic Mutant" folder, and I get to have the preventive surgery. This has a HUGE impact on the risk of me getting another breast cancer, or ovarian cancer in the future. The "population risk" (ie the risk with no genetic fault) for women in the UK of getting breast cancer is around 12-13%. After surgery, mine will be around 5%. And by having my ovaries removed, my risk of ovarian cancer will be pretty much zero. So while I will need to live with the risk of recurrence of the cancer I have now, at least:
1. Hopefully that won't happen because I am lucky to have a slow growing, non aggressive cancer that has been caught early.
2. I will be monitored very, very closely from now on.
3. I won't be at risk of ovarian cancer which is dangerous because it tends to be diagnosed late.
4. I will have very significantly reduced risk (to a lower risk than the average woman) of a new breast cancer (and one which is more aggressive and more likely to kill me than the one I have now).

Uncool chemo

Before you start chemo, you go to an information session at the hospital where they list all the ways you might get ill (in case you missed it, a sore throat can be an "emergency", "life threatening" and "fatal"). So you think the defining feature of chemo is illness. In my experience, this is incorrect! As well as illness, there's another defining feature which is finding yourself in a variety of weird and / or embarrassing situations. Here's a few of my own examples. (If you would like to make a film about me then you are welcome to include these but I want my character to be made generally more cool and glamorous and be played by Jennifer Connelly.)

Tidying up my bedroom. Unable to remember what I put in that box, opening it up and finding a bag of my own hair from the early days.

Realising I needed to shave under my arms and being absolutely over the moon about it (because when you are on chemo, hairy armpits are a sign of hope for the future).

Going to meet my MP to discuss the serious issue of the sexualisation of breast cancer awareness, and blurting out that I am jealous of her hair. (She does have amazing hair though.)

Leaving my wig on the bed in the spare room because I was too lazy to put it on its stand in my bedroom. Waking up the next day, excited to be going to spend the day with a friend. Going in to the spare bedroom and finding the wig in a mess on the floor and the dog asleep and snoring on the bed in its place. (Mini heart attack and nearly throttled the dog but thankfully no actual harm done.)

Dancing and strutting around the kitchen singing along to Divinyls "I touch myself" with a headscarf on and bits of toilet paper plugging my nose to stop the continuous streaming of Chemo Nose Dribble.

Having conversations with friends that get given hashtags like #bumprobs, involve comparing tongues to see whose is the most disgusting, or include statements like "Well, my vajayjay is currently a blank canvas."

Being invited to a friend's house for dinner and asking if I can bring anything. The response: "Yes, bring Bonnie and bring your polystyrene head".

For a joke, going through with a friend's suggestion of taking the opportunity to try out some different eyebrow styles. And then getting the following feedback on Twitter on my makeup work of art from a complete stranger: "For me the lip liner is fine but the eyebrows is too long, n for me it quite little bit strange."

Kneeling on the floor in front of my friend while she inspects my ginormous bald patch for new hair growth.

Sitting in my appraisal at work, getting an itch and scratching it.... and then realising I have no idea if my right eyebrow will still be there when I next look in a mirror.

Having a panic that I have somehow grown another cancer tumour (on my good side), going to my GP, finding out it is not cancer but probably an infected hair follicle, and being teased mercilessly for obviously being a hairy beast.

(Image credit: @ALilEarthquake !)

Having written this I realise most of the above are related to hair loss of one kind or another. It really is the shittiest chemo side effect of them all! Oh well. Ni modo.  

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel?

125 days ago I was told I had cancer. A lot's happened since then!

Story so far

I've had 2 ultrasound scans, 4 biopsies, an MRI scan and a CT scan.

I've met with my surgeon twice, and oncologists 5 times.

I've had 5 rounds of chemo (4 different drugs) and spent over 15 hours with a -4 degrees head freezer on my head.

I've had 5 blood tests (2 of which took multiple attempts to actually get blood out) and 7 cannulas stuck in me. I've fainted 4 times and had 1 vein burst.

