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Reflecting on the old me & now present me…

Cancer at 25….

I always had a pretty laid back approach to how I lived my life. I was quite the avid partygoer; the experimenter; smoker and a big fan of the drink. I ate what I wanted and kind of did what I wanted, with minimal exercise.  Which is a far cry from my former 16 year old self; healthy, first team hockey player and a school prefect.

Fast forward through university, the horrendous hangovers, and the experimentation of new substances. Not to mention the copious amount of tragic tinder dates that resulted in nothing but disappointment. However, university I survived and passed with a strong 2:1 in psychology. Bagged myself a job as a banker straight away, making life long friends before later leaving to join the family business. Between the years of being a banker and then working for the family business, I was always out, drinking, still smoking and doing things that I shouldn’t – with the eating and lack of exercise only worsening but still averaging a solid size 12; just a wobbly one but I always maintained my self confidence.  Following endless more disastrous tinder dates and no success in love, I finally found myself a keeper in May 2018. Working for my dad was going great, I had my own house and of course a cat, my main man frank! I loved going out with my girls on the weekend, and spending time with my boyfriend, with no care in the world.

I have always been one to check my breasts regularly, mainly because they are big double D’s so you simply can’t resist touching them. There isn’t really any family history of breast cancer in my family, however I always felt that it was important to know your breasts on a month-to-month basis. So that you get to know what is normal for you. What some women don’t appreciate perhaps is just how firm you have to be sometimes, with larger breasts in particular.

One night at the start of December 2018 I found what I thought was a lump, but wasn’t sure. I got my boyfriend a couple days later to feel, which confirmed my fears – that this wasn’t normal and wasn’t there before. 2 days later I was at the doctors, which resulted in me booking privately for an ultrasound a week later, so i didn’t have to wait over 2 weeks for an appointment to come through via the NHS. It was on that scan right then and there that I knew it was serious. He scanned the lump, and then told me my lymph node in my armpit area was enlarged too, which I couldn’t feel. By this time, the lump and lymph node area was becoming tender to touch. (Whoever says, if it hurts, its not cancer. Was a liar!) Immediately I was fast tracked back on to the NHS system by the next day, getting 6 biopsies. 3 from the lump and 3 from the lymph node. This honestly wasn’t bad; it didn’t hurt, just left me with a couple of nice bruises and a small scar from the biopsy needle, which have almost disappeared now. I was advised results could take a week, but with Christmas fast approaching I was given the choice to either wait or find out the following week. I didn’t want to wait till after Christmas I wanted to know now. So on the 20th of December I was given the news that no 25 year old would expect to hear – you have breast cancer. Merry Fucking Christmas!

I was weirdly fine during the meeting with the consultant, who will also be my surgeon. I think that’s because I had already accepted that I had it and almost felt relieved for knowing – so I could now tackle it head on and beat this. I have triple negative breast cancer, testing negative for the Brca gene. My cancer is one of the more aggressive ones; in the sense it is more likely to come back than other breast cancers. Triple negative breast cancer is a type of breast cancer that does not have receptors for the hormones oestrogen and progesterone or the protein HER2, as well as it being a more rare type of breast cancer to be diagnosed with, it’s also very fast growing compared to hormone based ones; which makes it so aggressive. Scientists are still working on research to understand this complex type of breast cancer, which is why I ended up on a clinical trial for the first 12 weeks of chemotherapy.

I try not to let my particular diagnosis phase me, one day at a time, as there are those with success stories as well as those with sad stories. I chose to believe that I would be a success story.

The key for me at 25 and dealing with this, which has carried me through chemo is positive thinking  –  as cliché as that sounds. Cancer doesn’t have me and isn’t taking over me; I just have it for a temporary amount of time. I laugh and joke as much as I did before; I make the most horrendously inappropriate jokes. I go out for dinner with my boyfriend and family still and enjoy nights in with my girls. I am also now forced to live a healthy life again, no drinking, smoking and eating cleaner – hell I even went on jogs during chemo where I felt fit enough to do so. I also went to work nearly every day for at least 4 hours – although it’s a little easier when your father is the boss but the routine helped me keep that sense of normality. Now not everyone has the same experience through chemo, I know I am lucky. Upset stomachs, and tiredness with the occasional nosebleed was as bad as it got not to mention the piles – ouch! I am rocking a Phil Mitchell inspired hair do, but again that was something I took control of before it controlled me. As soon as my hair started malting, the shaver was out. I rock the turban and own many a fabulous wig. I wear my makeup bolder and brighter, with big earrings. I own the look, and accept this is my look for the time being. You just have to embrace it.

