Breast cancer lesson 137: Why I am looking for happiness in the everyday

Fifty days ago, I challenged myself to take part in the #100happydays project (click here to read more) as a way of focusing on all that is good in the world before the end of active treatment (and, as it turns out, slightly beyond).

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Am I happier as a result of posting pictures of positive moments on Facebook for the last few months? If I think about the process of finding an internet connection when away from home and uploading pictures, I would say not. But, when I think of the way in which the project has forced me to live in the present, make things happen and take note of the parts of the day that make me smile, I would argue that, even though I am still only half way through, it has already been a resounding success. I wouldn’t say it has made me happier, but rather reminded me of just how happy I really am.

When I think back over the photos that have made the cut (click here for the first 20 and see below for the following 30), I am not faced with a montage of far-flung destinations and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Yes, there are a few moments that are unlikely to be repeated (my hair is growing back so bald cliff walking is out, and I doubt my name will ever feature in The Guardian again). But, what my photo reporting highlights is that happiness exists in the everyday. It’s on the doorstop, in a teacup, in friendship, at the park and in a homemade loaf. Simple pleasures lead to lasting smiles.

On day 41, for example, I talk about a play called The Blue Bird, which is mentioned a couple of times in Gretchin Rubin’s The Happiness Project. The play is about two children who spend a year searching the world for the Blue Bird of Happiness, only to find it waiting for them when they finally return home. I think this is something we could all quite easily apply to our own lives. How quick we are to attach happiness to life’s big events, when what we should be doing is making the most of the everyday, accepting that big events are a bonus.

I may have peripheral neuropathy, sore nails, sleep deprivation and chicken fluff for hair, but, right now as I write this blog, I can honestly say I am truly happy. Cancer has taken a lot, but given me so much in return. I have looked hard at myself in the mirror and have decided that life is too short to not smile back at the reflection.

It’s true that you can’t be happy all the time (and in many ways you wouldn’t want to be). But, if you can seek out and grab hold of little moments of happiness, it will make those moments of sadness so much easier to bear.

Good luck finding happiness in your day.

Here’s a quick overview (click here for the first 20 if you missed lesson 124) of the last 30 day happy days:

Day 21: Today is a mini milestone day! It marks the last day of my zoladex implant injections. Here’s hoping this giant needle, which has created a constellation of six dots on my left side, has helped in the fight against infertility caused by chemotherapy. I am happy to have been offered it, but as the cause of lots of my hot flushes (it is designed to send you into the menopause), I will be happy when the drug is officially out of my system in four weeks time! Thank you medicine for advancing in this way and thank you nurses for making the giant needle as painless as possible (even though this hole is still bleeding as if in protest). One more milestone down! Yippee!

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Day 22: Lunch, lollies and smiles with my mum. What better way is there to spend a Wednesday (if we ignore the hospital trip and blood test that is). Three cheers for mums! They make this world a happier place – and they help with the washing! I love my mum very much and wouldn’t be smiling through treatment without her.

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Day 23: Last chemo day tomorrow looms, so what better way to celebrate its arrival than with a cake made up of pills! It’s not made of ginger (vanilla syrup sponge with buttercream instead), but looking forward to cutting into it tomorrow before Tax steals my tastebuds for one last time. Feeling happy and very excited!

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Day 24: This is it! Four months of poisoning and am about start my last three-week chemo cycle! While there are dark days to come and then radiotherapy, today is about celebrating and chemo cake. Thanks for the sign Shelley Varley! This could just be the happiest Friday of 2014 so far!

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Day 25: Green things from the garden! If you’ve never tried growing your own veg, I would urge you to start. It is such a wonderful feeling to take something from the ground and walk it metres to your plate. Chilli peppers, broad beans, courgettes and dwarf beans for dinner it is. Excited! Hope you’re having a wonderful Saturday.

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Day 26: a beautiful afternoon catching up on 14 years with a beautiful friend. I look forward to writing in this wonderful notebook when the sparkle of inspiration hits me. Thank you for you. Must get a picture next time!

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Day 27: I nearly lost my great aunt at Christmas two years ago to illness, so it has been amazing to spend this sleepy post chemo day in her company. The gift of family is a great gift indeed. She is one of life’s fighters and is making the most of the moments life has gifted her. Tired, but very very happy.

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Day 28: Inspiration is never far away if you open your eyes to the world. It might come in the form of a message on a billboard, a note through the door, or even a clipping from the newspaper. Today, it’s a pitta recipe ripped out of the Metro (apologies to the next reader). Something I have never tried to bake and now I have the recipe and the time to make it happen. Hope you’ve found something to inspire you wherever you are today.

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Day 29: There are few things that excite me more than having a diary packed with special moments to enjoy. So thrilled that this morning’s post has brought with it the date of MY LAST DAY OF ACTIVE TREATMENT. 15 SEPTEMBER here we come! Ignoring the 10 years of drugs and potential post-radiotherapy side effects, this is one day that will be cherished for the rest of my life. 54 days to go! Just need to think of a way to celebrate!

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Day 30: Cut flowers from the garden are a gift from nature. What I love so much about them is the fact you have to keep picking them to get bigger, brighter and more beautiful flowers. So, pick them I will! Applied to life, I love the idea that by getting knocked down, we have to chance to come back stronger. Who knows? I might have a few more petals when this all ends! Here’s to beautiful flowers!

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Day 31: the great British sunshine. When it shines, I find it hard to think of anywhere I would rather be. Have a wonderful weekend one and all.

