Reflections on cancer

Breast cancer lesson 184: When you have a big enough why, you can endure any how

The last decade has taught me much about determination. Whether it’s finding a way to make it up the stairs before my hip reconstruction surgery, walk that first mile after mastectomy and tummy tuck (to build new boob) surgery, get to the end of my first 10k during chemo or make it to the marathon start line, life has forced me to the ground and I have had to use every last bit of strength to pull myself up again.

It seems only fitting, therefore, that we should choose to inflict another huge test of endurance on ourselves for our wedding and honeymoon – one that I have already been told by the experts is going to hurt, a lot!

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I write this post after a gruelling 19-mile run/walk/stretch fest to try and manage an injury and keep training for our marathon wedding and honeymoon trek. With my dad for company, there were genuinely times when I felt I could not go on. But, with every painful step came the reminder of something my dad said to me on a run back in January. He said: ‘when you have a big enough why, you can endure any how.’

And how right he is.

With a marathon, pain is pretty much inevitable (especially if you start it with a hip full of metal and an ITB injury). But, the suffering doesn’t have to be.

My big why? The best way to describe it is to use the word I gave to the London Marathon when they asked me about my #ReasonToRun as part of their 2017 campaign.

I chose hope.

When you have a serious illness, hope is everything.

It keeps you going when you have little else. It lifts you up. It presents you with a future you would otherwise struggle to write for yourself.

It is hope that we choose to gift to all who are ready to receive it on our wedding day.

Yes, we are raising money for Willow and Breast Cancer Care so that they can give people with serious illness the strength to face another day. But, more than that, we run for all those who are finding it hard to get through the day. We run for all those facing physical challenges that mean even climbing the stairs is a uphill battle (that was me a decade ago). We run to inspire others to believe they can in a world that so often tells the, they can’t. We run to show that you can go further than you ever thought possible with the right people by their side.

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So, on April 23, help us raise a glass to hope.

In so doing, you will give me the strength I (and the rest of our running wedding party) need to face the pain and still come out smiling.

See you on the finish line!

Thank you to everyone who has sponsored us so far. If you’d like to help us get our £15k finish line, you can donate here.

Breast cancer lesson 182: The hardest part is taking the first step

When I think back to the days of active treatment for breast cancer, I don’t think about the life-saving surgery, the nights spent with a washing-up bowl by the bed during chemo, or the strange radiotherapy tattoos.

I think about the little details and the mini-milestones that reminded me I had a life worth fighting for.

I remember the sun shining the day I went for my first walk after surgery. I remember the cup of tea I was drinking when I got the call telling me we had seven embryos in the freezer. I remember the basket of bread I demolished the moment I discovered my taste buds had returned after chemotherapy (my poor friend didn’t get a look in). And I remember the little routines I worked out with my mum that made hospital days about vanilla milkshakes and tasty lunches.

I remember how little details could change the course of a day. And it’s these details I look for every day now.

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My first 10k

Ask me to pick out just one detail, however, and I’ll tell you about 13 July 2014 – the day I wore a Breast Cancer Care running vest for the first time.

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Having learned to walk again three times in my life (and now with one hip full of metal and the other on the suspect list), I never thought I’d run a 10k. My running action is ungraceful and clunky, and makes small children laugh. Growing up, I was teased for the way I walked. I still am.

I started running during chemo, not because I thought it would be easy or because I thought I’d be good at it. I chose it because it would challenge me more than any other exercise.

I started running because I wanted to show cancer that it could take a lot of things – my hair, my right boob, my tummy fat (to create the new boob) and my dignity – but it would never take my smile.

I wanted to take control of my cancer diagnosis and running gave me that control.

On the day of my first 10k, with a bald head, super-glued stomach, PICC line in my arm, chemo drugs coursing through my veins and my acute oncology card in my back pocket (not to mention those dodgy hips), I was a runner in a crowd of runners, just trying to make a difference. It was my marathon (I likened training to running a marathon up a hill on cobbles with no trainers). I know my body was broken that day. But, I did it – and that’s all that matters.

