Breast cancer lesson 88: Happiness is knowing the halfway point is in sight

Ok, so I may be pushing it slightly by suggesting tomorrow marks the halfway point in my chemo treatment. But, even though I have another 12 weeks (out of 18) to go (making it just a third in terms of timings) tomorrow is the third poisoning out of six. That makes it pretty special.

Being the third chemo, it also means an end to FEC and, in particular Epirubicin. No longer will I have to watch the blood red liquid being syringed slowly into my veins. No longer with I have pink pee to remind me of the poison every time I go to the loo. After tomorrow’s session, I will say goodbye to the three-drug cocktail and hello to a new challenge (Docetaxel) for round 4. While it does require me getting used to a whole new set of side effects, I like the idea of a change.

How am I feeling about going back on the steroids, the anti-sickness medication and the chemo drugs? If I’m honest, a few days ago, I was a little worried.

Cycle one had a go at my hair and showed me just how nasty mouth ulcers can be. Apart from that, however, it left me alone and reassured me that I have the strength and the positivity to get through this. I went into cycle two with a smile on my face, confident the drugs were on my side. Little did I know as I sat in the chemo chair, just how much it would test me.

Don’t get me wrong. I am one of the lucky ones. But, with its tongue and mouth ulcers, vomit, nausea, headaches, tiredness, coughing, runny nose, hot flushes and sleepless nights, chemo is no walk in the park. I am going into tomorrow with an ulcerated tongue, the end of a cough and on the back of few too many nights of broken sleep. Physically, I have been challenged and, while my body is fighting back, it is not quite as fit as I’d like it to be.

Ask me how I am feeling now, however, and I would say, I am ready (if we ignore the false start I had this morning where I misplaced my travelcard and threw my iPod in the recycling bin by mistake on the way to today’s appointments). I know, whatever goodies it has up its sleeve (or in its syringe), I can and will get through them all. I am stronger than the drugs – and I know that while they have destruction on their minds currently, they will end up making me even more so.

Plus, I have a few new tricks. The evening poisoning for cycle two caught me off guard. I met my mum at the hospital. I hurried my lunch following a rather soggy encounter with a washing machine that decided not to spin my clothes, but instead wash my floor. I wasn’t on my game and I wasn’t focused on the right opposition (my floor needed a wash anyway). Now I am.

My mum is here the night before to help me avoid any unnecessary hurrying. I have grapes in the freezer (apparently sucking on them while having chemo can help the mouth). I am ready to drink my body weight in water. I will be making my first batch of chemo cookies tonight to ward off sickness and nausea. And, I will be requesting more anti-sickness medication at tomorrow’s session with the nurse. For every side effect I know of, I have a solution. And, for every one I don’t, I have my supportive and kind mum. Quite frankly, if I were the chemo drugs, I’d be scared!

Let’s just hope I pass the blood test first thing. Wish me luck!

Breast cancer lesson number 87: The answers to those burning questions are closer than you think

How often have you walked out of a consulting room partly reassured by all the questions answered and also partly plagued by the one or two things you just forgot to ask? By this, I don’t mean (if you’re anything like me) the questions you’ve diligently noted down in order to quiz any unsuspecting consultant? No, by this I mean the bigger picture questions that keep you awake at night or creep up on you when you least expect. In cancer land, that is a question like: ‘How long do you think the cancer was in my body before I found the lump?’ Questions that have no real bearing on the treatment plan in front of you, but questions that are no less important or interesting.

Since diagnosis day, I have been making a note of ‘random questions I wish I’d asked’ for a blog post at the end of active treatment. Currently on the list (in addition to the above) is ‘what do you actually do with the cancer you extract?’ Is there a cancer bin? Is it incinerated? Or, can they store it and retest it should there be developments in science? I know it sounds strange and I would guess the answer is incineration otherwise they’d have to take out extra storage space. But, it’s just one of those questions that for someone only recently inducted in to the world of cancer and unacquainted with the inner workings of hospitals actually finds rather interesting.

There is one question, however, that I have wanted to know the answer to ever since I came round from general anaesthetic number two after my egg harvesting.

