Monday 27 June 2016

Always Something There to Remind Me ~ Anita

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The most commonly used term for what I am is cancer survivor…there’s a song about that…I will survive…and like the catchy new number you hear on the way to work in the morning that sits inside your head whirring round and round for the rest of the day, driving you crazy, so the cancer chorus is never far from consciousness for those of us who’ve attended the big Concert and come away with a pink t-shirt.

Yes, I went to that performance, but I didn’t queue up for a ticket.  I stood in line patiently though, with all the other ladies who received the same summons, because I had no choice.  I wasn’t brave or strong, a fighter – I was a frightened child.  I didn’t kick cancer’s butt, cancer kicked me, in the chest, hard, and I have the scars to show for it.  They hurt, most of the time, and especially if I look in the mirror.  How my body looks and feels is enough to jog my memory, if I should ever find a moment’s peace and forget that I’ve had cancer.

So what else reminds me?  Thinking out loud, let’s start with  lingerie departments – all those pretty lacy cleavage enhancing bras I’ll never be able to wear again; the never-ending search for a comfortable bra that supports my good boob but doesn’t aggravate my angry anchor shaped scar under my reduced boob, and which doesn’t rub the scar under my arm where my lymph nodes were taken away, and which also holds a prosthesis nice and firmly …and that kind well-meaning  lady in the posh bra shop who told me that no-one notices my lop-sidedness and advised me not to worry, just wear an ordinary bra that fits a bit too tight on one side and a bit too loose on the other.  Oh yes, that’s so comfortable (not) and anyway even if no-one else can see it, I know that I have one boob a DD and one a B.

But I digress:  a big reminder:  taking the oestrogen inhibiting pill daily before bed, just to reassure me before I lay my head on my pillow that I’m doing everything I can to prevent a recurrence; and all the reminders that delightful tablet brings me every day, such as weight gain, hot flushes, joint pain, mood swings…the tablets make me feel unlike myself, but that’s ok, the cancer is behind me after all, and I don’t need to think about it anymore.  Only every night before bed there’s that little yellow pill, for just a mere eight and a half more years.   

I know I’m not sticking to the point, and I know I’m going on about cancer again, aren’t I?  It’s all these reminders you see, they are relentless, they never leave me alone for a second.  Another one:   the friend or family member who asks how I am and says how lucky I am, it was caught early, and now I’m well.  To be fair, that friend is me, it’s what I tell everyone and it’s what they believe.  I can’t have them worrying, now can I?   And as for those adverts on tv, the Macmillan ones where David goes off in his head to a desolate beach, the wind is howling and he’s alone and cold and then the lovely nurse says ‘Are you ok David?’ and David turns to her and they smile and of course he’s all right.  Those adverts make me shiver from head to heart.

Yes, there is always something there to remind me, and what the reminders do is fill me with fear.  It’s true, I am one of the lucky ones, I’m one year clear and my surgeon confidently told me he had cut away all of my cancer with clear margins. My radiotherapy, he said, was belt and braces only; there was no sign of any spread.  But what if just one rogue cell is hiding somewhere in my body, waiting to come back and bite me one day?  After all, that first cancer came from nowhere, right?  Something triggered that first cell to turn nasty on me. (And one day I hope we’ll find out what it was, and people won’t have to live like this anymore.)  

I’m reminded when I have to leave the party early, because I can’t keep my eyes open.     I’m reminded when I have to find somewhere to sit down on a shopping trip.  I’m reminded when I decide not to go on the shopping trip in the first place.  I’m reminded when I hear about shopping trips I didn’t go on.  I’m reminded when friends no longer invite me on shopping trips because they know that I won’t go. 

I’m reminded when my GP surgery sends me a letter telling me they’re under pressure, so please, no routine appointments.   At what point do I bother them, how do I know if that stabbing pain in my left hip is a touch of arthritis, a yoga stretch taken too far, a side effect of letrozole, or secondary aka metastatic cancer in my bones…the kind of cancer that not everyone realises can’t be cured, only controlled, with horrible treatment that prolongs life but may reduce significantly the quality of that life. 

