The Blue Fairy's Breast Cancer Blog

Thank Goodness!

Yes, it was good news about the new lump! It turned out to be a very dense cyst which was aspirated whilst I was there and is now completely gone. They are sending the aspirated material for testing but everyone was very confident that it was nothing other than a cyst. Huge relief and I admit that I cried when  I was told the news as I had been really sure it was something bad because it felt so hard.

I told my surgeon that I am getting really dragged down by the constant scares. It’s worked out at approximately one for each year since I completed active treatment so I never seem to be able to escape from the worry of it coming back. What I really wanted him to do was agree to remove the offending breast but he is very reluctant to do this at the moment. The rationale being that it is better to have the tissue there to be monitored regularly but I am sick of worrying about it all the time and have come to dread doing my regular breast exams in case of finding something. The only thing he would agree to is that I can see him again in a year’s time and we can review it then. He didn’t want me making a decision when I was still emotionally vulnerable after this latest episode and I can respect that but I’d rather have it removed than keep going through this worry. For now though I guess I am stuck with it.

As if I didn’t have enough to contend with, life was not without other dramas last week. Over the previous weekend I had started to develop a lot of pain in the left side of my face, jaw and neck. I suspected a problem with a tooth and saw my dentist who prescribed some antibiotics telling me that it was an abscess. That was on the Tuesday but by Thursday morning not only was I in a huge amount of pain, my face and neck were very badly swollen. It was bad enough that I couldn’t open my mouth very much and had difficulty speaking, eating and swallowing. I looked like I’d been beaten up! My oncologist took one look at me and immediately dispatched me off for an x-ray of my jaw and arranged an urgent consultation with a maxillofacial surgeon as he thought I’d developed Bisphosphonate-Related Osteonecrosis of the Jaw (BRONJ). This is a rare side effect of taking bisphosphonates for which very little can be done except deal with the symptoms as they emerge.

I have to admit that I was almost as worried about this as I was about the lump in my breast being cancer, especially when the maxillofacial department were so anxious to see me that someone was prepared to see me when they were normally closed for their lunch break! However, awful as it all looked, it turned out to be a very nasty dental abscess and once again I was in tears for sheer relief. I will have to have the tooth extracted and that will be happening next Thursday at the hospital. The surgeon doubled the strength of the antibiotics my dentist had prescribed and told me that the swelling should start to go down after the weekend. I’m pleased to say that as of today I am looking a lot more normal again. There is still a painful lump but it’s nothing like the size it was and the rest of the swelling has gone away so that I can finally eat, speak etc without problem.

The other thing that came out of my trip to the breast clinic was a decision to put me on a break from the Zometa/Denosumab infusions for a while to give my system a rest. I will need to go back on them but the frequency and strength will depend on the results of the DEXA scan I will be having next month. I have to say that it will be nice having a period of not having to a) spend a day at the hospital every four weeks and b) not having to contend with bone pain and migraines for the few days following each infusion. I’m hoping that it’ll be for the summer months but I won’t know for sure until the scan has been reviewed and we can see what my bones are up to.

So all in all it’s good news to report, something that two weeks ago I was convinced was not going to happen – yippee! 🙂

Living with Lymphoedema

March was Lymphoedema Awareness Month and below is a blog post I wrote for the Centre for Building Resilience in Breast Cancer about life with LD.

