Sliding Doors 

I recall this one time a year ago when I was driving my beast of a car back from oxford to London along the M5. I was traveling (at the rate of the fast lane!) during rush hour when suddenly my car flatlined – it went from 70mph to 10 in the space of 5 seconds. Life moved almost in slow motion. As I saw the cars slamming their breaks on at breakneck speed in my rear view mirror, some divine intervention came into play and I found myself alive and safely in my car on the hard shoulder unscathed with the motorway ground to a halt behind! Despite causing chaos for anyone trying to get back to London that afternoon, there were no injuries and no damage to any of the cars involved. Thank God.

The police came and calmly got the traffic going and comforted me in a somewhat shaken state of affairs. A few hours later, as the adrenaline had disappeared and I was sat in a pick-up truck on my way back to London, a sense of relief and appreciation for life came in its purest form. Despite being emotionally shattered, you find a desire to celebrate and shout ‘I’m alive’ and dance until the wee hours of the morning (with a few tequilas and fab friends!), knowing and recognising the fragility of life! 

 

Coming round from an operation can fill you with that same ‘Im alive’ Joy, albeit with a drug induced glow but certainly with the same appreciation that you made it this far! 

 

I wrote my last blog on the eve of my pending lung resection to remove 2 tumours in my right lung. In summary the operation went well, the surgeon is pleased with my recovery to date, both tumours were fully removed and confirmed as being metasized from my Bowel (which was expected), I have a new found appreciation of fentanyl and I’m paranoid I’m classified as an alcoholic!  

 

The night before my operation was, for the first time, not totally filled with dread Whilst I was certainly worried, I was very appreciative to be able to have the operation at all. Through my blog and social media, I’ve met many people with stage 4 bowel cancer like me, who unfortunately are deemed in-operable. So I knew this was a positive step, if going through the pain of a thoracotomy could have positives!

I managed to squish the lurking nerves adequately with some wine and friends the night before which led to me not feeling on my best form first thing in the morning during admission into hospital!

 

Going through the pre-admission questionnaire we got to the alcohol section. I normal just lie – I generally write down what I think I should be drinking rather than what I actually am. (Come on admit you do it too!). I tried tracking my intake once through an app which made me so depressed, so I just deleted it. 


 Overcome with the realisation that for once I should be honest just before being sliced open, I started calculating my actual intake in the previous week. Now keeping in mind we had just been on holiday where the buffet breakfast provided Champagne and I like getting value for money, I wrote down a number that certainly made me cringe. The lovely clinical nurse, started probing me and before I knew it I was prescribed an alcohol withdrawal tablet for my stay in the hospital! With no time to argue my corner I was ushered into theatre and knocked out in the calmest of fashion.  

When I came round from the operation (I was woken in theatre) I asked my surgeon if they had started already! I had been pre-warned by the team of the pain I would experience. A thoracotomy (which is a cut through my ribcage by my shoulder blade), is known as a painful surgical procedure. Mainly due to the complex nerves in the area and the lack of rest due to consistent movement from breathing. If pain is not well managed, complications like fluid and pneumonia are common so it was paramount I accepted the drugs this time! Having had a slightly bonkers reaction to morphine before, we just went for the hard core fentanol on demand. With an epidural providing direct numbness to the area alongside my magic green button to hand, I managed 8 hours sleep over night in intensive care! A miracle in comparison to the 3 hours sleep I achieved over 4 days in my first operation! 

 

As I slowly came back to life, I started questioning some of the tablets I was consistently being given. When the clinical nurse came back to visit, I immediately starting protesting my alcoholic innocence. I was comforted by the protocol at this hospital to give these tablets to anyone drinking even a glass or 2 of wine daily (aka: everyone I know!), to ensure there was no withdrawal symptoms to have to battle with alongside operation recovery! As I increasingly realised the tablets were actually brilliant, my surgeon quickly whipped them off me and prescribed a glass of wine instead! I can’t win, just when I’m considering cutting down, there I have the doctor ordering me to have wine! If it’s doctors orders, maybe I’m not that bad after all and just maybe I’ll deal with reducing my wine intake after I’ve conquered cancer! 

 

I managed to escape hospital early to spend Easter at home which was not the plan, but glad I did despite having to navigate through the pain. Managing pain is a difficult one for a bloody minded person like myself. One week after the operation I stupidly decided I’d had enough of tablet taking and went cold turkey on pain killers so I could start driving again. Big Mistake…..I ended up with a mini infection, a chronic cough, raised temperature and feeling rubbish – all because it hurt to breath and cough so I didn’t do it properly! A few days in bed and an X-ray showed I was however back on the road to recovery. 

​(first night out of hospital!) 

 

Much to the delight of my surgeon I haven’t exactly been taking it easy since the operation – without a doubt I’m a lot more tired than normal (perhaps because I have just had an operation!) and whilst I’m not back running just yet, I’m certainly running around keeping myself busy!  

A week post op, my lovely friend Lynn, organised a photo shoot for some of my friends, colleagues and family at hers. The lovely Leela Bennett produced a fab collection of shots, including our attempt at giving the ‘loose women’ a run for their money in some ‘Calendar Girls’ naughtiness that of course ended up in the Sun-online

 

With the lighter evenings, we are coming into my favourite time of year where the Britishness in us all starts to rear its proud head and contemplate cranking on the BBQ and popping that rose cork! If someone however could give the sun the memo to catch up that would be fab. I love outdoor theatres, and my friend Sarah got us some tickets to the globe last week, which was fab, despite us being wrapped up tightly hardcore style to brave the weather! 

 

I even recently signed my son up to Friday night cricket for the season, in the hope I (alongside some friends) could be the ‘lush’ in the corner, soaking up the evening rays with the rose as Hugo attempts to decipher the rules of cricket and calm his desire to fill pitch boredom with karate kicks! Again the weather hasn’t quite caught up with my plans! 

 I wasn’t however going to let a rainy bank holiday ruin my chances of a rosette at a local dog show! As the competition heated up, I was gutted that my sisters dog ‘Charlie’ casually rocked up and won in a pedigree category – it would help if I’d read the instructions and entered my mongrel Winston into the right groups! Despite trying our luck in 13 classes we won a rosette for best tail waggle and the one I’m most chuffed about is best 6 legs for which I shook my arse and winked shamelessly at the judge in desperation! 

I didn’t quite realise how seriously people take these things – next step, teach dog not to shit in the arena! 

 

A small glimmer of sunshine, allowed me to get on my bike 2 weeks post op (just to prove I could do it) and cycle albeit in wobbly fashion through Isabella plantation in Richmond Park and in my emotional ‘stage 4 cancer’ state of mind, stare in awe at the beautiful azalea and rhododendron’s shining in all glory. 

 


The fun part of last week was visiting the Sun offices, getting on the Sun bus, seeing where all the action takes places and talking about some exciting stuff we are going to do moving forward! So watch this space for more details!  

 

People kindly ask me – what’s the plan, how long are you on chemo for, what’s the prognosis? The reality is no one knows. If you want the cold hard facts, it’s that only 30 percentage of stage 4 bowel cancer patients survive for one year, 10% for 5 years – but those statistics were not designed specifically for me. Not everyone is operable, or my age or as crazy as me!

