Thursday 28 April 2016

Quite frankly cancer...... ~ Debbie

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Catapulted into the world of Cancer,
Will I survive?
Nobody will answer.
Trusting a plan, like military precision,
When will ‘I’ be able to make a decision?
A Grade, a size, a hospital number,
Doing my time, negotiating the slumber.
Poison the cells, the good and the bad-
Taking me to the brink of mad.
The nausea and vomiting,
There are pills to shake-
My life, this cancer, will not take.
Overloaded with toxins,
My veins cannot cope,
Just see me through-
My lifeline, my hope.
The pain from my head
I cling to my hair,
Falling out in big clumps
Time to lay my soul bare.
I look sick, you prick
I can’t hide anymore,
My whole body is pained
Achy and sore.
Laid up in bed
Missing out on my Son,
Taking all that I have-
I will not say you have won.
You can have my eyelashes
And brows to match,
My sense of taste
Till the next chemo batch.
You can leave my eyes sore
And my nose like a tap,
Give me steroid insomnia
From your toxic zap.
You can push me to the point I can’t take anymore,
But with every ounce in my body-
I won’t close my door.
A mouth cut to shreds
And nails jumping ship,
A sleep deprived mess
So desperate to kip.
My breasts you can keep
They wanted me gone,
My hair I’d like back
But will live with none.
For all that you have taken
My heart has grown stronger,
You must let us live-
Our lives so much longer.
The wounds you can see
In time they will heal,
Was any of this really real?
The wounds you can’t see
Cause all of the strife,
Knock you for six
And hinder life.
Learning to live and love so much more,
One day Cancer, you’ll be out the door.

You can read Debbie’s personal blog at

Wednesday 27 April 2016

An Unnatural Transition ~ Tamsin ~ HuffPost Blog

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Of the 57,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK this year, around 10,000 will be premenopausal women. If you are interested in the impact of early menopause, do read Tamsin's blog post 'An Unnatural Transition' which was featured in the Huffington PostUK in April 2016. She writes:

"But I am one of the lucky ones. Because my breast cancer did not have hormone-receptors and I have had preventative breast surgery, I can safely take HRT. This isn't an option for the vast majority of women who are diagnosed with estrogen+ breast cancer and who are often left to struggle on their own. How can younger women who have had a breast-cancer diagnosis support their overall health and well-being in the longer term? What are the options for younger women for whom HRT is not an option? We desperately need more information, advice and support".

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Clutching at Soap Bubbles ~ Samantha

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I’ve been a writer almost as long as I’ve been a reader; probably longer in fact, if you count the toddlerhood imaginings that I didn’t have the technical knowhow to turn into written words.

Throughout my schooldays and teens I read and wrote voraciously; my imagination stuffed to overflowing with ideas. When I started work and life became busier there was less time to write, but big things, important things, special things would still inspire a story or a poem. As time went on though, I wrote less and less, my thoughts cluttered with everyday stuff until, one day in 2003, I found myself sitting on the Tube staring at a soft drink advert. Its six word tag line ‘At lunchtime I feed the unicorn’ hit my imagination like a defibrillator, filling my head with a fully-formed short story which I spent the rest of the journey home scribbling down. It reminded me just how much I loved writing and, a couple of months later, I quit my role in Facilities Management to seek a job that would allow me to reclaim some of my creativity.

I became an admin assistant with the NHS and for the next eight years wrote anywhere I had a few minutes to spare; on the bus, sitting in waiting rooms, through my lunchbreaks etc. and I began to have some small successes in poetry competitions, and occasional pieces published.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 20th June 2011; three days in I wrote my first cancer poem, a firm and decisive ‘notice of eviction’. The ‘eviction’ (mastectomy, sentinel node biopsy and level 2 node clearance) was carried out on 30th June and, wide awake at three am the following morning, I was utterly frustrated when the neatly orchestrated snoring of the other five ladies on the ward triggered a poem idea and I couldn’t reach my notebook… There was something very empowering about sifting through the cancer-dross and creating poems that were beautiful or humorous, and writing became an integral part of my resilience. It gave me a focus, especially during chemo – for twelve weeks I was wired up to a drip for three hours or so every Thursday and writing was the perfect time filler – I even found inspiration in losing my hair and the drip-stand itself:

 Strictly Drip-stand

Dancing with a drip-stand, it ‘aint easy,
its tubes and wires threaten to impede
attempts at forward motion; Bloody-minded
it has five wheels so thinks that it should lead.