It’s been 4 years since I was diagnosed with mild to moderate Lymphoedema. I wasn’t entirely surprised at the diagnosis as I’d been having problems on and off with my arm almost continually since surgery but I won’t lie, it was very disappointing. The news came at a time when I was still hoping to return to my career as a professional dancer and my heart sank at the thought of how on earth I’d disguise a compression sleeve under a costume. I’d already had to give up all my beautiful wardrobe of sparkly costumes because they couldn’t be remodelled to take account of being short of a breast, so this seemed like the last straw.
That was then but now, having learned how to live with the condition, I am a lot more philosophical about it all especially as I have met many women with Lymphoedema much worse than mine who cope amazingly well with the condition. To begin with, struggling with getting the sleeve on and dealing with the sores that often appeared in the crook of my elbow was tough but I have the support of a lovely Lymphoedema Nurse and she sourced me a new type of lightweight sleeve that is easy to put on and is designed to help reduce soreness at the elbows. Since then I have managed to make wearing a compression sleeve just another part of everyday life. Yes, it’s a nuisance and it’s sometimes a challenge dressing in a way that doesn’t make the sleeve the focus of what I’m wearing but it is doable.
For me, one of the most of the most important parts about having Lymphoedema was making sensible choices so that I don’t do anything to aggravate it and these are things that anyone who has had some or all of their axillary lymph nodes removed should bear in mind. It’s important to look after your arm as Lymphoedema can develop many years after surgery (I know someone who was recently diagnosed 22 years after her surgery). Keep it well moisturized and deal with any cuts, abrasions or insect bites promptly to avoid an infection developing. I carry antiseptic cream, a bite cream and sticky plasters in my bag just in case of minor accidents. Other things to remember are not having your BP taken on that arm or any needle sticks.
One of the tricky things for me has been learning how to rein myself in when it comes to doing things that can put additional stress on my arm. I’m a very ‘crafty’ person enjoying crochet, making jewellery and working with polymer clay, all things that done to excess can make my arm hurt and cause it swell up if I overdo things. Pacing myself has never been one of my strong points but at least having Lymphoedema has helped me learn how to do that!
Lymphoedema can seem like a devastating blow when you are already dealing with all the rubbishy things that a breast cancer diagnosis brings but I am living proof that, provided you take sensible precautions, it is possible to live a quite normal, active life and not let it control who you are.

Here we go again!

Almost 6 years to the day of when I almost died during chemotherapy, I have found yet another new lump in my remaining breast. This is the fifth scare since I finished treatment in 2011 and I can tell you, the further you get away from a cancer diagnosis, does not make any new worry easier to deal with. The previous 4 lumps all proved to be either cysts or in the case of one, a fibroadenoma but this time things feel different, more reminiscent of my first primary diagnosis.

My GP was worried enough that, after I left him, he was straight on the phone to the breast clinic to see if he could get me an urgent appointment.  I had not expected to hear anything from the hospital until at least the end of next week as I had only seen my GP yesterday afternoon but he fixed up an appointment for me there and then and a letter arrived this morning to confirm the details. It’s still not until the 4th May, the same day on my next oncology check up but the letter says that if they get a cancellation for the coming week, they will phone me.

As always, it’s the waiting that’s the killer, even when you have the appointment date set. I am trying to find things to occupy myself but there are moments when I have a bit of a wobble, as I think about what the consequences of bad news could be. I have experienced the dark side of cancer treatment and whilst I know that I’d never turn down anything offered, it’s still a hard thing to think about when you consider what happened six years ago.

The next couple of weeks are going to be tough ones!

It’s been a while

There have been some ups and downs in recent times and plenty of general life stuff that has got in the way of things like blogging. Next year however things will be quieter so I will be able to pick it up again and post more regularly.

One of the main developments is that after a false alarm over bone mets and my rapidly diminishing bone density, I have been put on 4-weekly infusions of Zolodronic Acid partly to help with the osteoporosis but also as a prophylactic regarding bone mets. This has had a significant effect on my day-to-day health as it has really ramped up the amount of fatigue I have to cope with but better that than the alternative. I’ve also been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my right hip which is proving to be a saga all of its own and which I will talk about in more detail in another post.

I saw my (new) oncologist 10 days ago and this morning I had a letter confirming what had been discussed but  it also had a bit of a surprise in it. He said that he’d been reviewing my notes back from when I was diagnosed and noticed a mistake on the summary of the lab report I was given following my surgery. I was told that all 5 tumours were Stage 2 when in fact 3 of them were actually Stage 3! This is why I was given such aggressive treatment and why they’ve been continuing to monitor me so closely. It was part of the reason why I was offered extended hormone treatment, along with the fact that I only ended up having half the planned chemo before it was stopped. The letter was extremely apologetic but stressed that whilst I didn’t have that information, I was treated in accordance with it, so it doesn’t change anything from that perspective.