 

I write this on the eve of starting the next part of the revised #cockoffcancer action plan. I’m waiting at the Marsden, as I write, for another post op and monitoring CT scan and then all being well I will start my new chemo and immunotherapy regime tomorrow. I may turn up to find my bloods are not good for chemo, that they found something else etc etc – the scary list goes on. Today my oncologist is positive, tomorrow may be a different story. For the moment however, all being well, I start 6 months of chemo on a combination called FOLFRUI, alongside an immunotherapy drug called AVASTIN. We do however still need to tackle the tumours in my left lung and how we do that will depend on 1) if they shrink with chemo, 2) if they grow 3) if more appear 4) if more appear elsewhere! So it really is a watch and wait situation. 

 

In reality I’m playing with fire, trying to keep one step ahead, and if someone asks me how long have I got on chemo – they are taken aback when I joke that it could be forever! It might be, there are so many unknowns with stage 4, that you really have to learn to look at life in the now, and not live 5 years into the future. 

 

No one can predict my prognosis for sure, but then the same can be said for everyone of us, cancer or not.  

 If truth be told, there are 2 sides to every story and as I’ve previously mentioned I’m great at putting on my game face! After the elation of surviving the near miss, the brush with death, the car accident, the operation, the sliding door moment, the reality of ‘living’ with stage 4 cancer has started to creep in. 

 

Because of this difficult unknown road we travel, I’d be lying if I said I was always positive. I cannot thank my family, friends, colleagues and strangers for following my story, reading this blog, reading the Sun-online articles and continuing to support me through the journey. I genuinely couldn’t do it without you. I’m aware that many of you have been writing to me and I have to say that receiving a card really does lift the mood. As I look at letters and emails both long and short, I just feel immensely grateful for the effort that goes into putting pen to paper and thinking of me. I’m sorry if I haven’t responded to all messages yet, but rest assured I’ve read them all and very much appreciate them. I do think writing is something we should all try to take up more. I revived a lovely letter from this organisation and I think it’s a lovely idea. Do check them out. https://www.frommetoyouletters.co.uk

 

Thank you also to those survivors who have reached out to share their stories with me. Those who have been through the run of the mill and come through it stronger and with a new appreciation of life.

 

Like in my car experience I mentioned at the start, sadly too many of us have experienced moments in our life where in a split second we, or someone close to us are not dancing in celebration. The haunting memories of receiving a phone call from my Aunt when I was 19 in hysterics because my cousin Vicky had just been tragically killed in a car accident aged 17 certainly sticks in my memory as the stark reality that none of us can predict what the future holds. And that life, whilst so wonderful, can provide us with twists and turns that create deep scars which if we like it or not, we carry around with us. 

 

I look at my ever growing scar collection as a constant reminder of how strong we can be when faced with life changing news, but also as a stark reminder of the delicate nature of our existence – and how the floor at any moment can be whipped from beneath any one of us.

 

(Wearing my recent scar with pride above)

People tell me I’m brave, positive and resilient – I’m not – I just have no other choice. No cancer patient or ill person does- we didn’t chose this path, we don’t want to have to ‘fight’ to stay alive, we don’t want to be defined by our cancer scars, and yes we do get angry and feel that life can be unfair at times. I could curl up in a ball, run away and essentially let the cancer take over, and trust me there are many days you feel like doing that. But instead like most others would do, you grit your teeth awaiting the next big scar, use strength and support from those around you and take one more step along in the journey – it may not be pleasant, but you can do it……And you may as well drink as much good wine, laugh with great people, be grateful for the life you do have and love those around you along the way. 

 

I suggest we aim to carry our scars with pride, knowing they have built us and not defined us. And try to remain as positive as possible even when our sliding doors story doesn’t slide the way we thought it might. We are of course….

“Braver than we believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think said Christopher Robin to Pooh Bear”

 So let’s live life as though we are robust enough to enjoy it forever and appreciate it is precious enough to leave us tomorrow. 

 ‘C’est la vie’.

 www.justgiving.com/Bowelbabe

 

Ps. I cannot thank you enough for your continued support through me to Bowel Cancer UK. We have a good team of @bowelbabe people joining in with two up and coming events:
 London 10 mile – http://www.london10mile.com

Royal parks half marathon. https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/royal-parks-half-marathon/

If you are interested in joining the gang or running your own event please contact me via twitter/Instagram @bowelbabe Or Bowel Cancer UK

 And then come join our just giving team page here! https://www.justgiving.com/teams/bowelbabe

 

A Big Dipper 

I start by apologising for my lack of communication……simply put, I got some bad news over the last few weeks and I cried every time I tried to write….but here goes.


I’ve always strived to be an over achiever. My childhood memories are mainly formed from the hours spent in the hot, stuffy gym with the warm fantastic people that was Woking gymnastics club in the 90’s! By the age of 9 I was training 30 hours per week in the highest performing girls artistic club in the country where I was taught to strive for perfection. Each routine in my days was scored out of 10 and anything less was imperfect. You lost points for a wobble, a fall, a step in the wrong direction, a leg that was not straight – there was always someone better than you. I learned discipline from Russia’s best – even with what turned out to be a broken ankle I got back on the beam as soon as I was allowed, to land the backflip that I slipped on and injured myself. You are on the bars doing giants (big circles around the bar holding on by your hands) – you slip, fall, and land on your head and you get back up and you do it again until you end on a ‘good one’. In competition, as you walk into an arena with thousands of people to perform the floor routine you have rehearsed in your sleep, butterflies take over and you have a mental battle convincing yourself that you’ve got this. I used to run up to the vault, even in competition and freak at the last moment and bolt to the side- convinced I would land on my head – I wouldn’t – I’d been trained very well, but it was mental strength that got you through. You have been taught the skills but it’s mind over matter – you know you can land a double backflip twisted layout on the beam at the age of 12 because you’ve done it 50 times in training, but at the moment before takeoff with eyes watching you doubt yourself. I learnt at that young age, that your mind is sometimes more powerful than your body, that whilst you can control it, at times it may seem like it controls you like a rollercoaster you are not in charge of – but work with it and anything is possible. I learnt this valuable life lesson very early on – and for that I’m grateful.


Without bragging, If my body was going to create cancer, to actually stand a chance of harbouring itself in what many would consider a hostile environment (!!) and finding a ‘home’ it would have to think carefully about outsmarting me – it would most likely be rare, aggressive, sly and much cheekier than me. And as I’ve learnt this week, mine has not disappointed!


Ever the over achiever, 2nd was never an option and I feel that unfortunately my cancer has the same sentiment! I was never going to have a bog standard adacarcinoma (the most common type of bowel tumour found). Oh no, I was going to produce an muscious tumour, found in 10% of Bowel cancer, oh and then it was going to have a BRAF mutation – only the rarest and most hardest to treat due to its unresponsiveness to chemo, aggressive make up or lack of ‘wonder’ immunotherapy cure. Brilliant!

So here I stand, 4 months after my world turned upside down with the words ‘you have cancer’ thinking at first that it was an early stage totally curable ‘hiccup’ in my life, to being faced with the harsh reality of being 35 and having to face Stage 4 cancer head on.

So how have I got here?! 

