One day you are walking your dogs, running your own business and worrying about whether your kids eat enough veg, the next you are in hospital being told you have breast cancer at 34-years-old. My breast cancer diagnosis shook my world and took over my life for the best part of 2017. I was one of the lucky ones in that my lump was very small, just 12mm. My lumpectomy was successful and I was only in hospital for one night. I then had four rounds of chemotherapy and 19 zaps of radiotherapy. I am now on hormone therapy to bring on early menopause and stop the estrogen in my body which fed my tumour. Having cancer was the hardest challenge my little family ever faced but we got through it and in many ways we came out the other side stronger and happier.
One of my fears when I found out I had the big C was that I would end up depressed, I knew my treatment was going to give my body a battering and that my life was going to be very different. I worried that this would get too much for me mentally as well as physically. I didn’t know anyone who had been through cancer recently so I looked for ways to connect with other people like myself as I hoped this would make me feel less alone. This is when Cancer with A Smile began, I literally forced myself to look for things to smile about while I had cancer. Instagram had been my favourite social media tool for my business and I liked that it felt more anonymous than Facebook so I set up a page just after my operation which I used as little of diary of my treatment and to connect with the cancer community.
To begin with I felt very self-conscious and vulnerable about my cancer so I kept the Instagram page a secret. Then came one of my first big hurdles of treatment, the dreaded hair loss. Being a girl who gets comfort from understanding and researching I knew that the type of chemo I was getting would make my hair fall out within the first few weeks. The thought of my shoulder length blonde hair shedding like a Labrador was hanging over me like a dark cloud. It was on my mind constantly and I began to hate looking at or touching my hair. The only thing for it was to take control and try to turn a negative in to a positive so I decided to ‘brave the shave’ and raise money for my hospital, The Beatson Cancer Centre. I set up a Just Giving page and took the bold step of posting a link on my personal Facebook page. It was the best thing I did, instead of crying over my ever decreasing mop, my husband and I shaved our heads in my living room, while I wore my yellow Beatson t-shirt and a smile. What a liberating feeling it was to take cancer head on and raise over £3,000 for an amazing cause.
Embracing the ‘baldy’ was a huge turning point for my attitude and approach to coping with cancer, it gave me an unexpected confidence. I felt like if I could shave my hair and walk about with it for all to see, I could do just about anything. From there I got the guts to go public with my Cancer With A Smile Instagram account, I created a linked Facebook page and later started a WordPress blog. The encouragement, support and amazing comments have really kept me going throughout the roller coaster of cancer therapies. I have had so many messages from people telling me how my blog has helped them see that cancer doesn’t have to take away who you are and given them the courage to fight on. Hearing this makes all the days spent exhausted and ill have some purpose and meaning because if my story has given someone else hope at least some good has come from such a horrible disease.
The importance of investing in your wellbeing is a big lesson fighting cancer has shown me. Before cancer I was so busy all the time trying to be a super mum, super wife and super business owner. All the amazing little wonders of life were passing me by as my brain was either going at 100mph or was too exhausted to focus on anything. During chemotherapy I was forced to stop and stripped back down to just being me. It was a bit like taking a step back and looking in at your own life as a spectator. I realised slowing down and prioritising what needs done today and what can wait put me in a much better place mentally and emotionally.
It’s now six months since my last chemo and my life is very different. I am getting much stronger and feeling much healthier. When you are forced to face your mortality it makes you look at how you can live the best life possible. My husband and I decided it was time to make big decisions about where we want our life to go and how we can be as happy as possible. We have decided to take a huge leap and start our own property development company. We are only a month in but already our work life balance is better, we are all happier and once again something positive has come out of being dealt the cancer card.
Written by Audrey Allan