The Wedding 

Hooray! We got married! This post is dedicated to the love of my life, my best friend, my husband, Steph.  Steph and I have never really liked the idea of a traditional church and hotel reception style of wedding. Mostly … Continue reading

The radiators and the drains

Going through a really tough time often brings friends closer together and they show just what wonderful, giving, caring and kind human beings they are. These people make you feel truly blessed. They lighten the burden and help cheer you up when you really need it. They also give you a chance for normality. They tell you about their life, you support them, offer advice, share jokes… Friend stuff.

When it boils down to it, there are two types of friends. The first are the radiators. These are the kind of people who emit positivity. They leave you feeling good about yourself and you really look forward to spending time in their company. They are the ones that you belly laugh with and who you can accidentally spend 2 hours on the phone to when you only called to ask a quick question. If you have a couple of radiators in your life, you’re pretty lucky. Make sure you treat them well and try to be a radiator for them too.

The second group are the polar opposite. These people are the drains.

Drains are the type of people who thrive on negativity. When you spend time in their company it’s usually to complain, bitch, moan and generally leave you feeling tired and stressed. If the mere thought of spending time with someone makes you feel exhausted, that person is a drain.

Being ill changes a lot of things, least significantly, you can’t socialise in a way you used to and for some friends, that seems reason enough to up sticks and walk/pedal/paddle out of your life.

For others, their reasoning for abandoning you when you need them most is that they find it too difficult to be around you. Sick people are scary though right? Best wait 6 months or so until you appear to be well again and the illness that’s turned your world on its arse can be ignored. 

Others take an even more cowardly approach and literally delete you from their lives. I shit you not, I’ve had friends delete and block me from facebook in the middle of my cancer treatment. Who does that? Well, I won’t name names but some people do. And have.

As a generally positive person, I’ve kept my mouth shut about some of the hurtful behaviour of people I care about in a hope that I could get over it and go back to normal. Yeah… That can’t happen. Friendships can be mended but those cracks will always be there and you can’t ever forget that.

Some friendships sadly just run their course and no one is really to blame for that. Each person is left with happy memories of times past but the chances of you meeting up and hanging out in future are slim. You move on. It’s sad but it’s normal.

The last group in this category are the ones I’ve made the decision to leave in my past. These are the type of friends that were never really good friends in the first place but it’s taken the kick up the backside cancer gave me to realise that there’s just no room for the selfish, needy, rude and arrogant, let alone classifying them as a friend!
Kind of like cleaning out a wardrobe, this is a cull that’s probably waited way too long to happen but, once it has, leaves you feeling relieved and with much more space (and time)!

Time that can be dedicated to all those lovely radiators.
They are worth it!
Here are a load of photos of my wonderful friends. All radiators, all awesome!

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My long suffering friend, Avril

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One of oldest and best friends, Pauline

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An old photo with 2 of my oldest friends, Jana and Joanne

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My best friends from uni, Tery, Nicola & Fiona

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Glenda, Alan & Steph: the 3 best radiators ever!

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My fab friends from work

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My BBQ buddies

The month of pink things

October is breast cancer awareness month or ‘pinktober’ as it’s infuriatingly nicknamed. For some unknown reason, breast cancer has become the most pink, glittery, feather boa wearing, cupcake eating, sickly sweet of all the cancers. Pass me the (pink) Pepto Bismol, I feel nauseous.

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Just one of the ridiculous adverts for 'awareness'

I’m 100% up for raising awareness of symptoms and raising money for research, treatment and generally making the lives of those who are impacted by cancer, a little easier.
What I’m not cool with, is turning an awful illnesses into an excuse to play games which do nothing to help and, who’s only purpose is to draw attention to those who play them, in the name of charity.

“Hey girlies! Without replying to this message, put a heart on your wall; no comment, just a heart. Next, post a heart on the wall of the person who sent you this message. Then send this message to your women friends, only women. If anyone asks you why you have so many hearts on your wall, don’t tell them. This is only for women, because this is breast cancer research week. One small act of solidarity between women.”

Where do I start with my problems with this and the countless other versions which have done the rounds over the years?
Firstly, secret games do nothing to raise awareness or money. At all.
Secondly, solidarity amongst women? Men get breast cancer too. Not only that, a female patient’s husband/partner/father/brothers/male friends are also profoundly affected by their diagnosis. How about a little solidarity for them?
Thirdly, these games can be extremely offensive. “Post the colour of bra you’re wearing”. Emm… What about the millions of ladies who aren’t wearing a bra because of the double mastectomy they’ve gone through as part of the treatment for the disease you’re supposedly raising awareness for? That’s just utterly thoughtless. As are all of the other games which sexualise a disease which often strips women of their sexuality. Losing your breasts, going through chemotherapy and being forced into early menopause are difficult enough without having this rubbish on your timeline 20 times a day! While I’m on this subject, the aim is not to “save the boobies”. More often than not, a diagnosis will result in a mastectomy. The object is to save your life. But that doesn’t look as nice written in pink glitter…

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Getting a bit closer....