2 months ago I started chemo – we had a plan – teachers like a plan….yes we can, and do go ‘off Piste’ but a plan seems like the sensible place to start. Whilst it wasn’t without its flaws as my last blog will honestly tell you, my ‘action plan’ to combat this cancer with the suggested 12 cycles of FOLFOX has now been blown out of the water. We have by all accounts a new plan of action! Or at least an initial draft!

On the Friday before my 4th cycle I had a routine CT scan to monitor some pesky lung nodes that were poking up their ugly head.
On the following Tuesday I had a very strange morning- the previous week I had the privilege of filming at the BBC for the Victoria Derbyshire show to raise awareness of Bowel cancer and it was to be shown that morning. I went as normal to the Marsden, with my friend Lynn, to get my Port accessed, bloods taken and then we escaped to watch the film in tears at the Ivy (my new local), with Buck’s Fizz! I was told to meet my oncologist at 11.


Click here to watch the Victoria Derbyshire Video 

Check out the Sun online article relating to the new diagnostic tool the video was related to and the BBC one as well!

I felt pretty positive, having just talked on national TV about my stage 3 cancer and woken up to find myself in my own BBC news feed (!) discussing how I’m looking forward to ending my chemo in the summer! As I rocked back up, there was a smart looking surgeon (whom I quickly googled and realised is the top lung surgeon at the Brompton) lurking in the shadows. I started (albeit a bit over hyped by the Buck’s Fizz!) saying to Lynn I know that he is here for me – I just know!

As I’m ushered into a room and who I now know to be Simon also appears, My heart sinks instantly and I know that the news I’m about to be given is bad. David my brilliant oncologist quickly cuts to the chase in the least harsh way – my lung noddles that we believed were 2 benign things are now 5 almost certain metastatic growths in both lungs. Good news, I’m operable, bad news I’m now stage 4 cancer, 2 possible lung resections, and the emotional screw up of knowing that my 5 year prognosis just plummeted to 10%.
On the grand scheme of chemo side effects I was doing ok – I was, despite just about muddling through on some days, by all intense purposes living a good life – I had a niggly feeling it would explode!

Therefore I start pleading as though it can’t be true – ‘but I didn’t have any symptoms and I ran 10k yesterday on chemo’ I proudly declare to my surgeon! I’d actually just had my best chemo cycle, my dose had been cut by 20% so my fingers had stopped cramping and the sun had started to come out. I surprised my daughter again on a school trip, had a wonderful Mother’s Day and even celebrated St Patrick’s day with some hard core whisky tasting!



I even manage to run often through that cycle – another mental battle of achievement – I think to myself “if I can do 5k today- surely I can’t have cancer?!”


And so despite my utter belief that I was doing pretty well, in yet another momentarily suspension of time where you feel you’ve hit another brick wall, I’m whipped straight off chemo – no point in poisoning me with stuff that doesn’t work, and I’m sent away in a haze (and head straight to the pub!) to contemplate life (or not) as a stage 4 cancer combattant.

Please note that upon my bad news I turned to Lynn and said ‘let’s crack open the champagne and get totally hammered’. Apparently this is a tame reaction – they have heard worse, expected more from me and now I feel like I’m clearly way too innocent and will clearly need advice to vamp up my bucket list! 😂😂😂😂

I awoke at 7.00am with the hangover from hell claiming that I’d deal with my alcoholism after I’ve tackled cancer! Having been joined so valiantly by my husband and more friends after my bad news the day before we decided to ensure that my ‘new local’ would stay afloat for a while longer (at least to ensure it could see me through my future treatment!). Even that next day as I sat with my bestie slumped in tears on a pub sofa sipping yet more Pinot, it didn’t really sink in what I was facing – It’s seemed incomprehensible the idea of ‘what could be’ as I’m sitting there feeling actually pretty well! (Hangover aside!)

As luck would have it, it was 4 days later at 8am on the BBC breakfast sofa that the uphill struggle I was to face started to sink in. As part of my mission to ensure that no one has to go through the ‘shit’ that I am, and with the fab friends I have, I found myself trekking up (albeit 4 hours late due to my sister) to Manchester to appear on the BBC breakfast show. On Saturday morning, as myself and Deborah Alsina, the wonderful CEO at Bowel cancer UK were ushered into the live set, I realised the enormity of what I was about to discuss on live TV when having had the diagnosis only a few days previously, I hadn’t even got round to telling some close friends about the new plan! After a few deep breaths led by Charlie Stayt – I managed not to cry, not to swear, and not to show my knickers (my 3 aims!).

Having got through the live interview, I came off to a phone going into overdrive with thousands of ‘beeps’. Instantly I was blown away but the sheer amount of incredibly positive comments, emails, tweets, messages and donations I received from the most wonderful people most of whom I’ve never met.
https://www.facebook.com/bbcbreakfast/videos/1659143434099788/

I’m ever grateful to the sun online who now calls me their ‘Bowel cancer champion’!‘ for following up on my story and helping to raise awareness – in case you missed any of the recent articles here and above are some of the most recent ones.


I cannot thank you enough for those messages of support off the back of these – whilst re-reading them it started to sink in the enormity of what I faced, I felt so grateful to know I had the support and prayers of so many to get me through.
Within 24 hours of new diagnosis and taking the only silver lining from the situation of ‘no chemo’ we managed to jump on a plane to Seville and spent half the week exploring this wonderful city. I cannot recommended it highly enough for its beautiful buildings, authentic culture and friendly hospitality. We then drove through the white washed village of Ronda to spend the second half of the week pretending to be super rich alongside the extra large boats in Puerto Banus 😂. We even managed only to take one child, as the other one still wanted to ‘large it up’ skiing and partying with his 9 year old mates at the Follie Douce in Val d’seres – and why not, I’d do the same if I could! I took to making the most of the Champagne breakfast buffet whilst not on chemo and then started to convince myself that as a result my liver is clearly next on the tumour hit list!

Boom, as soon as I landed from a week of sunshine and fun, it was back to the Marsden and reality! In the last week I have waited nervously (whilst being radioactive!) to get the go ahead for my lung resection.


I write this on the eve of my operation, whilst clearly worried, I never thought I’d be happy to be sliced open! I know for me – like many other stage 4 cancer patients that the best chance of longer term survival is to be able to chop out the cancer and I’m grateful to have that chance. I suppose I’m looking at this as another beam routine from my gym days. I’m scared, just like I’ve had a fall so to speak, but I’ve got a great team of support and I’m going to have to get back on the ‘beam’ and try it face it again. I have to train my mind to believe I can get through this – I know my 5 year old self would stop telling me to me such a wuss!


So as I try and calm my nerves ahead of Tomorrow’s next challenge and continue to contemplate my bucket list that does include Necker Island (if anyone can help there!!), I found myself having a very honest conversation with my 9 year old about cancer at lunch today. I alway ask him ‘what’s worrying you’ and he said, mummy I just worry that it might get to the point where they can’t cut it out and you’ll die. Well I say to hugo ‘that’s a possibility and yes it might happen but we are going to try everything to make sure it doesn’t’. I then told him what my oncologist said to me the following day after my new plan of action started…..”that he will do everything humanly possibly to keep me alive”. To which hugo said..
“Well mummy that’s good but it seems like cancer is all a bit of a roller coaster, you’ll just have to make sure you hold on tight at the scary bits then it will be fine….”
I was never a fan of rollercoasters but I suppose I don’t have a choice over riding this one! So here’s to the next Big Dipper part of the journey! I’ll be holding on tightly next to these two little monsters!


