World Cancer Day Q&A

Hello all, happy World Cancer Day!

As a way of highlighting the fact that it is World Cancer Day I thought that I would answer a few of the questions I’m repeatedly asked about my cancer experience, so here we go…

What was the best thing that someone did / bought for you when you had cancer?

People are always asking me this because they want to know how they can help someone else.  You don’t need to wait to be asked to do something, no one is going to mind you turning up with a casserole, they will love it, but equally don’t expect to eat it with them or be messaging twice a day asking for the dish back because that just makes it stressful.  Do things without expecting anything back.

The gifts I appreciated the most were uplifting DVD’s (keyword uplifting) and microwaveable gloves and booties as your extremities can get very cold when you are having chemotherapy.

Do your children know you had cancer and how did you talk to them about the illness?

When I was diagnosed my son had just turned two years old and my daughter was three months old.  My son could see I was very sick so we always explained it in a language he would understand.  Things like, mummy has an owee and the doctor is giving her special medicine and we have always tried to encourage both kids to ask plenty of questions.

As my kids got older they’ve asked more questions which I have answered as honestly as possible so they now know that I had an illness called cancer.  They also know that the reasons we do so many Cancer Research UK campaigns is because they raise money to help people like mummy get better and I just love being able to tell them that!  My wish is that one day every parent can tell their child that they are cancer free.

It is really tough being a mum whose sick, there are no two ways about it. I actually wrote an article about coping strategies and the subject gets a whole chapter in the book because being a mum with any long-term serious illness has such a massive impact.

Was writing a book about having cancer therapeutic?

It was but it wasn’t always easy.  I remember when writing about (and reliving) the moments that I was so low I wanted to give up, I came away from my computer crying.  But at the same time, that was what I wanted, an honest account that did approach the harder emotional parts of having cancer, so I felt I had to go through that.  I think that, combined with the time that has passed, definitely helped me come to terms with what I went through.

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Wearing my Cancer Research UK Unity Band

Have you got an advice to anyone wanting to write about their cancer experience?

I think writing is a unique and amazing way to process emotions, good and bad.  Obviously you don’t have to keep a blog or write a book, it can be private thoughts just for yourself.  If you do want to publish, I think WordPress is an excellent blogging platform, it’s what I use.  If you want to write and don’t know where to start, check out a book like Let It Out by Katie Dalebout which gives prompts and different ways of looking at your illness.

What is it like for you when people donate to Cancer charities?

Ok, so the only people who ever ask me this are cancer charities but it really is an AMAZING feeling!  You feel like people are doing something very personal for you and your family – they are helping to ensure that you live.  It feels incredibly personal and incredibly moving.  I feel the same way about people who volunteer in charity shops.  Because of YOU, I was offered a type of chemotherapy that my mother, 8 years earlier, wasn’t.  The fact that people I don’t know and never will are actively doing something which helped save my life is a very unique and powerful feeling that I can’t fully articulate.

If you want to be one of those amazing people – great news – you can!  Give whatever you can to the cancer charity of your choice and know that you are doing something this World Cancer Day to literally change the life of someone with cancer!

With love & Unity! x

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Writing Vlogs and #ProjectJoy

Is your New Years Resolution to be more creative?  To write more?

Awesome! Then you should check out this #ProjectJoy blog series all about living creatively, using writing as a tool through difficult time. Check it out and let me know what you think…

Happy Writing! x

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What’s On Your 2017 Anti-Bucket List?

If you haUnknown.jpegve been following me for a while you will probably be aware of my Anti-Bucket Lists.  If you haven’t or need reminding you can read all about it here but basically, when I was having treatment for advanced Colorectal Cancer I decided that when I got better I would flip the traditional ‘things-to-do-before-I-die-Bucket-List’ idea and came up with ‘The Anti-Bucket List’… these are things I am going to do because I’M ALIVE!

I think Anti-Bucket lists are different to New Years Resolutions because resolutions are more goals of the year like losing 3 stone (obviously this is on my list) or drink Green Juice everyday (also on my list), whereas the Anti-Bucket list are things I want to do and experience this year.

I think especially after or during something like cancer, it can be especially good to have one of two things to focus on that aren’t illness related.

A couple I have are…

  1. Take the children to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the West End
  2. Visit Harry Potter World at Letchworth Studios (this has been on there for a while, I really hope that this year will be the year!)
  3. Visit somewhere new – This has been on my list the last few years but I think this will remain on my list forever…

So what are you putting on your list?  What are you going to enjoy doing this year to celebrate being alive?  Whatever they are I hope you have fun doing them and send you lots of love for 2017!