And, on Saturday at Younger Women Together I got my answer. Younger Women Together is a fabulous and free two-day event held by Breast Cancer Care for women aged between 20 and 45 who have been diagnosed with primary breast cancer. Not only is it a great opportunity to meet and share experiences with other women in a similar position (none of which I have managed to spot in my own hospital), but it is also – with its expert speakers and workshops – the perfect environment within which to ask a few of those burning questions. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough to young women who are grappling with a diagnosis, undergoing treatment or trying to find their ‘new normal’ in the years that follow. I left inspired, moved and supported. And with my answer!

Starting with ‘the question’ here are a few things I am glad (and thankful) I now know (apologies in advance if I get any of the detail wrong, just passing on what I scribbled down):

Fertility question: If I am rendered infertile as a result of treatment, am I still able to carry the embryos frozen as part of my fertility preservation before chemo?
Answer: Yes! It may involve a few drugs, but just because your body has stopped producing eggs, it doesn’t mean you can’t carry one you’ve already harvested. Great news.

Fertility question: Can you test your fertility status before going onto Tamoxifen?
Answer: With difficulty if you are recovering from chemo and on Zoladex. It is possible to test for fertility using blood samples (for your hormonal profile) or scanning, but drugs can interfere with the results until your body is back to normal. Testing on Tamoxifen is also not advised due to the fact it stimulates oestrogen receptors in the uterus, while reducing oestrogen levels elsewhere and can cause temporary loss of or irregular periods, so may also give misleading results.

Fertility question: Can you predict the chances of someone losing their fertility during chemo?
Answer: The chances depend very much of the drugs used in the chemo regime. Alkylating agents (such as the C in FEC) are considered more problematic. Having said that, the C when used in the CMF regime seems to cause more problems than when it is used in the FEC regime. The Tax regime is less concerning. Statistics suggest women under 30 have a 5% risk of losing their fertility compared with a 50% for those between 36 and 40. I am somewhere in the middle! Age, drugs, dosage and a woman’s ovarian reserve (before treatment) help doctors predict an individual’s chances.

Fertility question: If you get pregnant after a cancer diagnosis, should you expect to be treated differently?
Answer: The short answer is yes. Chemotherapy can cause possible cardiac issues, which may not present themselves until pregnancy when the heart is working harder. This means echocardiography and closer monitoring is probably advised. There is a small increased risk of complications at delivery and a 30% increase in the C-section rate (although it is not known whether women are choosing this option as a way of taking more control). Where breasts have been reconstructed, pregnant women may wish to wear a prosthesis if the unaffected breast grows and leaves the woman feeling lopsided!

And a few ‘Did you knows?’:

1)    According to the latest statistics, 537 women between the age of 30 and 34 get breast cancer in the UK every year. That is compared with 2,899 women between the ages of 40 and 44.

2)    Even with a mastectomy, there is usually some breast tissue left behind in the affected breast.

3)    A new report just out has suggested that Phytoestrogens (basically oestrogen-like chemicals found in plant foods such as seeds, beans and grains) can reduce the risk of cancer.

4)    Omega 3 can help with joint inflammation and chemo brain (or memory issues)!

5)    Valerian can help with sleep problems while on chemo.

6)    Figs contain calcium

7)    And, wise words from speaker and fellow cancer survivor Kelly Short: ‘Don’t think about yesterday, you were a different person then.’

8) is a useful insurance provider for those looking to travel with a cancer diagnosis.

There was also plenty of exercise-related material I will save for another day. As you can probably tell these two days have enhanced my life – and my understanding of the illness I now face. If you’re a young women with a breast cancer diagnosis, I would urge you to book on today for a strong dose of inspiration, motivation and practical advice. Click here to find out more.

And, if you have a burning question that you really want answering, why not post it here (as long as it is not ‘what is the meaning of life?’). Someone out there might know the answer, or, if it’s cancer related, I might just be able to add it to my list once I have summoned up the courage to find out which bin my cancer landed in!

NB: There is a whole other side to the event that I feel it would be wrong to touch on in a blog and that’s the amazing and wonderful women who sat alongside me over those two days. How amazing it was to sit among women who didn’t know the me with hair, who understood what it was like to spend a night awake with nothing but a hot flush for company, knew how to navigate the terminology and side effects that come with the words breast cancer and understood the importance of a smile. Less a support group and more a practical and lively forum for sharing experiences. I feel privileged to have met these amazing women.

Breast cancer lesson number 86: The secret to smooth summer legs

Ok, so I appreciate the title to this blog is a little misleading. While I do have the secret, it does involve a few rounds of toxic drugs, so it is a bit of a hardcore way to solve an everyday problem.