Xxx

www.justgiving.com/Bowelbabe

Shaken not stirred

In a casual morning conversation last week, my husband declared that if I was on a balance sheet I’d only be in the liability section. I obviously took great offence to this and started protesting that I did have some ‘assets’ that outweighed anything he was mentioning! Just as I thought I was winning, the post arrived and my son came running in with another unpaid parking ticket letter. I quickly tried to hide it, stopped trying to win, smiled sweetly, and conceded that I perhaps fit better on the ‘liability’ section after all. 

It’s no wonder that me navigating my way through chemo had ‘liability’ written all over it!…..
After a referral from my surgeon, I, like many before, was nervous when I first went to the Marsden. It’s a wonderful place, but as you stand on the steps in front of the grand institution founded in 1851, you come to the realisation that many have walked here before in the same hope of a cure. It really dawns on you when you actually enter and are met with a memorial wall. You realise that everyone is there for the same reason (to try to stay alive!), and this in itself is pretty overwhelming. I remember listening to Steve Hewlett in his wonderful podcasts, saying that you never come skipping out of the Marsden – and I see why. Even if you are given good news, behind every door, in every corner, is the stark reality that cancer strikes at any age, any nationality and isn’t kind. 


I nervously met my oncologist and his team, who wanted first to establish what he was dealing with by sending me for re-staging scans, and then to outline a plan of action and timetable for treatment. I’m a teacher and of course I got excited and reassured by the idea of a timetable!
The next day, as I waited with my sister for the re-staging PET scan, she remarked, surprised, ‘but everyone looks like us’ – they are young, it could be me. You sit in the waiting room wondering what cancer others have, wondering what stage, prognosis and hoping they, like you will be ok.
The 4 day wait for results, yet again sent me into a dark place that included Dr Google explaining lung resections to me. This time I realised I needed to start trusting my team and nothing I could research will change the outcome of what’s lurking in my body. I also realised this was going to be one of many scans and many tests I will wait for during the course of my life with cancer – And whilst it will never get easier I can’t put my life on hold waiting to see what’s round the corner.
My follow-up meeting brought with it what felt like the for first time, a tiny glimmer of at least momentarily good news. My lungs were ‘stable’ at this present time and that meant I could proceed with 12 rounds of first-line chemotherapy known as FOLFOX – the most widely used treatment for stage 3 Bowel cancer.
As desperate as I was to get the ‘poison’ pumped into my system straightaway to kill any lurking little buggers – my oncologists felt it was important I recovered first from the operation. A well needed week away with my husband in Dubai (without children – Whoop!!) Did just the trick and I came back with renewed energy to handle the chemo head on.

Now I realised like many people, I knew nothing about chemotherapy – I didn’t even understand what a ’round’ actually meant, so quickly with the help of my Macmillan nurses I began to learn what awaited me included all the nasty side effects that I had to look forward to!

As a starting point I had to have another small operation under general anaesthetic to implant a Portacath which is a way that chemotherapy is  pumped into my body directly into a central vein in my chest – this stops my already very bruised arm veins from collapsing or burning under the toxicity of the treatment. I have a small bump where the plastic port sits underneath my skin and each time chemo is given they access it through a little needle. It can stay in me for years and I even need a special card to get through security at airports!


The following day after my Poracath was put in, it was time to start poisoning my body! My regime consists of three days of intravenous chemotherapy every other week for 12 cycles which will last over six months.
FOLFOX, my drug, is named after the initials of the drugs used for treatment. The drugs are:

* FOL – folinic acid  (leucovorin)

* F – fluorouracil  (also known as 5FU) 

* OX – oxaliplatin  (Eloxatin ®). 

Folinic acid is not a chemotherapy drug. It is often given with 5FU, as it’s been shown to make it work better. Macmillan.

Every other Tuesday I attend the Marsden at nine with a lovely friend or relative of mine in tow! My port is accessed and lots of blood tests are taken to ensure that my body is fit enough to handle the the treatment. At this point whilst waiting for results, I make an escape (to my new local, the Ivy Chelsea Garden), to try to have an hour of normality whilst celeb spotting! Upon return, after a massive injection of steroids that make me feel as though I have had three gin and tonic’s, three shots of Sambuca and a few martinis without the need to dance like an idiot on stage, I start with a 2 hour infusion of ‘Oxy’ the first of my drugs that turn me into a ‘waking human cocktail’ as my friend aptly referred to me as! Throw in a bit of extra G&T straight down the line I say – I’m being poisoned enough already!

Oxaliplantin is a relatively new addition to adjuvant chemotherapy regime and is the booster in the cocktail! It comes with more side-effects than you can shake a stick at. Some almost comical, from my need to take anything out of the fridge using a pair of oven gloves due to the searing tingles and pain in my fingers, to my mouth deciding to move on it’s own accord in spasm, my cheeks going numb, having to sleep in ugg gloves in a hot bedroom to stop my hands turning into spasm claws and of course the total obliteration of any good cells in my body – leaving me on the whole sometimes wobbly, tearful and tired! But if it kills the little cancer buggars then all is good!


I’m then given a variety of different flushes and vitamins and a shot of 5FU, which is the other main part of my drug. I’m then sent home attached to a portable pump the size of a small water bottle, which I sleep with, eat with, carry around in a Louis Vuitton or Mulberry bag (any excuse for new handbags!) rather than the attractive recommended blue bumbag (too 1980’s), and often forget to pick up when I stand up, which continuously infuses more 5FU into me over a 48 hour period. I’m then visited at my house on a Thursday afternoon by a nurse who disconnects my pump and my needles until we do it all again!


The challenge is then navigating your way through the different side effects that happen at different points of the 14 days and just when you start to feel a little better on day 13 it starts all over again!

To counteract some effects, for the first 4 days of each cycle I take steroids and anti sickness medication which give you a little bit of energy but create their own problems too! (I started writing this at 3am for example!!)

Without a shadow of a doubt the steroids make me hyper. I thought that steroid rage only happened to 100kg bodybuilders – but it turns out it also happens to 50 kg bowel babes! My first round of steroids included a ‘through the night’ 4 day spring clean of my house which most of you know that cleaning and me don’t normally go together! I find myself almost feeling sorry for my husband, who if he only breathes in the wrong way will get the rath of the rage that by a kind account makes me want to poke his eyes out! 🙈. My children find that my tolerance of them being unable to put their shoes on in time is met with firework type screaming and tears, however my sister kindly pointed out this has nothing to do with the steroids and my tolerance of my own screaming children was never well met without a G&T! True.

I’ve also tried blaming my rising parking fines on the chemo and although the steroids might explain my half an hour rant at a parking attendant who I think actually considered calling back up last week, history will conclude I’m better off accepting that I fall, as my husband suggested, in the liability section of life – chemo or not! On a car note, I have however concluded that seeing as the first round resulted in a smashed wing mirror and second round a bump on my neighbours car whilst trying to park, that perhaps I need to avoid driving whilst on the steroids if nothing more than for the safety of the population of south west London!