OK, I’ve ranted enough about my issues with this kind of game. If you want to play a game, how about scrabble?.
If you want to do something useful for breast cancer, here’s a few suggestions:

1. Donate to, or fundraise for, a charity of your choice. My personal favourites are:
Maggie’s
https://www.maggiescentres.org/how-you-can-help/ways-give/
The Willow Foundation
https://www.willowfoundation.org.uk/donate.
Also, my very good friends, Lana and Leigh, are taking part in ‘Go sober for October’ to raise money for Macmillan:
https://www.gosober.org.uk/profile/leighshearer

2. Give blood or platelets. These are often absolute vital during cancer treatment.
http://www.blood.co.uk/platelets/

3. Be aware of the symptoms, check yourself often and visit your doctor if you have any concerns. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/breast-cancer/about/breast-cancer-symptoms
Remember that you are not too young or old for breast cancer and never allow yourself to be dismissed on that premise by an ignorant doctor. I would not be here today, writing this preachy blog if I had accepted this stellar piece of advice from my own GP.

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The younger breast cancer network has started a 'not too young' campaign

4. If you do know someone who has been affected by breast cancer, instead of posting an aloof status about where you keep your handbag on facebook, maybe offer some practical support. Keep them company, cook them a meal, drive them to an appointment.

Be genuinely thoughtful.

The Godmother

Let’s take another little journey back in time. When I was first diagnosed, I was inundated with messages from friends, family, neighbours, even Steph’s work colleagues! It was lovely to know so many people were thinking of me and wishing me well as my gruelling treatment was about to begin. The only problem was, I still felt very alone. No one could give me first hand advice on what was coming. All I really had was Google and he is a scaremongerer of epic proportions. I quickly learned he wasn’t my friend.
One day I checked in on facebook and saw I had a message from my cousin Steven’s wife, Jayne. They live down South so I only saw them very occasionally.
She told me she’d had a cancer diagnosis several years ago and explained that she remembered this stage clearly. She told me if I ever wanted to talk, ask questions or just rant about the horrible unfairness of our situation, she’d be there. All of a sudden, I wasn’t alone.
That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We both had huge things to deal with in the coming months but we supported each other every day.
Jayne’s cancer treatment meant that starting a much wanted family was going to be tough. We both went through IVF at the same time (I was having eggs retrieved, she was having them implanted). She fell pregnant quickly and those around her rejoiced. Those who knew a little more were also on tenterhooks, awaiting every scan with nervous anticipation. I knew every important date, as she did for me. I’d return home from hospital with messages from her asking how it went and how I felt. I’ve never been as honest with another person. Not that I’m secretive or reserved, I just try to protect those I love from the harshness of the truth. A little sugar coating is sometimes necessary when you see the pain and fear in your family’s eyes.
That’s why my relationship with Jayne is so special. We tell each other the things we would normally hide. Before my mastectomy, she sent me a beautiful gift of a Pandora bracelet with my first charm. I’ve had a new charm for every big stage in my treatment (and one for my engagement).

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I never went to hospital workout my bracelet. It felt like having Jayne there with me

Towards the end of her pregnancy, tradgdey struck and the baby passed away before she could be born. She was named Poppy and she had beautiful long fingers. The funeral took place as I was finishing chemo and was too unwell to travel. I’ve never experienced pain for someone else the way I did then. Grief so raw and physical, it was the worst part of my entire treatment. We were both supposed to have our happy ending but life, as it tends to, has other plans.
I hope I helped her one some way during that time but I was a fish out of water. I was so far away, and all I wanted to do was hug her and cry with her.
Time passed, my treatment ended and I was ‘released’ back into the real world. Steph and I took a trip down to London and Jayne and Steven met us there. We had an absolutely brilliant day and had a chance to catch up on all the hugs, tears and laughter we’d wanted to share with each other for so long.

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A very happy reunion

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Steven & Jayne

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Steph & I

Shortly after our trip, Jayne fell pregnant again and we all felt very mixed in our emotions. I wanted to be happy for her but all I felt was fear. I was terrified of how she would cope if anything went wrong. She, as always, was an absolute trooper and I’m delighted to say that she had a healthy, happy, perfect baby boy who they named William.

