Fighting Fatigue

Since Christmas, I’ve noticed I’m in need of more sleep, perhaps In part it’s the cold winter weather and dark mornings, however I feel I have been fighting fatigue more than ever recently. It’s not ideal given that I had a chemo break over the new year, and in theory I should be feeling more awake and energised than usual.

I long for the day when I wake up and actually feel revitalised and refreshed from catching my z’s, rather than feeling like however much I sleep I get it’s never going to be enough. At the weekend I slept for 11 and a half hours, only to wake up get washed and dressed and go back to sleep. I’d slept for nine and a half hours the previous night so I can’t blame it on a lack of sleep the night before.

Everyone always tells me to listen to my body, but right now I feel as though it’s constantly running on empty without a way to refuel? Sometimes I’m so shattered that I practically spend a whole day in bed, I worry that I’m wasting the day away, this precious time whilst I am ‘healthy’ but feel like I have no choice! It is so frustrating being chronically tired, I think it often adds to my depression and negative feelings.

I’ve learnt there is a lot of power in taking a nap, but it’s certainly not the fatigue beating cure I’m searching for. Perhaps it makes things worse? Recently I’ve been going to bed around 9pm and sleeping for as long as physically possible, by the time 4pm comes around at work I feel like a zombie, struggling to keep my eyes open, I am done for the day and in need of a sugar hit to keep me going. At the weekends naps and a must, and I wonder how on earth I manage Monday – Friday without them. I sometimes wish my office had a little room where I could go and lie down for an hour.

Often, even though I’m exhausted, I have nights where my worries keep me awake and it’s difficult to settle, which make the following day even worse. Tiredness affects me both mentally and physically, and it can be really isolating as I am always envious of others who seem to have boundless amounts of energy. I often end up postponing or cancelling plans because I simply don’t have the energy. Having spent the past four and half years on treatment I don’t think I know what being awake and refreshed feels like anymore. I thought I’d gotten used to feeling this way but perhaps not if that past few weeks are anything to go by.

I know that keeping active can really help reduce tiredness, but it can also make me more exhausted, so I feel like I can’t win. Hopefully it’ll pass as the days get longer and lighter. I’m bored of being physically, emotionally and mentally tired.

Lake District Five Peaks Challenge

Last weekend I conquered the Lake District 5 Peaks for charity, including England’s highest mountain Scafell Pike in just one day. I did this in aid of Trekstock, a young adult cancer charity I’ve frequently mentioned in my blog.

I found out about Trekstock through social media, and over the last 18 months I’ve found them a great source of support. Through the charity I took part in their RENEW exercise programme and also became involved in the BBC documentary A Time To Live by Sue Bourne. I have also benefited from other events they’ve organised for those who have experienced cancer.

The challenge, organised through the company Charity Challenge was without a doubt one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life! It was the most difficult physical challenge I’ve set myself so far. I was on my feet walking for the best part of 12 and a half hours straight and I found the trek both physically and mentally tough. I felt so many emotions in one short space of time; I laughed and I cried! (A lot!), but I’m proud to say I did it! I was the last person in my challenge group of 44 people to finish on the day, and I’m sure I said I couldn’t do it about 1000 times. My hips and legs became so tired that I had to give up my backpack for the last four hours, and the Charity Challenge team kindly carried it for me. I kept joking that the leaders should apply for World’s Strongest Man as they carried my backpack (as well as their own), whilst navigating across the boulders and rough terrain of the landscape. The whole experience reminded me of the type of person I am; I’m a fairly nervous person, I get scared easily, and the weekend confirmed that I’m certainly not an outdoor enthusiast! It took me longer than average to learn to swim, ride a bike and drive a car, so I shouldn’t be surprised I found the trek tough going! I know I won’t be signing up to adventurer Bear Grylls next TV show in a hurry.

Despite my initial disappointment at finishing last, I have to remind myself it wasn’t a race, I also had chemotherapy last Monday, so I know I should be especially proud. Initially it felt bitter sweet; the challenge reminded me that I am not invincible, and that having stage 4 cancer means I will inevitably find it difficult to do things that a healthy person could do more easily. As first I felt really upset, as it was a reality check, but it hindsight I’m just glad to have finished.