That said, if you’ve got to endure chemotherapy, you’ve got to celebrate those perks. One whole summer with beach-ready legs is a good side effect – just a shame I won’t leaving the country to find sandy beach on which to air them. Chemo, there aren’t many things I thank you for (especially not the ulcerated tongue that is currently making it difficult to talk). But, I thank you for this.

Interestingly, unlike the dramatic overnight hair loss I experienced with my hair, my legs have been a little quieter in their elimination of stumble. Imagine my surprise this morning then, when I discovered their silky smoothness. The great thing is, I tend to be a bit slack with my hair routine over the winter, and now I can be just as slack with amazing results. I have heard that chemo does wonders for the skin. I am now starting to believe it.

The secret to keeping your eyebrow hair and nostril hair while on chemo is one I would be keen to discover. While I have embraced by baby-like baldness and my hair-free thighs, my eyebrows have started to thin in a noticeable way and losing my nostril hair means I don’t need a hot meal to make my nose run!

Chemo, let’s make a deal. You can keep my leg hair and my armpit hair (and pretty much all my body hair), but in return would you please return my head and nostril hair and my eyebrows. If not, can you make sure we have a hot summer so I can make the most of the hair loss while it lasts. Thank you.

Breast cancer lesson number 85: Bank happiness. You never know when you’ll need to make a withdrawal

I have experienced so many moments of happiness over the last few days at Breast Cancer Care’s Younger Women Together event – so much so I need a while to digest it all – I feel compelled to write about one of them (for now).

Kelly Short, a breast cancer survivor and someone who has moved forward from her diagnosis and treatment in a way that is truly inspirational, took the last session of the day. At one point she used the phrase: ‘Life is what happens while you’re planning something else.’ For someone diagnosed while planning a wedding to her long-term partner, it seems an appropriate phrase to use. And, as someone diagnosed soon after getting engaged, I couldn’t agree more.

Having talked through her experiences – not least a turn on UK TV in makeover show How to Look Good Naked – she touched on two things that are very close to my heart. The first? The fact that life doesn’t start after active treatment, it is going on every day and is there is be seized when you’re well enough to enjoy it. The second? She reinforced the importance of living a life based around gratitude. You can’t change the past, so why spend energy wishing you could. If you’re grateful for what you have, you won’t miss what you don’t.

What am I grateful for today (apart from the opportunity to meet so many women of a similar age tackling similar challenges)? I am grateful for the photo that was sitting on my phone as I was leaving the event. My wonderful fiancée Duncan had sent me a picture of the alliums flowering in our garden and it brought with it the biggest smile. Why, you ask? Alliums are my favourite flowers – and growing them and watching them bloom is number 27 on my brighter life list (click here to view). While it may not be a full garden of flowers, I believe it gives me my first tick on the list. And what a beautiful tick it is! Let’s hope we can add to them in the years to come. That’s nine alliums this year (10 if you count the one that got its head trampled on). Double figures next year!


I have been thinking a lot about happiness over the last few days (having had it restored once my Wednesday chemo was reinstated once more). This is in no small part down to a 92-year-old lady I read about on a blog about kindness. This lady, on moving into a nursing home, took the decision to love her new room based on a description alone. She explained:

“Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged, it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.”

She added:

“Old age is like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories. Thank you for your part in filling my memory bank. I am still depositing.”

What an amazing lady (you can read the whole blog here) – and certainly not the only one I have encountered this week. I am certainly depositing happiness and hope that by the time I reach my old age I’ll be rich in memories. I also think I might make a few tactical withdrawals on the way. Invested wisely, I hope these moments of happiness will enrich not just my old age, but my every day.

To you, my allium is just one of making spring flowers trying to make its mark. For me, it’s a living reminder of all that is good in the world. It grew because I planted it. It flowered because I nurtured it. It makes me smile, because it went into the ground on a cold, dark day at the end of 2013 when I had cancer developing in my breast. It pushed through the earth, and it now stands tall. I am pushing as hard as I can through chemo, and I remain strong. Its colour will fade, but the memory of it will stay with me forever (in fact I hope to dry it and use it as a Christmas decoration).