‘What do you mean you won’t loose your hair?! Does that mean your chemo is weaker?!’

No it doesn’t! It was the first question I asked and I, possibly like you was surprised to find that not all chemo makes you go bald (unless I’m very unlucky or my regime changes). It doesn’t mean its weaker – but it does make me think as I look around at the 20 or so other patients being poisoned in the same room as me, that if you saw us all walking down the street, chemo pump away, you probably wouldn’t know what was going on. There is always 2 sides to every story, and I for one know that my chemo experience so far sums that up…

I try to make the most of the good days, and you will often see me posting pictures (wine in hand), smiling and showing that all is fine. I believe that’s the only way to navigate through – but what you don’t see is that crap, the bad and the ugly that goes on behind closed doors. You didn’t see the tears that came 5 minutes before at yesterday’s cycle 3 when I was told they need to reduce my dose of oxy – I immediately think – ‘but that reduces my chances of living’. Or the fact that on my first chemo cycle I had the crash team arrive as they thought I was having a reaction, and 3 attempts later realised it was a panic attack! You don’t see that on round 2, I was spent the 2nd day in A&E hooked up to a heart monitor due to fears over my heart reacting badly to the drugs. You don’t see me lying awake at 3am as I’m reading the story of another cancer blogger aged 35 who is reported to have died – whose story starts like mine (all upbeat, smiles, and quickly turns sour). You don’t see me shouting and crying at my nearest and dearest over the tiny things that get blown out of proportion because inside in the dark moments I’m thinking I might not be here and I just can’t get my head around that life will go on with it without me and I have no control over it!


What I do know is that the small ‘I’m thinking of you messages, little gifts or cards being dropped unexpectedly through my door, the friends and experiences that make me feel ‘normal’ are so important in every day life and are very much appreciated to help get through the ‘behind the scenes’ experiences of chemo.


The stark reality of an uncertain future and the constant reminder of this when undertaking chemo, makes you appreciate life for the current moments. People tell me to rest (and rightly so), but if life might be shorter than we need to grab every day with both hands and use whatever blessing of energy we have to make the most of it.

So as I’m about to be disconnected from round 3, and pray that I’m actually 1/4 of the way through my chemo, I’ve been up to some fun things to not only ‘grab life with 2 hands’ but also to raise awareness of Bowel cancer in young people.

In case you have missed my recent sun article do have a read here!

https://www.thesun.co.uk/living/2808816/fit-health-mum-of-two-faces-bowel-cancer-at-just-35-years-old-and-urges-you-to-check-for-the-signs/

Made it to the front page online and top story until I was pipped by the couple who decided to have sex in dominos pizza! I did however get great pleasure from being more popular than trump and Katie price that day and can I just say a public thanks to the guy that shamelessly sent me an email saying ‘don’t die, you are fit, add me to your bucket list’. Totally inappropriate but made me laugh so much – which is always needed!
This aside, I was grateful and amazed by the hundreds of kind messages and outpouring of support from strangers who have had similar experiences and were thanking me for sharing my story. Watch this space for a follow up!

Next month in April is Bowel cancer awareness month and I really can’t stress enough the importance of raising knowledge of how preventable Bowel cancer is. I will talk more next blog about this and some of the amazing work Bowel Cancer uk in doing towards this. In the short term however can I give a shameless shout out to my just giving page where I aim to raise £10k (and counting!) before I finish chemo for this organisation. I urge you to get involved with fundraising events and let me know so I can link you into the Bowel babe team total and Bowel cancer UK!
www.justgiving.com/Bowelbabe

So looking over my last few weeks of photos, to reflect on my good moments….aside from a craving for eating a lot of good food (No one told me this would be a side effect!), I managed to hit the gym – trying confidently to show off my scar for which I am proud – war wound and all, but forgot that whilst my outsides are healing nicely from the 38 stitches, my insides will take some time and cleverly pulled a stomach muscle trying to keep up with some core blitz class! 🙈

I accompanied by sister to have a colonoscopy to ensue she was ok and met with my original consultant Richard Pollock, who diagnosed me just before Christmas. It was lovely to see him and hold up his round by talking through the importance of early diagnosis and how much I’ve learnt about Bowel cancer!


My son brought me the coolest poo phone cover because apparently I talk a lot about poo!


I went to a fantastic Gin making class and made my own gin aptly named ‘Down the line’ at the Ginsitute in portobello road – well worth a trip if not only for the copious cocktails and knowledgeable history lesson on gin!

Amazingly, despite making it at midnight in a flurry of madness, my daughter won most creative costume for being an ‘Acute Angle’ on Maths day (well done Seb) – for which I feel my parenting for the year is now done, and then I cried when she brought home an Easter bonnet that needs making and asked if she could win that too! Eloise my darling the glue gun is all yours!…


Highlight however has to be watching the Carol king musical with my daughter one miserable Monday evening, when I, along with the rest of the audience and cast cried our way through a surprise visit from Carol herself when she took to the stage and started signing ‘You’ve Got A Friend’….most apt at this point in my life when I feel totally Blessed by the support around me. I’ll still blame the chemo for the tears though!

So on that note, cheers to chemo getting started, cheers to spring and the well needed sunshine, and cheers to making each day count – even if it’s puts you on the liability part of the balance sheet!

Xxx

Ps. Let me just leave you with a little poem which I recall from my year book at 16, that often I share with classes I’ve taught in the past, that rings truer now than ever before:


To realise the value of one year, ask a student, who failed to pass an exam

To realise the value of one month, ask the mother, who gave birth to a premature baby

To realise the value of one week, ask the editor, of a weekly newspaper

To realise the value of one hour, ask the lovers, who are waiting to meet

To realise the value of one minute, ask the person, who missed the train

To realise the value of one second, ask the person, who just avoided an accident

To realise the value of one milli-second, ask the person, who won the Silver Medal at the Olympics

Treasure every moment that you have 
And treasure it more, if you have shared it with someone special enough to share your time
Remember that TIME waits for no-one
Yesterday is history…
Tomorrow is mystery
, Today is a gift – that is why it is called THE PRESENT
Xxx

If Carlsberg made jobs….

I didn’t plan on becoming a teacher. By my own admission it’s something I fell into, and boy am I happy I did! After my degree, I wanted to stay at university for another year for a few reasons, 1) Because I didn’t want to get a job yet, 2) Because I forgot to apply for a job (blame the Vodka Redbull), 3) I didn’t want to grow up!

I had tried a few summer internships focused on PR and marketing. I soon discovered that I didn’t really give a s**t over whether the latest ‘D list’ celebrity (or the infamous Darius, in this case!), was appearing in the ‘right’ magazine. As grateful as I was for the opportunities, I felt no sense of achievement or purpose in what I was doing and knew I didn’t want to pursue it further. What I really enjoyed was blaghing my way on a tennis court, alongside Mark Gillet, pretending I knew how to teach mini tennis, to the ever growing junior camp at Woking LTC. It never felt like work – it was fun, the children loved it, I got a buzz from it and I was never bored! 



It was this and some good funding that led to me to justifying an extra year at uni to train as an IT teacher. 

