Telling people you love you have cancer

One of the hardest things following my cancer diagnosis was telling people about it. The hardest was telling the people I love the most.

Before Dan and I went to the Marsden for my results, I’d asked if we could drive to my parents if it was cancer. When it turned out it was cancer, I wasn’t sure it warranted the drive – perhaps I should call and tell them? Dan insisted we should tell them face to face.

As we drove the long journey home, a text from a friend popped up and I sent back a jolly reply. I took a work-related call and said I’d send the info they needed over tomorrow.

As we neared home, I picked up some flowers for my mum, hoping the petals might soften the blow.

When we got there, my mum, sisters and nieces were home and were so surprised to see us. Mum thanked me for the flowers but said I shouldn’t have. I hadn’t anticipated how happy they’d be to see us – how silly of me – I was turning up unannounced on a Monday – of course they’d be surprised! I felt like a fraud.

I hadn’t thought about how to tell them; I hadn’t even told them I’d found a lump – I hadn’t wanted to worry them unnecessarily but I wish I’d involved them earlier. I knew I was about to cause upset. How do you give this kind of news?

My sisters and nieces left and my mum, Dan and I sat chatting. My palms were sticky and my heart racing. I was waiting for an appropriate time to say the words, whatever those words might be.

I often think about the moments that followed. Telling mum I had breast cancer.

That day I spoke with my dad, sisters and brothers before driving back to London.

The next day I spoke to my work colleagues – those who needed to know. I hadn’t anticipated the emotional response I’d receive – ‘I’ll be fine, please don’t worry about it’ I said, ‘it’s been caught early’ I lied, ‘I’m so sorry’ I repeated.

The following weekend we had a date with some good friends. I waited until the end of the trip to tell them, partly because I wanted everything to be normal and partly because I was scared. I didn’t want to afflict myself on them, I didn’t want to make them feel awkward and I didn’t want to have to say the words.

They were the words I would repeat in text messages to my closest friends over the coming weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to make calls. I know, I know but texting was what I could cope with.

This is now a distant memory for me and as time has gone on, I’ve found it’s easier to tell people that I had breast cancer. I feel talking about it in the past isn’t a luxury everyone can count on so I should talk about it. How people react still takes me by surprise; some are lovely and some say odd things; cancer is a heavy load for many people. I’m lucky in that I can now talk about it relatively easily – it’s a part of my history.

So, with this context in mind, here are my tips for telling your loved ones you have cancer:

  • If you suspect cancer, if you find a lump and you’re going through the checks (mammograms etc), tell the people you love most. Then, if you’ve got the news you were hoping not to deliver, they can prepare themselves.
  • Tell your loved ones face to face – you’ll find the words and they’ll want to be near you.
  • Try to deliver the news gradually. Perhaps start with ‘I need to tell you something’ or ‘I went to the hospital today’. You could continue, ‘I spoke with a specialist and he/she had some difficult news’…
  • Try not to feel guilt; it feels like your fault but it really isn’t.
  • Try not to pressure yourself to get the words right or to keep it upbeat if that’s not how you’re feeling – you’ve got a lot going on and the people who love you will understand that.
  • Tell the people you want to. I asked friends not to tell other friends as there was only so many people I could deal with at that time. Your family will help you with this too.
  • If you don’t feel able to tell people face to face or over the phone, ask others to help or, if you feel you can, send them a text – good friends will understand you’ve got a lot going on.
  • Prepare yourself for people’s responses – I was surprised by the emotional reactions but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to contain my tears if I was on the receiving end of the news.
  • Try not to worry about silence or strange responses – the news will make some people feel awkward.
  • Be true to yourself and say what comes naturally to you.
  • Be honest – tell them what you know, most people will want to know the seriousness of the situation.
  • Tell them you love them – love is all they need.
  • Offer to involve them as much as possible (if you want to) – your family will feel helpless so the more you can include them in what’s going on, the better.

I hope this is useful and you are surrounded with the love and support of those who matter the most to you.

Big love, Becky

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Finding travel insurance after a cancer diagnosis

The sun’s out and you’re dreaming of a summer getaway, right?

A cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to mean you can’t travel to wonderful places. It certainly doesn’t mean you have to pay for costly travel insurance or go without insurance altogether to make it happen.

There may be lots of insurers that cover pre-existing medical conditions but the one I found particularly easy to access and value for money is Insurancewith.

As the name suggests, Insurancewith’s target market is people with pre-existing medical conditions. With a policy from Insurancewith you can travel anywhere in the world and still be covered by your travel insurance without breaking the bank.

The company’s founder, Fiona Macrae, began the business because she was frustrated by the lack of travel insurance at a reasonable price that covered her own breast cancer diagnosis. Putting her insurance industry experience into practice, she founded Insurancewith to provide people with a medical condition a fair and affordable travel insurance policy.

They’re known in the insurance industry for being good at what they do too – Insurance Times magazine and BIBA have both given Insurancewith awards.

How do you get a quote with InsuranceWith?

Go online or give them a call. Chemo brain meant I found it easier to chat to someone so I gave them a call on 020 3829 3875.

You apply according to your medical condition – there’s an application specifically for people with breast cancer, as well as other conditions like cystic fibrosis, epilepsy and stroke. You can also apply according to the type of policy you’d like – single trip, multi-trip, long stay, cruise and winter sports policies.

There are a four policy levels: Emerald, Sapphire,  Diamond and Platinum – you’re given these levels once you’ve been through the quote process but you can see what’s included in each level for single trip policies and multi trips too.

Cover includes holiday cancellation and £10m in emergency medical expenses as well as the standard bits you’d expect from a regular travel insurance policy.

Cover will soon include all medical equipment, including stoma bags and insulin pumps which are not currently covered.

Once your travel insurance is covered, you can get on to the exciting part – planning!

Other travel tips following a cancer diagnosis:

  • Speak to your oncologist about hospital-approved compression socks for the journey. Some drugs can increase the risk of blood clots and these socks can help reduce your risk while flying. I have a pair – they’re not pretty but what’s pretty about flying!
  • Drink as much water as you can and avoid alcohol entirely on the plane – don’t worry, the party starts when you land!
  • Take all of your travel insurance documents with you so you have them to hand if you need them.
  • Get an EHIC or European Health Insurance Card. It’s free (usually takes a week or so to arrive) and entitles you to free or reduced price healthcare in EU countries and Switzerland, should you need it during your stay.
  • Take your medications in their original packaging so you don’t have to worry about remembering the names of your medications, should you need to speak to a healthcare professional whilst away.
  • Factor 50 all the way; your skin is likely to be more sensistive as a result of treatment. Protect yourself, even if you’ve previously been able to tolerate the sun well.
  • Get shopping for a lovely sun hat – go on, treat yourself!
  • Go and have fun; forget cancer and have a ball! As a friend said to me recently, ‘go for those three courses and that extra bottle, you deserve it’.

If you’re not ready to travel just yet, keep swimming and keep dreaming. You could even start planning your celebratory getaway as something to aim for.

Lots of love, Becky xxx

What’s the first round of chemotherapy like?

It’s October already – can you believe? On this day (2 October) last year I had my first chemo session. Many people remember the date of their operation but for me the 2 October is etched in my memory.

It was a day I’d been building up to since my diagnosis and there were so many unknowns and anxieties around what would be involved that I thought I should share what that first chemo session involved and hopefully it’ll help ease some of your apprehensions.

My first session was booked in for 10am and we were told to allow six hours for the appointment. This is so the nurses can monitor for any reactions to the chemo drugs.

We arrived early (as is always the case when my mum’s involved!) to be warmly greeted by the welcoming reception team (these guys have put endless smiles on our faces over the last 12 months). When we were called in, we settled ourselves into a bay where there was a large comfy chair, visitor chairs and drip holder.

The drugs

NB – these are the drugs I received but they may not be what you are prescribed. Your breast care nurse will go through your specific drugs and the side effects before your first chemo session.