I've spent 15 days on steroids, 11 days on anti sickness medications, and injected myself to boost my white blood cells 25 times.

I've lost loads of hair, and had a lot of tantrums about it. I've also now almost entirely lost my eyebrows and eyelashes. But I've got used to wearing a wig, learned how to create fake eyebrows, and learned how to deceive people into thinking I have eyelashes by using liquid eyeliner.

I've kept a blog. (This blog!) I've written 47 posts since being diagnosed (don't know when to shut up). The blog has had 30,000 hits so far!

A lot of those hits are on my challenges to The Sun newspaper about their use of Page 3 models for a breast cancer awareness campaign (9,708 views on my original open letter to The Sun and 5,198 on The Sun's Head of PR response to me). My original letter to The Sun also made it onto The Debrief and Buzzfeed. I also met with my MP to discuss it and got her name added to the No More Page 3 politician's letter.

I ran a 5k on chemo and 100 people sponsored a total of £1,530.50 for Breast Cancer Care and Cancer Research UK.

I've also made new friends and had lots of fun times etc etc.... (It's no wonder I'm knackered!)

Coming up next

13 more days until my last chemo. (1 blood test, 1 cannula, 3 days of steroids, 5 injections).

Then I will be having as normal a December as possible. I might disappear from the blog and Twitter for a while (yes, I might shut up for a bit! Thank fuck for that!)  I'll do my job in the day, and then in my spare time I just want to watch Christmas films, eat too many roast dinners, and chill out with my dog and my friends.

At some point in early January will be the operation. (Eek! I think the numbers for that might be something along the lines of 1 cannula, 9 hours in surgery, 6 days in hospital, up to 6 drains for up to 2 weeks, 2 weeks before I can make my own cup of tea, 2-3 weeks before I can have a shower!)

Then I think at some point in February will be radiotherapy (3-5 weeks of going to the hospital for a 5 minute appointment every Monday - Friday!).

And then.... I think I'm cancer free (I'd bloody better be!). And no more cannulas. (There bloody better not be!).

Can't wait dudes. Can't wait.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

100 reasons why I'm thankful I was diagnosed with cancer - Part 2

Hi! I'm writing about reasons why I'm thankful I was diagnosed with cancer. This is called Part 2 for a reason! It follows on from a Part 1 - if you haven't read Part 1, it's here.

3. Experiencing the feeling you get as a result of random acts of kindness from strangers
It’s not just my friends, old and new, who have been amazing since I was diagnosed. The world is full of lovely people, and some of those lovely people, whose names I don't even know, have been very kind to me. For example, there was the time I went out for a meal with my friend Amy the night before my second chemo. The pub manager sent a bottle of Prosecco to our table to celebrate one chemo down! Then there are the times when, after talking to shop staff about chemo, when I am hunting out things that might help me, I’ve gone away to discover they’ve put freebies in my bag along with the things I bought. And then there are the kind messages I’ve received via my blog and Twitter from people wishing me well with treatment.

There are people who have been kind to me who I can never repay - in many instances I can't even thank them because I don't know who they are or I'll never see them again! Anyway, it's not the free bottle of Prosecco, or the bubblebath etc that I am thankful for. It's the feeling that comes from experiencing an out of the blue kindness that doesn't ask for or expect anything in return. I'm not sure what the name of that feeling is, but it's very nice and special, and I've been getting it a lot.

4. I'm learning to trust my own gut feeling

I was diagnosed early because I trusted my gut feeling. The facts and the reassurances from experts (I was only 33, I knew I didn't have a BRCA gene mutation, I couldn't feel a lump, the change was very subtle) -  as compelling as they were - didn't silence the little voice inside saying something was wrong.

Gut feeling, intuition, whatever you call it, I was absolutely right to trust it. In the four months since diagnosis, I think as a result of a combination of that (pretty dramatic) example of my gut feeling being right, and the general attitude I'm developing of "fuck it, life's too short to mess about" I've been more inclined than I ever was before to trust my own gut. (And yes, there are other times it's been right.)

