breast cancer blog

Breast cancer lesson 183: Life after cancer is about making every day count

It’s not every day you call up the mother of the bride to tell her that you’re getting married in trainers – and that she needs some too!

After waiting 13 years for a proposal, I don’t think my parents ever expected my partner and I to get married.

So imagine their surprise when I announced that not only would there actually be a wedding, but that they’d have to get up at 6am to be there – on the Cutty Sark, dressed to watch a marathon, that we would be running.

Three years ago, when Duncan proposed, I had visions of a Cotswolds country garden wedding with edible centrepieces and vases of alliums.

I didn’t own trainers.

Having had my pelvis rebuilt in 2007 and pinned with metal, I ‘d never experienced the feeling of being alive (and completely shattered) at the end of a run.

But, being diagnosed with breast cancer, just three weeks after getting engaged (not to mention being told by your oncologist that you are likely to gain three stone during chemo) did a lot to change that picture.

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I chose to run during treatment because I wanted to show my body that it can take a lot of things – forcing me to learn to walk again in my 20s and stealing my boob in my 30s – but that it couldn’t define me. I chose running because I knew it would be hard. I chose running because I needed to find a reason to get out of bed and feel the sun on my face. I chose running because I wanted to feel alive at a time when my body had other ideas.

With my nurse mum as carer, Duncan could be my running partner (by which I mean running in the same races miles ahead of me). It kept us going when circumstances could have so easily ripped us apart. Running changed the course of my days and, in so doing, changed my life.

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This is a hard post to write at a time when I can put on my trainers but I can’t move forward. But, while I am injured right now and in the hands of surgeons and physios as they try to diagnose my pain, it is the dream of a cold day in April and the London Marathon that keeps me going.

When you’ve fought for your life, it’s hard to plan too far ahead and rest your happiness on one day in the future. So, when we started talking about our wedding earlier this year, I knew there was only one way to do it. There wouldn’t be an aisle. There wouldn’t be a first dance. There wouldn’t be a day in the Cotswolds.

Our wedding had to be a chance to give back, volunteer, thank those who have supported us and to remind the world that life may be hard but, by focusing on the little – and often beautiful – details of life, you can make every day count.

That’s why the ceremony is happening at 7.30am and the honeymoon will be spent on the Great Wall of China.

I know wedding planning is supposed to be stressful, but I thought that by cutting out the favours and the sit-down meal and focusing on charity it would be a little less involved.

Not so. With road closures, a running wedding dress being designed by the incredibly kind and brilliant Frankie Seaman (Professional Ice Skater from Dancing On Ice), a hen 10k run and a gel bouquet all part of proceedings, I know this will be an experience we will never forget.

I know a hip full of metal, superglued stomach and tummy-fat filled right breast (from mastectomy surgery), oh, and asthma, do not the best running companions make. I know that my next run could be my last (I haven’t ruled out walking it if I am not able to run again). I have been told – on more than one occasion – to find another hobby before I break myself completely (and I will if you let me run one more marathon).

But, when I’m running, I have everything to smile about and I certainly didn’t beat a life-threatening illness just to play it safe.

Our wedding isn’t just a celebration of love and life. It’s a chance for us to thank the people who helped us find our way back to happiness both during and after treatment.

We also want it to serve as a reminder to everyone going through difficult times – whether it be serious illness, or loss, financial difficulties or the daily problems of life – that there is a way to move forward.

If you’re reading this, you’re already on the journey with us. Welcome to the team!

If you’d like to support us please visit: bit.ly/2eSLaed

I will be also writing about the big day and beyond on my blog thisdayforward.org and via Twitter @Jackie8.

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!

Breast cancer lesson 172: Christmas miracles do exist!

After friends hailing last Christmas’ engagement (after 13 years together) as a true ‘Christmas miracle’, I am delighted to report I am the welcome recipient of yet another one.

Today, on my official ‘lumpiversary’, my body has decided to celebrate by starting its first period since the start of treatment. Not something I thought I’d ever celebrate – or even talk about publically – this news is the best present those of us who have undergone chemo and risked infertility could hear.

Cancer takes a lot of things, but it I said at the very beginning, if it wanted to take away my chances of being a mother, it was in for a tough fight. But whatever happens in the future, even more exciting is the fact that this 33-year-old body is, at last, fed up of acting like it’s about 62.

