Strictly Learn Dancing 7/2/19-16/3/19

I am loving life right now!

Sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes it’s not. You learn to take the rough with the smooth – all part of this wonderful rollercoaster in *Cancer-Land.

I tweeted today about being dealt a shit hand thanks to my secondary breast cancer diagnosis but it’s really changed the way I live my life, in a positive manner.

I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would be doing some of the things I’ve done. From my 40 things before 40 list, having my own community radio show to starring in a tv advert for Breast Cancer Now. I mean, I’m even ‘friends’ with Dame Julie Walters!! Ok, so I haven’t actually seen her for 4 years but she does ask after me and the children a few times each year and always sends us a hamper at Christmas – definitely bezzie mates 😉

The past 6 weeks has seen me take on a new challenge – I learnt to ballroom dance!

My hospice, St Francis, which is in Berkhamsted has supported me and my children since I was diagnosed nearly 5 years ago. They rely heavily on charitable donations and hold lots of fundraisers through the year to be able to fund the care they give to patients and their families.

The ‘Strictly Learn Dancing’ fundraiser was brought back this year (after a few years break) and I just HAD to take part. I applied last August/September time and found out in October that I was in!!. I didn’t actually have a partner but I didn’t tell them that!

Each couple has to raise at least £600 so I started baking cakes and selling them to my friends. At Christmas I made and sold cookie jars and also had a cake stall at a fair. I raised £660 through my baking and then another £465 online.

I asked on Facebook if anyone fancied being my partner and thankfully Gav, a fellow presenter at Radio Dacorum, stepped in! I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

Our dance lessons started on the 7th of February after being cancelled the week before due to a snow threat! For the next 6 weeks we were shown how to dance a waltz and a jive.

I really didn’t expect it to be a tricky as it was! There was so much to remember but our dance teachers Brian and Shirley were so patient with us, breaking down the dances to manageable chunks, repeating the steps over and over until we got it. The waltz came easier than the jive – it wasn’t until week 5 that I felt I knew what I was doing.

And then, before we knew it, it was the night of the grand finale!

There were 9 couples in total, all with a personal reason for wanting to fundraise for the hospice. We finally got to know each other on Saturday whilst we had our hair and make up done and got ready for the show.

As 7.30pm approached, so did our nerves! There were about 250 friends and family in the audience waiting to watch us.

I went a little blank during our waltz but we managed to pull it back thankfully. I was really annoyed at myself because we’ve danced it faultlessly so any times. The jive was much better (although I did forget my box steps 🙄). The nerves just took over. The jive was scored and we got two 8’s and a 9.

Everyone was amazing!

Then, as quick as that, it was the end of the night. We all gathered on stage waiting to find out who had won the audience vote and then the judges vote.

Unbelievably it was Gav and I who won the audience vote. I was absolutely over the moon!! Our trophy has pride of place on my mantelpiece.

I’m still on cloud 9. I keep watching the videos of us dancing and am just so chuffed with what we all achieved. I’m truly going to miss seeing the other couples on a Thursday evening.

Definitely living my best life.

Xx

*I wouldn’t recommend it 😉

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2018 – what a year!

So here we are at the end of another year. A year that was full of fun, frolics and turning 40!

I had 2 MRI scans, 2 CT scans, 4 lots of bone juice (Zometa), 5 blood tests, 12 zoladex injections and a flu jab! Throw in a couple of bouts of shingles for good measure and I think I’m done 😂😂. I’ve presented 27 shows on Radio Dacorum. I’ve volunteered every Thursday in my local Keech Hospice charity shop and I finally finished reading my 40 books challenge. I’ve also written a couple of guest blogs for the Huff Post.

I think it’s safe to say there’s never been a dull moment!!

January started with the flu 🤒 but I was soon feeling better and had signed myself up to a ‘learn to ice skate’ course – it’s a lot harder than it looks! I also conga’d my way around town (twice) with some of my lovely friends from my fb group.