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William: the most gorgeous baby on the land

William has given me hope. Good things do occasionally happen to good people and I can’t think of two people who deserve it more than Jayne and Steven.
And to end this blog on even more of a delightfully happy note,
they’ve asked me to be William’s God Mother. I’m over the moon. This little guy is going to grow up to be so strong, courageous, helpful and positive. Just like his wonderful Mum. Xx

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A beautiful family photo

The tribute

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Losing someone you love is indescribable. The pain is physical as well as emotional. I lost someone recently.

Her battle with secondary breast cancer was a quick one. After a pretty nasty infection and a stay in hospital, she was moved to the hospice to recover enough to go home. I saw her there on the Friday and she looked great. We made plans for fun things to do once she ‘got out’ and made our usual inappropriate jokes that would have us giggling like teenagers. We ate our way through a bag of M&S goodies and generally caught up on all the goings on of our lives.
Before I knew it, I realised I’d been there for 3 hours and decided I had better go and let her rest. We made plans for my next visit, I hugged her, kissed her head, told her “love you” and headed home. I felt relieved that she looked so happy and well. All the worry and fear I’d felt over the past few weeks while she’d been in hospital started to dissipate.
A few days later, her health started to deteriorate and on the Wednesday I received the devastating message that she had passed away.

I wanted to write this blog as my tribute to her. To put down in words how much she meant to me and to describe what made her such a wonderful person. Sadly, I don’t think even if I wrote 10 books, I’d be able to do her justice.
Instead I’ll share a few of my favorite memories of her with you.

1. The first time we caught each others eye while someone (an annoying someone) was talking and I KNEW she was thinking the same thing as me and it made us both stifle a giggle.

2. A few weeks into radiotherapy and I had become hot and burned. She was having chemo at the same time and she was using the cold cap (to try to prevent hair loss) and she was freezing. We had a cuddle to ‘balance each other out’. We understood each other and gave each other exactly the right kind of support.

3. On our train journey to Solihull to meet our chemo buddies, we laughed all the way there. About nothing and everything. It was always so comforting to have a  friend who could truly understand everything I was facing, who I could be honest with and have that honesty returned when she needed to talk.

4. The hilarity in our far too hot hotel room and trying to invent ways to cool down. And failing. Spectacularly. This included both of us sitting on the edge of the bath with our feet in the cold water, lying on the floor with a wet towel covering us, taking turns to fan each other with a magazine and leaning up against the (mildly) cool door in fits of laughter.
Chemotherapy induced menopause is horrific but looking back on that night, all I can do is laugh.

5. Every time she used her medical knowledge or just her calming influence to talk me out of a panic attack. Going through cancer treatment with a qualified doctor was helpful, the fact that she was also a brilliant friend, well that was just my good luck.

6. Visiting her in hospital and giving her a manicure, moisturising her ‘cankles’ (horrible drug side effects) and generally getting to feel useful during a time where all I wanted to do was help her.

7. Every time we laughed, ate cake (during the steroid munchies) or had marathon late night texting conversations that took insane tangents and had me snorting with laughter despite the pain and fear of cancer treatment.

I know that we were both grateful to cancer for one thing: our friendship.

I miss her every day and still find myself reaching for my phone when I see something I know she’d laugh at. How long until that stops?
She made me a better person and gave me more support than my entire medical team combined.
As I struggle through without her, I try to remember how much she rooted for me and wouldn’t want me to feel, so deeply, the hole she has left in my heart.
No one deserves this but least of all her. As a friend she was kind, caring, funny and thoughtful. As a wife and mum she was loving, passionate and fiercely protective. As a human, she was an incredible asset. Her intelligence and compassion would have made her an outstanding doctor and I’m furious that her chance to practice was cut short.

Lindsay: she was one of a kind and taken far too soon. I’ll always be grateful for our friendship and I’ll never forget her.

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The bedroom

During most of my cancer experience, I’ve been surrounded by people. My family and Stephen have been by my side. I have lovely friends who I see often. I have a great medical team who take very good care of me but, if I’m very honest, I have retreated lately and spend more and more time alone. I find being alone easy. I don’t have to talk about things I find upsetting or difficult. I don’t have to make an effort to stay alert enough to follow a conversation or make excuses if I feel too tired.
The scene of this self imposed solitude is usually my bedroom. It’s become my bubble. My absolute favourite place to be. Once I walk through that door, I feel the strain, physical and emotional, begin to wane. The moment I get changed into my pyjamas and get under the covers is wonderful. I spend most of my waking day in pain and getting to lie down on my absurdly comfortable bed (it’s a Tempur mattress in case you’re looking for recommendations) is the equivalent of taking a pretty high dose painkiller and getting a hug.
Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoy the company of others, particularly Stephen, I just find my life so exhausting and I feel the need to retreat fairly quickly. If he comes up to hang with me, that’s just the cherry on the coconut cake.
I also like my job but it is very tiring and by the time I get home, I’m generally knackered and sore and I can’t wait to get past the hurdle of the stairs (they feel like a mountain after a day on my feet) and get to the sanctuary of my room.

