Why bother?

Before I start I just want to say a huge heart-felt thanks to you all.  I have been simply overwhelmed and touched by your lovely messages of support and encouragement; your generosity of spirit for taking the time to read, comment and share my story has been truly A-MAZ-ING! Thank you.

So, why bother writing a blog at all?

Well firstly, two friends, totally independent of each other, suggested that writing might prove a useful outlet (except they put it far more eloquently than that), which planted that little seed and got me thinking… Could I?  Would I?  Should I?  Do I actually have anything to say?

Secondly, October is breast cancer awareness month.  It is the month where “pink” is pushed to the fore and it hardly seems conceivable that there is anyone left in the world who is not aware of this horrible disease.  The statistics are appalling!  (I won’t bother quoting them – in case I get it wrong – but if you’re into your stats just find them on a reputable site; I would urge you, however, to have a strong shot of your favourite tipple on standby to get over the shock.)  We all know someone (other than me, of course) who’s been affected by this, and if not directly, we know someone who knows someone, right?

So, what’s your point Heidi?  Well, I think what I’m trying to say is that I’d like to use my story to get a message out there.  We all know how important early detection of cancer can be; how much of a difference it can make to its treatment and ultimate defeat; and yet I hear far too many stories like mine…  Where it has spread; where the fight is that much harder, and the road to recovery so much longer and more difficult!  Where you have to come to terms with “living with cancer” rather than kicking the bastard into touch!

What can you do?  Get to know your bodies intimately!  (I hope that you already do, but if not, it’s NEVER too late to start.)  Know what “normal” is for you.  Check yourself regularly, by look and feel. Trust your gut instinct! Go see your GP when there is something that is not normal for you.  Go back to your GP two weeks later when it hasn’t gone away.  Go back to him/her again when you notice other things that aren’t normal for you (whether you think they’re related or not).  Ask to see a different GP if you feel they’re not taking you seriously.  Make a nuisance of yourself if you have to.  MAKE THEM LISTEN!  It is unfortunate that we need to resort to this kind of behaviour to make ourselves heard sometimes, but that is the way it is.  I’ve had many a conversation with my friend Gwen about how, in an ideal world, cancer would be the first thing to be eliminated, rather than the very last possible cause considered in a long, long, long list!  And yes, I know that very often it turns out not to be cancer (hurray), but sometimes it turns out that it is – despite the fact that the person doesn’t fit in perfectly with the normal set of circumstances.  Because I have news…  CANCER DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE!  CANCER DOESN’T PLAY NICE!!  CANCER DOESN’T FOLLOW THE RULES; it makes its own rules, then goes and breaks those and makes a whole new set!!!

So I urge you; whatever your age, gender (yes, guys can get it too), race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation… make today the day you stand up to breast cancer by getting to know your “normal”.   Make today the day we unite in making it that much harder for cancer to win!

Well, well, would you look at that…  I guess I had something to say after all!

I thought it might be useful to include here some of the possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer:-

  • a lump in the breast;
  • a change in the size or shape of the breast;
  • dimpling of the skin or thickening in the breast tissue;
  • a nipple that’s turned in (inverted);
  • a rash (like eczema) on the nipple;
  • discharge from the nipple;
  • swelling or a lump in the armpit.

Or, in my case, none of the above!  The area above my right breast and up to the shoulder was hard and painful (I thought possibly from an old dance injury?), and unfortunately when I did seek advice, it was put down to my pectoral muscle being in spasm.  (Chances are that it was already too late by that time, as I developed severe backache shortly after this; a sign, as we now know, that the cancer had spread to my spine.)

Thanks to each and every one of you for taking the time to read.  I hope you continue to join me.

In the meantime…. KEEP CHECKING! [fade in the “Strictly” music]

breast cancer awareness month

An afterthought…  Having just re-read the above, I may have come across as being particularly harsh on the medical profession.  Of course there are a huge number of excellent GPs who do a very tough job under extremely difficult time and monetary constraints.  However, there are also some spectacularly awful GPs who think they know it all and don’t listen past the first ten seconds of a patient’s concerns.  So, if you happen to be a GP and you’re reading this, I’m not having “a go”; really I’m not.  You may wish to consider though that when you think you are reassuring someone, it can appear as casual dismissal and flippancy!

The Story So Far…

In 1997, at the age of 27, I discovered a very small lump in my right breast (so small, I wasn’t even sure it was a lump).  Being a pragmatic person, I got it checked out at the doctors, and although she didn’t think it was anything, she referred me on to the hospital as a matter of course.

After several months and tests later, the consensus was to have the lump removed so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it any more.  As it turns out, of course, I did need to worry because it was, that very scary word… CANCER!

But hey, I got lucky.  After a further excision and removal of all the lymph nodes from under my right arm, they found no further evidence of the disease; so after some intensive radiotherapy and a total of five years on Tamoxifen, interspersed with having my daughters (the two most beautiful, intelligent, loving, frustrating, caring, energy-zapping, funny and mischievous shining beacons in my life), the ordeal was over and diminished a little in memory with each passing year.  In short, I got on with my life.

Having said that, I wasn’t naive.  I knew it could return, and I knew what to look out for.  I continued to check myself regularly, had yearly mammograms and for fifteen years that worked out just fine.

So, you will probably appreciate how much of an idiot I felt upon being told that the months (and months, and months) of backache were as a result of a vertebral collapse and spinal cord compression which would need urgent surgery.  Actually, that’s not quite true, because at that time I wasn’t informed why the collapse had happened – not for another full week (can you still sense the exasperation and frustration two years on?) – when I was told it was due to Metastatic Cancer.  BUGGER!

Now, you may know exactly what metastatic cancer is, but back then I didn’t have a clue.  I just thought it was a different type of cancer, and that I would go back to having treatment and beating it, just like last time.

However, it doesn’t work like that…  Metastatic cancer basically means that the primary cancer (in my case, breast cancer) has spread to other organs of the body (again, in my case, the bones) and that, whilst they can treat to control it, it cannot be cured.  DOUBLE-BUGGER and DAMN!!

But, it’s not all bad.  No, really it’s not!  After some gifted and fantastically talented surgeon at Queens Square in London put me back together again (just like Humpty-Dumpty, but hopefully I’m a little less egg-shaped) I have even been able to get back out dancing again on a near-weekly basis.  The cancer’s been controlled by a few hormone treatments and bone-strengthening treatments every four weeks, and I had my ovaries removed (to stop them producing oestrogen).  I have scans every three months to check on progression, and it worked… for nearly two years.

Unfortunately though, just as you think you know where you are, the sneaky bastard goes and changes and mine has become immune or resistant to the hormone treatment.  TRIPLE-BUGGER and DOUBLE-DAMN!!!

So, here we are… pretty much up to date!

If you’re wondering why exactly I’ve decided to start a blog on all this – and you’ve probably gathered by now that this is my first foray into the literary art – guess what we’ll cover in the next thrilling instalment!  Hope you’ll stick with me…

In the meantime – KEEP LIVING! [fade in “Strictly” music]