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Day 32: Play! We often do so little of it, yet it always has a way of making me smile. It has been so long since I played snooker, I couldn’t even remember how to set up the balls! More play in future methinks. Hope you are all finding ways to play today.

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Day 33: Sometimes, there are just no words to do justice to the kindness of others. I think this picture says it all. Thank you so much Hannah Guy and Anne Johnson. It means more than I can say. Enjoy the mud – and great tutus!

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Day 34: Number 17 on the brighter life list is officially ticked off. Standing on top of a cliff with no hair is as liberating as it sounds! When I set out on the treatment journey I vowed to do more of what makes me happy. The brighter life list (on my blog smallboobsbigsmiles.com) is an important part of this. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but somehow find a way to put it off, start planning it now. You can’t see round the corner, so you’ve got to make the most of the path you’re on. Enjoy!

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Day 35: it was only a matter of time before ‘tea’ made an appearance on the happy days list. For me, always best served large in a cup or a mug. Milk not optional. I gave it up for a year and remember the first time I tasted it again. It was amazing. I don’t think I will ever deprive myself if this simple pleasure again. Best drink ever!

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Day 36: arguably the best bread and butter pudding in the world. It is the third time I have eaten this particular dish (first being 2011 when I tried bread and butter pudding for the first time). With its own personal message from the chef about why he loves it, it is pretty special. Question is, will he ever divulge the recipe? Whatever indulgence you crave, seek it out. A great pudding is a little way to raise a big smile.

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Day 37: spending time with my beautiful godson. Children, with their curiosity, zest for life and innocence, are a joy to be around. I feel very blessed – even if I was quizzed on who lives down the toilet at story time!

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Day 38: the best days are the ones where you learn something new. This is a grotter on Whitstable beach. We came for the fireworks at the end of the oyster festival. We got not just fireworks, but lots of little lanterns on the beach crafted from oyster shells. It was a beautiful sight. Have a wonderful weekend one and all.

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Day 39: Time together with people you love is always time well spent. We all want more hours in the day, but what’s important is making the most of the hours we have. I know I am, and I hope you are too. Here’s to spending the day with the people who make you smile! Happy weekend one and all.

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Day 40: home and happy. I always love coming home after a trip away. I think I appreciate it just that little bit more. This time, we had some rather unexpected GIANT vegetables waiting for us. That’s base for the chutney sorted for this year. Just got to freeze them! Hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend.

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Day 41: How lovely it is to exercise in the sunshine in such a lovely part of London. I feel very lucky to have Greenwich Park on my doorstep and feel spoilt for choice with the many paths there are to discover. Beauty isn’t hard to find if you look around you with a thankful heart. In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchin Rubin cites a play called The Blue Bird. The play is about two children who spend a year searching the world for the Blue Bird of Happiness, only to find it waiting for them when they finally return home. May you find happiness where you live.

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Day 42: Happiness is homemade bread, homemade granola and an email from one of my favourite restaurants with their bread and butter pudding recipe. I always think things taste better when made by hand with a healthy helping of love. I have decided to try and go a year without buying a sliced loaf. That means I’ll either be baking lots of bread or going without! Should be fun. Indulge your passions and you will be rewarded.

As a side note, thanks for all the pledges so far. If you haven’t already, please head to my blog to read about why pledging to buy me a drink can raise funds for a great charity (click here). Thanks.

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Day 43: Cleaning (and decluttering in general) is a great way to reengage with your possessions. This fountain pen, which was bought for me by my grandparents (they engraved it with my name, which makes it extra special), hasn’t seen the light of day in years. But today, having rediscovered it, it has a new cartridge in it and is ready to go. I think sometimes we are so busy looking for the next thing that we don’t often appreciate what we already have. I urge you to rummage through those drawers to see what treasures you can find and bring back to life! Happy hunting.

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Day 44: Today’s happy moment comes not from my first tattoo (more on that later), but from a little surprise. Duncan Sloan’s pink shorts have made it onto the homepage of the Guardian website. The Life and Style section (click here) picked up my Breast Cancer Care blog about running and we’ve made it onto the Running Blog. That means Emily Pinkerton, Fran Walker and Robert Pinkerton have made the nationals! Three cheers for Duncan’s pink shorts!

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Day 45: Utopia does exist. It’s in my TV and it is an amazing series oozing with vibrant colours that I have only just discovered. I love a great TV series addiction. Somehow, life doesn’t feel complete without one. Yes, I appreciate I am miles behind. But, at least I got there in the end.

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Day 46: not pretty I’ll admit, but happiness is feet out of heels after seven hours in them at a wedding is the best feeling in the world! I don’t think I was made to wear anything other than a ballet pump.

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Day 47: the first glass of post-chemo wine I can actually taste. Oh my, it tastes good. The only good thing about being deprived of something is the joy it brings when you get it back. My little bit of heaven on a Sunday night. Hope you’ve found yours! J xx

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Day 48: how wonderful it is to learn something new! Today it is a word: ‘Hygge’. This Danish word means ‘creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with the good people around you’. If we Brits had such a beautiful word in our vocabulary, maybe we too could be considered among the happiest people in the world. Here’s to a life with more ‘hygge’!

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Day 49: Number 9 on the brighter life list ticked off! Lovely walk round the Olympic park with mum and dad. Visited the velodrome and have worked out my route to the aquatics centre when I am once more allowed to swim! It feels great to be able to start ticking things off! The brighter life list has given me a focus. Hope you can find your focus too.