No wonder I’ve been a bit puzzled as to why everyone keeps telling me that I’d been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer!

I always knew that Invasive Lobular Carcinoma was a more serious type of breast cancer than invasive ductal or ductal/lobular in situ but Stage 2 is not anything like as serious as Stage 3. This, in conjunction with the fact that it had made it into all but two of my lymph nodes, explains a great deal and is obviously why everyone is so pleased that I’ve beaten the odds to get this far. I am one very lucky woman, especially when you consider that I’ve lost friends along the way who had a much better initial prognosis than I did.

Definitely a reason for counting one’s blessings in the week that marks 6 years since my diagnosis.

Is that it then?

This week marked my last visit to my surgeon for a check up and very underwhelming it was too!

After a quick review of how I was feeling, an examination and a gift of a leaflet explaining how to check myself, that was pretty much it. I was told that absolutely any problems, no matter how small, if I am worried I can phone either his secretary or a Breast Care Nurse and a clinic appointment would be arranged without the need to go via my GP and of course I was exhorted to remain vigilant as I should NOT see myself as in any way ‘cured’ merely that I’ve been fortunate to make it thus far without any new cancer appearing. He implied that if protocols allowed for it, he’d prefer I still had check ups but 5 years is it. All he could do is reiterate vigilance, shake my hand and wish me good luck!

It’s quite sobering really, as it’s odd to think that I won’t be seeing my lovely surgeon again and I am now pretty much on my own when it comes to monitoring what my body is up to. Admittedly I still have at least one more appointment with my oncologist, but after 5 years of regular hospital appointments it’s a little daunting to find myself ‘going it alone.’

Part of me wants to shout from the rooftops that I made it to 5 years when it looked to begin with that I wouldn’t even survive treatment. However, a bigger part of me is more pragmatic – why tempt fate? Just because I’ve been lucky to get this far doesn’t mean that’s it for worrying about cancer from this point forward. The other thing is that I do not want to have to constantly explain to people that being discharged from one’s surgeon doesn’t constitute an ‘all clear’ or ‘cure’ because there is no cure for breast cancer. All you can really do is hope and that is not the kind of news people want to hear.

I get really tired of trying to explain that unlike many other cancers, breast cancer is sneaky, it can lurk in the background for a long time before popping out again. A friend’s mother is currently battling not just a new primary but Secondary (Metastatic) Breast Cancer having survived 20 years from her first diagnosis and this is not as uncommon as one would like to believe.

Breast cancer is not all pink and fluffy, it is NOT a ‘good’ cancer to have and is one of the biggest killers of women of my age group (50’s) in the UK. It is not something to be taken lightly. I’m not going to spend every waking moment worrying about the possibility of the cancer coming back, that would be foolish but I’m not sanguine about it either. I’ve been lucky so far, let’s hope it stays that way!

 

Living for the future, not in the past

It’s very hard to believe that five years ago this week, after several weeks of tests and yet more tests, I was diagnosed with Grade 2 multi-centric, invasive lobular and invasive ductal breast cancer. The 14th of October is a date that will remain etched on my memory as the day that my life changed forever. At the time I had no idea exactly how much it would change my life or comprehend the challenges I would face, since that fateful day in October 2010.

When you consider how very close I came to dying during treatment, it’s pretty amazing that I’ve made it this far as there were far too many times when we thought I wouldn’t. I am incredibly grateful to be alive but I had no idea of the kind of life that someone with a diagnosis of cancer has to confront and learn how deal with.