I saw this on Twitter recently and it struck me that a lot of the time I do have a gut feeling, but these are exactly the things that are drowning it out.

Pride, experience and reason.

Pride, experience and reason would have had me cancel my ultrasound scan because I was so unlikely to have cancer, I would look like a silly hypochondriac, and I would risk a boy who cried wolf situation of not being listened to in the future.

Well! Pride, experience and reason.... In your face! I've clocked you now, I know what you're up to. You're stupid, boring and cowardly and I'm determined to not let you get in the way of my health, my happiness or my opportunities. My gut is cleverer than you, my heart is braver and I'm going to be happy and have a fucking good life!

5. I'm becoming less afraid of "What if?"

This follows on from the last point. I'm a thinker and I'm a worrier. Think, think, think. Worry, worry, worry.

But having cancer is starting to change that for two reasons. First of all, the whole "my time is precious" thing - I don't want to waste time, I just want to get on with my life. And secondly, what's the worst that could ever happen if I make a "wrong" decision? Will it ever be as bad as being diagnosed with cancer? Not likely. And I'm handling that aren't I? So... I can handle anything then can't I? So... what's the problem?

I've been coming to the realisation that when I'm making choices or decisions (I mean those that might be important or might not be particularly straightforward) there are two ways I can go about it:

1. Spend (waste) endless time thinking, deliberating, agonising over it to try and make the "right" decision, based on all the rational, logical arguments that come up as a result of my own knowledge or experience, or that of (well-meaning) friends. Two thoughts come to mind here. First is a quote: "The past influences everything and dictates nothing". Second is an observation: Other people are always very opinionated and love dishing out advice, but that's always going to be biased - as a result of their own experiences, fears, intentions etc.

2. Be brave, listen to my gut/heart, make a decision and go for it. This is where I need to throw in another quote....

I can't argue with that.

So, the second approach is obviously better and those gloomy "what if?"s can do one!


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

100 reasons why I'm thankful I was diagnosed with cancer - Part 1

I recently wrote a blog post called "I am not my cancer" which was inspired by an article by Kayla Redig (on Twitter at @iamnotmycancer and blogging at Love Conquers All).

I've been reading Kayla's blog and have been inspired again! Kayla has written a list of 100 reasons why she is thankful she was diagnosed with cancer. I want to do the same. Here's why....

Cancer happened to me. I didn't ask for it. In fact, before diagnosis, I was terrified of it because of my family history of breast and ovarian cancer. I'd become somewhat obsessive about trying to avoid getting cancer myself.

I spent several weekends researching every single ingredient (we're talking several hundreds) in the products I used - toiletries, cosmetics, household products. I identified known or suspected carcinogens or cancer-risk-increasing ingredients in just about all of them. I went on to search for products that were "safer", and I spent a small fortune replacing everything I used.

I set up a massive spreadsheet of foods, researching and recording which ones had which kinds of anti-cancer properties (for example, some encourage cell death, some boost your immune system, some prevent microtumours growing the blood vessels they need in order to become full on tumours and so on) and planned what I ate each day accordingly to get a good mix. I became almost completely tea-total (you wouldn't believe it now, I know!) because alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer. I drank green tea, which I brewed for at least ten minutes even though it made me gag, because of the anticancer properties it's believed to have. I replaced all the plastic tubs I used for food, with ones that are "BPA free".

I started running regularly - exercise decreases your risk of breast cancer. I already walked a lot, but I didn't do anything more than that.

I spent a lot of time, and money, trying to reduce my risk of cancer because I was so afraid of it. As I've said before, my fear led me to counselling at Coping with Cancer. The thought of what happened to my mom happening to me was eating away at me. She suffered so much. I didn't want it to happen  to me- but more significantly it made me look at my life in a different way. I saw that life was short. I wanted to make the best of it before getting cancer. Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer anyway.

