Cancer. It no longer defines me!

Hey lovely people,

Today is world cancer day and so thought it was apt to write this post today. It’s a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a very long time, and back in November I spoke on this at FYSOT (a Teenage Cancer Trust conference). I’m going to try and write more than what I chose to speak on, simply because lots has changed since then too. However, to start I’m going to talk about how and why I first started to loose the cancer label.

So obviously if you haven’t read my blog before you have guessed I had cancer, well technically I didn’t. It was a blood disorder called Very Sever Aplastic but treated similarly, so it was cancer-ish. For me it was an incredibly hard season of my life. I had to have a bone marrow transplant which basically strips you back to nothing, both physically and mentally.  It changes your life so drastically, and often quite dramatically too, that you loose who you are. Re-building your life after something like this, well its certainly not easy.

For me I felt like I had nothing, my life was a shell of what it once was. I had to suspend uni for a year and a half and even when I went back it wasn’t the same, I wasn’t the same. I had to adapt to my ‘new life’ and the restrictions that illness had imposed on me. I felt distant from friends, and felt that they lacked the understanding (even though they were massively supportive). I’d struggled with memory loss and PTSD and my mental health was in a mess.  The things that got me through this time however were incredible charities like CLIC Sargent, Teenage Cancer Trust, and Ellen MacArthur Cancer.

I will often say that cancer-ish whilst being the worst thing that ever happened, it was also the best, it changed everything. Incredibly I got the best help and support I could have ever imagined and I was able to rebuild a sort of life thanks to these incredible charities.

I finished treatment but walked into this sort of half life. Unable to fully live due to the complications, late effects and long journey of recovery that I was on. So while normal life was still a way off, I decided that the best thing I could do was to immerse myself into the cancer world. This had me in a place with people that understood and where expectations of me weren’t too high or unachievable.

I felt that once I finished treatment, and returned back to university that I’d moved on from cancer. I thought I was done and as much as I possibly could moved past it. After I finished uni I was pretty sick still. Around the same sort of time 3 years ago I walked through the doors at Freedom Church. I was really unsure on where my life was heading. Especially as the internship that I was doing at the time with CLIC Sargent, simply proved how unready I was for the world of work, due to my late effects.

About a year in (maybe longer) someone at my church came up to me and said I just think you really need to loose the cancer label. I was furious, I didn’t see it. I thought I’d already lost it, and was really angry about it. I’d moved on as much as I possibly could and thought ‘how dare she say this when she knew nothing about it’. I avoided her for a good 6 months, but then someone pointed out to me that if it wasn’t there how did someone else see it?

So I began investigating how I portrayed myself, and then I realised. When introducing myself to anyone I’d ask what do you do? When the question was thrown back at me- I’d respond well I can’t work because of the late effects from cancer-ish. The problem with answering a question in this way was that the questions that followed were never about what I did get to do, but always about the Cancer and the late effects I suffered. So when I realised this, I started to change the way I talked about it, simply talking about the volunteering that I did. Its was amazing when people knew more about my sailing than the days in bed I had to take. Changing how I talked about it changed everything so much so that about 6 months later one of my newer friends had no idea that I’d ever even been ill. I was no longer held by this label of Cancer-ish!

Fast forward to November when I first got asked to give a talk at first I didn’t want to do it. I wasn’t up for telling the sob story and wasn’t sure about emerging myself in a world full of people who were still living that story. With EMCT its completely different- because its about building confidence and learning a new skill, getting out of the cancer world bubble and finding yourself again. This conference however isn’t about stepping out its more about relating to others.

I decided to do it but not just to be another story where you hear about the dodgy diagnosis or moments you nearly died. But one of life change even when the odds were stacked against me. Even when I hadn’t recovered like others had, after all I still had chronic fatigue, memory issues and no immune system. I talked on loosing the cancer label and how changing my language around it changed so much. What is so amazing is that I still have people reaching out now or commenting how good a talk it was for them. By sharing insight into the small changes I made its helped way more than just me.

 

 

While I was preparing I asked God (yep I’m a christian too!) to guide me in what to write which he did. I’d never have chosen to talk so openly about my mental health without his nudge. However not only did God show me all of the areas I had worked through and overcome. Like how changing the way you speak can change so much, or that I’d defied the odds time and time again and stepped out into new things like the course I’m doing now. He also showed me all the things I still had to work on like loosing the crippling control issues I had. Speaking life and not sickness over myself, getting bigger vision for my future, and believing that I do have a future. He showed me how I’d let the fear control me, and how my health and wealth were intertwined (I’m sure at one stage i’ll explain all these a bit more).

