Introducing Norrell; a musical theatre actress and advocate for early detection

Wonderful Norrell (@norelimoo)

Today’s guest blogger is the wonderful Norrell who is a 34 year-old professional musical theatre actress currently living in Chicago, Illinois in the United States with her fiance Joe and their cat, Chairman Meow. [Is this not the best cat name ever?!]

Norrell says that her biggest passions are singing, meditation, dancing, and snacking on hearts of palm.

Norrell was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma in 2016 at the age of 30 and she is now a passionate advocate for early detection -as she says, #dontwaitinvestigate.

You can find Norrell on Instagram @norelimoo.

Here’s Norrell’s story:

“Whoa. It’s four years this November since my diagnosis… isn’t it funny how much we hang on to numbers? These milestone markers. A pause and a breath in remembrance. I was 30 when I learned I had invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer. Stage 1. For me, this was both frightening and yet, powerful news. Let me explain.

I have a cousin who had Stage 3 breast cancer and she was diagnosed at the young age of 28. It scared the SHIT out of me, honestly; me being 23 years old at the time. She came out on the other side! I admired her power and motivated spirit to fight what too many women must fight in this world. My main take away? CHECK. YOUR. SELF. Fast-forward seven years later to 2016 and something just… isn’t right. There’s no pain, but there’s definitely a lump. Hmmmmmm.

I am a fairly optimistic and balanced person, or at least I like to believe I am; to constantly keep going with whatever the flow may throw. I am a Pisces, after all. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this if there wasn’t any need, so I just “kept an eye on it” for two months before I even mentioned it to my fiance, Joe.

Sooo this lump, huh? Still here? Cool cool cool. Mind you, I was an uninsured actor/musical theatre performer (like so many in my field) and had many gigs that year. I was also working two restaurant jobs, performing in a musical, and singing in a couple of bands. I’ve always had the tendency to run myself until empty. I also had my very first car accident that year… something was UP and I could FEEL it.

That August, we lost our dear neighbor to gallbladder cancer. 42 years old.  He left behind his two little girls and loving wife. It made me ponder my own situation. I had no healthcare and the costs were already starting to pile up in my head if, in fact, the unknown was to be confirmed. The not knowing was eating me alive. “Knowledge is POWER”, I thought. With more knowledge, I get to keep the control and do what is absolutely necessary for me to stay alive.

Little by little I went through the routine tests (breast exam, mammogram, and biopsy) to learn of my diagnosis in November of 2016. *Deep inhale, deep exhale.* What a year! But, let me tell you about my ride-or-die partner, Joe. He made phone calls for four days to get me insured by January 2017. He set appointment dates for me when I just didn’t have the energy to makes those calls myself. He took point. Something he has always done, but this level of love was something I never could dream I would find in a partner. He’s a spectacular human and loves me to no end. Talk about lucky.

I was overwhelmed by the amount of support, both emotional and monetary, that poured out from family and friends in my home state of Pennsylvania as well as my theatre fam in Denver, CO. A GoFundMe was started by my now sister-in-law and The Denver Actors Fund had raised over $4,000 to help with medical bills. Having so many people in my corner made my fight less scary.

Once 2017 hit, it was ON and I was in attack mode. The ninth of January, I went in for my first ever MRI. When the test results came back they had determined that another lump had been growing. I now have two tumors growing inside of me. I was shocked, but not shaken. We still had work to do and I had a laser focus on the situation.

Genetic testing followed and we learned even more… my cancer was not hereditary. A “gene of insignificant variance” my doctors called it. The doctors recommended a good-old-fashioned lumpectomy: remove the tumors, salvage the nipple, deal with a deformed “breasticle”. I was not convinced… I needed to do more research and I needed to talk to more women.

That was the key. I talked to mothers, daughters, friends, breast cancer survivors and I asked “What would you do in my position? What do you wish you had done differently?”.

I remember speaking with an Aunt about my grandmother’s breast cancer journey. She got her diagnosis towards the end of her life and opted for the lumpectomy, but the cancer returned. I didn’t want to hear the word cancer again. I wanted to be FINISHED with this life-altering event. I started to pivot my decision towards a bilateral mastectomy. My man put it very simply. “Your breasts are trying to kill you.” He was absolutely right.

