Scan Results And Festive Freedom

Yesterday I received results from my last PET CT and MRI scans and I’m relieved to say that the results were good and everything continues to be stable.

After getting over the Scanxiety, I was feeling somewhat confident that the results would be stable, however the worry is never too far from my mind. Hopefully this means I can relax a little over the Christmas and New Year period.

I am fortunate enough to be having a chemo break and am not due back to see the oncology team at my hospital in Leicester for another six week. In my 2 and a half years of receiving Pembrolizumab this is a rare occurrence, and one I am especially grateful for at this time of year, fingers crossed this will be a blissful time of freedom over the festive period.

I haven’t written a blog post since The Truth About Depression three weeks ago. Part of me has been living in purgatory waiting to get my scans over and done with, and the other part has felt like I’ve not really got anything more to say. I haven’t suddenly snapped out of my downward spiral, but I am taking more steps to try and help myself.

I have now had my 41st cycle of Pembrolizumab and the fatigue seems to be hitting me more than ever. Lucky I have been working from home and resting which always helps, but powering through never feels like an option when it comes to post treatment tiredness. This is something I didn’t appreciate before I started having Pembrolizumab. A while back I wrote a post called Tired of Being Tired, which summarised my feelings on being physically and mentally exhausted. After reading it back, I feel the same as I did back then, annoyingly getting used to it doesn’t make me feel any less exhausted.

Exhaustion comes in waves, and when it hits it seems to affect my energy levels straight away. There is something about being in a hospital waiting room which makes me feel so sleepy, even with all the alarms and buzzers going off every few minutes. Having the treatment itself makes me become a total zombie, and I often struggle for a few days afterwards, making small things such as walking up the stairs or packing a bag seem like a huge struggle. I don’t trust myself to drive after chemo as my judgement certainly isn’t what it should be. I long to feel free and full of energy again, so perhaps having a treatment break over Christmas is exactly what I need.

A couple of people have asked me if I planned to celebrate my stable scans results. A few years ago I used to mark them as more of an occasion, but I honestly don’t think about them as a moment to jump up and down for joy. Nowadays I am too scared of what the future holds and I’ve been feeling particularly vulnerable over the past couple of months.

Of course I am so grateful to be in this position, even if living with cancer does take its toll, but I prefer to try and reset my mindset to one that isn’t in complete panic mode. I want to try and look forward to the next few months rather than just celebrate one moment. Hopefully I will feel less like I’m holding a poisoned chalice and perhaps as though I am holding a glass half full instead.

Fingers crossed for more good news in 2019. Until then I need to go back to sleep, rest and try to fight off a cold I think is coming my way as I’m a bit under the weather.

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.

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!

The Fear Of Missing Out 

The past few nights I have struggled to sleep and have noticed there is a lot of tension in my jaw and I’m constantly clenching my teeth. On the whole I’ve had a few bad days but have tried to put my struggles to the back of my mind, but all in all I’ve been feeling a mix of emotions over the past few days. I think feeling fatigued and the lack of sleep can often make me very sensitive, almost bursting into tears and the drop of the hat about the injustice of my situation.

I have been part of lots of celebrations this summer, as well as exciting trips including going to the Edinburgh Fringe, but it doesn’t automatically wipe out all the negative feelings I battle with daily. I have felt very down and emotional at times. It has struck me how different my life is to that of my peers, over time this has become more and more apparent, and leaves me feeling angry and upset. I’ve mentioned in previous posts but I think my friends are more likely to attend my funeral than my wedding, and that is hard to accept. I’m envious of everyone who had a future ahead of them, or is about to embark on their next big adventure (which feels like everyone at the moment). I am genuinely happy for everyone who is travelling the world, getting married or having children, but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel sad for myself that I’m not doing those things, and it’s actually really really hard.

It’s not necessarily missing out now, but the fear about what the future holds, rather than the excitement I should be feeling. Everything is so restricted when you’re living on borrowed time.

I am able to compartmentalise my life, but only to a certain point, cancer and treatment is in one section, with all the negative emotions and thoughts. The rest of my life in others, but it doesn’t mean my sadness and grief for the life I’ve lost disappears. Lack of sleep certainly makes this worst, which I’ve felt over the past week.

In recent conversations I’ve noticed a few times people assume I work part time because I have children; so it’s often hard to continue the conversation, how do you explain you have a terminal illness?  Sometimes, when people ask what other creative endeavours I indulge in during my spare time I brush it off and say ‘oh not much’ because it’s too hard to tell the truth. The automatic thought is that I have a family, or I’m someone who works part time to moonlight doing something else I’m really passionate about, like volunteering or teaching yoga. The only thing I’m passionate about right now is staying alive!