Now ladies (and gentlemen), I have to be honest. Yes I am positive at large, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my bad and dark days. Days I have cried, or been uncomfortable and in pain at times. I look at my once favourite assets, and feel like they have let me down – and couldn’t even bring myself to look at my breasts for a while, which knocked a part of my confidence away. Before starting chemo, I chose to freeze my eggs, so the gruelling process of injecting my stomach over 2 weeks and receiving internal scans before being put to sleep for a small procedure was a lot to deal with for any one but especially someone in their 20’s. Not to mention my hormones were all over the shop during that time. (If you have the chance to freeze your eggs if ever in this situation, for me it was a no brainer. I know I have that back up in case I suffer from infertility following treatment, which is a high possibility. )

Once my first chemo session was under way, I found I didn’t cry as much, and I can now look at my breasts again and i am learning to love them all over again.

The only thing breast cancer has taken away from me slightly, is that I am no longer carefree. I now think about what I put in my body, and I think about my future and how long that will be. I know that it will get easier as time passes. All cancer patients fear it coming back. However it is simply out of our control, you just need to enjoy each day and not let your thoughts run wild.

The next step for me as I approach my last chemo session in a few weeks is surgery. For me this will be a lumpectomy with removal of some lymph nodes. I should be out of hospital the very next day, and then a month later I will receive 3 weeks of radiation. Which is every day except weekends, how kind of them to give me my weekends off! Hopefully then for me, I will officially be able to say, I am cancer free. Well here’s hoping.

Ladies (and gentlemen) know your breasts, know what is your norm. Never be afraid to go the doctors if you’re unsure about something. Checking your breasts takes a minute of your time. If not caught early, Breast cancer can take away your life. Be smart and check regularly.

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Getting Back To Reality.

As my active treatment on this long and overwhelming cancer journey, gradually comes to an end (here is hoping anyways). I cant help but feel like the last 8 months have been a complete blur. I feel as though I have blinked, and now here I am awaiting radiotherapy dates; the final piece for me. Of course I am not complaining about how fast the year has gone, I ll be glad to see the back of 2019 for sure. However, it has made me reflect on how I have coped and managed over the last 8 months. How does any cancer patient cope really? It is something as humans we have all been made aware of, cancer, and for many we have witnessed others battle this horrible disease. But we never assume we would be so unfortunate to take on the battle ourselves. But here we are…fighting. So how do we do it?

The answer is, we have no choice but to.

No matter your age, circumstance, or relationship status, the battle against cancer, is at large for most of us the same. It is a journey that impacts us greatly both physically and mentally. Bringing us to near breaking point on a daily basis. On the outside we smile, but inside we are hurting and suffering as well as lonely. No matter how many loved ones surround us, it still feels on those days sometimes, that we are sat completely alone. And that’s not just because chemo brain has well and truly settled in, and we have lost all ability to follow a conversation. It is far deeper than that.

On looking back on my own journey, has it been as bad as I thought it would be? No, not at all. Has it been easy? Absolutely not. Losing my hair was fine, I knew it would grow back, and gradually it is. Pain, I could deal with as long as it wasn’t constant, which it never was. Tiredness, I knew I could overcome. What I didn’t prepare for was everything else. How I feel in my body; changes to my skin. My once spot free skin, now covered with small pimples. Weight gain from steroids, which I am battling to lose, and not getting very far. Joint pain and general aches, making me feel 20 years older than I am. Missing my period; something I never thought I would say. As I don’t yet know whether I will be able to conceive naturally yet and wont for a while, my fertility therefore plays on my mind constantly. Knowing that I shouldn’t drink as much as I used to, or eat certain things as much as I used to, has been so, so very hard. The greatest struggle of all though, is losing how carefree I was. Having to now think about everything I consume, do, and feel, is simply frustrating and tiring. Although I lead a much healthier version of my life now, I cant help but still ask, why me?

