It’s been an incredible, life-changing 9 months but after 2 major surgeries, 6 months of intensive chemo and 20 sessions of radiotherapy I am finally done with my treatment for breast cancer and I can hardly believe it. I get my life back only now I will live every day in gratitude and joy for the days I wouldn’t have had without our wonderful, brilliant NHS.
If you follow this blog then you will know that my diagnosis couldn’t have happened at a worse time not just in my life but in my families life.
I was diagnosed on 13th July 2021 – the week of my sons wedding.
The week my mum had had a stroke and been diagnosed with dementia.
Two weeks after I’d moved in with my parents to care for my dad as he faced end-of-life treatment for heart failure.
Looking back I have no idea how I coped emotionally, mentally and physically. It’s at times like that, that you find out who is around and I was overwhelmed with love and support from immediate family but also from a wider circle that I never even knew existed. Readers of my books, my ex-husband and his family, an online network of writers, friends I had known since childhood but who I hadn’t really stayed in touch with. Every single day there were flowers delivered, books, care packages – it was humbling, I felt so grateful. I still feel grateful. Thank you if you are one of those people, you saved my life and my sanity.
We lost my dad in December 2021, but my God did he fight to stay with us. When I delivered his eulogy I promised him I would ring the ‘end of treatment’ bell twice as loud but unfortunately it’s no longer there (thanks Covid) so I will find some other way to celebrate. I know he’s with me every day and I know he will be incredibly proud of me. He’ll also be laughing at the buzz cut I’m currently rocking as my hair grows back.
Thank you dad for instilling courage in me, and demonstrating it with such perceived ease as you went through your own treatment and illness – I felt you with me every step of the way. I promise you now that I will live life to the fullest, travel often and only eat good food!
One woman in four will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime and two women are killed each week in England and Wales by a current or former partner.
In February I will be walking 56 miles to raise funds and awareness for Refuge.
I’ve never shared this story publicly before, but as this is the place I seem to come these days, I’ll just give you the headlines.
For 8 years, I was in a relationship with a man who was a controlling bully. I was married to him for 5 of those years before I had the courage to walk away, and I left with nothing but my then 10-year-old son (not his father, thankfully!) and a bin liner full of our clothes.
During those years, he tore me apart with his words. He gaslighted me, ghosted me, bullied me and more hurtfully he didn’t speak to my son for 5 years.
It was lovely in the beginning, which I now recognise as the ‘love-bombing’ phase. I recently read a book by Professor of Public Protection at University of Gloucester, Jane Monckton Smith – In Control and I can say hand on heart that if I hadn’t left when I did, I would now be yet another tragic statistic.
Jane Monckton Smith is behind The Homicide Timeline, an eight stage ‘road map’ that sets out how a controlling relationship can lead to homicide. It is currently being used by police forces nationwide. In my situation, we reached Stage 6: A change in thinking. We had separated at this point and he became a stalker; turning up at my work place with flowers, he found out where I had moved to and would turn up late at night, often drunk. He would call me at all hours with excuses why he needed to see me (getting locked out of the house which we still jointly owned was a favourite). When he didn’t get the response he wanted (as in I didn’t react or go running to his side) he got verbally abusive with family members and even work colleagues. Thankfully, he eventually gave up when he met someone else.
I had counselling twice a week for two years before I could build any semblance of a normal life for me and my boy. I’m glad I did. It made me realise that I am a good person, that I’m not the crazy, selfish, paranoid lunatic he made me believe I was. I turned 51 in January; I left him in 2002, so this December (8th) will make it twenty years since we left and I still (though rare) have flashbacks in certain situations. I’m still learning about me, I’m still growing and I am a very different person or perhaps I’m the person I was always meant to be. I’ve learned to love myself so that I can allow others to love me. I trust my instincts. I have a strong set of values that I honour and live by. I met a new man ten years ago who rebuilt my faith in men and who I love deeper than I have loved any man (apart from my boy of course!).
Recently, after the last couple of years and all that has entailed, I could feel myself slipping backwards. The cancer diagnosis obviously knocked my confidence, losing the hearing in my right ear in 2018 and having to wear hearing aids didn’t do much for my ego and more recently losing my darling dad all added up to an existence that didn’t amount too much. Of course, we were all in the same boat thanks to ‘Rona but as restrictions on the nation lifted, I decided I needed to lift some of my own restrictions too. I’m still cautious about busy coffee shops and shopping centres but I can walk. Not far, and not for long, but I can definitely walk further thanks to the steroids I’m being pumped with every week so when I came across an online advert for Refuge I thought – why the hell not? And when I realised it was twenty years then, hell yeah – what better way to show my support.
