Author: Harriet Mason

Double zero: my breast cancer legacy

What’s double-zero.org all about? Double-zero is my legacy after breast cancer rocked my world in 2017.  I had no idea what HER2+ meant, who to turn to, or where to go for advice.  So I Googled… That was a fundamental error for me.  Gripped with 

Using movement as medicine after a breast cancer diagnosis

Using movement as medicine after a breast cancer diagnosis

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘movement is medicine’, but can it really help those preparing, going through or recovering from breast cancer treatment? Over the coming weeks, Sarah Newman, Cancer & Exercise Specialist and Breast Cancer Rehab Coach, will be discussing how to overcome and 

Decisions about work and cancer: pause for thought

By Barbara Wilson, Working with cancer

Returning to work after cancer wasn’t something I gave a great deal of time or thought to during my treatment for breast cancer in 2005. When I was first diagnosed, I kept telling myself and others that I’d be back at work if not in five days, then in just a few weeks. I rang my boss several times saying “I’m sure I’ll be back in the next week or two.”.

However, as my treatment plan changed and became more complicated after chemotherapy was advised, I realised that going back into the office might have to wait a bit. But I was always going to return, no matter what. It was just a matter of waiting a few more months. After all I had worked all my life and as far as I was concerned it was my life – there was simply no alternative. Interestingly, my colleagues thought otherwise and looked somewhat confused and almost put out that I was really coming back; after all, as one colleague happily told me, they had managed perfectly well without me and surely I wanted to spend more time with my family now, doing the many things I still wanted to do before… (awkward pause)? Except that I didn’t actually want any of that.

But my experience is not necessarily typical. For many people returning to work after a cancer diagnosis is something they dread because they hate their work or their boss or their work colleagues or all three. Or it’s just too demanding with hours of work or travel or other pressures that they can no longer endure.

It is also the case that most if not all of us find the experience of cancer life changing and, because of that, want to change our lives before it’s too late. We may well have used the time of active treatment to examine what our priorities are and realise that friends and family have been neglected or that our work is just boring. We might want more balance in our lives and/or need to find something that will give our lives more meaning.

So, we are often confronted by a disconcerting mixture of emotional and practical considerations often made worse by the trauma of cancer treatment and the impact of medication, and in the meantime our families and friends advising us to move on and just put it all behind us. Let’s ring the bell in the chemo ward and forget it ever happened!

So, what to do?

One really critical point for anyone going through the ‘what to do about my work’ dilemma:  never resign! It may just be that you can’t face the rigours of full-time work but remember that under the Equality Act 2010 you are entitled to a gradual, phased return over many months so this should allow you to gradually ease yourself back in.

But if you really can’t stand your job, rather than chuck it in and rush into the next thing, it’s really important – if you can afford it – to step back and take stock. One of the coaching tools we use is to get our coachees to complete a Life Map which asks them to consider their lives in the round and what they would want to have achieved or happened over the next three years. It’s an important if difficult exercise, and admittedly not everyone wants to go there, but it does give you a sense of direction and helps you better understand your priorities.

You may want to share all or part of your Life Map with family and close friends. They may be quite surprised and probably relieved that you are moving forward.

And when you return to work, assuming that’s what you do, a lot is likely to have changed, both within your team and work environment, as well as your priorities. For many of us just getting confident in our old role is enough but others will start to think about future roles and what is right for them. Some may want to ease down and work fewer hours, others will want to pursue their career as if nothing had changed, and some may look elsewhere for fulfilment: voluntary work, self-employment, just something else other than ‘same old, same old’.

All of this is very normal after the trauma of cancer – just give yourself time to think things through and consider the outcomes. And, if you have concerns that as a result of your cancer your employer may be holding back from giving you additional responsibilities that they think would put increased pressure and stress on you, or if you are starting to think about changes to your role or have concerns about your future career direction, it is really important that you discuss these with you manager or HR or take advice from an organisation like WWC.

What it’s also important to remember is that most of us, including those with secondary and metastatic cancer are very employable. You can find satisfying and rewarding work with or after cancer, and in many cases, if that’s what you want, enjoy a brand-new career.

Barbara Wilson

Founder & Director

Working With Cancer

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Writing through the post-treatment wasteland

By Katie Murray, Love of literacy One and a half years of breast cancer treatments have left me feeling like a broken house. Chemotherapy. Three surgeries. Radiotherapy. Hormone therapy. I am all smashed windows; a trail of litter and destruction running up to my door. 

What are the benefits of exercise when you have a cancer diagnosis?