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Day 50: I love finding shops in London where skilled people can fix things without charging a fortune. My watch is ticking again and was actually fixed in front of me (instead of sent away to expensive battery sorting elves for weeks on end). I feel naked without my watch and I never get bored of people asking me why I am consulting my bracelet to tell the time . Time is so important. It slips by and, once spent, is lost forever. Here’s hoping ithis watch and I enjoy many new batteries!

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Breast cancer lesson 132: Every end is a new beginning

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With the end of active treatment fast approaching (currently down as 15 September), my thoughts have been turning to celebrations and a way of marking my official independence day. It’s a moment I never thought I’d have to experience – let alone celebrate – but it’s a moment I intend to enjoy.

Of course, I have considered the more conventional route of a party. But when the people I want to thank are all across the country (not the mention the world), it doesn’t seem quite right (and the pink hearts thank you campaign is already well underway). So, I have decided on a less conventional course of action (would you expect anything less?). That’s why, on Sunday 14 September, I will be making my way to a starting line at Wembley for the Run to the Beat 10k.

Marking the end with another starting line sums up how I feel about moving on. It is fair to say that running (and exercise in general) has been a real lifeline for me over the last seven months. It has cleared my mind and kept me from busting out of my clothes. It has lifted me when I felt like falling (so much so that it is the subject of my latest blog of Breast Cancer Care – click here to read). And, it is something I want to make space for in the real Jackie world, when I return to it in October.

For me, October is a new start, a new chapter in my life. It’s what I have been fighting for all along, so it is only fitting that I run towards it and grab it with both hands. Another 10k will keep me focused (and help me conquer the fatigue associated with radiotherapy). And, this time, I want to run the distance (so I can convince myself that I can conquer an even bigger challenge next year – watch this space).

Coming so soon after my last run (and being the same distance), I feel it would be wrong to ask for sponsorship in exactly the same way. So, I have a plan. I will be running the race for the amazing charity CoppaFeel (adding to my work as a Boobette, which you can read more about by clicking here). Rather than sponsor me, all I am asking for is a pledge from you. This pledge is simply to buy me a drink to celebrate the end of active treatment. For every pledge I receive, I will make a donation out of my own money to CoppaFeel. As I see it, it’s a win-win situation. CoppaFeel gets much-needed funds, I spend my hard-earned cash on a great charity rather than London room hire, you don’t have to travel to an end of active treatment party and I have an excuse to see you all individually to make good on every pledge. I really hope you’ll get behind my idea and help me celebrate, so I can enjoy your company at the same time as raising money for a fabulous charity. Convoluted I know, but I have never been known for taking the easy route!

To pledge, all you have to do is post here using the comment field. Don’t worry, it might just be a cup of tea. And, it doesn’t have to be collected soon. But, now I can taste again, it won’t be a Ribena or a cranberry juice.

The treatment chapter of my life is one I am keen to close. But, I am in some ways thankful it was opened in the first place. It has made me see that if you spend your life wishing for the next big event, you will miss out on living. The next big event might not be one of your choosing. In life, it’s the every day – and not the once in a while – that matters.

Best get those tatty old running shoes out again!

Breast cancer lesson 129: Chemo may eat your eyebrows, but don’t let it steal your smile

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Chemo week one – by which I mean the first week in a three-weekly cycle usually reserved for grimacing, steroids and a general feeling of emptiness – has actually been unexpectedly lovely. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that it is my last ‘chemo week one’, meaning that every day I get one step further away from poison and one step closer to being able to taste something that doesn’t have the words ‘ice lolly’ in the description. But, I started out last Friday determined to enjoy even the darker days. And, that’s exactly what I’ve done.

I was told the last chemo would feel different. You’re not preparing your body for another round in the unit. The PICC line is out. There are no blood tests booked. The pill packets are emptying and don’t need replenishing. You’re doing things for the last time. Until you experience it, however, it’s hard to know whether that will be the case. After all, the dose is the same, the injections are still prickly and the medication still makes your cheeks puff up!

Seven days in and, touching all wood available, I am feeling good. Yes, I have pain. Yes, I have tingling hands and feet and cramps overnight. Yes, my tongue is a fluffy white colour, which makes me want to swig Difflam with every meal. Yes, the tastebuds have gone. Yes, the dizziness is here. And, yes, I still haven’t a clue what a good night sleep is. But, I feel good and that’s all that matters. I know low immunity week comes next and I also know things do have a habit of falling off (the final eyebrows and the nails being top of the list) when it’s all over. I am not out of the woods, but I can certainly see a clearing ahead!

Of course, I am putting a lot of this good feeling down to the fact the end is not just a distant dream, but a nice chunk of reality (8 August is the official chemo end date, which is now just two weeks away). But, I did also try a new tactic this time. I left London, and spent a few days at my family home. And, I have to say, it was truly magical.

Magical moments for me aren’t once-in-a-lifetime events. They are little moments that remind me just how lucky I am to be alive. It’s laughing with a friend after 14 years apart. It’s holding hands with a great aunt who nearly lost her life just two years ago. It’s sitting in the garden eating home-grown potatoes, carrots and beans. It’s lying on my parents’ bed watching TV. It’s a walk in the long grass on local parkland. This weekend taught me that I have my past to thank for the strength it has given me to move forward.