First up was the herceptin, which is given as an injection in the thigh. It’s a slow injection (takes about 60-90 seconds), which is pretty painful as injections go but they inject it gradually to try to ease the tingle. They give you this first as this is the drug they monitor you for six hours for.

I’ve had 17 of these injections now – a year’s worth at three week intervals, which I think is pretty standard – and the first was definitely the worst. Once you know what to expect, it’s easier. I found these bruised my thighs (they alternate each time) but the bruising goes after a few days.

Next I was given some steroids via my PICC line – we’ll talk PICC in my next blog. This was the weirdest sensation – the steroids made my nether regions tingle, something I really hadn’t expected. At the same time I took some anti-sickness drugs. Both of these are to ease your reaction to the drugs.

Each chemo session you will be given anti-sickness drugs. You’ll also be given steroids to take in the days leading up to your next chemo but on the first session, you’ll be given these intravenously.

After the steroids, I had some saline (salted water) solution through the PICC to flush the line. Then it was on to the docetaxel, which was hung up to the drip machine, fed to the PICC and timed to drip over an hour. The vein around the PICC can feel cool, where the liquid, which has been refrigerated, enters but other than that, you don’t feel a thing. If you do feel any pain around the site, it’s important to tell the nurse as they can check the site and slow the drip to ease the pain.

Whilst you’re having the docetaxel, the nurses will monitor you for any reaction, including rash, itchiness, swelling, dizziness or sickness but the steroids are given to try to stop any reaction.

After the docetaxel, it was time for another round of saline (you’ll probably need to toilet multiple times throughout the day as you’re being given lots of liquid intravenously). The saline is also fed through a drip to the PICC so you just have to sit tight and relax. You can walk around with the drip so if you do need to pop to the loo, you can.

The third and final drug for me was the carboplatin, which is also given via a drip to the PICC line over the course of an hour or so. The drug comes in a liquid bag, like the docetaxel, but is covered by a black bag to protect it from the light. The drug is more effective if it’s protected from light.

Finally, before they let you go home, you’ll be given a huge bag full of drugs and directions of when to take them. This is pretty daunting, I won’t lie. There’s a combination of steroids, anti sickness tablets, sickness injections and tablets to help with constipation, should you need them.

You’re then free to go home.

How did I feel going home? 

I left feeling fine, nervous but fine. And the day after I felt fine too, just tired. The drugs really took effect two days after chemo, when I felt exhausted, nauseous and my mouth was full of ulcers. It’s a feeling I have never felt before so I can’t give you much insight but I could feel the drugs travelling to every part of  my body – to my ears, my gums, everywhere. Everyone’s reaction is different – some people continue as normal and others struggle. I struggled but you may cruise through it – I hope you do.

My tips for your first chemo session:

Take some snacks and something for lunch. You’ll be there all day so need sustenance – anything with ginger in is good for nausea – I went for ginger nut biscuits!

Take a good book, some sudoku or crossword games, your tablet or anything that will keep you occupied throughout the day. Mum and I used the iPad to shop online for Christmas pressies, which was a lovely distraction from what else was going on.

Try not to worry – it’s really not as bad as you imagine

Go through the list of drug timings with the nurse as many times as you need and make additional notes on the instruction page they give you. You need to get this right when you’re home it’s easy to forget what they told you several hours ago – especially with so many drugs.

When you get home, make a note of what drugs you’ve taken from the bag of delights and write a list of when you need to take the others. Tick each drug off when you’ve taken it. You won’t want to miss a dose and when you’re tired and have chemo brain, it’s easily done.

Be gentle with yourself in the days that follow. Listen to your body and rest.

Do you have any questions ahead of your first chemo session? I’ll happily answer any questions I can. 

Thanks
Becky xx

Thank you!

I wanted to say a (rather late) thank you to everyone of you who sponsored, supported and encouraged me to run the 2016 Race for Life. For me it was far more than running 10k – it was a celebration of the amazing work that Cancer Research do each and every day, a celebration of how far I’ve come in the last 12 months and a start on my journey back to fitness.

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I set myself the target of raising £250, which I never thought I’d meet but with your generosity, I raised more than double the amount £505.61. I’m beyond chuffed and your support really did help me run the course.

