Tuesday, 28 July 2015

End in sight

I am tired. Bone achingly tired. I sleep for most of the day and just wake for food. It is sometimes hard to lift the cutlery. I know they told me I would be tired but this is just ridiculous. I wonder what has happened to my brain and body that they need so much rest. OK - I think to recap they have had a bit of a bashing. My Mum is trying to do some brain exercises with me. I am trying but I know I'm not ready yet. I get really frustrated. I am trying to be patient but it really isn't my strong suit. Have been doing some IQ tests to see how much of me has been eroded by this process. The jury is still out. I would rather be here and impaired though than not here at all.

The migraines are back too now the steroids have been kicked into touch. Not sure which is worse - the pain or the discomfort but I will keep you posted. I am just going with it. Maybe the normality of the migraines is a comfort in some way and it's a new reality. Onwards and upwards.


Hot hot hot

My bald head is on fire. It feels like it is burning from the inside. Dean poured cold water over it yesterday and it was an incredible feeling. I am still feeling irritated - I have never touched drugs so to be experiencing 'cold turkey' is severely irritating. I am rehydrating slowly and beginning to look more like myself. My cheeks are beginning to subside and I took my last steroid this morning. My colleagues will be smiling at the fact that I am impossibly hot.


Me earlier

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Damage limitation

Dear God, if possible, could I please have the following back before Christmas:
Some hair that looks OK
A normal face
My social life
My confidence
My freedom
My independence
My wit
Peace of mind
It's been a rough old ride but I am ready to get to the next stage now
Any help would be much appreciated


The darkest hour is the one before the dawn I am told

Well it has been another case of one step forward, ten steps back this weekend. It's been so frustrating. I had a long walk to see what I was capable of, and then spent hours crying in agony with joint pains (sorry to my lovely upstairs neighbour who must have worried for my welfare). And I mean screaming with agony. I am such a drama queen. I honestly have no idea where all these side effects are coming from. Withdrawal is quite hideous, particularly when you did not choose a substance to partake of.

Next came several hours of projectile vomiting, more akin to the side effects of chemo than radio. Dean spent the day patiently on to the NHS who sent someone out to me with a morphine shot that did the trick. I eventually managed to sleep although I am once again completely ravaged by whatever is going on in my body. I wish it would end soon. God did not bless me with patience, but he gave me Dean which is the next best thing.

I also wanted to set the record straight...the NHS are fantastic. I don't normally extol the benefits, but this experience has opened my eyes to the ordinary folk who work hard to help the vulnerable and weak through difficult times. They are amazing, committed people who do a hideous job that is horribly underpaid. I salute you.


Let this be the end now ( in a good way of course)

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Happy anniversary

Today it is five years since I we tied the knot at Exeter College. I'm not sure either of us would have anticipated the five years ahead, but we made it. Together. Here's hoping for the 'in health' bit now.


Yes indeedy

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The battle continues

Where's Amanda? I feel like a complete wuss. I have absolutely no energy and can barely keep my eyes open. I can't walk and have not had a shower for two days. Wild stabbing chest pains and lower back pain give me an intermittent charge. If you wanted warts and all...they're here.

Dean is being amazing and cooking delicious wholesome food whenever I am awake. I am filling my body with fresh fruit and vegetables to ward off this toxicity once and for all. I am having acupuncture to minimise the side effects. I'm completely embarrassed to have lost myself in this way, but also realise that I need to give in to this to get better. I am hoping that this is the worst of it now. My hair is coming back. My Dad is convinced that my cheeks are shrinking. I hate feeling so weak. It takes all my energy to answer the phone.

But I have to keep going. I watched Rowena's documentary yesterday and it's crazy to comprehend that a young woman could have so short a future and still so strong a sense of herself. I was inspired by the psychologist who said that the important thing is to just 'be' and lower our expectations of ourselves. When you are faced with your own destiny, all you need to do is be who you are, you don't need to achieve anything or prove anything. You are enough.



Wednesday 22nd July.

When three weeks of gruelling radiotherapy concluded after Amanda's first cancer treatment concluded in June 2014, little did I expect to be holding her hand and supporting her through the process just 13 months later.