We continued our discussions with my doctors and one month later from the date of my MRI, I went in for my surgery to remove everything; nipple and all with reconstruction surgery on the horizon. Pathology reports came back and we learned that a THIRD mass was beginning to grow. Boy, did I feel good about my decision to cut it all out. Something we were not ready to hear from my oncologist was radiation and chemotherapy. I was pissed.

I didn’t understand how I could only be Stage 1, had the mastectomy, and still have to go through nearly 14 rounds of chemo treatment. After more tests were completed on my tumors and finding the most amazing oncology team at  Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, we were told I would only have to do 4 rounds of chemo and no radiation. What a relief!

My body handled chemotherapy well with little side effects. Queasy at times, hot flashes, and the loss of my upper singing register for a spell. I had been previously cast in another musical and went into rehearsal three weeks after my initial surgery. I needed theatre to get me through this real-life drama I was living and I was so grateful for that opportunity.

And of course, the hair loss. Honestly, I felt like a badass for the majority of the time. I learned how to wrap luxurious headscarves around my perfectly round dome or just rock the bald. There were stares and it got me down at times, but I kept smiling and shining my light! Once chemo was complete, I got a new pair of boobs! Chemotherapy had been the only thing on my brain that I had almost forgotten about my implant surgery. I had been at this for 6 months and I was exhausted by July. That recovery was definitely the hardest thing of all. Life after cancer now consists of a ten-year regimen of Tamoxifen, routine check-ups, and checking for lumps STILL.

I did something just for me a couple years post-op, too, that is my most spiritual life event to date. Back when I decided to remove my nipple the thought of a tattoo came to mind. I didn’t want a nipple tattoo, though. I wanted something fun; just plain badass. Scars are beautiful and I was ok with mine.. I just needed a different way to honor what I had gone through. I searched the web for mastectomy tattoos. I wanted to do something either simple and elegant or humorous. The idea I was able to brew up with my close friend and tattoo artist, George Munoz, was both.

The idea that made me smile and laugh the most was when I recalled the first Austin Powers movie. I always enjoyed the scene where the fembots came out to the tune of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”.. all blonde. All in silver lame. No one could resist their charm! And then all of sudden, a gun barrel shoots out from the bra and starts firing at their target. BAD. ASS. My tat is a combo of the gun barrels (smoke still rising from one), peonies, and a mandala formed by intricate dot work.

The reason this day was so spectacular is that I was able to get this 11 hour tattoo in front of thousands at a tattoo convention. Not only was it special for me, but it was also the very first mastectomy tattoo that my good friend, George, was creating. Both of our significant others were there to support and witness. It was magical. I was able to talk with complete strangers and a lot of women about my journey. In turn, they were sharing their story with me. Tattoos mean so much to individuals because more times than not, there’s a meaningful story behind it. By sharing my experience in public, I was able to give other breast cancer survivors the confidence and nudge to get their own “badge of honor”.

It’s amazing what news like cancer can do to really shift your perspective. Our time on this Earth is never promised. This quite daunting news was in reality a life course in how important slowing down and taking pause to listen to your body can be. It made me reevaluate the ways in which I show up for others, and more importantly, myself, every day. It really was an experience of reacting and tuning inward like never before.

I had some rad chemo conversations with myself! I found clarity in my meditation practice. I danced by myself A LOT like I did when I was a kid; making up dances in the dining room. Cancer cracked me open in ways that I can’t explain. To anyone who may take a similar journey, my hope for you is that you take this shitty news and turn it into the biggest torch; the brightest light that has always lied within you.”

Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Norrell. We feel so honored to share your story.

Meet Lindsey who wrote her memoir while undergoing treatment

Wonderful Lindsey (@lindseykennedylives)

We have been enormously fortunate to feature some fabulous writers here on Valiant Lingerie’s blog and today is no different!

Today’s guest blog was written by wonderful Lindsey who wrote her first book, “The Little Things: a breast cancer memoir”, last year while undergoing treatment for stage two breast cancer.

Lindsey Kennedy lives on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia with her husband John and two children Layla (13) and Lennox (10). She is a public speaker, civil celebrant, teacher and describes herself as a cancer kicker! Lindsey is the founder of #CheckYourselfTuesday, a catchphrase that many of her social media followers use to check their breasts shape and size looking for changes. She believes that our hands can be one of the best tools for early detection and wants to get both men and women to know their breast/pectoral area as well as their armpits and necks.