My life ever since has been one of ongoing poor health that is slowly but surely eroding all the confidence and joie de vivre I used to have. It has robbed me of one the main joys of my life – that of being a professional dancer and dance instructor. I have only danced once since I finished treatment and I struggle not to bitter about the fact that I’ll never be well enough to do that again. I defined myself as a dancer, it was a part of who I am and I wonder whether I will spend the rest of my life grieving for what I had and the deeply fulfilling creative outlet it provided me. The plans I had made for when I’d recovered from all the treatment, grown back my hair and regained my fitness etc., all seem terribly naive in retrospect. I never would have guessed that five years on I would have a large wardrobe of beautiful costumes that I will no longer have the opportunity to wear, unable to part with them because of the sentimental value attached to them.

The other thing my new life has provided me with is the continuing challenge of dealing with all the ‘what ifs’. I never dreamed that the accomplishment of getting through treatment, coming to terms with my new body and the new outlook it had given me on life would come at such a big price. I feel like I have moved to another country, one with a strange new language, populated by almost endless visits to a place called hospital, where everyone knows my name. I walk around this new landscape with a balloon above my head saying “has the cancer come back?” unable to puncture  it, or let go of its’ string so that it can fly away. Is this my future now? A place where every corner you walk around has a cancer scare hiding behind it waiting to pounce when you least expect it?

I’ve spent the last five years pretty much having one new cancer scar of some sort with depressing regularity every 12 months or so. Whether it be a new suspicious lump, unexplained pain or any one of a number of depressing and indeed frightening symptoms that require yet more tests and investigations. So far I’ve been one of the lucky ones as each time it has proved to be something other than cancer but you can never quite escape the fear that next time it will be. As a doctor brutally told me during my last scare just a few weeks ago, “well my lovely you’ve had a good four years!” Not something to say to a scared and vulnerable patient, no matter how well you think they will take it, but I’ll talk more about this in another post. Meanwhile I have to live with the thought implanted in my head that it is inevitable that at some point I will be once again hearing the words ‘ I’m sorry but it’s cancer.’ Lovely!

Is this how I’m expected to live the rest of my life? It’s a pretty grim outlook isn’t it? There are however moments that chase away the doom and gloom, moments that reaffirm that not only am I lucky to be in remission, there are good things to be experienced and enjoyed. It’s just a question of learning how to live in the moment rather than constantly worrying about what the future may hold. I’ll be honest though; there are still too many days when I want to curl into a ball and wish it would all go away because sometimes dealing with what has happened and what might happen again, becomes just too overwhelming to process. But every new day is indeed a blessing and I must learn to see it as such, even if that’s a lesson I have to learn anew every day.

It can be hard to tell myself that life is good when my health has deteriorated to relying on a walking stick to reduce the incidences of falling over, that post-operative pain has become severe enough that I need to take morphine to combat it, therefore losing my last vestige of independence after having my driving licence revoked because you cannot take such strong painkillers and be safe enough to drive.

Life is now about dealing with these limitations and seeing them as a challenge to overcome, not a millstone that holds me back. I’ll be honest and say that this has proved extremely difficult but I am learning if not to overcome those things, at least that there is more to life than just waiting for the ‘inevitable.’

Life is not about regrets, no matter how big those regrets are, it’s about living, being able not only to dream of a future but to get out there and live it! I may find it difficult to live up to that statement but I’ll be trying hard to make it a reality and hopefully as part of that reality I will reporting back that some of those aforementioned challenges will have been dealt with as the days, months and years continue.

 

Tired and rather emotional

I hate using the term ‘roller-coaster’ to describe my breast cancer experiences but on occasions it really does fit the bill! 

A few weeks ago I went through all the worry of yet another new cancer scare – my fourth one in the three year’s since active treatment finished. This time it turned out to be a benign nodule but that was after a whole barrage of tests accompanied by all the usual anxiety, so that I didn’t sleep properly for weeks as a result of it. Whilst in with my surgeon I discussed the possibility of having an elective mastectomy of my remaining breast because the regularity of these scares is having seriously detrimental effects on my mental health. I just want to be rid of the damned thing!

On the face of it, he was certainly open to the idea and suggested that it would be possible to do it and bi-lateral reconstruction at the same time at the larger regional hospital. As you can well imagine, I was quite excited by the prospect of there finally being the possibility of having reconstruction done as well as the attendant relief at the chance to be rid of all the anxiety related to the remaining breast.