I can't change the diagnosis. It happened. It can't be undone. It will be with me forever (however long forever is for me) . I could easily sit here and write a list of 100 reasons why I am pissed off at having cancer. But what would be the point? When you are forced to face your mortality, and truly understand how short life is, you don't want to waste time. My time is precious. I don't want to spend it unhappy. There's horrible shit to deal with but it doesn't need to take over me.

So here goes... The start of my list of 100 reasons why I’m thankful I was diagnosed with cancer (not in a set order!) This post will just be the first two seeing as I've written so much already! I will be back with another instalment very soon though!

1. My friends have been shining so brightly that they dazzle me every day

A cancer diagnosis can take you to some pretty dark places. When I was very first diagnosed I was really worried about how it would affect my existing friendships. Information on the MacMillan website says "It can be difficult to deal with other people’s emotions and reactions to your situation. Some people can’t cope with their own emotions and may tend to avoid difficult situations. So people might prefer to stay away from you, rather than accept that they have strong emotions they can’t deal with." I thought "Shit! How many people are going to end up distancing themselves from me?" There are a few, which does make me sad. But I don't think there's anything I can do about that. I don't want people to feel in any way obliged if they feel uncomfortable or something, just out of guilt, or pity. That won't work for me anyway.

But overall I have been absolutely stunned by the support I have had from my friends - including some that before diagnosis I didn't even know so well or hadn't seen in a long time. I am surrounded by the most incredible, strong, positive, supportive friends in the world. I am humbled by everything that my friends have taken the time and thought to do for me. Accompanying me to hospital appointments, sending me cheesy motivational song lyrics by text, stopping by with roast chickens and bunches of flowers, inspecting my nightmare-inducing bald patch for new hair growth, helping me create fake eyebrows, walking my dog, knowing when I need a beer and making sure I get one, helping me with DIY, sending me DVDs to watch when I'm ill, listening to me talk for hours even when I'm being irrational or making no sense, just getting in touch and letting me know they are thinking of me. I could feel very alone right now, but I don't. Even when I'm actually on my own, I don't feel like I am. I have a constant stream of messages popping up on my phone, in my emails, through the post. (And I am so sorry because I have been so disorganised and am really behind in getting back to some of you. Please forgive me!)

My friends brighten my days, they are absolute superstars, and I am so lucky to know such incredible people. I owe you all big time, and I will be honoured in the future to support you any time you need me. XO

2. I've made new friends who I would never had met if it weren't for cancer

Cancer can happen to anyone. But based on the women I have met and made friends with through the Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK) it seems to really be targeting a lot of incredible, beautiful, energetic, funny, kind, intelligent, young women. The kinds of women who light up a room. My life is richer as a result of these new friendships. There are too many to mention everyone individually and I know this list will keep growing but there are a few in particular who I want to thank here.

Kate - who was the first person I met from YBCN(UK). We live just around the corner from each other and very soon after I was diagnosed we met for drinks. I was amazed by Kate. She was partway through radiotherapy, having had chemo and surgery before that. She looked so well, and she was so happy and positive. She made me change my perception of what cancer treatment would be like and how I could handle it. I didn't want to be a miserable, sickly cancer patient. I wanted to be just like Kate! I'm trying, every day.

Laura - another local YBCN (UK) member my age who recently finished all of her cancer treatment. There are some things, not entirely cancer-related but not entirely unrelated either, that you need an evening to talk about with another girl who understands, cocktails in hand. Massive thank you to Laura for being exactly the friend I have needed on certain days!

Jojo - has finished chemo, and just had surgery. From day 1 of joining YBCN (UK) Jojo has had me in stitches. I love someone with a rude and disgusting sense of humour. Thanks to Jojo I can laugh at cancer. I can laugh instead of cry at the more unfortunate and gross side effects of chemo.

There are so many others too! Laura, Rosie, Claire.... many, many more, plus new friendships developing all the time. I could go on forever but I should probably save that for another post now and go and get ready to go to the hospital for chemo #5!