In both the Bournemouth and Cardiff runs, the people cheering on the side lines made me smile but having my bestie, Hayley, at my side in Cardiff made the run a breeze. She’s been by my side throughout my journey – from the surprise visit the day after my op to listening to my moans on Whatsapp. She, in more ways than one, is my biggest sponsor and cheerleader.

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Thank you to each and everyone of you for your kind donations, your words of support and your pounds. Cancer treatment is evolving faster than many of us can keep up and that’s only possible because of generous people like you.

Thank you – more than you know, Becky xxx

 

Warm words to keep you going on dark days

Inspirational quotes get a bad rap – they can often be the butt of jokes or be seen as soppy. But I’m the first to put my hand up and say I like a bit of soppy and when you’re going through a hard time they have a completely different impact than when you’re not.

Quotes can inspire but they can also give strength, hope and reassurance. Words are so powerful and as a lover of words, I’ve collected a few quotes that I found helped me through my breast cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. I hope they prove useful to you, whatever stage you or your relatives are in your cancer journey.

I’ll begin with this quote which I came across shortly after my diagnosis: “Life takes you to unexpected places, love brings you home”.  These words were hanging up in my favourite gift shop the weekend before my operation – I bought the wall hanging as a gift to myself and it’s been a gift that keeps giving. 

This quote was sent to me in a card from my bestie, Hayley, and I reckon it’s true, don’t you? “Reality is never as dark as the places your brain goes to in anticipation”, Madhulika Sikka, author of A Breast Cancer Alphabet.

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“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within”, Maya Angelou.
This is my favourite quote. My friend, Luisa, sent this to me in a card the day before I started chemo, when I was most scared. I found it so uplifting on dark days – there is always hope.

“Yes, you can”; three words on a card sent to me by my dear friend, Shiv.
This card lived on the shelve opposite my desk at home. I worked from home as much as possible throughout my treatment and some days it was really hard; I felt like I wasn’t capable; that chemo had taken over my brain, but looking over at this card really lifted me. I often found myself saying the words out loud.

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Another motivational card from Shiv, who has been the biggest support to me, says: “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. 

One final card that I’ll mention from Shiv says: “Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”. This is an anonymous quote but I love it – isn’t it true too? In the face of adversity we realise what we’re made of and surprise ourselves.

A couple more I love are: “There is always rain before the rainbow” and “It is in herself she will find the strength she needs”, both anon.

Words are so powerful, I hope you take some strength from these clusters that have helped keep me going over the last 12 months. Do you have an inspirational quote that really resonated with you? I’d love to hear it – share it in the comments section below.

Lots of love, Becky xx

 

 

Top 5 films to watch on chemo recovery days

Everyone has days where all we feel able to do is flop in front of the TV and watch a well worn DVD. Whether you’re recovering from a recent round of chemo, generally feeling tired or could do with some cheering up, these are the DVDs I recommend for you.

Why these five? They each contain a good story line and a generous dose of laughter – exactly what you need when you’re feeling sorry for yourself and only well enough to make it to the sofa.

I know not everyone has the luxury of two hours uninterrupted sofa time, particularly if you have young children, but if you can squeeze in a ‘me party’, you absolutely should.

Here are my top 5 recommendations:

5. Julie and Julia

I wanted to be a baking blogger from the day I saw this film but never quite had the confidence to do it. Julie and Julia is an inspiring film about how doing something you love can enrich your life. It’s perfect to watch on a down day – uplifting and easy. Here’s the trailer in case you haven’t seen it already and you can buy it here.

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4. Chocolat

I know, I know, I clearly think about food far too much! But I love this film nearly as much as chocolate itself. It celebrates the wonderful things in life, however small they may seem. If you haven’t seen Chocolat, watch the trailer here and, if you like what you see, buy it here.

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3. Bridesmaids 

Even the trailer makes me laugh! This is the perfect pick-me-up. If you need a giggle, it’s pretty much guaranteed. Watch the trailer here and buy the DVD here.

