When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I was angry, upset and in denial. After all, I’m a breastfeeding counsellor. I breastfed for four years. I’m really busy at work. I’ve got children. How can I possibly have breast cancer?
When the lovely surgeon discussed treatment, I was calm, accepting, right up until the point when he said “we’ll have to remove your nipple”. I looked down at my body.
In my head, I screamed “NO. No that can’t be right. That’s not fair. Breast milk has come out of my body. You can’t take that away from me”.
The nurse passed me a tissue – I didn’t notice that tears had started to fall.
The irony was that I was training for a marathon hike to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer at the time. To commemorate and celebrate the support they gave my brother-in-law who died from skin cancer a few years ago.
Surgery was booked for 4 July. Followed by radiotherapy.
There are so many appointments between surgery and the start of the radiotherapy, we didn’t book a holiday because it seemed there was a new NHS envelope through the door every day.
At the “sizing up” appointment at the radiotherapy unit in Guy’s, I was told I was good to go away. As soon as I got home, I jumped onto AirBnB and booked this idyllic cottage in rural West Wales, knowing we had to be back for Thursday 23 August. GSCE results day (very proud Mummy moment), an interview on Kent Radio and my first radiotherapy treatment.
That “sizing up” appointment was the first time I’d got emotional, weepy and scared since surgery.
I made a promise to myself. Every day when I come for my RT treatment, no matter how scared or sad or angry I feel, I will find something positive to share. And that’s what I did for 15 days. I decided to continue to love life while I fight cancer.
Maybe you’re reading this article because you’ve been told you have breast cancer, or need to have radiotherapy treatment, or maybe it’s someone you know. Going through radiotherapy treatment doesn’t have to be a negative experience. There is always something positive. You just have to decide to be positive. Just look around you. If I can do it, so can you.
Here then are my Daily Positive Photos that I shared on Facebook for 15 days.
Day 1 – feeling positive and upbeat.
After all, it’s radiotherapy, not chemotherapy. How bad can it be? Here’s my new daily after work “stopping place” for the next three weeks.
Positives: the staff are very friendly and helpful. There was a butterfly on the train on the way here. I’m listening to music while I wait.
Less positive: being here makes it all very real and a bit scary. Overall more positives than not.
Day 2 – feeling chilled and relaxed
This is ok.
This is manageable.
I am feeling relaxed.
I sat and listened to my favourite music in the waiting room.
I watched, with detached curiosity, the IT technicians fixing the broken screen.
Day 3 – feeling confused
After celebrating my birthday, and a long Bank Holiday weekend, I took a photo of this ‘ship’ on Day 3.
Until one of my friends pointed out that it was in fact a picture of a building.
Then I realised the “ship” information on the wall was in fact referring to the sculpture on the pavement (Boat by Daniel Silver) which I’d also photographed.
Day 4 – looking for the positives
On a day when I got soaked running from London Bridge station to Guy’s Cancer Centre, no time to take photos outside.
I noticed the colourful panel in the lift.
This generated lots of discussion on my Facebook feed with people wanting to visit the Innovation Hub. Me too!
Day 5 – feeling wiped out
I’ve been back at work for a week after a few days in Wales. I’m shattered.
I thought I’d recovered from the surgery and now I am getting more and more tired. The promised ‘cumulative’ effect. My brain just stops processing. I left work early and sat in the sunshine at King’s.
On the bench, I spotted this Zen proverb which felt rather appropriate.
Day 6 – getting quicker
Today I ‘just’ had the radiotherapy treatment. I didn’t need the extra scans as well. And on this particular day, I was in and out very quickly.
LOVE the architecture of the building ‘next door’.
And it’s the weekend, what’s not to love about life.
Day 7 – feeling upbeat
After a weekend to rest and recuperate (though that did include my first parkrun since July), I’d been itching to photograph the lift lobby wall. The nicest NHS lift lobby I’ve ever seen.
However it wasn’t until I stopped to read the description that I stood back and realised, the ‘whole’ of the picture is depicting a mountain. Amazing.
Day 8 – attention to detail
I love the radiographers – I have noticed there is a high percentage of female radiographers. They are all, without exception, kind and respectful. They present an image of incredible professionalism. And thank goodness. Otherwise, you’d feel so vulnerable lying there half naked. Feeling conscious I’ve put on weight. Will they notice? Will they care?
No because they only have eyes for what they’re doing.
