She said ‘Yes’!

She said ‘Yes!’

Breast cancer survivors: Jenni & I!

We are Jenni and Rebbecca; we have both had breast cancer and are still here to tell the story. Recently, we have been talking and thinking about the community. Many more are dying of cancer than ever before (1 in every 2 people will get diagnosed with cancer). We simply wish for people to visit their GP if they have any unusual symptoms such as: abnormal bleeding, lumps, sudden weight loss, unusual rashes, etc. You can read more about symptoms here.

Therefore, we have teamed up to raise awareness of this disease. Today we begin with our first joint blog on our relative experiences.

Jenni Harris – From Darkness into Light

On 15th December 2017, I received a telephone call that disrupted my norm, I was diagnosed with Her2 positive breast cancer. I was 52 years old, fit healthy and I was not aware of any family member who had ever been diagnosed with breast cancer so this was a real curveball.

Even when the consultant was talking to me the words just did not make any sense as I didn’t have a lump”.

The reason I had initially sought medical advice was because I was getting a shooting pain in my breast whenever hugged someone.

When it first happened approximately 6 weeks before I ignored it which sounds crazy now, so let me put some context around it.

I had been working out in the gym a lot so I thought I may have pulled a muscle or something plus I was slap bang in the middle of my menopause so lots of things were changing and not necessarily for the better.

However, it was when I noticed some swelling in my breast that I decided to go and see my GP. Following my examination my doctor told me to get dressed and that there was nothing for me to worry about. I have no idea why but, it was in that instant that I thought for the first time “I am worried”. Luckily for me I had the courage to say what was on my mind and I asked for a referral.

What followed was the most difficult year of my life it felt like I was in a nightmare that I could not wake up from. But even on those dark days I had hope. I prayed a lot during my treatment which consisted of 3 weekly chemotherapy treatments that lasted for 6 months.

I had a unilateral mastectomy and 9 lymph nodes removed and mentally this was difficult but, I understood that it was saving my life. This was followed by 15 sessions of radiotherapy. I am now awaiting a reconstruction.

I still have a way to go but I hope everyday that I will be here for a while. I am back in the gym and I am serious about how I nourish my body these days.

“Has cancer changed me?”. Ask me again in 12 months but, for now I want to raise awareness in the Black & Asian communities, and I was thrilled when I approached Rebbecca that she said “YES”.

Rebbecca – Did I Really Get Cancer?

On 28th April 2017, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 40 years old, fit, healthy and had no known history of breast cancer in my family. How did I discover something was up? Well it wasn’t a lump (like is commonly reported in the awareness campaigns). One morning I looked at myself in the mirror and I noticed a tiny droplet of blood on the upper left section of my night dress. I looked around my body and couldn’t see where it came from so I ignored it. Luckily for me, four week later it happened again. This time upon my investigation, I saw it had come from my nipple. I knew that under normal circumstances, nipples don’t bleed. The doctor had later told me that if I hadn’t gone to the GP when I did, I would have been dead in a year.

That discovery consequently started me on massive journey of upheaval that I had never imagined I would travel. I had a unilateral mastectomy with a DIEP Flap reconstruction. The surgery involved cutting me from hip to hip to take out fat from my stomach to make me a new breast. It took three months for me to recover from the surgery. I had to balance the running of my education business, my 3-year-old (at the time), my home, my bliss, my mental health. To say it was tough is a monumental understatement.

However, I am now 18 months post-surgery and I am cancer-free! Suddenly, I feel as though, not only my head, but my entire body has been elevated out of deep water. I am on safe ground and I am renewed. I can look back without asking: “Why me?”, “Did I really get cancer?”  or “Am I going to die soon?” Now I am making positive changes to improve my health and to avoid getting any type of cancer in the future.

I can say with certainty that cancer has changed me, for the better. I don’t pussy-foot around now, not with people, not with work, not with my health. I have a quiet determination to not only live a better life but equally to let people know that cancer can be preventable. So, when Jenni asked me to join her in spreading awareness of cancer amongst Black and Asian communities, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Olive Oil vs Rapeseed Oil

Last night I was speaking on Facebook Live in my Living on Purpose 2018 group about plant-based eating, and some really interesting topics arose. One such subject was around the types of oils we use to cook. In particular, we spoke about what we perceived to be the benefits (or not) of Rapeseed oil. My knowledge on it was very sketchy but what I did know was that Rapeseed oil has a high smoke point. This is a positive attribute because it means that it can be cooked at high temperatures without breaking down. Once it breaks down, it loses its health benefits and can actually become toxic and carcinogenic (cancer causing). But admittedly, I didn’t know much more beyond this.