Whether it’s a flower in the garden, a tasty meal or a thoughtful card through the door (I got a couple of really special ones this week) put it in the happiness bank. Be grateful for every deposit. Save up those smiles because one day, you might just need to make a very large withdrawal!

Breast cancer lesson number 84: You’re a person, not a hospital number

There are so many things I love about the NHS. There is, however, one thing I don’t. It’s the administration. Why do I have to be the one to join the dots? Why is it that when there are plenty of other things for me to worry about, is it the one thing filling up my thoughts by night and my mobile minutes by day. The NHS is made up of wonderful hard-working people who really care. It’s just such a shame the systems connecting those people together don’t.

Today’s administrative conundrum reduced me to tears. Here’s why:

1)    Three weeks ago, my oncologist in the Monday clinic took the decision that, having coped so well with the first round of chemo, I could be referred to a nurse-led programme for the remainder of my treatment. I happily agreed and was booked in for an appointment on Wednesday 7 May. Tick.

2)    At my second chemo session on 23 April, the receptionist informed me that I couldn’t attend the clinic on a Wednesday if I am to keep my three-week Wednesday cycles. Wednesday 7 May is a week before round three and therefore too early for blood tests. She suggested I call the breast care nurses to schedule an appointment at the Monday clinic again. Made sense to me!

3)    The breast care nurses were lovely as ever and confirmed that a Monday clinic appointment was needed and, a few days later, a letter arrived through the post. They cancelled my nurse-led appointment. Tick.

4)    Yesterday (Wednesday 7 May) I received a call querying why I wasn’t at the hospital for my nurse-led appointment. I explained the situation and the fact that I was led to believe the appointment had been cancelled. The lady informed me that I no longer qualified for the Monday clinic (I guess because I am a relatively well sick person) and that this appointment would need to be cancelled. Instead I would need to attend the Wednesday 14 May clinic at 10am and then have my chemo at 11am the same day. I agreed.

5)    Once the call had ended, I felt a bit concerned about the timings. Usually a blood test should happen about two hours before chemo so that the results can be processed and the chemo drugs prepared. As a result, I decided to double-check the timings at my PICC line dressing change appointment this morning.

6)    The receptionist confirmed that my Monday appointment had been cancelled, but that the nurse-led appointment was 11am (not 10am) and therefore at the same time as chemo. She added that I am not supposed to have the two on the same day (had I not queried it, I imagine my chemo would have been cancelled when I turned up next week). Wednesday clinic means Friday chemo. She confirmed that my chemo would now have to be moved, at which point the tears started to flow.

7)    After a few more calls, the receptionist confirmed that I would need to come to hospital on Wednesday for blood tests and to see the nurse. I would then (providing the test results were positive) need to return on the Thursday for the drugs. From chemo four onwards, I would need to attend the Wednesday clinic with Friday chemo. Happy Friday to me!

In chemo land, two days is a long time. By nudging my chemo to the end of the week, three months of careful planning (weddings, parties, training, holidays, train trips) were thrown into question in the space of half an hour. I am determined to make every single event. I just wish I didn’t have to dig deep (and maybe even pack a my old washing-up bowl) to do so!

I get it. Put the well people on the Friday list so they won’t clog up A&E on a Saturday. I don’t mind being a well person (the alternative is not particularly attractive). It’s just not great to feel that no one really wants to see you and that I am being shuffled around the system to make room for everyone else. I need someone to help me control the vomiting. I want to discuss my ice-cream headaches and my taste problems. I need my next Zoladex prescription. Plus, my diary is just one big mess of scribbled out appointments and I like tidy pages. Even my appointment card has tip-ex on it!

I have a voicemail message on my phone. I think there’s an apology coming. I just wish I didn’t have to let the tears flow to get it – and a proper appointment.

This cancer stuff is hard enough without having to worry about getting a seat at the clinic (or a chemo chair). I’m a person (and a very accommodating one at that), not a hospital number in the system. Dear NHS, please don’t forget me.

NB: as an amusing aside, I met someone for lunch today who I hadn’t seen for years. I was out in Suzie (he didn’t know, so I thought it only fair to act normal). What was the first thing he said to me? ‘Wow, you’ve changed your hair since we last met.’ He will never know why this one sentence made me smile so much. Suzie is obviously pretty convincing! 

Breast cancer lesson number 83: Dare to bare!