Monday, 10 November 2014

Head of PR at The Sun replies to complaint from breast cancer patient about Page 3

I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall.

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer aged 33 in July 2014 I have written several times about why The Sun’s use of Page 3 models as part of a breast cancer awareness campaign has upset me (My original letter here). Finally, I’ve had a response. Dylan Sharpe, Head of PR at The Sun has written to me about some questions which I had asked.

My first question was:
  • What specifically is being gained in terms of raising breast cancer awareness by using topless models?
Has Dylan answered this question? No.

In response to this question, Dylan referred me to an article that The Sun published recently. (This is reproduced in the copy of his email to me, below). However, there is nothing in this article that actually answers my question. The article tells me that breast cancer awareness was increased amongst Sun readers – women are checking themselves more regularly, women know more about how to check themselves, women are more aware of signs of breast cancer such as puckering and a rash and so on. But as I said in my letter to Dylan, this is because The Sun published written information and diagrams (provided by Coppafeel!) about breast checking and breast cancer signs and symptoms. The sexualised images of topless models add nothing to raising breast cancer awareness! Like I have said many times, that’s why charities like Breast Cancer Care, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Campaign, MacMillan and Cancer Research UK, along with the NHS, do not use sexualised images of topless women, ever, to raise awareness of breast cancer.

So, Dylan has not answered this question – and that’s not because he misunderstood it, I’m sure he is intelligent enough to have understood a simple question. The reason he hasn’t answered it is because nothing was gained by using topless models and he will not admit that in writing to me. Any success of Check ‘em Tuesday will have been despite the use of Page 3 models, rather than because of it.

My other two questions were:
  • Is it appropriate to use sexualised images of women (as in Page 3 vs Breast Cancer - Check 'em Tuesday) as part of a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness?
  • Exactly why won't The Sun try and raise breast cancer awareness without the use of topless models?
Has Dylan answered them? No.

Despite writing “As for your second questions...” and then continuing for another 514 words, Dylan hasn’t actually answered either of these questions! However, judging by what he has written, I assume his answers would be:
  • Yes it is appropriate to use sexualised images of women as part of a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness, and
  • The Sun won’t try and raise breast cancer awareness without the use of topless Page 3 models because we really like topless Page 3 models.
But he hasn’t actually said it outright.

Instead, I think he has tried to give me a bit of a telling off! This is what he’s told me: “Please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water because you want The Sun to be a reflection of only what you want to see.”

Just to be clear, I’m not throwing any babies out with any bath water. I am a member of the public, making a complaint, as I am entitled to do, because as Dylan says: The Sun is not a reflection of what I want to see. And what I want to see is not unreasonable:

For women to be treated with respect by The Sun.

As Dylan points out in his email to me, copied below, the first inside page of a newspaper is the most important page. Pretty much every day The Sun chooses to use its most important page to show a large image of a young woman wearing nothing but her pants. Every time The Sun does this it is sending the message to all its readers that women are nothing more than sexual objects.

The fact that The Sun thought it was acceptable to put people in to a prize draw for a date with a Page 3 model ('We might even let you pick which one, so feel free to start your research now') as part of their fantasy football league makes this message (that The Sun think women are just objects) even more clear. The Advertising Standards Agency has now banned this advert due to it “presenting women as objects to be won”, and for being “sexist, offensive and socially irresponsible”. Of course, Dylan Sharpe thinks this ban means it is official that the world has gone mad:

The world has not gone mad at all. People are just making their voices heard, and telling you that they want The Sun to treat women with respect, and as human beings with equal worth as men.

Anyway, I’ll end with two final points:

I am still upset that The Sun have used a breast cancer awareness campaign to try and justify the existence of Page 3, blatantly in response to the No More Page 3 campaign.

I’m not going to be fobbed off by Dylan’s non-response and just shut up and go away. Page 3 is sexist, derogatory, damaging. It disempowers women and girls and sends a message to men and boys that women’s bodies exist for men’s sexual gratification. (Have a read of this for some real life examples of how Page 3 is having a negative effect on people's lives.) So if you haven’t already signed the petition asking The Sun to take the bare boobs out of the newspaper, then please do.