Why I’m running the marathon for Breast Cancer Care

This incredible charity is responsible for so many of the little details that gave me a reason to smile during treatment. Their information booklets helped me navigate a sea of treatment decisions and pick up the pieces of my shattered life from the hospital floor on diagnosis day.

Their Headstrong service gave me the confidence to embrace my bald head.

Someone Like Me gave me the chance to discuss concerns I knew would never find their way into a 10-minute hospital consultation.

Younger Women Together put me in touch with like-minded people who I know will be friends for life.

They helped me live my life when cancer was busy trying to take it away. And, for that, I’ll be forever grateful. The great thing is, they still support me even now, two years on!

It’s in celebration of those little details that I will be on the London Marathon starting line this Sunday.

I never thought I’d make the starting line (and I’m not quite there yet). But Breast Cancer Care – and the amazing team behind the scenes – has given me the confidence to believe I can. And that’s half the battle.

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The first step is the hardest

Running makes me feel alive – and I’m still just a beginner. Running puts me in control of my body, my happiness and my health, connects me with amazing people, and helps me change the lives of those affected by breast cancer.

It would be wonderful to think that anyone going through treatment could find something that inspires them to keep going and find a reason to smile.

Just opening the door and feeling the sun on my face was a positive step during the dark chemo days. A walk among the spring flowers was an amazing distraction from the hair loss and the feeling of nausea. A little jog (I used to go out for about 10 minutes) was always a great way to clear my head and put a spring in my step.

We don’t all have to run marathons. But by making small changes (taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking on the escalator, even getting off the bus one stop further away from home), we can all find a way back to ourselves.

So why not join me and my sticky-up hair and see just how far exercise can take you? I can tell you now: the hardest part is taking the first step.

Jackie after a half marathon

On the start line

When I’m standing on that Marathon starting line, I won’t be thinking about how far I’ve come – or the ridiculous distance I have to cover – but of the incredible people at Breast Cancer Care; the people up and down the country who dedicate their lives to making sure people don’t just survive breast cancer (for as long as their diagnosis permits), but they can thrive too; the people waking up to the reality of treatment every day; and the people doing what they can to move forward.

Thanks to Breast Cancer Care, we can all find the strength to keep going, one step at a time.

Good luck to everyone running for their own special reasons this Sunday.

See you on the other side!

If you have a few pennies to spare, I would love your support to help encourage me over the finish line! Click here to donate.

Breast cancer lesson 181: There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs

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Whatever New Year’s resolutions you’ve made – or even thought about making – 2016 is the year I really really want you to keep them.

Why? Well, on New Year’s Eve, I wasn’t sat in the pub, running in the park (my current favourite activity) or planning a night out to see the fireworks.

No, I was sat in the hospital being reminded of just how fragile life is.

Before I go on, I should start by saying that everything is fine. I have breathing problems (which probably require new medication) and lower back pain that seems to not want to go away.

The GP is confident it will be nothing. This time (unlike one fateful day back in December 2013), I believe him.

So why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because, despite my complete confidence that it will be nothing, I still spent NYE wondering I’d ever see another one (don’t worry, there was Champagne involved so it wasn’t all bad). And, while I then went on to write a reminder for November to buy new baubles, it did leave me with an urge to make sure 2016 is an awesome a year as the last.

It is a strange fact of life that we are often too busy rushing through each day to stop and think about what we really want that life to look like. How easy it is to write a to-do list of admin tasks or work projects. How hard it is to sit and write down exactly what you want to achieve.

I am not saying put down the laundry, quit your job and travel the world. But, I am saying, write a wish list and, if there is something you really want to do, find a way to do it – and sharpish.

It will not be easy. It is another strange fact of life that the path to happiness rarely is. But, if you want it bad enough, it will be worth the effort.

