Ca125… I think we should just be friends

Three weeks ago, I had my usual dose of Avastin at the Royal Marsden. I’m so used to the routine now. I go in on Wednesday, have my usual checks including my Ca125 (the marker used for ovarian cancer) and then the IV Avastin goes in. The next day I find out my Ca125 level. Up until now the levels have been pretty stable. It becomes a bit like a challenge to me – to hear that the number is as low as it can be. But that week my Ca125 went up from 12 to 24. I was forewarned that an increase might happen because at the time I was on antibiotics for an infection. However, when I heard the number over the phone it took all of about thirty seconds for me to spiral into a panic. This was despite me knowing full well that a Ca125 of 24 is still considered normal. It was also despite me knowing that a Ca125 levels naturally fluctuate AND that a Ca125 level is responsive to an infection in the body. That’s a lot of evidence to suggest ‘NO NEED TO PANIC’. But logic didn’t seem to work as well as I hoped. My fear about Cyril finding his way back is often at the forefront of my mind and so hearing something that was out of my routine caused me to not think clearly. I should probably mention at this point that the panic happened while I was wearing a superman t-shirt (the irony is not lost on me). However, I was in a very special place at the time. I was in the reception of Chai Cancer Care waiting to have a counselling session. The staff there were amazing, they held my hand, spoke to me calmly and made sure that by the time I left Chai I was calm. Below is a photo I captured of myself in my superman t-shirt prior to the panic attack taking place!

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I was back the Marsden the following day for an unrelated appointment and the team did everything they could to reassure me. If I’m being honest, all I wanted was for them to do the test again as soon as possible in the hope that the marker would have gone down. I know now that was anxiety talking and that their plan to ‘keep to the plan’ was the best decision. Checking the marker while I was still on antibiotics (and likely to still be harbouring infection) would probably give an inaccurate reading. I was also reminded of the fact that nothing had really changed. My Ca125 was still very much in the normal range. I was also reminded that my body is not robotic, and that levels will go up and down and although I have no control over it, I do have control over how I choose to deal with this. So instead of talking about the marker, we talked about focusing on how I keep myself relaxed and take some control over anxiety when it comes to my health.

That night I also realised something else. I am far too attached to my Ca125 level. I know why. From my very first chemotherapy session, getting the level has been such a positive indicator for me that chemotherapy and surgery was working. Each week I would get a print out with my markers and the drop each week was amazing…. It went from the thousands, to the hundreds, to double digits and sometimes even single ones. I was winning! Knowing that number kept me going. A Ca125 rise and resulting anxiety was also not new to me. It has happened before, a few weeks after my surgery (as I was told it might). At that time, the team also had a hypothesis. They thought it was due to some residual fluid on my lung from the surgery and sure enough the level went back down to where I wanted it to be the following week.

But this time was different. I have been so reliant on the number for so long and because I was so aware of feeling stress and anxiety about it, it left me wondering whether I needed to have a different sort of relationship with my Ca125. So over the last few weeks while I was waiting to get my levels checked again, I tried to keep a note of my thoughts and feelings about Ca125 as a way of finding out how to best make these changes. There was also another function to this. To encourage me to do more things that would keep me busy and distracted which for me has always been a great tool for managing anxiety.

I’ve put in a few of my notes from the last few weeks:

27th May 2017

Today I tried to focus on keeping busy and making myself feel good. I had brunch with my friends, followed by afternoon tea with a friend, had my hair cut and then spent the evening with my boyfriend. Keeping busy definitely helped but it didn’t completely take the Ca125 fear away. For example, as I was having my hair done I kept looking in the mirror and found myself fighting with Cyril. The conversation went something like this: 

 “Laura, while you’re sitting there enjoying your blow dry, I thought I’d remind you that your Ca125 has doubled,” explained Cyril.

 “It is still within normal range,” replied Laura.

 “But are you sure you feel okay?” asked Cyril.

 Laura didn’t reply. All of sudden it seemed like she was experiencing every symptom under the sun.

 (This type of conversation happened a lot that day so each time it started I would try to imagine walking away from it and engage in something else)

 28th May 2017

I’ve definitely worked hard to keep my mind off tumour markers today. I find the more I do the less Cyril pops by. Retail therapy and a visit to the nail bar helped. I’m reminded of a quote I read once: ‘Life can’t be perfect but your nails can be’. I picked a glittery colour this week so I can look down as my nails and smile. I’m going to try to remind myself to look at the glitter every time I start thinking I have a symptom because when I think rationally about it, I know it’s the anxiety talking.

 29th May 2017

I woke up feeling calm today. I then thought I could feel pain in my stomach and that was it. Panic set in. I manage to stop it getting too bad by talking about it with my dad. So perhaps there’s a strategy for helping me deal with Ca125. When I feel the panic rising, talk to somebody. The conversation took about two minutes and helped me come back to reality. That reality being that there is currently nothing wrong with my Ca125 and I have no symptoms… other than being hungry in the morning. So going forward I’m going to remember that talking to somebody when I sense anxiety arriving helps. This will most definitely mean repeating myself, but I’m well known for this already so people probably expect this anyway. 