I have actually turned myself into a self-styled ‘student of happiness’ of late in an attempt to see whether there is a way I can ‘be happier’ when the business of life resumes. I was reading something only the other day about the importance of applying the airplane safety announcement ‘put your oxygen mask on first’ to daily life. Those who first look after themselves are best placed to look after others. While I hope never to see an oxygen mask again, I fully intend to make the most of the cancer’s thorough overhaul. Cancer hasn’t made me happy, but I know it has given me the time to reflect, focus on me and work out that I have been happy all along (I just didn’t always see it)!

If you have any reading recommendations to help me as I explore everything happiness has to offer, do shout.

Back in London now, I am still smiling (just a bit hotter). This has something to do with the sunshine and a lot to do with the ‘end-of-active-treatment’ date that is now penned in the diary. MONDAY 15 SEPTEMBER is less than two months away! I can almost touch it.

Whatever you are doing today, I hope you find time for a little happiness!

Breast cancer lesson 127: If you can take on chemo, you can take on life. Take that chemo and take that cancer!

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I did it! By which I mean, successfully carried a really heavy sugar pill-covered cake through the city crowds to the cancer day unit, presented it to the team before presenting high blood pressure (due to the fact the cuff was on my leg), took one last dose of Docetaxel, ate a lolly, drank some tea and, most importantly, had my PICC line out and was disconnected from the saline flush for the last time.

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In many ways, although brilliant, it is a strange sort of day. I am celebrating because the poisoning is over, but I still have a good three weeks of side effects (probably even longer) to go before I can start reclaiming my body. I can’t really drink alcohol and am pretty exhausted from a sleepless night due to heat, hot flushes, thunder and lightning and general excitement. I am happy, but I’m not exactly ready to paint the town red. 

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The cake and the ‘last chemo’ sign brought with it a celebratory atmosphere. The nurse started showing all the staff (including the chief nurse), my PICC flush lady popped in for a visit, and I even got to see my complementary therapist for a good chat. Everyone wanted a picture of the 450 pills – and I just wanted them to enjoy it before the buttercream seeped through the fondant icing. It had already started to resemble a boob in shape rather than a straight-sided cake! Apt you might say.

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The highlight for me wasn’t hearing the chemo pump beep for the last time, however, but watching the PICC line wiggle its way out of my arm leaving me with nothing but a hole and a lot of dry skin. Here’s the PICC removal in action (just to show you how long it actually is). I was surprised it was a) so quick and painless and b) didn’t involve me lying down on some sort of couch. It was just whipped out in front of everyone in the bay!

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How do you celebrate the unofficial, please-don’t-drink yet, end of the chemo you ask? Well, with a walk along the river and a lovely lunch at my favourite pub, The Cutty Sark. Fishcakes and lemon posset later, and we’re now hiding from the searing heat drinking tea in the living room. I may even treat myself to a little rest.

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There is just one last three-week cycle, eight more immunity-boosting injections, 12 more steroids, two more Emend tablets, 20 Domperidone pills, 21 Fluconazole tablets, 32 Co-codamol pills and ad hoc Omeprazole to go before radiotherapy. I just hope the side effects are kind – especially now I don’t have easy access to my veins.

Chemo, you have taken a pretty huge chunk out of 2014. It’s time for me to take control.

Might just have a little sleep first…

Breast cancer lesson number 124: Happiness is ticking off those appointments!

Today, I looked down the end of the giant Zoladex needle for the last time. That means no more hospital trips, no more holes in my left side (it’s like my very own constellation down there) and, in just four weeks, NO MORE MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS (unless Tamoxifen decides life is just too boring without them).

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I remember the oncologist joking about it being a useful dress rehearsal for the real menopause. You can tell my oncologist is a man :-). Trust me, there is no reason why any woman would wish to experience a hot flush before being forced into having one. Before active treatment started, I had not even given the menopause a second of my attention. Now, the very thought of going through this again for an extended period makes me want to run for the hills!

As I mentioned in lesson number 78, it does seem apt that the drug designed to shut down my ovaries to protect my fertility causes sleepless nights. I already have a huge amount of sympathy for new parents – just without the dirty nappies! All I hope is that the implant has done its job (the effectiveness of the drug for use in this way is still being examined) and that the giant needles will be replaced with not-so-giant periods in due course.

As you would probably expect, this momentous occasion was the subject of today’s ‘100 happy days project’ post on Facebook (I’m already up to day 21). For those of you not on Facebook, here’s a quick rundown of the first 20. You can also read more about the project by clicking here. It really is a great way to pick out a smile from every day and I do encourage you all to have a go if you haven’t already.

Day 1
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These beautiful flowers, given to me over a cup of peppermint tea this morning, remind me of a lovely few lone-overdue hours spent with a friend. My friend said to me: ‘life is not about waiting for something big to happen. Life is all around, waiting to be lived.’ Thought it was a beautiful and apt message for the project. If I am allowed two, I have also just been sent a lovely e-card with the following quote in it: ‘You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself: “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”’ I think it would be fair to say, I do enjoy a good quote! Hope you are finding happiness in your days!