For me, the next tick on the list is the London Marathon. I ran a 10k race this morning and, with the medical issues mentioned above, I know more than ever that the next four months are going to challenge me to the limit.

But, when I think of that finish line (even starting line right now to be honest), I think of just how happy I will be to be alive.

So whatever you want to achieve in life, make 2016 the year you step towards your dreams.

If you don’t, I am coming to get you – and with these trainers, you have every reason to be scared!

Happy New Year one and all! Let’s make it brilliant.

Lots of love,

Jackie xx

Breast cancer lesson 180: Say yes unless you really should say no!

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Two years ago, I thought a weekend at home with time to do the laundry, make bread and run the hoover round was winning.

A good weekend was one that enabled me to prepare for the week ahead – the working week that is! (Quite what I thought I needed a whole weekend to prepare for is beyond me.)

While I was busy ‘preparing’ for life, everyone else was busy living it. 

And then, cancer tried to take that life away ­– something no amount of hoovering or lawn mowing can prepare you for.

So that’s why I started the year with a new mantra: say yes unless you really should say no. I should qualify this by adding that it’s yes to boundary-pushing, comfort-zone stealing adventures – not extra hours in the office.

You could have reviewed my 2013 by looking at the bags under my eyes and my furrowed brow. I had little else to show for it.

Not any more. Roll the clock forward to 2015 and it’s a completely different story. I pack my days with meaning and adventures and I spend my nights really sleeping (when the hot flushes don’t take hold). 

Admittedly, this may have something to do with the fact that chemo seems to have destroyed the part of my brain that used to obsess about (and remember) everything all the time. 

But, I like to think it has a lot more to do with the fact that my view of the world – and what’s important – has changed. 

This year, I have run political hustings (to push breast cancer up the agenda), delivered speeches in front of thousands of people, run a half marathon, spoken to Eamonn Holmes on Sky News at 7am in the morning, experienced a mindfulness course, featured in a video, eaten banana jam, left Europe for the first time, signed up to a marathon, run to work (well most of the way), reread my favourite books, commuted to work from a ferry, revealed 11 publishing secrets at a conference, featured in a fashion show, gone swimming before work, written thousands of words for charity and walked 20 miles through the night (for starters). 

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And it’s only August. 

In short, I have changed my life. I exercise. I volunteer. I travel. I see friends. I take risks.

I work hard. I always will (and life is too short to just drift). But I have come to realise that life needs work too. 

We can’t live a life without laundry, without routine, without leaking roof tiles and broken drains. But, we can choose how much we let life’s challenges colour our days. 

We can light a candle in the darkness. We can just get on that plane. We can say yes, even when to do so is a little bit scary.

Of course, I am not saying we should all throw out the hoover. But I think we should all remember that people aren’t looking at your carpet! 

Why am I writing this now? Yesterday, I spent two hours in the hairdresser (fourth cut since chemo) not looking in the mirror at the person I was, but looking at the person I’ve become. 

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I don’t see the woman who played it safe with the same bob for six years – the woman so busy rushing through life she’d forgotten to live. 

I see someone stronger, happier, more confident and more adventurous – and I see the bold pixie cut that backs that up. I see a woman too busy to even use a hairbrush!

So whatever it is you want to see, to do, to visit, to say, make today the day you start saying yes and making plans. Don’t wait for a brighter tomorrow, don’t turn over in bed.

Just say yes, light that candle, before life comes along (as it inevitably will) to blow it out.

I’m off for a swim!

Breast cancer lesson number 179: Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go

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Walking a path in a tiny park by my house might seem an odd subject to break my blogging silence.

But, as I jogged the 209 (ish) steps from one side of the park to the other on my way swimming at the weekend, I was reminded of the fact that in June 2014, this narrow path was not just my route on the way to somewhere else.

It was my route to my first ever 10k.

