Saturday, 30 December 2017

My soundtrack to cancer

I'm not a particularly musical person. My husband Dean thinks my musical tastes are appalling, and my Spotify playlists are at best, pretty ropey. However, during my cancer 'journey' there were many songs that summed up my state of mind, the emotional highs and lows and the transition from loss to hope.

This is my soundtrack to cancer:

You're All I Need To Get By - Aretha Franklin
This was played at our wedding, and is dedicated to Dean. Clearly Dean wasn't all I needed to get by (chemo, radiotherapy, whole brain radiotherapy and three surgeries were pretty pivotal), but he has been absolutely phenomenal throughout.

You're My Best Friend - Queen
I dedicate this to my unfailing supporter, best friend, ally, and defender, my Dad. Present at every appointment and every hospital admission, my Dad stayed strong even though his remaining daughter was looking like she may not make it. There are no words to describe how wonderful this man is. 

(Something Inside) So Strong - Labi Siffre
This disease with its partner in crime, migraine, did test my physical and mental strength. But, I'm still here...

No Surprises - Radiohead
Cancer delivered a fair number of punches and blows, a terminal diagnosis having me on the ropes (to over-use a boxing analogy). After repeated bad news, I just prayed for no surprises. 

Underdog (Save Me) - Turin Brakes
I knew I was spiritually saved, but there were many moments when I wanted to be saved from the grim realities of cancer.

Beat It - Michael Jackson
No-one 'beats' cancer although some are fortunate enough to keep it in abeyance. You just take arms against it with any tools you have at your disposal. Mine were friendship, love, prayer, faith and hope.

Faith - George Michael
Without it, cancer can seem insurmountable. For me, faith underpinned my journey.

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
There have been some very troubled waters in my life to date, but I have been blessed with the sturdiest of bridges that even Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have been proud of.

Amazing Grace - John Newton
Such a beautiful hymn. 'Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. 'Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.' These lyrics really resonated with me and still do. 

Can I Kick It? - A Tribe Called Quest
Well it was kicked, but mine was only a bit part whilst the key players (brain surgeons, oncologists and specialists) took centre stage.

Harder Than You Think - Public Enemy
Cancer treatment is freakishly hard, mentally and physically. However, the more it throws at you, the more you build up your inner strength (whilst your outer strength is that of a new-born chick).

With a Little Help from My Friends - Joe Cocker
As emotionally sung by Lady Kate at my 'pre-funeral funeral' (an unusual get-together of 200 friends and family to say my goodbyes), this absolutely cemented what I already knew. My friends are incredible.


Getting Better - The Beatles
Just when I was completely at peace with my lot, some green shoots appeared. Instead of the imminent death we had all prepared for, there was a joyous yet tentative period of improvement. Could this really be happening?

Feeling Good - Muse
What a turnaround! I was not only feeling well. I was feeling good.

One Day Like This - Elbow 
Despite numerous hiccups and false alarms, the unthinkable happened! Expecting the usual bad news, at an appointment to ascertain the results of a worrying thorax scan, my oncologist explained away the non-cancer related findings and unequivocally pronounced that I was in remission. Wow! You don't get many days like that. 

Jump Around - House of Pain
Cue, a blast of my favourite track, Jump Around. This mind-blowing miracle led to a celebration of life, God's grace, a good-bye to pain and a tentative step towards a new life.

Hallelujah - Alexandra Burke
God is amazing. Fact.

Go Where You Wanna Go - The Mamas & The Papas
Woo hoo! My driving licence was returned two years after my seizure. A huge step for me and a huge relief to everyone who had been patiently driving me around.

Heroes - David Bowie
Finally, this song is for all those who are going through cancer. To the survivors. To those who have lost their lives. To those who have lost a loved one. To everyone in my personal journey. You are heroes to me.

If you want to listen to this eclectic (or more appropriately) eccentric Spotify playlist, you can find it below.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

A year of ups and downs

2017 has been a year of ups and downs. On the up side I have been working (albeit from home) and loving what I do. I have built up my physical fitness by 'running' three or four times a week (still facing the embarrassing concept of being over-taken by septuagenarian walkers). I have had some incredible breaks in Spain and recently got my driving licence back (for one year). My driving, like my running, has been cautious and slow, but it's happening. My hair has grown back so the extensions were no longer needed, and has been cultivated by Sarah at Egotrip into a blonde bob. My beach-ball head has deflated sufficiently to make me recognisable as a human-being and apart from random post-cancer treats (shooting pains and the like) and periodic health scares to keep me on my toes, I am pretty much on the road to recovery.