I’m reminded when we plan a holiday and I realise I haven’t been swimming since before my diagnosis, I haven’t even worn a swimsuit except to try it on, once, and I hated it so much that  I stuffed it in the back of a drawer, hidden away.  I’m reminded when a friend is diagnosed with primary breast cancer and she’s whisked off onto the rollercoaster of treatment, tests, and the long wait for results that I recall so well.  I’m reminded when a friend’s sister is diagnosed with metastatic cancer and I can’t stop the tears because her other sister died a few years ago from another kind of cancer, and here is a lady in her 70s who has buried one child already and now has another whose days are numbered.  I’m reminded when I hear about a pink angel gaining her wings after her brave fight - that’s how the jargon goes; it’s supposed to soften the blow.  Let’s face it, let’s not beat about the bush here, cancer kills people, people die, and not in a nice gentle peaceful way, young and old. 

Most of all, I’m reminded when I have a really bad day,  when I can’t sleep and I’m alone in the dark, and I feel very tired and very scared and very low, and all I want is my mum, and she isn’t here, and I cry quietly so as not to wake my husband, and I wish on a tear that the cancer will return so  I can stop feeling and go to heaven to be with her.   

Yes, there is always something there to remind me, but I’m also singing other songs now, and louder. I’m starting to realise that claiming and owning my voice is the key to living with the fear.   If you’ve read other blogs on this wonderful site, you may remember Annie’s Song.  Well Annie’s song is my song, and I’m happy to tell my tale.    I’ve joined a choir, and there my small voice blends with others and the sound we make is astonishing in its beauty.  When I am singing, there is no room in my head for cancer, for fear, but there is plenty of space in my heart for joy. 

Each person’s cancer song is unique and has a chorus of fear.  Within the safe haven of our support groups, we’re singing new songs in harmony from a place of understanding and empathy.   Together, we are simply amazing, and we’re starting to be heard.

Anita Traynor, aka Annie x  

A Day to Remember, Or a Day to Forget - Coping With the 'Cancerversary' ~ Tamsin~ HuffPost Blog

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I was on a course recently where we were asked to introduce ourselves by sharing a memorable date. With a sinking heart, I thought frantically - When did I pass my driving test? Move into my own home? I thought about my first date with my partner - 13th February, twenty-or-so years ago, but really, who wants to admit to having the equivalent of their wedding anniversary on Valentine's Day? (Reader, I didn't marry him).

My inner voice cried out a date so loudly that it drowned out anything else I could think of, but it felt like a shameful secret - 17th June 2009. I didn't want to share it.

The day began unremarkably enough. I remember wearing my tatty Earl Jean jacket and an Urban Outfitters t-shirt (I've never claimed to be a fashionista). My partner and I were finally going out without our two year-old daughter. We badly judged the timing of our travel arrangements and I remember my mounting hysteria as we half ran, half walked to arrive one minute late for my appointment, breathless, hot and sweaty. I remember the agony of the packed waiting room, the atmosphere thick with anxiety. I remember the ultrasound probe's ominous pause over the thickened tissue under my left collar bone and that, a mere three hours later, the waiting room was deserted apart from me and my partner. Most of all, I remember hearing the Consultant's words, "You have breast cancer."

I've lost count of the landmarks that followed that first, fateful day: the countless surgeries, the first day of chemotherapy, the last day of 'active' treatment, the day I found out I had a BRAC1 mutation, the day I was told that my cancer was back. The days of my illness are strung together like beads alongside the milestones of my daughter's life: her first day at nursery, her first day at school, riding her bike for the first time. Life doesn't wait for you just because you're ill and cancer is a ghostly figure which hovers in the background of so many memories. When I cry (if I dare, that is), there are tears of happiness that I'm alive and present to witness these precious moments, but there is also an unspeakable anguish that only comes with the knowledge that all things end.