Olive Oil has long been touted as a healthy oil but again, I could categorically tell you why. So, today I set about doing some research and this is what I found:

Olive Oil vs Rapeseed Oil

Personally, I need to be drizzling extra virgin olive oil on my salads for those antioxidant polyphenols. But as for my cooking, it has to be Rapeseed oil all the way, mainly due to its high smoke point. What’s the point having a so-called healthy oil, if it becomes toxic when heated? Which do you prefer?

Don’t Mess with My Tool Bag!

Good morning, good morning! The sun is shining and I’m feeling good today.

This is significant for a lot of reasons but mainly because, although I have decided to fully live my life, I am still human and I still get aftershock from the diagnosis 9 months ago.

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Every now and again, little negative Becky whispers in my ears and tells me stuff like: you’re not good enough, the cancer is going to come back, sadness is here to stay and other crazy stuff. I had a wobbly moment last night. What triggered it, I can’t pinpoint. Sometimes it’s just seeing someone struggle on TV (like last night on the program about people who stammer) or maybe an undesirable thought knocks me in my head. It doesn’t have to be anything major.

But what I really love about me now is I know how to deal with these moments. I have a range of armoury in my imaginary tool bag to whack those moments of disempowerment hurtling into space. They include: switching off social media (so if I go quiet, I might just be having a moment to chill), speaking to someone who knows how to help me lift my mood or altering my physiology in order to change my state of mind. This morning I danced with my daughter whilst eating my porridge. She loved it, as believe it or not (as a former Zumba instructor) she has not seen me dance all that much. Attending a HIIT class today was also part of my ‘getting back to my happy place’ agenda. Plus, I put on a Youtube video about listening to your heart and not your stupid brain (that’s what it’s called). All these have activities helped me to re-focus and get back on track. Now I am feeling absolutely awesome once again!

You can’t always positively think yourself out of a difficult place. What I now realise, is that you have to work a little harder than that. Being aware of the strategies you have available to you to get your power back, is essential to having a healthy mind.

I don’t ever want to pretend that I have it all sorted and that now that I’m choosing to live my life purposefully, everything is magically wonderful all the time. That is just false! I acknowledge that I will always have to face challenges, as all of us do. The difference is now, I am much better prepared to deal with them. With the power I hold in my tool bag,  almost feel sorry for any negativity that comes its way – almost

What tools work best for you?

Meat Who? Challenge

Challenge_ Don't eat meat for 5 days15th Jan 18 - 19th Jan 18In my bid to help people live happy, healthier lives I am setting a challenge called ‘Meat Who?’ In order to take part, you must be a member of the ‘Living on Purpose 2018’ Facebook group (see details below).

The challenge is to simply not eat meat from 9am on Monday 15th January 2018 to 11:59 pm on 19th January 2018.

There are already lots of people who have signed up to the group who are taking part in the challenge, so you will have lots of support. I and others will share plant-based recipes, motivational messages, videos and lots of encouragement.

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There are many benefits to eliminating meat from your diet or reducing the amount you eat which include: disease prevention (including cancer, diabetes and heart disease), an improved immune system, weight loss, it’s money-saving (vegetables and pulses are generally cheaper than meat), helping to save the planet and reducing cruelty to animals. Whatever your reason taking part, you will definitely benefit.

The aim is that after the challenge, you are able to have at least one meal a day without meat, thus reducing your level of consumption and consequently improving your health.

Rules:

  1. Don’t eat meat
  2. Avoid fish (as much of it contains heavy metals) but if you really can’t, then just eat it! Eliminating meat alone is a massive move.
  3. You can still eat animal products such as dairy and eggs. Though if you are working on becoming vegan, try to reduce the amount you consume.
  4. Have lots of fun trying new tastes

Link to the Living on Purpose Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/156099701701648/

About Living on Purpose 2018

Living on Purpose 2018 is a Facebook group. The aim of the group is to encourage you to find fulfilment, encourage healthy living and to help you to live life on your own terms.

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Photo credit: Gavin Telfer

It has been set up by me, Rebbecca Hemmings of www.becksinthecity.co.uk 2017 was the year the severely shook my core after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m lucky, after having a bilateral mastectomy, I can now claim that I am cancer-free. Many people have been denied the blessing that I have, so I feel compelled not waste the gift of a second chance but instead choose to live on purpose. It’s scary, its risky but most of all, it’s exciting!

It’s a place to set shiny new ambitious goals, share articles – recipes – quotes – ambitions, to be brave and to feel the fear and do it anyway. I share exclusive videos, blogs and posts designed to motivate, inspire and help you to work on becoming the best version of you.

I invite you to do the same. Use the group to be inspired to live your life purposefully. Go beyond merely making wishes, set your intention, make a plan and start taking steps towards finally making your dreams a reality. 