I’ll be back soon with more.


Please find a copy of Dylan’s email to me below, in full, and unedited, as requested.

I tweeted Kris Hallenga's piece to you because there is a refusal among some who take issue with The Sun's content to acknowledge that the Coppafeel! Check 'em Tuesday campaign has been a great success. I would request that you put a link to Kris's Telegraph piece, and the piece below by Rachel Richardson, on your blog and share it with your followers to show them how brilliant it is that The Sun has had a positive impact on breast cancer detection and awareness among its readers.

Turning to your 'open letter', with regards to your first question, you can see what is being gained 'specifically' by the results of our independent survey of over 7,000 readers, as Rachel explains:

BREAST cancer awareness and boob checking has dramatically improved thanks to The Sun’s Check ’em Tuesday crusade.
Two thirds of women are now checking their breasts for cancer symptoms more often than they did six months ago.
The women polled say CoppaFeel! — our Check ’em Tuesday charity partner — is the reason for their life-saving checking habit.
Sun reader Wendy Bush, 43, below, revealed her breast cancer was caught early, after our campaign, launched in March, made her aware the rash and puckering on her breast could be a sign.
Female Sun readers are also significantly more breast aware than other women in the UK, with 59 per cent checking their boobs once a month compared with just 32 per cent of non-readers.
And they are also 13 per cent more likely to check themselves now than they were in February — before our influential campaign launched.
Kris Hallenga, the founder of CoppaFeel! who has incurable breast cancer, hailed the results as a huge triumph for the campaign and her charity.
She said: “We always knew it would have a real impact. CoppaFeel! exists to save lives by teaching women to spot the signs of breast cancer so it is hugely rewarding to see that we’ve helped.
"I am extremely proud of what we have achieved by joining forces with The Sun.”
Every Tuesday the campaign takes over Page 3 — Britain’s most famous boobs — with our models reminding readers to check, while Kris writes weekly in Me health.
The campaign is also a hit on social media. Dozens of celebrities pledged their support by posing for a boob check selfie. Images of Ed Sheeran, Fearne Cotton, Amanda Holden, Danny Dyer and Kim Marsh accompanied by #checkemtuesday have reached millions of people.
The Sun put its full weight behind the campaign after alarming statistics showed more women were checking their weight than their breasts for cancer and only 18 per cent of women were confident they knew how to examine their boobs.
Fifty thousand women — around 136 a day — plus 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
Early detection is key to survival with more than 90 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage surviving for at least five years.
Now, 79 per cent of readers feel confident they would notice an unexplained change — up from 41 per cent in March.
The new poll, which surveyed 7,884 people, also showed 31 per cent of readers are more likely to recognise puckering as a symptom while 29 per cent are more likely to know redness or a rash can also indicate cancer.

As for your second questions and your first blog directed towards me ( the journalistic call out was for a piece that is online here:

As you will have gathered, the feature was part of a wider campaign that Coppafeel! is running under the umbrella of ‘what normal feels like’.
This campaign has been widely reported, including:

This campaign has attracted widespread praise and support and I hope that your readers can get behind this campaign as Sun readers have done.

The demographics of most Sun readers – 20s and early 30s, low to medium incomes – and the demographics of women least likely to check for signs of breast cancer are very similar. These are the women at whom this campaign is targeted in The Sun, in which case it made sense for the case studies in our feature to reflect that intended audience.

In addition, I would like to add that The Sun isn’t a charity, however I would argue that in devoting it’s first inside page (which, as anyone in newspapers will tell you, is the most important page) once a week to a charity campaign, plus another page or often more in our health section - Me - The Sun is giving more weekly prominence to a charity than any other daily newspaper on the market. On that first inside page, we do provide the “information women need to know to check their breasts and be aware of potential signs” (example below).