By my calculations, I'm now seven years and five days on from my first diagnosis of breast cancer, four years and three months on from a recurrence and three years on from my last major surgery. So how do I feel? Of course I'm intensely thankful - I never forget that for now I'm one of the lucky ones - and there's a heady sense of exhilaration that comes with having endured the modern-day equivalent of the twelve labours of Heracles. But, it's also a time of year which stirs up feelings of sadness and guilt, threatening my oh-so-carefully constructed defences. That old refrain, 'I'm Fine,' becomes a mantra to ward off the bad dreams which take me back to a time in my life forever associated with fear, reminding me that whether I like it or not, I'm still vulnerable. The 'future,' which once represented opportunity, now symbolises uncertainty - What if my cancer comes back? Do I consider that two-year MA course? Is it worth re-starting my Pension? 
According to Cancer Research UK more than 352,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK each year and I'm willing to bet that almost every one of them could tell you the date they found out they had cancer. There's a growing trend, I've noticed, to commemorate the 'cancerversary.' But how do you mark the day you were confronted with your own mortality? In the early days, when I still thought I was invincible, it was a good excuse for a special dinner, or a treat, but since being diagnosed with cancer for a second time, I've found myself cringing at what seems like arrogance. I feel almost superstitious about calling any attention to my good fortune - I don't want to jinx myself. What I've learned is that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to feel. If you want to have that holiday of a life-time, or a wild party, then go for it (just try not to worry about whether it's 'safe' to drink alcohol - another story). Or maybe, like me, you prefer to simply raise a quiet toast of thanks for another year of life on our beautiful planet, a blue dot floating in a vast universe of space and time. And as for next year, on the 17th June 2017, I plan to celebrate Icelandic National Day instead!

Thursday 16 June 2016

One Year On ~ Vicky

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Earlier I came across this quote, “We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges when life puts us to the test.”, which today is very apt for me.

It’s hard to believe that it’s days away from the 10th anniversary of my primary breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 31.  A small, low grade cancer with no lymph node or blood vessel involvement and with an excellent prognosis.  My Oncologist suggested dealing with it by surgery alone and agreed for me to go ahead and have the family we had been planning (I’d experienced a miscarriage only 4 months before). He told me in the nicest possible way to go away and to never darken the doorstep of Oncology again! So off I went, welcomed my two children, gave a nod of acknowledgement to the 5 year cancer-free milestone as it passed by, got married, next stop 10 years which seemed to be in my grasp until a new bomb dropped.

One year ago today I climbed aboard a roller coaster and was told that I wasn’t allowed to get off.  I can still see that day clearly, extensive spread of breast cancer into the lymph node and bones, treatable but incurable. My world crumbled around me. I struggled to hear what the doctor was saying, all I heard was screaming in my head.  My first words after what seemed a lifetime: "My children are only 6 and 5, I need to be here for them”.

So here we are 366 days on, a year of ups and downs, but life does move forward. There are times when I forget for a few hours, feel normal even, then other times when I cannot shake off the waves of grief and anxiety surrounding what is facing us. It’s a bittersweet moment, because of course being here is cause for celebration, but there’s sadness too as it’s an anniversary which brings our sense of time into sharp focus. Our mind starts to be drawn to the future as well as the past.  

Over the year I ventured back to support groups, made new friends and met some amazing women sadly in the same boat. After joining the psycho-educational group belonging to The Research Centre for Building Psychological Resilience in Breast Cancer, which brings both primary and secondary women together, I was recruited by Professor Naz Derakshan to assist running the Centre along with Tamsin Sargeant. The work we have done together has seen us create this blog ‘Panning for Gold’, as a platform for women with a breast cancer diagnosis to share their stories and showcase their talents.  My first venture into blogging was here, titled ‘Stage IV and beyond…, and since then I have co-written two blogs with Tamsin for the HuffPost UK.

Secondary breast cancer can be an isolating condition as it is so widely misunderstood. It cannot be cured, so the treatment for it never ends and both this and the cancer cause physical side effects. The psychological impact of living with the condition can be crushing.  Thankfully, the online groups are supportive, caring places, somewhere to go where other women understand, where we can share good and bad news and also where there is a mine of information. Sadly over this year I have seen too many women die from this relentless disease, all at different stages of life, many young women with children and those who were denied that chance.  This has to stop, but we don’t have the answers.

So looking back what advice would I give myself upon diagnosis.  Initially I would say it will seem like a living nightmare but gradually you will find a new normal, so it is important to carry on with those tasks which allow you to connect with normal life.  Give yourself time to adjust as your head will be full of questions (a lot of which can’t be answered) and you will feel every single emotion…probably all at the same time and sometimes at inconvenient times. Acknowledge these different emotions and face your fears, otherwise they will rear up and strike when you’re least expecting it. But most importantly, keep the HOPE.