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What’s Different in the UPDATED EDITION?

the_fabulous_womans_cover_for_kindleI wrote the first edition of The Fabulous Woman’s Guide Through Cancer around a year and a half ago.  I received some wonderful feedback (thank you all).  I also received requests for more information about certain aspects. I realised there was still so much more to say.  Some people suggested I write a second book but I decided to update this book.  I wanted anyone to have all the information they needed, not to need to buy more than one book.  And so that is what I did, I set about writing an UPDATED EDITION of the The Fabulous Woman’s Guide Through Cancer.

The UPDATED EDITION still retains the essence of the first edition, combining self-help practicalities with personal memoir but it is nearly double in length, now at 366 pages.  Each chapter includes even more information, there are additional chapters,  plenty of fabulous an inspirational quotes and even more personal memoir setions and practical, useable tips.

More fabulous women have kindly reflected on their personal experiences including, Kaz, founder of Womb Cancer Support UK.  Beth, blogger at Tumor Has It.  Emily, founder of Coach Therapy Support.  Alice, blogger at Through the Looking Glass.  Eleanor, blogger at Ballet Mum and even more lovely ladies who don’t blog about their experiences.

It also now includes expertise from specialists, such as, TEND NutritionSabrina’s Wig BoutiqueTracey Gray Mann Make-Up ArtistBibliomaniac Book BloggerEsme Winterflood LashesNicola Jane Mastectomy Bra’s and Swimwear, Shona Harding from Moving Picture Review as well as personal experiences with Cancer doctors and nurses.

The layout is improved making it easier to locate specific sections. The text is broken down into bite size chunks, boxes, italics and bullet points – ideal if you are suffering from chemo brain. There is more practical information that will be useful for friends and family, or for women with cancer to give to their friends and family.

I am so proud of this book.  I hope that women and their friends and family continue to find it useful.  As I said in a recent interview, “knowing that I have been able to use my love of writing and turn something so negative into something positive that can help others, is quite simply amazing.”

I can’t wait to hear what you think.  As always, please leave comments on Amazon, Good Reads and let anyone you think may want to know, all about it.

So much love and thanks x

Nicola’s style strikes a great balance between the chatty, informal, supportive voice of a friend as well as being clear, practical and pragmatic. It is an invaluable companion for any woman going through cancer and for any friend looking to support the fabulous woman in their life.” – Bibliomaniac

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Book Review – One Million Lovely Letters by Jodi Ann Bickley

I first heard about One Million Lovely Letters about a year ago when a friend sent me the link to the website.  I was beyond amazed by the concept – if you feel like you need a hug in an envelope, email Jodi Ann Bickley and she will handwrite you a letter to remind you how awesome you are.  See – amazing!

I looked for the website recently because I had a story idea that’s based on a similar concept.  When looking, I saw that Jodi Ann Bickley has written a book by the same name which was immediately ordered and quite literally devoured by me.

image1.JPGI think everyone should read this book.  It should be on the school syllabus.  It should be a staple in everyone’s lives, because it essentially reminds the reader that we all that have a choice to be a cloud or a ray of sunshine in someone else’s day.

Having said that, it’s not all “life is perfect, be positive and everything is completely fabulous all the time.” Jodi is beautifully honest about some pretty brutal emotional and physical difficulties and illnesses that she’s been/going through.  About how even when things are starting to go right, she still has personal hurdles to overcome.

This book reminds us that everything is not perfect – it never is – but we still have the option to be kind.

The story itself is captivating but the language used and they way the story is told is equally gorgeous.  The author is a poet (by day) and I think it really come across in the beautiful language and Bickley has an amazing way of drawing you in and expressing so much emotion through her words.

This book feeds your soul and is well and truly on my ‘favourite books of all time’ list.

My children (like me) think that getting post is the best thing ever but (again like me) they only get anything around their birthday.  About half way through the book, I decided to write my children (ages 6 and 4) letters to remind them how awesome they are.  I posted them and they were so excited finding them on the doorstep and even more excited when they realised it was from me.  It was so much fun getting to see their little faces as they read how much I love them.  They both have them under their pillows now.  Such a simple idea but it brought so much joy to all of us.  I implore you to do the same.  Write a letter to someone and let them know how awesome they are.

If you are feeling inspired by the concept, One Million Lovely Letters is currently collecting  letters from all over the globe to go into an exhibition so are asking lovely people to post lovely letters.  Here is Jodi Ann explaining all about it…

One Million Lovely Letters the book (plus Jodi and the whole One Million Lovely Letters concept) is a massive 5 out of 5 for me.

Get it, read it, share it – your life will only be inhanced by reading this wonderful book.