[Note: Dylan included an image here of the Coppafeel! diagram with information about breast cancer signs and symptoms but I was unable to copy the image across from email to here]

Again, if you can find a health warning like this given similar, regular prominence in any newspaper I’d ask you to share it.

The 200,000 people who have signed NMP3’s petition is roughly equal to 10% of the number of people who buy the Sun (with page 3 in it) every single day. I wonder how high the NMP3 petition would be if it regularly reset to 0 at midnight as our daily sales do? However, we have taken the decision that Page 3 can be used to promote important causes. As the survey results show, the Coppafeel! Check ‘em Tuesday campaign has had some wonderful successes. The Coppafeel! advice line has had a record number of users. At least five women have written to us to tell us they diagnosed their own breast cancer as a direct result of The Sun’s campaign. And the women who model for Page 3 have done a number of stunts and events to raise money and awareness for Coppafeel! and breast cancer awareness – the latest a bike ride around India.

It is possible to oppose Page 3 and to want a less sexualised culture, but to also support the campaign The Sun and Coppafeel! are conducting to raise awareness of breast cancer and the importance of checking. Please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water because you want The Sun to be a reflection of only what you want to see.

I hope you now consider your questions answered. I ask that if you choose to use my response on your blog, you do so in full and unedited.

Kind regards

Sunday, 9 November 2014

I am not my cancer!

I can't remember who, but a couple of weeks ago someone tweeted a link to this article:

I am not my nipples (Please, please read it! I mean, read it now, before you continue reading this.)

The author of the article is Kayla Redig (@iamnotmycancer), who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 24. I've been reading other articles Kayla has written, as well as her blog, Love Conquers All. There's a lot that Kayla has written that  I felt could have come straight from me. To say the I am not my nipples article really struck a chord with me would be an understatement. The part of the article that had me practically jumping off the sofa screaming "Yes!" was this bit:

"After my bilateral mastectomy....  every reaction I heard when people found out that I didn't have nipples was how weird it was. Don't I feel like less of a woman? Isn't it embarrassing to be topless around others? And even though it doesn't bother me, shouldn't I "fix that" for my future spouse? Who knew that nipples were such a huge part of being human -- I wasn't aware that my femininity relied on two little pink bumps.....  I might not have nipples but I do have a huge smile and a funky 'fro. I might not have nipples but I hold a record for the Blazin' Wings BWW challenge. I might not have nipples but I will try anything once. Plus, I act before thinking a lot of the time and love people in big ways. What about defining me by some of those things? Shouldn't we celebrate and embrace those qualities? If you're going to label me, at least let me provide you with some labels to choose from."

I knew  right away I wanted to write my own I Am Not My Cancer blog post. This is particularly important to me now, while I am having chemo. The truth is that chemo has taken over. It has taken over my body. It's taken over what I can and can't do with my days and when. It's taken over conversations. It's taken over all of the drawers in the bathroom cupboard. Even my beloved Week 3 is really all about the chemo - all about fitting as much fun stuff in as possible before my next blast. So I've been feeling very much like I am my chemo.

I've become very focused on the numbers. I'm 12 weeks in. 4 chemos done, 2 to go. 24 days until the last blast, assuming there are no delays as a result of low blood levels. 10 more injections. 6 more days on the 'roids. 2 more blood tests. 2 more cannulas. 4 more possible faints. I'm constantly counting down, because I cannot wait for the end. Time spent over the last couple of weeks with women who've recently finished their own treatment for breast cancer has given me a real boost. Everyone is in agreement. Chemo is by far the hardest part. By far. So not only am I counting down because I'm desperate for it to be over, I'm counting down because I'm excited for it to be over. To get back to being me.

So here it is....

I am not my chemo. I am not my hair. I am not my eyebrows. I am not my eyelashes. I am not my nipples. I am not my ovaries. I am not my cancer.