Today I conducted an experiment on behalf of every woman currently grappling with the physical effects of cancer. I left my hats and my ‘fake’ hair at home, threw caution to wind and started out on my commute across the capital with my bald head in full view.

For me, it was bold (or bald). London, however, with its preoccupied commuters and eclectic fashion sense has a great way of looking in the opposite direction. With the exception of a few pitying stares and a couple of double takes, I was just another person navigating the crowds to get to my destination. I didn’t want a seat. I didn’t want a hand. I just wanted to blend in. And, that’s exactly what I did.

While I do think a ‘new boob on board’ badge may have helped me avoid the elbows of those fighting for a bit of personal space, it was a fairly pleasant experience (as much as a commute across London at rush hour will ever be). It also reminded me that most people have so much to think about, that the potential plight of a stranger across the carriage really doesn’t register.

So, my advice to all you lovely ladies currently without lovely locks is dare to bare! Bald can be beautiful and pretty liberating. I shall leave you with the words of Larry David (slightly amended in itals): “Anyone can be confident with a full head of hair. But a confident bald man (or woman fighting cancer) – there’s your diamond in the rough.”

Breast cancer lesson number 82: Why it’s time to get out of the right side of bed… if you can find it!

There is such a thing as the wrong side of the bed. For me, it’s the right side and I’ve been on it for 68 nights. Cancer kicked me over there when it decided to attack my right breast and lymph nodes. The PICC line on my left tried to get me reinstated, but cancer won through. Last night, however, I moved back.


Apart from the fact I can’t really sleep on it, new boobie no longer needs the level of protection granted to it by being close to the edge of the bed. That means, the clip attached to my PICC line (that if unclipped by mistake could cause blood to flow freely out of mind arm) is now out of harm’s reach and I am back to where I belong – near the door, near the wardrobe and close to all my notebooks and belongings. I was never really far away, but by just moving a metre to the left, I feel at home once more. It’s another small milestone that has brought a big smile to my face.

Interestingly, the question as to whether or not the left side is, in fact, the official ‘right’ side of the bed on which to sleep, has led to a surprising number of column inches over the years. I believe the idiom ‘to get out on the wrong side of the bed’ dates back to Roman times, when it was considered bad luck to get out from the left (maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong!).

That said, in recent years, a bit of probably-not-very-robust-but-I-like-it research from hotel chain Premier Inn, has tried to give the left side a stay of execution. The group’s study (dating back to 2012) found that two-thirds of people who sleep on the left side of the bed believe themselves to be calmer and more confident than their sleeping partner. Of its findings, Premier Inn went on to say: “The research clearly indicates a pattern between which side of the bed you sleep on and the mood you wake up in. Left sleepers are more cheerful, appear to enjoy life slightly more and have a more positive attitude to the day ahead than right sleepers.”

This is further supported by an entertaining earlier study combining psychology and Feng Shui. Because the left side of the brain uses logic and rational thought (and the right, emotion and imagination), Feng Shui associates the left side of the bed with family, health, money and power. The idea is that by getting out on the left from a lying down position you focus your energies towards logic and away from stress. Does this mean that as a ‘leftie’ I am more likely to remember to read the gas meter, but I might not get the colour scheme for the hallway right? Not sure I like that logic!

The only trouble is – and something I find highly amusing – there seems to be no real agreement as to which side of the bed is left and which side right. The Premier Inn research states that the survey is based on someone standing at the foot of the bed. Why would they be standing at the foot of the bed I ask? And in what direction are they looking? As far as I am concerned, if my right side is closest to the edge, it’s the right side of the bed. And, if no one can decide, it just means the ‘right’ side is the one you choose to sleep on!

While I like to think that my preference adds a positive start to my day, the key thing is, it’s my preference (and probably that of millions of others in the world). And, thankfully, it’s not Duncan’s. After all, if there were a universal ‘right’ side that affected our psychological well-being, no one would want to share a bed.

Regardless of which bit of your brain falls out of bed first, it seems that choosing (and sleeping on) ‘your right side’ (and not that of the research scientists) does help you get a good night’s sleep. It’s probably all in the mind (and not the Feng Shui), but given sleep is supposed to support everything from weight management and mood to memory and your body’s ability to heal, it’s not something I’ll be moving away from again in a hurry! Take note cancer.

Sleep tight tonight and I hope you aren’t one of the 10%* of couples (*again according to Premier Inn, so please apply a pinch of salt) that likes to argue about the taking of sides. If so, I may have just fuelled the fight!

