Sadly I am no stranger to cancer cases. My sister had been in a similar situation: been told she had cancer, that it was found early and she would be fine. We sadly lost her only 8 months following that diagnosis to colon cancer. I have also lost other family members and my closest girlfriend 4 years ago.
But I thought, I am different… I am fit, healthy, and I am always super lucky in life… cancer doesn’t stand a chance I thought….
Then more tests were to be done and it turned out the particular cancer I had was really fast growing and aggressive: a grade 4 cancer. Then there was talk of checking if the cancer had spread and again I felt it wasn’t happening to me; that it was all some parallel universe to my life… but it was me. This time I had good news – no spreading! The news totally changed me and woke me up. I literally felt I had won the lottery, it was like a near miss. Suddenly I felt a little aggressive tumour was nothing, I could deal with that. I was ready to fight.
I was running Great Run women’s 10K race in Glasgow and I was standing on the start line with 10,000 women around. It was hugely emotional, lots of women running for charities. There were some women around me in a group running for a cancer charity, I just turned to them and said “I have cancer, but I will be running here next year”.
The ladies were wonderful, gave me a hug and said, “of course you are Hen” and then the race started. I felt during the race it was like my fight for cancer… it was hard to run in the heat, and only i could do it.. lots of friends and spectators shouting from the pavements, but it was down to me, I had to fight through on my own, and keep myself going. I have kept a photo of me at the race on my desk since, as an encouragement to remember how fantastic it felt to be fit and run like the wind, and how I wanted to get back to get back to that, and how I took charge of the race as a metaphor for my situation.
Because of the grade of cancer, my treatment plan was changed and I now required chemotherapy. I was really very sad about that. On the first day of chemo I didn’t want to be there. A few of my girlfriends had just gone off on holiday, and I was so unhappy I was left behind with chemotherapy and a whole book of side effects to be aware of: I really felt low. But hey, it went ok, I walked home from the hospital, woke up next day, felt ok-ish and went to work like normal.
This procedure I repeated for each cycle, and it did get worse: the drugs build up in the body and makes it worse for each treatment. It wasn’t fun, but it was manageable. I went to work like normal every day, and went to the gym after work as normal on my good days. I did my Sunday morning run at the weekends. I love my life, and I felt keeping a level of normality kept me happy and grounded.
Wanting to keep things “normal” also made me chose not to tell people. I only told a few people very close to me. It was a difficult decision to make, but I did that, because I realised people who cared for me got so upset when I told them, and that was stressing me out a lot. I felt I took on their grief and all their questions about what was going to happen and so on, and I had no answer to these questions – I found it quite difficult to deal with. So I felt I could control that part of my life… and I did.
One of the side effects of the Chemo therapy is fatigue. It’s hard to explain, it’s a different tired to anything else. I could sit in a chair and actually wonder how I would get up. I don’t have a car, and it’s advised to not take public transport due to risk of infection, so I just walked everywhere. If I was going to the gym or something, this “tired” could suddenly set in. And I know this will sound bonkers, but in fear of tiredness setting I ended up with running as my means of transport, usually running home, because that way I got home quicker. Once I got home I just ran in, and threw myself on my bed like a starfish and slept, just like that, pretty funny.
My staff have been amazing, without my knowledge they had had a meeting and shared all the “odd” hours between them, as they didn’t feel I should be left with those. They also covered for me when I felt fatigued and had to go for a little snooze in the middle of the day. Their help support and encouragement was so amazing, I have no idea how to thank them enough. Due to their help we had not a single disruption to deadlines with clients. It’s been such an amazing effort thanks to them, because we have 4 summer months which are fully booked up months in advance. It’s not easy to just turn away brides with pre-booked wedding dresses, booked up to a year in advance.
I have had some absolutely hilarious incidents along the way… haha, once I fell ill between the chemo – I had to go into hospital. I was begging to be discharged as I had a small film crew coming the next morning to record a wee film in the shop, so was discharged in the middle of the night. The thing was I literally couldn’t get out of the hospital as all the doors were locked. I had to climb out of a window, while trying to avoid getting my wig stuck on the hinges, so funny… life is never dull – even with cancer.
I am soooo pleased to be on the other side now. I have such a love and lust for life, I feel so so lucky and fortunate to get to come out on the other side, and to have managed to lead an almost normal life through it all. I don’t know how to thank all the people, who has just been amazing, through it all, here is a massive thank you to #TeamMette, and we send love and strength to the people who get struck by that horrible diagnosis in the future.
I have little word of advice to you, if you encounter people with cancer in your group of friends or family. The way you can support and help is by listening; don’t ask questions about what to do and about the future, for me that was hugely stressful.
I had those questions in my head all the time and I had no answer or no way of getting an answer. Offer them your help (if you are able to help) it was really nice for me to get specific offers of help such as: “I’m on the way to the shops, do you need anything” “I’m running errands, do you need anything picked up dropped off” “can I drive you somewhere?, “phone me if you need a lift” “Can I come and cook you a meal?” I found it much easier to say: “yes please”. Than to ask “could you help me with such and such”.
And PLEASE do self examinations, if I had not done that very regularly and been very aware about my boobs, cancer would have been much further, as the signs are just so discrete.