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 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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The Chemo Buddies

“Misery loves company”

Being diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 is extremely isolating. In the first week I must have heard “but you’re so young” about 100 times. Yes. Yes I know!
Most of the women in the waiting room of the breast unit or in the chemo suite were at least 60. They looked at me like I didn’t belong there and I didn’t feel like I did.
I took to the internet to find out if, as I suspected, I was the only person in the world to be diagnosed at my age. It turns out I wasn’t. Hooray! Well… Not hooray but you know what I mean.
I found a Facebook page called ‘The younger breast cancer network’ . It was specifically set up for people under the age of 45 who’d had a diagnosis. I immediately felt at home there. Girls my age who’d experienced first hand what I had was hugely comforting.
Within the group, there was a subgroup created for people who were starting chemo at the same time as me. We all bonded immediately over our shared experience and talked online every day. We discussed everything. EVERYTHING! Our conversation would range from dealing with side effects to the breakdown of relationships and everything and anything in between (including many hilarious tmi moments).
I can’t explain the love and gratitude I feel towards each and every one of them. We pulled each other through deep sadness, the anxiety of treatment, of waiting on test results and the fear of an uncertain future. At first it was camaraderie, then it became friendship.
I was really lucky that one of the members, Lindsay lived close by. We chatted on Facebook, talked on the phone and eventually met in person at the Younger Women Together forum which was held at the King’s Manor Hotel in Portobello. We became very close and knew everything about each other’s lives. It was fantastic to have such a close bond with someone who was going through everything I was.

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Eventually, as treatment progressed and we got to know each other more, the girls and I decided to set up our own group. We called ourselves ‘The Bionic Beauties’ (because most of us had replacement ‘parts’ by that time). In June 2014, Lindsay and I jumped on a train and made the journey to Solihull to meet the other members for a lovely, emotional, fun weekend.
Seeing everyone was wonderful. We all hugged and then got on with making all the inappropriate jokes we were used to from our Facebook page.
It was fantastic from start to finish, even when the hotels air con broke down and we, a group of menopausal cancer patients, hot flushed our way through the night! Lindsay and I shared a room and took turns coming up with genius ideas to cool the room down. None of them worked but made us giggle through the heatwave.
The next day we set off home after more hugs, a few tears and plans to do it all again soon.
My cancer sisters are hugely responsible for me making it this far and definitely for being able to hold on to my humour and determination.
I love them all.

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