Tuesday, 21 July 2015

It's ok not to be ok......

This time eight years ago, I had a belly full of cider and was surrounded by our wonderfully eccentric friends and family. As they dragged me around the dance-floor by the hem of my dress I would never have thought that in 8 years time I'd be sat on the sofa clutching an icepack to a breast which feels like it's picked a fight with a blowtorch. Further still, I can guarantee that this is not what Nathan thought he would be signing up for, after all, with his family history we'd always feared that he'd be the one to fight the cancer Jabberwocky. What's testament to him and to all of you lovely people is the way in which this experience has brought us closer together, it's made me realise just how many incredible friendships we've nurtured and developed over the years, well-wishing cards continue to arrive a full 7 months after I was diagnosed... I am a very lucky girl to have all of you in my life.

Tonight we celebrated our wedding anniversary with a family dinner at Buddies followed by the requisite Tour de France highlights on ITV4, I find myself regularly thanking every conceivable star/angel/statistic that has had the mercy to allow us to enjoy such normality. No matter how difficult things get, never forget how lucky you are to be alive and able to truly appreciate the day to day moments you have with those you love, life gave us lemons, we squished them and used them to make a great big meringue pie with which to stuff our faces!

As you've probably already gathered, the radiotherapy is starting to hurt a bit, the only way I can describe it is a very nasty case of sunburn with the knowledge that you still have 6 days of unprotected sunbathing to come. I've been relatively unscathed by the tiredness so far but I am sure that will creep up on me over the ensuing weeks.

I was invited to speak at a gathering of Store Managers last week to share my 'inspirational story', at first I assumed that they'd invited the wrong Helen as I certainly don't consider my story to be inspirational but I'm the last person to turn down an opportunity to talk about myself for an hour so graciously accepted. I rambled through the career to date and started to share what I thought would be a run of the mill account of how cancer had put a rather inconvenient dent in my plans to scale the M&S career ladder...... and then was unable to find the words.... I froze to the ground and realised that if I uttered a single word I would burst into tears. The room was dark and unfamiliar and 27 strangers were staring at me, it was terrifying, to make matters worse I caught Adam's eye and realised that he was also about to blub. Then a voice behind me said "you're doing great" and that's all I needed to hear. It really is true that the strongest people on the outside are masking their inner fear, I'm not ready to talk about my cancer in public, I'm also not ready to ride my bike for 6 hours at a time but every small step gets me closer to the Helen I was on that dance floor 8 years ago.

Bloody hell, I'm crying again!


Monday, 13 July 2015

It's starting to feel a lot like normality.....

I'm now 5 days into radiotherapy and am lucky enough to be feeling very few side effects, I was told that this is normal and that the burning and fatigue will likely not kick-in for another 5 or 6 days but I am thoroughly enjoying feeling relatively normal once again. 

The break in nastiness gave me a rather limited respite from symptoms, one which was rudely interrupted by the removal of my portacath - a thoroughly unpleasant experience to undergo while fully conscious but one which marked an important psychological milestone - if my Oncologist wants it out, he's not intending to pump by veins full of chemicals for at least the foreseeable future and I am very happy with that. 

The Radiology team in Northampton General Hospital are a pretty impressive example of a team who genuinely seem to enjoy their work and take a great deal of pride in patient care, some mornings I've been in and out within 10 minutes and others I have been there for over 2 hours, they don't start the radiotherapy until they are 100% happy with the settings so that they can minimise damage to my heart and lungs and maximise opportunities to nuke any resilient cancer cells. The treatment is targeted to my chest and neck with my arm fixed behind my head, my only role is to remain completely still which is a challenge when the process starts to pass the half hour mark and my nose starts to itch!

I was lucky enough to be able to rearrange the radiotherapy sessions so that I could take Erica to school for her first taster session, I was the rather tragic Mummy found blubbing in the playground as Erica waved goodbye without a glance over her shoulder, it struck me then,  as it does on numerous occasions, just how many wonderful experiences there are still to live for and how I intend not to miss a single one.

I've also managed a few more outings on the bike and some rather unsuccessful runs in the morning but they are all starting to help my Strava account to be dusted off and moved from the cold case archives into the 'mild and gentle exercise' category, I have some more silverware to collect before I attempt to regain my Queen of the Mountain trophies but as Dave likes to remind me, it's not a goal unless it's a big hairy audacious goal!


Monday, 6 July 2015

The one where I get a tattoo.......

As the glorious British sunshine marks the end of one chapter, the fact that I now have to use factor 50 suncream reminds me that this journey is not yet over. 

I had my radiotherapy set-up meeting with the Oncologist last week where I was measured up and drawn all over with marker pen (note to self: make sure you clarify when marker pen will be used and avoid arranging a meeting with your boss straight afterwards). I was then moved in and out of the CT scanner like a broken sewing machine needle while they fine-tuned the settings and sealed the deal with 2 fetching permanent tattoos; why they insist on using sailor-blue and can’t give me brown dots I will never understand, cancer has taken a lot away from me but last week gave me my very first tattoos - thanks for that!

I can probably no longer get away with failing to reference Nathan’s blog post…. I must admit, as he’d done such a brilliant job with the articles he’d written for LVIS I was keen to book his services as a guest writer - my visions of being able to chuckle as he recounted our journey using his trademark wit and irony were naive and selfish of me, sometimes I forget how hard all of this is on him, least of all when I come home in tears as others have either sought to profit from my situation or have reminded me about my bleak prognosis by sharing an inappropriate lemon story. He wants to be able to protect me but can’t, I had no idea how hard that is on him and I am determined to play my part in rebuffing such nastiness as it is dished-out!

Following the rather unsuccessful 2 mile outing last week, I met-up with Nicola my rather brilliant partner in crime and we headed out on the bikes for what would normally be a leisurely 15 mile circuit; as I crawled up Swineshead Hill and interrupted the ride with a rather uncharacteristic sobbing fit I realised that this is going to be one of the hardest steps of all - accepting that things will not magically go back to the way they were, it’s going to take all of the grit and determination left in me to do it but those of you closet to me have already proven that I will never be left to do it alone - it’s to those of you who have stuck with us through thick and thin that I owe more than I can ever repay.