Sunday, 26 April 2015

Spring time

On Tuesday I went to the hospital for my last session of radiotherapy - it marked the very end of my active treatment for breast cancer. I took this photo - the tree is on the grounds of the Leicester Royal Infirmary. I just looked up, saw the blossom against the bright blue sky, and was immediately reminded of the interview with Kylie where she talked about treatment for breast cancer and said "Coming out the other side - it's like spring time."

She is absolutely right. It really is.

This photo is special to me, not because it is a pretty image, but because it is a perfect representation of the way I feel about life right now.

I want to share it here for any women out there who are currently going through treatment for primary breast cancer - especially chemo. The world can seem like a very dark place at times. But please believe me - you will get through it, and when you do (whatever the time of year) it will feel like spring time.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Thank you NHS. You've saved my life.

On July 18th last year, at age 33, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

That was 277 days ago.

I've had 3 ultrasound scans, 2 CT scans, 1 MRI scan and 1 mammogram. 3 biopsies, 2 Fine Needle Aspirations. 9 blood tests, 1 ECG.
9 appointments with my surgeon, 8 appointments with my oncologists, 2 appointments at Genetics.

6 rounds of chemo, 8 hours in surgery, 15 rounds of radiotherapy.

4 nights in hospital.
There have been 13 cannulas, 30 injections (which I did myself), 1 catheter, 3 drains and 17 hours spent with a -4 degrees cold cap on my head.
I've had a lot of drugs including 1 general anaesthetic, 2 local anaesthetics, 4 different chemotherapy drugs, 3 types of anti sickness drugs, 2 kinds of antibiotic, 18 days on steroids, and all the painkillers ranging from paracetamol to morphine.

I've got a skin graft and 2 other impressive scars. I've had a seroma drained, and an expander implant filled twice.

I've had thrombophlebitis and oral thrush (3 times). My hair fell out. My eyelashes fell out. My eyebrows fell out. My nails became thin, yellow and flaky, and I lost two of my toenails twice. The veins in my arms collapsed.

I've had 1 nipple, 10 lymph nodes and 2  tumours removed.

In the end, I only fainted 5 times :-)

Last Wednesday I had an appointment with one of my oncologists. He checked how my skin was; fine. He checked how I was; fine. He asked if I had any questions; I didn't. He wrote me a prescription for Tamoxifen (a drug which I'll take for 10 years), told me to eat healthily, get moderate exercise and most importantly to be happy. And then he wished me well and sent me on my way.

So I write this just as I am about to leave my house to go to my final radiotherapy session. Today marks the end, finally, of my cancer treatment.

I am alive, with no evidence of disease. And it is all thanks to the NHS.

I don't have better words about the NHS than Harry Smith, who is 91 years old, and knows what life is like without an NHS. Please, take the time to watch this video.

I would like to join with Harry in telling the Conservatives to keep their mitts off our NHS. And I will say it once again, this election I will be voting Labour, and I will be doing it for the NHS. Please, please use your vote, and please also think carefully about the NHS when you do.

Off I go.... see you on the other side! And a big high five from me!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Being a woman

If you are a woman, and you speak out about anything online, you will be on the receiving end of, at best, sexist remarks, or at worst, targeted harassment, abuse and threats.

I want to give two examples. They both stem from this....

A number of weeks ago I was contact by a company who were doing some filming for 38 degrees. They were looking for people who'd had good experiences of the NHS for a Save Our NHS campaign. I said yes! They came to my house, filmed me, and the video went online a week ago. I've mentioned previously that I was nervous about it as I've never done anything like it before, but actually the response has been FANTASTIC. The video has had over 350,000 views! Well over 10,000 people shared it online. And I've been busy online since, sharing the link, responding to messages, engaging in conversation and debate. Much of it is constructive and friendly, but some of it... not so much.

Example of being a woman with a voice online number 1

I don't think this needs any commentary. Just have a look at the comments I have been receiving from Frank on the 38 degrees Facebook page. This is in response to me not wanting the NHS privatised. Sexist much?


Clearly Frank is a sexist idiot. I'll just leave him to it.
Example of being a woman with a voice online number 2
When the video was put online, one of my friends tweeted it to Kate Godfrey who is parliamentary candidate for Labour in Stafford - where £1.2bn privatisation of cancer and end of life care is planned to take place. Kate really liked the video! She has been sharing it lots, and a couple of days ago I spoke to her on the phone about the NHS, privatisation of cancer care, and about the impacts of breast cancer.
Last night I went and had a look on her Twitter page to see if she'd shared the video again and I saw that she was being persistently hassled by another Twitter user because she had blocked people who were trolling her - this included messages that were obscene and threatening. She was repeatedly having to defend her right to block accounts that were abusive towards her and was being told that by doing so she was into "victim politics."  I then searched for tweets sent to Kate and immediately spotted a troll account that has clearly been set up purely to harass her.
This all makes me furious.  I am sick of seeing women being harassed and threatened online simply for being women.
I've been on the receiving end of a lot of abuse for supporting the No More Page 3 campaign. Some of it is childish, some of it is threatening. But sadly, if you are a woman who is going to speak out about sexual objectification you quickly come to expect that. I guess I just wasn't expecting the same harassment to be in my face when discussing cancer care and the NHS. I should have expected it though.... because it really is true. If you are a woman, and you have a voice online or in the public arena, you'll be harassed, threatened and abused no matter what it is you're taking about, just for being a woman.

