SMASHING CANCER OUT OF THE PARK
Not many of you know, but I am being treated for Breast Cancer and as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month I wanted to use my platform to share my journey, because I think it may bring a bit of hope.
You’ve got Breast Cancer- We Need To Work Out if We Can Treat It
My world changed a bit on 7th April 2022. It was a Thursday, and I was busy working. I had gone for a biopsy 2 weeks previously on a small lump I had found in my breast a couple of months earlier, which I had dismissed as being exercise related. After all, this was me- super fit, I could spend 2 hours a day, 5 days a week in the gym doing strenuous exercise without feeling it. I had recently walked the 3 Yorkshire Peaks in 7 and a half hours without feeling it. Nope – cancer did not fit in my life!
The phone rang – I knew it was the hospital with the results. I considered not answering ….I had a call with a new client in 10 minutes but decided to answer it. There was no beating around the bush – no asking if I had anyone with me (I didn’t – I was alone and Kev was away on business). “You’ve got breast cancer and we need you to come in for further tests and to assess if it is treatable”. Wow. I was stunned. I carried the news for 4 days as I needed time to let it sink in and we had a family party arranged for the weekend, it just wasn’t the right time to let my loved ones know. Eventually, I told my husband and he took me to have the further tests.
We have 2 Da Vinci’s at St James’ Hospital – (The moment I suspect I am taking my investigative efforts a bit too far!)
I knew nothing about cancer really, apart from what you hear on the news. On the Tuesday I sat in the Consultant’s office. He had just finished examining me and we sat together. “I’m sorry for what I am going to have to put you through Liz, because it is going to be a very tough course of treatment. We suspect it’s genetic so we may need to consider a double mastectomy. We are going to start you on a course of chemotherapy next Weds………. “ the rest of his words disappeared.
I sat there and in my mind’s eye, I saw a riderless white horse gallop past me, (…don’t ask me why – my crazy imagination) – the horse had a coat on which said “radiotherapy”. “But, what about radiotherapy?” ……………(surely chemotherapy was only for serious cancer ………this could not be happening to me! )
My head started spinning, I could sense the familiar fainting warning signs I get when I have to have an injection, I have to have a blood test or I have to go to a hospital – I was about to faint! (It’s a phobia ….I have a phobia of hospitals, bloods everything – it even prevented me becoming a surgeon which was all I had ever wanted to be since I was 9).
“I’m sorry -please carry on- I’m still listening “ , I said as I lay on the floor in his office and put my legs up in the air so I could try and prevent my faint… (this is a trick I have learned which sometimes works). I could see the surgeon’s face through my legs looking bemused and confused. Out of the blue I asked him “Do you have any surgical robots at this hospital? “ ….Flip- I did think to myself, I was maybe taking my passion for surgical robots too far in order to see one up close . “Yes, we have 2 Da Vinci’s on site here at St James’s = why ?”. (That may go down as one of the strangest questions a consultant has been asked at the point of giving such news !)
Everyone will Be Green
That was April 12th 2022. Since that date I have been through chemotherapy -apparently the toughest variant of the treatment they could administer as my cancer is triple negative and not affected by oestrogen and therefore possibly genetic -although this has since been ruled as unlikely unless a new gene is found and I happen to have it.
I left the office and was taken to see the chemotherapy ward I would be visiting weekly for the next 6 months. I was panic stricken when they asked me if I wanted to see it ahead of the time, but I thought it may be useful. I got a grip and told myself to get my big girl pants on…. (I have told myself that a lot these last 6 months) . I expected to see people lying in beds, with drips and green liquid pumping into them. I expected the people themselves to look green or yellow (don’t ask me why!) and I expected everyone to look really poorly. Instead I found people sat upright, some watching films on their IPads , others with friends sat around them, some were doing crosswords or sewing or knitting. Some were even …. eating! It was strangely comforting and I was glad I had gone.
