On Monday 10th October, I completed part two of cycle five of my chemo. Everything went to plan, but it was a slightly longer session because I needed to have IV magnesium. This was actually quite a good thing because it meant that I could take a break from the daily magnesium drinks that have been playing games with my stomach! It was wonderful to have a visit from my fantastic friend and brilliant artist, Laura Footes. She took my mind off the cold cap and chemo by bringing in some books about some of my favourite artists for us to read. My degree is in French and History of Art and I’ve always seen art as a way of escapism. As Pablo Picasso said, ‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.’
Spending time talking about and looking at art with Laura during my chemo made me think about sharing a few of the other things that I do to help me switch off, stay positive, stay calm and keep a sense of normality during my fight with ‘Cyril.’
- The power of the pixie
The first thing I’m going to mention might seem a little bizarre…Some of you may know that I’m an avid pixie collector. This collection began when I spent a year living in Old Lyon and discovered an incredible shop that sold all sorts of pixies. Over the course of the year, I built up my collection and so when I returned to London, I was overjoyed to discover a stall in Camden that also sold them. And my collection has continued to grow. Since being diagnosed with ‘Cyril,’ I’ve spent a lot of time on the Internet and found some great websites that also sell them. In fact, the other week I found myself ordering some whilst in the chemo chair! Adding a new member to my ever-growing pixie family always cheers me up and puts a smile on my face. It also means I have more choice with which pixie to place my lottery tickets under. This is a ritual that I’ve been sticking to ever since I won a nice sum of money from a ticket that I’d accidentally left under a pixie! It goes without saying that ‘Cyril’ can brings dark days, but as strange as it sounds, the pixies make me smile and smiling is important because it can easily brighten up some of the dark moments. Below I have shared photos of my collection and a photo of Old Lyon where I first discovered these pixies.
2. Being kind to your body
Another thing that I’ve found helpful to keep up with is getting my nails painted and other than a little break during surgery, ‘Cyril’ has not stopped my fortnightly visit to the nail bar! It’s always a great distraction to choose nail colours and designs and I feel good about myself when my nails are done. Fighting ‘Cyril’ can make you feel very different about your body and appearance, so I’ve found it helpful to do things that make you feel good about yourself and how you look. Other things that help me to feel better about my appearance are facials by my superstar auntie! Chemo can affect your skin so these facials help me to relax, but also treat and calm my skin. I’m also looking forwards taking part in a Look Good Feel Better workshop at the Royal Marsden next month. This workshop is run by a charity and offers women an afternoon of skin-care and make up tips to help increase self-confidence and self-esteem, which can so easily be affected by the changes to your body as a result of cancer and chemotherapy treatment. You can find more information on their website http://www.lookgoodfeelbetter.co.uk/.
As well as enjoying having my nails done, I’ve also always loved shopping. I’ve always been a good (‘good’ is code for big) shopper, but since being diagnosed, buying new things to wear has not really been on my mind. However, more recently I’ve been starting to think about getting back into shopping. It can be a good pick-me-up and it certainly was this week…I decided to make my feet sparkle with some new shoes on Wednesday after I had my 3 monthly breast check-up, which I’m pleased to say showed no changes or abnormalities. I have these checks because the BRCA 1 mutation also increases my risk of breast cancer.
- Mindful activity
Mindfulness exercises and colouring have also become very important to me during my treatment. Since diagnosis my colouring book and pens have rarely left my bag and are always with me during chemotherapy sessions. I find colouring allows me to switch off my brain from other thoughts, focus only on the moment, and reduce any anxiety. Another helpful mindful activity for me has been listening to music. Anxiety is something that I’ve had to get to know and understand since diagnosis. It’s not something that I, or anyone, can avoid but the important thing I’m learning is that there are ways that you can reduce it, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. There are times when anxiety makes me feel like my heart is popping out my chest, and one of the things I’ve found is that putting my music on loud is a great distraction. I can focus on the lyrics and it helps to rest my mind and make anxiety gradually fade away.
- The little family members
I’ve said so many times before how much I value having my friends and family around me and giving me such amazing support through my journey with ‘Cyril.’ But one of the things which has been especially important to me is having time with my wonderful nephew and niece. Children have such a unique way of cheering you up and making your heart sing. I’ve always loved being an auntie but having them around when I’ve had difficult days during this journey has been amazing. They keep me completely distracted and give a unique type of support. I’m so lucky that I get to see them so often and I love spending time with them.
This week, their mum left me and my other sister in charge of them, (foolish) so naturally we decided to give India-Rose an introduction into fashion and accessorising… As with all my family, she is even sporting a Finding Cyril band! I also have a crazy amount of videos of them on my phone, which I also love to watch when I feel low. I’ve included one below; a video of my nephew, Raphael, explaining how he recently fractured his ankle!
- Trying something new
Fighting ‘Cyril’ has meant that I have quite a bit of time on my hands. When I was first diagnosed I thought about what I could do with the time. I’ve always loved creative activities, and so decided to learn calligraphy and set a goal of (with the help of my friend Laura Footes) designing and writing the wedding invitations for my cousin and his fiancé’s wedding next summer. One of my best friends got married a few months ago and I was so honoured when she asked me to use my new skill to write out the name place settings for the wedding. I’m really pleased that I decided to start calligraphy because although fighting Cyril’ has meant big changes to my lifestyle and routine, it also means that I’ve learnt something new. It has given me a positive focus and challenge.
6. Raising money and awareness
One of the main things that has kept me feeling positive is my fundraising for the Royal Marsden and raising awareness of BRCA mutations and ovarian cancer. My diagnosis at 27 is rare, and so if I can help other young ladies to be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer by sharing my story, then I know I have done a good thing. Fundraising also gives me a way to give something back to the amazing hospital that is saving my life, and the lives of so many others.
- Netflix and box sets
I think this one is pretty self-explanatory! However, I will say that I am not naturally somebody who can sit and watch hours of TV, but after being forced into trying some box sets I achieved a personal record of completing three series of Devious Maids in two weeks! I am waiting eagerly for series four to come out, but have lots of other box sets to keep me occupied in the meantime! Who would have thought that I would branch out from Neighbours, Home and Away and Eastenders!
So those are a few of the things that have been helping me keep focused and positive. More recently, I have started to think about the future and the idea of getting back to the things that had to take a back seat in my life since June. I think this is because I am nearing the end of my chemo and the start of my maintenance treatment. When I think towards the future, I find myself feeling a lot of anxiety, uncertainly and fear. Thinking about what mindfulness has taught me, I’m trying to accept that these feelings about the future are ok, and whilst I cannot stop these, I don’t always have to ‘go with them’ when they appear. To help me with this, I’ve been trying to use the image of a London bus. I allow myself to notice and acknowledge the fears and worries, and then imagine putting them on the bus and watching it drive away. So although I know that these worries are there, and that they will come back round, I have the choice to not always get on the bus with them. This allows me to have space in my mind to think more about the positive things to come: finishing my masters, going back to teaching and continuing with raising awareness and fundraising.
I would be lying if I said that this always works or that it’s easy to put into practice, but it’s another way that I can feel more in control of a very ‘out of my control’ situation. I also know that in time it will become easier and so I try not to put too much pressure on myself about the future. Instead, I try to keep myself in the present.