February was a busy month! I went to Paris for lunch but didn’t actually have time to stop for lunch! Fell over ice skating and pulled the ligaments in my thumb but somehow (amazingly!) managed to pass my Grade 1 – I think they just wanted rid tbh 🤣. I also climbed the O2 with my children and definitely recommend it.

In March I went sledging, learnt to crochet, went to Belfast for st Paddy’s day, tricked Daisy into thinking she had a box of cornflakes for her 11th birthday and saw both of my best friends turn 40 (and used all the ‘it must be your age’ gags I could find!).

In April I got 2 new, small tattoos. Saw Sam Smith at the O2 and went on a road trip to Cornwall for a family wedding and met my nephew for the first time.

May is always momentous because it’s my cancerversay. I spent the day with a friend who taught me how to use fondant icing on cakes. I went on a relaxing spa day with Michelle and Becca. But, the highlight has to be when I was stood a few feet away from Prince Harry and Meghan at a garden party at Buckingham palace. I was nominated by Breast Cancer Now as a thank you for the support I give them.

In June, Daisy and I took part in the St Albans 1.5 mile fun run and then we did the 5k midnight walk for the Hospice of st Francis. I had 6 monthly scans and got stable results.

July was a whole month of birthday celebrations – I really eked it out 🤣

In August I went to my first ever outdoor cinema at Ashridge House and learnt the Dele Alli celebration thingy 🤣

Daisy started secondary school in September and I met the Prime Minister!

October saw me ‘Snapchat ting’ with my cat (she wasn’t impressed!), I met my new niece and started baking to raise money for the Hospice. I also filmed with ITV for ‘Lorraine’.

I had shingles again in November but I also met Callum Best at the Ideal Home Christmas Show.

December is my most favourite month of the year. I did my first ever Christmas fair selling cakes. I walked with the rotary club Father Christmas to collect money for local charities. I met Ladbaby in the cafe and I got quite drunk at the 80’s night Christmas party! I also had 6 monthly scans and got stable results.

But most of all, I’ve really enjoyed Christmas with these beauts – my children.

Phew, what a year!! And I wonder why I’m so exhausted all of the time!!

Next year is looking busy already with an adult holiday at Butlins to see Boyzone in January and George Ezra and Take That gigs at the O2.

When I was first diagnosed, I had no idea whether I’d still be here doing all these things. I didn’t know if I’d see my children grow up – Daisy start secondary school, Louis play football or Gracie flourish into the young woman she has become.

I don’t know what it is I’m doing but long may it last. I’ll be celebrating my 5 yr cancerversary in May and for that I am eternally grateful xx

Coming around again..

Today I got the call I knew was coming. It was Mount Vernon, arranging a date for my six monthly MRI and CT scans.

December 3rd.

And so it begins.

Now is the time when I begin to wind life up slightly. I tend to shut myself away and not make plans. Slow everything down. (Apart from the 80’s night Christmas party – now that will be messy!!!) This is my way of dealing with the upcoming date and everything associated with it.

I try and ignore the looming date and shut out the anxiety linked to this period of time but it’s so hard. The ‘what ifs’ creep in and you convince yourself that every little ache is something sinister. You can’t help it.

My scan results are on December 21st.

A few people have asked why I don’t move the results date to after Christmas. It’s simple really – I don’t want to have it hanging over me through the festive period. Scanxiety is horrible no matter what time of year! I see it as a bit of a blessing – I’ll have plenty to keep me busy and regardless of the results, we’ll still have a bloody good Christmas!

I feel good at the moment but sadly I know this is no reflection as to what’s going on inside. I’ve seen friends, knocked for six with progression when they least expected it. My way of preparing for results is to expect the worst. It can’t knock you if you’re already down. But then I panic in case I’m tempting fate – you honestly can’t win!! It all goes round and round in my head.

So, all we can do is hope for the best but (mentally) prepare for the worst. Please keep everything crossed.