I can now honestly and truly say that control plays way less a part of my life now, I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been and I know more is to come! Illness doesn’t define my outlook any longer (which doesn’t mean I don’t still face it- but its in a completely different way). For the first time in 8 and a half years I can say that Cancer doesn’t define what I do. That cancer label which yes will always be apart of my life no longer has a negative impact on me or my life.

I can truly say I’m Thriving not just Surviving.

I can’t wait to see what my future holds, but one thing I know for sure is I will keep going and will keep sailing as its a great opportunity to inspire and help others.

All the best

Wen

ps. If your one of my cancer friend reading this and want to know more please dm me and I’d love to talk more about what I shared. Go loose that label! thrive.jpg

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The start of something NEW!

Like always, its been a while. Sorry for that- its not that I’ve not had things to say it’s more been is it the right time to say it…. and for most things it still isn’t- but one day i’ll get round to then hundreds of blog post ideas and getting some of the things said that I’ve wanted to for a long time.

This blog post is about CHANGE! Something that I massively hate and have done for the longest time… but something feels different this time and I can’t quite put my finger on it- maybe I will as I keep typing. Stood in the kitchen of my friends house last night I said about how I really don’t like change and doing something new always terrified me yet I hadn’t felt like that moving out recently as I began the process of  moving from Cardiff to Hereford (I’ll explain more later).

Growing up I defiantly was someone who needed a routine and I was someone who was always busy- every night of the week I had something… and I also would often cram in swimming before school too… routine and business kept me going. Deciding to go to college, Camp America and University was all stepping out of my comfort zone and embracing change… but it was hard! Then after I got sick even the smallest of changes unsettled me- I remember how fearful I was when anything changed. Going on my first EMCT trip I remember telling my social worker I didn’t want to go, and returning to University seemed like an impossible challenge. I think getting ill worsened my outlook on change because my life changed so drastically in an instant… I went from a normal university life to one surrounded by drip machines and months of isolation. Knowing how quickly you can loose it all really rocked me for a long time.

Things however, have finally changed…. and although I still don’t like change but I’m learning to embrace it and run with it… and having faith is helping massively with that. Don’t get me wrong I still have concerns and I’m still nervous about the change but I also know that I don’t need to worry about every little thing. I’m putting faith into my faith, and knowing that whilst I’m unsure on how I’m going to manage financially or with the practicalities of life in a new place- this should not and will not hold me back from giving it a good old go!

I’m leaving the life I’ve built for myself in the wonderful city of Cardiff, and its hard. This city has been home for the past 9 years, its where I met some incredible friends through uni, hospital and church. It’s a place I got to call my own, a place of safety and a place where I’ve got to be me. This past few weeks I’ve said goodbye to some incredible flatmates, my stomping ground where I’ve been based for at least 6 of those years, my favourite coffee shops and favourite places and I’ve had moments of sadness in this- not knowing if i’ll get to call these places mine again… (I’m not saying I won’t be back its just if I’m back it will be different). I’m also going embracing the fact that I could be called anywhere after Academy and I’m not ruling anything out yet…

Last night on my way to my last rehearsal with church I got teary… goodbyes have never been a strong point for me, I find them hard and I will often push those I’m close to away in preparation for it (I know this is not the way to do it but its a habit I’m yet to break- so I’m really sorry if I’ve done this- its most defiantly a me thing and recognising it is a huge step for me…so please accept this as an apology). The team I’ve had the privilege of working along side at church have been well incredible… they have taught me so much, not just in faith but in skills and in leadership qualities. They have helped me transform from a broken girl who felt like I could bring nothing to one who can get stuck in, own the vision and now I’ve been training others up too. This team have been key in that transformation they have pushed me when I’ve needed it and helped me manage my health when I’ve needed that too. I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today without them and the hours of love and prayer they have given me. I’m going to miss them all massively especially Sam and Kyle who have rocked production managing and have pushed me further than I ever thought possible. Last night they gave me a lovely send off with a couple of gifts including beautiful orchid which I’ve named ‘Mac Toshi’ after the beloved big mac.

Mac ToshiThey also prayed for me which is a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget. They spoke such wonderful words about me, from the transformation that has taken place in me, to the glue I’ve been for the team… They also prayed into my future and gave me some key things to hold for the days ahead. Yes there will be a hole in the team because I’m leaving but that will soon fill with the guys stepping up and new people joining the team. I’m going to have a huge hole in my heart for this team tho- and knowing that I’m not ever coming back to the same team because everyone grows and new people will be added and others will be sent out… it does however make me immensely proud of the team that has been built here. Thank you Production team its been a blast!