 6th June 2017

 I met a new friend today. We got on so well that it was like we were meant to meet each other. We are on very similar BRCA cancer journeys (at the same age), and seem to think and feel lots of the same things. Meeting her made me realise that I am not on my own with struggling to deal with the bumps in the road post treatment and it felt great to be able to talk to someone who knows these bumps.

 7th June 2017

Today was one of those days where I doubted my decision to get some distance from my Ca125. Anxiety was the flavour of the day and I got consumed by a red mark that I noticed on my breast and without much thought, I instantly decided it was breast cancer. Writing this now, I know how much that was anxiety talking and not me. But at the time all I wanted was reassurance. So I went to the GP this morning, and she very quickly able to assure me that I was fine and we both agreed that this was anxiety talking again. We thought about what I could do for the rest of the day to keep anxiety away.

8th June 2017

Today something I spoke about with my counsellor has stuck in my mind. We were talking about how up and down I was feeling because of my Ca125 and the power it can have over me. She reminded me that I must try not to let anxiety get the better of me because if I do, lots of other things will pass me by. I’ve seen over the last couple of weeks just how crippling anxiety can be physically and emotionally. And it can be responsible for things I never even considered, like my eczema flaring up around my mouth. It’s not easy to remember but I’m trying to remind myself that the more time and worry I give to Ca125 anxiety, the less attention I can give to other things. Like eating ice cream (which I went to do this evening). Ice cream and chats with one of my closest girlfriends was the just what the doctor ordered.

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 9th June 2017

Today marks one year since diagnosis. It’s especially important for me to try even harder than usual to put the low moments of the last few weeks to one side. Today needs to be about celebrating how far I’ve come in a year and how lucky I am to be able to say that. When I begin to feel anxious today I’m going to remind myself that this time last year my Ca125 was 3,052 and at the moment although it did increase, it’s still normal range.

It has been important for me to mark this day because of how lucky I am to be able to and so along with my sisters and a few friends I attempted to pole dance. And I had the best time! I suffer from a lot of body ache now as a result of treatment and/or menopause but the extra ache from the class was definitely worth it! I think a few more classes are needed before I can even remotely look like I know what I’m doing but I’m going to keep trying!  

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 14th June 2017

Today was Avastin day. It’s been three whole weeks. I was nervous but also relieved – there is something very comforting about stepping through the doors of the Marsden. The doctor examined my stomach, my bloods were fine and the team reminded me again their theory is still that the infection was the reason for the rise. The plan was to wait for the marker result this week and only if it was out of normal range I would have a CT scan. After treatment my dad and I had our usual post Avastin burger before heading home. That afternoon my doctor called to tell me that my Ca125 had gone back down from 24 to 11. I instantly felt relief rush through my body.

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I started writing this blog a few weeks ago because I knew that I wanted to keep track of how I was feeling and what I was doing to help manage the anxiety. After hearing that my markers were back down I’ve realised something I didn’t anticipate a few weeks ago. I think that perhaps this experience needed to happen to help me realise a few things. Firstly, that I was becoming too attached to an arbitrary number. I have to remember that the number doesn’t have the same meaning as it did when I was on chemo because regardless of the number, it is still in the normal range. Secondly, it can be very easy for me to get so caught up with a change in number to the point that I forget that it is also about listening to my body and looking out for symptoms that I have come to know so well. When anxiety is present, that becomes much harder to do because of all the symptoms that anxiety brings on itself.

And lastly, I need to remind myself that this is probably not the last time my Ca125 marker will rise. Just like a break up (think Ross and Rachel), my Ca125 and I will be the sort of couple who are on-again, off-again, again, again. I’ve thought about whether I make the decision to not find out my marker level anymore but instead just ask my team to tell me if it’s ‘normal’ or ‘not normal’. I think I’m going to try that soon to see if it helps me to disconnect from it and reassure myself that I do actually know what is normal for my body, instead of fixating on a number going up and down. But whether that works or not, my Ca125 will still be in my life and I want it to be because it gives me hope and encouragement. But I know now that we need a different relationship and that it’s my responsibility to make the changes. So today I’m raising a glass (actually it’s my water bottle infused with lemon and mint as I don’t drink) and the toast is to the end of my relationship with my CA125 but the start of our friendship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Cyril’s first online auction!

FOUR SEASONS COUNTRY CLUB

 QUINTA DO LAGO

ALGARVE

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2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms villa (can sleep 6). Set within 17 acres of private gardens on the prestigious Quinta do Lago Estate. A wide range of sport and leisure activities are available.

 ARRIVAL – THURSDAY 7th DECEMBER 2017 departing THURSDAY 14th December 2017.

