The big C after the big C

This week in Project Lumpy has been decidedly holistic. A bit of medical, nasty-pesky-cancer-cell stuff, but lots more about the power of positivity and caring for mind and body.

Living Well With Cancer

I attended the first day of a two day course run by a charity,  Penny Brohn, entitled Living Well With Cancer. The approach taken by this great charity; “Over the last 30 years, research has confirmed scientifically…that our bodies, minds and spirits are all connected and have an impact on each other and our physical health”. Right up my street.


The course is held in the education rooms at the hospital. On entering the room, it was just like being on a corporate training course: semi circle of chairs, flip chart with a handwritten”Welcome”, Powerpoint projected on wall, facilitators welcoming us with encouraging smiles, then a discussion of our group agreements (no mobiles, be punctual, listen and respond with respect). So far, so familiar. But this was the first course I’ve been on with a table in the middle of the room with a flower arrangement and a flickering candle. Of course, meditation is on the agenda. And then the introductions. I wonder “surely we’re not expected to say, Hello my name is Alison and I have breast cancer”?! Fortunately not. We are not our cancer.

A wonderful day. I learned some great new information and confirmed much of what I knew.

Interestingly, much of the advice is about limiting inflammation in the body – apparently cancer loves a bit of inflammation, ripe conditions for its growth. What can cause inflammation? Being overweight, smoking, pollution, stress (hence the meditative candle), lack of exercise (keeping fit significantly reduces risk of recurrence), alcohol and some foods. And on the diet front, yes, we really do need to eat 10 veg and fruit a day. Preferably organic. That’s my Waitrose bill just gone up.

My understanding of the human body is limited to O-level Biology, so I was fascinated to learn about our natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell pumping around our bodies. These are the most amazing little warriors. This video shows them in action actually killing cancer cells. Now, I hate violent films, but I could watch this one on repeat. Just how awesome are our bodies, that could be happening in all of us right now.

In the group were other cancer patients, most of the women had had breast cancer too. It was heartening to meet them, to hear their stories, share our experiences. Cancer can be very isolating but it also opens doors to new connections.

Cherry Lodge

The Macmillan team had suggested I go to Cherry Lodge in Barnet, another charity supporting cancer patients. What a fabulous centre; they offer a range of complementary therapies, a singing group, yoga classes, counselling, drop in sessions and acupuncture before chemotherapy. All for free.

I spent a very informative afternoon there and will book various therapy courses once I know my treatment dates.

It’s interesting that at many of my Project Lumpy meetings I am often the youngest by some margin. Cancer tends to be more prevalent as we age. I heard of a group, Shine, for younger cancer patients, and I have my first meeting with them this week.

Harley Street

This cancer is helping my social climbing. I met an Oncologist in Harley Street. After the Oncotype DX discussion with my professor, he recommended meeting Professor Ellis to get an  EndoPredict test. It’s very similar, but more appropriate for my cancer. It’s not available on the NHS, hence the Harley Street rendezvous.  And my contact at my health insurance company wove some administrative magic to ensure the costs are all covered.

I had an encouraging discussion in the plush carpeted, palatial office with the rather charming professor. He was very positive about my prognosis. I agreed, “I have no plans for this cancer to kill me”. He knows my NHS team and so I feel reassured about continuity of care. And he said I would get exactly the same chemotherapy on the NHS as I would privately.

The EndoPredict test will show the likelihood of the cancer returning. The lower the risk, the less benefit there is to chemotherapy. Simples. So, a bit of my tumour is being tested right now. I have this vision of my tumour sitting in a fridge and someone in a white coat and hairnet taking it out and slicing a bit off with one of those delicatessen meat slicers, wrapping the slice in greaseproof paper and sending it off to a laboratory.

Professor was clear that he thinks I will need chemotherapy, but it’s worth checking.

Then the proof of my social climbing – an air kiss at the end of the appointment. You don’t get that on the NHS.

Chemotherapy: The next big C

I’m prepared and ready for chemo, much as I’d rather not go through it. I suspect this time next week I will have started my treatment – more about that in a later post.

This week I met a hairdresser who offers free hair cuts and advice on caring for your scalp and hair to anyone going through chemotherapy. I’ve decided I’ll have a funky pixie cut (I mean, how great does Annie Lennox look?) to protect my hair and also lessen the trauma of my hair falling out.  She also told me that some women donate their hair, if it’s long enough, to Little Princess Trust, who make natural wigs for children with hair loss.  Since being diagnosed, my eyes have been opened to the incredible amounts of generosity, humanity and support that is out there. When the news headlines cause me despair, I remember how much good there is in the world. I’m seeing and feeling that goodness everyday.

In preparation for my chemotherapy I’ve been given two very thoughtful, personalised chemotherapy survival kits. The one on my left is from my parents, but didn’t include the cat – she just can’t resist a photo opportunity.


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