Stage IV and beyond...

Panning for Gold: Stories of Resilience after Breast Cancer

We Need to Talk about Secondary Breast Cancer

Thursday 9 June 2016

Panning for Poetry ~ Part I

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The poems, sayings and quotations that follow have all been chosen by members of the private psychoeducational group of the Research Centre for Building Psychological Resilience in Breast Cancer.

For this feature, our members were asked to submit favourite poetry and quotations, the ones that comfort and soothe, the rainbow of words that help them get through the storm, the sunshine verse that lights their darkest day.

Creativity cures the chaos of the heart
~Taoist proverb

Submitted by Samantha Newbury
Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.

Submitted by Vicky Wilkes
I wish I could show you
When you are lonely
or in darkness,
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!
My Brilliant Image

Submitted by Tamsin Sargeant
It is important that we share our experiences with other people. Your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else. When you tell your story, you free yourself and give other people permission to acknowledge their own story. ~ Iyanla Vanzant

Submitted by Vicky Wilkes
Cancer is a great equaliser – it doesn’t care who you are.
Kylie Minogue

Submitted by Caroline Frith
She stood in the storm
and when the wind
did not blow her way,
She adjusted her sails.
~Elizabeth Edwards

Submitted by Vicky Wilkes
Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things
~Mary Oliver

Submitted by Anita Traynor
A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words –unknown

Submitted by Caroline Frith
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
~Marianne Williamson

Submitted by Caroline Frith
I Tripped Over Today
I tripped over today looking for tomorrow.
I didn’t see it spread out there before me.
I couldn’t see it,
I was looking past it to the future.
Eager for what tomorrow holds
I neglected today.
Eager to move forward
I tried to skip today.
Instead I tripped.
I fell flat on my face in now.
Today sat on top of me, pried my eyes open and made me see,
Made me look at the now I had crushed.
Always rushing forward I had never noticed the beauty of now.
Now it was revealed to me.
I began to mourn all that I had missed,
Until today dragged my eyes from the past back to the present.
“You’re missing the point again,” he said patiently.
There is no yesterday to mourn,
There is no tomorrow to run to.
There is only now to embrace.
Every tomorrow becomes today, so be patient.
Enjoy now and you will have no regrets for yesterday to hold.
Rest here in the arms of now and live.
Enjoy this moment and no other for this is the only one there is.
Look not ahead nor behind,
But look at yourself where you are now
And leave no more todays unattended to.
Then you will fear no tomorrow nor long for any yesterday
~Copyright 2004 Lynda Allen

Submitted by Caroline Frith
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ”I will try again tomorrow”.
~Mary Anne Radmacher

Submitted by Vicky Wilkes
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now.
~David Whyte

Submitted by Anita Traynor
The Man in the Arena
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
~Theodore Roosevelt

Submitted by Caroline Frith
There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe and mostly live – the Dalai Lama

Submitted by Caroline Frith
Autobiography in Five Chapters
1. I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
2. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
3. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
4. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
5. I walk down another street.
~Portia Nelson

Submitted by Caroline Frith
The Clock of Life
The clock of life is wound but once.
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour.
Now is the only time that you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in tomorrow.
For the clock may then be still.
~Robert H Smith

Submitted by Caroline Frith
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
~Mary Oliver

Submitted by Anita Traynor
Tilicho Lake
In this high place
it is as simple as this,
leave everything you know behind.
Step toward the cold surface,
say the old prayer of rough love
and open both arms.
Those who come with empty hands
will stare into the lake astonished,
there, in the cold light
reflecting pure snow
the true shape of your own face.
~David Whyte

Submitted by Anita Traynor
The Invitation
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon...
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.
It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.
~Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Submitted by Anita Traynor
When you have gone so far that you can't manage even one more step, then you've gone just half the distance you are capable of.
~Innuit saying.

Submitted by Tamsin Sergeant
The Journey
Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again
Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.
Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens
so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.
Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that
first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.
Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out
someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.
You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.
~David Whyte

Submitted by Tamsin Sargeant
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~Wendell Berry

Submitted by Tamsin Sargeant
Listen once in a while. It’s amazing what you can hear.
~Russell Baker

Submitted by Vicky Wilkes
It Ain't what you do, It's what it does to you
I have not bummed across America
with only a dollar to spare, one pair
of busted Levi's and a bowie knife.
I have lived with thieves in Manchester.