 ACCOMMODATION ONLY – NO FLIGHTS

 DISCOUNTED GREEN FEES on the Quinta do Lago Golf Courses and on others nearby

Amenities:

 Fully fitted Kitchen with private terrace

Daily maid Service

Bathrobes and towels provided

Indoor and Outdoor pools

Gym

Squash

Snooker Room

Table Tennis

Bar with Log fire

Restaurant

Poolside Bar and Restaurant

Tennis Courts

 

This prize is donated by Peter Schwitzer and Peter Stern

The starting bid for this prize is £400. If you are interested please email findingcyril@gmail.com with your bid. Payment can be made through our Just Giving Page or straight to the Royal Marsden Cancer charity. I can advise people on how to do this. Our auction begins today and will run until 30th June 2017.

Please share the details of this auction with as many people as you can.

Thank you for your continued love and support. It means the world to me.

Laura

xxxx

That time I travelled 1,310.2 miles away after cancer

“Laura are you sure that you trust your body to go on holiday?” asked Cyril.

 “Yes!” exclaimed Laura.

 “But what if we need the Royal Marsden?” replied Cyril.

Laura went quiet. Cyril’s words sent a shiver down her spine and left her questioning her decision. It also left her questioning her body, only after recently having started to slowly trust it again.

Cyril and I had many of these conversations in the lead up to the holiday that I booked with my siblings. We had booked a short break in Italy for April 2017. We timed it so that it fit with my treatment and chose a place that would be warm (not hot), easy to get to and close to the sights so I could easily rest at the hotel if I needed. We had considered everything but Cyril tried his utmost to convince me that I couldn’t go away. And at times he very nearly won. However, I couldn’t give into him; I couldn’t let him win because I knew that would have made me feel worse.

I spent a lot of time talking about the holiday with my counsellor to help me feel as confident as I could about being away from home and far from hospital for the first time since I was diagnosed. Talking about it helped me to make sure I had a ‘toolkit’ packed with me. This included: my colouring pencils and mindfulness colouring book, my reading book, headphones, enough diazepam (15 tablets) should I need it and many more clothes than I could have ever needed but in case my hot flushes and sweats were particularly bad. My brother and sister did all of the planning for this trip, which really helped me because it meant that all I had to focus on was mentally preparing myself. They did an incredible job and thought of everything. For example, they chose a hotel which had an outdoor pool and an indoor spa so that I had the option to relax during the day if I needed it because I get tired out quite quickly.

I had great support and reassurance from my medical team about going away; they all assured me that it was fine to go away while on Avastin and gave helpful advice about things like travel insurance, which becomes much more of a bother once you tell the insurance companies you’ve had cancer, that it spread and that you’re still on treatment. There are some companies that deal specifically with people with health conditions and especially cancer so it was good to have done our research beforehand. My team took time with to ensure that I felt as confident as I could, reassuring me but also reminding me that if I had any problems all I had to do was call… Initially it was like I had forgotten that being abroad did not affect my ability to contact the hospital.

For me, my main fear was that something bad would happen with regards to my health when I was away and it was that thought which would leave me feeling panicked. I was so desperate for this trip to go perfectly to prove to myself that I could do it; I think at times I got so caught up with this that I lost sight of the fact that we are all taking a leap of faith when we go on holiday. We can never be sure that it will go completely to plan and I had to try to remember that, otherwise I knew that Cyril and I would be having far too many conversations in my head while I was away. Reminding myself of this made me think more logically and remember my experiences of holidays when not everything has gone to plan. For example, I thought back to all the times I would get colds from air conditioning so I reminded myself that if that happened I couldn’t immediately blame it on Cyril.

I was nervous and excited in the lead up to going away. It was a very strange experience being in an airport around so many people. When our plane touched down in Naples, I initially felt elated but that was quickly followed by Cyril starting a conversation with me:

“You know Laura there’s no Royal Marsden here.” Cyril said.

 “I’m well aware and I’m going to be fine” I replied.

And honestly I was. I’d be lying if I said it was always easy but from the moment I stepped off the plane, everything seemed to go to how I wanted. I felt able to enjoy everything we did. I’ve become quite good at knowing my limits and when I need to stop so I never got overtired or rundown. I didn’t want to risk that happening because there were too many things do and enjoy (ice-cream mainly).

My brother had done a great thing and booked some things from London which helped me have a plan in mind for what the days would be like and when I would need to be up early. He had booked a brilliant cookery class with Chef Carmen Mazzola at ‘La Cucina del Gusto cooking school’ (I’ve put the link at the bottom of this page). If you are ever in Sorrento, I would really recommend this experience. Carmen is wonderful and knows so much about Italian cooking. Thanks to her I can now make tasty gnocchi and pizza. I also know the best way to store mozzarella cheese and the best way to make fresh pasta sauce. I won’t tell you though; I’ll leave that to Carmen when you visit her!