When you’re training on chemo, 209-step bursts are more than enough. Little did I think, however, as I plodded up and down the path in an attempt to jog continuously for about 10 minutes, that I would be signed up for a marathon just one year on. If that’s not progress, then I don’t know what is!

Yes, that’s right. One whole marathon. One whole 26.2 miles around the streets of London. And I’ll be running it in a Breast Cancer Care vest.

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Those of you who have followed my running journey (from the GB 10k in July last year to the Bath Half in March) will know that, for me, running will always be as challenging as it is fulfilling. I am not a natural runner. I have a hip full of metal from major pelvis surgery in my twenties and I still set out for every session wondering if this will be the day when I won’t be able to walk back through the door at the end of it. Chemotherapy drugs tested my ability to train and improve (I ran my first 10k with my acute oncology card in my back pocket). And my hip continues to test me every day.

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A year ago I thought a 10k would be my marathon. Now, I am starting to realise, while incredibly difficult and draining, my biggest running challenge is yet to come.

My biggest fear, however, is not the race itself. No, my biggest fear, is not making the starting line. I know the training will test me. What I don’t know, as I stroll back from my latest 10k run thankfully without pain, is just how much. (Yes, as an aside, an evening 10k after work in Canary Wharf, which demonstrates just how much my life has changed.)

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If the x-ray I saw on Monday is anything to go by, my hip is happier than ever. The right hip is stable and the left side is strong and pretty bionic. I thought it would be a bit weird to snap the consultant’s screen, so below is an example of what is going on beneath the compression tights in a bit of my body that thinks Breast cancer slightly stole its thunder last year. Of course, I didn’t exactly mention the words London and marathon, but that’s because no is no longer an option. It’s now all about how.

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Why London, why now? I know there will only be one marathon in my life, so it has to be the one that pretty much starts in my back garden and the one that trapped me in my flat for eight years when I lived at the 16-mile mark (I am hoping that I might miss hitting the wall as I will be spotting all my old haunts). London is the greatest city in the world and it will be a real privilege to run (or jog/walk) alongside thousands of amazing and humbling people.

This blog post, however, isn’t really a blog about running. It’s about progress.

I think we all get so wrapped up in what we can do right now, that we forget how much we have achieved – and how hard we’ve worked to get to where we are.

In the same way, we often think a challenge now, will still be a challenge tomorrow.

Progress doesn’t have to big. It can be getting out of bed and opening the curtains after surgery. It can be tasting your first slice of bread after chemo has handed back your tastebuds. It can be running for the bus without needing to catch your breath or keeping a promise. It can be leaving work on time or tucking your children into bed. It can be remembering to say thank you to the people who have touched your life.

Progress doesn’t have to be groundbreaking. It just has to be celebrated, every day with a grateful heart.

So hear’s to a little thing called progress. Last year I never thought I would be able to complete a 10k. One year on, I am already excited about returning to the same course where it all began. This time I will be aiming for a PB, not to avoid the hospital A&E department.

The next nine months is about getting to the marathon starting line. If I get there, I know the cause and the crowd will help me every step of the way.

If you are interested in finding out whether or not I make the start – let alone the finish -you can follow my running adventure (races, training, marathon tips, inspirational runners and runs around the world while travelling) at makearunofit.wordpress.com.

My new blog is my way of moving forward.

This blog, however, will always be a reminder of just how far I’ve come.

If you would like to sponsor me to help me reach my whopping charity target, please head to my charity page. Thank you so much for your support. It means the world to me.

Breast cancer lesson 177: Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world

Ok, so Marilyn Monroe probably wasn’t talking about a pair of running trainers when she came out with the above quote. But, when you’re standing on the starting line of a half marathon, the right pair of trainers can be the greatest of companions.

I can’t say I conquered the world on March 1 running around the streets of Bath in a giant boob costume for fantastic charity CoppaFeel. But, given I started the race with a hip injury that threatened to stop everything in just a few steps I certainly conquered something that day.

