Just as we all like to mark birthdays, we also all count our cancerversaries. How many years since first diagnosis, how many since completion of treatment, how many years clear, how many since rediagnosis and so on. A lovely friend was marking her 8 years clear since diagnosis but with a hearty reminder to us all that we are never out of the cancer woods, just look at Olivia Newton-John she managed an amazing 25 years and then it turned up again.
And much at the same time Kristin Hallenga founder of Coppafeel was also celebrating her 9 years since she first went to her GP with ‘lumpy boob’ and at the ridiculously tender age of 23 was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s only 31 now. Both my friend and Kris Hallenga have achieved a huge amount since diagnosis, both have been moved to help others. One founded an internet support group and the other established the first ever group to encourage women to check their breasts. Both much needed and valued by hundreds indeed thousands of women.
We are so lucky in this age of social media that at our fingertips we can find support, information, friendship and a platform to reach out to people who understand and to share our experiences in the hope that it may be useful to others.
On this anniversary I would like to offer you Kris Hellenga’s latest blog entry ‘How to glitter a turd’ – it’s about her life on reaching this important anniversary. I think what I love most about it is that like me she has advanced, stage 4, metastasis breast cancer but she has taken a new direction both in her life and treatment regime and amazingly opened a cafe in a van. Wow what a woman. It’s inspirational – read on;
From Boobs to Bundts.
I am supposed to be a cancer blogger, but I’ve been pretty slack at that. And so here is an overdue update from me and not just because I want to uphold that title but also because I have a few things to say, that I have in fact been meaning to say for so long but whenever I get the time to sit and write my blog, something crops up, typically social media, food, cat petting. Yeah so I just find this blogging thing harder than ever.
But as ever I want to document my life with cancer. It is still very much a life, and I still very much have cancer. Recently my 9 year anniversary of first visiting the GP with lumpy boob flashed by. The reason it was so meaningful was because it was pretty much the same date that, 8 years on, so this time last year, that I had to say no to chemo and carve myself another new treatment path. I can’t tell you how immensely relieved I was to make it to that 1 year mark, and to tell myself I did the right thing. And I haven’t just scraped threw either, my cancer is at the moment very stable, and is less visible than it was in July last year when my old oncologist was starting to panic and thus wanted me on chemo. I am glad I was brave enough to say no. I am glad I moved my treatment to Cornwall, I am glad I put in the time and work to find out how I could get better, and I am glad I got to do everything I had planned to do last year when I know for a fact chemo would have pissed on every bonfire.
So it’s been over a year since I moved to Cornwall and I am happy to say that was good decision too. It hasn’t always been easy, I have never dealt that well with change. There have been a lot of times spent in my own company, which wouldn’t have happened in London, leading to wobbles, far too much introspection and vulnerability. Winter didn’t help with that and now it’s summer, and I am more settled, and it’s a sociable time I have found my new rhythm in Cornwall and I am loving it. I get the best of both worlds, I get to go back to London for mistletoe infusions, to see friends and visits to the office and consumption of all the food I can’t conveniently pop out for in Cornwall. Then I get to come back to Cornwall and breathe, and maybe paddle board. I will admit that when I was no longer living a frantic, non stop existence any more, it dawned on me how synonymous with survival being busy was. I now know it’s not the only survival technique I have in my arsenal, but it was one of them. Distractions are important, having something to throw your absolute EVERYTHING into is important to me.
Life is good when your pal comes to sit with you on scan results day. Even better when the news is good.
It’s been over a year since I had my ovaries removed (as a way of stopping the cancer from getting any energy and power from oestrogen) and I can 100% confirm I am post menopausal, and with all the fun side effects that brings. I feel like a ginormous prune. I am dry to the core, I have put on weight round my ass and thighs, I am slower, more creeky, I have stopped wearing deodorant because I don’t really sweat any more (except at night, that’s when the sweat taps are locked and loaded, I practically swim through my sleep), my arm pit hairs have pretty much decided not to bother growing any more either. And that’s the menopause for you ladies. My respect for my body is unwavering, I am learning stuff about it all the time and together we’re still muddling through. I started doing a lot of yoga since being in Cornwall and that has been SO good for my rusty body and my pickled mind. Apart from the menopausal side effects I feel as normal as I possibly could be, in fact there have been days when even I surprise myself with how much energy I have. But of course there are others when you have to pay me big bucks to get out of bed, when I feel like I have died in my sleep and been dragged from death, to being alive, via a hedge, backwards.
