I’m coming to the end of my treatment which has given me such a mental and physical boost.With the end in sight I am beginning to look forward to getting back to ‘normal’, back to life as it was before this interruption.

A few weeks ago I went to an inspirational talk about the radiotherapy process held by staff from Lincoln County Hospital’s Radiotherapy and Occupational Health Departments. ‘Enhanced Recovery through Radiotherapy’ not only talked about practicalities but also how to cope with recovering from treatment and managing emotions after a cancer diagnosis. Two discussion points resonated with me. The first was the idea of ‘self-management’ and understanding why it is important to look after yourself. This doesn’t just mean being healthy, eating well and exercising. It also advocates finding out about your condition so that you have the confidence and skills to deal with any treatment and remission. Having self-compassion, being kind to yourself, is a major theme of self-management and being proactive rather than reactive during treatment and recovery.

Secondly, I was reminded how important it is to deal with our emotions to improve our wellbeing, particularly FEAR. A diagnosis of cancer stimulates fear and from my experience, rightly so. From the time of my diagnosis and throughout my treatment there have been many moments of fear. When fear sets in I start to look for an answer, I become irrational, panic and anxiety arises and that increases the fear. And then it all starts again. Recognising how to deal with your emotions is incredibly powerful for your own self management and being kind to yourself.

Based on Stephen R Covey (1989) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I was given the diagram below and it certainly is food for thought! How much time have I spent worrying about things that I can’t do anything about rather than finding a way through the problem? Choosing to think differently and to do things differently can give opportunities to take control of our emotions.

THE FRIED EGG APPROACH

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The impact of this past year, conversations and my experiences along the way have made me reflect on how I want my life to be and I definitely don’t want to get back to my pre-cancer normal. Looking at how I conducted my life on a daily basis before cancer is something I want to change. It’s time now to prioritise ME a little more than before. So I am going to make some tweaks to achieve this

  • Exercise at least five times a week
  • Eat healthier – cut out processed food, less refined sugar (except for my daily treat of a Costa decaf vanilla latte with soya milk!!)
  • See friends and family more
  • Create even more memories
  • Look forward
  • Take risks
  • Work my way through stressful situations so that the stress evaporates
  • Face and deal with my emotions

I see each day as a pie with the individual slices being something I will achieve that day. For example  – dark load of washing, supermarket shop, gym, cook the tea, phone Mum. I then prioritise these and order them depending on when I will do them during the day. There is a balance to the day – jobs, family and friends, me and work (when I go back).So far this is working for me and I end the day feeling successful and better about myself. The down side of this approach is that factors occur during the day that I can’t foresee but I know I have to be flexible and leave a slice of pie until tomorrow, being careful it is not always a piece about me.

This is my new ‘normal’ and the start of a new me… and up to now I am really enjoying life!

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An Easter Treat

I hope you’ve all had a fabulous Easter with lots of chocolately treats! Easter at the ScottBarnes household was filled with family fun, eggs, extreme trampolining, the annual homage to Belton House for the Easter Egg Hunt (because I just love a treasure hunt with clues!) and getting together with friends. It’s been a wonderful few days.

I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Easter at all. My third lot of docetaxel chemotherapy left me feeling completely drained, no energy, heavy legs and arms. Everything has been a struggle and I really couldn’t be bothered to do anything. And then there was docetaxel number 4 hanging over my head. How was I ever going to get over that?

But on the day before Good Friday I had the best Easter treat ever… my consultant told me that I didn’t have to have the last chemo. Apparently I was only ever due to have three docetaxel treatments – I missed that information somewhere along the line – which means it’s finished, all over, no more visits to the temple of doom, oh happy days! The relief that it’s all over is indescribable, not just for me but for the whole family and my friends. You could see and feel the relief ooze out of us all as we realised that there was no more nasty chemo.

The interruption in my life is nearly over. I can now look forward to a summer holiday (booked two days after being told the chemo was finished), Beyoncé concert with my daughter (not sure about that but it means time with her), Take That at Hyde Park plus shopping in London and returning to work… normal life WILL resume.

Who is laughing now, Mr Cancer?

I’m not just laughing at you now, Cancer, I’m sticking two fingers up!

Yesterday I had another blood test and my neutrophils had gone up sufficiently to have chemotherapy number 3. I can not tell you how elated I felt and relieved. I never thought I would say it but I was happy to have the chemo which I know is going to make me feel awful for the next few days but this means I only have one more to go.

So I’ve got about 10 days of being incredibly tired, not wanting to eat a lot, food tasting like fairy liquid and having a greasy sensation and aching bones and muscles but that passes. I can now look forward to doing some lovely things towards the end of this cycle – going to the school Chocolate Ball with my son, hopefully meeting some special friends over the Easter weekend and just being strong enough to be my usual self.

 

EERRRRRRGH!

Disappointed, fed up, upset – that’s what I’m feeling right now. I’ve had the results of my pre-chemo bloods and the neutrophil count is low. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that engulf bacteria and help prevent an infection. If they are low it means a person’s immune system is at a high risk of catching an infection. So that means delayed chemotherapy for me.

It just feels like another kick in the teeth after a series of knocks over the last few months. All I want is this whole process of treatment to be over. I’ve done what is recommended – washed my hands until the skin is peeling off, cooked everything well, constantly nagged the family to use anti-bacterial sanitiser, not kissed the children on their lips, kept away from friends with colds – what more can I do?