Often on reflection I wonder to myself, am I going to wake up now, and is this just a nightmare? That the last 8 months haven’t really happened, and 2019 is only just starting? One can dream. Some days it doesn’t feel real what is happening to me. How did I get this unlucky at 25 for fucksake? I was once a carefree blithering idiot who drank too much on the weekends, afraid of stepping foot in a hospital, mainly because of the smell, who never had any health scares before. To now a regular hospital goer, drinking only on special occasions, unphased by anything doctors now throw my way. I might still be a blithering idiot, but that’s not the point. It truly is amazing what you can withstand as a human. I didn’t think I had it in me, but I guess I proved myself wrong.

Although I have been told that I had a complete response to treatment prior to surgery, which is amazing I know. There were however a couple lymph nodes in the upper/middle of my chest that they don’t remove. Although assumed they have responded just as well and happy to call me cancer free, I don’t think I ll fully accept that until my next scan. Apart of me, like any cancer patient I am sure, we think the worst now. Scanxiety is still a very real and prevalent aspect of my life now. I always plant a seed of doubt in the back of my mind. Well what if the cancer has spready elsewhere, and you just don’t know? What if I need more treatment? And still the one that prevails most in the back of my mind…what if it comes back?

For now, I will sit patiently (she says having just rang her oncologist) for my radiotherapy destination and dates and my oncology appointment and scan. Hope for the best, and start my new norm. My new cancer free life. Well I bloody hope so anyway, because I am quite over this cancer malarkey now, as I am sure you all are as well. I do fear not having my regular appointments with the doctors, as it becomes up to me almost to spot any secondary symptoms. At the moment I am wrapped in a cancer bubble, protected by family, friends and doctors. That bubble is soon going to pop, and it is back to my new reality. And it is that, that scares me the most.

My New Norm

It has been nearly 2 weeks since my operation. To say i am bored is an understatement. No driving for 2 weeks; no work; no ability to raise my arm above shoulder height. To top things off further, i also developed a seroma once the drain was removed, which has caused me some discomfort, but this is getting better on its own now.

Now as i discussed previously, i was due to meet my surgeon today, which i did. In which i was expecting at this meeting to discuss how my operation went. To find out whether he thought i ought to need a further operation, and to see how i was healing. I also hoped that with this meeting, i would finally get my pathology results, from what he removed during the operation. A complete pathological response, is whereby the chemo a patient has received prior to surgery, has actually done a complete job. It kills all the cancers cells that were in you. This is a desirable outcome for all cancer patients, because it also means our chances of reoccurrence are lessened. Supposedly. However, a complete pathological response is less common, particularly for those with an aggressive breast cancer like mine, triple negative. It is only upon doing research that i came across this information.  I assumed that a complete pathological response was most likely. Therefore, going into my meeting with the marvellous Dr Anthony Skene, i was fairly optimistic, and fairly calm. I thought to myself well if a complete pathological response isn’t as common as i had assumed, then i shouldn’t be disheartened if i don’t achieve this, as the surgery alone would have done the job, in making me cancer free…well i was hoping so anyways.

Now as we are talking and catching up and he inspects my healing, i hear those magical words. That i, Hannah Wadland, have had a complete pathological response. An overwhelming amount of emotion succumbed me. I couldn’t believe i had been this lucky. Everything that my body has been put through, was worth it. This is all i wanted to hear. I felt like i could breathe again, and that now i can enjoy things that i used to again. My journey is not yet over, as i will still go on to have some radiation, just to be on the safe side. But that really is nothing compared to what i have already gone through. Radiotherapy i can handle (famous last words). Due to the fact i had some lymph nodes active in the middle of my chest before starting treatment, he has referred me to the Royal Marsden for radiotherapy to see if they think its necessary i go there for it. If so, great, if not, then this will be conducted at Poole Hospital instead.

I am now looking forward to my new norm. Not the norm that has been the last 8 months, of cancer Hannah. But now my new norm as Cancer free Hannah. She is not as carefree as she used to be, and her red meat intake is nearly non-existent. She doesn’t smoke anymore, and enjoys exercise once again. However, she sure does still enjoy a glass of vino. Hello to my new norm, Hannah 1, cancer 0.