Day 2
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I decided to go off piste at the hospital and try and vanilla yoghurt shake instead of a breakfast tea. It was so delicious and certainly something to look forward to on a trip there. I also handed out two more of my pink hearts today (one to my physio and one to the lady who gives me massages at the cancer unit). I love writing out the accompanying cards and thinking of all the different ways in which that person has touched my life. NB: I have only handed out seven so far, and have many many more to go, so don’t worry if I have seen you and not given you one. They take a while to write. If you want to read more about my pink hearts campaign, visit: http://bit.ly/1nHsc4w

Day 3
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Chemo day can be a happy day! Just two rounds to go. Ginger cookies baked for the cancer unit, experimental lemon and ginger muffins ready for sampling too and some jelly babies and lollies for mum and me! Smiling. Hope you find a small pleasure to raise a smile today! J xx

Day 4
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Back at my family home for a wedding (on chemo day 2 no less)! Have just dug out my GCSE art book to remind me why I have always wanted to work in the creative industries. It sits in my bedside table at home and I get it out every time I stay. It always raises a smile! Possessions such as this are priceless. Packed with memories. Hope you are having a happy day. J x

Day 5

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Today, the beautiful Hanne (pictured here) would have turned 33. Sadly, however, she lost her life in the Oslo bombings and I only found out about it last year while making a long overdue visit to her Facebook page. I am celebrating her birthday today because she was a real free spirit and a beautiful person who brought sunshine into the lives of the people she met. She loved life and I only wish she had lived to see more of it. The way in which I found out about her death showed me just how important it is to touch base with people outside the wonders of social media and remember the people who mean the world to me. Thank you Hanne for teaching me the importance of friendship. I hope you are still smiling, wherever you are. Much love, Jackie x

Day 6

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I have always been a bit of a winter person (scarves, hats, gloves, Christmas, mulled wine etc). But since getting a garden and discovering the joys of growing, I have really started to see the beauty in all seasons. Fresh garlic is the latest bit of produce to find its way out of the soil and into our kitchen. I can’t wait to use it.

Day 7

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What does every cancer patient fighting fatigue need? A copy of Games of Thrones, that’s what. I have been saving it up for the right moment and now (thanks Claire Sargent for the loan) that moment is here. It is so important to have something to look forward to in life – even if that something is a little on the gory side. I may be gone for some time! Hope you are having a happy day. J x

Day 8

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For me, the joy of baking lies not in eating cake fresh from the oven but in licking the bowl! Have just made a light ginger cake to try and distract myself from dizzy spells and this syrupy goodness (or not so goodness) was a real treat. J x

Day 9

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It may not look like much, but this little but of paper, which now contains the date of my last PICC line flush, has a very special place in my heart. For me, it reinforces the fact that, whatever race you are running, there will always be a finish line. And, every finish line, however small, is worth celebrating. It may be a small stage in a longer race, but it is a sign the end is in sight. When you see the finish line you know you’ve been running in the right direction all along. So, there is just one thing left to do. Keep running.

Day 10
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This is our Agapanthus, which until very recently was without a single bud (it had three last year). We discussed repotting it or planting it in a bed to make it flower, but ended up just moving it across the decking. As you can see, it now has 16 buds and they have started to come out today. When I look at this plant I think about just how important it is to give things time and be patient. Some things just take time. There’s a lot to be said for the phrase: ‘good things come to those who wait’. We won’t have to wait much longer! Have a happy day. J x

Day 11
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Thanks to a wonderful friend, I am now the proud owner of the word ‘happy’ for one whole year. This kind gesture not only makes me smile the widest of smiles, it also supports the wonderful charity I CAN, which helps children communicate. Thoughtful friends are one of life’s most precious gifts and I feel truly blessed to have so many by my side. Thank you. J x

Day 12
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Old friends, tea and ice cream. Perfect Sundays are made of this. Catching up on seven years! Great friends are like stars. You don’t always have to see them, to know they are there. Here’s to many more Sundays just like this. Hope you are having a great day. X

Day 13
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This little garden scene at Eltham Palace is a short drive from my house and it has taken two years of living in the area for me to drive out and see it. Often when we live somewhere we don’t appreciate the beauty and the little details that exist right on our doorsteps. We are never tourists in our own back yard. But why travel when you can find your own slice of happiness a few steps (or miles) away! Happy exploring! J x

Day 14
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Since being diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I have tried to make every day count and smile through this life-changing disease. Writing to help others (and myself) has been a massive part of that, so I was delighted when Breast Cancer Care asked me to become a regular blogger. Here’s my first post (just published)

http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/news/blog/vita-bloggers/jackie
I have also spent the day being photographed for a magazine feature about smiling through cancer. Here’s me with new eyelashes, proper make-up and some cookies I baked earlier . I have never been in front of a camera in this way before, so am a bit scared about seeing the feature.
I hope, through my writing, I will be able to help more people smile through cancer. J x

Day 15

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This little car and I have been together for 15 years. She got me to my A-level exams and she is still transporting me all round the country. She may be old and undesirable but that makes her really desirable in my book (especially on London roads). I am happy today because I have managed to get a really good deal on my car insurance renewal. Another reason to love this little blue bundle of unleaded-fuelled joy. Thank you little car. J x

Day 16
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While I have embraced the wonders of the digital age (a bit), for me there is nothing quite as exciting as receiving a bit of post through the door. I have just opened this beautiful card with alliums on the front (selected because they are my favourite flower). It has brought a huge smile to my face. The words also, are beautiful. I won’t share it all, but the amazing sender writes that she (through illness) has: ‘learnt the value of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ as well as appreciating so many little things in life.’ She adds: ‘you are being given the opportunity to learn things that so many people miss as lives are so full of busyness.’ She is so right. Happiness isn’t about getting what you want. It’s about making the best of what you have and being grateful for it.