If you would like to support me, you can do so here >> https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cat-yaffe or if you’re on Facebook the page to donate is here https://www.facebook.com/donate/423611256174136
With every step I take throughout February, I will think of those women (and men) who haven’t had the chance I have had. Who, for whatever reason can’t escape. I hope that by raising awareness and talking openly about my experience it might just help at least one person realise that there is another way. A better way. And there is hope. Just reach out. A phone call, a click on the website – all the details are below. Please share and let’s change the appalling statistics.
No one should live in fear or be afraid in their own home.
Freephone 24-Hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk (access live chat Mon-Fri 3-10pm)
Finally, if you have already supported me (even just a share of this blog post, the Facebook page or the Just Giving link) then from the very bottom of my heart, thank you.
It’s getting harder, of that there is no denying. It’s the fatigue more than anything and it’s really hard to describe, but as this is the place where I try to help others and work things out for myself I’ll give it a try.
Before ‘shit happened (SH)’, I was a long-term survivor of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and underactive thyroid. I’m on meds, have regular reviews and mainly self manage symptoms either through my diet (avoid gluten / wheat), low carbs and take gentle exercise, usually swimming. I’ve been self employed or worked from home in one capacity or another from 2017, and I’ve been privileged to have the time to be able to listen to my body’s needs. My usual working day would start in the Shed around 8am, I’d work until 2pm with a 30 min lunch break at around 12.30pm then the afternoon would be swimming, walking or more often than not, napping – it was/is what my body needs and I’m fortunate and grateful to be able to do that. The fatigue I feel now isn’t sleepy tired (though I can still sleep through several storms!) It’s more of an all-encompassing lack of energy, like my batteries have gone flat or I’ve run out of juice. The only option is to stop, sleep if I want/can or sit and do nothing. The brain crashes too or is full of cotton wool, so watching TV (though nice for background noise) or reading a book is hopeless because I can’t concentrate or follow the thread of a story. I do knit, or do some colouring in which is very calming and helps with mindfulness. I must stress that it doesn’t feel like this every day or all the time, but when it does it, it hits hard and there is no rhyme or reason to it (trust me, I’ve tried to keep a track).
Of course, everyone is different and I have had rather a lot on my plate!
When SH, I moved in to look after my parents full-time who were both having a difficult time health wise, then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Once I had sorted care out for them, I moved back home (that first night in my own bed was bloody lovely!) and concentrated on my own health. How I longed to have my organised, slow-going-days back; a leisurely breakfast with fresh ground coffee, a lie in if I had no deadlines to hit, or a sofa day if my body just wasn’t having any of it. Or a steady swim followed by a sauna and 30-minute session in the Hydrotherapy pool. Ah, what a bloody life I lived!!
In the last 6 months, I have undergone 2 major operations to remove cancer, supported my dad through end-of-life care, helped my mum deal with a dementia diagnosis, tried to be there for my son as his own mental health suffered as a result of all the above, and tried to be a loving wife and step mum. That’s a lot, right? Add to that intensive chemotherapy sessions initially every 3 weeks then bumped to every week, losing my hair, putting on 2 stone, all whilst living through a global pandemic. Sign me up to the nuthouse please??!!
BUT – I can now see a little chink of light at the end of the tunnel. I only have 2 more chemo treatments left and I can look forward to a 4 week break. I then need to have radiotherapy, 5 days a week, for possibly 4 weeks. That will be followed by hormone suppressants, which are tablet form thankfully, so no trips to the hospital.
I am gradually stealing time back for myself. I have 2 Shed days a week currently which will increase once the chemo stops, but then I dare say I’ll lose them again when radiotherapy starts but it’s only 4 weeks so again, light at the end of the tunnel!
So what will I do with this newfound freedom? Will I return to my previous sloth-like existence? Well, you can read all about my next ‘challenge’ in my next post!
Any guesses what it might be?
Today is treatment 4 of 9. That came round quick didn’t it? I’ve not been too bad. Fatigue has been the major factor (hence no updates) and we lost my dad on 20th December so I’ve been a bit shell shocked to be honest. It was expected and he really struggles in his final days so I take comfort in that he is now finally at peace.
I’ve managed to create some ‘Shed’ time too so I’m back into the routine of writing which feels bloody marvellous!
