When my husband and I launched our business, KeepEmQuiet.com back in 2016, I went from a private Instagram to a public one, to connect and network and help to spread the word about our new venture, in what at the time was a mainly female blogging space. As time went on I started sharing more and more about me personally. About my grief on losing my Mum to breast cancer at 27. About Mental Illness, with a family history of depression, bipolar, and suicide attempts. About my eating disorder in my teens and body issues. I started to realise that connecting with people on this deeper level and sharing my story felt right, even if it helped just one person then it was worth it to be vulnerable and honest. I have always found writing a cathartic, therapeutic experience.
In October 2019, I stripped to a pink bra to raise awareness for Breast Cancer Awareness Month having lost my beautiful Mum to the disease, just as she lost hers whom I never met (I’m hanging out the top window!). One month later, aged 37, I was diagnosed myself. For 6 months I had not mentioned online about my older sister’s Ovarian cancer diagnosis. It was not my story to tell and so I had lived and breathed cancer for 6 months whilst my Instagram told a different story. And now, here I was, with my own diagnosis. Do I silently just go quiet and knuckle down with treatment or invite others along for the maddest ride of my life? For over a week, my family and I got our heads around the diagnosis. I told friends. I had tests. And we celebrated our baby girl turning 4 in amongst the agonising upheaval of all that lay ahead. And then on Sunday evening, I wrote the words “I have breast cancer” and clicked share. The support and outpouring of love was immediately overwhelming and filled me with strength.
My intentions with sharing my journey have always been to spread awareness for Breast Cancer and get people to check their boobs and know what to look for. Back in October, before my diagnosis, the message was loud and clear…Early detection is key. And here I was living proof that early detection is key. Stage 2, Grade 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer with a BRCA1 gene mutation. Stage 1 and 2 are considered early. Grades refer to the aggressive nature of the disease. Early stages and aggressive, so I faced an aggressive treatment plan, and radical surgery due to the gene, but things were looking positive. Due to some chunky painful lymph nodes which I discovered on a chemo ward with my sister, I immediately booked to see my GP and within a week of finding them I had a diagnosis. My early detection likely has saved my life.
Clicking share meant that I have shared my cancer journey much like I would writing in a diary. Initially I went into warrior mode, as my therapist put it. Very few tears but a strong positive mental attitude. People resonated with the positivity. Positivity is contagious. I have found sharing my more vulnerable moments way harder. Not wanting to make anyone feel sorry for me. But just honouring that I have opened myself up to sharing the highs and lows of my breast cancer journey, and this chapter of my life, and therefore the lows are par the course. And there have been some of the highest highs and lowest lows. Some days I’ve felt like I’ve had nothing to give, riddled with fatigue, chemo fog & relentless negativity. Those are the hard days where I feel like perhaps sharing my journey may hinder the help I was wanting to give people. As the realities of cancer can be very, very ugly.
Recently I have really struggled with the loss of most of my hair, after retaining it for 12 cycles of chemo, at the last hurdle and with the stronger chemo that I am now on, the AC, it has taken a hit. A physical adjustment to this has been hard. Looking more unwell. Changing for my husband and my children. I have cut my hair shorter but so far still managing to retain some hair with the use of the dreaded cold cap, which although dreaded, I would recommend to anyone to try that would like to attempt to keep some hair. The first ten minutes are impossibly hard, and as my hair has thinned I have started to take a Lorazapam to chill me out for these 10 minutes, as they make me pretty nauseas, but after these initial 10 minutes I find the whole process way easier. I’m very glad I have stuck with it, and although I have very little hair left, I will continue to cold cap for my last session to retain what is left. I’m grateful to the device that allowed me to feel like me for as long as it did. That is for sure.
On a more positive note, I have found that sharing my story has been a vehicle to allow a lot of people that care about me an insight in to what is going on with me, and to a degree has meant that I am not repeating myself, which when exhausted from the treatment and two little children, can be a relief. Although at times, the pressure I have put on myself to share has felt a little heavy and this has made me look at my personality and reflect and take stock.
And the highest points throughout sharing my cancer diaries have absolutely been the messages I have received in my DM’s from people who have checked out pains, and lumps, that they had previously ignored, and that they have had the incredible relief to find out that they are benign. Those messages make the sharing so, so worth it. And the messages to say that by sharing my experience I have helped others going through their own cancer journeys. It is totally true what they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. Which brings me to the point that if you have gotten this far, please do me one favour and check your boobs immediately. Don’t be scared, get to know your body, and get to the GP if you have any concerns. I felt like I was wasting everyone’s time as I waited to have my ultrasound. Please, please know that checking your health is NEVER wasting anyone’s time. Doctor’s get a whole lot more joy from telling you that you have nothing, than telling you that you have something. Please CHECK YOUR BOOBS.
I have connected with so many wonderful people in the cancer community through sharing online. It truly helps you to feel less alone. I have no shortage of wonderful friends, family and loved ones who only have my best interests at heart, but chatting with someone who truly knows the ins and outs of breast cancer, chemo, and so many fears that come with being told you have cancer, has lifted me through some dark times and I am truly grateful I clicked share to have connected with these warrior women.
A cancer diagnosis flips your world in an instant. It gives you a perspective for all that you want your life to be if you can get to the other side of it. I’m nearing that side now, and I’m so driven to live to my fullest, my healthiest, my best me. I have never ever been more convinced that all that truly matters is that we have our health and our loved ones. Fundamentally this is the true basis of happiness, and having cancer has made me reflect on all the beauty that love and health can allow in. True healing: it’s a journey, but that is the one destination I have on my horizon.
My cancer diagnosis may just be the catalyst to stop living in dis ease and start to live in harmony. I know that clicking share was the right decision for me and I am forever grateful to everyone that has joined me for this mad rollercoaster ride. We are almost off this crazy train, and I’ve never been more ready to start living at the destination.
(This blog was written just before my final chemo but here is the happiest most joyous picture straight after my final chemo session with my best cheerleaders – my family!)