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2. A Knight’s Tale

This is another of my favourite films. William Thatcher pretends to be a Knight to make his fortune, with the help of his friends and an unknown writer called Chaucer, who is v funny. He soon finds love and his way back home. Life takes you to unexpected places, love brings you home. If you haven’t seen the film, watch the trailer here or buy the DVD here.

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1. How to lose a guy in 10 days

This film was amongst a bag of DVDs my sister, Teresa, gave me to watch whilst I was having chemo and it was the one that made me laugh the most. It ended in true romantic style – I love a romance and these two were made for each other. If you haven’t seen it already, watch it. If you have seen it already, hec watch it again! Pass the popcorn

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It is worth doing nothing and having a rest

On Wednesday I had my annual check up and mammogram. Yes, it’s been 12 months since my lumpectomy and lymph node clearance. It’s been the longest yet fastest 12 months of my life. You’d think with the worst of my treatment out of the way I’d feel like my breast cancer journey is over but I’m starting to accept that that’s not quite the case, unfortunately.

I’ve recently been feeling energyless and wondering why. It’s beyond frustrating when there’s lots of things you want to do but all you feel able to do is sleep. I mentioned this in my check up and the response was: “Yes, this is what we’d expect. Don’t underestimate the drugs you’re on”.

This saddened me because I desperately want my life to get back to what it was before. It’s hard to accept that your life is not going to bounce back and that certain lifestyle changes are going to have to be made; that weekends can’t always be about adventuring, that you’re going to need even more sleep than before.

With tiredness turning to nausea I’ve decided it’s time to listen to my body and slow down. It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have plans and don’t want to let people down. But despite today’s beautiful weather, I’ve decided to let my body win.

This is what my morning consisted of:

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Despite feeling pretty rubbish, I also felt guilty; “I should be past this – full of energy, using my day off wisely”. Alas, going down stairs to make a drink was the best I could muster.

As I settled back under the sheets, this blog post from Gabrielle, a yoga teacher from Melbourne, popped up on my Facebook feed. It’s a verse taken from Michael Leunig’s The Curly Pyjama Letters and its timing couldn’t have been more right. I wanted to share these words with you, in case you need to hear them too…

Dear Vasco,

In response to your question, “What is worth doing and what is worth having?” I would like to say simply this. It is worth doing nothing and having a rest. In spite of all the difficulty it may cause, you must rest Vasco – otherwise you will become restless!

I believe the world is sick with exhaustion and dying of restlessness. While it is true that periods of weariness help the spirit to grow, the prolonged ongoing state of fatigue to which our world seems to be rapidly adopting is ultimately soul destroying as well as earth destroying.

The ecology of evil flourishes and love cannot take root in this sad situation. Tiredness is one of our strongest, most noble and instructive feelings. It is an important aspect of our conscience and must be heeded or else we will not survive. When you are tired you must act upon it sensibly – you must rest like the trees and animals do.

Yet tiredness has become a matter of shame! This is a dangerous development.

Tiredness has become the most suppressed feeling in the world. Everywhere we see people overcoming their exhaustion and pushing on with intensity – cultivating the great mass mania which all around is making life so hard and ugly – so cruel and meaningless – so utterly graceless – and being congratulated for overcoming it and pushing it deep down inside themselves as if it were a virtue to do this.

And of course Vasco, you know what happens when such strong and natural feelings are denied – they turn into the most powerful and bitter poisons with dreadful consequences. We live in a world of these consequences and then wonder why we are so unhappy.

So I gently urge you Vasco, do as we do in Curly Flat – learn to curl up and rest – feel your noble tiredness – learn about it and make a generous place for it in your life and enjoyment will surely follow.

I repeat it’s worth doing nothing and having a rest.

Yours Sleepily,
Mr. Curly XXX

Rest is so under-rated in our society and we feel guilty for taking time out from the constant rush. Truth is, life and its pressures can be overwhelming at the best of times – we could all do with taking some of Mr Curly’s advice.

If you’re feeling pressure from others or from yourself to be back to the person you were before your life changed, with the same energy and abilities, remember, it’s worth having a rest. Remember to be kind to yourself. Lots of love, Becky xx