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I’d like to say the hip injury was as a result of extensive training and my two 13-mile practice runs, but the reality is actually a lot more amusing. The pain in my quad muscle (which felt like rock just moments before the race) was caused by sitting in a cross-legged position for too long in a silent meditation. I can hear you now. Jackie Scully can take on cancer, smile through treatment and run 13 miles for fun, but struggles with that challenging activity of sitting. It’s funny now. It wasn’t last weekend.

The run was emotional for more reasons that my clicking hip and aching groin. While comfy trainers can be the greatest of companions, so, too, can two amazing friends Alex and Fran. They stuck beside me, encouraged me with every step and gave me the confidence and the strength to get me to the end. I knew they could run faster, but the fact that they didn’t is something I will never forget.

Those of you who have followed my running journey will know that it was fantastic Fran who kept me hydrated and positive when I ran my first ever 10k just a week before my last chemo. It was Fran who lined up next to me for my next 10k just hours before the last day of active treatment. And it was Fran who stopped when I stopped and laughed when I laughed last Sunday – and even found time to dance along to the music being played. She says the running has been great for her. I am so thrilled, because her support has been great for me and I feel truly blessed to have her in my life.

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Then there’s Alex. Last year, my wonderful school friend ran the Bath Half for CoppaFeel after her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her sponsorship page reminded me of a great friendship we’d once had and her amazing can-do attitude. We met up after seven years apart last summer and it was then that we vowed to support the charity that brought us back together in our home town this year. Last Sunday, it was Alex doing the chanting, encouraging and the energy gel supplying and I knew when I stood beside both her and Fran waiting to cross the starting line that we would find a way to get to the end together. (We were also joined by the lovely Kelly Packer and Amy Sparks on the course, both schoolfriends I hadn’t seen for 14 years!)

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I may sound dramatic, but when your leg is giving way and you can’t walk without pain going in to a half marathon, it takes a lot to even start. Thanks to a knowledgable physio, I knew I wouldn’t end up in my hip surgeon’s office with a rather guilty look on my face, so I knew it was up to my mind to convince me I could get round.

And convince me it did. Two hours and 30 minutes later (we ran all the way barring two stretching stops), we crossed the line holding hands only to fall into the arms of a Telegraph journalist. (For those of you with a copy of Friday’s paper, head to the back page of the sports section.) We also made the local Bath Chronicle too. And, the regional BBC news station took this as we crossed the line (it hurt that much)!

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My mindfulness course (the reason for which I was sat in a cross legged position for so long) may have brought on an injury, but it has taught me a very valuable lesson over the last eight weeks. Pain is inevitable and not something you can or should look to avoid. But, pain doesn’t have to lead to suffering. If you don’t resist it and accept what is happening to you, pain is just pain. I know what pain feels like, I know how to ride it out (and medicate against it) and I am proud of myself that I can run 13 miles aware of it, but not ruled by it.

You could say I was foolish given my hip history. I hope, however, you will just see me as even more determined.

How can you stand in a charity tent with Kris and Maren Hallenga (the amazing sisters who spend every waking moment trying to wipe out the late detection of breast cancer as part of CoppaFeel) and not vow to make it round.

They inspire me, it was their charity that brought me back to Alex, it is their charity that has seen me talk about boobs more times in the last year than I thought possible and it is their story that is the reason we should all feel happy to be alive.

If you haven’t found the right shoes to conquer your world, it’s about time you went shopping…

Breast cancer lesson 176: a cancer diagnosis brings clouds, but it doesn’t have to block out the sun

There is something quite sobering about reading back over my diary from last year (I only write a line a day but, in some cases, that’s enough to conjure up some pretty strong images) and reflecting on the entry for 21 February 2014.