Only a couple of weeks later we were off to see the onco-plastic surgeon to discuss it all in detail and whilst I knew I shouldn’t get too excited, it was hard not to be enthusiastic about the possibilities that lay ahead. Sadly though a few hours later all those hopes were well and truly dashed. The lovely surgeon went through every possible option but at the end of the consult she came to the conclusion that not only was I a very poor surgical risk, there was a strong possibility that I could go through a whole series of operations and not end up with a satisfactory result. She felt that it would be virtually impossible to do anything that would result in an outcome that would give me an even vaguely natural-looking breast. Not only that she was strongly adverse to a contra-lateral mastectomy, citing not only the Health Trust’s criteria, which she felt I didn’t meet but also that scares or not, it was better to hang onto the breast for continued monitoring. It is an understatement to say that I was extremely disappointed!

Two days later I had an appointment with my oncologist for a check up and I opened my heart to her about it all. Her thoughts are that, putting aside the disappointment over reconstruction, I am still far too emotionally fragile to consider any further surgery. As a result I have, albeit reluctantly, agreed that I will put the elective mastectomy on hold for a year. If there are no further scares then I will leave things as they are but if there is another one I will be able to have it done. I do understand that having something to easily check is a good thing but considering the fact that I’m considered to have a high potential for recurrence/new primary, you would have thought they would consider it simply on that basis and I’m annoyed that they won’t. I have been advised in support groups to ask for a consultation at a hospital in a different trust but the thoughts of having to travel a couple of hundred miles or more for a consult in a different region is not something I wish to consider, for logistical reasons if nothing else. Particularly as there would be no guarantee that another surgeon would agree to do it. The same applies to the reconstruction. I’ve been turned down three times now so making long journeys just be be disappointed again is not something I am prepared to do. No, what I need to do is find a way to deal with things remaining as they are. I’m not happy with it but sadly I am stuck with it so it’s a case of learning how to come to terms with it all and move forward.

It’s very difficult to make further progress though when I’m still being treated for PTSD from all the nearly dying during chemo crap. I still have nightmares and flashbacks and it is still proving virtually impossible to get a referral for any kind of counselling. I am sure that would make a difference but being a rural area means that services are really stretched so if you are not considered an urgent case, it’s almost impossible to get an appointment. It’s all very frustrating!

I hate that this is the person I have become; someone weighed down by anxiety and depression. Where is the strong woman I used to be? I guess it’s an indicator of just how traumatic those horrible experiences were but I am both angry and frustrated that I’m still dealing with the fallout of it all. Someone said a while back that happiness is like the tide and it does come back but right now I feel like it has gone out a very long way indeed.

Hey, shopper! Leave my food alone!

I am getting more and more tired of going shopping only to find that the Free From shelves are bare and that it’s usually the basics that are out of stock. It is becoming more and more annoying, particularly where food staples are concerned like bread and other baked goods. Yes, I can get some of it on prescription but there are days when I fancy something a little different like crumpets or ciabatta rolls for example. Or maybe it’s cake or biscuits that I’d fancy for a treat, whatever it was, the shelves are often frustratingly empty!

Initially I thought it was because I live in North Devon and therefore more than the average distance from a supermarket’s distribution centre. However discussions on a couple of coeliac forums showed me that this is by no means a problem local to me. Some of the problem is definitely down to supermarkets not managing their stock levels efficiently or effectively but it’s not as simple as that. I appreciate that food only has a limited lifespan but that’s a bit of a cop out when you realise that a large proportion of free from products are actually ‘long-life’ rather than ‘fresh.’ Surely it’s not that hard to order in a few extras on some lines if they are regularly selling out, especially when it equals more money at the checkout? I really think that even those supermarkets carrying a really good range of GF products are not actually that good at managing stock rotation or analyzing sales. Ridiculous really when there is a lot of money to be made in the supply of niche products!