An Extra for X-Men
I decided I would use a Cool Cap throughout my treatment. I really did not want to lose my beautiful, curls at any cost. Of course, I had never considered them beautiful before, but now at the prospect of losing them, they suddenly were. Donned in my cool cap every week ahead of the chemotherapy, I looked like an extra from X-Men with a purple lizard like skull cap secured by what looked like a boxer’s training cap sat on top. (Wow – was I rocking the look).
It didn’t really work but I kept it up anyway- I have a small amount of hair left- apparently it could come back straight, curly or even a different colour- I hope it comes back platinum blonde! (I’ve spent years and a lot of money trying to get to that colour). I now have a great selection of ‘wiggettes’ as I call them …or wigs as others would say. Different lengths – all platinum blonde and they are great. I don’t really have a bad hair day now – it always looks perfect BUT I will be honest - out of everything, losing my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows has been the hardest part. I feel ugly. I call myself jokingly ‘Mr. Potato Head’ to put a brave face on it and laugh at myself….but it hurts!
Why Not Me?
Well, I was a bit of a miracle to the team. I have been lucky throughout and I say I am lucky. I am lucky I live in a country where I can get treatment. I am lucky I caught it early. I am lucky I was super fit and strong. I am lucky I have a strong willpower and I am lucky I have a loving husband, (a saint!) – a great family, amazing friends and the most supportive employers ever – Vida with a brilliant set of colleagues and top bosses (aka James, Andy and Myles). I am very lucky I caught it when I am younger and not affected by any other conditions (I am boringly and rudely healthy in every other respect).
I worked all the way through except for 3 weeks when my hemoglobin, potassium and magnesium went through the floor and I had to have 75% of my red blood changed in a triple blood transfusion. However, apart from that, every Wednesday I sat in the chemotherapy ward, receiving my chemotherapy and making calls to my clients and candidates in the US and in Europe, sat there in my cool cap. It fascinated the nurses and patients on the ward. I think it was my way of coping. Blocking. It helped. It helped me feel ‘normal’. In a way I didn’t stop anything at all except for the gym.
I told some of my closest clients and it is amazing how many of them know or have experienced it through others in their family. Shocking and yet they said in the UK that 1 in 2 people will have cancer. So, it shouldn’t be surprising.
People say to me “you probably ask yourself “why me?” but surprisingly I haven’t. Instead, I would say ‘why not me?’ given those stats. If it is 1 in 2, I am glad I have got it and not my husband. (I know, I know – it doesn’t work like that but I hope it does!)
On September 28th I had breast surgery - in the end a lumpectomy. Bizarrely it was easy- even though it was the surgery that scared me far more than the chemotherapy). I was awake within 20 minutes of the surgery and bright as a button. I didn’t even take up a recovery bed but instead sat in the TV room bored and desperate to escape. I left and went to a hotel for a celebratory drink with my husband. I returned to work after 3 days, mainly for my sanity!
I await the results of my operation – I have to see if I need further surgery, if it has spread to my lymph nodes despite that not being thought to be the case, (the removed sentinel nodes will confirm), and whether I will start radiotherapy. I just want it all over now.
I kind of have forgotten what it is like to not have cancer. I want to go back to being the old me…but I guess that what I will be, is a new me. I want to get back to being wonder woman in the gym, to be able to run a half marathon easily, to be able to walk and walk and walk with no fatigue. I want to laugh easily, and I want to be free! I don't know what will happen next, but through everything I remember I am lucky.
Life Sciences and Cancer –Smashing Cancer Out of The Park
I love the fact that I work within the Life Sciences sector specifically Medical Devices. It’s inspiring to work amongst candidates and clients within this marketplace who are working hard to beat cancer in one way or another.
I want to say a huge thank you to all the companies out there within this sector who are doing everything they can treat all types of cancer. I can say from experience you bring hope to many patients and their loved ones. I thoroughly enjoy working with so many of you and I love the fact that you will all help many people around the world to ‘smash cancer out of the park’!