I’m still very sore and in pain, and pretty sure I’m going to loose a toenail but it was worth it!  Without sounding like an awards acceptance speech; I am grateful to my two wonderful friends that completed the trek with me (they must be mad!), I’ve never been so happy to see two people before. Huge thanks to the Charity Challenge team who made sure I powered through, and of course to the lovely Trekstock team. I know the money raised will continue to make a huge difference to people like me. It was lovely to meet so many other people connected to the charity, who gave me encouragement, supported and cheered me on until the bitter end. I’ll certainly be visiting the Lake District again soon, it isn’t an area of the world I’d visited before, and the landscapes were stunning. It goes to show there is so much beauty in England so close to home, I still have The Travel Bug, but I’d love to explore the UK more.
 At the moment I’m not sure the Lake District 5 Peaks would be something I would do again in a huge rush, but knowing me I’ll probably end of signing up to something else in few weeks. Perhaps I should opt for a simple bake sale instead? Overall I feel a great sense of achievement. and I’ll be riding high on that wave for a while, even if I am still hobbling.

Its great feeling knowing the money raised can make a real difference, helping to improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of people in similar shoes to mine. In total I’ve raised over £1,100 for Trekstock so far, and if you’d still like to donate you can do so here.

I am also delighted to say that I had stable scan results at my oncology appointment last Monday, which is of course fantastic news. Now that I know, I hope I can relax more over the next few months and enjoy my summer adventures and birthday celebrations.

New Year Challenges

After deciding against another running challenge in 2018, my lovely school friend Emilie has taken one on and is doing the Brighton Marathon to raise funds for Macmillan in April. I’m proud of one of my oldest friend for taking on this marathon challenge  (pun intended) and I’ll be going to cheer her on during the race. You can find out Em’s story here.

Macmillan have been a huge source of support for me, from my Skin Cancer specialist nurse to various online resources and assistance with various different application forms. I’m really appreciate Emilie’s dedication to a cause that’s so close to home. Later in the year I am going abroad for her wedding to be a bridesmaid so it’s set to be an epic 2018.

I’ve decided take on a different challenge in the new year and I am hoping to do the Lake District 5 Peak Challenge with Trekstock later in the year. I’ve never been to the Lake District before, so I thought it would be a great way of doing something new whilst also raising awareness for young people like me experiencing cancer. Over the past 15 months I’ve received a lot of support from the small London based team which has been invaluable. The challenge runs over one day. The climb goes up to over 3,000 feet, covering approximately 14 miles. I need to work out some sort of training that might help. Any one up for a walk around Hyde Park with a large backpack?

I am seeing in the new year by relaxing at home, which seems like a nice chilled out end to 2017. I am keeping everything crossed that my cancer will continue to be stable in 2018 as I have new opportunities and adventures in the pipe line!

Thoughts On Food And Cancer

Food and cancer has been a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a while, there are so many different opinions floating around about diet and cancer it can be difficult to distinguish key facts.

The key advice I have received about diet and exercise whilst having treatment is to do what works for me individually. Just because some things work for one group of people doesn’t automatically mean they will work for the majority of the population. Each week there are multiple headlines suggesting what we put in our bodies can either help cause or prevent cancer and It’s confusing to say the least.

Since I had my first bowel tumour removed in 2014 I have been conscious to eat more fruit and vegetables and also began going to the gym. There is no set routine so to speak, and some weeks I’m far better than others. I figure walking is as good as anything most of the time, when I feel able. If you’d seen any of my instagram posts you’ll see I also go to the occasional yoga or pilates class. I enjoy it, but it can often be pretty expensive.

I went through a prolonged phase of having home made juices, but I think that phase has passed, at the moment my sleep is far more important than getting up early to squeeze fresh oranges. I don’t want to feel guilty if I eat cake or sweet snacks, it is ludicrous and life is too short! I’m more active now than I have been in previous years, which is great. However, in the winter time I really have to push myself to get up and go. I know its good for my overall wellbeing, but so are rest and sleep. If only there were more hours in the day for extra sleep sessions.