I’ve got 2 more Sunday’s in church but because i’m sailing next week, which feels immensely perfect as I did my first time trip the week before I moved back to Cardiff to start University again- now i’m sailing the week before my new course. This has meant some goodbyes have already had to happen… I’ve said some goodbyes to those who I’ve known for years and thats been tough… please make me accountable to staying in touch its something I’m not great at but hope this time i’ll do better at it. I move to Hereford on the 10th September and I’ll be taking part in a leadership course with my church called Freedom Academy… it’s a ten month programme (2 days a week) designed to grow our;

  • understanding of the Christian faith
  • relationship with God
  • sight into the role and development of leadership (insight and experience)
  • growth personally

I’m super excited and think this change feels different to others because it feels so right for me, because I now have an unshakeable faith and because I’ve learnt to embrace change not fear it! I also know its the right time for me to do something new otherwise i’d just be forming a rut and one that i’d never move on from. I’ll be living with lots of people from all over and its gonna be tough and very challenging. If you pray then i’d love prayer covering  a few things

  1. My finances for the year- I’m stepping out into the unknown until I’m there I won’t know what the impact on my finances there maybe so be praying that i’ll have enough to afford to live and pay rent and course fees.
  2. Friendships- for great bonds to be formed in and out of church.
  3. Health- for my immune system to not be effected too much with the change of environment and my energy levels not to dip as much this winter.
  4. Existing Relationships- for me to navigate the best way to stay in touch with people (I’m not the best at this).
  5. Personally- that I’m able to open up, trust and give this year my all.

I’m so grateful for all the things that have helped build me to who i am today and I’m looking forward to see the change that this year has on my life further down the line… I’m looking forward to reviewing how I action some of this and seeing how I grow. Thank-you to every single person that has encouraged, challenged and pushed me I wouldn’t be facing this new challenge if it hadn’t have been for your input.

 

A profound statement at an Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust event….

Again I find myself in a position of having so many ideas of what to write about and not knowing what to write… one is about exiting hibernation and how that really feels and what it looks like, another about my future, one about loosing a label and another about random conversations that become quite profound and life changing as well as some others too. This post is about something profound but it wasn’t said in a conversation. It was a statement. Which I know is going to change me!

Two weeks ago, or so I got the joy of going to London to an event for Key supporters of the Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust. I was there to talk about what the trust does, encourage people to get more involved and to thank people who were there for their support. Along with this I was there to help introduce the evening.

I had spent the morning hooked up to a drip in Cardiff hospital and the evening in a very swanky building Trinity House in London, just a stones throw away from Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. I was on my very first day of being antibiotic free (reminds me its Monday I need to take my antibiotics haa) after spending the last 5 weeks on the stronger antibiotics 3 times a day every day- rather than 1 tablet 3 days a week like I am now…. I really stood in awe taking in the Tower of London at the amazing double life I get to lead. How blessed I am to be alive, and experiencing all that I get to. The evening was amazing and it was so special to be able to share what the trust does and how much its changed me as a person and impacted my life. To see what the trust did last year please watch this The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust looks back on 2017  and to hear more about how the trust changed my life watch this… #12years12stories Part 4 . This puts it all into words more eloquently than I can typing.. (I just watched back my 12 years 12 stories and am now a blubbing mess so bear with and go watch it)….

In this video filmed about 3 years ago I said that every year I come away with something new…. I’d say this about every trust event I’ve ever attended to, its why I’m happy to go from hospital to meetings and events… I always have something to take away… 2 weeks ago I was sat in the audience listening to a group of my friends share about the impact the trust has had on them. One girl Claire Amaladoss (seriously cool name) who I’ve got to watch blossom into an incredible human and grow in faith and in leadership. She is also a very awesome trustee for the trust. Spoke and said something so profound and on point that it hit me like a train….. She said ‘We don’t pick up our lives to the full, because we know all to well what its like to have to give it all up…’ wow! I can not tell you how true this statement which she fleetingly made was so, so true. Its not only true but still very relevant to me today. The trust enables us to begin to pick up a life again, dream bigger and reach further again it rebuilds us in a way that no-one else can… but I sat there and realised I still had to do some more picking up to really live to the full again.