Fluffy American Style Teff Pancakes

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This morning I awoke with an appetite for American fluffy pancakes. As with many dishes, these days I am having to rethink how I cook without eggs and dairy.

Just in case you are wondering why I no longer eat these: Eggs have been associated with an increased risk breast cancer, read more here. Dairy too would increase my chances of getting a breast cancer recurrence as can be seen from this report. Whilst, I would love to be eating the once enjoyed dairy and egg based pancakes I once did, I love my life much more.

One aspect I am really loving about this plant-based journey is that I am constantly being introduced to new foods. 20171223_110510I was given a bag of brown teff flour from a friend yesterday. Teff is a grain grown and widely used in Ethiopia. It has a huge range of health benefits including: balancing blood sugar, being gluten free (though if you wish to make this dish gluten free you will need to eliminate the white flour), assisting digestion and elimination due to its high fibre content, being low fat and it actually tastes really good. Therefore, this formed my main ingredient for the pancakes.

This method of making pancakes was pretty much a trial and error job. Don’t be put off by the vinegar as you won’t taste it at all. As an acid, it is added to produce carbon dioxide. It reacts with the baking powder to help the pancakes rise. I might add a little more baking powder next time to help them become a little fluffier, but other than that, I am proud of my accomplishment. I ate them with maple syrup and seasoned baked beans (made with onion and black pepper).

You don’t have to be vegan or consciously living a plant-based lifestyle to give these a try but you will most certainly gain from its benefits.

Enjoy!

Ingredients

2 tbsp brown teff flour

2 tbsp white flour

1 tsp white wine vinegar

A dash of vanilla essence

1 tbsp coconut sugar (or any sugar you like)

1-2 tsp baking powder

150 ml almond milk

2-3 tbsp Rapeseed oil

 

Makes 6 – 8 pancakes

Method

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together
  2. Add the milk, vinegar and vanilla essence and mix thoroughly
  3. Add rapeseed oil to a skillet of frying pan
  4. Use a ladle to add the mixture in oval shapes to the hot oil
  5. As soon as you see the edge of the pancakes begin to harden, turn them over
  6. Once cooked, serve hot with maple syrup

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The 10 Changes I’ve Made Since Becoming Cancer Free

20643275_10159506323540221_103051546048746514_oIn two days, it will be exactly 6 months since I had my breast cancer surgery – a bilateral mastectomy to be precise. It has been one big ole crazy journey and I guess one that will not end anytime soon. The reason doctors generally don’t say, ‘You’ve been cured’ and prefer the term ‘cancer-free’ is because once you’ve had the disease, you are at greater risk from getting a recurrence (though the likelihood does lessen as time goes on).

This little piece of knowledge could really depress me if I let it. I could constantly be on edge, checking myself daily for any changes, getting paranoid from the tiniest niggle or ache but I choose not to. Instead, I am seeing the opportunities to live a healthier, fuller and more fulfilling life. I am embracing the gifts cancer gave me.

My life has already changed dramatically since 28th April 17 when I was officially charged with DCIS and invasive breast cancer. As I lean into the changes that I know I need, I vindicate my spirit and choose to live life on my terms.

I am now…

 

  1. F25158435_10160085984140221_8269649721085243961_nollowing a plant-based lifestyle. Most people who know me, see that I now follow a plant-based diet. This means different things to different people but what it means for me is that I no longer eat meat or dairy but instead, my diet is filled with natural produce from the earth and fish for my essential fatty acids & vitamin B12 (although I am working on weening fish out in 2018).

 

  1. Minimising social chatter. Those who know me on Facebook or Instagram, may have noticed that I am not as present as I used to be, that’s because I have deleted these apps from my phone. Oh my gosh! This has been a Godsend! My clarity of thought has improved, I do not get anxious as easily, I am much more focused and I get more done! After all, did we not have rich and fulfilled lives before the existence of these mediums?
  1. Avoiding toxic people. You can just smell them before they enter the room. They stare at you, beckoning you into their poisonous atmosphere. I am having none of it! If I suspect you are carrying bad vibes in your aura, I’m gone to tomorrow. There is not much worse than allowing a soul vampire to suck your positive energy dry.
  1. Indulging in music therapy. My soul has been soothed with some serious vocal and musical delights this year. I have attended quite a few of ‘Reed Bass Presents’ events this autumn. I cannot tell you how cathartic these sessions have been. I have sat there, sometimes with tears flowing down my face as the melodies and the golden voices of vocalists such as Nat Chards, Ola Brown and Sapphire Sings reached my core and coerced me to feel emotions again and released the numbness I used for protection.
  1. Being mindful of my thoughts. I am not going to sit here and pretend that everything is ‘cook & curry’ (as many Jamaicans would say. Meaning ‘everything is okay’); it’s not. I have had some really dark days (and still do), when I allow my mind to think about the dire possibilities i.e. the cancer returning, having to have another operation or worse still, leaving my daughter without a mum. Or sometimes, I try and reconcile what has happened to me. Some days I still find it difficult to believe that I had cancer. It’s weird. But lately I have had to remind myself of the energies that I am attracting when I think about these things. I believe that you attract the energy you focus on the most. I want to live a life that is full of fun experiences, magical moments and lots of happiness. Therefore, I actively choose to think about the endless positive experiences coming my way, in order to think the right elements into existence.