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When I’m in there I don’t feel guilty for my lack of productivity, a feeling that overwhelms me in any other room in my home. I find it impossible to sit in my living room without mentally noting things that need doing: The carpet needs shampooing, there’s a cup on the table, that needs washing, drying and putting away. Those coasters need straightening up, as do all the cushions. I wonder if the sofa would be nicer over there… I’m aware of what that says about me and, one day, I’d like to try to address my obsessive compulsive anxiety. One day.
Until then, if you need me, I’ll be in my room. Feel free to visit me here.
Bring cake.

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The month of good things!

Between June and July last year I had so many things to look forward to. I’m writing this blog as an account of my treatment but also my life, and it’s so important to know that there still is a life at the end of all of this.

1. Race for Life
My first exciting thing was doing the Race for Life. My sister, cousin and some of our friends raised over £2000 for Cancer Research. My story had been featured in a few newspaper articles and I felt quite a big responsibility to feel on form.

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Luckily I did! It was a sunny day and the atmosphere was amazing. It was quite emotional but mostly just fun. 5 kilometres was still pretty far for me to walk so soon after treatment but I enjoyed it so much.

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It meant a lot to me to be well enough to think about raising money to help others people. If that’s the thanks I can give for still being around today, it seems a very small price to pay.

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I’m doing it again this year. For more information or to donate, please follow this link: http://www.justgiving.com/deannabanana81

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2. The birthday BBQ
After the race for life, it was mine and my sister’s birthday and we had a bbq/garden party to celebrate. Despite not being back to my old, party hearty self, it was fantastic to have all of our friends and family round to eat, drink and be very merry!

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3. The Bionic meet up
My chemo group (the Bionic Beauties) were all coming to the end of their active treatment so we planned a weekend away to all meet up and have some time together. These women were like family to me by this point and I couldn’t wait to see them all.
Lindsay was a bit behind in her treatment as her oncologist decided to give her an extra 3 rounds of chemo. Her triple negative diagnosis (where the cancer doesn’t respond to any hormones) had no further treatment after radiotherapy so it was the ‘belt and braces’ approach. She really wanted to come though so she braved the 4 hour train journey with me to get to the Solihull Urban Spa hotel.
It was a hugely emotional but fun weekend for us and probably really confusing for anyone who saw us. A huge group of bald, cackling, hot flushing women who wouldn’t stop hugging each other must have been quite a sight to behold. Particularly the ones we asked to take this photo!

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We spent the afternoon in the spa area and having drinks and then went for a lovely dinner in the evening.

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It was a warm weekend and we were all suffering really badly with hot flushes and, to our horror, the air con in the hotel wasn’t working. Our room felt like a sauna and Lindsay and I spent hours coming up with new ways of keeping cool including:

Sitting on the edge of the bathroom with our feet in cold water
Soaking towels and wrapping them around our feet
Lying on the floor because it would be cooler down there (this one was a bit of a stretch)
Lying on the floor using the wet towel as a blanket (pretty uncomfortable)
If nothing else, it gave us a giggle!

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4. The Wicked Trip
During my treatment, I was told about a fantastic charity called The Willow Foundation. They are dedicated to ‘working with seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40 to fulfil uplifting and unforgettable Special Days.’
I had heard about the Special Days quite early in into my treatment and when I got in touch and had mine approved, it really gave me something to look forward to. Sometimes I felt like all I was doing was planning the next painful procedure. This reminded me that there were nice things in my future too.

I chose to go to London to see the musical ‘Wicked’. We left early on Saturday morning to catch the train and arrived in London at lunch time. We had a driver come and pick us up from King’s Cross and take us to our (fantastic) hotel. We had time to wander around for a while before we went for a lovely dinner then on to the theatre. The show was amazing! I absolutely loved every minute of it. The driver came to collect us and took us back to the hotel.

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We had the whole day Sunday free so we arranged to meet our friends, Jayne and Steven. I’d been in constant contact with Jayne throughout my treatment and she has been amazingly supportive. Jayne had bone cancer and has gone through years of treatment and operations. She is one of the most amazing, strong and kind people I know.

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We had a great day with them and got to catch up on almost a years worth of hugs! The next day we set off for home, feeling very happy and relaxed and much more ready to start the process of ‘moving on’ (a term I’d hear a lot over the next 6 months).

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5. The surprise
Last but by no means least, once we got home, Stephen asked me to marry him and I said yes! Treatment was over, my hair was starting to resemble some kind of a deliberate looking style and we have a wedding to plan.
Things were definitely starting to look up!

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