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In previous blogs, I have written about the changes that I have made to my diet since cancer. This is a huge thing for me because throughout my treatment so far, I have seen the benefits of these changes. For me it’s also a little about control, I like that I can be in charge of what I put in my body and make sure it gets all the things it needs to stay healthy. This was especially important during chemotherapy but is also something I have continued with since. I feel so much better for it but I know that one of the challenges for me is learning to not always be as strict with myself about it and that it’s ok to be flexible with my diet guidelines. Going to Italy was therefore quite a test for me. I was out of my usual environment and so it meant that I had to practice being less regimented. And I did it REALLY well! I even went as far as to swap my daily bananas for banana ice cream, which I mostly ordered as two scoops in a cone …. And sometimes twice a day! I’m fairly sure that I went into an ice cream induced coma on our last night! Also, I didn’t find myself entering into my usual daily conversation with Cyril about how much I’ve eaten. The conversation usually goes like this:

 “Laura, are you sure you have eaten enough?” asked Cyril.

 “I think so,” replied Laura

“Hmmmmm, I’m just wondering if you haven’t actually eaten enough but instead you’ve got full too quickly. Like you did just before I was diagnosed….?” answered Cyril.

Cyril and I often enter into this illogical battle about how much I’ve eaten and whether I have eaten enough. It comes from an ovarian cancer symptom that I battled with in the weeks leading up to diagnosis, feeling full too quickly. This is like a little niggle that is always in the back of my mind and it can sometimes lead to a lot of anxiety. I think this sort of thing is really normal and I try to remind myself that it takes time for things to adjust back to a version of ‘normal’ (whatever that is). One of the best things that I took away from my holiday though, was noticing when I might be over thinking my food and fullness worries. This is something that I am really trying to improve on since coming home.

I mentioned earlier that I took 15 Diazepam with me because I can have up to three a day. How many did I take you ask? The answer is NONE! You see I had a few different medicines. I walked from the centre of Sorrento right up to our hotel on a hilltop, I dipped my feet in the sea, I treated myself to foods that I would have not normally eaten and had an afternoon nap on the beach in Positano. This type of medicine was amazing…I can’t wait for my next dose!

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When we landed back in London, Cyril and I had one more conversation:

“Cyril, I did it. You didn’t stop me,” I said.

 Cyril remained silent, avoiding eye contact with Laura.

 “So you do realise that I’ll now be going away on more adventures Cyril,” continued Laura.

 Cyril got up and started to slowly walk away.

I am really so proud of myself that I didn’t let Cyril win and stop me from taking the plunge to go on holiday. With the help of my siblings and my medical team I put him in his place and got on with my 1,310.2 mile journey and had the best time ever! I thought I would put down a few of the main things from my experience that helped me. I will be reminding myself of  these ahead of my next holiday

Five of my top tips for going away for the first time after cancer

  1. Pack some snacks for the journey out and any delays – I took lots of nuts and dried fruit because I know this fills me up. It also meant that I had something to keep with me in my bag on day trips. I actually ended up eating very few of them (see above) but it was helpful to know I had them, especially on the journey out there.

 

  1. Take extra clothes – going though the menopause means that my body temperature changes constantly during the day so the extra clothes, and especially the layers were crucial!

 

  1. Find a hotel that is nearby to some of the paces you want to visit – Although I didn’t need to as much as I thought, it was great having the option of heading back to the hotel for a rest or relaxing for a few hours before dinner.

 

  1. Feel confident to be able to say when you can’t do something or you do need a rest – My siblings were great about this and always checking in with me if I wanted to do something (like climb a giant hill… although I think my brother kept checking with me because he was the one who didn’t want to!) But I also had to be responsible for myself and say when I needed to stop or not do something.

 

  1. If you want to do something, DO IT! This is the most important one. It seemed to happen naturally because I was so excited to be away, so found myself taking advantage of everything… If I wanted two ice creams in one day, I had them. If I wanted two starters, I ordered them and if I was unsure about whether I needed to buy that extra art print, I just brought it! And I’m so very pleased I did.

Link to Chef Carmen’s cooking school: https://chefcarmensorrento.com/mobile/

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BRCAfest – Food, fun, and fundraising!

On Sunday 9th April, I hosted BRCAfestmy first fundraising afternoon for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. The aim of the event was to raise awareness about BRCA gene mutations and ovarian cancer, as well as funds for the Royal Marsden cancer Charity. It was an honour to be joined by Mr John Butler, Consultant Gynaecological Surgeon at the Royal Marsden Hospital. Mr Butler and his team carried out my surgery in August 2016.

 There was a lot of preparation ahead of the day, and even more so on the morning of the event. I had some great helpers with me and it didn’t take long for it all to come together: we had amazing decorations, food and raffle prizes that people had so kindly donated. After a few hours of work, it was amazing to see the room ready for the event – I was so excited by that point! 