Xx

It’s all too much part 2..

Yesterday I hit rock bottom. I knew I was struggling but I didn’t realise quite how much.

I’m scared. For the first time in 4.5 years of living with secondary breast cancer, I’m scared.

For so long I’ve been able to live obliviously, ignore the reality, carry on regardless but yesterday, after losing yet another friend to the disease and hearing another has had progression, it really hit home.

This shit is real.

Yesterday I cried. My thoughts were jumbled – did I feel poorly or was it just the anxiety and stress? Was that niggle there yesterday? Is my time coming to an end? What if? What if? Everything came at me full force and smacked me in the face.

I did something I find hard to do and that was tell people. I actually told people I’m not ok. I messaged my two best friends, I messaged two of my girls from YBCN and I rang the hospice to see if my counsellor was free.

The homecare team at St Francis must’ve wondered what the hell was wrong with me – I was sobbing down the phone! I felt stupid but they understood and gave me an appointment for this morning.

That was my turning point.

I didn’t see my usual counsellor today but the lady I did see was lovely. She listened to what I told her and made all those irrational thoughts and worries easier to deal with.

I’d already taken some steps to helping myself – I’ve taken a step back from YBCN. At first I felt bad but I can’t be dealing with anything ‘cancer’ atm and I’m not sure I’d be much help to anyone right now. I’ve also made an effort to not beat myself up about having these low days. I’m always busy and that’s how I like it but I need to be kinder to myself too.

All in all, I’m feeling much better than I did yesterday. I’m going to be gentle on myself this weekend and start a fresh new week Monday. I’m hoping to get back to the gym too as it really does help my mental health. I miss not going and that’s probably why I’m more achey than usual.

I’ve learnt that it’s ok to be scared. I’m only human.

Xx

It’s all too much

I’ve been struggling with fatigue/low mood over the past few days. No doubt a result of doing ‘too much’.

Sometimes too much is just waking up at 7am and getting out of bed. Sometimes too much is tidying the house. There’s no rhyme or reason but medication plays a big part too. Both tamoxifen and zoladex side effects include fatigue so I’m up against it. I don’t sleep very well either and can’t remember the last time I managed an undisturbed night.

Trouble is, I don’t like sitting about doing nothing. That gives you far too much time to think and thinking is bad. I prefer being busy and so take the consequences.

If I’m honest, I’ve had enough of this whole situation I’m in. Occasionally it all gets too much but there’s no running away from it. I’m sick of the worry. I’m sick of the unknown. I’m sick of living my life in 6 month chapters. I wish I didn’t have to watch my friends receive bad news. I wish they didn’t have to die. I wish the reality didn’t have to hit. All this on top of the ‘normal’ trials and tribulations of life.

It all gets too much. It’s a head fuck and there’s only so much you can take. But, you have to carry on regardless. You have to have your moment, pick yourself up and dust yourself down because what other option is there??

Terminal

This is a blog I wrote for The Metro online…

You’ve got secondary breast cancer. It’s terminal.

Words I’ll never forget and can’t run away from.

The moment I was told I had a terminal illness was the moment something snapped in me and I became a different person. Something inside me clicked and I became stronger, more gutsy, almost invincible. I did what I had to do – I had no choice.

Don’t get me wrong, I was scared – so scared. Terminal means you’re going to die right?! I assumed it would happen almost immediately – not knowing how long my proverbial piece of string was. And all I could think about were my children – they needed me. I couldn’t die.

I’d been poorly for a few months before being rushed into hospital by ambulance one Friday morning – the 2nd of May 2014 to be exact. At first I was told I had breast cancer – that’s fine I thought, people survive. But, 5 days later, just when I thought I’d got my head around that news, I was told that I actually had secondary breast cancer and that the tumour had broken away and metastasised in my bones. My whole skeleton was affected by cancer.

Now we were playing a whole different ball game and the odds were stacked against me. I was terminally ill.

