Making Plans.

Everyone who knows me well, knows I LOVE a good list.

My husband calls them ‘Power lists’ (my maiden name is Power☺️) and I write them for everything. Work, writing, trips. I particularly enjoy writing lists of things to pack when we go away. I even – don’t judge me – often write something I’ve already done, just so I can tick it off and get that lovely feeling of accomplishment.

If you’re a list writer, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you’re not…as I said, reserve the judgement until you’ve had a go!

I have been thinking about the future a lot recently. Natural, I suppose, when you find out you have a long slog ahead. The holiday we had booked for July has now been cancelled. The one we were planning for October is looking very iffy. So, guess what’s first on my list, post-recovery?

One bloody brilliant holiday.

That’s a while off though. I do have a few other things on my list before that, but for once, I can’t bring myself to jot them down. I don’t know if it’s because if I do, they will seem real, or if it’s because it might be one list I don’t enjoy. There are two things I would like to share though, as they are a couple of the positives that are keeping me up at the moment. They are my way of taking control during a time when I am being physically and mentally pushed and pulled, like one of those Stretch Armstrong toys I know you had as a kid.

First; I’m going to cut my hair. I have had long hair for agggggges-I think the last time it was anywhere close to shoulder length I was eighteen (which is longer ago than I’d care to admit, people). It’s been blonde, red, brown, pink…but always, always long. 

A few months ago, one of my best friends cut off her long hair and did something wonderful – she donated it. There are various charities, one called the Little Princess Trust, who take donations of long, healthy hair and turn them into wigs for children going through chemotherapy. I thought this was the most wonderful thing I’d ever heard and I’ve thought about it many times, though in all honesty, my vanity kept me from doing it. Who would I be without my hair?! Now that choice has been taken out of my hands, I feel like I need to do something useful. So, once I’m recovered from surgery in a month or two, I am going to go and get the trendiest haircut I can possibly manage, donating the length before the chemo drugs can get to it. And you know what? I feel pretty good about it.

Second; I’m going to enter the race for life. My sister is already doing it and last week I had a gorgeous message from a girl I did drama at college with, who now lives miles away. She said she was training for her local race and asked if she could wear my name. I got this as I was walking into a hospital appointment to get the results of yet another biopsy, so I was really moved. Thanks HA, you really made my day!

Our local run is in mid July. I should be fully (?!) recovered from my surgery by then and on my second or third round of chemo. I had signed up to run the Manchester half marathon in October (that’s still on the list…let’s see how I go😳) so this would be perfect for me in between. It’s 5k, so if I can’t run it I will certainly walk it and I’m hoping that setting a date to do something physical after surgery will get me up and about when I’m feeling a bit rubbish. If any local ladies reading this would like to sign up and do it with me (or race ahead and meet me for a coffee at the end), please get in touch and let me know. It could be a really fun day out to look forward to.

(NOTE: I’ve just signed up (no backing out now) and got the option to set up a group. If you would like to join me, follow the link below and sign up for Sunday 17th July at 11am. If not, wish me luck!!!)

https://raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/rfl/forms/race/enter.jsf?groupNumber=XZ7694

Just a quick note to say I’m not sure when my next update will be. I have a small operation tomorrow (a sentinel node biopsy for those of you ‘in the know’) and I’m planning to sleep the day away on Friday! It could affect my arm mobility for a few days, so I can see a lot of movies and no typing in my immediate future. I’m slightly nervous, as I’ve never been put to sleep before, so I’ll be very happy when I wake up!

So, that’s my list for now. I feel a bit better after writing it down, so maybe I’ll break out the post-it notes later…

Love yourself!

This last week has been a pretty good one as, after a bit of a scare, I got the all clear on my left breast. All those prayers and positive thoughts are clearly working, so keep them coming please!  So, sorry to disappoint, but no rants this week.

Well…not many 😉

I started the week meeting my surgeon at The Christie in Manchester. I’ve said this before, but the fact that I have such outstanding, world-class cancer care on my doorstep is amazing. I thank my lucky stars for it every day. My surgery is now booked in for mid April and even though I’m mildly terrified about being cut open for eight hours, the things they can do are amazing! I’m having a procedure called a DIEP flap, where the excess fat from my stomach will be cut out and used to rebuild my breast…as a result I’m under doctor’s orders not to lose any weight, so Easter weekend couldn’t have come at a better time! If you see me around over the next couple of weeks, I will probably have a piece of cake in my hand.