What are the benefits of exercise when you have a cancer diagnosis?

By Annabel Mackie and Rachel Evans from FF4C Fighting fit for cancer Exercise has been shown to provide powerful benefits for your physical health and emotional well-being when you have cancer. Engaging in exercise after diagnosis significantly lowers the risk of death from cancer and 

You can’t take my sense of humour

You can’t take my sense of humour

Hi.  I’m Emma.  Married to Darren and co-owner of two small humans, Toby (seven) and Chloe (two), and Beagle Arthur (nine).  Lawyer by day- representing nurses, I’m now also an author by night – hopefully inspiring patients, after my unexpected journey with Breast Cancer.  Buckle up for that roller coaster of a ride as here we go….

Breast cancer wasn’t on my ’40 things at 40′ bucket list

In 2019 I was happily ticking off my ’40 things at 40’ bucket list after returning to work following my second maternity leave.  What wasn’t on the list was a triple negative breast cancer diagnosis. 

On the 14th June I woke up.  Yawn.  Stretch.  Happen to rub my chest and…

“What the hell is that?”

I’d found a lump under my right breast that felt like that bobbly bit on your wrist.  I knew that didn’t belong there and a couple hours later I was bearing my boob to my GP.  She didn’t like the look of it either, made a referral and within two weeks I was off to the breast care unit at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital. 

28th June – “You have cancer” a Grade 3 Mixed Ductal Lobular cancer to be exact. 

A summer of fun is replaced with hospital visits, scans and chemotherapy

To say the bottom fell out of my world would be an understatement.  I’ve never felt fear like it in that moment.  I was 40, I didn’t feel unwell, there was no history of breast cancer in my family.  Having lost three stone at Slimming World that year, and undertaken a lot of work on my mindset, I was ironically in the best shape of my life both mentally and physically.  And just as well as I was going to need all those positivity tools.

Suddenly my summer of our carefree holiday to Menorca, a mini trip to Edinburgh Tattoo, and no doubt countless soft play playdates was replaced with numerous hospital visits, scans, prodding and poking and then straight in with 16 rounds of chemotherapy (‘The poisoning’) starting 23rd July 2019.  This was followed by a lumpectomy (‘The chop’) in January 2020 and 5 rounds of radiotherapy (‘The frying’) just as COVID-19 lockdown was kicking off in April 2020.

Dark humour, silliness and business as usual helped me and the people supporting me

I decided it could take my hair, but it wasn’t taking my humour.  I sent text messages to my friends and family making it clear it was business as usual, insisting that my dark humour and silliness would be the way forward. Once people got on board with this, it helped me keep a sense of normality. But it also helped them. 

I wasn’t making light of cancer – it’s a serious, bloody horrendous disease – but a cancer diagnosis didn’t mean my personality had to change or that it defined me. On the contrary, it was actually quite liberating to be constantly silly and a little bit sweary. After all, I couldn’t get away with that in the day job! Ironically, whilst going through treatment for cancer, I felt the most authentic version of me I think I’ve ever felt.

I tried to make it as fun as possible and grab all the opportunities that presented.  Uncle Fester at Halloween, sweep stakes on hair loss, a ‘chemo sitter’ rota for my friends to come with me on treatment days.  I’ve got so many stories.

Now, chemotherapy is no walk in the park. I had 12 x weekly poisonings of one variety of cocktails, followed up with 4 x 3 weekly poisonings of a rather nasty red concoction that was not kind. At their worst, the cumulative side-effects included: extreme fatigue, spotty skin, complete hair loss, dry skin, chemo brain, loss of taste, mouth ulcers, menopausal hot sweats, lifting nails, and a night’s stay on the NHS when I felt absolutely horrendous.

Christmas arrives and scans reveals ‘lumpy’ has gone

The good news by Christmas was that the scans revealed, or rather didn’t reveal, the presence of ‘lumpy’ anymore. 

Now you might think that this would be a time to be jubilant.  But this was actually the time I started to feel a bit down.  Going in for treatment weekly, and then three weekly, when chemo stopped it felt like my safety blanket had been taken away.  For the first time I’d got on this treatment rollercoaster I had time to stop, to think, and think “blimey, that was big”. 

In January I had a lumpectomy (removing ‘lumpy’s previous dwelling place) and two lymph nodes removed.  A biopsy confirmed NED (no evidence of disease) on the day of Brexit.  Sharing my personal journey with all big worldly events I had five sessions of radiotherapy just as we went into lockdown. 