It's now 5 days since her most recent radiotherapy sessions concluded. While the relief was immeasurable when we walked out of the Cancer Unit at our local hospital last Friday, we're now facing a long path to recover.

One of the side effects of this latest bout has been the need to sleep. Of all the side effects to get, it's perhaps one of the better ones, as Amanda does enjoy her rest. We're talking sleep of upwards of 20 hours a day. take a look at your pet cat if you have one. Ever noticed how much time in a 24 hour period they sleep? This is Amanda's life right now. The radiotherapy has taken so much of her energy that even the short walk to the car to take her to acupuncture becomes her equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.

A typical day for Amanda right now:
9am - Awake for a light breakfast, shower then sleep (Judge Judy on in the background)
12noon - Awake for lunch then sleep (Judge Judy on in the background)
5-6pm - Awake for evening meal, catch up with Judge Judy while resting
7-8pm Time for bed.

Amanda's currently reducing her intake of Dexamethasone, which was given to her following her operation to remove the tumour inside her head and reduces the pressure on her brain post-operation. Hopefully, by the weekend, this dependance will be removed and one of the chronic side effects - the "hamster cheek" syndrome - will start to reduce and she can start to feel better about her appearance ...not that she has to, of course.

As difficult as last year's experience copying with cancer was, this year's has been in many ways even more difficult. The early "life or death" anxieties we faced were just a few weeks ago through what has seemed like a never ending summer. This week, there's managing Amanda's expectations on how long the recovery period will be. She wants to be better....NOW. It's not so simple. We were told by the medical team that the effects of the radiotherapy may mean things will get (slightly) worse before they get better. It'll take however long it takes, but how do you explain that to someone with no patience?

While we're facing our own battles right now, I was glued to BBC1 Wales on Tuesday evening watching "Before I Kick The Bucket", a heartwarming documentary in which terminally ill Rowena Kincaid tries to figure out what best to do with the time that remains. It weaves in and out of stigmas associated with such devastating effects that living with a terminal diseases brings (and in a truly bittersweet way too). While we're not facing the same situation, it brings home all too well the need to make the most of things while you can. If you have the time to spare, watch Rowena's  documentary by clicking this link (available on BBC Iplayer until approx 21st August 2015). The documentary, in particular the last 10 minutes, drills home the fact that life is not a rehearsal...this is it".


Friday, 17 July 2015

Day One: Rest of Life

At 4.15pm today, this epic chapter will be over. The relief at having got through it is enormous. Dean and I will be celebrating with an understated takeaway and looking back on the last few weeks with a combination of gratitude and muted optimism.


There have been some real lows and lots of bad news. But I am still here and the brain tumour (and cancer) isn't. I didn't understand quite how aggressive the treatment would be and how much it would erode my physical and emotional strength, but aggressive cancers require aggressive treatment regimes. It's as simple as that.

Now we embark on a new chapter. It's going to be a different one for me. There are some fundamental differences to face up to:

I am not allowed to drive for a year. This will mean that I am reliant on friends and family in a way that I haven't been before. With a combination of Dean coming to work with me, public transport and lifts from friends, I'm sure we can make it work.

Travel insurance is ludicrous - it's over £3,000 as I am such a high risk. Again, this is surmountable although it means no long haul holidays for the foreseeable future.

I am planning on living a simpler life going forward. I will continue to look after my body and stay fit and healthy. I think my lifestyle and general fitness has helped me to fight the rigours of treatment. Many of my contemporaries have a much poorer prognosis than me as a result.

That said, it's been a tough wake-up call. I am not going to drive myself too hard and will be stripping away anything that is negative with a view to a brighter future. I need to be kinder to myself as this will be a long road to recovery with many bumps along the way.

I am going to enjoy the simple things in life - and take each day as it comes. I plan to listen to my body and do what it says. This is a massive culture shift for me but life is short and I need to focus my energies in the right place.

I would urge everyone to do the same. Life is wonderful and precious so don't let it pass you by. Be what you want to be right now. Share your life with the people who mean the most to you. None of us know how long we have left in this life, so make every second of it count.


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Reality Bites

Wednesday 15th July

Dean (husband of Amanda) here.

Let's be clear on some things.

