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Posted in Cancer, Living With Cancer

Five Things I did Last Week (even though I have cancer)

Last week’s post looked at the grim side effects of chemo . This week it’s time to be a bit more positive and show all the amazing things you can still do when living with cancer!

Don’t get me wrong, living with cancer is HARD! But us warriors still have our good days and I always say that the down days just make the up days that little bit sweeter.

Recently, following my 9th round of chemo, I was lucky enough to be granted a week off treatment by my oncologist so I could go on a snowy holiday to Austria. So here’s five things I did last week, even though I have cancer:

1. FLEW ON A PLANE

This might not sound a big deal, but I have previously been told it’s not safe for me to fly due to the blood clot in my lung. On a previous holiday to Switzerland at Christmas, we had to embark on a 13 hour train journey instead of flying!

Sitting in the luggage compartment on our 13 hour train journey to Switzerland

Thankfully after 3 months of blood thinning injections, the clot has shrunk and my oncologist said I could fly again.

I felt incredibly nervous about getting on a plane! The whole time we were in the air I worried that the blood clot could have moved, I was anticipating feeling pain when we landed that could signal something was wrong, luckily, all was fine and I was worrying about nothing – phew!

2. HAD MY HUSBAND FLUSH MY PICC LINE

Every week, I have a lovely nurse visit to flush my PICC line (a line in a vein in my arm where chemo drugs are administered) with saline. This is to ensure it continues working so that meds can be put in it and blood can be taken out.

It is a medical procedure, and I’m not going to lie, I was really quite nervous about my husband (a non-medical professional) being let loose on it!

But, we were advised by my medical team that it’s necessary both before and after flying in a plane. This is apparently because the change in air pressure could make my existing blood clot move or change. I had no choice, and my husband was only too happy to step up.

Travel essentials when you have a PICC line that needs flushing and a blood clot!

It’s a fairly simple procedure, but involves lots of needles, vials of different saline, and syringes being attached to my line. It meant travelling with lots of medical paraphernalia and a sharps bin. Despite having a doctor’s letter to explain it all, I was so convinced I’d be challenged over it at security and I knew I would just burst into tears if this happened!

Luckily, again, I was worried about nothing. Security was fine and actually the hardest thing about the whole thing was trying to find a bathroom or changing room in which we could set up our mini chemistry set! My husband had been well-trained by the nurses and all went off without a hitch!

3. WENT SNOWBOARDING

I’ve been snowboarding for ten years now and it’s one of my favourite hobbies. The exciting feeling of strapping on your board, careering down a snowy, crisp mountain with the wind in your hair – there really is nothing like it!

The sheer exhilaration is a surefire way to make you forget all your worries in an instant and for me, it’s the perfect temporary antidote to living with cancer.

There I am, the one not sitting on my butt!

On the first day we hit the slopes I felt strangely emotional as I zoomed along with my friends, feeling that adrenaline rush that I love. Cancer stops you from doing so much and when you finally get the chance to do something you absolutely love, it can be strangely overwhelming!

One babe and her board

Was I scared I’d fall? Yes. Was I scared someone would crash into me? Yes. (They did! Multiple times!) Did I let it stop me? No way! Because cancer has stopped me doing too many things over the past couple of years and if I’m feeling well enough to do something I enjoy, you better believe I’m going to grab that opportunity with both hands.

4. JUMPED OFF A MOUNTAIN!

Paragliding is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I’ve been going on snowy holidays and this time, along with my sister-in-law, surrounded by the beautiful Austrian mountains, I decided to go for it. It was utterly amazing!

Cancer makes you realise that you never know what life is going to bring your way. It arrives in your life and knocks the wind out of your sails but I believe it also teaches you to live your life without regret.

Flying through the Austrian sky, so fancy free1

Living with cancer has made me face my fears and it made me leap off that mountain because, who knows, one day I just might not be able to.

5. DRANK ALCOHOL WITH MY FRIENDS

I am not a big drinker and as a rule, I never drink when I’m on chemo as I feel my body has enough toxins to try and process, without me putting more pressure on my liver.

But après ski is a huge part of the snowboarding holiday experience and I felt so grateful to be able to sit on top of a mountain, with the sun on my face and a glass of prosecco in my hand – just like a normal person!

Living with cancer is one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had to face. But I hope this post shows just what you can achieve and enjoy when you’re going through treatment.

If there is something you love in life, you can still go for it! Okay you might do it slightly more slowly and cautiously than before, and you might pay the price for it later (once I got home from this holiday I could have slept for a week!) But always remember you’re alive, life is for living and there is so much wonder in the world, get out there and see it.

As always, sending love and hugs to my fellow warriors, we’ve got this!

Heidi xxx

Posted in Cancer

Five Unexpected Side Effects of Chemotherapy

People often ask me, “what does it feel like when you’re having chemo?” It’s a difficult experience to put into words, but basically think of the worst hangover you’ve ever (and I mean EVER) had, combined with the nastiest flu virus, multiply that by ten and you’re somewhere near.