Recovering cancer-ish and from loosing it all is tough, it comes in waves, and isn’t something you can pick up where you left off…  it isn’t something that day one out of hospital/ remission you can physically manage to pick it all up. It comes with complications, life moves on but you haven’t. It comes with new struggles of how you manage with a life full of complications and long term follow up. A life with that lingering fear of loosing it all again. We have to mourn for the life we lost, the one we thought we were going to get and work out what sort of life we now want…. For any kid this is hard, but for one that has the dreams they have always had taken away- well that’s huge. I always thought I would be a teacher, one that fought for the kids who fall through the cracks, one that inspired a generation who had CAN’T shoved in their face and help them to realise that they truly could achieve anything. I’d worked hard, gained experience and knowledge that was set to equip me well into the future I believed I would always have. Getting sick meant I lost all this… after getting sick I got a complication that means my immune system just doesn’t work so teaching kids who carry all sorts of bugs and always get sick… well it was completely off the cards….

I hadn’t realised until Claire said it though at how fearful I was still about loosing it all. I mean I do still loose it when I get sick with the slightest bug, and it completely knocks me out- and in winter when meeting with people becomes next to impossible- but should this mean I shouldn’t live my life to the full when I can- NO! I actually need to work even harder than most to keep hold of my life in seasons where I’m ill, and push even further when I’m well to live… like really LIVE! I know I’ve still got a long way to go and I’ve already begun to action this in my life right now… I’m super excited to see what’s to come because I know  its going to be so big and so exciting. I’m obviously not going reveal what that looks like just yet but I’m really looking forward to reading this back in a year or two and crying because I’ll see just how far I’ve come- just like I was today watching the film back… at the point this was filmed I was really struggling, I was so tired and so unwell because 3rd year had taken so much out of me I had no idea what I wanted to do with my future, I spent the next year just recovering from doing the degree… now I look back and although I haven’t been anywhere near as creative or productive as I was then I do see how far I’ve come and I see how much the trust has played a part in that. Without the trust I’d never have returned to university, never walked out with a first class honours. I’d never have spent time sailing and really embracing all that this incredible sport has to offer. I’d probably still be the woe is me girl sat in a wheelchair…. I’d never have met some of my amazing friends who have really gone out and lived life to the full and I wouldn’t continue to be inspired by them and the amazing young people we support.  Like always I can not wait to get back out there this summer and see what I learn… but for now I need to prepare myself to be the encouraging voice to get people to sign up to come on one of these life changing trips as this is exactly what I’ll be doing tomorrow.

Just wanted to say a huge thankyou to everyone at the Ellen Macarthur Cancer trust you really have changed my life! I also want to say a huge thankyou to Claire, your words are always so timely and I cant wait to share with you how I respond to your challenge. To Karenza for interviewing me 3 years ago and most of all to Tom Roberts… thankyou for capturing the trust so well, and thank you for capturing that period of my life so incredibly- its now something I can look back on in awe just like everyone was telling me at the time, it is also amazing at how true it all I had to say then is still so true today.

Till next time….

Wen

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Hibernation

Hey lovely blog readers,

So again its been a while I guess my new years resolution to have more blogs kinda went out the window along with some other resolutions so I doubt I’ll be making any this year. However I’ve wanted to write something for the past few days and its always been about hibernation.

So right now I very much feel like an animal going into hibernation. I’ve been really bad at replying to emails, texts ect and I’ve only left the house for supplies and to go to church (even that’s a push some days). I’m feeling somewhat distant from my spring/summer self. I forget how much worse I tend to be in the winter months, infections increase and even though at times they are only minor because it comes at a time when I’m already feeling rough so even the smallest of things hits me. I’m finding the ‘hey how has your week been?’ and the ‘how are you?’ questions more and more difficult to answer. No-one likes a moaner (I hate it) but at the same time after spending 80-90% of your week resting really sucks when you know others lives are continuing at a normal pace, all you want to say is actually its been pretty pants but instead you go with the its been alright or the tentative mixed hand gesture.

For the past few weeks I’ve had really bad migraines (partly down to the infusions I have for my immune system), and although the headache part may only last a day- sometimes it’s a good few days before I’m feeling human again. Then the next one comes. Its been really naff because although I’ve not been anywhere near ill as I have been in the past they are hitting me pretty hard. So I just want to apologies to all those who have waited days for a reply to a text, or asked me to do something and I’ve had to flake.

Hibernation is not as glamorous as it sounds, and although I was always pretty envious of animals who hibernated as a kid, now I get to experience it- it’s a real the grass is greener situation. It very quickly gets boring, seeing the same 4 walls, Netflix as great as it is gets boring too, all you want to be able to do is go out for a nice walk or to have a catch up with someone but energy levels or that stupid migraine means you can’t. I’m really missing the coffee shops, and exploring my city. However, hibernating does mean that when I can I will, I’ll get to appreciate the small things again. I also know that this is just a small season in my life and I probably should be doing more to embrace it and to change the way I think about it. Hopefully in a few days time I’ll be doing just that but for now hibernation sucks and I cant wait for spring.