  • It's not actually so "great" that we're near the end of radiotherapy. While it'll be a relief to end the treatment this coming Friday, we've got months of recuperation ahead. We've got decisions to make which will impact on our future. It's likely Amanda will be scrutinised to within an inch of her life given this second 'tete-a-tete' with cancer in the past 18 months. Please read what it says in the first two paragraphs on this page from the Breast Cancer Care website. This is what we are dealing with ..."When breast cancer has spread to the brain, it can usually be treated although it cannot be cured". 
  • She's not quite the same Amanda that I took "in sickness and in health". She's been so confused the last few days, that familiar sharpness replaced by fatigue and a burning desire for all of this to be over. I have to go through things with her where before, she'd have the insight to finish my conversations for her. Please bear with her on this if you're meeting up with her in the near future. If she writes things down, it's for a reason that her brain has been fried at Gas Mark BURNED daily for nearly three weeks. 
  • Try not to fry an egg on her forehead. Not only is it likely to fall off given the lack of gravity on the forehead region, it'll embarrass Amanda and yourself.
  • Hair loss - again. It's come out in chunks and chunks overnight. Twice in less than 18 months. While nesting starlings and other animals reliant on warm furry bedding may be thrilled at the addition of potential stockists of furry stuff in the local area, this is a cruel sucker punch. I had the unenviable job of shaving off Amanda's hair today. It was a relief for Amanda has her hair had been burning for a few days but it was nonetheless another bitter pill to swallow (not a pill which stimulates hair growth unfortunately). Unlike 17 months ago, when the brave efforts of Amanda having her hair shaved off for the Little Princess Trust charity touched main people to the core, today was an episode which tore at our increasingly frayed emotional strings. Using a shaver normally reserved for my own head, the deed was done, paying particular attention to the very delicate area around her head where she had her operation just a few weeks ago. It already seems like months and months. I waived my right to a tip afterwards. Photographic evidence below.
Goodbye hair...
I have to remind everyone that the purpose of this blog was to make this a 'warts and all' description on what you don't get told during treatment and to help others prepare. I'm making no apologies if the above makes for uncomfortable viewing. It's 'warts and all'. It's what we're experiencing right now.that said, we're so grateful for all your messages though.

Hebdomas horribilis

There is no sugar coating for this week. As Dean has documented, I started to feel pretty dreadful on Monday and told the radiotherapy nurses about some flashes I was having behind my eyes. The fantastic nurse, Dawn was not happy to let me go home without getting a better understanding of what this was. She got me admitted and seen by three consultants who reassured me that this was just another side effect of the whole brain radiotherapy and I have been given double dose steroids to help minimise the impact.

It's been emotionally as well as physically challenging and I am embarrassed to say that I cried my eyes out for a good part of my stay in Oncology, particularly when I saw that Dean had not packed any nightwear or slippers.

After treatment, my head burns and itches and then huge chunks of hair fall out which is unpleasant. A migraine cold cap seems to help in easing this. Even though I knew this was coming, it's still difficult to deal with. I cannot wait for this ordeal to be over and pray for all the people who have to endure this on an ongoing basis. They are courageous and strong.


Monday, 13 July 2015

Fed up and tired but hopeful

Last week of treatment. Can't wait for it all to be over and to get on the road to recovery. Reassured to read that what I am going through is not unusual.

Will probably sleep all day for the last week.

Love this clip. This was filmed on our wedding day.



