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:

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 96: Happiness is a journey, not a destination

The title of this blog post is actually one of my favourite quotations. Last year I organised for it to be printed onto a sign for the living room to remind me of that fact every day. The reason? I think we often spend too much time wishing our lives away and not enough time enjoying the moment. A lot of the time, the destination doesn’t quite live up to expectations or the excitement experienced on the journey. I believe that if you enjoy the journey, you’re less likely to demand as much of the destination – and are therefore more likely to enjoy it. That’s my logic and I’m sticking to it!

I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment of Friday (which included four separate journeys and a destination that was also a journey if you can get your head around that!). I enjoyed the leisurely lie-in, the tea in bed, laughing on the tube with Duncan, the band playing as we arrived at the Orient Express check-in in the Victoria and the best cup of tea in a paper cup I have ever had as we waited for our train. I enjoyed the Audrey carriage with its colourful past (it used to be part of the Brighton Belle train, was once damaged in a bombing raid and has stunning landscape scenes on its wooden panels). I loved the five-course meal (including enough cheese to feed a small nation), the banter with the team on board and actually being in photos. I even enjoyed the drive on the M25 to the Cotswolds for the weekend after it was all over. I enjoyed the details and nothing else mattered.







One of my favourite moments, however, is perhaps not what you’d expect. I will never forget the faces of the commuters on every platform we passed. The train, with its beauty and elegance was an unexpected element in their day. With wide-eyed children pointing, commuters staring in wonder and workmen stopping to wave, the train brought with it as many unexpected smiles as it did happy and well-fed passengers. I was happy to be on board, but happier seeing the mark it left on every platform.

In lesson 95, I challenged myself to get in front of the camera and take part in the memories as they are being frozen in time. I am delighted to report that I rose to the challenge, and dragged Duncan along for the ride too. I look back at each and every one of these and smile. It really was an amazing experience.




If you’re interested in the Orient Express, you’ll be interested to know that we went on the British Pullman on a four-hour round trip from London Victoria. Each of its 10 carriages, described as ‘palaces on wheels’ has a different personality. Audrey is one of the smaller carriages, meaning we were virtually guaranteed an intimate table for two and a big picture window. I can also confirm that the gooseberry trifle was delicious and Duncan did sample one of every cheese on the cheeseboard (and earned the respect of the waiter in doing so).

This memory wouldn’t have been possible without the kindness of the wonderful Willow Foundation and my lovely breast cancer nurse. The Willow Foundation was set up by former Arsenalgoalkeeper and TV presenter, Bob Wilson and his wife Megs, as a lasting memorial to their daughter, Anna, who died of cancer aged 31.They wanted to give 16- to 40-year-olds the chance to escape a serious illness by enjoying a special day out. And, since 1999, they’ve been doing just that. I, along with the many young women diagnosed with breast cancer every year, will be forever grateful.

My nurse recommended them to me and helped me with the application form and I couldn’t recommend them highly enough to you. If you are based in the UK and are eligible, I would encourage you to apply today! Click here for more details and to find out how you can support this amazing organisation. 

Thank you Willow and thank you Orient Express for gifting me a day when I enjoyed both the journey and the destination. It is a day I will never forget.

PS: A lovely lady called Tric reblogged one of my earlier posts: ‘what you lose I dignity, you gain in confidence’ at the weekend on her own blog My thoughts on a page. It remains one of my favourite posts, so click here if you want a second look. Thanks Tric.

Breast cancer lesson number 66: Always look on the ‘brighter’ side of life

What better way is there to spend an Easter Saturday than up a cliff on the Dorset Coast path? When the sun went in it was quite bracing, but with the wind on my face and running through my tiny strands of hair, it was a wonderful reminder of all that is beautiful and wonderful in the world.


Standing on a cliff with no hair is number 17 on my ‘brighter life list’. I still have hair around the bald patches (although a lot less after my latest shower), so it doesn’t quite score me my first tick on the list, but as a dress rehearsal, it was pretty exhilarating. If you are ever presented with the opportunity in your life (and I hope it has nothing to do with illness), I would encourage you to get yourself to a coast path – and fast!

If today didn’t remind you of how happy you are to be alive, then make sure tomorrow does. My brighter life list is about seizing the day and not waiting for happiness to find me. I’ve spent too much of my time wishing my life away. Now I want to cherish every moment.

It’s time to stop dreaming and start planning.