One thing I have discovered is a love of cooking. I used to be all about the home baked cakes, but I’ve extended my repertoire into the dinner field over the past few years. I now often enjoy spending time in the kitchen, or thinking about what meals to make for the week ahead. As it’s winter, I am really enjoying making soups and the one pan curries and stews (I am not a fan of washing up, so one pan meals are great!). Books from instagrammers like Deliciously Ella have allowed me to enjoy cooking simple meals from scratch and I no longer feel like it’s a chore. I got Nicola Graimes book The Part-Time Vegetarian for Christmas last year and it’s proved a real hit.

Ultimately I will do anything if it helps me, but I don’t want to be made to feel like any of this is my fault, or that I somehow got cancer because of lifestyle choices. I’d love to think that doing these things is the ultimate cancer fixer, and my melanoma will be cured if introduce some sort of strict regime, however sadly It won’t. I find it upsetting for people to suggest that I might have done something which would have caused this horrific disease, perhaps I’m feeling a little over sensitive but I’m sure others would say the same. I would urge people to think about their choice of words when discussing this topic. I find social media frustrating because people seem to assume that one particular lifestyle or way of eating should be the same for everyone. We are all different, it is what makes us unique.

Over the past year I have had many conversation with people about the latest food revolutions, but watching a couple of documentary’s about fad diets doesn’t make anyone an expert. Remember when the atkins diet was huge? Some of the most healthy people I know have experienced cancer, it doesn’t discriminate. Everyone from triathlon winners and marathon runners can get cancer, It can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of lifestyle choices.

Eating well is by no means a replacement to chemotherapy and Immunotherapy treatments. I believe in doing these things alongside my treatment regime helps me feel well, support my body and in turn give me more energy to fight this illness, but isn’t a cure. I touched on this in one of my older blog posts, What Having Cancer Has Taught Me.

I know that the reason I am alive today is because I have been on the receiving end of various new cancer treatments, and I’ve had tumours in places where they could be surgically removed. I have no real way of knowing if eating more vegetables has made any difference to how I’ve responded to Pembrolizumab so far. Whilst taking oral targeted therapy drug Vemurafenib I was also training for a half marathon and I really raised the game on my food intake and exercise regime (That half marathon wasn’t going to run itself!) but I still had recurrence of disease and a second bowel tumour removal operation in May 2016. It might have been that I would have responded in exactly the same way, whether or not I’d made conscious changes around what I ate or drank, or what exercise I did. Who knows!

I eat a balanced diet most of the time and I also like a few treats. With a stage 4 diagnosis, it’s really not going to make the situation any better by worrying if I’ve somehow contributed to being unwell.

If it turns out I was wrong, do feel free to say I ate too many cakes in my eulogy.

Concessions For Disabled People

After my most recent blog post Something To Look Forward To, It has come to my attention that many people may not know of some of the concessions or discounts they might be entitled to if they are in receipt of disability benefits, or have had, or are currently undergoing cancer treatment.  Something To Look Forward To are a great small charity who offer free event tickets, beauty treatments etc to those experiencing cancer, however there are also many other opportunities those who are registered disabled can make use of.

Although the free NHS prescriptions and a Blue Badge are extremely useful and practical, having cancer is really expensive which means some people might miss out on doing things they enjoy. With this in mind I thought I’d compile a list off potential discounts and money saving options for travel and recreational activities which might be helpful to others. If anyone knows of discounts or offers I’ve not covered, do feel free to let me know and I will add them to my list, and most likely take advantage myself.

Disabled Persons Railcard

A Disabled Persons Railcard provides those who have a disability that makes travelling by train difficult 1/3 off both standard and first class anytime, off-peak and advance fares. This also applies to one companion travelling with them at the same time. This applies to those with a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, epilepsy or those who are in receipt of a disability-related benefit. It is one of the first discounts I was made aware of when I first started to receive Disability Living Allowance (now PIP) back in 2010.

CEA Card

The CEA Card is a national card scheme developed for UK cinemas which enables a disabled cinema guest to receive a complimentary ticket for someone to go with them.  I’ve used this card in various cinemas chains up and down the country including Cineworld, Empire and Odeon; and it is really handy, especially when cinema tickets can be over £10 each and splitting the cost makes it much more affordable, particularly for those who cannot go alone without any assistance. Those who receive benefits such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are eligible, as well as various other benefits listed on the website for the CEA Card. Cardholders must be 8 years of age or older. The card costs £6 for the year so it’s worth it, even if it is only used twice a year.