It helps a lot if you pick the right tune
for your vaguely ballroom progress to the loo,
something like a graceful waltz or foxtrot
(a Charleston, jive or quickstep just won’t do).

There’s just one more thing that you should remember,
to avoid an unexpected tango dip,
don’t forget to take the damn thing’s plug out
before you set off upon your trip!

I also took the plunge and submitted some poems to a small publishing company and, in February 2012, they requested a full manuscript. I asked if they could wait three weeks as I was about to start radiotherapy, they said yes. The manuscript went off in March, just after my oncologist had uttered the most perfect line of iambic pentameter ever - ‘As far as we can tell you’re cancer-free’ - and in May I was offered a publishing contract. Finding My Tail came out on 8th July 2013, by which time I’d taken redundancy from my NHS job and was officially a self-employed writer/artist/craftswoman; I felt incredibly fortunate.

It was about this time, however, that I began to notice the gradual dulling of my imagination which persists to this day. The combined effects of chemo, Tamoxifen and menopause create a numb fogginess, and have drastically lowered my attention span and reduced my short term memory to minutes. Nowadays, the wonderful ideas for stories and poems no longer bubble over the edges, I have to hunt for them in the fog. Sometimes a perfectly formed idea appears, shimmering like a rainbow, only to burst as I reach for it, leaving nothing but a vague dampness of memory. If I do capture an idea, my ‘forgettory’ and limited attention span mean I frequently get distracted and the threads of the piece unravel.

Writing is now a real effort – some days my entire mind is cloudy and I feel almost physically disoriented and dizzy. On those days I can barely string two words together, let alone write a poem worthy of competition entry or publication. I’ve learned not to attempt to write on the really bad days, turning instead to art and needlework that, being visual and physical are still achievable, allowing me to retain at least some of my creativity. The fear that I may never be able to write ‘properly’ again looms terrifyingly large in the shadows, because if I can’t write how can I be a writer and, if writing is an integral part of my resilience, how can I be resilient if I can’t write?

I do try to write on good days and aim for a minimum of two poems a month. I use writing prompts a lot to kick-start the process (thank you Visual Verse website). A picture, word or idea prompt gives me a defined focus and a time limit/deadline around which I can structure thinking and writing time. I have recently realised, however, that I’ve become so scared of not being able to write, that I’ve got cagey about actually doing it. This has to change, because if I don’t write I won’t be a writer and my resilience will start to develop holes.

When I first saw Panning for Gold I was a bit wistful. I’ve never blogged and couldn’t remember the last time I wrote a longer piece of prose. I figured it would be yet another idea that melted into the fog. But this morning there was a sudden bubble of inspiration and, for once, I actually managed to catch it. And I realise now that, if I get an idea, I have to grab it and run with it, no matter where or when it occurs; which means most of this piece has mainly been written, between bites of toast and gulps of rapidly cooling fennel tea, standing in a freezing kitchen in my dressing gown. Because, you know what, I am resilient, I am a writer and the after-effects of cancer won’t be getting any more of my precious soap bubbles without a fight.

Throughout the week we will be showcasing some of Samantha's poetry, art and needlework on our public page at


Thursday 14 April 2016

Cancer gave me a voice ~ Kirsty

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At 33 years old, having to deal with a potentially fatal dose of breast cancer was not part of my ‘plan’.

I had met a lovely man and we were planning our wedding. The diagnosis was in the April as we were getting married in the August.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 hormone positive breast cancer with a tumour of 12cm.

My surgeon and Oncologist took me through my treatment and the impact the chemotherapy would have on me.  It scared the living daylights out of me.

We did not know where we stood in regards to having a family, but there was no time to harvest my eggs, the treatment had to start NOW.

It made, me angry that my options were being taken away - that a disease was dictating my life and how long potentially I would be allowed to live it.  I was 33 years old, how did this happen?

The treatment was as intense and as severe as it possibly could be. I lost my hair, my bodily functions regularly and the breast that was doing a damn good job of trying to kill me.

I have never been so poorly in my life but I was determined that it was not going to beat me. I can honestly say though, there was a day where I had no energy left in my body and didn’t think I would be here.  My temperature was at 37 and I was exhausted.

I stayed in bed and allowed my body to heal. I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I want to do and more if I survived.

Well, my diagnosis was on the 27th April 2011 and things are going pretty well.

I have always been a very shy person, the one that was wrapped in cotton wool by my parents (who are ridiculously overly cautious about everything.)