Day 17
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Strangely Justgiving has stopped sending me emails when people donate, so imagine my surprise when I logged on just now to find I had received even more support. I am so humbled by all the kindness I have experienced over the last six months and can’t thank you enough. With your message, likes, cards, hugs, donations, flowers, chocolate, paperclips and love, you have given me so much strength. The 10k is on Sunday and, for me, it is a massive milestone. When I signed up, I thought it would take every last little bit of strength to get to the start line. My medical team think I am bit bonkers wanting to run a race with dodgy hips and chemo drugs in my bloodstream, but I want to do this for everyone who has every had to hear the words ‘cancer’ and get up day after day to face the rollercoaster that is active treatment. I wanted it to be hard and I know it will be. And I want every step to matter. I will cross that finish line on Sunday thinking of you all. Kindness is the best currency there is. Thank you for making me feel like the luckiest person alive. J x As a side note, I have also just had a wonderful day with a friend and her beautiful baby. I didn’t take a piccie although it made me very happy indeed!

Day 18
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There are two things making me particularly happy today. The first is the fact that I have just put out two window boxes full of marigolds Duncan grew from seed. Last year, somebody stole one of our window boxes. At the time, it upset me, but by moving them up to the first floor, we are fighting back. This is my small way of saying to the world, sometimes you try to take things away, but I will always find a route through to happiness. The second is the fact we have just spotted a tomato growing out of the drain at the back of our garden. I think we could all learn a lot from nature. Nature doesn’t give up. It just finds a way. It’s like a weed growing through a crack in the pavement. If obstacles are put in its path, it just creates a new one. Here’s to nature! J x

Day 19

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I am delighted to report team small boobs, big smiles have all crossed the finish line. 9k jog/running an 1k walking not bad for a lady with no hair, dodgy hips and chemo in the system. Thanks so much to all those who sponsored us. Feeling so humbled due to all the support and a little bit proud. One massive finish line crossed, just a few more to go!

Day 20
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This may look like an ordinary glass of water, but it is, in fact, very special indeed. That’s not because it comes from a special spring or bottle. It is straight out of the fridge and it is the first glass of water in about four months that I can actually TASTE! The simple pleasures in life are the best! Brief respite before I lose my taste buds all over again.

May your days be as happy as they are long!

Breast cancer lesson 121: Check those boobies and help stamp out late detection of breast cancer

When I think back to the early days of my diagnosis, there is one thing that makes me shudder. It’s the fact that, even though I could quite clearly feel a lump, I nearly didn’t go to the doctors. I convinced myself the lump was all in my mind. I’m 32. I’m too young to get screened, so how could I possibly get the disease you screen for? Given the lump appeared to double in size between diagnosis and surgery, I know now that this blog might have read a little differently if I hadn’t.

Stage three breast cancer is curable. Stage four breast cancer is treatable, but will never be cured. I don’t know how close I was, but all I know is I will be checking myself from now on and for the rest of my life.

Ask yourself the question. How often do you check yourself (and men, with 400 diagnosed in the UK every year, that means you too)? If the answer is never, read on. If the answer is monthly, then congratulations, but please read on too because you could be quite useful. And, if the answer is somewhere in between, then that’s good, but there is still some work to do.

For those who have been reading this blog and who know me personally, you’ll know that I am trying to make every day count, rather than counting down the days until the end of active treatment. It’s hard, because I don’t know how I am going to feel from one day to the next. But, it is so amazingly rewarding and it gives me a reason to smile every day.

That’s why I won’t be sheltering from the rain this evening, but will be heading out to meet Barnes WI to discuss breast cancer awareness for the charity CoppaFeel. You’ll have heard me talk about CoppaFeel (www.coppafeel.org) and its inspiring founder Kris before, but basically, the aim of the charity is to get people checking their boobs, recognising the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and going to the doctor if they spot anything unusual. It’s a simple message, delivered in a fun way through presentations and giant boob costumes. But it’s a life-saving one too.

Because it’s the WI and because I love baking, I have cooked up a cake in the shape of a CoppaFeel badge. I love this picture, because it reminds me of my own little and large boobies (and is of something edible). Of course, the difference isn’t quite so marked, but you get the picture! I have put buttercream in the victoria sponge, which I know is a sin in some parts. Let’s hope I am forgiven for going off piste with a Mary Berry special.

If you’re keen to ‘cop a feel’, but are not sure how, then here’s a handy guide: http://coppafeel.org/boob-check/. The key thing to remember though is that there is no right or wrong way to check. You just have to get to know your boobs, know what to look for, and check anything that doesn’t feel quite right to you. You’ll know your body better than anyone else, so you’re the best judge when things change.

And, if you think you don’t have time or will easily forget, then why not sign up to the charity’s free text reminder service (after the first text which is charged at standard network rate in the UK). Just text ‘Boobettes’ to 70300 to get started.

If you’re inspired, then check out the latest ‘What normal feels like’ boob campaign (http://coppafeel.org/whatnormalfeelslike/). The idea is to extend the range of words people use to describe their boobs (when asked most people, say ‘big’, ‘little’, ‘medium’ or ‘flat’) and help people get closer to this rather wibbly part of the anatomy. So, have a good feel and then tweet your findings to #WhatNormalFeelsLike. I think of mine as ‘jelly’ and ‘belly’ for obvious reasons.

I’ll never know whether or not checking earlier would have saved my boob from surgery, my veins from chemo and my skin from radiotherapy. But, what I do know is that checking when I did on Christmas Eve saved my life.

So, please, do one thing for me today. Grab your boob and encourage the person next to you to do the same. You might just save a life.

I’m off to encourage a room full of women to do the same. Wish me luck!

