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

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

My breast cancer diagnosis was a strike of luck

Yes, you read that correctly – my breast cancer diagnosis was a strike of luck. Well, three strikes actually:

Lucky strike #1: I found a lump purely by accident 

I discovered a lump when waking one morning. In a lazy daze I rolled to press snooze. As I did so I brushed my left boob and felt something that didn’t feel like much like boob. I was instantly awake. After further inspection I could feel a brazil nut size lump.

Dan and I discussed it, thinking it was probably a cyst and nothing to worry about but we agreed I’d go to the docs, just to be safe.

Lucky strike #2: The doctors aired on the side of caution

A week later I had a breast examination with a junior doctor. She was lovely – asked about family history of breast cancer (of which there is none) and other symptoms like weight loss (of which there were none). Her verdict was that she thought it was most likely a cyst but she was going to chat to a colleague between appointments to get her opinion. She’d call me to let me know the outcome. The call came and they had decided to refer me to The Royal Marsden in Sutton (down the road from where I lived at the time) to check the lump out, just to be safe. 

Lucky strike #3: The nurse thought twice 

A fortnight later, I rocked up at The Royal Marsden. It felt strange to be there. It’s a dedicated cancer hospital and as someone who didn’t have cancer, I found walking past so many very ill people in the corridors incredibly humbling. After arriving on the Breast Cancer Rapid Diagnostic Clinic, I was seen by a specialist nurse who examined my breast. She said it felt like a cyst, that it was nothing to worry about and was I ‘happy to leave it there?’. Having read the leaflet sent by The Marsden, I was expecting a little more than an examination and was slightly confused over what she meant by ‘leaving it there’ – I was expecting to have a scan of sorts, at least. In response to my surprised reaction, the nurse decided to send me for a scan, just to be safe.

It was the scan that followed and the subsequent biopsy that revealed I had stage three breast cancer. It just goes to show you how important it is to check yourself and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to the doctors who aired on the side of caution and the nurse who thought twice. If either of them had made different decisions, my future prospects may not be looking quite so bright. I was lucky to be diagnosed when I was.

It could have been easy to overlook a healthy young woman with no family history of breast cancer because it’s not all that common, hence it happens all too often. This is something Kris Hallenga has experienced first had. When Kris went to her GP about a ‘lumpy boob’ aged 23 she was told it was probably hormonal, after all she was too young for breast cancer, right? Six months later and the lump was ever present so Kris and her mother insisted upon a referral.

Two months later and with an ‘avocado-sized lump’, Kris finally discovered she had breast cancer. Not only did she have breast cancer but it had spread to her spine and was now stage four – as advanced as it gets. Since then, the cancer has spread to her liver and her brain. Had the cancer been diagnosed on her first trip to the doctors, she could be cancer free right now. Instead, as Kris puts it, ‘cancer is kind of my life these days’.

Kris Hallenga, founder of CoppaFeel!

But rather than sitting back and festering at cancer, Kris and her twin sister have used their experience to set up cancer charity, CoppaFeel!, to spread the message that breast cancer does affect young people. After all, it’s not as freakishly rare as you might think – in the UK, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women under 40 and around 2,100 new cases are diagnosed each year in women aged 20-39 according to Cancer Research UK.

CoppaFeel! encourages young men and women to get to grips with their breasts and regularly check them for lumps, bumps and anything that doesn’t feel normal. As someone who found my lump by accident, I’ve become very aware of how important it is to check yourself. So if there’s one thing you do today, let it be a quick boob check and with this easy to understand guide from CoppaFeel!, you have no excuse not to. If you notice something that doesn’t seem right, get on to your doctor – you have nothing to lose by getting it checked and potentially a lot to lose if you don’t.