Happy Reading x

MIA! A Much Needed Round Up

I have officially been missing in action, I know!  The reason being that in September I went back to University full-time.  I have been studying part-time since getting the all clear, but it was taking too long so I decided to try and speed things up.  It has been awesome, but seriously busy – I’m sure it’s more than double the work!

But as Christmas is approaching I wanted to do a little round-up of what has been happening recently…

book coverGiveaway

As an early Christmas present to you / to make up for my absence I have decided to giveaway 3 signed copies of my book.  The giveaway is running on my Facebook and Twitter pages – all you have to do is like a share by Monday (I can sign them for a friend if you want to give it to someone) when I will be popping them in the post so you will hopefully have them for Christmas. (UK only I’m afraid)

My First Vlog for My Ostomy

I recently did my first vlog for My Ostomy which I loved!  So far it is getting great feedback, thank you to everyone who left kind comments with me and on My Ostomy.  It’s about surviving Christmas with an ostomy so if you are interested and haven’t watch it yet, you can check it out below.  I will certainly be doing more vlogs for My Ostomy next year and possibly on my own You Tube channel too – Ahhh… not sure I have enough to say but people keep asking me to do it, so watch this space and I will keep you informed.

In the mean time have a lovely time getting ready for Christmas try not to let it all stress you out and I promise not to leave it soooo long!

Merry Christmas

Nx

The Silent Cancer Side Effect – Fatigue

Just to be extremely clear, fatigue is not the same as being really, really, really, tired. It is more than that, and takes hold of your whole being, physically and mentally. Anyone who has had children will probably know what I am talking about, right?  But it’s permanent.

Fatigue takes a toll both physically and mentally. If you are anything like me you are completely hopeless after a bad nights sleep. With fatigue it feels like that all the time, times a million.

Even simple activities, or activities that you wouldn’t normally consider taxing like watching a movie or reading a book can suddenly feel like way to much and like it would require far too much effort.

Signs Of Having Fatigue

  • You don’t feel anymore restored or awake even when you have had a good nights sleep.
  • You feel like nothing can restore your energy.
  • You are often unable to finish tasks, even when you desperately want to achieve them.
  • The above point is usually coupled with a severe lack of concentration.
  • You may also find that you suffer with memory loss as a result.
  • Physically, the lack of energy can mean it is physically draining to undertake the simplest of physical activities.
  • There may even be loss of motor skills.

I really can’t stress enough to severity of fatigue. And, it’s beyond annoying!

You want to be up and about, trying to live a normal life but feel unable to do anything, it is infuriating! Even more annoyingly it can last for years after cancer treatment has finished.

imagesFor me, fatigue was the worst the years after I had cancer and finished my treatment. I think it was a combination of my body healing, riding itself of an unbelievable amount of chemicals and poisons and getting over the emotional side of everything that I had just been through. Hardly surprising but still unforgivably annoying.

I really wanted to make a point about the fatigue because it so easily gets overlooked. Even when you are the one with cancer, I think it is hard to identify it within yourself. Energy levels will fluctuate too much from one day to the next when you have cancer and/or fatigue that one day you will think your fine and the next day you are on the floor and I think the unpredictability of it can be equally hard.

The intensity of the fatigue will inevitably vary from person to person so just because I experienced it quite severely doesn’t mean that you (or your loved one) will, but I would keep an eye out for it and just be extra sympathetic to yourself if you aren’t able to do things as often or as quickly as you hoped.

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Top 5 Things To Do When a Loved One Has Cancer

I know that finding out someone has cancer can be just as daunting for a friend or family member as it can be for he person who has just been diagnosed.  Suddenly you are on the side-lines desperate to help and not alway sure what to do, so here are my top ideas…

  1. Listen…

This is definitely the most important and evidently not as easy as you may think because I mean really listen!

If they are talking about their type of cancer, avoid jumping in with comparisons of your friends-friends-Grandmothers-cousin who knew someone with the a similar cancer, because they are trying to talk about their cancer. In doing so they are probably getting their own head around what is happening to them, and need to say it all out loud, so… just listen.

If they are talking to you about their fears, don’t cut them off and tell them to think positively.  They are valid fears (however irrational) and they obviously feel the need to voice them to a loved one, so… just listen.

Whatever the circumstance, just listen!

  1. Take Food…

photo 1Freeze-able food is ideal. Especially when having chemotherapy your appetite isn’t great meaning having little bits to pick at is ideal, if possible, freeze food as small portions then they can have a little now and a little later.  Plus, if your friend is tired, not having to cook and clean up makes eating much easier.

Little snacks are also great. My neighbour used to drop in flapjacks, which were amazing and so handy when I needed a little boost but not a whole meal.