Breast cancer lesson number 120: True friends are the rainbows that come with the rain

Last night, lying in bed waiting for sleep to find me (I started the drug Clonidine for hot flushes on Monday, so am hopeful it might find me soon), I tried to imagine living through cancer without friendship. I imagined waking up (starting to forget what that feels like) to a silent inbox, to a phone with no messages and a living room without wonderful words and cards to keep me company. I imagined a Saturday without laughter and a Sunday without ice cream, teas and smiles. I imagined a world without all the beautiful faces I have come to love over the years. I imagined surgery without handmade drain bags and a new boob without chocolate (probably would be the size of a pin). I imagined life – and found I didn’t really have a life at all.

Friendship is such a powerful thing. But, I am sad to admit that it is something I have often taken for granted. That is not because I don’t love each and every one of the wonderful people that continue to inspire me and shape my world. It’s just that, my life before cancer felt so hectic that I thought doing my hair was a bit of a luxury (now I have the time to straighten it, it’s all shiny and bald). I remembered birthdays. I baked cakes. I made bath creamers in cupcake cases that looked like white chocolate (and forgot to label them – oops). But I really wasn’t as ‘present’ as a friend should be. I also have as many friendship circles as I do interests. I move between them (often on the edge), when I should dwell a little longer.  And for that, I am very sorry.

Cancer has a way of not just reordering those priorities, but highlighting just how important friendship can be. True friends (which also includes my amazing family and the lovely Duncan) shine a light on dark days. True friends are those with whom you can share a story or a silence. True friends just know when smiles are covering up tears. True friends don’t have to be close to comfort. True friends understand – and open themselves up to being understood. True friends accept who you are and help you become who you should be. True friends are the real wonders of the world.

So, this is my little way of celebrating all that is beautiful about friends. Through my pink hearts campaign (click here to read more) I hope to thank each and every one of you for being there when I needed you the most. For now, you’ll just have to take this as a down payment! I vow to be there for all of my friends because I know how important just being there really is.

I hope, wherever you are, you are thinking about all the friends that fill your hearts and your inboxes. Is there someone you’ve been meaning to call? Is there someone with whom you’d love to reconnect? Is there someone who makes you smile, but who you’ve never had the opportunity to thank? Well, there’s no time like the present!

There’s a wonderful saying (yes, another of those quotes that makes me happy): ‘Good friends will bail you out of jail, but a great friend will be sitting next to you saying: “Damn, that was fun”.’ While I am not about to throw caution to the wind and end up in jail (I have already committed one crime since diagnosis (click here to read) and that is enough to last me a lifetime), I do believe that experiences are made for sharing, shoulders for supporting and sides for standing by.

Here’s to great friends and to a future packed with great adventures!

Breast cancer lesson number 119: Do more of what makes you happy

Thank you. Thank you for following, liking, commenting, clicking, finding me by typing ‘boobs cycle door’ and ‘boob bald’ (yes really!) into Google and joining me on my cancer journey now and again. Thank you, because by reading not just this post, but the thousands of words that have come before, you have given me the confidence to write again and a reason to smile.

When I set out on my travels through active treatment, I was determined to do more of what I love. And, by blogging about everything from leeches to dark nail polish, I have done just that. But, for me, this blog has been much more than a playground for positivity and a chance to reflect on my time in hospital. It has helped me rediscover all that is beautiful in the world and indulge my passion for creativity. Cancer tried to take my life away, but has (inadvertently) through inspiring me to blog and celebrate life, actually given it back. And things look even brighter than before.

Cancer has taught me to do the things that make me happy. And that is something I wish for you too (happiness, not cancer that is). I have a new to-do list packed with positive things and it is a real joy to tick off each one. Life has a habit of getting in the way and filling our days with its endless admin. But, take a step back, work out what it is that gives you a real boost (usually the thing you do to procrastinate) and I guarantee you’ll be able to find time to do a little more of it (or get started). Go on, I dare you! Life is too short to have a clean cooker and well-filed bills.

I am reading a book at the moment that says: ‘The real source of happiness can be stated in a word: achievement.’ This is something to which I can really relate. Sometimes the sheer thought of hard work or sitting down to complete a task can be enough to send me in the direction of another ‘boring-but-essential’ job (like laundry). But there is no greater feeling than the feeling of having really achieved something – especially when that achievement can actually help someone else. For me, writing is like that. It’s often hard to get started (I do have very clean clothes), but to finish brings me more pleasure than a long soak in the bath or perfectly-formed sponge (although that is admittedly a close second).

Throughout this process, I have wanted to use writing to help people (by which I mean not just other breast cancer patients, but also those seeking to reflect on and improve their lives). I hope I have achieved this in some small way through my blog. I am also delighted to say that Breast Cancer Care has just asked me to become a regular blogger for them, offering tips around a theme for others in my position. My first post on body image has just been published and I feel so thrilled to have the opportunity to try a make a difference. Here’s a link to the feature and I hope you will support me by having a read: http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/news/blog/vita-bloggers/jackie

I have also been asked to write a few articles about smiling through cancer, which I hope will encourage people to seek out the positives at what is a very challenging and distressing time. Amusingly, I have just spent the day on a shoot for one feature. Little did I think when the hair started to fall that I would actually be welcoming a photographer into my house just three months later to take a shot of my bald head! But today, in my little corner of Greenwich, that’s exactly what happened.