Access For All Admit One Card

The National Trust admits a companion, or carer, of a disabled visitor free of charge, with the normal membership, or admission fee, applying to the disabled visitor. The  Access for all Admit One Card is free of charge and can be issued by emailing National Trust directly and sending proof of being in receipt of a disability-related benefit, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This card is made out in the name of the disabled person, not the companion, so there is not a restriction to taking the same person on each visit, which is really useful. I’ve got one of these cards but am yet to use it.

Gym  Membership Discount

Many gyms across the country offer discounts for disabled people, in particular gyms run by councils, depending on where in the UK you live. A example of a chain gym that offers discount is Better Gym, know as the Better Inclusive Membership. This membership gives disabled people full, anytime access to facilities at over 200 leisure centres, including use of gyms, pools and fitness classes. The costs for this is very reasonable, at just £19.95 per month with no joining fee and no minimum contract. Like the other offers, I had to show proof of being in receipt of disability benefits when applying for this.

Concert / Theatre Ticket Concessions

I love going to the theatre and gigs, and was pleased to find out many venues or theatre companies operate an accessible ticket scheme for those in need. Being in receipt of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) means I’ve been able to take advantage of some of these offers which make a night out at the theatre practical and enjoyable. Ambassadors Theatre Group own many theatres in the West End and across the country and operate an ATG Access Membership Scheme for people needing assistance. I recently booked accessible tickets to see a show in the West End and received great service, someone even asked if we needed assistance with our interval order which I thought was great, especially for those who may be using a wheelchair. The National Theatre also operate a National Theatre Access List offering concession tickets for disabled people and carers, which means those eligible can get a pair of tickets to a show for just £32!

In additional to Something To Look Forward To there are also organisations such as Willow Foundation who provide Special Days for seriously ill 16 to 40 year olds. I had a special day organised by them in 2011 which included a trip to London, tickets to see a musical and a lovely meal out with some of my family. I would definitely recommend it for those who may qualify.

World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health day took place this week, and I saw lots of long posts on social media about the importance of looking after all aspects of our health. The day aims to draws attention to the importance of mental health and increase education on the subject which people often shy away from. Having stage 4 melanoma has hugely impacted both my mental and physical wellbeing. Knowing that I am dying, that something inside my body is killing me, and I’m constantly having to fight it off is often too much to process. 

Receiving a diagnosis of a serious illness such as cancer can have a huge impact on a persons mental health, and I have felt this over the past few years, particularly since receiving different chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments. Thanks to my terminal diagnosis It is normal for me to experience huge levels anxiety, worry and fear on a daily basis. I touched on this previously back in April in a blog post called Maintaining Mental Heath, which focussed on the importance of exercise, It’s amazing how much a little exercise can help mental wellbeing. I sometimes take part in the occasional Parkrun, my time has actually gotten worst since I first went, but I do feel better for taking part. I tend to walk / jog the route, but its better than not doing it at all. I’m focussing my breathing rather than all the other negative thoughts that cloud my mind every day.

Having cancer is so draining, and the frequency of doctors appointments and hospital visits often adds to my anxiety and worry. Over the past seven days I’ve been to the GP twice and the hospital once, and I’m due to go in for immunotherapy tomorrow. Sometimes it just feels like too much! I’d love to escape somewhere for a few weeks with no hospitals around.

I’ve read a lot about Post-traumatic stress disorder and the effect it can have on cancer patients. People experience flashbacks and panic attacks as a reaction to exposure to very stressful and traumatising events they’ve experienced in the past. I’ve truly never really appreciated being mentally well, and the impact being unhealthy can have on a persons life until mine completely changed. I’ve always been a stressed person; school and studying at University were huge challenges for me, constantly worrying about deadlines etc, but that’s nothing compared to the way I feel nowadays. I once tried to see a psychologist when I was first diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma, but back then I felt worse for it. It was another trip to the hospital I just didn’t need! All my friends were embarking on new careers whilst I wasn’t well enough to get out of bed in the mornings, let alone go to work, and talking about it felt like a constant reminder of what I had lost. Years later I tried to seek counselling, and was fortunate enough to be referred by my GP to a local service in London. The idea with the sessions meant I had to commit to seeing someone for at least twelve weeks, however as I was about to mention this to my work I found myself back in hospital undergoing life saving surgery.  I never managed to make it to my first appointment, and since then I haven’t attempted to try again.