I have not padded through the Taj Mahal,
barefoot, listening to the space between
each footfall picking up and putting down
its print against the marble floor. But I

skimmed flat stones across Black Moss on a day
so still I could hear each set of ripples
as they crossed. I felt each stone's inertia
spend itself against the water; then sink.

I have not toyed with a parachute cord
while perched on the lip of a light-aircraft;
but I held the wobbly head of a boy
at the day centre, and stroked his fat hands.

And I guess that the tightness in the throat
and the tiny cascading sensation
somewhere inside us are both part of that
sense of something else. That feeling, I mean.
~Simon Armitage

Submitted by Tamsin SargeantTop of Form
What if it truly doesn't matter what you do but how you do whatever you do?

How would this change what you choose to do with your life?

What if you could be more present and open-hearted with each person you encounter working as a cashier in the corner store, a parking lot attendant or filing clerk than you could if you were striving to do something you think is more important?

How would this change how you want to spend your precious time on this earth?

What if your contribution to the world and the fulfillment of you own happiness is not dependent upon discovering a better method of prayer or technique of meditation, not dependent upon reading the right book or attending the right seminar, but upon really seeing and deeply appreciating yourself and the world as they are right now?

How would this effect your search for spiritual development?

What if there is no need to change, no need to try and transform yourself into someone who is more compassionate, more present, more loving or wise?

How would this effect all the places in your life where you are endlessly trying to be better?

What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature- gentle, compassionate and capable of living fully and passionately present?

How would this effect how you feel when you wake up in the morning?

What if who you essentially are right now is all that you are ever going to be?

How would this effect how you feel about your future?

What if the essence of who you are and always have been is enough?

How would this effect how you see and feel about your past?

What if the question is not why am I so infrequently the person I really want to be, but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?

How would this change what you think you have to learn?

What if becoming who and what we truly are happens not through striving and trying but by recognizing and receiving the people and places and practises that offer us the warmth of encouragement we need to unfold?

How would this shape the choices you have to make about how to spend today?

What if you knew that the impulse to move in a way that creates beauty in the world will arise from deep within and guide you every time you simply pay attention and wait?

How would this shape your stillness, your movement, your willingness to follow this impulse, to just let go and dance?
~Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Submitted by Caroline Frith
Love after love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
~Derek Walcott

Submitted by Tamsin Sargeant
And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.
― Haruki Murakami

Submitted by Vicky Wilkes
 The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep, loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

Submitted by Caroline Frith
Hope is an image of goals
Planted firmly in your mind.
When looking at life before you,
Hope lines the paths you find.

Hope is a well of courage
Nestled deep within your heart.
When faltering in fear and doubt,
Hope pushes you to start.

Hope is an urge to keep going,
For limbs too tired and weak.
When apathy stills all desire,
Hope sparks the fuel you seek.

Hope is a promise of patience
As you wait for distress to wane.
When all you can do is nothing,
Hope pulls you through the pain.

Hope is a spirit that lifts you,
Should heaviness pull at your soul.
When torn apart by losses,
Hope mends to keep you whole.
~Wendy S. Harpham, M.D.

Submitted by Vicky Wilkes
From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand. From the inside looking out, it’s hard to explain. ~Unknown
Submitted by Vicky Wilkes

Friday 3 June 2016

We Need to Talk about Secondary Breast Cancer ~ HuffPost Blog

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What do Jo Malone, Cath Kidston, Maggie Smith, Olivia Newton-John, Jenni Murray and Kylie Minogue have in common? 

They have all been diagnosed with primary breast cancer.

We talk about ‘breast cancer’ as if it is one disease. It isn’t. There are several types of breast cancer which grow in different parts of the breast and at different rates. Some of us will be given chemotherapy, some of us won’t. Some women have mastectomies, others have lumpectomies. Many - but not all us - have radiotherapy. I felt a fraud when I didn’t have a mastectomy for a rare, aggressive breast cancer - but at least I got to keep my breast (someone really did say that by the way).