I am Sarah. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I love my friends more than anything. I often talk too much, but I will speak up for things I believe in and stand up for others. I spend a lot of time poking fun (including at myself). I love people who can make me laugh. I'm impatient, but I get things done. I'm gullible, but I'm trusting, and can be trusted. I love to read even though I rarely finish a book. I worry about what people think about me and my feelings get hurt too easily. At those times I tend to find putting Beyonce on loud helps. I'm forgetful, but I like to learn, especially from and about other people. I'm a feminist. I love dogs. I love Christmas and as far as I'm concerned, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation is the best film of all time. I like looking up at the stars and thinking about how small I am and how big the universe is. I sing loudly when I cook. I don't like to miss out on any of the fun. I want to make other people happy. I'm an optimist, and I'll do whatever it takes.


Two years ago today, 9th November, my mom died.

I've been wondering, what's the right thing to do on the anniversary of your mother's death? It should be marked in some way, shouldn't it?

Last year I went to the crematorium where her funeral was, to look at her name in the book. It seemed like the right thing to do, but it wasn't a nice thing to do. Her name looked weird in the book. It was the only name on a brand new page for 9th November. It looked quite lonely there all by itself. Had some food in the café at the crematorium. That wasn't nice either. A group of noisy, self absorbed twats and their (I'm sorry, but, horrendously bratty)  children turned up for lunch, apparently completely oblivious to their surroundings - ie a crematorium, a place where funerals take place, where ashes are scattered, where people are mourned. I wanted to scream at them but I just didn't have the energy. And a year after my mom's death, it still felt like yesterday. I'd only just come to the end of dealing with all the practicalities of it. Probate. Emptying and selling her house. It had been an absolute nightmare, completely taken over my life for a year, and run me in to the ground. I was at the beginning of a meltdown that had been a year coming but which I'd had to put on hold because there was so much to do, and I had to do it. End of. Getting to the one year anniversary of her death felt like a milestone. No more one-year-anniversary-of's or first-since-she-died's to get through (Christmas, new year, her birthday, my birthday, the dog's birthday (!), the weekend I knew something was seriously wrong, the day she went in to hospital, the day she died etc). The first anniversary of her death was a big deal.

That first year had been all about her. This past year, on the other hand, has been all about me. After the one year anniversary, I realised I was completely wiped out. Exhausted. I'd been far too stressed for far too long. There had been so much going on, I hadn't taken time to grieve, or make sense of what happened. So I took some time off work. Went to counselling at Coping with Cancer - to help me deal with the bereavement, but also to work through the implications of my family history of cancer, the genetic testing process I was going through, and my high risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer myself. A lot of time spent thinking about life and death. I've lost count of the number of times very recently where I've shouted "YOLO!" as an excuse to eat too much/drink too much/spend too much/behave like an idiot. But in all seriousness, you do only live once. And it's this past year that that's really hit home. And that was before I was diagnosed with cancer. It's strange but I think my mom's death and going through genetic testing prepared me very well for my own cancer diagnosis this July. I've said before, it was a shock, but it wasn't a surprise. I'd been expecting it (just not quite yet). So when I was told I had cancer, I spent 3 days shocked and stunned, and then... I dunno, just got on with things. I have my moments when I think this isn't fair, or when I am jealous of people without cancer (I'm currently going through a phase of being very jealous of other people's hair). But most of the time I am just glad to be alive. Glad to feel like I have some perspective and my priorities are right. And I know my own mind. I know what I want. I know that the only person who can make me happy is me. I know that while things will happen that are out of my control, I do have a choice in how I react to them (apart from, it seems, in the first 7-10 days after a blast of chemo..... but apart from then, I have a choice!)

Anyway, recently, when I've thought about my mom, I've wondered what she would make of it all, if she could see me now. A year after my mom's death, it felt like yesterday. Two years after my mom's death and it feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed since she died. I have changed since she died.

So, what's the right thing to do today? I don't want to go and look at her name in the book. I don't want to grieve. I don't want to do some forced celebration of her life, just because it's the anniversary of her death. I think I'm just going to have a normal day, like any other. I'm not sure if it's the right thing to do, but I've decided that's what I'm going to do.