Saturday, 11 July 2015

Guest blog: Amanda's Dad

It was definitely one of the worst days of my life when Amanda told me that the cancer had returned, and hearing the words 'brain tumour' seemed to make it even worse, (if that’s at all possible). Having seen her go through breast cancer and the extremely challenging treatment that comes with it was bad enough, but knowing that she had to endure this again was torture.
However, this wasn’t about me, it was about Amanda. As a family, we perhaps have had more than most to test us, and this was one more thing [albeit massive] to deal with. It would be easy to think ‘why us?’, but even though those thoughts do enter your mind, what good does it do?
Amanda has been so incredibly brave, but the side effects with the radiotherapy have been horrendous, and in some ways worse than those with the chemotherapy associated with breast cancer. She has handled everything with such extreme dignity, far better than I would ever have done. Her support network is brilliant, but it is Amanda who has to deal with these problems every minute of every day. For such an incredibly talented, beautiful and proud young woman this does seem to be so unfair. In addition to the cancer treatment side effects Amanda also has to handle chronic migraine on a daily basis, which believe me is bad enough in its own right.  
To me the best way to support Amanda has been to listen and watch out for the best way to help her, in other words, not what you want to do, but what she wants you to do. 
I’m hoping and praying every night that the cancer doesn’t come back, and I don’t think that it will! However many couples are not fortunate enough to have had children; Carole and I have been, and thank God for that privilege.
Amanda’s husband Dean is understated, but does a tremendous job in looking after her every day, and Amanda’s Mum Carole is the catering manager despite her own illnesses. A special thank you to Amanda’s surgeon, Miss Albanese who I truly believe was God sent!
Just over one more week to go with the radiotherapy, and then Amanda is on the road to recovery. I can’t wait for her to be fit and well again, and for her and Dean to be able to live the brilliant lives that they both deserve.
Amanda's Dad

Treatment zenith

Yesterday was horrible. I reached my zenith of the treatment and could barely move all day. I reflected that since April, I have had a whopping cancerous tumour grow to 4cm in diameter in my brain; had my head sliced open; then sewn back up again; had forty staples inserted and then removed one by one. I've had three MRI scans to the body and the brain. I've then been pumped full of steroids so that my face and body are fit to bursting and then strapped to a bed every day, blasted with high powered radio waves for two weeks. It's been quite the ride.

I literally cannot wait to regain everything that cancer has taken from me...my confidence, my figure, my social life, my sense of humour, my face and my future amongst many other things. Each will take time to slowly build back up, but it will come.

It made me realise that for many people, this intensity of treatment could be too much, particularly those who are older and more vulnerable than me. If you know someone who is facing this challenge, I would suggest giving them as much emotional support as you can, so that that they feel strong enough to make it through. Ask them what they need, and don't expect too much from them, and be there for them as they come out the other side.


Thursday, 9 July 2015

A date with death

When I first had cancer and everything was treated successfully, I felt like the Grim Reaper had called round to see me, left me his card and said he'd try to catch me another time. Determined as he was to get hold of me, we did get a face-to-face meeting in April.

There are lots of 'what ifs?' that could have made this a very different ending to the story. What if I hadn't gone to my GP with my first episode of visual disturbances (I felt like honey was dripping from my eyes and was rendered inarticulate for an hour)? What if Dean hadn't made me go to the Emergency Doctor after my second 'episode' three weeks later? What if the second Doctor had dismissed it as a migraine rather than sending me straight to the hospital? What if the tumour had been inoperable? What if the operation had gone wrong?

You're quite simply a player in a game where you can't influence the outcome either by skill, endeavour or will-power.

I've been very lucky so far. Also a bit unlucky some might say.

Looking death in the face is scary. I just need to stay on my toes for a bit and hopefully he won't find me.


I'm thinking of changing my address

Over halfway

Day 9 out of 15 and today I have the fitting for the super dose of radiotherapy next week. This involves a very specific mask that helps to target the radiotherapy directly to the area where the tumour *was*. Then they basically just blast it with super rays so that anything hiding can be well and truly nuked. Bring it on.

Yesterday I saw one of the oncology nurses and she explained to me that it would take up to eight weeks for the side effects of radiotherapy to subside as it is such a powerful treatment for the body to endure. She also explained that what is happening to my face and body is called Cushingoid appearance or 'Moon Face' due to excess hormones from the steroids. But it will pass in the weeks after treatment.

I was pretty shocked, assuming that I would leap like a salmon from my last treatment back into recovery. One of the things I am going to have to do is learn a little patience. It's tough for me to do nothing but walk, read and rest, but my body well and truly needs it to rebuild, so that is what I will do.


