Tag: breast cancer care

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 

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. Maybe like a house that looks like you have been burgled but actually it was just your toddlers. Metaphorical littered tea-plates and bits of blackberry jam smudged on the table top, old bottles of half-drunk red wine and dirty tea towels. You get the picture.

Feeling out of place, exhausted and emotional

It’s not how I imagined my recovery. Although I was warned, I didn’t think I would feel so out of place. So exhausted. So emotional. Seven months post – active treatment and I am in a place I can only describe as a Wasteland. It’s all new – my body needs so much time to rest. I have to prioritise my mental health. I have not returned to normal.

I keep throwing away all my old clothes – anything that reminds of my pre-cancer self and myself in treatment. Especially the clothes I was wearing just before the diagnosis in the winter of 2019. Our clothes hold our stories. And when I open my soft-green wooden drawers and hear the confusion and pain, I know I will never put them back on my new body. They smell of betrayal to me. I can barely bring myself to pick them up and touch them, they stare at me in my tumbled drawers and ask: how did you not know you had a 7cm tumour in your right breast?

A sea of images: fear and isolation of surgery during Covid

The ‘good news’ jumpsuit’ I celebrated the unexpected news that the 9cm tumor on my adrenal gland was benign? Gone. I can’t imagine putting my legs into it’s happy turquoise without drowning in the sea of images that are lodged, the fear and isolation of the surgery at the height of Covid. So they go to the charity shop – the Cancer Research one, naturally. And I tell myself I’m shedding skin, that it’s a natural thing to do, to get rid of everything you used to be.

Bags and bags leave the house, looking for new owners. My eyelashes are back and my hair grows. Curly now too, which is a treat. I have no idea who I am now.

I start writing to process the shock of it all

I started writing as soon as I started chemotherapy. I had to, to process the shock of it all. I resisted at first because I was supposed to be writing a PhD, not a journal about breast cancer. But write I did. Firstly, to stave off the dreaded chemo-brain (some days, even writing a tiny poem was hard, but there was such comfort in completing something – no matter how small).

In the lonely recovery room after my adrenalectomy last May – my first of three surgeries during Covid – I grabbed my phone and with eyes that could barely see and a body that could not sit up yet, I signed up for Wildfire magazine’s weekly writing workshops. I had come across the American magazine for young women affected by breast cancer on Instagram and was drawn to their Personal Narrative workshops led by the Editor and founder, April Stearns. I just knew I needed to deep dive into writing. And I haven’t looked back. Only inside.

Writing creates a space for me to slow down

I found that writing created a space for me to really slow down and process on a deep level everything I had been through. My words retraced the traumatic path; each word, image, phrase became a stepping stone or a bridge – and magically I found – I still find that writing about my experience opens up a direct channel between me and what I call my tender voice.

Writing out the pain and hurt is therapuetic

Writing out all the pain and hurt became so therapeutic, I was able to start seeing myself how others might. Writing about myself helped me be gentle with myself, helped me tap into what I really needed in this confusing and lonely wasteland that is post-treatment. Instead of putting pressure on myself or feeling frustrated that I couldn’t do all the things before and basically needed a lie down before simply making the dinner, writing helped me listen to my body and I started hearing a tender voice. A warm voice, like an arm around my shoulders, she whispers, ‘you are doing so well, look how far you have come. I’m proud of you. Gently does it.’

I may not recognise myself. I may not know who I am. I may be reluctant to fit back into the shape I left. But I do know how I want to feel. It comes quietly and invisibly, like seeds caught on the breeze. I am starting to really acknowledge the fact that ‘I am’ is a complete sentence. My to-do lists have become to-feel lists. I know I would rather watch my plants grow than track the changes in my face. I used to look for lines and wrinkles, signs of getting older, grey hairs would horrify me. Really they did. That all seems absurd now to me.

Writing helps me understand how I really feel

Writing is a profound component of my messy, quiet, silent, disruptive non-linear healing. I have seen that actually I don’t really know how I feel about something until I write it. Writing has helped me dig under the surface of my story. Helped me see beauty through the trauma. And helped me lay some serious negative spiralling thoughts to rest. I’ll leave you with the words of April Stearns, Editor and founder of Wildfire magazine:

“Writing our stories gives us the opportunity to shift our perspective, to become an observer, the narrator, versus the victim. The shift is small and yet it is everything in regaining a bit of control in an out of control situation. I believe it can be the difference between a difficult cancer experience being simply traumatic and taking a traumatic experience to a place of empowerment. It begins with the pen and looking bravely within.”

Wildfirecommunity.org/workshops

About Katie

Katie is a literacy consultant, writer, teacher and mother of four. After her primary breast cancer diagnosis in November 2019, Katie fell in love with writing, and has written her way through the messy, non-linear healing. She writes fiction and non-fiction. She loves to garden, grow her own veg and enjoys sharing her holistic healing journey through her wellness blog: skinelixir.co.uk/blogs/news. You can find her holistic and creative literacy work here: loveofliteracy.co.uk.