Sitting down to write last night’s entry (I cooked for friends, so it was more about wine and a cake that accidentally resembled a boob than it was morphine and NHS mash) I knew it would be a world away from this: ‘Short in terms of length, but long in terms of getting the cancer cut out of me. Boob off, tummy out, boob on. Humour can get you through a lot.’ (Ok, slightly more than a line, but you get the picture.)

You could say it was the most memorable day of 2014. But, with the quantities of general anaesthetic involved, it was also among the most forgettable. One year on, I think of it as the day I lost a boob and found myself, the day that reminded me of just how fragile we humans are and a day that taught me that life is too short to spend it among the clouds, when there is blue sky all around.

The cloud metaphor for me is a strong one and one that I saw neatly captured on a mindfulness animation the other day (I am doing a mindfulness course currently, but that’s a whole other story). Imagine a bright, clear blue sky, a sky that is calm and uplifting (sounds like a good sky to me). Then imagine that sky filling with clouds (of the light and fluffy and grey and stormy kind). These clouds represent our thoughts, helping to block out the blue sky with imaginings that are often far worse than the reality that follows. The secret in life is to remember that thoughts are just clouds. They drift in and out, they don’t last forever and, while you may look at them and see them as colouring your day, your mind can (just like a plane climbing through the sky) break through that blanket of grey and find the blue sky again (it’s always there, but our thoughts often make it harder to find). A cancer diagnosis will always bring with clouds, but it doesn’t gave to spell a change in the weather.

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It’s hard not to see the blue sky when you’re celebrating a year being cancer-free! How to mark such a significant first anniversary? With another first of course. This time in the form of my first haircut since the pre-chemo pixie. Goodbye natural but Frodo-like locks and hello beginnings of something I might one day refer to as a style.

This is where is was before the chop:

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And this is the ultimate aim:

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Bit more hair, bit less forehead required!

The experience itself was lovely. Conditioner (my hair rarely needs washing let alone conditioning now), a hair brush being passed through my short little locks and the feeling of someone else taking charge of my wild look was a real treat.

But that’s not all. Friday was dinner and laughs with a great friend (something I am doing more of now after reconnecting with lots of people last year). And, Saturday was a day in the kitchen surrounded by proving bread, homemade pesto and a white chocolate bombe.

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These last few days have been a celebration of the things I love to do, my way of thanking my body for surviving eight hours on the slab and coming out smiling – and thanking some of those around me for coming along for the ride. And the great thing is, my stomach is flat enough to not feel guilty about having a second slice of cake for dessert.

So, whatever you’re doing today, I invite you to look for the blue sky (difficult in the UK, I know). Acknowledge those clouds, but acknowledge that they don’t have to define a day, but can actually make the blue sky even more vibrant.

Breast cancer lesson 175: You don’t need a nipple to feel whole again after cancer surgery

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A few days ago, I called the hospital and took myself off the waiting list for nipple reconstruction surgery.

It wasn’t a rash decision (many a cup of tea has been needed in the build up), but as far as decisions go, it is among the best I have ever made.

I must confess that while I would have loved to have said to colleagues and clients: ‘Sorry, I won’t be able to make the meeting as I am having my nipple put on that day’, and, while part of me liked the idea of being put back together again, a huge part of me was shouting: ‘Why?’

After surgery and finishing active treatment, it felt like the natural next step (why wouldn’t I go for a cherry on top’?!). Sitting in front of the surgeon talking about cutting and snipping and stitching back in October, it seemed like a quick and painless procedure and an easy way to forget the past.

But, ask me what I am thinking about six months on and I can tell you, it’s not a pink, fleshy (albeit realistic) blob on the end of my fat-filled right boob. It’s the fact that I am happier, healthier and fitter than ever and a nipple really won’t add anything – except a ‘permanent outy’ that no amount of warm weather would conceal.

Now, I realise that I was more curious than in need of an extra asset. And, curiosity just isn’t a big enough reason to brave a hospital gown, needles, a knife, an operating table, a series of nipple tattoos and the memory of a year in the warm, but treatment-focused arms of the amazing NHS.