I will do my best

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Cancer maths

As a logical person, it is difficult to get your head around cancer stats. Clearly, the prognosis is pretty rubbish for secondary breast cancer to the brain, but how do you end up on the side furthest away from the median e.g. dying at over 100? If life was fair and easy to influence, you would add together the following aspects to your equation:

Healthy diet + happy marriage + limited stress + intellectual stimulation + strong faith + positivity + regular exercise + lots of laughter + a fantastic support network + lots of sleep = long life, job done

You would of course, avoid the following:

- alcohol - fatty foods - cigarettes - drugs = come on, you knew they weren't good for you

Plus, according to whatever the latest theories are, you would add in the following:

+ beetroot + blueberries + 3 minutes' exercise every day + a low fat, low sugar diet + mindfulness + yoga = a few more years? Please?

The truth is that none of us know how long we've got and that life isn't logical or fair. You can add everything into your equation and still not get the long life you deserve. And sadly, all of us will know of someone who, if life was fair, would still be here.

But what we can do, is cherish what we have. Anyone who is reading this is wildly lucky to still be here with the people they love. So whether we have months or years of this amazing life left, then make it count.


Monday, 6 July 2015

Supporting a friend with a life threatening illness

If you have a friend who has recently been diagnosed with cancer, or any other life threatening illness, you may be wondering the best way to support him or her. Even though you want to help your friend through this difficult time, it can be hard to know what to say or do. 

There are no set rules when it comes to supporting a friend who has cancer (or other illness) and now that I've been the actual 'cancer friend and cancer patient', here are a few tips on what to say and what to definitely not say!

Although each person with cancer is different, here are some general suggestions for showing support from my point of view:

  • Ask permission - before visiting, before giving advice, before asking questions. And make it clear that saying no is perfectly okay.
  • Make flexible plans that can be easily changed in case something comes up or your friend needs to cancel or reschedule.
  • Don’t be afraid to make plans for the future - this gives your friend something positive to look forward to. Be careful not to come across as pushy or demanding though.
  • Be humorous and fun when appropriate and when needed. (Humour is a must).
  • Allow for sadness - do not ignore uncomfortable topics or feelings.
  • Make time for a weekly check-in phone call. Let your friend know when you will be calling, and let your friend know that it is okay to not answer the phone.
  • Ask about interests, hobbies, and other topics not related to cancer - people going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about the disease.
  • I know just how you feel (impossible unless you've been through cancer).
  • You need to talk.
  • I know just what you should do.
  • I feel helpless.
  • I don't know how you manage.
  • I’m sure you’ll be fine (money back guarantee needed).
  • Don’t worry.
  • How long do you have? 
  • I'm sorry this has happened to you.
  • If you ever feel like talking, I am here to listen.
  • What are you thinking of doing, and how can I help?
  • I care about you.
  • I’m thinking about you.
  • I don’t know what to say. It is better to be honest than to simply stop calling or visiting out of fear. I found that certain people didn't even contact me and when they did, they said that they couldn't face me....really??
You may also want to prepare yourself for changes in your friend’s appearance. General tiredness, weight changes, and hair loss are common side effects of cancer and many treatments. Start your visit by saying “It’s good to see you” instead of commenting on any physical changes (not good when you're feeling bloated, sick, generally awful).


Managing the side effects of radiotherapy to the brain

The purpose of this blog was always to help other people to learn from my experiences. So here's my advice to deal with the side effects of radiotherapy to the brain...

My first piece of advice is to speak to the pharmacological team via your oncologist BEFORE you start treatment to identify what might happen and how to militate against it - I left it too late so the side effects had already taken hold.

Then, arrange a consultation with your oncologist once you're a couple of days into treatment and devise a plan to minimise the side effects. My plan includes:

  • Lansoprazole and Senna pods to help deal with the stomach problems you get from the steroids. Enough said on that topic I think.
  • Cyclizine anti-sickness medication to deal with the nausea and vomiting. It's worth pointing out that I'm a determined vomiter and whilst I was having chemo last year would be vomiting consistently for 24 hours whilst being injected by an emergency nurse with anti-sickness medication, so I suspect I'm a lost cause. However, I am going to stick with it and see if I can keep it under control this week.
  • Tramadol in combination with my usual migraine medication. This seems to be having a good effect in managing the brain crushing headaches.

Now I'm the kind of person who likes to know what they're dealing with, so if you're about to start radiotherapy to the brain and want to just see how it affects you, then stop reading now. Everyone is unique and responds differently, so this is just my experience.