What cancer taught me

Cancer taught me lots of things:

  • It didn’t just force me to slow down but to STOP. I didn’t have a choice in the matter.
  • To be kinder to myself, to acknowledge my new limitations, to ask for help, to accept help, to not be afraid to talk about difficult things.
  • To let go of negativity. To look up more and notice the beauty around me, and the little wonderful things that were right there under my nose for the taking.
  • To spend more time properly noticing what the children were doing and trying to tell me, rather than saying ‘in a minute’ or ‘I’ve just got to do this first’. To say ‘yes’ more, and also to say ‘no’ more.
  • To spend time on myself, doing the things that make me happy. To be a ‘human being’ rather than a ‘human doing’.

During treatment I’d been journaling.  I always found it cathartic to empty my head of jumbled thoughts, commit them to paper and unscramble them.  To help keep on top of my phone constantly lighting up like a Christmas tree with well wishers I sent my weekly ‘cancer comms’ to all my friends and family on ‘Happy Chemo Tuesday’.

You should write a book

After calls of “you should write a book” I thought “I bloody will!”  I’d always wanted to write a book and ironically cancer gave me both the time and the subject.  I realised through my story I could reach out and help others.

I self-published ‘Take my hair (but not my humour)’ One mum’s journey seeing off breast cancer on the 1st October 2020 and hit the No.1 Amazon eBook spot.  I also donate £2 from every paperback sold to my local FORCE Cancer Charity.  At the time of writing, I’ve donated nearly £700.

If you’d like to read the full story sharing all the highs, lows, and everything in between you can either order a super-duper special edition version directly from me by emailing (with photos, you won’t get that on Amazon) or you can grab the paperback or eBook version on Amazon. 

If you’d like to read more of my ramblings you can check out my website www.lightboxblogger.co.uk or follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter @lightboxblogger. 

I am so passionate about the importance of talking and sharing my story to show that positives can be found in the darkest of times if only you’re open to looking for them.

May 2021

How I dealt with my mum’s breast cancer diagnosis

How I dealt with my mum’s breast cancer diagnosis

Everyone has to die from something and 1 in 3 women get breast cancer, those are just the facts of life. That is until it happens to you or somebody close to you. As a child, my Nanny Mary had breast cancer, treatment and a 

Surviving breast cancer: refusing to take no for an answer

Surviving breast cancer: refusing to take no for an answer

Surviving cancer is as much about catching it early and being positive about the outcome, as it is about the treatment. I am Carolann Bruce, and I am a breast cancer survivor, but only because I refused to take no for an answer. A dream 

My worries, breast cancer and mindfulness

My worries, breast cancer and mindfulness

Laura is a mindfulness meditation practitioner, leading group and one-to one sessions in both the private and voluntary sector. For more information, visit www.lauraashurst.co.uk

A worrier from childhood

I have always been a worrier. That natural ability that we all have to worry about things seems to have accompanied me for as long as I can remember. I can’t recall a time during my childhood when I didn’t worry. When I dealt with one worry, I would lie in bed and think about what my next worry would be whilst my twin sister slept soundly in the bunk bed above me. Lizzie used to sleep on the top bunk because she didn’t wet the bed and I did. I think my worrying and bed-wetting were very good companions. Why am I telling you this?

Being open about being a worrier

I’m telling you because I’m no longer ashamed, not about me wetting the bed, although I’m not ashamed of that now either and growing up I used to be, but about me being a worrier. I spent so many years trying to cover up my worries; lots of them would have appeared trivial and ridiculous to other people. I worried about what people would think of my worries.

As you can see, the level of attention I gave them extended to them being protected from the opinions of others. It was time consuming, life robbing and totally destructive. My carefully honed exterior appearance worked extremely hard to cover up what was going on inside my mind. I became very skillful at masking how I was feeling. My worrying habit’s crippling effect was a well-kept secret. 

And then, aged 34, in the summer of 2001, when our daughter Megan was 3 and our son, Jack, was six months old I found a lump in my right breast when I was in the shower. Within three days I was being examined by my GP, who felt the lump and suggested that what I’d presented with was probably benign and ‘nothing to worry about’ but that she would refer me anyway for further tests to get a definite answer.

Waiting for a diagnosis: permission to worry

Telling a worrier not to worry is like taking an ice cube out of the freezer and expecting it not to melt. Of course I worried, excessively, (worriers don’t like the word ‘probably’) whilst at the same time trying to convince myself that it was going to be ok. Anybody reading this who has walked in the shoes of ‘have I got cancer or not?’ knows the amount of bargaining that goes on at this potential pre-entry point into the cancer world.