The chemo all feels a bit relentless at the minute. Though the treatment itself takes a couple of hours I can be at the hospital for 6 or 7 hours at a time due to delays. I take a book and my headphones with me but it makes it a very long day.
I was moved onto weekly treatments in December as the 3 weekly was just too strong for me and my platelets weren’t recovering in time. Weekly is way better and the side effects have been minimal, even the nausea has lessened – whoop.
I’m getting used to having no hair. I’ve been having fun with hats and scarves (check out my Instagram for the latest look 😂).
It was my birthday yesterday (10th) and I had a lovely day out walking with my favourite pooch, Milo ♥️ He’s the best therapy ever!!
So until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.
Love & Light
You will lose your hair if you’re having Chemotherapy. There’s no getting around it (unless you opt for a cold cap, which I haven’t). It was the first thing that was said to me and it was the hardest thing for me to accept.
I don’t have a massive amount of hair, I’ve rocked the pixie cut for years as my hair is fine and it doesn’t really suit me any other way. But it’s my hair. Cancer has interrupted my life on so many levels, must it take my hair as well?
I’ve wrestled with this so much. I’ve cried, I’ve sulked, ranted, complained. I’ve asked the Universe for guidance. I’ve asked how can I see this differently?
And on Sunday I had my answer.
I’d been ‘called’ to go for a walk since Friday but I’d pushed it to one side until Sunday afternoon when I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I took my ear plugs, opened podcasts with no particular one in mind and to my surprise it was highlighting a podcast by Oprah ‘Super Soul’. She was chatting with the author of The Alchemist and I felt it was right for me to press play. It was so interesting, and I found myself nodding along with a lot of what was said.
Suddenly, the word ‘ego’ cropped up in my mind and less than a minute later, the author started talking about fear and how the ego will block your thought process and hinder the clarity that you’re looking for.
It was a huge revelation for me on 2 levels. Firstly, the word Ego just coming to mind – WTF?
The reason I was struggling with my hair loss was my ego blocking my thought process. It was my ego that was resisting change; would people laugh and point? Would my head look weird? Will I feel insecure? Will people judge me, pity me?
What I needed to do was to acknowledge that my ego didn’t get a say here. What DID and does get a say is my level of gratitude and appreciation.
LOSING MY HAIR MEANS THE TREATMENT IS WORKING.
LOSING MY HAIR MEANS I AM DOING EVERYTHING I CAN TO PROLONG MY LIFE.
Did losing a scruffy mop of hair outweigh being around to see my son continue his own journey? Was being around to play with Milo and meeting my grandbabies more important than hair that would, eventually grow back anyway? Wasn’t enjoying a retirement travelling the world with my husband more important??
So today is the big day. It’s already dropping out in handfuls, and honestly? I can’t wait to get rid. It’s itchy, it’s all over my pillow and it’s driving me insane!
My amazing hairdresser has loaned me his clippers, and Dan is coming round later today for the big shave. I might even film it, you never know.
So if you’re on this journey, I really hope more than anything this post helps you view hair loss differently. I hope it gives you a bit more confidence. Please do leave a comment below if it’s helped you in someway, I’d love to hear from you.
Reader, I was on FIRE
I actually made a little video which I’ll upload later, but I wanted to share my epic day with you. Even though it’s over a week ago, I’m still thinking about it!
I woke, scrolled through my phone (as usual), jumped in a shower – all relatively normal, then BOOM – I felt a surge of something; adrenaline maybe? Just the sheer joy of being alive? Ok, so it was more than likely the steroids, but I felt amazing!
I hit the Shed (of Words, I’m a writer and co-own a publishing company) at around 7:30am (unheard of) with absolute crystal clear clarity of what I was going to work on, laser sharp focus (no doom scrolling), and an energy that I hadn’t felt for YEARS! I bloody loved it. I knew it was temporary. I had been warned but for those 24 hours I felt better, healthier, more alive and alert than ever.
(When I’m not fighting with cancer treatment, I’m also a Fibro Warrior (Fibromyalgia, 19 years diagnosed) and Chronic Fatigue, so you see, having energy is a constant battle and I can sleep up to 17 hours a day.)
It gave me a level of optimism that has stayed with me. I’m still being kind and gentle with myself, but it made me realise that when all this is over I can go back to focusing on beating Fibro and CFS.
More importantly it’s given me the confidence that I can go back to writing the books I love, some thing I thought I had lost when I heard the word cancer.
Here’s the video link in case you’re interested. I also recommend a few products that I love and that have really helped me (I wasn’t paid or anything, just want to share the love.)