I managed to talk my way onto a PGCE in ICT – having studied Business Economics. I actually think I was the only girl that applied for this ‘new’ course and persuaded the tutor that I’d teach myself the IT content. As I rocked up in Exeter on my first day in a skirt that was considerable too short, I was ushered by one of the tutors past the IT training room, into the PE room because apparently I didn’t look like an ICT teacher – “what on earth are they suppose to look like I laughed to myself?!”

As a new teaching cohort that day we were greeted by the late, great, Ted Wragg, who was in his last year as Educational Director in Exeter. I was blown away by his passion for changing education, for training a generation of teachers to look at each student with warmth and compassion – he was witty, inspirational and talked about the privilege we had bestowed upon us to do something that matters. That day I think I caught the teaching bug and I haven’t been able to shake it! 

After my training year, as a newly qualified teacher I was blessed with getting a job in the inspirational setting of an outstanding school with leaders that I truly believe would put most FTSE 100 CEO’s to shame. 

In fact, A recent trainee who came out of the city, said to me once that in all the time she was working in the city, you hear and see people talking about excellent leadership, writing books about it – and yet it was only when she came into teaching did she actually see it in practice! 


It was these leaders and colleagues, many of whom I still work with today, that nurtured my passion and fire for education so well for which I’m grateful.  

I’m aware that teaching gets bad press – and yes I’m fully aware of the challenge that some schools present – I’ve worked in them. However when do people write stories about the positives – the other side, the things that might not make a headline, but makes all the difference to someone’s life?


Tell me another job where you get instant feedback from your audience, where you laugh hysterically with colleagues and students over cake sales, hilarious banter, answering impossibly hard questions or figuring out the meaning of life! You cry when the student that you thought hated you, sends you the most beautiful card of thanks, or you know you have ‘got through’ when no one else could. When you get a student who hates school, to finally attend, or you provide the stability, structure and love to kids when you know it doesn’t exist elsewhere. What other jobs can you do that you know that what you do on a daily basis shapes lives, opens doors, engages minds and inspires dreams. It’s hard work, and like in all jobs you have good days and a few bad….but unlike most jobs, you get out of bed every day knowing that what you do matters – and you laugh, you really laugh. 


Teaching is a community – if you are a teacher you are part of a ‘club’ – everyone looks after each other and there is this quiet mutual respect that extends across the ‘teaching world’ even when you meet other teachers at parties, in the gym or on holiday! 


I have never felt this more than when being diagnosed with Bowel cancer. Thankfully I’ve only ever seen the other side of it before – you hear about someone’s illness, the community rally’s round, cards, flowers, letters, prayers, support – but you hope you don’t have to be on the receiving end. When you are – my God it’s incredible. In the dark days when you look to your ‘knights’, you find yourself reading cards and messages from colleagues sending love and prayers, or running cake baking competitions! I honestly don’t know how I’d be so upbeat about my illness if it wasn’t for the outpouring of love from my friends and family but also the teaching community that I’m so proud to be part of. Thank you. 



Let’s talk about poo!
The teacher in me, is always on a mission to ‘make people learn’! If you look at this part of my blog as a lesson it would be entitled ‘let’s talk about poo’ and my learning outcomes are that you understand the key symptoms and that you are ‘never too young’!

I’ve started learning so much about Bowel cancer – especially in young people, and I think as a nation we are very much behind in terms of mind set, myths and attitudes towards this cancer. It was only when we started talking about lumps in our breasts and balls did the awareness and survival of these cancers increase.

A few weeks ago I met with Deborah Alsina, CEO at Bowel cancer UK to talk about supporting their never too young campaign. https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/campaigning/never-too-young/

Deborah and the team are passionate about working with researchers, Doctors, policy makers and the NHS, to bring about change to ensure that people are diagnosed earlier in the disease and therefore have with much proved outcomes. 


“More than nine out of 10 people diagnosed with stage 1 bowel cancer survive five years or more

For stage 2 bowel cancer that figure is eight in 10

For stage 3 six out of 10

And for stage 4 less than one in 10 people survive five years or more” Bowel cancer Uk

I was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer – this is because it had spread to my nodes and that is why I’m now undergoing 6 months of chemotherapy and am in fact a walking human cocktail! (More on this next blog!). If I had been diagnosed at an early stage 1 or even 2, my treatment would have only included the surgery and I would have most likely avoided the current process I’m undertaking of slowly poisoning myself! 

“Isn’t that an old man’s disease?!” Ok let’s put this in perspective. Do I look old nowadays?!…..and no, it’s more common than you think and it’s only getting worse! 



“More than 2,500 people under 50 are diagnosed in the UK each year of the 41,000 total and yet recent surveys say that 9/10 people diagnosed under 50 didn’t know the symptoms they were having could be related to Bowel cancer. 

There has been a 45 per cent rise in the number of under 50s diagnosed with the disease in the past 10 years.

And three out of five people diagnosed under the age of 50 will be diagnosed when the cancer is already in the later stages of disease” Bowel Cancer Uk

Bowel cancer can present in a variety of different ways. For me, I started to go to the poo at lot – about 5/6 times per day. I had cramps and an urgency. I also started to lose weight – I lost about half a stone in 4 months. The scariest was that I started to bleed – a mix of fresh blood (like hemmaroids), on the stool, in the stool, you name it – all different ways and amounts! This was intermittent for over 6 months but progressively got worse. When my blood tests and stool samples came back ‘normal’, I started taking photographs so I could explain more easily what was happening – do the same if you have concerns (just make sure you delete them before you give anyone your phone to flick through!).  

The main symptoms of Bowel cancer are:

Please listen to your body and don’t put off that Doctors visit if you have any concerns! 

So to give you a mini update on how I’m doing…..
Besides from learning loads about Bowel cancer I’ve been doing some pretty ‘normal things’. My husband and I managed a week away in Dubai which did what we needed it to! Relaxation, good food and sunshine! I didn’t even freak out on the plane as it suddenly seemed safe in comparison to my cancer prognosis! 


I had a port fitted and started my first round of chemo which is a story in itself for next time! – and I even made it to my daughters school to read with her class for the first time ever! Upon surprising my daughter, she was so overwhelmed by seeing me, she proceeded to punch me in my scar, nearly wet herself and poked herself in the eye with her pencil shouting ‘my mummy has come into school, my mummy is actually here!’

And it’s moments like that which is why I continue to fight this with a positive mindset and a smile on my face!….x


Ps. If you are interested in joining ‘probably the best profession in the world’ then do get in touch with my friends at Teach SouthEast where I know you will fall in love with teaching and receive world class training from a great bunch of people x

www.teachsoutheast.co.uk 

Mash potato and Red wine

I’m scared of flying – everyone knows this, including lots of innocent passengers I’ve scared alone the way! 


One outrageous occasion that springs to mind was when flying to holiday in the Greek islands. On this occasion, I decided to bolt it to the front of the plane screaming that I wanted to get off 10 seconds after take off . As other passengers nervously looked at me, I was then calmly wrestled to the floor by a very experience stewardess who preceded to give me her seat followed by a large G&T. As I was gasping for breath, she very cleverly realised that my panic stemmed from simply not being in control. As a result she took the brave decision (before cockpit lockdown era) to stick me in with the captain for the next 3 hours! I was given headphones to listen to ground control and was charmed by the cheesy chat of the Greek pilots who preceded to tell me all about the islands including the best nightspots as we flew over them!