Traumatic, but over.

On Friday the 26th of July, i went into the Royal Bournemouth Hospital for my wire guided insertion (lumpectomy), and axillary node clearance of the left side. Up until the surgery day, i had been overcome with anxiety and worry. I have never had an operation before, and the whole idea of it all scared me. However, alongside the fear, was reality. The reality being that this operation is effectively saving my life. This operation is potentially giving me back my cancer free life.

As i was welcomed into the ward, i was advised that i would be 3rd down. When it got to midday i was told ‘it was time’, and i walked over the corridor and said an emotional goodbye to my mum. I walked through to where the theatre was, and met with the anaesthetist, who was there to cannulate me, ready to put me to sleep. I have always been hard to bleed from, hence why i was given a PICC line for treatment. So after nearly 2 hours of attempting to cannulate me via the arms, wrists, feet and groin; eventually they decided to cannulate me via the neck. Yes…the fucking neck! Now let me tell you, after being stabbed 10 times all over my body, with numerous failed attempts of getting into an actual vein, the neck was the last option. At this point my anxiety was through the roof, and i was even more petrified than ever before. Not to mention the fact that i knew my family would all be expecting me to be done by this point with my operation. Not realising that they still hadn’t been able to cannulate me. To cannulate someone in the neck is not a simple process. This involved them scrubbing in, numbing my neck with three injections and then finding the vein. The pressure and force from the anaesthetist on my neck as he was forcing the line in through my neck and vein, hurt alone. The sensation was horrible and reminded me of when my PICC line was inserted. They also then had to stitch in place the cannula so that it wouldn’t move. And yes, i felt them stitching it through my neck. Finally, i was cannulated and they really wasted no time in putting me to sleep. I started to taste the drugs then 3…2…1…. and i am waking up in recovery.

Waking up in recovery was an experience in itself. My immediate first thought and therefore first sentence was, ‘i am going to be sick’. So there i am, half awake, chundering my guts up. However, i was given anti sickness immediately and i stopped being sick rather quickly. The neck cannula was removed from my neck, and i was wheeled down to Ward 12 an hour later where i would spend just one night, which was actually quite a pleasant experience, surprisingly.

Now, for most people their experience wouldn’t be quite as traumatic as mine was at the start. If they hadn’t of had such a trouble cannulating me, i would be a lot more positive about the experience. I am a tough old girl most of the time, with a high pain threshold. But honestly, that moment before i was put to sleep, was hands down the worst experience of my cancer journey so far. Whether you think that is dramatic of me to say or not, i do not care. Because for me, it was awful. The rest of it was fine. Sitting here in bed writing this, relaxing and recovering is easy. My pain and discomfort is at a 1. I am simply just bored out of my mind, and frustrated that i can’t drive just yet, and wont be able to get out on the paddle boards for at least a month. From what i can see of my surgeons work, he has done a marvellous job. Very neatly done, and hopefully will heal well over time.

As i manage this drain coming out of me for the next few days (out on Friday). My thoughts turn to the next chapter. I will meet once again on the 8th with my surgeon, where he will be able to tell me whether the chemo killed all the cancer, or whether there was still cancer left in me before he removed it. He will also advise how he felt the operation went, and what will be next for me. Will it just be a few weeks of radiation? Will i need another operation? Am i cancer free yet?

There is still very much an element of the fear of the unknown. I personally hope that my cancer journey is coming to and end, and that it is just radiation left for me to tackle. I will update you all at the end of next week, once i have spoken to my surgeon. Thank you all for your support and kinds words so far.

A Lonely Journey…

I wasn’t going to write an updated blog post until after my surgery on Friday. However, the fact that my surgery is only in three days, has forced out of me this latest post.