 The afternoon started with a chance for everyone to eat, drink and meet others. There were also lots of things on sale including some handmade cards and keyrings, as well as raffle tickets and auction prizes. Once everyone was seated I welcomed everyone and gave a short speech. I had been so nervous about the prospect of talking to a room a full of people. I think that blogging and talking about my experience has really helped me feel confident talking about cancer and my journey, but where public speaking is concerned, I’m used to talking to a class of children rather than a room of 150 adults using a microphone! Although, once I started to talk, my initial nerves disappeared and I actually ended up enjoying it.

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After my speech, Mr Butler presented a talk about the history of, and developments in, cancer and specifically ovarian cancer. He also spoke about BRCA gene mutations and the research and development that the Royal Marsden is doing in these areas. I learned so much from the talk. For example, about the developments in ovarian cancer treatment and drugs. While Mr Butler was talking, I remember looking around the room and seeing everyone so engaged, and I was so pleased to have played a part in raising awareness in this way. Mr Butler coincidently ended his talk with the same ending line as my speech – “knowledge is power,” which was great, as it was what I had hoped the main take home message of the day would be.

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 After Mr Butler’s talk, we held the raffle draw and auctionIt was so exciting and such a joy to see people win the amazing prizes that had been donated. It was at this point I had another really good look around the room to soak up the atmosphere and remind myself what all the hard work preparing had been for. I also couldn’t help but think how good it would be to do this again. And when I get an idea in my head, I tend to keep going with it, so watch this space for details of BRCAfest2018! 

 As soon as we had cleared the hall, a few of us sat round and started to count up the money we had raised. I am so excited to say that the grand total raised by BRCAfest was £5,402.17! This figure is just incredible, and it is so overwhelming to think about all the support that people have given in order for us to raise as much as we did. 

 Clearing up BRCAfest meant taking home A LOT of leftover food and when I saw just how much cake was left over, I instantly knew what I had to do. As I told everybody at BRCAfest, my medical team have been like my second family through treatment, and so I wanted them in some way to be part of the event. The next morning, I booked myself a cab and headed up to the Royal Marsden to deliver the cakes to some very special people who have, and continue to, take incredible care of me. They helped save my life and so giving them cake to have with their cups of tea on a Monday morning was just a small thing I can do to remind them all just how special they are to me. 

 I would like of say a huge thank you everybody who attended BRCAfest and those who donated gifts and food. And a special thanks to the children at Deansbrook Primary School and Little Reddings Primary School for making cards and keyrings that were on sale, to Fiona Cohen for afternoon doing her drawings for us and to Georgine Waller for capturing it all on camera. A big thank you to Hartley Hall for donating the venue for the event and finally to Mr Butler for being our guest speaker. 

 BRCAfest happened ten months to the day of my diagnosis, so on a personal note it was another celebration of how far I have come in such a short space of time. I often find it hard to make sense of just how much has happened in less than a year. I feel like a different person, and in many ways, I am. Photographs and images are an amazing way of capturing moments, good or bad but also for making sense of change. The photo on the left is from 9th June 2016 when I was on my way to see Mr Butler for the results and diagnosis, and the photo on the right is of me and Mr Butler at BRCAfest. To me these capture the same person, but also highlights some of the differences I see in myself.

 Now that the event is over, there are lots of things I need to focus on over the coming weeks. I have my Avastin treatment as well as my three monthly ‘breast MOT to check that my potentially killer mutant boobs are behaving themselves, and are only (thanks to the menopause) guilty of increasing in size…which I don‘t class as a real problem! I will also be taking a big step at work and getting back in front of a class of children to teach my first French class since May 2016. There is lots to come over the next few weeks, but the enjoyment and success of BRCAfest has definitely helped to set me up positively for it all! 

All photographs from BRCAfest 2017 can be accessed using the link below:

https://myalbum.com/embed/dMbZX2sppe0k

BRCAfest

It is nearly time for BRCAfest! We currently have 54 tickets that will be available on the door for £20. You can still purchase tickets online by using the link below.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/brcafest-tickets-32137050784

1:30-2:00 – There will be a chance to look at things to buy, purchase great drawings by Fiona Cohen, purchase raffle tickets, enter the auction and eat and drink lots of tasty food.

2:00 – A brief introduction by Laura Moses. This will be followed by a talk from Mr John Butler, who is a Consultant Gynaecological Oncology Surgeon at The Royal Marsden.

After the talk we will do the raffle and complete the auction! Please bring extra money with you, if you would like to take part in the raffle or auction. Raffle tickets cost £10 per 5 ticket strip, and we will be accepting cheques for auction prizes.

 

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Marching through March for the Marsden

On Sunday 19th March, The Royal Marsden held their annual Marsden March – a 14 or 5 mile walk between the Sutton and Chelsea hospital sites. Each year the march raises money for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, all of which goes toward treatment, research and support for cancer patients, with the ultimate goal being ‘a future beyond cancer.’ The charity also encourages people to host their own marches in support of the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. This is exactly what my school, Little Reddings, did on Monday 20th March.