This is an INCREDIBLE result, bearing in mind I was facing the prospect of my last few months on this glorious planet only two years ago. And, this is due to the almighty grace of God, the skills of my gifted oncologist and brain surgeon, the outstanding support of my awesome Dad, the patience and love of my wonderful husband, the mind-blowing backing of my friends and family, the understanding of my colleagues and the support offered by my Church, St. Lawrence's.

On the down side, I have recently lost a precious friend to this horrible disease, a partner in facing cancer with all its indignities and challenges. Another friend died from cancer in the same week, a supremely intelligent and talented man from church with an Oxford Doctorate and a complex mind. Others are still facing the disease, in and out of various treatment phases, but united in hope that they will soon be in remission and even cured. Some are in remission, but still struggle to come to terms with the impact that cancer has had on their lives, and the lives of those close to them.

So, as the year draws to a close, I pray for peace, for healing and for hope for my fellow cancer sufferers, survivors and supporters. I pray for the families of those who have lost friends to this abhorrent disease and those who are adjusting to life without their partners and loved ones.

I am dreaming of an uneventful and brilliantly ordinary 2018 and I'm ecstatically grateful to still be here.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

A tale of two titans

Yesterday a couple of friends shared a link with me about a new injection for migraine (you can read more at Now, everyone who knows me is aware that I have suffered from debilitating migraines since I was 21. I was aware of migraines from my teens. My Dad suffered terribly from them, and I remember him being violently sick, collapsing with pain and even crying in agony. It was horrific to hear, and I couldn't imagine how bad it must have been to bring such a brave man to his knees.

After my finals at Oxford, I was having a super long lie-in (remember those?) until I was woken up with an all-encompassing, vicious and searing pain. I couldn't move from my bed and (rather melodramatically) believed that I had developed a huge brain tumour (strangely prophetic now I think of it) and that it was going to kill me. It was well before the days of mobile phones, so I was trapped in agony until it finally subsided.

These episodes continued for over twenty years, and I battled for a normal life, investing thousands of pounds in treatments whilst my migraines seemed to be 100% resistant to anything I tried.

So, when I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in November 2013, I had another titan to contend with.

Far from receding politely into the background to let Cancer take over, Migraine decided to join forces and compound its endeavour to grind me down. After my first chemo, I had a hum-dinger of a migraine, triggered by one of the concoction of drugs administered via comically large syringes. Despite removing the offender from the next dose, my migraines raged on, and with a plethora of nasty side effects from the chemo, to say that I was struggling was understatement of the century. My Dad 'treated me' to a series of appointments with a private neurologist which basically included a couple of days of steroid infusions administered intravenously. I felt great, until I had a migraine in the car on the way home.

Cancer and Migraine continued to apply their combined might, and during the 'Whole Brain Radiotherapy' that was used to treat my first cancerous brain tumour (the second popped up only six weeks later), I was pretty much at the end of my tether.

Fast forward to today, and not only am I in remission from the Cancer, I have also not had a migraine for over a year. I can't identify the exact point that I noticed that I wasn't suffering from them any more, as you don't miss what you don't have, but what I do know, is that my two tormenters are noticeably absent from my life. God has been incredibly gracious to me and I am beyond grateful.

I hope that this new injection will help migraine sufferers to combat its devastating impact, and allow them to live a pain-free life. For those who have cancer and migraines, I pray that they may be healed of both.


Dean and I athletically celebrating my pain-free life

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Pebbles on the beach

My Mum always used to love pebbles. She loved the smooth ones. The ones that you could clasp in the palm of your hand. Yesterday, after the celebration of life of a beautiful friend, I found one of my Mum's little pebbles with a dove painted on it. I held it in my hand and felt it warm to my touch. It was a real comfort as my tears fell for those who are no longer here with us. For those who enriched our lives and left behind an indelible imprint that even the most tempestuous ocean could not erase.

Then I imagined a beach full of pebbles all with God's gifts engraved into them - peace, love, hope, faith, joy and grace. Life ebbs and flows. Sometimes grief engulfs us like untameable waves. Other times the tide withdraws and there's a sense of calm. And in this calm, we know that we are loved.