I know that I will always continue to experience these negative feelings and sadness because I am still having treatment. I am about to undergo my 23rd cycle of Pembrolizumab. There is still no end in sight, my treatment will continue, and I know I have to try to accept this. There is no being ‘out the other side’ of cancer.

Being in the know is very helpful when it comes to my diagnosis, I like to have as much information as possible so I feel like some things are within my control. I had a PET CT scan late last week and will get the results in three weeks time. I hope it will be ok, but I don’t think I can ever be that confident it will be. Ultimately it won’t be ok, and the longer I am well, the closer I am to becoming unwell again. Yes, it being mentally draining is an understatement! I live my life in cycles of twelve weeks, so I am really hoping I can continue on Pembrolizumab and refocus after I received the results. I really want to enjoy Christmas and New Year.

As I get older I find mental health problems seem more common than I once thought, but perhaps that’s part of being an adult and being more aware. Sometimes it’s ok not to be ok, I know I have both good and bad days, and have to accept that. Tomorrow is a new day as they say! I’m sure there are some people reading who have or will be effected by mental health during their lifetime, either themselves or by knowing family or friends who have struggled. Luckily I have a strong network of people around me to talk to, as well as using this blog as an outlet for my feelings.

Tired Of Being Tired

I have now been living with cancer for 12 years, and today marks my 7 year stage 4 diagnosis. At the time, being alive and well at the age of 30 seemed impossible. There are so many conflicting emotions around particular dates such as this one, I am sad I feel I have missed out on so much, but am hoping there is much more to look forward to in the not to distant future. If I can make 7 years as a stage 4 patient who is to say a couldn’t make another 7! I literally owe my life to those developing new treatments and the healthcare professionals that have chosen cancer as their specialist subject.

The issue that has been haunting me most of late is that for me treatment doesn’t have an end point, and I struggle with this often. I’m tired of it. This is not a temporary situation which I can learn to power through, every aspect of my life until my dying day is governed by this illness. Having immunotherapy every three weeks has become the norm. I often grieve for the life I could have had without cancer, but It hasn’t broken me yet. I guess I have probably learnt a lot about myself in this time. Sometimes (not always) I feel I am now a stronger person for what being ill has taught me.

Coming to terms with the physical changes cancer has had on my body has been an extremely challenging task, not to mention the impact on my mental health. Hospital visits make me particularly emotional and sometimes I burst into tears so quickly, and then my mindset will be negative for days on end. It’s small things such as having to cover up my portacath, or not wear something too revealing as I don’t want to exposes too much of my sensitive skin to the elements. Lucky, winter is slowly setting in so I’ll fit right in.

I live life in a different way now, the pace is slower than I would like, but I cannot change it. Sometimes I get on ok, other times I want to scream at anyone who claims to be tired. TIRED? You don’t know the meaning of the word. Exhaustion comes in waves, and when it does hit seems to effect me in an instant. And I am one of the lucky ones. It is as if somebody clicks their fingers and my energy levels plummet straight away. As soon as the drugs are pumped into my blood stream I become a total zombie. My legs feel like I’ve been hiking up mountains for days on end, I’m going to end up needing one of those fold out camping stools for when I just can’t walk any further.

My thoughts don’t seem to make sense anymore, like a ‘glazed over’ feeling of not quite being in the room. I had no idea what exhaustion was really like until I had chemotherapy and immunotherapy; even the thought of being active exhausts me. I just want to be able to click my fingers and be in bed with a large pizza. That’s one super power I would love to have.