You can find Lindsey on Facebook: Lindsey Kennedy, on Instagram @lindseykennedylives or email her on thelittlethingslk@gmail.com

Her book is available on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle version and also from www.bookdepository.com

Here’s Lindsey’s story:

“In 2004, my younger brother, Sean, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at nineteen years of age. While it devastated our family, he fought the battle of his life and won. Ten years later saw the breast cancer diagnosis of my only sister, Roisin Pelan, who was pregnant at the time with her first child. It came back as incurable Stage 3C early 2018. She called me urging me too, to get checked… it saved my life.

There is something to be said about lived experiences. I am a daughter, sister, mother and wife who, in 2018, had to muster all my positive thinking and strong mindset to battle a breast cancer battle. My debut book “The Little Things: a breast cancer memoir” was written during my recovery from a stage two diagnosis that took a little over two years to win. With the support of my family and friends, I found silver linings, pushed away negative thoughts and took control, when at times, control seemed lost. This book was not written to be self-indulgent, nor to seek attention, but to offer insight and awareness in and around the subject of breast cancer. After my own diagnosis and not finding the book I wanted, I felt compelled to write one.

I wrote this book to encourage and promote healthy, vital conversation in and around the topic of breast cancer. We are so lucky these days even younger women are open to this form of conversation. Years ago, many would consider this narrative as taboo or indeed, dirty. I’m here to get women to become more breast aware and check themselves regularly. In the end, my book, vitally, signifies hope rather than despondency.

I believe that having a good doctor is vital. Many people admit to me that they don’t change doctors, even if they don’t necessarily like them, or get the outcome they want, or if they disagree with what they suggest because “He has been my family doctor for years”, or “They’ll do, I don’t go to the doctors often anyway”. Loyalty is admirable, but not at the expense of your future health. It is really important to feel respected and understood by your G.P. You also need to be able to say the embarrassing (to some) words such as breasts, nipples and vagina, even if it means squirming in your seat. If this is not the case, my advice would be – you NEED to change doctors.

My doctor actioned diagnostic testing which revealed, unfortunately, that I was positive for cancer. The four centimetre mass was estrogen and progesterone positive, which meant that the estrogen and progesterone in my body were feeding the growth of the tumour. Damn, I got it just for being a woman! The invasive, ductal, stage two, grade one carcinoma had been hibernating in my right breast. Cancer just invited itself in, set up camp and wreaked havoc… that is, until it was caught.

Life’s rose-coloured glasses had splintered. Hearing the diagnosis was the start of my thinking that life just might not be the bed of roses I thought it was. Cancer was about to change the course of my life but I whispered to it; “Cancer, you picked the wrong lady!”

I endured, like many, a lumpectomy and had three sentinel nodes removed (only cancer in one), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, a breast reduction, and a double mastectomy with D.I.E.P (using tissue form my stomach). Like that was not enough, a nasty, rare bacteria – only found in five countries in the world, decided to make me its host and started to “rot” away my chest and stomach leaving me looking rather like a patchwork quilt under my shirt and double figures when talking surgeries. Further to that, I had to have a skin graft and then start the journey of re-re-construction. I’m all healed now but am left with scars and stories to match.

I now realise that nothing could have stopped me from getting cancer, no matter how many vegetables I ate, no matter how much sugar I cut out, no matter how many squats or lunges I managed, no matter what I did. It did not respect me as a person. I also came to the stark realisation that without intervention, my own body would have killed me. What the hell was my flesh and blood doing working against me? In the end, I’ve learned that maybe everything I went through was trying to build me, not break me.”

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, Lindsey. We’re looking forward to reading your memoir!

Introducing Katie who has found her writing to be a tool for healing

The wonderful Katie (@1day_2019)

Today’s guest blog is something a little different; it was written by Katie from her hospital bed before and straight after her most recent breast surgery. It’s beautiful and real and raw.

Katie told us that she joined writing workshops with April Stearns from WILDFIRE Magazine which encouraged her love of writing. Katie says that she has found the process of writing has been a profoundly healing tool for her. Katie shares more of her story in her really beautiful posts on Instagram; you can find her at @1day_2019.

Here’s Katie’s story:

Breast surgery: pulling the threads of the stories inside.