They have such attention to detail. Everything – my position, my breath hold – is measured to the nearest millimetre.
The attention to detail extends to the outside of the building which matches the colour coded lift panel.
Day 9 – an orange world
Remember Day 4 … the Radiotherapy button was orange. As is everything else in the radiotherapy village.
Today’s the day that Rachel Bland died.
Picking myself up for my afternoon ‘zap’, I took a small collection to show you more of the colour coding and attention to detail, as well as the inside of the changing rooms. The basket is to put your clothes in. A stack of clean gowns in the cupboard. 12 changing rooms, with door on both sides – one to the treatment rooms, the other door back to the waiting room.
6 treatment rooms. I mostly go to Iris (5) and Buttercup (2).
Day 10 – taking its toll
Quick in and out today. Then trains at London Bridge are delayed.
Today’s photo is another piece in art and light at Guy’s Cancer Centre installed in the lift lobby.
Despite the positive upbeat stuff, I don’t feel like that all day every day. Two thirds of the way through my treatment.
I wanted to cry but I didn’t. I am sore; it stings; I am so tired and I have had enough of this cancer lark. I know I am lucky compared to others (like Rachel Bland) but cancer never really feels ‘lucky’.
Normal service will be resumed shortly.
Day 11 – bright and colourful
By now, I am feeling the effects. Every day I’m feeling more tired.
First thing in the morning, I feel great. I feel normal. Bags of energy. By the time it gets to the afternoon, it’s like somebody pulled the plug out. The plug being pulled is getting earlier and earlier. Most days I last until 2pm / 3pm and then I start to feel really tired.
A nap doesn’t help because my brain has stopped processing. I can’t remember words. I can’t concentrate. I thought maybe it was connected to the head/brain injury I had 20 years ago, but apparently my ‘symptoms’ are ‘normal’. The joys.
Today’s photo is the artwork in the waiting area. Nice and bright. Fits the colour scheme too.
Thank goodness it’s the weekend.
Day 12 – nearly there
I tried parkrun again at the weekend. But I am too sore to run. So I walked. Controversial idea for someone like me.
That bit of my body being zapped …. it’s getting sore and a bit itchy. Often right after the treatment, I feel a bit nauseous … and that lasts just a few minutes.
Each session takes around 20-30 minutes – most of that is lining up my body (hence the 3 tattoos) with the machine; once a week, they take pictures to make sure my heart is not getting zapped too!
Today’s picture is taken on the walk home from the station. I started my cancer journey in bright hot sunshine. Autumn is now on its way. I feel like I’ve been cheated of a summer.
Day 13 – just 3 to go
I am so nearly there. I am so really fed up with radiotherapy. I am so tired. I might take some sick leave. I want to cry but I can’t. No energy.
My daughter tells me “Mummy I miss you”. That cuts me to the core.
I dropped my camera taking the Day 13 photo inside the lift. I wanted to show you the tropical forest panel which brings you birdsong. A nice touch.
Day 14 – very very tired
I am now very, very tired and very sore too. The cumulative effect that was promised.
Today’s daily positive photo is the equipment. This is G2 which is where I have most of my treatments.
I do my best to smile for the radiographers.
I almost laugh out loud when they ask me “any plans for this evening“?
Are you kidding?
(Though actually I did have plans because I wanted to bake cake for them).
Day 15 – the relief
Much as I’d grown to love seeing the radiographers and visiting the RT village … Oh boy, it’s over.
I expected to feel very emotional. I could feel on the brim of tears as I lay on the bed. As one door closes, another opens.
Every cloud has a silver lining… on in this case, a chocolate one. At last. The final RT session.
It took a little longer because the student I have met a couple of times was getting tuition at the same time. Which is brilliant because it means, soon another fab radiographer will qualify.
Today’s daily positive photo is the vegan chocolate cake I baked for the G2 team to say thank you. They loved the cake. Surely other people bake cake for them?
How to stay positive during radiotherapy
Here’s my best advice to stay positive during radiotherapy, whether it’s you or someone you love going through treatment:
- Make the decision that you will be positive and upbeat
- Do something every day to focus on the positive (I posted a daily positive photo on Facebook and I also wrote daily positive notes in my notebook every night when I went to bed)
- Be OK with not being OK on the days you struggle to feel positive.
Although I am now ‘clear’ of breast cancer, and the radiotherapy treatment has finished, I have several follow up appointments with the surgeon and the oncologist.