If anyone told me that I would be talking in front of groups of people up to 100, I would have laughed and probably told them they were crazy!

Having a near-death experience changes you; it makes you assess your priorities and it totally affects your outlook on life.

I must admit, I have been through the whole spectrum of emotions once the treatment ended - anger, relief, resentment and empowerment.

Empowerment was the strongest out of the lot. I found that any fear I ever had (relating to any aspect of my life) had pretty much gone.  

The way I saw it was that if cancer couldn’t kill me, then what’s the harm in facing any other fears I had?  Really, what is the worst that can happen?

I found an article written by a lady called Kris.  She was diagnosed at 23 and was previously dismissed by the Doctor as being ‘too young to have breast cancer.’ She was at stage 4 when she was finally diagnosed.

Kris founded a charity called Coppafeel, which is a breast cancer awareness charity, educating young people on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.  Self checking can lead to much earlier diagnosis and with mammograms being so much later in life, self checking is so very important when you are young.

I was totally inspired by Kris’s story and the volunteers called the Boobettes, who are ladies who have had breast cancer at a younger age. 

They visit schools, universities, colleges, festivals and businesses, educating people on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer via a presentation which includes their own story.

I knew I had to be part of this and I am proud to say, I have been a Boobette for 2 years. I didn’t know I should be checking myself and I certainly didn’t know the signs to look for.  

The first time I did a talk I was so scared I hardly slept. I had practised the talk a hundred times at least.  

The talks were at a local school, and once I got into it, I loved it. The more I did them, the better I became.  

The last talk I did was for the Big Lottery Fund and our Health Education Manager accompanied me from our HQ. She said how much confidence I had compared to my first talk and the feedback (one from a professional speaker) was amazing. This talk was also in front of three of my friends, so to hear such positive responses, made me proud and a little emotional.

I have always been fairly artistic and have a very artistic family, from painters to musicians and singers. My Dad has always been a keen photographer, taking photos of us growing up at any given opportunity along with other unwilling members of our family throughout the years.

I had a camera from a young age, but nothing professional and I didn't really take it seriously.

I wanted to take up a hobby after I was ill and something I could be proud of and actually stick with (I get bored of things very easily.) 

I decided on photography as I was always taking photos with my iPhone, so it was an easy choice.

The friends I have made and the images I have taken have enriched my life more than I could have ever imagined.

I have the confidence to direct a model and take images I never thought would be possible.  

It has taken a while to find my place in the ‘dog’ world but pets are my thing.  I have rescue cats and support a few rescue charities.

I feel at home behind the camera and my four-legged models make it even more enjoyable. At the moment it is just a hobby, but I am pushing myself to make it into a full time career.

To have a job that doesn’t feel like a job because it’s so much fun would be incredible.

I have a few Photographers who are my inspiration, but mainly Jill Greenberg, whose pet images I recreated with my cat Chuck!  

My family are so proud of me and love seeing my work (even though some of the female models I refrain from showing my Dad!) They encourage me and give me the support I need to make this dream a reality.

I take a lot of lingerie shots and I know a few people could not understand how a woman (and a woman with one breast!) would feel happy taking photos of other women in their underwear or less after what I had been through. I am sure people thought that I would have some kind of resentment to the models as they had two breasts and I only had one.

The female form is beautiful regardless of shape and size and I love taking the images to portray that.  

The only downside is that the models always have the most gorgeous underwear! Post Op Bras on the whole are either not pretty or a ridiculous amount of money.

This leads me on nicely to my latest mission.  

I went to M&S recently to buy a couple of bras, only to find the smallest stand of post op bras tucked away in the corner of one of the biggest stores in the West Midlands.

None of them were my size and after a brief visit to Debenhams who no longer stock any in store (‘sorry Madam, they are only online now’) this was the final straw.

The choice was frumpy and basic.  

I was in tears in the middle of Marks and Spencer surrounded by beautiful ‘normal’ bras saying loudly ‘why do I feel like I am being backed into a corner to have reconstruction?!”

I quickly tweeted M&S and vented by anger, questioning as to why they couldn’t just make a few of their standard range into the post op bra range?  Surely it is not that difficult?

I am now in talks with the lingerie team as to what they could do to improve their range and I have been asked to put forward my suggestions, which I have.  They are also making me a bespoke bra which is fab.

Sometimes you have to make your voice heard when you aren’t happy with something.

In a very odd way, cancer has given me the voice I never had.