For someone with a history of ‘red eye’ and a face that is currently sporting dry lips, few eyelashes, fading eyebrows and a sun-grilled cheeks, I was pretty worried I wouldn’t quite scrub up. But, the make-up artist, editor and photographer were amazing and so supportive and that’s why I am currently writing this with stuck-on eyelashes and a painted on smile. It makes me laugh that I have managed to spend my entire working life to date in publishing behind the camera (if we overlook a rather strange mock-mugging shot I was in in my first job – oh and the one of me on a motorbike with an oversized jacket). And, it’s only now, with no hair, that I am brave enough to face the lens!

Here’s a sneak peek of the day. I felt so privileged and humbled by the whole experience to be honest. It was also liberating to spend the day with my bald head in full view. I am so grateful to the lovely ladies who took the time to make the whole experience really special.

There was only one downside. I was stroking my head at the end of the session only to discover two lumps sitting there that I hadn’t noticed before. I tried for about 45 minutes to photograph the top of my head to see them and could only make out a bit of redness. Lumps when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer are never a welcome sight. I spent a good few hours feeling them and googling horrendous things and it was amazing just how quickly my happy day filled up with fear. Cancer does that. It enters your life. You fight it. But, no matter how hard you fight, the fear of it returning will live with you forever. Cancer makes it difficult to know what is and isn’t worth paying attention to. And, for someone still going through active treatment and not yet thinking about it coming back, today’s lumps (which I am sure are just bites or spots) are a harsh reminder that as much as I like to think I’m in control, I’m not.

Now I have stopped googling and have convinced myself there is no link between the dizzy spells, the near-fainting episode of last week and today’s lumps, I am smiling once more. That’s because I am writing, because I am picking out the positive parts of each day and because I am choosing to the do the things that make me happy. If anything, the lumpy blip, was the reminder I needed to tell me I’ve got my priorities right.

I have made a promise to myself to keep writing and do more of what I love. And, I hope that you can find the strength, time, energy and determination to follow your dreams too. We, none of us, know what is round the corner, so we owe it to ourselves to get the most out of every day.

Breast cancer lesson number 118: Keep running to that finish line

I have in my possession a blue oncology appointment card on which the words: ‘PICC flush and dressing’ have been written for THE LAST TIME! While it doesn’t actually mean an end to the PICC line (that comes later), it does mean that this time next week there won’t be any more scheduled trips to the hospital just for a shot of saline and a nice clean piece of tubi-grip. I could go as far as to say, this could be my last PICC line flush appointment EVER! But I won’t (just in case).

Ok, so I appreciate this flimsy piece of paper is not much in the looks department. But this card (which the unit lost at my last visit and have only just posted back to me) means a lot to me. For those of you following my #100happydays project, I described it as a reminder of the fact that, whatever race you are running, there will always be a finish line (and if there isn’t, you should ask for a refund on the entry fee!). And, every finish line, however small, is worth celebrating.

Sometimes in life, we are too busy running to make sense of it all. A finish line gives us hope, focus and the reassurance we’ve been running in the right direction all along. I feel like I have been running for my life for the last six months. Reaching the end of a stage (albeit a small one) is a great feeling. It is life’s way of saying the end is in sight and there will come a time when all that is left is you, the memory of an epic struggle and an invisible medal of honour, awarded for just making it through each day.

So whatever it is you’re running for right now, don’t lose sight of the finish line. Enjoy the run if you can, but remember, even if you’re climbing a hill right now, that hill will end – along with the pain.

Who knows? I might have just enough energy in reserve to make the end of the big race a sprint finish!

Breast cancer lesson number 116: How to do nothing – and not feel guilty about it

The worst kind of day on chemo is the kind that starts with you already wishing it was over. That’s the wish I expressed on the corner of my mum’s bed this morning when I was talking through my restless night, the peripheral neuropathy, the cramping of my hands and feet, the chronic fatigue, the feeling of heaviness (yet also emptiness) and the loss of taste I am currently experiencing. It’s a feeling the day is already wasted before it has even begun. If life were a pack of cards, you’d want to reshuffle and pick again. Trouble is, you can’t.

Strangely, it’s not the pain or the exhaustion I fear. It’s the guilt. Guilt for spending the day without the structure of a to-do list. Guilt for making ‘eating a banana’ an actual objective. Guilt for giving up on another precious day of life when my life itself was challenged just a few months ago. Guilt for seizing up rather than seizing the day. Trust me, that’s a lot of guilt. 

Of course, I have nothing to feel guilty about. Only yesterday, was I lying on the kitchen floor with my legs in the air after nearly collapsing. I have a fridge full of injections and a body full of pills. And, eating a banana when you have no tastebuds is actually something to be applauded. I just wish doing nothing was an art form I had mastered long ago.

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Taking time to do nothing has a way of bringing everything into perspective. Having sat here on the sofa for the last three hours – moving only to shed or add clothes and eat – I am starting to realise that you can get something from nothing. Because nothing is never really nothing. Nothing today is my body’s chance to recover. Nothing today is life’s little way of getting me to slow down so I can be strong again. Doing nothing today gives me a better chance of making something of tomorrow.

Google the definition of nothing and, under adjective, it says: ‘having no prospect of progress.’ In chemo terms, I would say a ‘nothing day’ is quite the opposite. It’s a necessary pause. And, if chemobrain is an issue, it’s probably the safest thing to do. 🙂

From this day forward, I, Jackie Scully, promise to do nothing if nothing is the right thing to do! And, I would urge you to do the same – unless you’re an extreme procrastinator and really should keep busy. 

How to start? I have been saving the Game of Thrones boxset for just such an occasion. I may be gone for some time…

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