NB: I’d like to say you need to know your left from your right to be able to unpick this blog post. But now, I’m not even sure that matters!

Breast cancer lesson number 81: The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything

Jogging (with a bit of walking) as I was around Greenwich Park this morning, I was reminded of a little bit of good that has come from the bad that is a cancer diagnosis.


I may be missing a few lymph nodes, but in extracting them all down my right side, they also did me a rather nice favour. They took my sweat glands too. That means no matter how hot I get (admittedly there wasn’t a huge amount of sweating going on this morning), I will always feel as fresh as a daisy – albeit only on the right. And, before you ask, the left side doesn’t compensate by giving me a good drenching!

Ok, so it might not be a fair trade when you think of the destruction caused by the cancer itself. But, you won’t hear me complaining. In fact, there are quite a few things I like about my post-cancer body. So much so that I feel part of me should feel quite grateful.

While I may have to live with a hip-to-hip scar across my stomach, the flat result really is the tummy of my dreams (and the scar is shaped like a smile rather than a straight line). Now I just have to keep it that way!

The hair loss may be temporarily (although if my armpit gets a blasting from the radiotherapy that could spell an end to right side armpit growth too), but it certainly is low maintenance. The thought of having no leg hair (the last to go I hear even though I wish it were the first) is actually quite exciting and the only bits I don’t want to part with (now the hair is a distant memory) are my eyebrows and my eyelashes.

And, dare I say it, my man-made boob is pretty realistic. The only problem is, it is already growing (even though the rest of my body isn’t particularly), so I may have to have weigh up my options with the surgeon if little becomes large over the coming months. The natural left one just can’t keep up.

Most importantly, however, I have a newfound respect for my body and the bits that do (and don’t) work. In the park today I jogged further than I have in a decade and it felt good. Even something as insignificant as painting your nails feels like a treat, now I set aside time for it (and don’t apply it while trying to multitask and end up taking it all off again).

This period has taught me that if you want to help others and give back to the world, you must first help yourself.

I know cancer has the power to challenge my life again in the future. That’s why I’m going to give my body the time it deserves now, so it will always have the energy to fight back. 

Breast cancer lesson number 80: How to make the ordinary feel extraordinary

It started with Friday night wine. As a tradition to mark the beginning of a weekend together, it has a special place in my heart. That is, until chemo wrestled in on the action and stole away my tastebuds. Chemo has a skill of turning even a beautiful Cotes du Rhone into the most vinegary plonk imaginable. Trust me, it is not a party trick of which I am particularly fond and it certainly doesn’t do much to give you that Friday feeling.

I am, however, thankful to chemo the comfort-stealer for one thing. By targeting and eliminating life’s pleasures, it has provided me with the opportunity to enjoy them all again as if for the first time. Chemo turned a normal night into one of the best Friday nights ever because it decided to hand back my tastebuds (albeit temporarily) and with them my love of red wine. Every sip of that full-bodied beauty is now wonderful wine memory tucked away for me to draw on whenever the palette goes wonky again.

In lesson number 47 (click here for more), I wrote about the joys of rediscovering your ‘normal’ and the way in which something you’ve taken for granted for years can suddenly become exciting and beautiful once more. I hope that everyone gets the chance to do this (without the chemo drugs in tow), because it really is a source of great happiness.

Yesterday I took a day away from blogging and from cancer to soak up every moment of a typical bank holiday Saturday. And, you know what? It felt wonderful. The contents of my Saturday are not particularly blogworthy, but that’s the point. A breakfast of eggs in purgatory (if you haven’t had this amazing recipe, click here to head to my lovely friend Rachel’s blog for inspiration). A trip to the garden centre. Three hours of sorting and clearing in the garden. A glass of wine in the evening sunshine. A walk in the park and a lovely curry at home. Each one an ordinary moment that made me feel extraordinary. When digging out the composter with a trowel makes you smile, you know that you’ve started to see the world through different eyes.

As proof of our hard work, here’s Duncan in the garden trying out his top for our 10k run (it arrived yesterday). Quite why he felt the need to raise awareness for breast cancer in our garden was beyond me, but it was really nice to be able to spend some quality time together in the mud! (As an aside thank you so much to everyone who has given so generously so far in sponsorship for the run. I will thank you all individually over the next few months.)