Chemo feels like having every muscle, bone and organ in your body flooded with poison. Once the drugs are in, you can feel the toxicity gradually seeping into every cell in your body and you feel the worst you’ve ever felt in your life.

Super powers would be amazing, but anyone who’s had chemo would probably be happy to just not feel sick and tired anymore!

Before treatment, your nurses and doctor helpfully provide you with information about what gruesome side effects you’re likely to experience. In my case, I was prepared for tiredness, nausea, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, hair loss, my nails going funny, constipation and mouth ulcers.

I guess all drugs affect everyone differently and often you can’t prepare yourself for how bad some of these effects are going to be. But seriously, some weird shit goes on when you have those crazy drugs in your system…here are some things I was not prepared for.

1. INSANELY HEIGHTENED SENSE OF SMELL

Many of my friends have likened this to morning sickness, and if that’s the case, maybe I need to seriously re-think how much I want a family!

“Stop cooking omelettes!” has become a regular cry in our house.

I spend the first few days after chemo saying to my husband, “what’s that smell? Have you washed up? I can smell something gross! Please move that bowl, it stinks!” These smells turn my stomach and have me chowing down on anti-sickness tablets like there’s no tomorrow!

Annoyingly with each cycle, it can be a different smell that sets off the nausea. It’s usually food, or the smell of whatever he cooked yesterday lingering. Often the smell of fresh coffee sets me off and strong smells like perfume or fabric softener make me feel queasy too.

The absolute worst has been when the smell of people (you all smell like oily, greasy skin by the way) has made me feel super nauseous. A low point during chemo was sitting in Outpatients waiting to see my oncologist, trying not to throw up because all I could smell was people.

My poor husband has been told on many occasions, “please stay away from me, the smell of you is making me feel sick!” I feel very lucky that he still loves me!

2. MEMORY LOSS

They call it “chemo brain” and basically it feels like your mind has become misty, clunky and awkward. Words you could easily remember seem to drop right out of your head! It happens a lot mid-conversation and can be quite embarrassing.

“I knew my date of birth yesterday…”

Important information like names, dates and PINs also disappear from your mind. I have been known to make sure I spend less than £30 on a food shop to ensure I can pay for things via contactless card for fear of my PIN getting lost in the dark corners of my mind!

At times, it can also be rather amusing. For example, when myself and my best friend Helen who has also had chemo for breast cancer try to stumble our way through a conversation filled with blanks (trying to help each other fill them in!) I’m told the effects can last years (oh what fab news!)

3. METAL MOUTH

The struggle is real people!

Along with the heightened sense of smell, the horrid metal taste in my mouth for a week after chemo only adds to the feeling of constant nausea. It also leads me on a constant quest to try and get rid of the taste.

I can only describe it as feeling like I’m sucking on a bag of nails and it suddenly makes me have massive empathy for this unfortunate James Bond villain.

Cue me finding a legitimate reason to munch on Haribo and other chewy sweets all day. Or if I’m feeling healthy, fresh pineapple does the trick!

4. DEPRESSION or LOW MOOD

This is one of the hardest aspects of treatment for me. I am usually an upbeat, optimistic person yet some days during chemo I find myself in a very dark place, unable to lift myself back to the light.

This is often triggered after four days of high dose steroids and on Day 5 once the drugs stop, I feel I’m on a huge comedown for two or three days and it’s very hard to come back from. I am not one to wallow in self pity, but it’s times like these when I feel that this is all very unfair and I question why this is happening to me.

I try to get around this as best I can by arranging to see people who I know will cheer me up. Luckily, I am blessed to have plenty of friends and family always happy to meet for tea and cake, or to visit me.

5. CHEMO FARTS

“Praise be” for Loperamide!

So…chemotherapy really messes with your bowels! I spend the whole time I’m having treatment living somewhere between diarrhoea and constipation, never sure what’s going to hit. My tummy often feels like it is constantly cramping or “bubbling”. When the bubbling stops, the chemo farts arrive!

While this is a really uncomfortable feeling that lasts for about a week, I have to say it’s my husband I feel more sorry for when I experience this side effect because the smell is truly vile. My bouts of bad wind can only be described as eggs that have been rotting for a hundred years in a sulphur mine that have then been dropped in sewage!

I’m sure for anyone who’s had chemo, they could add to this list. These weird side effects become a unique part of your cancer story and while horrible to experience, you can (unbelievably) look back on them and laugh.

I’d love to hear your weirdest chemo side effect! Please comment below and let’s share some crazy stories!

Love and chemo hugs,

Heidi x


Posted in Cancer

Five things to say to your friend with cancer

Many people find cancer a tricky thing to talk about. They worry about saying the wrong thing or feel awkward about asking questions for fear of causing upset.

Personally, I’d prefer that someone says the wrong thing than nothing at all, but I acknowledge I’m someone who speaks very openly about my diagnosis!

If you’re feeling nervous about how to talk to your friend with cancer, try any of these five options to show them you care.