There is another issue at play here though and one that I believe is the driving force behind the ever-more-frequently empty shelves and that’s the slow but steady rise of the consumer who chooses to eat a low-wheat or gluten free diet. These are people who either believe or actually have an intolerance to gluten or wheat and decide to exclude it from their diet. Then there are those who believe that a diet that is either low wheat or gluten free is a generally healthier diet to follow. A large majority of both types of consumer are making these choices based on life-style options and not because their doctor has advised them to exclude gluten from their diet. I know plenty of people will say that it’s their choice to do that and that they feel better for doing so and I am not arguing against that per se but the problem from my perspective is that I actually need those products whereas they don’t!

Whilst it’s great that supermarkets are now beginning to stock a much wider range of GF foods, the majority of them do not seem to have picked up on the issue of increased demand due to so many non-coeliac customers buying products in their free from ranges. This leaves me and my fellow coeliacs facing empty shelves and often having to go without quite basic food items that everyone else takes for granted. Yes, I guess I could hop in the car and drive to another supermarket but why should I? Also, we are not just talking about a single chain of supermarkets, it’s pretty much all the major players, so I’m just as likely to face empty shelves in another as I am in my preferred supermarket.

I was recently accused of being a bit self-oriented when I had a moan about this but the thing is this – I absolutely have no other choices available to me. Eating gluten will make me ill because it damages my small intestine. I can’t grab an ordinary loaf off the shelf if a GF one is not available and it’s so frustrating to go home with only half my basics purchased.

I think that it’s time that the big supermarkets woke up to this issue and sorted out their supply chain. The demand for GF food is going to continue to rise and there is a real danger that those of us who genuinely need it are going to lose out because the supermarkets are simply not stocking enough to keep up with demand. A tiny part of me also hopes that a bigger uptake in the sale of GF foods generally might result in a reduction of the often eye-wateringly steep prices of many items, as this  trend should result in more of a product being manufactured to meet the extra demand. I am however a realist, supermarkets are unlikely to reduce prices simply because they are making and selling more of a niche market product or at least not any time soon!

A plea to the non-coeliac GF food shopper. . .

Please, the next time you fancy a GF alternative when you go shopping, think first. If there are only a few left on the shelf please remember that people with Coeliac Disease have a genuine need for those items and if you aren’t Coeliac then you don’t.  Imagine what it would be like to go shopping and realise that a large proportion of your everyday food staples were unavailable and there were no other options available. As a result you face a very limited diet until your next shop and even then you may face just as many empty shelves. Not a nice thought is it? It is however a prospect that more and more Coeliacs are facing due to the rise in popularity of the foods they depend on and with a continuing rise in demand for GF products this is not likely to get any better in the short term.

What else can I say, except perhaps “food for thought.” 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

In which I get angry and depressed in equal measures!

A couple of days ago  I read this post on a friend’s blog – http://feistybluegeckofightsback.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/unbelievable/ It sums up perfectly everything I think is wrong with how much of the world views Breast Cancer Awareness month.

This is the image that started it all on Instagram.

What I find incredibly depressing is that this image has been doing the rounds on Facebook as something incredibly clever and daring. Sorry folks but it’s neither, in fact it’s tasteless, tacky, trashy, incredibly tactless and down right insulting! Did nobody stop and think that those of us dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis might not want or be able to ‘set the tatas free’? Nope, they didn’t!

I no longer have a pair of breasts and for various reasons, it’s unlikely that I ever will now so that’s it’s first black mark. Then there is the fact that my post-mastectomy chest is so painful I take morphine daily to cope with it. Most days I’m lucky if I can bear to wear a stretchy comfort bra, so there’s strike two. Strike three is really the worst of the lot – October 13 is dedicated to raising awareness for Metastatic Breast Cancer, not something that should be ‘celebrated’ or ‘supported’ by something so ridiculous and thoughtless.