A few weeks ago I was travelling during rush hour on the London Underground  wearing my Please Offer Me A Seat badge, its was really bush and a lady across from me assumed I was pregnant and tried to start a conversation with me that then became very awkward. I should have had ‘leave me alone’ written on my forehead. I told her I had a lot of health problems, but didn’t divulge too much. It made for a pretty awkward journey for the next few stops. Even if I were in a relationship and I wanted children I couldn’t anyway because of my treatment. So even if I’m lucky enough to meet someone who wants to be with a dying girl It’s never going to happen (thanks to that lady for the reminder that life has dealt me yet another blow). I know she had good intentions, but I thought it was very insentive, she has no idea about others struggles – it could be a really sensitive subject for anyone! I guess at 30 I am missing the boat on these options.

I’ve got the fear of missing out when it comes to future plans, which I previously touched on in my post My Greatest Fears earlier in the year. With everyone else moving forward I don’t want to be left behind. Life is unfair, and I spend many anxious hours awake each night trying to make sense of it all. Mentally, it’s overwhelming and very taxing. I used to get the fear of missing out over small things, like birthday parties, but now I feel the fears are much bigger and more justified. I know I don’t want these future options right now, but it would be nice to have the choice.

#FOMO

A Never Ending Cycle

I was fortunate enough to get stable scan results a couple of weeks ago following my most recent PET CT scan. It goes without saying that this is of course fantastic news, but I’ve not been feeling on top form for a little while. Having good scan results doesn’t automatically take away any of the pain or treatment side effects I’ve been experiencing, If anything, it probabaly feels worse.

I’ve had an annoying cold for about nine weeks, which has been really frustrating, but I’m hoping I am now rid of it thanks to a course of antibiotics.

My emotions have been very up and down, this weekend marks the start of a very busy summer, including hen do’s, weddings, short trips away and various other birthday celebrations. I love hanging out with my friends, however sometimes it can feel overwhelming. On the surface it seems as though everyone around me has a perfect and exciting life with a huge future ahead of them, and it’s all around me at the moment. It’s a horrible situation as I feel like I don’t have that, we’re not all running the same race, and I feel like life has let me down.

I’ve been feeling low and generally unwell which is difficult. On the surface it seems as though everyone around me is on cloud nine and I’m gloomy all the time, but I can’t help it. I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself at the moment, so need to shut myself away, but there is so much going on I haven’t had any time.

Everyone around me seems to have their future mapped out for them, and in total contrast I have serious lack of direction in my life. I am failing at living a grown up life. The only thing that’s certain for the future as it stands is that my treatment will continue in order to keep me alive. Thinking about that long term gets me down. If it stops then that signals the end, and I’m scared about what lies ahead. Yes, my scan results were good but I still have a relentless cycle of treatment every three weeks. In six months it could be a very different story, it is something I panic about when I’m lying in bed late at night and I end up having broken sleep and headaches. The ‘What If’ scenarios are very scary, they aren’t actually irrational thoughts which is the most difficult part. I have so many questions that nobody has the answer too. I am due to go abroad on two major holidays next summer but every time I get excited another part of me worries more and more and all the changes that could happen over the next 12 months. I am scared to think about plans unless there are about a month in advance because I don’t want to let people down.

I’m petrified when I think of the future, but I know it’ll pass. I feel like I just get used that things and then in a flash another theee months fly by and I will be worrying about my next scan.

Someone once suggested to me that I have a treat every three weeks when I go for Immunotherapy so I have something positive to focus on rather than worrying about having the treatment. It could be something like getting my nails done or going to the theatre, or even just buying myself something nice. I’d most likely do some of the activities anyway, but could be a good way of shifting my focus to something more positive.

On a brighter note I had hair extensions fitted last weeks and they look amazing, just like my own hair used to look. Such an amazing feeling not having to wear a wig.

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.

 

What Having Cancer Has Taught Me

During the past few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about my situation and what I’ve learnt from it. Being unwell has taught me a lot, including some valuable lessons. Of course, I would change this all in a heartbeat if I could, but I can’t turn back time.

Cancer has taught me It’s ok to be upset.

Over the past 11 years I’ve tried my hardest to put a positive spin on things, even when feels like there is no hope and I am loosing control altogether. Over the past couple of years, particularly since starting active treatment, I’ve established that that it is fine have down days. I am often my harshest critic and I have to remind myself of this from time to time. I often have days where I feel very emotional, when I wake up in the middle of the night with bad thoughts running through my head, it leaves me feeling emotional and exhausted.

When I wake up in the mornings there is sometimes a brief few seconds when I’ve forgot about having Melanoma, but that respite is all too brief. I reminded of this almost instantly, and I’m constantly plagued by thoughts of cancer and illness throughout the day, about how unfair and cruel life can be and that I can never turn back time. I know It’s ok to cry and be upset, I spend a lot of time holding it in, sometimes it helps, but I don’t think it will do me any favours in the long run. I often think I have bouts of depression, but figure that its understandable considering what my ‘normal’ is.

Every day I have moments that are constantly preoccupied with thoughts of dying, but then then I do my best to move on. If I didn’t my anxiety levels an my heart rate would be through the roof every hour of the day. No one likes being surrounded by negativity all the time, so I try to keep my distance from it.  It’s awful, yes, but right now it could be much worse and my life is so much more than having cancer.