1. I’M SORRY

The simplest phrases can be the most effective

It sounds obvious but it’s simple and effective. It tells your friend you sympathise with their situation and that you are sad they are going through a difficult time. It’s also the perfect option if you just want to send a text or WhatsApp instead of speaking to them.

A simple “I’m sorry this is happening to you” is enough to let your friend know you care.

In the early stages of diagnosis, many people are overwhelmed with contact from people, including some they may not have heard from in a long time. A simple message like this leaves no requirement to come back in any depth so also takes pressure off your friend until they are ready to reply.

2. HOW ARE YOU (REALLY) FEELING?

We are all guilty of saying, “I’m fine” when asked how we are and cancer patients are no exception. If you get an inkling that your friend is having a low day or is struggling to cope, try asking them if they’re really okay and see if they’ll speak more honestly about their feelings.

Or you could try an open question: “Which chemo side effect do you struggle with the most?”, or “when is your next chemo and how are you feeling about it?” This will encourage your friend to talk about what they’re going through in more detail and perhaps feel better for getting some negative thoughts out in the open.

Your friend may need a bit of extra support

The effects of cancer treatment on mental health is something I am passionate about. If you start to have serious concerns that your friend isn’t coping, mention it to someone close to them like a partner or parent.

Cancer treatment can take a real toll on your emotions and even the most positive, optimistic person can have incredibly low days. Keep an eye on your friend and let them know you’re available to talk whenever they might need you.

3. WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP IN YOUR TREATMENT?

We don’t all feel comfortable speaking about the emotional side of cancer, and that’s totally okay!

If practical talk is your thing, stick to that!

Focusing on practical matters can be a great way to encourage your friend to see how far they’ve come in their treatment and focus on the end goal.

Ask your friend about their next chemo, when they will next be scanned or if they have upcoming doctors appointments.

4. RECOMMEND A BOOK/FILM/TV SERIES/PODCAST!

Us cancer patients have a lot of time on our hands. Being a bit of a nerdy bookworm, some of the nicest parcels I’ve received have been books that friends thought I’d enjoy. I’m also always asking people what they’ve enjoyed on Netflix recently so if you have some tips let your friend know!

Read any good books lately? Let your friend know!

If they are a creative type, why not send them a kit or a colouring book. Simple and cheerful projects are a great way to fill a few afternoons when they may feel too tired to get out of the house.

Podcasts are always ideal recommendations for days when your friend may just wants to listen to something in bed with an eye mask on.

5. I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY

If words fail, a cuppa never will

People say this to me a lot. Often they seem to feel bad that they can’t find the words to express how completely terrible it is to get a cancer diagnosis.

This is completely fine. Because really, there are no words!

The fact that you are taking the time to reach out to your friend is the most important thing, and if you can’t think of what to say it doesn’t matter, the act of speaking to your friend shows them you care.

Photo credits: Lina TrochezJoe Yatesfreestocks.org, Anthony Tran Priscilla Du Preez all from Unsplash

Posted in Cancer

Five Things About Me

Hi and welcome!

Thanks for stopping by. I started this blog to share my experiences of living with cancer with the aim of keeping things simple and concise.

Here’s a little bit about me.

1. I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016, aged 36

I found a large lump in my abdomen and thought it was a hernia, I went to my GP and was sent straight to the hospital for a CT scan. Two days later I was told I had cancer, a week later I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Taken a couple of weeks before I was diagnosed, do I look like I have cancer?

2. I was in remission for a year, but the cancer came back

Following three operations, twelve rounds of chemo, a temporary stoma and a few other bumps along the way (punctured lung anyone?) I was free of active cancer in July 2017. A CT scan one year later showed it had returned on the lymph nodes in my bowel.

A month after getting out of hospital with my nieces and nephew.

3. I’m not offended by the phrase “cancer warrior”, the war is most certainly on!

For me, having cancer is a daily battle. While my doctors fight my disease with drugs, I am battling the most basic things like being able to get out of bed or take a shower. Some days I have to summon the strength to step outside my front door and face the world. I completely understand why some object to this type of language, but personally I find it empowering.

At the gym a few days after having chemo, I’m fighting to keep my body healthy.

4. I used to have a colostomy bag

Following my first operation, my surgeon gave me a stoma to allow my bowel to heal after part of it was removed. I remember waking up from surgery and immediately bursting into tears when I saw the dreaded bag! As time went on, I got used to it and it’s now been reversed. I intend to write a blog post or two about my experience.

Me and my (mostly) trusty bag
Photo credit: Chanon de Valois

5. I find living with cancer really difficult

This might seem an obvious thing to say but often people comment on how well I look or how well I’m doing and sometimes I have to tell them that I’m actually not okay!

Having cancer is depressing. It is an emotional rollercoaster. It left me with PTSD when I first went into remission and my current treatment makes me feel very low.

I often experience bouts of low mood and depression and writing helps me make sense of how I feel. That’s why I’ve started this blog.

I intend to fill this blog with lots of “Five Things…” posts that may help or inspire others who are affected by cancer. Let’s see what happens!

Love and chemo hugs,

Heidi xxx