I’ve worked as a teacher at Little Reddings for about two years. I remember walking in for my interview and instantly getting a sense of just how supportive and friendly it was. Little Reddings has played an integral part in my personal and professional development as a teacher. Last year, before I had to stop working, I took on the role of French teacher and the Modern French Language coordinator. This position is something that I am incredibly proud of, and knowing that I had this to go back to after treatment, was a key factor in keeping me focused and motivated.

Our Marsden March started with me leading an assembly in the morning. I introduced the children to The Royal Marsden Hospital with photos and images. I spoke about my journey with ‘Cyril’ and played Rachel Platten’s ‘Fight Song’. I asked if anyone knew why this was such an important song to me; they rightly said that they thought it was because the song about fighting and staying positive. I explained that I first heard Calysta Bevier, a 16-year-old American young woman who is a survivor of stage 3 ovarian cancer, sing this song on America’s Got Talent, soon after I was diagnosed myself. Hearing this song was a significant moment for me; it soon became a song that I really connected with on an emotional level. There were times during treatment when I would listen to it repeatedly. I still put it on when I feel low or anxiety takes over. Hearing this song was probably the first time that I truly realised just how powerful music can be. Have a look at the videos below to hear Calysta Bevier and Rachel Platten singing ‘Fight Song.’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9msiUy0JN64

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo1VInw-SKc

I then spoke to the children about the history of The Royal Marsden Hospital, including The Oak Centre for children and young people diagnosed with cancer. I also talked about the staff at the hospital and all the different people who make the hospital run so smoothly, such as: the doctors, nurses, researchers, pathologists, physiotherapists, dieticians, psychologists, receptionists and the catering and cleaning staff. We went through some of these roles and I explained how each person’s role helps to keep the hospital running smoothly for the patients. My experience is that the staff often go above and beyond to make patients feel as comfortable as possible.  One example that I’m always reminded of is the catering lady on the chemotherapy day ward. Whenever I’m there, she always takes time to talk to me and remembers that I like apple juice, so makes sure I that I have some soon after arriving on the ward.

I showed the children some of the team who look after my care, we watched a video of the Duke of Cambridge talking about hospital and then a video about some of the more recent technology that the hospital uses. I wanted the children to see that technology, which is so important to our everyday lives with things like phones, computers and television, is also a vital tool in cancer treatment. By supporting the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity we are able to support the continued development and use of innovative, lifesaving technology. During my surgery, the team used something called a Plasma Jet; a surgical device used for women with advanced ovarian cancer. It allows surgeons to target and destroy ovarian cancer cells with greater precision and reduced side effects. Have a look at the link and the video below that explain more about the Plasma Jet and other technological advances used at the Marsden to treat cancer patients.

https://www.royalmarsden.nhs.uk/rm-magazine/new-technology-tackle-ovarian-cancer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5f5zz5fq40

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It was wonderful to see how focused the children were during the assembly and to hear the comments they made about the issues raised. The sad reality is that cancer is affecting more and more people, including many of their families, so it will be a word that continues to be so relevant to so many. When I first heard the word cancer, I was naturally filled with fear and dread (that’s how the name ‘Cyril’ came about; it felt less scary) As you go through the treatment, you start to see and understand all the different things that cancer can mean, and the national and international community of professionals who are dedicating their work to advancing cancer treatment and care. Over time, you begin to feel a little less fear about the word and see how it means a whole load of different things to different people. My feeling from my own experience is that we should be open and honest about it in order to try to normalise it.

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After assembly, it was time to march. We all headed out to the school grounds: staff, students and families – children from as young as five months took part and everybody was buzzing, even with the rain! It was an amazing feeling to see so much support and awareness. It was also an opportunity for people to reflect and think about those they know who have been affected by cancer. Some children spoke to me about this, talking about people they knew who had cancer. It confirmed for me the importance of providing, not just adults, but also children with chances to have these reflections. As a group we raised over £600 which, when transferred into my just giving account, took the total amount to over £10,000! I won’t even try to put in words what that means to me – really it is beyond anything I could have ever imagined… I keep clicking on the page just to see the figure!

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As we were marching, I was reminded of the fact that it was almost seven months to the day that I had my surgery (some of the key dates over the last year are permanently etched in my mind). To be surrounded by my colleagues, pupils and their families, as well as some of my family, was a reminder of how far I have come in such a short space of time. I’ve gone from being at the hospital every week to now spending more and more time back at school and getting back into my life as Laura, and not just Laura with cancer. I am so grateful to my colleagues, the pupils and their parents for their continued love and support. They have given, and continue to give me, hope, strength and courage. I love my Little Reddings family!

Our Marsden March was an example of how easy it is to march for the Marsden. You can do it, as they say, “anytime, anywhere”. So many of us enjoy going for walks, so why not add a new perspective to a walk you take in the future. For example, imagine if a group of ten people got together to do a mini My Marsden March and each got sponsored £1 by ten people. This would mean they would have raised £100 on a walk. Now imagine if ten of these groups did the same thing…amazing to think, isn’t it!

