The Gifts Cancer Gave Me

14990943_10153839119141809_216730187256305489_oI am not angry that I got cancer; I am not upset. This is not to say that I am joyous and happy. Instead I am grateful for the gifts it has given me.

My attitude is similar to that of Sophie Sabbages’, author of The Cancer Whisperer and a stage 4 cancer patient. She believes that cancer comes into your life to tell you something about how you have been living and if you listen to that you can live an extraordinary rich life. I believe that I have been given an opportunity to reflect on my life and change it for the better.

First and foremost, it is important for me to say that I realise how fortunate I am to be in my position. I have been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Although anything could happen in the future, the prognosis for someone in my situation is very good. I am likely to go on to lead a long life (provided I don’t die of something else). I can’t express how much this knowledge truly humbles me as it could has so easily have been a very different story for me. I can only thank God for my situation and try my best to live the greatest possible life, as I imagine most other cancer patients blessed with the same opportunity would.

Things were very different pre-diagnosis. I was stressed, very stressed. I was earning a decent income (for once) from my arts education company but you know how it goes: with more money, comes more problems. Those problems included: taking on more and more work (to ensure I never go back to a life of poverty), managing people, running my Zumba class, balancing my work and personal life, being a single mother and everything that comes with that, blah, blah, blah. It was a lot! Every day I woke up feeling an immense amount of mental pressure. My only outlets were being around my daughter and family and working out… and boy did I work out!

Now that I am being forced to reflect on everything, it is a chance for me to rid my mind and body of toxicity, to pursue the dreams I have always had, to be happy, to spend more time with my daughter, family and close friends.

It is prompting me to eliminate the fear of a lack of abundance, other people’s negative motives, phobias, failure and so much more.

It offers the opportunity to nourish my body with the best live natural foods, to calm down on the exercise and treat it with less intense yet enjoyable physical activities.

It presents the pleasure of spa days, detoxifying saunas, music therapy, singing and dancing for joy, days in the park with my daughter, therapeutic Vitamin D in fabulous sunny climates. 

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Zumba Convention 2011 with Ollie and Natallia in Orlando, Florida. One of the best rips of my life!

 

It promotes more time to read, learn, teach, inspire, motivate and share my learning to those who need it most.

Therefore, I do not regret the fact that I contracted cancer. Rather, I am grateful for the gift that this dis-ease has given me. It has awoken me from my slumber and is allowing me to start again with a full appreciation of the richness life has to offer me, with the horse powered motivation to pursue it.

Thank you cancer.

The Deed has been Done

19388543_10159228637360221_9179923231520847629_oPosted on Facebook on 19th June 17

So the deed has been done. I have had my op to rid my body of breast cancer. It happened last Wednesday. All is well; recovery will be lengthy. Please respect my wishes by not asking intrusive questions as all is still new and I share what I feel comfortable to share. But just so you know I have had a bilateral mastectomy with a diep flap with immediate reconstruction (feel free to Google).

My beautiful daughter can’t show me enough love

I share all this to say: Don’t ignore the signs of any potential cancer. If something isn’t right, get it checked out. Don’t let fear, a busy schedule, ignorance or whatever stop you from potentially saving your life.

Post Surgery Walk of Success!

25th June 17

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I’ve just finished my 3rd post surgery walk. I am feeling so accomplished as 3 days after surgery I was only able to venture 5 metres before breaking down in a fit of tears as my mind was so sure my body could walk much further. The nurses had quickly wheeled me back to my bed and that was all the walking I was able to do that day. I hadn’t anticipated how much surgery would dissipate my lung capacity.

Well today (just 8 days later) I just walked over 100 metres! The body is so amazing! I look forward to the day when I can return to the gym 😊. I can’t believe this dramatic series of events has become my life.

The Smiling Spectre

Ghost NurseWhen your veins are pumped full of morphine and your body is still recovering from seven hours under general anaesthetic, plus you’ve just had a lifesaving, (never mind life-changing) operation, it’s difficult to concentrate on any one thing. It was Day 2 or maybe Day 3, post-surgery (my brain is still fuzzy).

I was lying in bed, enjoying the privacy of my sunny single room in the newly built Queen Elizabeth Hospital thinking about everything and nothing at the same time. One could say: I was just minding my own business. When to my right and to the bottom of the bed, I noticed the drawn curtain by the door, shift. In floated in a smiling face. Above the smile were cainrows that went all the way back. Her complexion was brown and greying like unwatered soil. Her short and stocky body looked neat and tidy in her hospital attire. She was proud; I could tell by her puffed out chest. The smiling face was looking in my direction. My first instinct was to return it, as that’s what you do when someone beams at you, but why was it that I felt my body stiffen?

Now this was strange, as I had become accustomed to meeting unknown people almost on an hourly basis as the medical staff would come in to check my vital signs and the progress of the surgery. There were new people all the time. What was different this time? She was a health care assistant after all, I could tell by the uniform. She was being friendly. So why did I feel so uncomfortable? Could it be the way she stared at the plastic board above my head as she said my name out loud, questioningly “Rebbecca Hemmings?” almost as if she knew me or of me? Was it the crazed look in her eyes as her plastered grin pinned me to the mattress? Or was it the way her dancing body betrayed her clasped hands as they tried to give off an air of control?