Apparently there is nothing that can be done except wait and do another jigsaw and wait some more.

I sometimes think that my cancer is laughing at me. In the last couple of days I allowed myself to think about five weeks from now when all the chemotherapy was finished and having some family time away. But no way, that’s not allowed. “HA HA HA! You really want to plan for the future. Well I’m not done with you yet. HA HA HA!,” laughs Cancer. I should be used to all this uncertainty by now and be able to just deal with it. Perhaps because I’m so close to the end of the treatment it’s got to me more this time.

I’ll be ok tomorrow, back to my usual positive self. What will be will be, it’s for the best, not to worry, you have to be flexible – is what I’ll hear coming out my mouth. But just for a bit I’m going to be FRUSTRATED AND ANNOYED and EAT MINI EGGS.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Valentine’s Day is on its way. You can’t miss it, reminders are everywhere in every shop. Even a well done DIY shop were prominently displaying heart shaped household accessories.

It’s not a day that my husband and I go over the top and celebrate but this year it has really got me thinking. Mr S asked if I wanted to go out but my immediate reaction was no. Why?

Firstly I’m going through the first cycle of chemotherapy and really don’t want to be in a busy place where I could perhaps catch something. Food choice is limited aswell and there are certain things you can’t eat and everything has to be well cooked. For someone who devours a ‘blue’ steak, the thought of a well done, cremated piece of meat doesn’t make my mouth water. The delightful drugs weaken your immune system so it’s easier to become ill and I really don’t want to prolong this interruption to my life any longer than is needed.

The biggest concern that has stopped me saying ‘Yes’ is that I’m losing my hair again so in my eyes I’m not looking very glamorous. Not only is the hair on my head quickly falling out but so are my eyelashes and eyebrows. My eyelashes are one of my better facial features but they are becoming sparse. When I actually do put mascara on it accentuates the gaps even more. Not being very artistic, I can’t hold an eyebrow pencil steady enough to draw eyebrows on so it looks like a spider has crawled across my forehead. There are however two good things about losing my hair.

Number One – I won’t have to embark on the annual Spring defurring of leg hair.

Number Two – I’ve ended up with a Brazilian overnight without any of the pain!

I consider myself very lucky to have my husband. He is constantly telling me it doesn’t matter, I’m beautiful, he loves me. I’m truly grateful for these encouraging words not only from Mr S but friends and family aswell. I’m sure many of you reading this are also thinking it’s only your looks, there are more important things to worry about. But it DOES matter to me. It’s just another thing that the cancer has took from me. How dare it! I am a woman and I like being feminine. I enjoy wearing make up, having my hair coloured and styled, painting my nails.

For the moment though this is not going to happen. I say for the moment as I know that it will all grow back just like before Christmas. I will have hair, maybe different to pre cancer but it will grow back. I will have eyebrows and eyelashes (last time they grew back even longer) and in eight weeks I can paint my nails.

So for now I’m satisfying my feminine instincts by buying pretty things for the house – flowery bedding, more cushions, oh and shoes – lots of lovely shoes.

Will I go out for Valentines? I’m still not sure. A meal out would be wonderful but then so would a gorgeous pair of shoes… and maybe a handbag!

Scareyville…

I’m scared… NO, REALLY, I’M VERY SCARED! I know this is not what people have heard from me over the past six months but today this is the place where I’m visiting – Scareyville. I’m starting chemotherapy again today and it’s not a very pleasant experience.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 27th July 2015. That day, that time is imprinted on my brain as in a second my life was interrupted. Time stopped at that moment, I was stuck in a falling bubble. In what sounded like a slurred speech, the consultant said “Yooou haaaave Staaaage Twooo breaaaaaast caaaaancer”  POP, the bubble burst and I felt as though my lovely comfortable successful life was rapidly crumbling around me. After the loudest sob I’ve ever heard come out of my body I realised I had to compose myself. Two wonderful children were waiting at home for their strong mum. And that’s how it’s been ever since… I’m the strong mum, the strong wife, the strong daughter, strong Kate. But that’s only on the outside. Deep down, in the depths of my thoughts I’m absolutely terrified.

I completed a survey yesterday about feelings when diagnosed with cancer and my biggest worry is not seeing my children grow up and of dying. This is natural, I know and common with people diagnosed with cancer but when you’re faced with this horror it’s very difficult to put those feelings to one side.

It’s made me realise that cancer is controlling my life. Cancer is dictating what will happen to me over the next year. I have had to stop work. I had been Head of School at an academy in special measures within a Trust for 18 months and the school was heading in the right direction. I was loving my job although very difficult and stressful but I was growing as a person and proud of my success. Cancer stopped that with a click of its fingers. My husband and I were going on holiday to the Alsace to celebrate his 50th birthday. It was going to be wonderful, relaxing together, sampling wine, enjoying the sun but again cancer had other thoughts.

So my life is being controlled by the cancer and the treatment. In September I had two sessions of chemotherapy which brought tiredness, depression and an unexpected blood clot. My liver reacted so badly that chemotherapy was stopped and I then went on to have two operations to remove the lump. During the whole time this damn disease has dictated what will happen and when. And it’s doing it again. I’m back… at the Temple of Doom starting four more rounds of chemotherapy.