This procedure has really got me thinking about my body. As a woman (well, I think as anyone who is inundated with media’s obsession with perfection) I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my body for as long as I can remember. I like my eyes but I hate my nose. I have slim arms that tone up fairly quickly but a stomach I generally hide. I have cellulite on my thighs, broken veins on my left foot…I could go on. Over the last year and a half I started running, mainly because I never could and I felt like setting myself a personal challenge. The process was fairly slow but by this January I could run five miles, which I was bloody delighted with! The result was that I became prouder of my body than I had ever been. I could see how strong it could be and, even though I still had those bits I really didn’t like, for the first time I went on holiday in a bikini and was comfortable. When I look back at that holiday I am insanely grateful, as the next time I do it I will bear the scars of my surgery.

The scars don’t really bother me that much. The one on my stomach will be pretty huge, but should be hidden below my bikini line. If it isn’t, I’m already looking at tattoos that will cover it beautifully. Any excuse for some new ink! In the process of the operation though, I will lose my first tattoo. I got it when I was seventeen, young and silly, and not much thought went into it. It’s absolutely crap in all honesty, but I love it. She’s a fairy, called Tallulah, and after surgery she’ll be gone. I won’t go into more detail for those of you who are queasy (like my lovely hubby, who pales at the mention of the DIEP procedure) but if you’re curious, google it…it’s amazing!  The loss of my tattoo may seem insignificant compared to losing my breast, but as I’m opting for an immediate reconstruction, it won’t be as obvious. My stomach, though it will now be flatter than it has ever been naturally, will be bare, and the tiny fairy that has decorated it for the last fifteen years will be in a surgical bin somewhere. And strangely, I find that really, really sad. 

I think I’m rambling now, but here’s the point-love your body. Look after it. If you’re not happy with it look at why. Some things you can change through diet and exercise, IF YOU WANT TO, (though I urge you not to jump on faddy bandwagons but do it all healthily) others you can’t. Try to love them anyway. Stop looking at Beyonce’s abs or Kim K’s arse, those women work out as a full time job. Your body is a magical, wonderful thing that you have been blessed with. I can’t help looking in the mirror at the moment, wondering what I’ll look like in a few months time. I will be scarred, one nipple will be gone the same way as Tallulah and I may even be bald. But you know what? I’ll be alive. My scars will be testament to the fact that I beat cancer, I will be a tiger who has earned her stripes.

And come summer, I’ll be flashing that newly flat stomach to anyone who wants to see it, scars and all ☺️

Facing the future.

I can’t believe the response my first blog post received on Monday. Thanks to everyone who read it and those who shared it – it was read over 1000 times in less than 24 hours and has had almost 1500 hits up to now. If it helped anyone in any way, it was worth writing.

This last week has been a long one. I’ve had appointments every day, ranging from discussions about surgery to fertility stuff, which, to be honest, I’m not too comfortable talking about. One thing I will say on that is please, please think before you ask a couple of a certain age when they’re going to have kids. It’s never been on my agenda, apart from knowing I wanted to do it one day. Well, that option might be lost to me now (odds are it won’t be, but chemo can leave you infertile). It’s not a nice question to ask anyway, in my opinion, and if I am ever asked that question again I will quite bluntly tell that person EXACTLY why I don’t have children yet. Then I will politely request that they shove their question where the sun doesn’t shine.

Anyway.

I’ve been in and out of hospitals (four in total) this week. I’ve had blood tests, been shown how to give myself injections and had to manoeuvre myself into the boob holes of an MRI machine. I’m sure there’s a fancy name for that, but boob holes does it for me. I’ve got to admit, I laughed out loud when the nurses showed me how to position myself for that one! On Thursday I visited The Christie in Withington, which is a world renowned cancer treatment and research facility. I sat there in the waiting room, the youngest person by at least 30 years, and thanked my lucky stars that I had this place on my doorstep, on the NHS. I met with my oncologist, who left me feeling incredibly positive. Everything I’m facing in the next six months is designed not only to get the cancer out of me, but make sure it doesn’t come back again. With that in mind, I felt like I could tackle this head on-it would be six months of crap but I would come out of the other side healthy and well. 

Thursday was a good day.

Then Friday burst my bubble a little bit. I went for a pre-op assessment, as I should have been having a small surgery on Monday, where they remove a couple of lymph nodes to be certain the cancer hasn’t spread. Whilst I was sat waiting, one of the Macmillan nurses appeared and took us off into an empty room. The MRI had shown up something in my left breast that needs further investigation. After weeks of research and reading and feeling I have come to terms with what’s ahead, this was a total curve ball. I’ve already had the left side biopsied, something that took two attempts as I passed out the first time (that has NEVER happened to me before) so I’d thought it was all clear. I was half deflated at the thought of going through it all again and half happy that they had seen something and want to be certain what it is before making any big surgical decisions. My doctors are certainly on the ball.