Until next time….

Wen x

Hibernate

 

 

Immunology

The past few days I’ve been a zombie but a zombie in recovery its been really weird. I suppose it all starts with the confession, I gave up on my meds. It’s not even like I know I don’t need it but about 4 months ago I just didn’t want to stab myself week in week out to give myself an immune system so it wasn’t a complete nahhh I won’t do it. More it got in the way of my life. I would get a text from a friend asking to go for a coffee and I’d do it and say ‘I’ll just do my infusion tomorrow’… I sort of fell out of the habit. Don’t get me wrong now I hadn’t stopped completely (well not until that last month) I just wasn’t doing it every week. It got to the point tho that when I realised I’d missed 3/4 weeks in a row that it was time to fess up to the medics…. So I tentatively called them and explained where I was at. I knew I needed the control taken back off me and so I was really pleased to hear they were happy to have me back on day patient care once every 3 weeks to give me a break.

The medics got it 100% they knew where I was at and they kind of were expecting it. Telling other though some thought it was a sign that I couldn’t cope or was being an idiot playing with my health. (Yes I was but also I’m fine thanks I know my own body). Anyway Tuesday I went into adult immunology day unit (where I did my sub-cut training). I have always had my IvIG on the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit in Cardiff so was a little unsure on what to expect but my infusions on TCT never we quicker than 6hrs normally more like 9hrs. So I packed my bag ready to be entertained all day.

The differences… well TCT next to never had my immunoglobulin on the ward when I arrived at 9am… sometimes it hadn’t even been ordered. I walked into Immunology at 10 to 9 one patient was already sat being hooked up and my immunoglobulin was already on the side waiting for me (sometimes on TCT I could easily wait an hour and a half or more for it to come up from Pharmacy). By 9.03 i’d seen two nurses and my IvIG was up and running. I had it through my hand like normal but instead of a cannula they had it going through a butterfly needle…. So much easier to get in.

I had been warned that the infusion would go slowly due to it being the first time on it in some time. The nurse didn’t need her iPhone or spend an age working out the maths for rates- it was instinctive (mainly because they do it all the time) but you’d have thought this would have been the case up on TCT after 5 years of giving it to me, Lydia and the others. The rate was increased each time with next to no wait for a nurse to come and up the flow. TCT because of the larger social space and the number of people walking in at different times sometimes you’d wait 15 mins before someone could come (I get it 100% they are really busy- but occasionally you’d end up having to press the call button to get someone to come upstairs as they all vanish). However never in a million years did I expect to be told even on the slower rate i was kept on Tuesday it should only take 3 hours. Next time (in 3 weeks time) as long as I’ve had no major side effects (did get a migraine last night but had also drunk so….) it will take 2 HOURS!!!! How then did it always take SOOOOOOO long on TCT. My flat mate when I got home pointed out my infusions at home take me that long because of migraines and that’s once a week so if it only takes 2 hours once every 3 weeks that’s something I’ll have to weigh up.

There are pro’s and cons to IV verses Subcut and I’m sure when I’m re-weighing that up next month or so I’ll end up writing about that. I’m just a bit shell-shocked at the difference in care. This is defiantly something I’ll be discussing with my medic’s next time round as their has to be a way of improving the service when it’s offered through TCT.

Part of me thinks if it had been like this the whole time I’d prob never have switched to subcut in the first place… However I am pleased I switched because the alternative at the time was long days once every 3/4 weeks on TCT.

Recovery from my infusion was a little different than it use to be I ended up with a whole afternoon and evening free (this never happened before I’d usually get home and crash). However, I met family down the bay went on a boat ride wandered round the wetlands then went home and rested before going out for food. Ok so the next day I was a complete zombie and did next to nothing then a rest all day the following day so I could go celebrate someone’s birthday last night. Then it brings me to today which has been a slow day. I hadn’t quite realised how run down, worn out and burnt out I had become being off my meds however my email inbox marked with 450+ unread messages showed me just how zombie I had been. Now my inbox looks much healthier with 0 unread messages. I’ve responded to people who have been waiting months for an answer. So bad! I’m still in that groggy stage that doing anything makes me tired but I’m doing way better than I had been.

Hopefully by the next time I write I’ll be able to do even more and will be feeling much more like me.

Till next time….

Wen

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