Today is the day I reclaim my body and femininity, and that makes it a great day!

I write this for every woman facing or undergoing chemotherapy and hoping that one day soon, they too will smile in face of a packet of tampax. It took 20 weeks from the end of chemo, but it happened. All I hope is that, if you’re reading this and hoping, it will happen for you too.

There is hope for us all.

Let’s just hope the cramps are kind!

Merry Christmas one and all!

Breast cancer lesson 171: Here’s to the Christmas that changed my life

Christmas Eve is one of my favourite days of the year. If I’m hosting, it’s a day in the kitchen cooking ham, whizzing up brandy butter and enjoying a Christmas movie marathon. And, if I’m not, it’s a long walk in the park, it’s chain tea drinking, and a couple of slices of chocolate log. It’s a day that is, in many ways, so simple. A day that doesn’t have to be anything in particular. It’s a day that never lets me down.

For those of you who have followed my journey from the beginning, you’ll know that’s it’s also the day I discovered a lump in my right breast in the shower (making this Christmas Eve my one-year lumpiversary). You could argue it was the day that ruined Christmas, poured cold water on the engagement that happened just a day later (after 13 years together) and cast a heavy shadow over 2014. But, you know what, that’s not how I remember it. Christmas Eve 2013 saved my life.

When I was sat in front on a fire with my parents just a few days before, I talked about the future, I talked about the fact that I had come to accept that I may never get married and may never have a child to call my own. I had been so focused on the next of life’s big landmarks that I had forgotten to enjoy and cherish the life I woke up to every day. That day, I decided I may not lead a conventional life – and that was fine. It didn’t, however, stop me popping open the champagne on Christmas Day and toasting a 2014 I thought would be filled with table planning, venue hunting and dress shopping.

When I look back, I know I thought Christmas Day was the day that had changed the course of my life. Truth is, however, it doesn’t even come close. While we have decided to recreate the whole event this Christmas (we still have the champagne so it would be a crime not to), I know I won’t be toasting a day one day in the future (2017 if Duncan wins the debate). No, I will be toasting Duncan for being the partner I want to wake up to and laugh with every day. I will be toasting my mum and dad and all they have done – and continue to do – for me. I will be toasting the friends that have made room for me in their lives and their thoughts. I will be toasting the charities – Willow, Breast Cancer Care, Younger Breast Cancer Network, CoppaFeel, Macmillan and the Haven – that supported me and that now fill me with such joy as I work to support them. I will be toasting my body, for being strong and letting the memories fade. I will be toasting the life I have now – a life that Cancer forced me to see – not the life I thought I wanted.

Tomorrow, I won’t be sad, I will be thankful. Thankful that I am here to cook another ham. Thankful that I have the chance to pull another cracker. And thankful that the future Duncan gifted to me 14 years ago when he decided to take a chance on me (not the future he promised me last year) is the future I am around to enjoy. The greatest gift of all is life and it is a gift I will never take for granted again.

Merry Christmas to you all. As you turn to a diet of mince pies and crisps and reflect on the year you’ve had, I don’t want you to think about all the things that didn’t work out this year or all the times life didn’t go your way. I want you to think about the fantastic memories and the moments (however little) that no challenge, serious illness or crisis in the future will ever be able to take away from you.

Raise a glass to health, happiness and the people that make you smile.

Because that’s all you’ll ever really need.

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Breast cancer lesson 170: Tis the season to wear winter hats

It seems only fitting that my hair should be entering its ‘elfin’ phase as the season of advent begins. Anyone who knows me well knows that Christmas is my favourite time of year, so I am delighted that I don’t just have hair, but I also look the part. It isn’t yet in need of a cut, but for the first time in a long time, I don’t look like a sick person. And, you know what? That’s a great feeling.

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People keep asking me whether I am going to go back to the basic bob I sported for a good six years. The answer? Absolutely not. While I think I need a little more up top so that Duncan stops calling me ‘boy’, I don’t think it will be too long before I am declaring my hairdo an official style. I would never have taken the risk and cut it this short had I not been forced into it. But, now I don’t think I’ll ever grow it long again. Wash and wear is something everyone should try!

