This time last year was my first chemo cycle. The start of my cancer treatment. I'd had my diagnosis, my first scans and biopsies, and my first dose of poison. I fainted when they put the cannula in and I was so sick after the first chemo I told the chemo nurses I didn't want any more. I was ill, and I was scared. I'd not yet had a CT scan. I didn't know for sure that my cancer hadn't already spread. I didn't know if the chemo would even work, or how ill I would get. I still had months and months and months of treatment ahead of me. 5 more chemo cycles. Mastectomy. Radiotherapy. There wasn't yet any light at all at the end of the tunnel. I was tugging at my hair, waiting for it to fall out. I was staring at the wig sat on a polystyrene head on my bedside table, knowing that this thing that was freaking me out to even look at would at some point need to go on my head, and out in public. I didn't know if my friends would stay my friends. I didn't know if I would keep my job. I didn't know if I would even be alive at this point.
People told me about the Willow Foundation. It is a charity that organises special days for seriously ill 16-40 year olds. I thought it sounded wonderful but I didn't really think I should contact them. I didn't know when I would be well enough for a "special day". I didn't think I could or should plan anything for the future. I didn't want to tempt fate. I didn't know if I should have a special day. I have a job, I thought, I should probably just organise my own special day.
But just before I finished radiotherapy I decided to go for it. I filled out the form and gave it to my Breast Care Nurse to fill out the medical sections and send it off. So many of the friends I had made through the Younger Breast Cancer Network had been on special days and weekends organised by Willow and at the point when I was coming to the end of active cancer treatment, I realised there was light at the end of the tunnel. I could plan something nice. My Willow application was approved, and I was allocated a "Special Day Maker" Dominic who would organise everything for me!
I decided I'd like to go to Brighton, and discussed ideas with Dominic. The Willow Foundation covered travel, accommodation, and an amazing meal out, and Dominic booked and organised everything.
I can't really put in to words how grateful I am to the Willow Foundation, or how much this weekend has meant to me. It truly has been special. To know that I was able to have such a wonderful time without any of the hassle or stress of organising it (at a time when, quite frankly I've been that exhausted after further surgery that I just wouldn't have organised it) and to know that all of it is thanks to a wonderful organisation and all the people that fundraise for it and donate to it and work for it. It was amazing to go away for a special weekend that was selfishly all about the things I wanted to do, and to feel like, actually, yeah, I deserve it! It was amazing to do things that I had wanted to do for so long and feel so happy and excited that I could burst.
To anyone reading this who is aged 16-40 and undergoing treatment for a serious illness like cancer - please do get in touch with Willow. You deserve a special day, you really do!
In the future I'm going to fundraise for Willow. I want to be able to give something back, and help raise funds so that others can have special days too. Maybe once my surgeon lets me run again I'll work towards a half marathon or something!
Anyway.... here's what we did in Brighton! ........
I met Emily in London and we got the train to Brighton together. Being the good planner and organiser that I am I was armed and ready with bubbly for the train journey. :-)
We arrived in Brighton and were taken by taxi organised by Willow to our B&B, Strawberry Fields, located right by the sea and the Big Wheel. It was lovely! We were given ice tea on arrival which was much needed as it was so hot in Brighton - perfect weather! We dropped our bags off and headed to Daisy's Nail Company to get our nails done. Being the good planner and organiser that I am I was armed and ready for that with more bubbly! :-) It was SO nice to be pampered. The staff at Daisy's were absolutely lovely and both me and Emily love our neat, pretty nails!
That evening we went out for fish at chips to Bardsley's, which was recommended by some of my Brighton friends and which I'd recommend to everyone else too.
One of the most fun, most best days OF MY LIFE! The day was started with bacon and egg butties brought in a basket to our room while we got ready to head out for a day at the beach and pier. The weather was absolutely stunning!
First we went on the big wheel. This was Emily's suggestion so I was a bit surprised when the door to our little pod shut and she told me she doesn't like heights and might start freaking out when we reached the top! Hahahaha! Luckily she held it together, the views were absolutely amazing.
It goes round and round and you kind of swing round and upside down over the sea. It's A. MAZE. ING.
The pier has all the classics - rollercoaster, crazy mouse, waltzers, carousel, haunted house, dodgems, helter skelter (the one thing I refuse to go on. Helter Skelters terrify me.)
After several hours on the pier we headed down to the sea. The beach was absolutely packed. It was a perfect summer day and everyone was happy! We got cockles and muscles, and ice creams, paddled in the sea.....
That evening we had a table booked at Riddle and Finn's beach restaurant courtesy of the Willow Foundation. Riddle and Finn's are the best seafood restaurant in Brighton and I was about to tick another couple of things off the bucket list - eating lobster and oysters. OH MY DAYS. It was incredible. When I am filthy rich I'm going to move to Brighton and go there for champagne, oysters, and lobster every week! We ate oysters, lobster, crab, mixed shellfish mariniere which included clams, muscles, whelks, winkles, razor clam and things I couldn't name! I love seafood so much, and it was so nice to try so many new things, all of which I loved.
To finish off the day we had a drink on the beach then went back to the pier where we attempted but failed to get into the haunted house (just closed!) and played on the 2p slot machines. Here's a handy tip for your next trip to the pier! If you are kicked off a machine because the arcade is closing, they give you the toy you were trying to win :-)
I honestly think this might have been the most fun day of my life!
On Sunday we had a few hours to mooch around the Lanes.
The highlight was "lunch" (cake and chocolate) at the incredible Choccywoccydoodah, which, if you haven't heard of it, is probably the most extravagant and surreal chocolatier in the world.
I left chocolate. Unfinished. Me! Choccywoccydoodah defeated me! In the most heavenly way possible though. And only temporarily - as I sit at home typing this I am eating choccywoccydoodah chocolate I bought in their shop!
I really had the best weekend ever. THANK YOU SO MUCH to the Willow Foundation.