Breast cancer lesson 153: The race to the finish is on!

It really is hard to explain quite how excited I am right now. You might think this strange given it is the evening before my next 10k (that means an early night and no Saturday wine), my skin is starting to look very angry and I have just discovered that the loss of sensation and general tingling feeling in my hands and feet (otherwise known as peripheral neuropathy) might be here to stay for a good six months if yesterday’s review meeting is anything to go by. But, just knowing that I have two massive finish lines to cross over the next two days makes me very happy indeed.

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I confess, I had a slight blip yesterday at my review meeting. After joking with the team doing the treatment for the day, I was ushered into a room to talk through aftercare following my last blast. It started well due to the fact I was dressed in a complicated top that took me ages to get off while I was trying to hold a sensible conversation. (I just had to laugh in the end as the surreptitious tugging on the sleeves to try and get them over my hands just didn’t work.) Once out of my top, we talked creams (you need to keep the Doublebase going for as long as you have symptoms and for at least two weeks), swimming (seems I might be able to take my first swim in a month if the skin holds), peripheral neuropathy (it seems I still have no one to talk to about this currently and it might be here to stay), Tamoxifen (as I haven’t been consented for this yet, no one in the department can prescribe the drug for me, so I have a few weeks reprieve before the 10-year course begins) and the 10k (she has given me some medical cling film to attach to my boob and under my arm to prevent the friction from causing my skin to fall off).

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Then, she mentioned the future. For the first time, a medical professional was sat in front of me telling me this was the end. There would be no more frequent appointments to make me feel like I am fighting any rogue cancer gremlins in my body. There will be no one close by if I have a ‘what if’ wobble. From Monday, I will be just another hospital number on the system, already replaced with another patient starting their journey. I should have been jumping for joy. Instead, when someone is looking across at you with tears in their eyes telling you it’s ok to cry, I felt a little sad. It wasn’t a lasting sadness (I welled up a bit but recovered well), just a realisation that the protective bubble of surgeons, nurses and doctors is about to burst. And, it won’t be long before I will be left alone to face the future, with just a packet of pills for company.

The thing is, I know I’m ready for the future. I am excited about the future. I am strong enough to face the future. And, I know I will never be alone, thanks to the sheer volume of amazing people around me. I am also delighted to be giving waiting rooms a wide berth for a few weeks at least. I guess I just wish this appointment had been less about uncertainty and sadness and more about congratulating me on a job well done. I would have preferred an ‘I did it’ sticker, a pat on the back and a big smile rather than a reminder that the end is not really the end and that the road ahead could actually turn out to be a little bumpy.

The way I am choosing to say goodbye to active treatment and hello to a cancer-free life, however, doesn’t require a consulting room. Firstly, given there won’t be fireworks or even a lolly or star sticker from the hospital (and it is a Monday as well, which makes it feel even less special), I have taken it upon myself to mark the occasion with an end-of-active-treatment present to self. I have heard of people buying shoes, bags and cars to celebrate the fact they are being allowed to get off the cancer conveyor belt, but I have opted for something practical and meaningful to me: a decent pair of trainers.

I am not sure my old pair should have really been taken round the block, let alone the streets of London in July. So, I promised myself, if I made it across that finish line, I would get a pair that wouldn’t break my feet. I bought them a month or so ago to break them in before the big race tomorrow and I do feel I have been bouncing rather than jogging around the park of late. When I put them on, I feel like I am giving my feet a big hug – and that’s got to be a good thing.

The buying of running shoes is also quite significant for me. Running deserves its very own chapter in my cancer story. Anyone who has ever taken to the road (park, trail, path etc) will know that indescribable rush that comes with completing a run/jog/walk. It is that feeling that has helped me greet each day with a smile. And, it is that feeling I want to carry with me forever. I believe a run can change a day for the better. And, my future is all about having a better life. I never thought my hips and the toxic drugs in my body would ever let me be a runner. I am so grateful to my body for giving me that chance.

These shoes are also a reminder that whatever finish line it is you need to cross, you will get there. But, you should focus on making the journey as comfortable as possible, so you enjoy every step of the way.

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Tomorrow, the aim is to 1) finish in one piece with cling film in tact and skin and nails still on 2) Raise money for the amazing charity Coppafeel 3) celebrate the end of cancer and the beginning of a healthier life with friends 4) shave even one second off the chemo run time and 5) cross the finish line with a big smile on my face. If you’d still like to pledge to buy me a drink to celebrate the end of active treatment (for each pledge I get I will donate to charity) or sponsor me, please post here!

When I cross that finish line tomorrow I cross it for everyone who has joined me on this journey. This serious illness may have tested me to the limit, but I think I will always look back on this time as one incredible ride.

All I need now is an early night and then a bit of banana fuel in the morning!

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you’ll be cheering us (by which I mean, Duncan, Fran and Sam) on!

As an aside, I will leave you with a rather amusing exchange with the shop assistant at the local supermarket a moment ago (on my mission for bananas). It went a bit like this:

Assistant: ‘How are you doing?’

Me: ‘Really well thanks’

Assistant: ‘And, how is your day going?

Me: ‘I am having a good day. Thanks for asking’

Assistant: ‘Really?’

Me: ‘Really!’

Assistant: ‘But, you do have a disease right?’ [points to lack of hair]

Me: ‘Ah yes, that would be cancer treatment. Nearly over now.’

Assistant: ‘I knew it! You’re a star.’

Seems I can’t even buy my magic running-fuel bananas in peace!

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!