There are so many ups and downs during each cycle, as soon as you get over one intense period of treatment its time to begin the next cycle all over again. Nothing ever seems straight forward, after some appointments I’ll feel sick, others will give me a bad stomach or a rash. All very bearable of course, but aside from the fatigue there doesn’t seem to be standard reaction each time I have treatment. This is typical of me, as I’ve been told many times I am ‘not the norm’.

Over the past few days I’ve know I’m  in a bad way as I’ve been caught at the barriers at London Underground stations. So embarrassing, but funny when you think about it. I tap my Oyster card and the barriers open, yet somehow it takes my brain a while to figure out I should be walking through. My mind and body are slower to react, and I end up being one of those people who get their bags caught because they weren’t paying enough attention, much to the amusement of others.

Suffering from this kind of fatigue and trying to resemble normality is exhausting. I’m tired of being tired. It’s taken me ages to finish writing this blog post as I just haven’t been able to find the energy. I am not even sure I remember what it’s like to feel awake and energetic.

I’m powering through this week, but by Monday I should feel vaguely normal again, regular levels of tiredness as opposed to completely wiped out. They often say normal is boring, but I’d love to feel normal and part of the In crowd again.

I’m a morning person so I am off out for a jog / walk – it’s the last thing I want to do, but I’m hoping the fresh air will do me some good and somehow help to replenish my energy levels. That’s if my legs can do what my brain wants them to!

Life Through A Lens 

Recently I’ve been witness to how much of our lives are governed by social media, from Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to Snapchat and Instagram stories. More often we are living our lives through a lens and my guess is we are probabaly all guilty of oversharing at times, myself included. Sometimes I use apps like Instagram out of habit and I don’t even think about it, I’m not even going on there to look at anything specific.

I frequently enjoy sharing elements of my life online alongside my blog, and in doing so it’s helped me feel less like the odd one out, I’m not the only one living the lonely cancer life. Writing my blog and creating social media platforms has opened up a lot of new opportunities for me, from my television debut to writing guest blogs for Huffington Post UK and The Lewis Foundation,  as well as finding out about the work of other charities I wouldn’t have heard of before. I’ve also been in touch with other melanoma patients who I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. I do however feel a temporary break is much needed.

The use social media seems like it’s at an all time high, gone are the days of hotmail email accounts, MySpace and MSN messenger,  being part of the millennial tribe means that everyone is quick to share photos and videos of their lives at a click of a button. I’m also guilty of this, I mean who wants the FOMO?! (aka the fear of missing out for those that are less social media savvy). When I was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2010 I took myself off Facebook for almost a year, and  didn’t have any problems staying in touch with friends, so it might be nice to go back to basics for a few days. The more I think about it the more I am glad to have grown up on the cusp of the social media revolution. 

It would seem that doing multiple activities in a day is commonplace when I look over Instagram profiles. It could be that it is partly the profiles I chose to follow, but I don’t want to be made to feel guilty that I’ve eaten copious amounts of maltesers, or that haven’t made every meal I’ve eaten during the week from scratch because I’ve had treatment that week. Even on a regular week I wouldn’t be cooking every night. I feel like what I see on online is often unrealistic, unless being a blogger is your full time job it just doesn’t work like that. Social media can make me feel like I’m doing something wrong, and the pressure to be part of the crowd and be constantly active can feel too much. I don’t want to be made to feel like an outsider if I have had a few duvet days and not bothered going to the gym. This pressure comes in waves and I’m sure it’s something which like others I will continue to experience now and again, but I would like to create some sort of distance. My lifestyle is not picture perfect by any means, but I still have a really good life. Even if my life isn’t going to be a long one I know that I’m fortunate to be well at the moment, perhaps I should focus on that whilst on my way to my next day trip destination rather than mindlessly scrolling through Twitter and not paying any particular attention to what is on the screen.

Over the past week or so I’ve spent the best part a whole day in bed watching trash tv, and another full day receiving treatment at hospital in the chemotherapy suite, but who really wants to know I’m doing absolutely nothing? Social media tends to focus on the highlights, but not every day is the same. I chose not to show images of me in hospital for a number of reasons; it makes me feel uncomfortable and I don’t want a lasting image to remember it by, It won’t be something I forget easily. My immunotherapy is ongoing therefore I won’t be posting a picture of myself holding a sign declaring my final treatment has been completed, or one declaring how many years I have been in remission. I’m happy for those that do experience that, it must be an incredible feeling. I can’t help but feel sad when I look at these images, because it will never be me.