Cancer has taught me a smile goes a long way.

Having a series of regular appointments for treatment means I’m all too over familiar with Leicester Royal Infirmary’s Oncology Suite. It’s a place I know like the back of my hand, and I hate the way it’s not unusual to me. There is an all too familiar smell in the air; of disinfectant, drugs and school  canteens. I feel like I come away at the end of a treatment day smelling of hospitals. When I go to the gym, I don’t even like putting a wristband on because it reminds me of being a hospital patient.

My appointments in the chemotherapy suite for my Immunotherapy often last all day, literally! Being out of the house for 12-13 hours every time is exhausting. Essentially I have to go to get my bloods done, see my Oncologist, and then as long as my team are happy with my bloods I’m ok to have treatment. Due to cost implications the pharmacy at my hospital make up the immunotherapy drugs in large batches, once all the patients who are receiving Pembrolizumab are ready for treatment. It can be very frustrating having an appointment scheduled for a time that is essentially completely fluid depending on other patients and how well staffed departments are that day. Currently I have Pembrolizumab with the same cycle of about six or seven other patients, so I know I’m not the only one playing the waiting game. Being at the hospital is a stark reminder of reality, and it’s challenging being surrounded by other unwell people all day. The staff are great, but the mood on the ward is often very somber. It’s like we’re all on the waiting list for an exclusive club that we don’t actually want to go in or be part of. There are a lot of unhappy or sad looking faces on the ward. In these circumstances I’ve learnt that a smile goes a long way and can often make the world of difference to me when having treatment. It reminds me I am not on my own.  I’m pretty sure every patient there would be somewhere else given the choice, it isn’t a place we get excited about visiting, there are millions of other places I’d rather be.  I try to smile as much as I can, a joke, an offer of a sweet or a smile back from another patient or nurse makes it all a little less painful.

Cancer has taught me to be kind to my body.

Cancer has taught me I need to be kinder to my body than I perhaps once was. Good food, rest and sleep are all key, especially during a treatment week.  Naturally, this doesn’t always happen, but they really go hand it hand with one another, and the combination often makes me feel so much better. I know I shouldn’t underestimate the power of rest, my body needs It. I try to go to the gym regularly, but have decided not to go in the week after I’ve had treatment. It only makes me more exhausted and it’s not worth it. I’ve had rest week during my last two cycles and I think it works well, going to work is a challenge, but it’s doable, so I don’t need to make any more difficult by going to the gym and meeting friends in the days following. Since trailing this, I’ve felt almost back to normal after about six days and ready and energised for whatever is thrown at me. Being kind to my body, and allowing myself to cut it some slack has been really beneficial. What better excuse to have a lazy week and use the cancer card anyway? I need to try and keep my diet varied and healthy, but sometimes this can be easier said than done. I’ve given up chocolate and fizzy drinks over Easter, just to see if I have the will power. I’ve had my moments but on the whole I’ve cut back which is a great.

Cancer has taught me knowledge is power.

Knowledge is power when it comes to feeling in control of my treatment. More often than not I overhear conversations in the Oncology waiting room with other patients and their familIes who seem as though they aren’t necessary as clued up on their treatment and how it’s going as I am. As the youngest person there by at least 30 years maybe it’s a age thing, or perhaps they don’t quite accept how ill they really are?. I like to know where I stand, and what options might be open to me later down the line so I like to keep abreast of developments in cancer treatment in the media. There have been a few breakthroughs in the treatment of Melanoma over the past few years, with Pembrolizumab being a drug I read about prior to recieving it. I sincerely hope they are more to come. On the flip side, there are the Daily Mail type articles which suggest anything and everything have the ability to give you cancer, or stop you getting it in the first place. I’m all for a fad, from chia seeds to my latest discovery of bitter apricot kernels, I agree that every little helps it if makes me feel like I’m doing my bit to help, including cutting out the sugar, but I know eating broccoli everyday isn’t going to cure me. Nothing will cure me now. Call my a cynic, but if one food such as broccoli really was the elixir of life we’d all be getting it by the shed load on the NHS wouldn’t we? Perhaps an annual broccoli jab?

Cancer has taught me I am a strong person.

The most valuable thing I have learnt since having cancer me that I am stronger that I think. Cancer is a huge part of my life but it’s not everything I am about. It doesn’t define me. I am a sister, daughter and friend; I am an aspiring traveller, dance and theatre enthusiast, brunch lover, keen writer, documentary fan, wannabe chef, and a sometime gym goer. I know that I am not really a good runner (despite my best efforts), I am not an avid fiction reader, cyclist, or confident swimmer (I’ve never really been sporty, it’s the lack of coordination, you won’t catch me doing the London – Paris bike ride) I’m not a coffee drinker, or a master at arts and crafts, I can’t hold a tune and I don’t really have a good sense of direction. I am strong though, and right now that is what counts.