Whatever our treatment, what really matters to the 57,000 or so people diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK is that we don’t have, or develop, secondary breast cancer. Unlike primary breast cancer, which hasn’t spread beyond the breast or glands under the arm, secondary breast cancer refers to breast cancer which has spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic or blood system. You might hear it described as ‘advanced breast cancer’, ‘metastatic’, or stage 4 breast cancer. You might also hear about so-and-so who had breast cancer and then developed liver cancer. This is inaccurate - breast cancer that has spread to the liver is not the same as liver cancer.

Do you want the good news, or the bad news?

The good news is that secondary breast cancer can be treated. The bad news is that it can’t be cured. Treatment aims to slow down the spread of disease, to relieve symptoms and give the best possible quality of life, for as long as possible.

Once the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis has receded, for most of us, the gruelling treatments, disfiguring surgery and psychological effects seem like a small price to pay for our lives. The end of ‘active’ treatment (chemotherapy and/or surgery and/or radiation) feels a bit like graduation - we get our big send-off and party. Everyone loves us because we took on cancer, because by being brave and positive we ‘beat’ cancer.

Of course we want to finish our treatment with optimism and celebrate being cancer free. If we are lucky, we pass the first year with a clear scan, then after the second we begin hoping we’ll reach the five and ten year milestones. How much attention do we give to secondary breast cancer? It’s easier to return to denial - this is our way of ‘moving on’. We wear our positivity as though it is a talisman which wards off cancer, as if it’s a well-established fact that by thinking about cancer we might activate some tiny cell into action, putting our lives in peril. We try not to think about cancer, we try to forget.  

Then we get a niggle, a pain, a scan. That old friend, Fear, knocks on the door again. Are we quite as safe as we think we are?

As a woman diagnosed with breast cancer twice, I get a knot in my stomach just typing the words, ‘secondary breast cancer.’ I admit that I’m haunted by the possibility of cancer returning. It’s the sun and moon of all my fears - as inescapable as the day and night, yet unspoken.

Around 30% of women go on to develop secondary breast cancer - these women are mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and partners. It’s the not-so-pink lining which we women with primary breast cancer can hardly bear to face. But what happens when our friends are diagnosed with secondary breast cancer?

I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2015, 9 years after having been given the 'all clear.' I see women extremely saddened when the friends they have made throughout their initial treatments or through support groups are diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. Though they continue to offer support, for many, this understandably means their own anxieties surface and they begin questioning their own mortality again. Having been there myself, I know this can be hard, especially when you are gaining a sense of moving on. But, this reaction can make it difficult for those of us with secondaries to feel that we belong in the general breast cancer community where the focal discussion inclines towards treatment for primary cancer and its aftermath. The sense of maintaining a positive attitude to ‘beat’ it, can be a challenging theme for those who haven’t been so ‘fortunate’ to keep it at bay. This fear which secondaries sparks in others means we find solace in groups specifically for secondary breast cancer but this then means the whole community doesn’t really talk about it.
~ Vicky

Somewhere along the way, I’ve realised I need to face my survivor’s guilt, sadness and the fear that I too might develop secondary breast cancer. People think that positive-thinking 'beats' cancer. It doesn’t. A cure will only be found by better understanding what makes our cells grow uncontrollably and invade distant organs. We desperately need science to find out why it is that some women find out that their cancer has returned, despite extensive treatment, despite having been told they were ‘all clear.’ We can only do this if we stop hiding and start talking about secondary breast cancer. The more we talk, the more likely it is that we can support one another and the more likely it is that we can press for better and more effective treatments.   "How does breast cancer do that? How do cells escape from an original tumor and nest somewhere in the body, eluding all treatments thrown at the disease and mysteriously "wake up" and start moving around the body again fifteen years later? What gives them the ability to hide? What triggers their activation again? What makes them so resistant to treatments? Why can't they be stopped? How do we know who has had breakaway cells versus those who haven't? We don't know. Nor do we even know the exact number of people with early stage breast cancer who go on to develop secondary breast cancer".

I dedicate this blog to Vicky, Amanda, Shelly, Rachel, Uzma and anyone living with a recurrence or secondary breast cancer. Even though you won’t recognise their names, these women are no less worthy of our attention and celebration.

Tamsin Sargeant, with vital input from Vicky Wilkes

This blog was published on HuffPost UK 'The Blog' 3rd June 2016