Having a break doesn’t mean that I am quitting anything permamently, just a temporary break to help refocus and allow me to take back some control of my life and think about other positives I have going on. I hope that a break will help me get things in order, such as my sleep pattern and overall productivity. I can certainly procrastinate if I want to, so I’m going to take a step back from posting online for a week and see how I feel afterwards. Wish me luck!

Top Tips For Good Sleep

Over the past few months I’ve struggled with my sleep cycle a lot, some nights hardly sleeping and others lasting the best part of ten or eleven hours. It often depends what I’ve been doing that week, if I’ve been at hospital or had some sort of work event, or ended up being awake late catching up on a TV programme I’ve been meaning to watch.

I’ve come up with a few tips which have helped me over the past few weeks and thought it might be worthwhile to share. Likewise, if people have any other tips I would really appreciate it.

Bath With Epsom Salts

When time allows I’ve been trying to have more down time before going to bed. I’ve read numerous online articles about the benefits of using Epsom Salts, having first discovered this when training for a half marathon in 2015. I still can’t believe I actually did that!

The theory is that when the salt is added to a warm bath, the body is then re-supplied with magnesium. It helps to produce mood lifting chemicals in the brain, also helps to reduce anxiety and promote calmness. Bathing helps to relax muscles and reduce joint pain when absorbed through the skin, which I guess is why runners often recommend it. I’ve also heard of people using magnesium oil sprays before going to bed.

Wear An Eye Mask

Wearing an eye mask, like the ones you get on a long haul flight has often helped  me sleep when I’ve been feeling stressed. Blocking out light and relaxing tired eyes makes it much easier to sleep. Strangely, I often sleep really well if I stay in a hotel, you’d think this would be the opposite, but I think it’s sometimes down to the use of clever black out blinds which keep the room nice and dark.

Use Sleep Spray

I stayed in a hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon at the start of the year and a This Works Travel Sleep Kit was left on my pillow. The kit I received contained two small bottles, a lavender spray and a scented roller ball. Ive only used this when feeling particulary anxious but do feel the kit has helped me, I also love the smell of lavender! There are a number of similar kits available which also include eye masks and sleep balms.

The roller ball is used on pulse points and then inhaled deeply just before going to bed. The idea is the blend helps to calm the mind, therefore encouraging a deeper nights sleep. The spray should be used on the pillow just before going to bed to help improve sleep quality.

Turn Off Technology

I am often very guilty of watching tv until right before I go to bed. I’m consciously trying to break this habit and create a proper routine. I know I sleep much better when I’ve had time to wind down for the day, I’ll either watch tv, or if I come in really late from work my bedtime routine goes out of the window altogether. Forgot the three step cleanser, toner and moisturiser, who cares when all you want to do it sleep?

I’m also often guilty of checking my phone for the time if I wake up in the night, again I know this is a big no no when it comes to needing a good eight or nine hours sleep. Ive since bought myself an alarm rather than setting the one on my phone. I think I will be less tempted to look at my phone this way. I remember using a small travel alarm clock whilst on a school trip, but thanks to the smart phone I haven’t owned one in years.

Avoid Afternoon Naps

It pains me to say this, as I do love a little afternoon nap when I’m not working, but trying to avoid these, no matter how tired I am has been a really positive step forward. For the last couple of weeks I’ve avoided day time sleeping, even if I means I go to bed at 8pm! I have found this beneficial as I then feel in need of rest, so more likely to go straight to sleep rather than think about my upcoming PET CT scan results.

Exercise Daily

It has been said that regular exercise can help to reduce insomnia and in turn experience deeper sleep cycles. This includes light exercise such as walking, which is great news for me as I’m often travel to and from the train station to go to work. I also try to go to morning yoga sessions or the gym before work, but the frequency of this depends entirely on how busy my week is. If I haven’t exercised in the morning there is a 95% chance that I will get too tired and opt out of going to the gym altogether. I am always a morning person when it comes to exercise, I want to get it out of the way! Having said that, I know when my body craves sleep, so exercise shouldn’t come at the expense of a good sleep pattern.