It may sound strange, but when I look in the mirror and see my nearly-cropped-but-not-quite hair, I see a side to me I actually quite like. It’s a side of me that’s strong. It’s a side of me that knows how to fight. It’s a side of me that isn’t afraid to face the opposition in front of me. It’s still a little vulnerable and sensitive, but it’s a face that says if I can take on death, I can take on anything. And, now that I am firmly rooted back in the real life, it’s a face of which I need to be reminded.

There is another plus side to having short hair, however, that I hadn’t fully appreciated until now and the beginnings of what I call winter. With less than an inch on my head, even the hot flushes can’t stop me from feeling the cold. That’s why this weekend, I stepped out in my first ever winter hat that isn’t a bobble hat or knitted beret. Yes, with no pom pom in sight, it was just me and a winter cloche-style number. It’s not a hairloss hat. It’s a high street hat that I have the confidence to wear because of hair loss. Because, let’s face it, if you can rock bald, no other headwear will ever really raise an eyebrow!

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The furry addition to my wardrobe is yet to make it off the coat hook, but I am excited to have progressed from tea cosy to something with shape!

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I appreciate this isn’t particularly cancer-related, but after having had so much fun with Breast Cancer Care’s Headstrong service and enjoyed a summer season of head wear, I felt winter needed its moment in the spotlight. I am still in my summer scarf and coat, so hat wearing does constitute news in my book.

Talking of Breast Cancer Care, I have just enjoyed my first ever carol service in London – and what a wonderful service it was! Candlelight, beautiful singing, lovely speeches and even a tasty mulled wine and mince pie. It was on my brighter life list and I am delighted to have ticked it off!

Thank you to this amazing charity for the most magical start to advent I have ever had!

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Breast cancer lesson 169: Why getting organised helps me get closure

This weekend has been dedicated to the cancer-equivalent of a spring clean. I have cleansed my cupboards and drawers of sleep caps, hairloss hats, information leaflets, running medals and PICC line covers and I have, at last, sealed the cancer capsule I wrote about in lesson 158.

It was long overdue, but it was as liberating and therapeutic as it sounds.

Getting closure is the subject of my latest blog for Breast Cancer Care (which will be uploaded to their site soon, but here is a link to the others if you’re interested). And, sealing that Cancer capsule is a big part of it.

For those of you wondering what I mean by a Cancer capsule, it’s this. Over the last eleven months I have accumulated a lot of cancer-related ‘stuff’. Of course, the natural thing would be to donate everything to charity so that others can benefit. But, the trouble is, the last thing I gave to charity was a lightweight dressing gown I wore in hospital when I had hip surgery in 2007. I hadn’t really worn it since so, on January 1 2014 it left the house – just a few weeks before I had to buy another one! I am a little superstitious, so giving the things away that kept me going sadly isn’t part of the post-treatment plan.

So, that’s why I decided to create a cancer capsule – a box I can fill with hats and sleep caps and PICC line covers and tuck away in my house as a little insurance policy. It started life as a shoe box and is now a giant pink plastic box (with a lid) packed with everything from my boob cushion and plastic shower sleeve to the running vest I wore when I completed my first ever 10k in July this year.

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Yes, it is practical (I would never want to rebuy these items if it ever came back), but by filling it with every single card, note, letter, good wish, running medal and fact sheet I have received this year, it’s a box that says: ‘I can do this’, if I ever have to ‘do this’ again. This box is my story. With the words ‘be brave, be bold, be you’ stuck on the lid, I know that if, one day, I have to open it again with tears in my eyes, I will be reminded of both the support I had and the strength I found. This box has everything I need should I have to smile through dark times once more.

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Of course, cancer-related organising does go further than packing old items away. This little pill pot organiser is my new best friend, making sure I take my Clonidine and Tamoxifen every day without fail – and making sure I don’t accidentally overdose in the process. It’s more colourful than the clinical packaging and, thanks to a card packed with Boots Advantage points, it didn’t cost a thing.

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Today I declare myself free of cancer clutter!

With the wig burning and the capsule tucked away out of sight, I know I am getting closer to that wonderful thing called closure. I’m not there yet, but I know one day I will be.

My cancer capsule is packed away – and so too, for now, are my memories.