workout-1931107_12806. Partaking in Pilates classes. I used to think holistic classes such as Yoga and Pilates were boring. As a former Zumba instructor, I was used to loud music, high impact jumping and pumping. That certainly has its place, however what has been so lovely about Pilates is that I have been able to show kindness to my body whilst still challenging it. It’s going to be a while before I can bounce (I’m still healing from the operation), so Pilates offers me a way of staying toned in a way that will not interfere with my healing. Plus, the relaxing environment and serenity leave me feeling renewed and chilled out.

  1. Not caring so much about what people think about me. I have just gone through the most traumatic experience of my life and for the most part, I was very public about it (as it helped me to deal with the enormity of it all). Compared to this, most previously little stressful events, now feel like an ant scratching a giant’s foot. They just aren’t relevant.

25182113_10160077279240221_5819973162538717592_o8. Being completely present when playing with my daughter. Prior to my diagnosis, I was guilty of utilising a double consciousness when spending so called ‘quality time’ with my daughter. Half my mind was in the activity in which we were engaged and the other half was in: work, my list of chores, who I needed to email next, etc… It wasn’t fair on her. Now, I put down my phone, turn off the TV, I actively listen to all the important words coming out of her mouth and I dedicate chunks of time when I am completely hers. What played in my mind many times when I first found out I had cancer was ‘I can’t leave her.’ So why would I choose to be here and not be present in her life now?

 

  1. Meditating. I am very conscious of the fact that stress can lower the immune system and that when it is lowered, you are at greater risk from getting a disease. So, meditation offers a great way to de-stress. When all is quiet, I sit on my sofa or bed, switch off the lights and either listen to some meditation music, or sit in silence. This leaves me feeling clear of the brain fog and much more relaxed. I have on occasion, woken up with very stiff crossed legs.
  1. Following my dreams. When I was at my mum’s house recovering for weeks on end, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I really wanted to do. For a few months after that, I dismissed those things as pipe dreams but now that I have started to seriously focus on that which I truly desire, I’m already starting to reach for those dreams. I am not saying much now but I will say: You’d better keep watching this space. 😊 

 

***If you want to keep up with my continued journey to stay cancer-free, subscribe to this blog below. ***

Zumbathon for Breast Cancer Care

“I’m a bit sensitive and don’t want to be a blubbering mess. Is it okay to come back to you by Tuesday with a reply?”

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About 2 weeks ago a long-standing Zumba colleague, Andrea Edwards, told me she and her Zumba partner Helen Challis, were having a Zumbathon in Tipton for Breast Cancer Care. This is just one of the charities that took great care of me whilst I was going through my cancer ordeal. Andrea had asked me to speak for a few minutes about my experience and to create awareness of the disease.

Though I have happily shouted from the roof tops on social media about my experience, being faced with a hall full of ladies, telling them about my experience and having my breasts stared at (because people do look – it’s natural I guess), unnerved me. I am still wrapping my head around what has happened and sometimes I do get tearful. I didn’t want that to happen in front of an audience.

However, my fear of breaking down was not realised. I did my 5 minute speech where I warned women to:

  1. Watch out for signs of breast cancer: dimpled skin, dry skin, inverted nipple, nipple discharge as well as the notorious lump
  2. Insist on getting genetically tested for BC if your mum, sister or auntie had breast cancer.
  3. Act quickly if they do find anything untoward as early detection saves lives.

 

p1020868.jpgThe event was full of joyful vibes, it was visually poppin’ and so well organised. The atmosphere was buzzing! About 200 people came adorned in their pink, reppin’ for Breast Cancer Awareness

Though I still can’t bounce due to my scars (they hurt like hell when aggravated), I did what I could. I remembered why I fell in love with Zumba in the first place. My heart nearly exploded with joy when I led my routine to Mr Vegas’ ‘I am Blessed’.

Thank you so much to Andrea and Helen for inviting me to your much needed event. You are fab instructors who clearly mean a lot to your local community, this is evidenced by the great turn out. 

In my hospital bed, about 4 days after surgery, I said to myself “I want to speak to other women about breast cancer so that this disease kills less people.”

I guess I have now started on that journey and…

…it feels right.