Happy snoozing!

Maintaining Mental Health

I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of exercise and it’s health benefits over the last few years. This has been most important in terms of my mental health.

I’ve dabbled at being a gym goer from time to time over the years, but it was only really about two and a half years ago, after my first bowel operation that I began going to yoga and pilates classes. Right now I am not really able to exercise in the same way I did 18 months ago, I feel much more fatigued on immunotherapy drug Pembrolizumab than I did when I was taking oral drug Vemurafenib. This is largely due to the frequency of the three week treatment cycles. I often feel too tired and lack the energy to exert myself, however I know that maintaining a good but gentle exercise routine will have huge benefits on my mental state and health as I move forward. In one of my previous posts, What Having Cancer Has Taught Me I wrote about the need to be kind to my body and not expect so much in the weeks post infusion.

Allowing myself to do some gentle exercise such as yoga, or go for a pre-work 5k jog along the Regent’s Canal gives me a short break from thinking about illness, and shows me that my body is capable of fighting back. Doing this is a great form of escapism, I’m trying so hard to concentrate of my breathing I don’t have time to think about anything else! I don’t ever finish an gym session or short jog and wish I hadn’t done it, it is common knowledge that exercise releases endorphins, so it makes me feel good that I am challenging myself.

I’ve been involved with young adult cancer charity Trekstock since Autumn last year. It is through this charity that I took part in RENEW,  a free 12 week exercise programme for young adults affected by cancer. Taking part in this gave me the opportunity to work with a top-level personal trainer and develop a tailor made exercise plan I could easily follow. Over the course of the 12 weeks I received complimentary gym membership to YMCA Club on Tottenham Court Road, and had frequent sessions with a wonderful trainer called Victoria. I decided to start the programme as I had been going to the gym regularly until my most recent bowel operation in May 2016. I had even taken part in a half marathon, but once I’d had the operation felt it I no longer had the motivation to exercise. After all, I’d be exercising for almost two years and I’d still become really unwell again, I felt deflated and wondered why I bothered in the first place. What was the point? It’s wasn’t going to cure me.

Taking part in this programme has taught me how to work with my body, not against it. I know I can’t push it too hard, but I don’t always have to be breaking out in a sweat to make a difference. Mentally it has really helped me to keep a positive outlook. RENEW gave me the confidence to start exercising again, and I’ve since ran a 10k for Cancer Research UK. Being part of the programme was instrumental in my decision to take part in the run and have a new goal to aim for. I am pleased to say I am now back into a semi-regular gym and yoga class routine, often attending a great yoga studio East of Eden in East London. The key to this is that I don’t beat myself up if I don’t have time to go for a few days, its simply not worth it. My body needs rest as sleep as much as it does exercise. The 6am wake up calls just aren’t worth It when I crave sleep.

Even though the routine is often slightly sporadic, keeping up exercise is very important to me, it allows me to have some control over how I feel, and being part of the Trekstock programme has definitely made me feel motivated. For me, It’s not about aesthetic goals at all, I read a quote on Instagram recently that said ‘Don’t miss out on 95% or your life just to weigh 5% less’, I couldn’t agree more. The important part is feeling good within myself.

Cancer has knocked my confidence a thousand times over, especially loosing my hair and my skin becoming overly sensitive. There was a time when this first started happening that I was constantly plagued by thoughts that people around me were looking at me, and they could tell I was unwell. It’s amazing how much a little exercise can help mental wellbeing and motivate me.

Having cancer is mentally draining to say the least, and the frequency of doctors appointments and hospital visits often add to my anxiety. However, I look at life with a ‘glass half full’ attitude, and the programme has really helped me continue this. I know a lot of people who aren’t so positive, which I do find frustrating at times. I could do nothing and laze around all day, and that’s fine occasionally, but it won’t be any good in the long term. I need to focus on the future and expect that I will be on this earth for a long time to come. If not then where does that leave me? I’ll only be negative and undoubtedly feel much worse. I’d encourage everyone to take on the ‘glass half ful attitude’, focus on the good in life rather than dwelling on what is missing.