Duncan used a lovely gardening analogy when talking about the year so far over a very normal drink in Greenwich.  He likened cancer treatment to pruning a rose. Pruning is often brutal and can make a flower look messy and sad for a while. But, when pruned, a flower can come back stronger and more beautiful than ever before. He said there is no time to feel sad. Just time to take action and grow stronger. For a maths graduate, I thought that was pretty special. Will certainly make me remember that drink!

I know this feeling won’t last forever. But it is a feeling I want you to experience too. I want you to linger longer over those bluebells in the park. I want you to drink in the scent of spring on freshly-laundered clothes. I want you to read the back of a label of wine and try and find the delicate spices and vanilla (or have fun trying) in every sip. I want you to rediscover every normal aspect of your life and give it centre stage for just a moment. If the normal bits of life can bring you more happiness, just imagine what the surprises and special moments will bring?

May today be an ordinary day that makes you feel extraordinary.

Breast cancer lesson number 79: In search of the ultimate chemo-friendly ginger cookie

Anyone who knows me well will know that there’s nothing like a 250g slab of butter, a plastic spatula and a kitchen lightly dusted with icing sugar to make me smile. From grannie’s special shortbread and melted stilton and ham rolls to chocolate orange cake and even the odd hand-rolled fondant rose, if it involves a lot of measuring, plenty of bowl licking (oh, raw sponge how I love you) and a little bit of icing, I’m there.

As you might have guessed, I love to bake. The emphasis is usually on taste not presentation (although Duncan was stunned when I once produced a cake that actually ressembled Thomas the Tank Engine for my lovely godson), and there have been more than a few disasters (the less said about the collapsed Quiche Lorraine, the broken brandy baskets and the misshapen macaroons the better), but for me, there is no better smell than the smell of freshly baked goodies!

The trouble is, I love to bake with a purpose. And, when you’re tucked at home with a surgically-flattened stomach and no desire to enlarge it, that purpose is not so easy to find. I will certainly be doing another of my annual charity bake sales in the not-to-distant future, but for now, I am just keen to get creative while filling someone else’s tummy as well as my own. Plus, I have also started to notice that my new right breast is taking a rather larger shape than my left. With tummy fat all over the place (including in the new boob), I have more than just a bulging belly to worry about.


Last night, however, I went to bed with a dream and I woke up with that purpose. Yes, after discovering that opening the bedroom door can do wonders for night sweats, I had a comfortable night. It also reminded me that I am stronger than the chemotherapy drugs dancing away inside me and now is the time to start fighting back. With chemotherapy cycle three just 12 days away, I am determined to triumph over every single side effect thrown in my direction. That means Difflam on tap (mouthwash for mouth ulcers), ice lollies and frozen grapes (yes, still focusing on the mouth) and a lot of ginger (for the sickness).

For FEC chemo cycle one, having discovered the medicinal benefits of ginger, my beautiful and thoughtful mum arrived on the doorstep with not one, but three bags of homemade ginger biscuits (plus a box of tasty cookies from a friend). I dutifully polished of the lot (with a little help, but not much) and the experience has got me thinking. What is the tastiest, most nausea-relieving and chemo-friendly ginger cookie in the world? Does it exist? Does someone have the recipe lurking in their family history? Is gingerbread better than a ginger cookie? And, could I make some to deliver to my chemo unit to help other chemo patients (and inspire others to do the same)? Why simply take on my nausea, when I can try to help everyone else too?

Of course, I am not ruling out bought ginger biscuits (or ginger bread for that matter). But, there is something about a lovingly-prepared homemade bake that I think might just have the edge. I have heard great things about the Fortnum and Mason stem ginger biscuits and do love a good Ginger Nut. Question is, do they have what it takes to banish waves of nausea from the chemo suite?

So here’s where you come in. Can you help me find the perfect ginger-flavoured treat? In return, I promise to bake every recipe and share my favourites with chemo patients (and maybe a few friends, family members and neighbours too) J. Plus I thought the whole exercise might be quite useful to my wonderful and kind sister-in-law-to-be, who just so happens to have a ‘slight’ addiction to biscuits of a gingery kind! Please post here or send me an email via the ‘Get in touch’ page and I will get cracking.

Spatulas at the ready, it’s time to turn on the oven and turn off those chemo side effects!