Going through a cancer journey, in my opinion, is unlike any other journey a human could go through and experience. From the shock when you first hear those words uttered to you; to the gruelling treatments your body is put through; and then there is the strain it has on you mentally as well as physically. Although many cancer patients may find comfort in talking to other fellow cancer patients, or to those who have been on a cancer journey and are thriving in their newly adjusted life. It still is, extremely lonely. I have found many women, diagnosed with the exact same breast cancer as myself, who have even been on the same trial as myself. Although we can compare notes and there are similarities to our journeys, you wont find another individuals journey that is completely the same as yours. Thus, making a cancer diagnosis a lonely journey that many embark on.

Friends and family can attempt to imagine what you are going through, but the reality is, no one will ever be able to understand what is exactly like. When people say ‘oh you’re nearly there’ or ‘theres light at the end of the tunnel’ (which i too have been guilty of saying), it frustrates me. Nearly there with what? Yes i have nearly finished treatment, but then what? Whats next? In my mind, i will always be fighting against cancer. Fighting to prevent it coming back. Fighting against the affects treatment has had on my body physically and mentality. I may get to hear the words ‘You are cancer free’, but my mind will never be free from it. It will always be in the back of my mind, no matter what.

As my surgery fast approaches, i am living with complete anxiety and worry. I have never had surgery before and that scares me. I worry about how my left breast will look following surgery. I worry about how much pain i will be in and how my scars will heal. I feel as though my brain is doing over time, and that a good nights sleep is a thing of the past.

Don’t be fooled by our smiles, and laughter. Just like any cancer patient on their lonely journey of fighting this dreaded illness, we are all capable of being positive, but we are also capable of the opposite. It is a continuous struggle, and lonely uphill battle, don’t assume that just because we smile and joke, that we are ok. Most of the time we are not. It is simply a case of learning to adjust to our new life, whilst mourning the old one that we have left behind.

(Follow my journey via instagram: Hannahwadland)

Surgery Is Confirmed

Although i am still very much living in that limbo stage of cancer treatment. I have now been given my confirmed surgery date for my Lumpectomy, and node clearance. Hello July 26th!

My surgeon is still very much set on the lumpectomy and node clearance as my best shot, followed by a few weeks of radiation after. We have discussed my scars, and where they will be and potentially what to expect. He believes i will be out the same day, but to bring a night bag just in case there are any complications, or i don’t react well following the anesthetic.

What he has advised however, is that, if surgery is not as successful as he hopes (whatever that means) i could be looking at a further operation, or even a mastectomy. I will definitely be having one, if my cancer returns i have been advised. They have to give you worse case scenarios, which i get and understand. Fingers crossed my surgery will go according to plan, and he gets it all. It would be even nicer if pathology advise that i have had a complete response to chemo, although that seems unlikely perhaps if they can still see a small area on the ultrasound. Whether that is still cancer or scar tissue, we will find out soon.

Now it is simply a case of doing normal day to day activities, until my surgery which is 2 weeks tomorrow. Then it will be a case of relaxing; managing my pain and discomfort; faffing with a drain coming out of my armpit for 7 days; and doing the exercises that my physiotherapist will recommend following the surgery.

I ll post again after i have had my surgery, wish me luck ❤

In Limbo…

It has been almost 3 weeks since, what i hope will be, my last chemotherapy session. It feels as though time has gone by slowly since that last session. I am gradually starting to feel more and more like my old self. My routine with work and socialising seems to be going back to normal. Between now and the end of July, i would have had surgery, and be awaiting my dates for radiation. The final part of my cancer journey. Surely this is exciting? Great? Fabulous? But i can’t help but feel a little lost, scared and anxious.

Unlike other breast cancers, such as hormone based ones; with triple negative breast cancer, there isn’t any ongoing medication for me to take once the initial treatment is over. During treatment, like chemo, it is like you have that safety net and security. You are taking medication thats trying to fight and kill off the thing that is trying to kill you. Once thats over, it simply feels like a waiting game. Waiting to see if its worked, if it comes back, or if i will go on to live the rest of my life as i had initially envisioned, before all this cancer bullshit.