“Rebbecca Hemmings?” She repeated. I lay still and silent; “It’s a rhetorical question,” my brain reasoned as it tried to quell the cacophony of thoughts dashing about trying to make sense of this moment. Her raised healed, shiny black plastic loafers walked past my bed to the window. She pulled the curtains and looked outside from the fourth floor to the beautiful landscape basking in the unusually hot temperatures in south Birmingham, all the while that Cheshire cat grin fixated on me like a loaded weapon.

“Do you have an aunt called Pat?”

Silly me! Breathe out girl, relax, this all makes sense, she knows my aunt Pat. Crisis averted. You can smile back now and chill out. You’re so paranoid. What are you getting all tetchy about anyway?

“Yes I do…”

She interrupted me; I had wanted to know how she knows my aunt.

“She lives down the road, in Edgbaston?”

Instantly, the metal bars rose back up and caged me in my imaginary fortress as I answered “No, she lives in London.” My blood pressure had risen; I could feel it as I levitated towards the ceiling.

She slowly walked back across the room like an actor delivering an aside to an audience; that smile would not release me until it gently faded back beyond the curtain and disappeared into the hustle and bustle of hospital life.

That was to be the first of the Spectre’s three unnerving visits.

Cancer? Who said anything about Cancer? My Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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My blissful “I ain’t got Breast Cancer”trip to Brighton.

March/April 2017

I find myself yawning as I reluctantly peel myself from my bed, ready for another stressful day running my arts education business. As I pass the mirror on the way to the bathroom, something makes me turn back. What was that I just saw on my nightdress? It’s blood, not much, about a pea size, on my left side, midway between my stomach and my breast. “How strange!”, I think as I lift my clothing for further inspection. There’s no visible wound anywhere. “Oh well, it’s just one of those things I guess.” That was my first warning and little did I know that if I didn’t get another 4 weeks later, I probably would be dying from breast cancer a year later (as later told to me by my surgeon).

The second time it happened, my eyes shot out of my head like bread from a toaster upon passing my reflection, because unlike the first time, I could see where the blood had come from. My left nipple was oozing a brown tinged blood droplet. Immediately I booked an urgent appointment with my GP. I had to bring my 3-year-old daughter with me as I couldn’t get anyone to watch her last minute, so the doctor was very selective with her words. However, her eyes said it all – she couldn’t hide the distress she felt as she smiled and pointed to the wording on the pamphlet: 70% of people who are sent for a 2-week urgent care appointments do not have cancer. 

Cancer? Who said anything about cancer? As I impatiently waited for the appointment I went mad on the internet searching for hope in between crying and fearing for my daughter’s future. She can’t live without me, that’s not even an option. I don’t want to die, there’s so much more that I want to achieve, so many more memories to be made. What the hell is this? 

Google held me in its embrace as it told me “It’s nothing to worry about, it’s probably just intraductal papilloma which are non-cancerous growths in the milk ducts. You’ll be fine hun.” YouTube slashed me in the face whilst dashing acid on the wound as it cried: “Face it, you have breast cancer. Spontaneous bleeding from one nipple is breast cancer bitch. Your days are numbered!” 

Each day would bring a new range of emotions and conflicting stories and facts. After a week I decided enough was enough, I had to stop searching for answers or else I would drive myself crazy. So I banned myself from searching further and spent a lovely few days in a gorgeous Air B & B townhouse near Brighton beach with my daughter, family and a few friends. It did the job. I left there feeling positive and renewed with a fresh sense of hope and putting aside my fears as over-thinking. “Remember: 70% of people who are referred for two-week urgent appointments do not have cancer.” I exhaled as I looked at my daughter playing with the other children on the train journey back. I smiled and placed my earphones in my ears as Mint Condition crooned me into a blissful state of ignorance. 

The next Monday 24th April 2017, I was jolted out of my Utopian bliss as I heard the radiographer say the word: micro-calcification. I knew from my days on the net that ‘calcification’ can be benign but can also be an early sign of breast cancer. Then I could hear her telling me about having to put two titanium clips inside my breast so that they could see where they would need to do a biopsy. Apparently they wouldn’t go off at airports. I latched onto this as I couldn’t deal with the bomb that had just been dropped on me. “Well do I have a choice as to whether they will stay in me or not?” To which the radiographer replied basically “No”, showing signs of irritability at my ignorance of the magnitude of my situation. In hindsight, I imagine she was thinking “The titanium clips are the least of your worries. You possibly won’t have this breast in the next few weeks”. If she had said it, she would have been right. 

After two very painful biopsies, I was told I would have to wait another four excruciating days for the results to be returned. However, it was quite likely that I had a type of breast cancer called DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma Insitu), this is the presence of abnormal cells within the milk ducts. I knew from my reading that if I was going to have breast cancer, this was like the one I preferred as it offered the best chances in terms of prognosis. However, when I returned to get my results, I was told that I also had small invasive cancer. This meant that pockets of the DCIS had escaped the milk ducts and was now starting to spread. 

My treatment choices: have a large part of my breast cut off in a procedure known as a mastoplasty followed by radiation treatments – this would leave me with a tiny breast, or remove the entire mound in a mastectomy procedure. I chose the latter. I made preparations to say goodbye to my homegirl.