I guess you might call me lucky. Strange as it sounds, I don’t want to hide from my scars. Each one carries with it a story that makes me who I am. Each one reminds me not to worry when I get caught up in the complications that come with everyday life. Each one keeps me grounded. Each one is a reminder of all I had to lose and all I have gained as a result of this challenging – and yet weirdly fulfilling – period of my life. My scars are just as much a part of me as my right foot that turns in and my dodgy hip. I am not looking to replace them, but embrace them. I have no ambition to be a topless model so why would I cover up what is always covered up.

I read my story in the lines that cancer has given me and I smile. I smile because they remind me not of pain and surgery, but of just how far I have come – and of just how far I want to go. It is with these scars that I will be lining up on the starting line of the Bath Half in two weeks (and the Pink Ribbonwalk in July and the Royal Parks Half in October). It is with these scars that I will be flying to the Caribbean (yes, leaving Europe for the first time) with my new size 6 tankini (sun-exposure conscious as ever). And, it is with these scars that I hope to make a difference on this wonderful planet of ours. As I said, all the way back in lesson 21: ‘scars remind you where you’ve been and how hard you worked to get there. They don’t have to dictate where you’re going, but they can give you the strength and determination to make sure the path you do choose is a beautiful, interesting and inspiring one.’

Last year, I came face-to-face with my own mortality at the age of 32. I had the chance, at a young age, to reflect on what my gravestone could say and I decided the message needed to change – and fast. I can guarantee it won’t ever say: ‘Here lies Jackie, cracking right nipple.’ What I hope it will say (and not for a very long time) is: ‘Here lies a woman who smiled, laughed, lived and loved – and dedicated her life to helping others do the same (admittedly may need editing as I am not in the market for a tomb)! Sounds morbid, but I have plenty of years to get it right.

Breast cancer lesson 174: Why hitting that ‘cancerversary’ is something to celebrate

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A year ago today, I was taken into a room and told I had cancer.

As days go, I think it is safe to say it is one I would never wish to repeat (I keep a line a day diary where I rate each day and this is the first time I contemplated minus numbers).

But what I could never have imagined or predicted – as I sobbed into any tissue I could get my hands on and rushed round the corridors to find a mobile signal so I could break the news – is the year that followed and just how much that year did to change my life.

One year on and I am sad to say I haven’t baked a boob-shaped cake or popped open the Champagne (dry January will be completed). In fact, with a morning sorting clothes into wardrobes and a trip to see a friend for lunch, you could describe it as any other day. That said, it’s not every day you get a congrats card (cancerversary cards aren’t that popular) just for being alive.

If you’ve followed my story, you’ll know that this is, in fact, the perfect way for me to celebrate (although admittedly, a themed cake would have worked too). Cancer, when it took over my boob and stole my tummy fat (which has yet to make an appearance once more) it also took away my constant desire to rush through life and brought the small details of the everyday into sharp focus. They are the details that I reflect on at night. They are the details I write about in my diary. And, they are the details of which I never want to lose sight. I don’t dream of big parties and lots of cheers. I dream about hugs from friends, nights on the sofa planning new meals to cook and the sunshine on my face in Greenwich park. Little things never let you down.

Keeping up with tradition, a big milestone in the cancer calendar just wouldn’t be properly marked without a run of some sorts (never thought I’d ever say that)! Tomorrow, I am doing my first ever run for fun (a 10k race to boost my half marathon training) and I have also just signed up for the 20-mile overnight Breast Cancer Care walk with my mum in July and the Royal Parks Half Marathon in October. Last year, life decided to throw me my biggest challenge. This year, I’ve decided to set my own.