We marched on Monday 20th March, which is also another significant day – International Day of Happiness. And for me, it really was!

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Tea, Cake and Catwalk

On 11th March 2017, I was honoured to take part in the Tea with Ovacome fashion show alongside nine other ladies who have had, or are living with, ovarian cancer. Tea with Ovacome is an annual afternoon tea and fashion show founded by Adele Sewell, who herself is an ovarian cancer survivor. The main of aim of the day is to raise much needed awareness about ovarian cancer, whilst also being an opportunity to share experiences and celebrate the lives of those who have been affected by the disease.The event has continued to grow over the seven years that it has been running; this year tickets sold out in under 12 hours!
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I had been unable to attend the pre-event photo shoot a few months prior to the event, so the first time I met Adele, the event team, and the models, was on the morning of the show. Initially, the idea of taking part in a fashion show and walking up and down a catwalk in a room of about 200 people after having gone through cancer treatment felt scary and exposing. But this could not be further from the reality. From the moment I arrived, I instantly felt at ease and knew that the day would be unforgettable. As I started to meet and talk with the other models, I was soon aware of the courage, strength and determination that surrounded me. I was able to speak with women who have also had BRCA related ovarian cancer and to hear about their experiences of living with the genetic mutation.

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The photos in the slideshow above are by Kate Pigden 

We started the day by rehearsing our catwalk routines, which was so helpful with managing my anxiety about walking up and down a catwalk in heels; those who know me know that co-ordination is not always my strong point! We then had afternoon tea together before heading back to the rooms to have our hair, make up and nails done. By the time 5pm came, we were ready to take to the catwalk. My heart was popping out my chest as I stood there waiting to go out for the first time. However, when the time came to step out, the bright lights, applause and smiling faces turned my nerves into pure excitement and confidence. My family was there for the event and walking out and seeing them at the ‘Finding Cyril’ table was such a wonderful feeling!

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The day was filled with so many emotions: excitement and laughter, but also sadness and reflection. We were able to remember and celebrate the lives of women who have been part of the Tea with Ovacome community but have since passed. It was a poignant reminder of the reason we were all there; to raise awareness, knowledge and understanding about the disease, as well as provide support for women and their loved ones. Ovarian cancer continues to be one of the cancers which is all too often diagnosed in the late stages because the symptoms can be missed or confused with bowel symptoms. Having events such as Tea with Ovacome help to raise awareness about the disease and symptoms. I don’t imagine that there was one person who left the tea without thinking about it, and hopefully all will go on to have conversations with others about it. At the end of the day, the more these conversations are had, the more that women can know what to look out for.

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The photos in the slideshow above were taken by Ming Yeung, Getty Images 

Adele and the Tea with Ovacome team are continuing to build on their success with Tea with Ovacome.  They have organised the “Touch of Teal” Glitter Gala on 9th September 2017. This is the first ever dinner dance that they have put on and all proceeds will be donated equally to the following charities: Ovacome, Ovarian Cancer Action, Penny Brohn UK, The Royal Marsden Hospital and Target Ovarian Cancer. Once again women who have had or have ovarian cancer will model and speak at the event. You can buy tickets for the gala by clicking on the link below. If you would like to apply to model or be a speaker, or know somebody who might be interested in this unique opportunity, please get in touch with Adele by emailing: info@teamwithovacome.org.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-touch-of-teal-glitter-gala-tickets-32678837282?aff=es2

Ovarian cancer has meant that certain aspects of my life have changed significantly. One of the main ones being my body. I look different; I have a scar down my tummy (which I’m proud of), I’ve put on weight (which I’m pleased about) and I’m now menopausal which brings me a whole host of physical symptoms on a daily basis. Going though cancer, and especially the side effects of chemotherapy and surgery, makes you feel different about your body. At times it felt like my body was not mine and was there only to fight cancer. I remember also feeling anger towards my body after I was diagnosed. I was angry at it for letting ‘Cyril’ in, but over time I started to realise that my body actually did a good thing letting me know ‘Cyril’ was there and getting me to the point I am at now. Being part of this whole experience: going shopping with the team to find outfits, having hair and make-up done and walking down the catwalk alongside the other women gave me back some self-confidence that I had lost on this journey. It allowed me to see my body as my own and not just as a thing to fight cancer with, and to celebrate how far it and I have come.

 

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The final photo in this slideshow was taken by Ming Yeung, Getty Images 

Make time for tea!

On Tuesday 28th February, I was very privileged to attend the Eve Appeal’s launch of their March 2017 campaign: ‘Make Time for Tea.’ It was held at the House of Commons and I went along with my dad for a very special afternoon tea.