Landing into Santorini at nighttime was simply beautiful, and as we came down I kept thinking – ‘wow this is incredible i need to learn to fly a plane!’ Whilst this hasn’t cured my fear of flying, it certainly means I maybe need one less whisky at 6am to actually get on the plane! Oh apart from the mid-air loss of cabin pressure (see above picture)  6 months ago!

Everyone has a little bit of madness inside them. Some might argue I was given a slightly larger dose than others – I don’t disagree. Whilst it’s the madness inside that rally’s our fire and zest for life, it can, at times, take over and cross the line! Ive recently learnt, that it’s not only flying that rials me, but hospitals too, are a breeding ground for this crazy spark! 


I’m the worst patient, I ask too many questions and cannot just undergo a procedure, test or even take a tablet without a 10 minute run down with google of the pros, cons and whys! 

I was booked in for an anterior resection at King Edward V11 hospital in Marylebone, during the first week of January to remove my tumour. I knew I was in for a week stay, the operation would be around 5 hours long, David Mellville (the surgeon), and I had agreed on an open surgery, I would be in high dependency for a while afterwards and would likely need a stoma. 

After initial registration I met with a wonderful stoma nurse called Becky from St Marks who reassured me that waking up with a stoma would not put an end to tight dresses and nice (albeit mismatching!) underwear.

Despite my overwhelming fear inside that made me want to bolt it out the front door, I calmly kissed my husband goodbye and walked to the operating theatre. 


I had a very kind anesitist who managed my operation so well that all my fears of going to sleep and waking up in panic disappeared with his magic drugs, and not to mention the fact that they changed the operating order so I could go first. 
I woke up 5 hours later and my first question was if I had a stoma. Despite having a rectal tumour I was very lucky (with the skill of my surgeon) not to have a bag and with a few extra shots of morphine I was greeted onto high dependency (in the ‘Royal’ room no less!) by the operating team and my husband who were pleased with the way the operation went. 

The scary thing about operations is waking up with lots of leads and drains monitoring your body – you feel like you have become a robot and everyone has become obsessed with the amount you wee! Despite morphine which made me spin, whirl, smile and not sleep (typical me), I could not relax. By day 2 the ‘inner madness’ in me lost the plot when they removed my central line, and it took 3 doctors to convince me I did not in fact have a hole in my neck (no joke, but I blame the drugs for playing with my mind!). By day 4, two of my best friends and family were rightly concerned about my lack of sleep for 3 days that meant, by my own admission, I was going a little insane – although my make up was covering it well! It was at this point that my surgeon with his excellent emotional intelligence, recognising that I just wanted to be home asked me what I wanted to do. To that I replied that I was fed up with jelly and just wanted mash potato and red wine! ‘Of course you can have that’ he exclaimed and with that said ‘for your own good I’m sending you home!’ Unfortunately this was delayed by 24 hours due to my spectacular vomit all over a wonderful nurse! 


Don’t get me wrong, the hospital was brilliant, I had a new found appreciation for how hard everyone works in healthcare. When, for the 10th time in a row at 3am, I needed my bed changing because my bowel simply can not control itself, or me deliriously pressing my buzzer just to slur “I don’t think these sleeping tablets are working”, as I drift in and out of sleep, or as I lie on my drip and make it beep for the 20th time that hour – it’s all seen to with a calm caring smile that doesn’t show how stressed they possibly are. 


If you find it difficult to let someone else be in control, finding a surgeon to slice you open and ensure you come out in once piece is a challenge! I trusted David from day one, clearly experienced, passionate about doing a good job and with a human touch that can’t be learnt. When I met him he told me something he tells trainee doctors -“if the treatment you are giving the patient is different to what you would give the royal family and you wouldn’t recommended it for your daughter – then why are you suggesting it for this person? He told me he’d treat me like a daughter and that he did. He walked into the hospital one morning to see me crying at 7am because I hadn’t slept for the 3rd night and he looked genuinely concerned. He proudly paraded me around the hospital 2 days after the operation to show me historical photographs as we discussed our favourite opera, and he still made it across London to me at 9pm one night because the tube strike meant it took him 2 hours to reach me. I felt that he did this all with genuine compassion to ensure that I, like all his patients were ok – that he’d done his best. I asked him one day If he was medically worried about me, he told me from the heart that he worries about all his patients – I know this to be true. 


To both mine and his surprise, he had to tell me 6 days later that the biopsy had showed it was stage 3 cancer with 8 nodes involved (which is a lot in Bowel cancer terms). 


I have to be honest that this threw me more than the initial diagnosis. You get your head around the idea that you ‘may’ have cancer, tests seem to point to ‘no spread’, and the operation goes well. In everyone’s mind this was an early cancer – treatable by surgery alone. I was planning on being back at work in a few weeks, with this brushed under the carpet as a ‘little blip in the road’. I hadn’t even ‘googled’ chemotherapy for Bowel cancer (unlike me!) because I was so convinced that I wouldn’t need it. 


Having agreed on a referral to a oncologist known as ‘the best in the business’ at the Marsden, I walk out of hospital numb again knowing full well that my journey was only just starting. I thought I’d used every ounce of my strength and grit that people talk about to get me to this point. 

That night, I grabbed both my wonderful children and held them tightly until we drifted off realising this was just ‘one more step’ along the road I must go. 


(Note to reader: I’m currently writing this retrospective blog at 40,000ft in the air, am rationalising my fear of flying by telling myself, ‘I’m more likely to die of my cancer than on this plane’. As I take another gulp of my G&T I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry!!) 

Knights in the darkness

I’ve never been a patient person. As a child I used to find out where ‘Santa’ had stored the Christmas presents before the big day, secretly go and unwrap them, drop hints to my parents over what I liked and didn’t (just incase any last minute changes were possible!), and then act surprised on Christmas Day as I unwrapped them for a second time! 


As anyone who has ever waited for tests results will understand, learning to keep a positive mindset in the ‘unknown window’, can become one of the hardest parts of the journey.
My husband and I found ourselves on the idle Friday before Christmas nervously waiting to see if my cancer had spread. You think when starting this process that the worst thing is being told you have cancer. But suddenly in this ‘suspended window’ of reality, you realise that you are possibly hours aways from what might seem like Armageddon. We emotionally sat in the Ivy, knocking back too many G&T’s and Champagne for some Dutch courage, emotionally sharing what life might no longer be, as we waited to hear the outcomes of my staging scans. 

When you are first told you have cancer, you can go into a dark place. A very dark place. People don’t often admit to those feeling – but you are not alone – I’ll just be honest. For me I started to plan my funeral, and write in my head, the letters I want to leave my beautiful children. You go numb, you wake up in the night in a blind panic, hoping it was just a bad dream, you wonder if you ignore it, if it will go away, you long to run away and not have to deal with the monster that awaits….and you cry. A lot. 