  1. Think About Their Primary Careers…

In some ways I think me having cancer was harder for husband (primary career)! He had to cope with all the fallout, look after me, take over all my responsibilities in the home, do the night-feeds for our baby, work his normal job, etc etc… and without the same level of support or care that I was lucky to experience.

My dad used to do food shops when I was ill and would always buy something’s that were easy to cook that my husband could chuck in the oven, or if you are cooking for your friend, maybe do some extra for their career, but let them know it is for them! Tell them they are doing an awesome job and ask what tasks you can take on for them. Offer to watch the kids at the weekend so they can catch up on some much-needed rest.

It will make your loved one with cancer feel so much better knowing that the people looking after them, are being looked after too.

  1. Just Do It…

Similarly to the point made above, I found it difficult to ask people for help because I didn’t want to burden people. With the ideas listed above, I don’t think you need to wait to be asked, if you are going round – take food / an uplifting movie for them to watch.  Even if you’re not going round – drop some in and leave (don’t use it as an excuse to stay). Phone their husband/wife and say, “why don’t I take the kids to the park on Saturday so you can get some rest.”  They may not want to impose and ask but be thrilled when someone offers.

  1. Be Flexible…

If you do offer to do something, don’t be offended if they say no. Or if they say yes and then cancel. With cancer, you rarely know how you are going to feel from one day to the next – sometimes from one hour to the next so accept that arrangements are very fluid and subject to change at any moment and that is OK because this isn’t about you, it’s about your loved one getting through the best way they can find with your wonderful support.

Any other suggestions?  Leave a comment and let us know! Nx

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What Do You Wish You Had Done?

I knew my surgery for cancer was going to be extreme and dangerous and I was genuinely worried I was going to die.  I bought one of those – this is my life books to fill in so my children (who were only 2-years and 11-months at the time of my surgery) would have some of my memories should my worst fear be realised.

One of the questions was ‘what do you wish you had done?’  Quite poignant at the time, I was only 32, thinking about things I wasn’t going to get to experience was not easy, but there were three things I wished that I had done;

Gone to University to read Literature and Writing.

Travelled more.

Become an author.

It can be a strange time after cancer because everything is exactly the same, yet everything has changed.  Most women I have spoken to go through big internal changes after getting the all clear.  I have described it to people as being like a ‘shedding of the skin.’  You want to peel away the past, shake off anything that is pre-all-clear.  Obviously you don’t want to shed everything.  There were plenty of things that were lovely about my life before cancer and after… but how do you marry those two things up?

It has become a bit of a cliché that feeling that you have cancer and suddenly realise what and where you want your life to be, but I think it is a cliché for a reason.   You will never have your life put so acutely into perspective, than when you have a full on face off with your mortality.

For me, moving forwards after cancer, I knew that Purchase The Fabulous Woman's Guide Through Cancer on Kindle or in Paperback here!I did not want to answer the same question in the same way when I was 80!

So I applied to University (which I started part-time in 2013) and agreed with my husband we would try to visit more places.  I knew I wanted to help others who are affected by cancer, which led me to start my blog and fulfil an ambition of becoming an author by writing my first non-fiction book, The Fabulous Woman’s Guide Through Cancer.

I often joke that most people realise they want to spend more time with their family, where as I decided I wanted to spend less time at home, but you know, whatever works!

What about you?  Any changes for any reason?  Let me know x

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When Nicola met Channel 5 News

I am so thrilled that I was able to be involved in this interview with Channel 5 News, mainly because it is this exact issue that made me want to share my story in the first place.  I have written about the years of difficulty I had getting referred by GPs here.

I was asked to take part in this interview because of research published in the British Medical Journal on thursday that GPs in the UK are less likely to immediately refer people with possible cancer for tests than those in comparable countries.  UK-based GPs are least likely to refer quickly and UK cancer survival is lower than each of the other countries examined except for Denmark.  Admittedly I have never been to medical school, but I assume I am not the only person to whom this is blazingly obvious.

The fact I hate seeing myself on film aside, I thought Channel 5 did an amazing job putting this together.  It really gets to the heart of what so many cancer patients I have met, feel happened to them.  Being dismissed when they know something is wrong.  So remember, if you know something is wrong, do not take no for an answer and get that referral!

In the meantime, happy watching.  Nx

New figures suggest doctors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are slower to refer patients for cancer tests compared to those in other countries, like Australia and Canada.Dominic Reynolds meets a young mother who’s lucky to be alive after waiting five years to be diagnosed with bowel cancer:
Posted by Channel 5 News on Friday, May 29, 2015

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I genuinely love to hear from you so come and say hi! Nx