As well documented on this blog, the steroids have had the greatest impact on my body. They're absolutely crucial in reducing swelling on the brain after brain surgery for a cancerous tumour and at keeping the swelling down during radiotherapy. They are essentially brilliant. However, their side effects are unpleasant. I'm not sure which side effects are from the radiotherapy and which are from the steroids, but here's a blow by blow account of what to expect:

  • I get severe chest pain periodically. It was frightening at first, but now I know that it won't last. You just need to rest and wait for it to pass. These are more scary because of the origination of the cancer in the breast, but as my scans are clear, this is just another side effect.
  • Ditto with the knees. Steroids cause shooting pains throughout the joints. Sometimes these are so extreme that you cry out in pain. I embarrassingly went to the emergency doctor with these and by the time I had got there they had completely gone. Again, you just need to wait until they pass. They normally last ten minutes to half an hour.
  • Extreme exhaustion. Now this isn't "I've had a long day" exhaustion or "I only slept for a couple of hours" exhaustion. It's like "my whole body has been filled with treacle" exhaustion. Some days you will feel like not moving at all. Other days you will feel like you can do more. I have walked every day but one and would recommend trying to do this. Doing something feels like a big achievement. Then rest, as much as your body tells you to. Apparently this is another side effect from the steroids and the radiotherapy, so it too will pass eventually.
  • Bloating like you wouldn't believe. My stomach is the size of a six month pregnancy and swells dramatically after food. It is hard and distended and desperately uncomfortable. I am told this will go quickly after the steroids end. As someone who is appearance-conscious (for this read "vain") I am finding this a tough side effect to deal with. It's embarrassing.
  • Ditto with the face. Despite the kindness of friends, this side effect is alarming. My face swelled up to massive proportions during the week before radiotherapy started. It's not only huge and has completely distorted my features, but it's also really uncomfortable. My cheeks feel like they might burst and the skin is so stretched that I am even thinking I might end up with stretch marks on my face. Apparently, this goes quickly too and I am looking forward to seeing my old face rather than the face of someone who needs to be air lifted by the fire brigade to go to the bathroom.  
  • UTIs and dehydration. You will need to drink lots to counteract the effects of the radiotherapy. I am constantly sipping water and a friend has suggested sucking on ice cubes. This constant drinking of course results in lots of bathroom trips throughout the night. Not much I can suggest here.
  • Hair loss. I still have mine at this stage, but I know it will/could go at any time. To that end I don't wash it or touch it. Grim I know.
  • Myopia. I've noticed that I am more short sighted now than before, however, I went to the optician and he says that my prescription is the same. So I suspect this is a short term effect which will also pass.
  • The shakes. My hands shake a little. So, with the combination of tired, achy legs and shaky hands, I have finally turned into the old lady on the outside that I always was on the inside.
  • Loss of self. This whole process is really good at stripping away your sense of self. I remember reading Lisa Lynch's blog post where she said that she had completely lost her confidence and after watching the film I wondered how someone so brilliant could feel like that. I get it now. It's hard to feel like you when you look like a balloon, walk like an octogenarian and vomit like the girl from the Exorcist. But, cancer is not kind to the ego and cancer treatment is just plain nasty. However, whilst one is trying to kill you, the other is trying to save your life, so I'll stick with the latter for now.


I know which one I'm rooting for

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The unwelcome acupuncture patient

Yesterday was my worst day so far in Breast Cancer 2: The Return. I woke up with a hideous migraine, profound nausea and extreme exhaustion - not the "I'm absolutely exhausted" nonsense that I used to complain about when I was well, but bone aching tiredness from head to toe. I had an acupuncture session booked in the morning, but spent it filling the acupuncturist's washing up bowl (he was incredibly kind fortunately). I then came home and felt thoroughly dreadful for the rest of the day. Although there are only two weeks to go, it does feel like an uphill trek. What I've noticed is that when you are physically struggling, the emotional, spiritual and mental challenges seem to ramp up too. All you can do is focus on the positives - the tumour has gone, it was detected quickly before it had chance to spread and I'm a third of the way through treatment. So for now, that's a result.