July 2021

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 

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 

A positive post about cancer and friends

A positive post about cancer and friends

Sarah tells us about how cancer reinforced some important friendships for her…

Before my cancer diagnosis I was a very busy headteacher, training for an ultra-marathon. To say I didn’t really have a social life would be an understatement! Weekdays were spent at work and most Sundays were spent running. In addition to this I had a terminally ill parent on the other side of the country, so we also spent a fair amount of time driving along the M4 and back.

Friendship was definitely something that was on the back burner, and as an introvert I wasn’t overly concerned. I was busy and fulfilled in my life (or so I thought).

One of the best things about cancer has been how my friendships have grown and developed, in a way that I hadn’t predicted. Cancer gave me the gift of time. Time to reflect. Time to see people. Time to be in touch. Time to just pass time together. I have rediscovered friendships and realised that some acquaintances are actually much more than that. It has been interesting to see how these relationships have evolved, developed and changed.

At the beginning, just after diagnosis, I had so many cards and messages of support – I felt very loved. Of course life goes on, the dust settles and for some people, that is it – you don’t really hear from them again. I didn’t feel upset or disappointed by this – cancer can be tricky for people to handle (depending on their own experiences) and people of course have enough dramas in their own lives that they may be dealing with. However the rest of the cancer journey is long and boring – and that is just when you need the support and love of your friends.

So this cancer experience got me thinking about what it was that I valued from the friends that stepped up. It made me think about the kind of friend I would want to be if the circumstances were reversed.

The long-standing friends

These were the friends that I have had since school, since university or very early in my career. They know me so well, sometimes better than I know myself. Mainly though, they don’t live locally. Cancer made us prioritise meet ups – because I wasn’t stressing about work so much, I didn’t mind spending time on the road to see them. What they were especially good at was distracting me with their own lives, having their own dramas, and allowing me to just be me. I didn’t feel I needed to put on a brave face, or pretend to be better than I was. They ALWAYS remembered key dates. They messaged during each round of chemotherapy to check how I was doing. They gave me gifts throughout the treatment- not just at the beginning. They sent flowers for my final round. I felt so loved by this group.

I guess that is the beauty of friends you’ve had for years. You can pick up where you left off.

I’ve learnt not to leave it so long next time and that short messages at key moments mean so much.

The local friends

There are a couple of friends, who I have known for a long time, that live locally. What was brilliant about these friends was that their circumstances had changed and they had reduced their working hours. Conveniently they had more time. This meant I was able to see them during the week. Something I would never have done while I was working. When you see people so regularly they see your ups and downs more clearly. Both mentally and physically, so with this comes a different kind of honesty. I so valued our catch-ups: our walks, talks and endless cups of tea!

I’ve learnt that sometimes I need to share more; sometimes I need to listen more. If I can’t make time for people during the day, then I need to use my evenings. Regular contact is key.

The ‘hobby’ friends

These were the friends that I have met through running: through parkrun and goodgym (both fantastic organisations that I would highly recommend- I did both throughout treatment). I have known these friends for a relatively short space of time, but see them regularly through running. I don’t know if it is because the running community is great, or whether it’s because these people are fantastic individuals, but these friends were fantastic. They gave me practical gifts, they stopped by when I was lonely, and they met me for tea, coffee and ice cream. They pub quizzed with me (a new hobby!). Mainly they treated me as a runner, so I didn’t lose that part of my identity (even though I had lost my speed and distance). They ‘raced for life’ with me and encouraged me when I felt rubbish.

I’ve learnt not to take any friendships for granted and how important it is to be part of a community. I’ve learnt to value people as part of that community – whatever their contribution.

The ‘more than’ colleagues

We spend so much time at work don’t we? Too much sometimes (that’s another blog post!). Some of my colleagues I have known for many years, since they were newly qualified teachers! It was lovely to receive messages, cards and gifts from some colleagues throughout treatment. It helped me to feel included, remembered and still part of a team. It didn’t help alleviate the guilt of not being there, but I did feel that it validated my absence somehow.

I’ve learnt that work and friendship can and do mix – and to value that. But it’s not for everyone!

Cancer has changed me as an individual. I really hope I can take these lessons on board as I continue my journey. It will be really interesting to see how my friendships develop in the future, with those who have been on the journey with me and those who haven’t.

March 2020

Q&A with helpline nurse at Breast Cancer Now

Q&A with helpline nurse at Breast Cancer Now

Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s first comprehensive breast cancer charity, combining world-class research and life-changing care to build a complete view of breast cancer and make faster progress for everyone affected. Steered by research and powered by care, Breast Cancer Now’s ambition is that, 

I struggled to tell people about my cancer

I struggled to tell people about my cancer

I don’t like people worrying about me. Especially when there’s nothing they can do. And the anger or sadness that comes with that knowledge isn’t something I could take on when I was diagnosed with cancer. This is why I didn’t tell. For the last