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Just be brave, and then even braver

Cancer was not scary, well I wasn’t scared anyway. I remember thinking “Oh well, here goes another challenge!”. I’d got huge boobs at the time, GG cup, so looking on the bright side, as I invariably do I was going to be able to have a reduction and buy pretty bras from now on! Can you imagine someone being told they have to have a mastectomy because of a very large cancerous lump in their breast and they think about the pretty bras they’ll be able to wear? I promise you that’s what I thought!

Having to tell people was the hardest…..not wanting tears and upset, I actually told my best friend at the time to sort herself out and phone me back when she wasn’t crying. Telling my mum was hard, but we are tough in my family, a hug and “Oh well, if you’re going to have cancer, breast cancer is probably the best one to get!” – I kid you not that is what she said! Stoic, my mum!

Going into work the next morning, a job I had only started two days before was challenging. My predecessor was leaving that day so the presentation for her was at 8am. I stood there in the open area with all the staff, listening to all the stories of her time with the business, whilst I was working out how to tell my new team I had cancer. I spent most of that day apologising, yes you heard me right, apologising! I felt terrible that I had only been with the business 2 days and was now telling them I had cancer and would be off for 8-10 weeks for surgery and then months of chemotherapy and possible radiotherapy to follow. It’s funny now, in a weird, kind of strange way when I look back how I was literally thinking about everyone else and how this news was impacting them, without really much of a thought for the fact that I had this possible life threatening disease. If I had crumbled since I would say it was a way of disguising my real emotions and pushing them to the bottom but I haven’t. I just wasn’t really scared, I trusted that I would be ok… consultants seemed to know what they were talking about, which is always good. The only worry I had really was about putting the 3 stone I had literally just lost back on. I insisted that I would get ‘skinny chemo’ and the nurses played along with me (although months later it was very clear they had completely duped me!!).

Whilst I was getting on with things and grappling with a new job, my darling husband was not quite so positive. I think in hindsight he was like a swan, serene on the outside, totally supportive, loving, caring and saying most of the right things but underneath he was caught in weeds and twine and battling to stay afloat. Here lies, what I believe is the greatest failure of our treatment of cancer; the help and support offered or readily available should I say to the partners, husbands, wives, siblings of those affected. We, after all are getting all the attention, and rightly so of course but ‘they’ are the ones who are witnessing this ravaging disease affect those they love and care for the most in the world. For them, the fear is so much worse. For Mark, the thought of it having spread was constantly on his mind for those first few weeks, not long in reality but plenty of time for the negative thoughts to mount up. When I look back at photos of us just after my diagnosis, before and even after surgery I can see the stress, worry and fear in his face; far more than mine!

The good news was it hadn’t spread and I was ‘just’ dealing with breast cancer, I considered myself lucky when I sat in the oncology waiting room with those who were less fortunate and had greater battles to face.

I skip several weeks on now to the true battle that is the dreaded CHEMOTHERAPY! I’d a couple of friends who had breast cancer the couple of years prior to me so I had seen and heard first hand what their experience was with the treatment. Did that make it better or worse? I don’t know to be honest, don’t think it made much difference; you know it’s going to suck! And suck it really did. You have absolutely no idea what tiredness means until you’ve had chemo. It drains you, its like dragging around 10kg weights on your arms and legs all the time……and then some. No matter how much sleep you have you feel tired. You ache all the time and everything is just an effort. I didn’t read about side effects of all the drugs…..I’m a big believer in, if you know the side effects you experience them. So, Mark read the side effects so he was prepared for when I walked downstairs and said “My gums are bleeding”, “yes” he said “that’s a side effect”. Maybe this is another reason why he was so affected, he knew all the possible side effects and imagined me getting them. I continued to go to work, I would have a week off each chemo cycle and then go back for a couple of weeks. It took my mind off it to some extent and gave me other things to focus on and stop me thinking of my furry mouth, aching limbs, throbbing head, nausea, tiredness and general yukiness! It wasn’t all doom and gloom, I still had laughs, fun, went out with friends, stayed in with friends and got on with life. Chemo was just a monthly inconvenience!

Being bald is something I had never really thought about, well as women we don’t really have to do we! Cue the shaving of the head and realisation that you have a good shaped head, no, sorry a “Great shaped head” as Mark put it! Wigs were too itchy, despite the fact I had bought two and scarfs (which I had invested in heavily before chemo) were annoying and for me showed there was something I was hiding, my beautiful bald bonce. So, I embraced being bald. I took it by the scruff of its shiny head and rocked it! Plenty of false tan is definitely a key part of embracing baldness and appreciating the fact you no longer have to wash and dry your hair and worry about what it looks like as the day wears on. When you’re bald it looks exactly the same in the afternoon as it did first thing in the morning! The biggest challenge is where your face ends and your head begins, this is important when applying make-up and your eye-brows are disappearing! Several different approaches were taken until I nailed it, again false tan played a key role in this.

The end of treatment did not mark the end of the battle, in fact looking back now that was when the real battle began.

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