As i sit here in bed after a full week of work, nearly 3 weeks post my final chemo, and having spent the evening down the beach with my other half, things feel pretty normal at face value. I’ve enjoyed my first few glasses of prosseco of 2019, and i have a holiday booked for November, among other social events. But i just feel this overwhelming amount of guilt, and uncertainty still. I don’t think i am cancer free yet. Only surgery will be able to do that for me, or confirm that. I feel guilty for enjoying alcohol in a small dose for the first time in nearly 6 months. I feel guilty for the beef burger i have eaten tonight, and the tan i have developed from being down the beach. I haven’t seen or spoken to a single medical expert in nearly 3 weeks. It just feels strange and unfamiliar.

I believe that once surgery is over and done with, things will fall more into place. Normality will start to resume, and i too will hopefully feel less uncertain and anxious. I am a positive person, and i am proud of how i have dealt with everything so far. But i can’t help but ask myself, what’s next? Only time will tell. I am going to live and enjoy my life no matter what is thrown at me. For the time being, this feeling of being in limbo in my treatment process i think is probably quite normal. I shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying things that i used to, it still comes down to moderation, but it is still ok.

Everything In Moderation…

As i start to relax and enjoy life without having to go to chemo anymore (for the time being), and have my body pumped with lots of drugs; i am thinking more and more about what i should and shouldn’t be putting in my body.

Prior to my diagnosis on Dec 20th 2018, i really did not care about/or think about what i would put in my body. I drank heavily every weekend nearly, i bloody loved a kebab and any other takeaways i could get my hands on. God i really did eat a lot of red meat as well. Lamb, steaks, mince…more mince…burgers, oh god so many burgers! It makes me salivate at the thought now. I just loved food, and i ate out a lot and i did get takeaways a lot. I will hold my hands up and admit that. I drank way too much as well as smoking too. This isn’t why i got cancer, however it may have contributed. I will however probably never fully understand why i got cancer at 25. But, now that i have cancer and i am trying to kick its arse, i am now thinking, what is it i can do to make sure i don’t get it again?

Realistically, if my cancer wants to reoccur, then it will, it is what it is. But i am a strong believer now, that doing what you can in terms of diet and exercise, will give me the best chance at it not reoccurring. For me, it is simply a case of minimising my risks, whilst enjoying life too. Everything in moderation.

I have never had a problem with vegetables and fruit, i just never ate enough of them. Red meat in moderation, and not as frequent as my past habits, is also ok. What i have made and effort in doing, is reducing my red meat intake quite drastically. I am now eating, a lot more white meat and fish, alongside fruit and veg. As well as using quorn as a substitute for mince. I have made a conscious effort to reduce my dairy and general carbohydrate intake, whilst making sure my sugar intake is minimal. I will never go vegetarian, let alone vegan – i just love meat too much. However, i am enjoying making new recipes using fish, chicken and turkey – adding flavour with spices, and bulking dishes up with things like black beans for example. I find that my body for the first time, craves healthy and good food. I actually feel ill when i allow myself to have a cheat day now, which says it all! I think with my body having undergone a gruelling 5 months of chemo, it simply just craves the good things now. I am not complaining. I have found it hard to get creative, but manage. Food shopping is more regular now and perhaps more costly slightly, as i get things as fresh and organic as i can. But i rather be spending my money on good quality, healthy foods, than the booze and fags i was prior to my diagnosis!

Alcohol scares me at the moment. I am not cancer free yet and won’t be for at least a few months. Many people ask about drinking during chemotherapy. I simply did not feel the need, or want to. When i started FEC which was every 3 weeks, just before my next cycle i would be feeling my best self, so treated myself to a shandy. I have literally had 2 shandies since starting treatment in January. Now i am no longer having chemo, and surgery is next month, i know it is probably ok to have a glass or two, but it still scares me. Even once i have had the all clear, i think it will still scare me. I know that now, in myself, i wont be the same when it comes to drinking, i cant really afford to be. A few glasses once in a while however wont hurt me. As the years hopefully go by, once in remission (heres hoping), that fear may disappear more. However, i know that i can never go back to living the way i did before. As all of this could have been for nothing.

Does that make me sad? A little. Again it comes back to losing that care free nature of mine. I wish i could drink a bottle of wine on a night out, sneak out for a naughty cigarette and go home with a kebab and have no regrets. No fear or guilt. But i can’t. And that isn’t a bad thing. Cancer has simply forced me to become the best version of myself, i am just having to embrace it. Everything in moderation.