Being given that sort of diagnosis isn’t something you can just forget about. It’s always there, in the back of your mind and at first, it was imprinted on my eyelids every time I closed my eyes! Mostly, I can shut it away in its box but sometimes, it rears its ugly head and the enormity of what I’m living with hits me. It’s all very well living in my oblivious bubble but the reality is ever present.

Not only did I change as a person but my life changed quite a lot too. My attitude changed. I wasn’t prepared to just settle anymore – I wanted to ‘live’ my life. I no longer worried about the little things. I had to learn to listen to my body more, factor in rest days and remember not to use up all my spoons too quickly (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoon_theory) – it took me a long time to adjust.

The diagnosis changed how I felt about my children too. I needed to give them experiences, make memories with them and at first, I crammed so much in with them. I didn’t know how long I had so time was of the essence. We did so much in that first year.

Some people close to me struggled with the diagnosis whilst others rallied round. I can’t imagine what receiving that news must be like as a loved one looking in. It’s devastating.

As time has gone on and I’ve had stable scan results, the word terminal is mentioned less and less. It’s ever present, much like a dirty secret I have to carry with me. From the outside I look ‘normal’, I live a ‘normal’ life and that’s how I like it. I’ve always lived obliviously. But occasionally, when I’m explaining my illness to people, it pops up again and people are genuinely shocked when they find out what I’m living with.

Do I think the word terminal has defined me? At first yes.

I was a cancer patient with a terminal diagnosis – I was going to die. I looked like a cancer patient. I lived my life in chapters – a routine of weekly hospital appointments for chemo, daily radiotherapy, 3 monthly scans, scanxiety and hope for good scan results.

As time has gone on, my chapters have increased slightly. My treatment has become 3 monthly and scans have become 6 monthly.

Now, that word doesn’t define me at all. I don’t class myself as terminally ill at the moment. I’m certainly living with a chronic illness but there’s a huge difference. Chronic illness can be managed. Terminal illness is when all medical options have been exhausted and there’s nothing left to try.

Being terminally ill is like living on a knife edge. It can flip at any time and there’s not always any warning, but for me, it’s important not to live in its shadow. Life is for living.

Xx

I’ve a lot going on at the moment. It’s been a tough few weeks and my emotions have been all over the place. I feel a bit overwhelmed if I’m honest – one minute I’m fine, the next I’m feeling deflated.

I think Daisy starting secondary school ignited some anxiety on my part. It was one of those milestones that, four years ago, I didn’t think I’d get to see and I feel so lucky. It was a huge step for her and one I wasn’t sure how she’d react to. It was either going to go very well, or not! As it turns out, she’s taken to it like a duck takes to water and I couldn’t be prouder. The little girl who hated school, had daily meltdowns and struggled with homework has gone and I’ve now got a girl who is blossoming, growing in confidence and signed up to not one but TWO after school clubs – dance and netball!! Long may it last.

My oldest daughter is poorly and is having a few different investigations to try and get to the bottom of what’s wrong with her. That in itself is rather worrying and I feel quite helpless.

To top it all off, there was a wedding at the weekend. I wasn’t invited. They didn’t want me there. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard seeing the photos on fb and as much as I tried not to let it, it upset me. Nobody bothered.

As a result of me trying to keep busy and distract myself, I spent some time in the gym Saturday and absolutely thrashed myself (which I later paid for!). The gym is my happy place and I find that it clears my head from the mess that’s inside it. I’ve also lost myself in books – anywhere is better sometimes.

I’ve realised that I’m quite hard on myself. I feel guilty if I’m too tired to go to the gym. I question myself as a person. I don’t rest half as much as I probably should.

I need to be kinder to myself. I need to remember that I’m taking 5 different types of medication – all with their own set of side effects. I need to remember that you can’t please everyone and not everyone will like you. I need to remember that I try my best and that’s more than enough.

I need to remember what I’m living with and give myself a break.

Xx