Talking of dying, my friends Sarah and Laura, two girls I confided in, two girls I thought had a helluva lot more life to live, died in March and May. That was hard. In fact it shook me to the core. I still don’t think I have fully comprehended that they are no longer here. It has forced me to consider my own death too, in a good way, and I don’t feel any less closer or further away from actually popping off, I feel more comfortable with it all. And that has taken some hard work and dedication on my part. I have read lots of books on the topic, I have been very open with my counsellor about it all, and I defo need to to consider that Laura’s death, and the aftermath, has helped me confront so much. I know what I want when the time comes, and I know what I absolutely don’t want. Not having people in the same boat as me on the end of a whatsapp group is lonely though. They absolutely got it and that’s hard to replace.
In May Maren and I made a little dream come true. We had bought an old French Citroen H van that Mar found on eBay in January and had it tinkered with, registered, and turned into a cake and coffee wagon. We had heard about an available pop up site we could cater from on the lovely Camel trail (full of cyclists in the summer) the day before tender applications were due, and with some port and pretty pictures we somehow wrote our first ever tender late at night and even more miraculously got the site. We perfected some recipes and the bundts were born. As kids our german Oma made us a big bundt, also known as a kugelhopf for every birthday, so it seemed fun to use that shape and experiment with flavours. I love that we have got in touch with our German heritage again and it’s particularly popular with the millions of german tourists that descend on Cornwall! It means we get to practice our German too (although sometimes I don’t bother to tell them I can speak German so I can listen in on what they’re saying about us). It’s true that when Mar and I set our mind to something, we make it happen, but I am pretty sure that without this shitty disease we wouldn’t be so quick to just dive into the deep end like we do. I love that it’s just the two us, it reminds me of the early CoppaFeel! days when you just have to rely on each other to make shit happen. It reminds me of the hard times, especially the other day when we took the van to a 24 hour bike race – yeah, crazy people cycle non stop for 24 hours and we were there to feed them caffeine – I slept in the van, got filthy – basically it was one of the most unglamorous weekends of my life. It made me chuckle thinking back to the day I received an angry email from a fellow breast cancer patient back in 2011 who was upset that all I seemed to be doing was hanging out with celebs at fun parties. I mean, I got to go to some fun events but my life was far from what she thought it was. I kinda wished she could see my life now, that I have chosen to step away from what could have been a way shmoozier life in London, but as Usher once said, that just aint me.
Our business is called KERN, our van is called Beyoncé. She is a thing of pure beauty (and has only broken down 3 times)
I have gone from being known as the girl who has cancer, to someone who sells coffee and cake from a van, and I like that cancer hardly ever comes up in conversation now. The cancer me is almost incognito. At a party the other day someone said to us ‘Are you the cake girls?’ and it was such a defining moment for me, and probably Maren too, when for so long we have been known as the CoppaFeel! girls. And it’s not a bad thing, AT ALL. In fact, it’s really rather fucking marvellous that I have not only managed to create one career but two since being told the worst bloody news in the world.
Having said that, a man stopped me on the street in Newquay, grabbed my arms and said ‘you’re the girl who writes in the Sun, you have cancer, I love you. You’re brilliant.’ and kept walking. And then there was a lady who came to the van yesterday who looked at me and instantly recognised me from somewhere. She pondered and then asked me ‘Did your twin die?’. Maren was in ear shot frothing some milk and I of course told her that I was said twin who would be dead, was it not for the fact that I am not dead. I guess she presumed what I suppose a lot of people would, that I would be dead by now. They had probably heard about my story some years ago and thought it would be a miracle for me to still be here. but SURPRISEEEEEE, here I am. But what if I had been dead? And Mar was serving her and so not bloody ready for that question? I let her off pretty quickly as she went on to tell me her little girl died of cancer 7 years ago, so I guess cancer and dying is a pretty open topic for her. This moment was actually a good reminder for me, that I don’t want to pretend everything is fine, I want to stay tuned into what is going on with my health so it can help steer me to good decisions and living fully.
Right now it’s silly season in Cornwall so I am spending most of my time baking. But also I am organising Festifeel again because that was something I could not hand over to anyone! It’s giving me the same buzz, the same stress, the same anxiety and the same joy as it always does and it means I still get to work with people I love working with. (it’s on 14th Oct at House of Vans FYI. festifeel.com). There is little time for trips and holidays right now but actually it’s good to spend big chunks of time down here and the good thing about living somewhere as stunning as Cornwall means that people are happy to visit me! (Plus Love Island has been on hasn’t it and I can’t leave the country during that time can I, sheesh)
So there we are. Consider yourselves back in the loop. And consider yourselves forever appreciated by me for continuing to read what I have to say.