I’m Jackie and I’m a statistical anomaly. Even if I were an extra in the Hunger Games films, I have no doubt I’d somehow make it into the arena! In 2007, I had pelvic surgery to help me walk again because my hip socket couldn’t support my leg. I was 25. Fast forward six years, and I am back in hospital with stage 2, invasive lobular breast cancer. It affects just 10 to 15 per cent of all women with breast cancer and is commonly found in those aged between 45 and 55. I am just 32. And, if we are to believe e-Harmony.com, it takes around 2.8 years for a couple to go from first date to engagement. I got engaged on Christmas Day, just over a month ago. We’ve been together 13 years!
Sat surrounded by tissues in front of my breast care nurse on 17 January 2014, I found myself steering the conversation towards numbers and probability. And it was then that I realised, I am not a statistic. I am a person – albeit with a wonky leg and unhappy right breast. It’s not scientific probability that’s going to get me through this challenge. It’s a positive attitude and a desire to get better – whatever it takes.
Diagnosis day over and I’ve read the fact sheets, made my question lists and signed up to everything I can think of to keep me positive and focused on the challenge ahead. And, you know what? I do feel positive. I know there will be dark days to come, but, as anyone who has read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin will know (it’s an inspiring book for anyone looking to find happiness in daily life), the time for storing up memories, positive thoughts and ‘banking’ happiness is right now. I’ve made my 2014 resolutions and I am not going to let some over-excited cancer cells get in the way.
What keeps me going? Firstly, it’s the knowledge that the champagne that’s still arriving – to celebrate that long-awaited engagement – will one day get used (although there is now so much I might just have a bath in it). Secondly, it’s the knowledge that the bikini I bought for the first time in a decade in the January sales will be worn (my friend believes the only issue is finding good weather). And finally, it’s the knowledge that one day soon, I will walk down the aisle with a full head of hair and a healthy body. I didn’t wait 13 years to fall at the final hurdle!
I have decided to write this blog for a number of reasons:
1) I was only diagnosed two weeks ago and I have already had so many hilarious (if you, like me, have a rather dark sense of humour), life-enhancing and inspiring (I defy anyone to spend an hour at Guy’s hospital and not feel humbled) moments that I want to capture, share and remember forever.
2) I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of those around me. My breast cancer notebook (yes, I have a dedicated bright pink moleskin and a to-do list) is already filling up with great bits of practical advice that I am keen to share. My house is also filling up with kind gifts from friends (everything from dark nail varnish for chemo and pampering treats to my very own pink post-surgery boob pillow). I’m not the only one trying to stay positive and arm myself with every tip in the book. I want to share these practical tips to both inspire those diagnosed in the future and thank those kind enough to join me on this journey.
3) As an open person, I find it difficult to hide my emotions and details of my experiences. I don’t think people mind discussing my latest baking experiment or magazine schedule. Breast cancer, however, is a bit different. It was the point at which I was discussing breast sizes with a client that I realised it might be better to write it down and let people seek it out – rather than fill their heads with talk of tumours and tummy tucks.
4) I love writing and I am determined to do more of what I love this year! It’s about time.
Why ‘small boobs, big smiles’? When you’ve spent the best part of two weeks with your top off in front of surgeons and nurses, it doesn’t take long to work out that having ‘not much there’ is not an advantage. But, even when they were sizing up my tummy fat and cupping my less-than-ample breasts, I still managed a smile. That’s what this blog is about – finding happiness in unusual places.
The one positive thing about having had major surgery once before is that I know what I need to do to get through this. Last time, I feared the surgery, the hospitals and the pain. What I should have feared was my mind and the way the experience would make me feel. This time I am focused on keeping my mind positive – and letting the experts get on with fighting the cancer.
I know cancer is a frightening and debilitating illness, but I am determined to take what life-enhancing and enriching moments I can from it, while I can. I am already starting to ressemble a human pin cushion, but, you know what, I am still smiling. And I hope, that through this blog, I can help you find the smile that will help you keep fighting too.