Suddenly I felt normal because wouldn’t everybody, albeit at varying levels, worry until they got their definitive results upon finding a lump? I was given a glimpse into a world where it felt like my worrying was being given permission to flare up and in a very odd way that felt calming to me.

Being told I have the ‘best type of breast cancer’

I had no idea what ‘ductal cancer in situ – micro-invasive’ meant when the results came back, but kept hearing, ‘that’s the best type of breast cancer to get’, which made no sense to me at all. Nothing that I read or heard made me feel any better. My diagnosis had the ‘c’ word in it. That was my main point of focus and of course I blamed myself.

The judgmental aspect of being human that my worrying had significantly developed for me over the years arrived easily at my front door. Sampling of twelve lymph nodes showed no subsequent evidence of cancer cells. A lumpectomy, and 25 sessions of radiotherapy followed which was the recommended course of action.

The worry doors were now very firmly wedged open to what if, and when, worry routes into the mental corridors of my mind. And all the while I wasn’t capable of caring for my baby son or my daughter properly. Worries about being a terrible mother plagued me whilst on the radiotherapy plinth. 

Another primary breast cancer diagnosis followed by a secondary breast cancer diagnosis

A condensed version of the next six years included another diagnosis of primary breast cancer and a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer in December 2007, six weeks after my 40th birthday. Life had dealt me a card that included an inbuilt ability to worry about my own shadow along with two primary breast cancer diagnoses and a Stage 4 secondary breast cancer diagnosis by the time I’d entered my fourth decade.    

Creating a mindfulness toolkit

I was referred to an amazing clinical neuropsychologist, Dr Annie Hickox from whom I continue to receive mental health support. Alongside that, I discovered mindfulness and its ability to totally transform the way that thoughts, feelings and emotions can be viewed, with some distance created between you and them, so that the huge ball of worry that’s so very easily created in our minds can be managed much more effectively.

My mindfulness took kit includes self-kindness and self-compassion; hugely welcome tools that have the ability to make me feel nurtured and supported as opposed to the destructive nature of self-sabotage and self-loathing created by excessive worrying.  It has been life enhancing and given me a renewed sense of self in relation to the body I inhabit, an awareness of reacting rather than responding to repetitive thoughts, and importantly, it’s given me choices.

What mindfulness has taught me

Mindfulness has taught me that I can choose to spend every day worrying, becoming more and more tangled up in my thoughts, missing so much of what goes on around me as my worries gnaw into my precious time or I can choose to be mindfully aware of and acknowledge my thoughts and feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them, helped along by my breath as a constant anchor. Mindfulness allows me to live presently.

Living with secondary breast cancer

I have been living with secondary breast for 13 years. I currently reside in that most luxurious of places called stability where every person living with Stage 4 cancer aims to be. The privilege of being stable and still alive is not lost on me as I reflect on the median survival rates for secondary breast cancer. Gratitude is one of the fundamental pillars of mindfulness.

I am hugely aware of just how fortunate I am that the aromatase inhibitor drug Letrozole is currently controlling the nature of my metastatic disease whilst Zometa is supporting the damage that long-term exposure to it has caused to my bones. And, I’m aware of course that nothing lasts forever. Whilst this drug is working well now, nobody knows what the next round of tests will show.

Daily mindfulness and mindfulness meditation helps me to enjoy each day full

Practicing mindfulness and mindfulness meditation daily is helping me to enjoy each day fully. It’s helping, knowing that whatever the future holds for me, I haven’t wasted precious time being bound and chained by the heaviness of my excessive worrying. I am living, and I will not allow my worries to live my life for me. The hamster wheel of worry and rumination is often still present but now I choose how fast it spins.  

Laura is a member of the ambassador team for the Building Resilience in Breast Cancer Centre led by Professor Naz Derakshan where she leads monthly mindfulness meditation sessions for its private Facebook members. She is driven by the need for women to be fully supported to develop their emotional resilience following a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Laura is a member of Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Campaigns team where she has been involved in lobbying the government since 2011 in a range of campaigns to help cancer patients receive better standards of care and treatment. Laura has also campaigned on behalf of people living with secondary breast cancer with Breast Cancer Now as part of their Secondary Breast Cancer Campaign Group. She is a professional speaker, talking publicly about her experiences of living with secondary breast cancer.  

April 2021

The information and content provided on this page is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice.

Cancer: the birthday present no one wants

Cancer: the birthday present no one wants

Emma Herring is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. A routine mammogram leads to a shock diagnosis My cancer was the birthday present you never want to receive. Having reached the age of 50 and celebrated