Monday, 13 April 2015


Hi! So I've been all sorts of opinionated recently but it's been a little while since I did an actual update on cancer treatment and as people are starting to ask (and as I am massively behind on my emails - sorry) I thought I'd write a bit about my new best friend.
My new best friend is called THE RADIATOR * and it's a beast.
(*Alright, it's actually called "Charnwood" but I prefer THE RADIATOR.)
I love it. Here's why it's my new best friend...
I spent 18 weeks having chemo. I am grateful to chemo for killing off the majority of my cancer, it was really nice of it to do that for me, but in the process it poisoned the hell out of me, and nearly ruined me both physically and mentally.
I then had surgery. Thank you to my wonderful surgeon (lots of hearts for my surgeon) for chopping out what was left of the visible cancer and the whole areas surrounding it. I'm very grateful, and it's totally worth it, but surgery did hurt, and does leave me with scars and risk of lymphedema.
I am now having radiotherapy. This is to blast the left side of my chest wall, and the area where the next load of my lymph nodes are (the ones further up the chain from those that got removed in surgery). It hopefully means if any individual cells managed to avoid death by chemo, or being chopped out and chucked in the bin by the surgeon, then radiotherapy should kill them. That area of my chest is now a danger of death zone for any cancer cells. 

I have to go to the hospital every weekday for 15 days. I've been 9 times so far (6 more to do). Peeps did not lie when they told me radiotherapy is a breeze compared to chemo.

I usually spend about 5 minutes in a very quiet and peaceful waiting area that looks like this:
These are the chairs that I sit on. 
(I know, I know, I'm just trying to demonstrate how completely non-traumatic this whole stage of cancer treatment is!) 

And then this is where go through to see my new bestest buddy, The Radiator.
I lie on the bed thing with left arm up in the arm rests, and the radiotherapy people dim the lights and exciting green lasers beam across the room. They use these to line me up into the exact right position - to the millimetre! Before radiotherapy started I had to come in for a CT scan so they could see where organs like my heart were, I then was given 4 dot tattoos (permanent! I've got 4 tats!) and they use these and the lasers to line me up exactly right.
They then leave the room and The Radiator blasts me.

But I don't feel a thing! I just lie there. That big, bad beast of a machine is blasting me with radiation and I don't feel a thing. Today I closed my eyes and thought, if it wasn't all done so quickly, I could actually have a nap in there. The nurses come back in, check the lasers and stuff again, then go out while I get blasted a second time. And then that's all repeated a third time. And then we have a quick chat about what we plan to have for tea while I get dressed and they put the bed away, and then I go home. The whole thing takes no more than 10 minutes.

Easy peasy!

My skin is looking and feeling a bit like it's sunburned, but so far it's ok really. And I've been horrendously tired. But I'm not going to lay all the blame for that on The Radiator. Chemo and surgery still have a lot to answer for (I've now been told that by my surgeon, Breast Care Nurse, Oncology Registrar, Senior Radiotherapy Nurse and Occupational Health Nurse).

There is one strange thing though. This is me being strange, not The Radiator. Most days when I'm lying there being blasted, I have moments where I feel incredibly emotional, and have to stop myself from crying. But I'm not sad, and I'm not scared (and I'm not in pain). I'm not sure what it is. I just think I love The Radiator and I'm grateful for it blasting me. Just in case, like. Because after next Tuesday, I am officially finished with cancer treatment.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Save Our NHS


A few weeks ago I was filmed for a Save Our NHS video for campaigning organisation 38 degrees. They put it online this afternoon! I've never been in a video before so I've been a bit nervous about it! But ... here is a link:

I'm quite blown away because it's already had a lot of views* (over 71,000!) and a lot of shares. (over 3,700!) 

(*See the end of the post for an update on this....!)


Bonkers! However, this is not because I am a celebrity superstar - it's because people know we are in serious danger of losing the NHS for good, and that's a frightening prospect.

As a result of the Coalition Government's policies over the last 5 years, the NHS is being systematically dismantled. The latest is that cancer and end of life care in Staffordshire are being privatised. Think about it. The treatment and care of cancer patients and people at the end of life will be in the hands of companies who exist not as a public service, but who exist to make profits for their owners / shareholders. And consider this: between 2012-2014 private companies with financial links to Conservative politicians won NHS contracts worth £1.5bn. Our NHS is being sold to private companies in order to make some already rich and powerful people, even more rich and powerful.