Thursday 7 April 2016

Could this be (one of) the greatest days of my life xx ~ Rachel

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Those of you who have known me a lifetime will know I used to be a part time model. Mainly a sports model. At the age of 18 I finished my A levels and then had to choose between taking the modelling seriously or heading off to University. I decided my looks and body wouldn’t last for ever (and how right I was!!) but my brain Hopefully would, so off I trotted to Sussex Uni to study for a Mechanical Engineering degree. I’d done catalogues, newspaper adverts and brochures, it was a fun time. Parked as a good memory.

So over the years my dream of walking a catwalk had been left behind. University and a love of food, a very happy marriage, and 2 pregnancies leading to births of 2 very large babies certainly took its toll on my physique.

Then came the Breast Cancer diagnosis. So with this comes surgeries (3), missing parts (many), chemotherapy treatments (17th yesterday), a ton of different drugs (too many to name or count), steroids (appetite stimulants), radiotherapy (exhausting) and comfort eating (inevitable). A lack of ability to exercise fully – no excuses here – it really does have to be fitted in around health issues and energy levels. I’m not in the greatest shape ever!!!

Last week I got the chance to turn back the clock and feel like the old me. The model me. I cannot thank Breast Cancer care enough for giving me this opportunity. To live this lifelong dream, to tick this unticked box. When I was first selected I was “all clear” – except I wasn’t. I called BCC to check I was still eligible, as I still had cancer and a lot of treatment to go. Of course I was, if I was to be well enough at the time of the show. Well the whole sorry story has dragged on so long that there has been doubt in my mind that I would be well enough. The recent lung clots, the vision issues, the ongoing chemo. Only a few weeks ago I begun to feel scared I wouldn’t be able to take part.

I woke up last Sunday with a swollen face and neck, looked like an angry frog. I called the emergency line and off down to the hospital I had to go, dragging the family with me. Whilst they played in a local park I got checked out. Terrified I would be kept in and miss the show. To cut a long story short I refused to even sit on the ward bed and escaped an hour later. Thank goodness.

Well to the day of the show. About as emotional as it can get. As I waited backstage I felt my knees knocking and I thought – can I actually do this? Then they called out my name and I heard the Cheer of my life. 2 tables full of loud loving ladies were already whooping and I hadn’t even got out onto the stage yet. Some tears, full body goosebumps and a steely determination. YES I can do this. Cry my way down that stage – who cares! Well the music started and off we went and can I say I was having such a fabulous time from start to finish that tears were at the back of my mind. I LOVED it, and apparently I ROCKED it. Feeling the love from my Very emotional amazing Mum, my very best friends and my fabulously flat friends – it was a huge boost for me. I felt so loved and supported and confident.


So that was the afternoon show.

 And then the Evening show began..I walked (strutted) out again, this time to less whooping but all I could see was my amazing Husband Doug, my rock. Gorgeous and extremely emotional (sorry Doug!) standing watching in the kilt he wore when we got married. We’ve been married for 10 years in a few weeks and this was so meaningful to me. We need many many many more years. Once again I utterly loved every minute on the catwalk. It was amazing. My wonderful Oncologist was in the Audience along with other medical staff from the hospital where I have my appointments. And yes it was nice to be escorted by a famous rugby player but I only have eyes for Doug.

So what a day. I’m still buzzing. Thank you to Breast Cancer Care. Thank you to everyone who was part of my day. Thank you for coming and cheering. You know how much I love you. Sorry to those who couldn’t make it, I hope you enjoyed all the pics and videos and felt part of it. This has got me through yesterday’s chemo (back to reality!) and has restoked my fighting spirit.

It is up there with the top days of my life. Graduation day, Our Wedding day, Callum being born, Hannah being born. And then achieving that lifetime catwalk model dream. A box ticked. Lucky me xxxxxxx

Monday 4 April 2016

The Gift of Fear – Or How Fear Saved My Life ~ Tamsin ~ HuffPost Blog

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We are delighted to be able to share this post with you. Tamsin Sargeant, our Centre's Deputy, writes a blog for HuffPost UK on how using fear in a positive way can become a most powerful and constructive force in her life.

'The Gift of Fear' presents a new ideology based on recent research in psychological science and well-being on the benefits of fear when used constructively. Tamsin talks about her fearful experiences prior to and post her BRCA1 mutation discovery, and describes the ways in which fear has helped her endure her breast cancer journey with triumphs and courage. We are very proud of Tamsin and hope you enjoy reading her story. Naz and Vicky