Being able to call myself a runner (albeit the loosest sense of the word) is not the only thing that’s changed in the last year. I am 7KGs lighter. I wear hats for fun. I look at the leaking in the roof in the bathroom and I don’t panic. I know how to grow vegetables (although Duncan may dispute this). I can make crumpets. I have watched a play at The Globe and sung carols in London. None of these things may sound ground-breaking, but to me, they are a sign I am living the life I had buried away in a handwritten to-do list. I am putting actions before words at last (although I still love lists)

Of course, I will always be ambitious, but I have learned that true happiness is not always about succeeding in the purest sense of the word, but about making the best of the day you have and living in the present. That’s why I’m doing a mindfulness course at the moment. That’s why I am packing my already busy days with swimming, running, meeting friends and, shock horror, relaxing. And, that’s why I am happier than I have been in years.

So, if you are not on dry January today (or having a cheeky break), then I invite you to raise a glass to the little things. May they make you happy. May they fill your days with pockets of calm. And, may they be there to draw on when the big things come along, which they will at a really inconvenient time.

I now realise life isn’t a given, it’s a gift. And, if you know where to look, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Breast cancer lesson 173: Good things come to those who wait

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While a trip back to oncology in the first week of January was never going to make the 2015 highlights list, I am delighted to report that, as appointments go, it was actually rather nice.

For starters, when a doctor says the words: ‘well done’, ‘congratulations’ and ‘now go away and forget about us’ in the space of a four-minute conversation (that was actually stretched out because I had waited 1.5 hours to be seen), you know things are going to be just fine.

It was a strange experience walking back down the street to the hospital, passing the chairs where I waited anxiously on more than one occasion and sitting in the waiting room smiling conspiratorially at bald patients. I have to say, if you’ve got short hair (or in fact any hair), an oncology department is the place to go to feel hairy!

With such a glowing report, you’d think there wouldn’t be a test attached but, this being a research hospital, you can’t move across the waiting room without someone waving a consent form and asking you to sign away relevant bits of your body.

This time, I was asked whether I would participant in a genetics research project for 300 women with lobular cancer. Apparently, given lobular cancer (click here for more information) is less common than ductal, they are exploring whether or not there is a genetic reason why people are diagnosed. Sadly, my individual results will not be shared with me (and I didn’t qualify for genetics testing because the cancer in my family is, thankfully, too far away for concern), but I hope that the research study, when it’s completed, will help many more people in the future. Things are easier to fix (or prevent) when we understand them.

Of course, for me to be a useful participant, I needed to provide one thing = blood. A year ago (blood donor that I was), I would have thought nothing of this and dutifully presented my arm. Trouble is, with good blood-giving arm permanently banned due to it being a lymphoedema risk, giving blood is no longer the breeze it once was. I signed the consent form willingly, but then I added: ‘Trouble is, you may not be able to get any blood to test.’

Undeterred, the nurse approached my arm and proceeded to prod, press, warm, wiggle, rub and tap it. Anyone familiar with my fertility preservation blogging days will know that no amount of coaxing brings these veins to the surface (eight failed attempts is my record). After a few attempts (given it is elective rather than compulsory she refused to continue) she sent me packing with the promise of a rematch – and hand-pumping exercises to do while watching the TV to strengthen my veins so that I play ball in future. I am not sure any amount of pumping will make my arm needle-friendly (especially as it wasn’t ruined by chemo, but always a bit rubbish, but I would very much like to contribute to the research, so I better give it a go.

I can’t quite say I’m discharged (that revolving oncology door will always be open to me), but with no follow-up form and the suggestion that I go and erase the word oncology from my mind, I’m as good as free (to see the breast surgeon annually – so not quite as free as I’d like).

Next up, the end of treatment clinic, a mammogram and a new nipple. Then I might just take a holiday!

Happy new year one and all. May it not involve too many more waiting rooms!

Next up, the end of treatment clinic, a mammogram and a new nipple. Then I might just take a holiday!

Happy new year one and all. May it not involve too many more waiting rooms!