This is what being treated for cancer (a life threatening illness where time is everything) on the NHS has meant for me:
  • I have not had to pay for any of my treatment. This means I have not been put in the position of delaying treatment, of not being able to afford treatment, or of not being able to afford the best treatment. This would not be true if the NHS did not exist and we had a private healthcare system.
  • I have been treated by people who work for an organisation whose entire purpose is to care for my health and give me the best care and treatment possible. This would not be true if the NHS did not exist and we had a private healthcare system.
  • I have not had to search for appropriate doctors, nurses, oncologists, surgeons etc etc and make arrangements myself, hunting out which medical professionals do or don't do what, and where, and when. It has all been done for me (thankfully - because trust me, when you're diagnosed with cancer you are not thinking straight). I was allocated a Breast Care Nurse who is my key point of contact, and I have a multi-disciplinary team that were allocated to me based on my individual circumstances. They work together, they update each-other and my GP in writing and always keep me informed. They are responsible for entirely different elements of my treatment, but they all work for the same organisation and they all work together. This would not be so straightforward if the NHS did not exist and we had a private healthcare system.
I have received wonderful care, from amazing staff. They have treated me with kindness and compassion, dignity and respect. I'm alive, and I hope to be for a long time yet, and it is all thanks to the NHS.

What the Coalition Government has done to the NHS is so incredibly upsetting and terrifying. When it comes to the NHS, the outcome of this election means everything. Another 5 years of Conservatives in power and the NHS will be gone.

Labour have made the following promises if they are elected:
  • They will repeal the Health and Social Care Act
  • They will guarantee a national health service free at the point of use
  • They will remove enforced competition - they will ensure the NHS is focused on collaboration, not competition between different private companies.
It's not the only reason why, but it's my biggest reason why: For the NHS, Labour have my vote in this election.

Update 12/4/2015
Oh my goodness.... In less than 48 hours the original posting of the video on 38Degrees Facebook page has had 239,000 views (and has been shared by over 9,000 people). And a second post of the video yesterday has had a further 20,600 views .

That's over a quarter of a million people?!?!?!?!

People really care about the NHS. I guess that's becoming very apparent this election and that's why the Tories have suddenly panicked and started pulling figures and campaign "promises" regarding the NHS out of thin air. Don't believe a word they say. (Obviously.)


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Cocktail drinking masterclass

Some of my friends read this blog and pay attention to my wise, wise words. One of those friends is Lucy! This is Lucy.....
She is amazing.
Lucy read all about how much I love time with my friends, she read all about YOLO and how making and enjoying wonderful moments creates a good life, and she read all about how it's important to take photos of your loved ones. And then she organised for us to do a cocktail making masterclass with our beautiful friends Rachel and Becky. Not only that but Lucy hired an awesome photographer to get some photos of the four of us. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!
The Cocktail Making Teacher Man was a joker.
But that's ok because we all have a great sense of humour.
And we were always entirely confident in our judgements of when he was joking and when he wasn't. 
There was a big jar of sweets on the bar. We were allowed one each. As you can see, the Man was very serious and strict about the one sweet per person rule. No messing.

Now, at this point we knew he'd made one Sours, and Becky could see the other barman over there had made three more Sours.... but as you can see we were all getting concerned about how long it was taking for those drinks to be handed over to us.
 Phew! Here they are!
Cheers 'en!
There was a moment when Rachel almost ran out of drink.
Becky felt sorry for her but wasn't about to share hers.

Luckily there was another one ready just in the nick of time.
This was when Rachel was telling me all about how I am the best and I rule all. 
Lucy tried to joke for a minute that I am not the best and I don't rule all but I put her straight.
Choosing our next drinks...
Decisions, decisions.....
 I have decided because I am a big greedy piggy I am going to have .... all of them!
What do you mean I can't have all of them?
Oh! This is when I got a hot flush and everyone had to stop what they were doing immediately and fan me with their menus.
Oh and this is where I got my mobile phone out while I was in a bar, with company. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

I remember this exact moment in the night. I was trying Lucy's cocktail which tasted like vanilla and lemon cheesecake and was heaven in a glass. I had told the Man at the start that my preferred cocktails are ones that look pretty and have chocolate in them, but actually, this one in a tumbler was the nicest of the night. I considered drinking it all in one go but managed to hand it back to Lucy before I did that. 
"Sorry I drank half your drink!"
Becky ordered the cocktail which had feta cheese as one of it's ingredients.
(I don't know what she was thinking but luckily the cheese was on the side, not in the drink.) 

A bear walks into a bar and says to the bartender 'I'll have a strawberry.......................... daiquiri.'  The bartender says 'Why the big pause?'  The bear says 'Dunno, I've always had them.'

The Man took a blowtorch to this cocktail!

Next we got to each go behind the bar and make a cocktail of our choice. Lucy went for a mojito!
 Mash it up!
Next was my turn! A chocolate cocktail in a pretty glass! Yeahhhh!
"More chocolate sprinkles! Yeah! Add more chocolate sprinkles!"
Lovely chocolate cocktail with chocolates and strawberries and chocolate sauce on the side. YUMMYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!
 Can't remember what Becky made but she took it seriously.
 Especially when it came to shaking the shit out of it.
And finally, Rachel brought out ALL the facial expressions!
And while she was doing that, I stole the sweets jar off the bar and shared them out amongst us when the Man wasn't looking!

Happiest memories!


Oh! PS, I nearly forgot. We also went to Bill's and I beat Becky in a thumb war.