Friday, 3 July 2015

Why is breast cancer on the increase?

One of the things that I find difficult to deal with is when people try to attribute my cancer to something in my lifestyle. As a tee-total pescetarian who has always exercised twice a week and never smoked or taken drugs it does stick in my craw (if only I knew what my craw was). When I was on holiday in Sri Lanka last year, I was talking to various women who were saying that breast cancer was on the increase there too, and with their simple lifestyle, it's not so easy to explain away.

So why are breast cancer rates on the rise? There's some useful information here.

Essentially, there are several key factors:

  • Screening is better, so more women know they have it and can be treated for it. Many of our elderly relatives could have died of it without ever being diagnosed.
  • Obesity and increased alcohol consumption can increase your chances of getting breast cancer. This doesn't mean that if you drink and are over-weight then you will get breast cancer. If it did, as 64% of the UK population is over-weight and 85% drink regularly there would be very few people left. 
  • Prolonged use of HRT. A link was only made recently, which means that many incidences of breast cancer were only latterly attributed to HRT.
  • Having children later in life or not at all. One in five women is childless at 45 now which is a significant change to the UK's demographics.
  • Getting older. Your chances of getting breast cancer increase every decade you're alive. And most of us are living longer.
  • Being a woman. Men do get breast cancer, but it's a lot less common.

Aside from this, there are no proven links to any other cause. So, aside from having had a couple of kids in my teenage years, dying young or being a man, there wasn't a lot I could do to prevent this. Nor could any of the other women who are facing this horrible disease. 

But there is one thing we can all do...check our breasts regularly. Admittedly, I now check mine as if I'm inspecting an unexploded hand grenade, but I do check them. Daily. If there's something there, the sooner you find it, the sooner you can deal with it, and the sooner you deal with it, the better your prognosis. Get this for a staggering statistic: more than 90% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest stage survive for at least five years after diagnosis as opposed to 15% of those whose cancer is at the most advanced stage (stage 4). You can read more here. And it's a lot easier than changing gender.



What's in a look?

On my daily walks, because I look rather odd, people will have a really good stare. Dean takes it in good humour and we joke that any staring after three seconds results in a £1 charge. My Dad on the other hand, gets really upset about it and his approach is slightly less jovial. Conversely, the hospital staff, friends and neighbours who know that I am undergoing pretty hardcore cancer treatment, couldn't be more lovely. I've had compliments on everything from my bravery through to my nail varnish. Plus, I am constantly buoyed by uplifting gifts, cards, notes, Facebook messages, texts and calls.

So, if you see someone who looks a little different, I would suggest giving them a massive smile of encouragement rather than a curious stare. And if you know someone who is going through something that's changed their appearance, find something to compliment. I can promise you, they will appreciate it.


A stare longer than three seconds is going to cost you

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Just say yes

I'm nearly a third of the way through my radiotherapy treatment now and things are starting to stabilise. After a horrible couple of days I went to see the oncologist's understudy (I'm sure he has a preferable title to that, but since my oncologist is in the top five in the country (get me!), he is rather in demand). He prescribed me some anti-sickness medication, some super-strong painkillers and said that I could still take my usual migraine triptans for the next couple of weeks. I always feel uncomfortable rattling with pills. I think it's a valuable lesson I learnt from Zammo from Grange Hill, but needs must, and it is great to feel less grim. So after two nights of wearing frozen veg on my head, I might just eat it instead.

I've tried Zammo, I've really tried

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Counting down

Well I have once again proved to be absolutely thorough. I have observed the list of side effects to radiotherapy to the brain and am committed to ticking them off. Sorry...slightly melodramatic, but after only two days I am feeling thoroughly fed up. The radiotherapy itself is quick and painless. The after effects not so much. Each day I've got home and flaked out completely, not moving until the following morning. The head pain starts a couple of hours later and is, even for a migraine veteran like myself, pretty unbearable. I feel sick as a parrot and the thought of food turns my already enormous stomach. So, I've called my oncologist to see if there's anything they can suggest, and I'm hoping that the acupuncture will help. On a positive note though, I've started, so I will inevitably finish...and in less than three weeks it will all be over.


Me feeling a bit sorry for myself