So, last night I went out for a few drinks. Then, a few more. I spoke to some people who are close and who know what to say and when to let me talk and when to change the subject. I even spoke to someone in a really similar situation to me and my hubby and I think it helped us both a little. And that was nice-it really helps. When it’s on my terms. 

But I also spoke to some people who wanted to tell me how worried they were about me even though they barely know me and their stories of family member having cancer and the hard times they’ve been through. Now, that’s fine. I’m a nice person who will help others in any way they can, but let me give you a piece of advice; do not be that person. Do not be the person who wants sympathy and advice from a person whose world has just been dropped from a great height. Yes, I’m positive about things, but that does not mean that you can offload your stress and worry onto me. I’m tired and I will probably tell you to feck off. By all means, ask me how I’m feeling. If I want to discuss it, I will. But don’t tell me about your mate/granny/second cousin twice removed who lost their fight and certainly don’t make me reassure you that I’m not going to die, FFS. 

So, apologies for the rant today and please don’t take it that I’m a miserable cow who doesn’t want to talk to you. I’m not-there’s just a hell of a lot going on at the moment! Thank you for the outpouring of love and support this week, I’ve loved hearing from people I haven’t spoken to in a while. It’s an amazing feeling to know so many of you care.

Just don’t tell me about your uncle Frank’ mate who died a miserable and painful death, okay?!

What a difference a month makes…

February 2016 was the month that changed my life, in ways that were both devastating and incredible.

First, the good stuff.

After three years of writing (and numerous, numerous rejections), I sent out my second novel to agents. Now, the first time I did this was in May 2015 and after interest from one or two agencies, it pretty much went nowhere. I learnt a lot though and started on a second book, the opening of which earned me a place on the Curtis Brown Creative Writing for Children course. My tutor, Catherine Johnson, and the fourteen other writers on the course were AMAZING. It pushed me into finishing my book and making it better than I could have thought possible. By the end of January I was done. It was finished and ready to go out into the world of agents.

After my first lot of submissions, I knew it could sometimes take months to hear back from an agency…well, not this time! Within ten days I had eighteen agents reading the full manuscript and three offers of representation. It was the stuff dreams are made of! I booked train tickets to London and arranged to meet my now agent, Nicola. I was delighted and couldn’t wait to meet her.

This is where the second part of my story begins.

Valentine’s Day 2016. My lovely hubby and I got the train to London and turned into tourists for the day. That night I jumped in the shower before bed…and found a lump in my breast. We’ve majorly remodelled our house and don’t yet have a shower, so it occurred to me that I could only feel it because I was standing up. I’ve always been aware of checking myself but boobs are generally pretty lumpy things. This was obviously not right though and, as daft as it may sound, my gut feeling was that I had cancer.

Fast forward to February 26th. I was referred to my local breast clinic for an ultrasound, which became a mammogram, which became a biopsy. I was getting fairly certain now what the outcome would be. The staff were amazing throughout and when it all became too much, they sent me home. We returned at 4pm and our worst fears were confirmed. I had not one, but two tumours in my right breast. I can never explain to you how it felt to hear those words and I hope I never see the look as my husband’s face ever again. We got very, very drunk that weekend.

Two weeks have passed since then and, surprisingly, I’m okay. I’ve had my moments but overall I refuse to be anything but positive. I have an amazing life and I intend to keep it that way – this is just a blip that will one day be another story to tell. I’m facing a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in the next few weeks, followed by chemotherapy. My beautiful, long hair, which I have always been so proud of, is going to fall out. I know it’s only hair, but that news really stung. I’m planning on buying wigs in every colour of the rainbow to compensate.

My family and friends have shown themselves to be the most wonderful people in the world. Over the years I have strived to only surround myself with people who make me happy and I’d like to think the feeling is mutual. Thank you to everyone who has spoken to me, prayed for me, sent out their good vibes to the universe for me…it’s all helping and I would love it if you continued to keep me in your thoughts. Oh, and if you see my hubby out and about (when I can make him leave the house), buy him a pint!

This next year is going to be hard, no doubt about it. It will be painful, tiring and tearful. But I have a life to get back to and a book to get published. 

In short – Cancer, you have f*cked with the wrong woman.