 

That Friday night, I met my wonderful surgeon, alongside my husband, one of my first ‘knights in the darkness’ that I will discuss more in later posts. He broke to us they he felt they could achieve a positive outcome with a bowel resection – it didn’t at that point look as though it had spread – and was even presenting in a possibly non-cancerous way. (I now know this was the first trick my cheeky intelligent cancer was playing on us!). We agreed to operate after Christmas to achieve the best outcome with the best team and left knowing we’d next see each other in hospital. I then had a few weeks to have Christmas with my family and pretend on the surface that ‘everything was fine!’ 

 

Most people will tell you not to look at statistics and that is because cancer statistics can be scary. All the things that you suddenly took for granted – like growing old, seeing your children to secondary school, seeing in another new year, or questioning how many christmases you have left – now become a question of which dot on a graph your luck may place you.  

 In a numb way, as though this game is about ‘someone else’ you start using the statistics, that are not bespoke to you, to torture your mind…… “so if I have stage 3, I have a 60% chance of seeing my son reach secondary school”. 


 Over the next 2 weeks between Christmas presents, New Year champagne in France, and stopping my children killing each other on Christmas holidays, I started to learn more and more about the beast I was about to tackle.  

“Bowel cancer is the second biggest killer in the uk. Bowel cancer incidence. … Bowel cancer accounts for 12% of all new cases in the UK (2014). In males in the UK, bowel cancer is the third most common cancer, with around 22,800 cases diagnosed in 2014. In females in the UK, bowel cancer is the third most common cancer, with around 18,400 cases diagnosed in 2014′.cancer research

 I then started to learn that most cancers when caught early have excellent outcomes:

 “Bowel cancer is a very treatable cancer – when caught early. When diagnosed at its earliest stage, more than 9 in 10 people with bowel cancer will survive their disease for five years or more, compared with less than 1 in 10 people when diagnosed at the latest stage” Cancer Research UK 

Still unsure of my staging until post operation you assume the worst, so you then start blaming yourself for not pushing this years ago when your bowel habits changed, or asking if too many cigarettes on your birthday caused this? Or maybe it’s the chocolate you eat? Maybe it’s stress? Did I not eat enough kale? Should I have washed my salad better? Is 5 hours sleep enough? Do I use a shampoo with a dangerous chemical? Was I too busy to sort this?! 

 The more you read the more you get upset, you get angry, you get scared and you get worried – and this can happen all in the same minute! 

Now for me, not knowing or understanding my illness was never going to work. I want to know everything I possibly can about this cancer, I want to know about every trial going, understand every statistic related to operations, complications, drugs, new drugs, risks and staying alive. I’m finding over time, that by becoming educated about my cancer it enables me to feel empowered to fight it head on. 

 However – I realise that in that suspended window of waiting, I’m looking at statistics to find reassurance – but no matter how hard I look I’m never going to find something that makes me happy. No one is going to tell me for sure that I’m going to see my kids to secondary school, that I’m going to grow old and I’m not going to die in the next 5 years. I suppose none of us know that for sure but we don’t normally have to face it in such a stark way. 

 It is these blindsiding moments in our lives that challenge us to show how strong we can be. Not only to have faith to get through it, but to cope with the darkness, to pull ourself out when you feel there is no hope. To function when you want to cry, to smile when inside you are scared, and to be grateful for the shining knights you have in your life, who, one by one, in their own ways, will walk with you, talk with you and pull you into the light. 

 

In this surreal moment of waiting, you look at life with fresh new eyes and become ever more grateful for what you have been blessed with. The friends, family and colleagues reaching out in a way that shows you the wonder, power and possible depth of human compassion and true friendship. You look at nature with an appreciation I’ve never experienced, you take your children to the opera house to see the ballet (a Christmas tradition for us), and wonder if you will do it again but are in awe of the beauty of the moment. You watch your children dress for the Christmas Eve nativity play as you do every year, open their presents, as they do every year and as they laugh you look at them, your life, and the knights around you, and realise that this is why you must, and can get out of the darkness and pray that all will be well. 

But I’m a vegetarian! 

I’ve been vegetarian for 25 years with the exception of 2 momentarily lapses of concentration. Once, 7 months pregnant, I found myself polishing off a spaghetti bolognese (must have been the hormones), and the other is when I couldn’t resist tartiflette up in the mountains – Jägermeister was clearly to blame! So apart from the odd nibble here and there (let’s just blame politeness and wine for those!), my insides have become accustomed to lots of fruit, vegetables, lentils, green juices and maybe a little too much cheese, chocolate and claret! 

However, on the grand scheme of things, I’d consider myself pretty healthy. If you minus the days where I’d swing by McDonald’s for a quick egg Mc-Muffin en-route to school, my calorie intake was normal, my BMI was 19, I blasted my butt in high intensity workouts 4 times per week, never sat still at work (#teacherlife) and even my metabolic age was apparently 20! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting myself on a pedestal as some kind of green juicing goddess (😂😂), but at the same time I’m hardly your big butt mama! 

I totally get why a GP would dismiss my self-diagnosis of bowel cancer especially in a neurotic hypochondriac such as myself.
“More than nine out of ten new cases (94%) are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and nearly six out of ten cases (58%) are diagnosed in people aged 70 or over. But bowel cancer can affect any age. More than 2,400 people under 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK every year” Bowel Cancer uk 
Key risk factors for bowel cancer include being over 50, having a low fibre diet, eating processed meat, being over weight, smoking and drinking: 

So despite the alcohol, and maybe the occasional social smoking (better just to admit it!) I don’t really fit the profile of someone with Bowel cancer. 


On that idle Thursday however, I came back sobbing to the day ward (maybe it was the gas and air!) proclaiming that I know ‘he’ found something – I mean I saw it too. You know there is an issue when the consultant asks ‘is someone here with you?’. Calmly the fantastic colonoscopist comes in and confirms my worst fear. That he had found a large tumour that I will need to have removed via an operation and whilst he can’t be 100% certain, it’s likely that it’s cancerous. 

There is a sense of disbelief that happens when you are told you ‘might’ have cancer. A feeling that this is happening to someone else – not you. I mean ‘you’ were out parting two days ago, ran 5 miles yesterday, have a school to lead, have Christmas presents to buy – you don’t have time for cancer! It wasn’t in the plan! 

Within the hour I was booked in to return to the hospital the next day for a CT scan, a MRI and a meeting with the surgeon – not what I had originally planned for my Friday night! 
My husband and I left the hospital numb to embark upon the most surreal period and roller coaster of our lives. We drove straight to Lee and Sanderman and Sebastien in true ‘c’est la vie’ style, asked for the most expensive bottle in the shop – a beautifully rich, Leoville Barton 1996, and we proceed to polish it off as though armageddon was scheduled for 7pm the next day…..

Ps. For those of you worried about having a colonoscopy – don’t be. It’s not that bad. You have to drink a bit of bowel prep before hand, which affirms the belief that humans are in fact just ‘full of shit’ when it starts to work. It’s actually quite a comedy toilet show, and you’ll at least do your 10,000 steps for the day walking back and forth to the loo. For the actual procedure you have a choice of a sedative or gas and air. I went for gas and air as I felt I’d like wine afterwards – no other reason! The only time it hurts is when going around the corners – but breath deeply and the gas will give you the effects of 10 G&T’s in one go! For more information do check out: 
http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bowel-cancer-screening/Documents/Having-a-colonoscopy.pdf