I am both angry and depressed that October sees a plethora of such gimmicks and in recent years I have noticed an ever-widening gap between the realities of cancer and the stunts that are suppose to raise awareness of it. Worst of all is the fact that tactless, insensitive crap like the photo above is being propagated by intelligent women who appear to struggle to see beyond the pink mist that is currently shrouding the real issues that need addressing. I have been shocked by the number of times I have been accused of being either a kill-joy or oversensitive because I have aired my dislike of such rubbish. I’m neither, instead I am a woman struggling to live a life blighted by the UK’s largest cause of cancer deaths among women – breast cancer. Not fluffy, not pink but deadly – not much to laugh about is there?

Here’s a thought – how about instead of taking your bra off for the day,  you donate some money to a cancer charity and help make a real difference!

A fabulous, uplifting experience!

On Wednesday I was fortunate, no scrub that, I was honoured to be a guest of Breast Cancer Care at the Afternoon Tea performance of The Show – London.

The Show is an annual celebration of everything positive about life after a diagnosis of breast cancer. It featured a truly wonderful fashion show with all the models, male and female, having lived through the experience of a breast cancer diagnosis. Sadly one model, Sally White, passed away before the show which was dedicated to her name. A powerful reminder of how breast cancer can steal away a life so quickly and viciously. I have to say that her fellow models did her proud – a truly amazing show!

However, it wasn’t all about fashion, there is an important message to impart too; that regardless of what surgery and treatment generally has done to your body, it is still possible to walk tall, proud of your body and comfortable in your skin. I was deeply moved by all the models, their stories and in watching the show, I realised that there was hope for me yet.

I won’t give a blow by blow account but instead pick out some of my favourite moments. Oh what the hell, who am I kidding? The whole thing was bloody fantastic, every single segment and vignette had its own highlights and there really are far too many to list!

One thing that drew gasps of admiration from all the ladies sat at my table was the female models’ ability to sasshay down the catwalk in a dazzling collection of vertiginous heels! In fact the final, gold-themed evening wear segment left me with major pangs of both shoe and dress envy. The gold dresses, all those crystal encrusted shoes, the oodles of bling, it was such a wonderful finish to the catwalk show. After this model Nadiya Donovan gave a powerful speech about her personal breast cancer experience, a speech that moved many, including me, to tears. It was beautiful, heartfelt and summed up much that many of us feel about how breast cancer has touched our lives. It took a lot of courage to make that speech and she has my deepest respect for being able to do it.

Away from the show itself there was something else that made this such a wonderful experience; the opportunity to meet women from all over the country who had similar experiences to my own. It was a tough decision to accept Breast Cancer Care’s generous invitation to attend as their guest because I was very nervous about travelling to such a large event on my own all the way from North Devon. I won’t pretend that it was easy but I donned my very poshest, pink suit and got on the train with a determination that no matter what, I was going to have a good time and I did!

There were a couple of hiccoughs – the struggle to get a complimentary glass of orange juice from a jobsworth waiter, who I discovered was quite happily handing out extras without charge or production of the ticket he demanded from me!  Then there was the fact that there was not a single thing for me to eat, even though I had phoned the hotel ahead with all my details asking for something gluten free. I recognise that I should have mentioned this in advance to the BCC team but I was assured by the person I spoke to that it wouldn’t be a problem if I gave my name to the staff serving our table. This however was met with nothing more than blank looks and an offer of a second cup of tea! It was tough watching everyone else enjoy a selection of what looked like yummy sandwiches, scones and pastries when all I could eat was the preserve and the clotted cream but I reminded myself that a) I hadn’t paid to be there and b) everything else about the day was brilliant. 🙂

I would stress that this in no way at all spoiled the day. When I arrived I was taken under the wing of a lovely lady called Michelle and her friends who fought a splendid battle on my behalf over the drink and mentioned it to the organisers later on. I never got her last name and I didn’t see her again after we took our seats but Michelle and your friends – thank you so much for looking after me!

It took me almost five and a half hours to get home but the long train journey was made easier by the fact that for part of it I sat by a lovely lady who’d also been to the show. She was a previous model and was great company on a train that was running very late – thank you Gloria!

All in all it was one incredible, uplifting, truly amazing experience – thank you so much Breast Cancer Care!