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From the moment I walked into the room, I got a sense of how important this event was going to be. The room was filled with: ovarian cancer survivors, patients who are still undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, families who have lost loved ones to the terrible disease, and MPs and celebrities who are in support the Eve Appeal and their efforts to raise awareness of, not just ovarian cancer, but all gynaecological cancers. The focus for this event was ovarian cancer because March is ovarian cancer awareness month.

Athena Laminios, Chief Executive of the Eve Appeal,was one of the first people to speak. Her talk focused on the importance of us all talking more about gynaecological cancers to raise awareness. We as women can often end up avoiding conversations about our bodies, and especially our vaginas, because we end up feeling embarrassed about it. Athena highlighted how we must all try to not shy away from talking about these issues just because it can sometimes feel uncomfortable. It highlighted for me just how important it is to allow these conversations to happen, not just between us, but also in our wider society.

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We were also honoured to hear from some inspiring women about their personal experiences of ovarian cancer. Alison, who is an incredibly special woman and a huge inspiration to me, spoke about raising awareness of BRCA mutations and ovarian cancer. She has been, and continues to be, there for me since my diagnosis, and was one of the first people I spoke to when I was diagnosed. She immediately understood what I was feeling without me even having to say much. It was humbling to hear her talk about her personal cancer journey and determination to raise awareness about this important topic. I am so thankful to have such support, guidance and love from Alison and her family.

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I spoke with other women like Alison who have lived with ovarian cancer. One woman I met told me how for many years, she lived in fear of cancer, but now over time, feels free from this fear. It was so reassuring to hear from her; like all of the women I have met, hearing about her experience gave me hope and encouragement.

I also met a number of celebrity supporters of the charity, including Dr Christian Spencer Jessen and Lesley Joseph, as well as a number of MPs. It felt so special to talk with these people about my personal journey as well as the wider issues relevant to ovarian cancer.

I wanted to write a bit more about what Athena mentioned in her talk; the importance of us talking about our bodies and gynaecological symptoms. I identified so much with this when think back to my own experience. Back in May 2016, I got terrible tummy cramps, which seemed strange to me because I had already had my period that month. I remember noticing other new symptoms after this and initially, the only reason I kept asking my GP about whether it was to do with my ovaries was because of where the pain was, not because I suspected it was cancer. Back then, I had no idea about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. However, as the symptoms and pain continued, and I started to search the internet, I began feeling more uneasy about what the health professionals were telling me and so I kept going back. This is one of the reasons I decided to start blogging; I truly believe that knowing the symptoms means that you can be more aware of when things don’t feel right in your body. If I have learnt anything from my experience of diagnosis, it is that you know your body the best. I also feel strongly about raising awareness of ovarian cancer amongst women of all ages. I stress ‘all ages’ because although rare, ovarian cancer can still occur in younger women, like it did with me.

So the take home message for me from the event was for us all to try and be more comfortable with talking about our bodies, our vaginas and gynaecological symptoms. If we can try to have these conversations more openly, then we can continue to make it normal for women too talk about when things don’t feel quite right and subsequently get things checked. One of the most terrifying facts about ovarian cancer is that it is often diagnosed in its latter stages, and usually once the disease has spread. The symptoms are often the same as conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or pre-menstrual syndrome. You can read more about this on the Eve Appeal website.

In aid of ovarian cancer awareness month, the Eve Appeal is asking everyone, women and men, to sit down for tea and start having these vital conversations about ovarian cancer, whilst also raising money for the cause. Have a look at the link below for more information.

So put the kettle on, slice the cake and let’s start talking!

Links and info:

  • Oliver Bonas have teamed up with the Eve Appeal and for the next two years, will be supporting The Eve Appeal through the sale of a number of products. All their profit will go to the charity, including all the in store carrier bag sales. https://www.oliverbonas.com/about-us/charity

BRCAfest update!

On 9th April, BRCAfest is taking place in Mill Hill. As well as having our raffle, we are also going to be having an auction on the day.

We have wonderful auction prizes.

1) accommodation for one week in Quinta Do Largo in the Algarve

2) a signed goodie from Jessica Ennis

3) two signed framed framed football shirts. One by Gareth Bale and the other by Juan Mata.

To be in with a chance to win these incredible prizes buy your tickets for BRCAfest now! Use the link below to purchase your tickets.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/brcafest-tickets-32137050784

Remember this event is going to spread vital awareness of BRCA mutations, hereditary cancers and the incredible work that the Royal Marsden does.

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BRCAfest

After I had my surgery in August 2016, my friend called me with an incredible idea. She had come up with an event to raise awareness about BRCA mutations and the associated hereditary cancers. With the support of our families, friends and lots of other people who have donated things we are very excited that BRCAfest (hopefully the first of many) will be taking place on 9th April. This is event is in support of the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. Please see the flyer for more details. You can purchases tickets by clicking on the link below.

 

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 We are still looking for raffle prizes and soft drinks for the event. If you are able to help us with this, or know of anybody who is able to help us with this please email findingcyril@gmail.com.

I want to thank everybody again for their love and support. It means the world to me.