“I know I need to pull some threads. To start unravelling my stories, they are choking me up and they need to come out. As I lie in bed the night before my third surgery, restless and hot, details from past surgeries, biopsies and conversations with my surgeon roil around my head. I am one conversation away from crazy. I am often surprised how normal I look when I look in the mirror. And when my children ask for breakfast or some simple task of finding their clothes, I am relieved I can carry it out. I can even chat happily away to other mum’s at the school gate, accept their compliments. But I’m thinking all the time, I am about to lose my mind. I have cancer and it is all I can think about. I am jealous of others with their healthy cells and minds that stoop upon the everyday matters, neatly stacked up in front of them, not like my mind, that romps across the heavens. Or swirls around the sink hole, stagnant.

It’s been nearly a year since diagnosis. I quite like that word, surprisingly. It is neat and secretive. You don’t know what lies behind it, fully. It’s been nearly year. A GP that thought I was fine. No lump to feel. Mammogram. Ultrasound. Biopsy. A week in Spain to wait out the news. Lobular breast cancer. MRi. Seven cm. Full body CT scan. The fear became so palpable I had to run every day. Away from my thoughts and my dread. My guilt and my shame. You have another tumour. PET scan. Chemotherapy. Head shaving. Joy and resilience. My husband’s love turned itself inside out and made me bullet proof. Nuclear imaging. Sorry, the tumour on your adrenal gland, it can’t be benign. Abdominal surgery. Panic attacks. Covid and hospital. Loneliness like nothing I’ve ever known. Rare and benign, to my surgeon’s surprise. I couldn’t walk down the street for over two weeks. It’s been four months and only now has the pain stopped. I am still numb across the whole of my tummy. Just breast cancer again. Relief. Celebration. Reality. More surgery. Biopsies. Lymph nodes. More surgery. Auxiliary nodes. Panic attacks. Small rooms and huge decisions. Alone.

So I write. I write to make myself real and make myself seen, by myself. With each soft, cursive curl and flourish of the pen, I bring myself closer. I write to bring myself home. As tomorrow lurches forward, eager and all encompassing, I just want to go and pack my bag. Like the well-chosen items will make all the difference. I am bringing my laptop, so I can write my way through the silence and the waiting moments.

Today. It is a cold, rather dull day, a crispness in the air, not the fresh kind, but more smothering, like it might suddenly get really hot later. Not that will matter to me, being in the hospital all day and night. A flurry of visitors, nurses, blood requests, needles, surgeon, felt-tips and listening to where the blood vessels are under my arm. With a Doppler, like when you listen out for the longed-for swoosh of your baby’s little heart, far off butterfly beats that when they rush in sound like horses, strong and determined flying across the sands towards you.

It is time go now.

Down to the theatre.

And I’m back! Physically, back in my hotel room. Coming round is brutal this time, I feel like I have been in a car crash, none of the euphoria and dizzy heights of medication that make you feel invincible. I feel broken. Sick. Sore. My hand?! Who sat on my hand during the operation? The incessant clatter and chatter of the nurses and staff only add to my pain. The morphine, now that is a friend. The prison-cell vibes due to not being allowed visitors also has a lot to answer. And, where the hell are my paper pants?

I fear there was not enough time between this operation and the last one. I have no flooding relief to carry me, arms upstretched (if I could move my arm) purely because I have done it and it is over. I know the real truth about waiting for a biopsy that reveals the microscopic but very real need for more surgery. It is too soon. The panic attacks and malaise, creeping fear and sudden dread I have felt all week make perfect sense now.  The knife is only part of the trauma. The pretence that I am fine and everything is OK is another piece. Obsessing about how this is all impacting my children – not myself, is another. Loneliness. Isolation. The joy of being pain-free for oh, now, was it a week?

I will be finding new ways to be. I will not force positivity, but cultivate it, gently, one petal at a time. I will turn and face the sun, in the warmth and beauty of reciprocal love. I will walk with measured feet and weigh my beautiful soul energy in the palm of my hand every day. And if I’m depleted, I will rest, love, hug, kiss, garden, shut my eyes, jump in the water. Swim in my own beauty. Swim in compassion for myself and where I have been. I will go into compassion, not battle.”

Thank you so much, Katie, for sharing your wonderful writing with us. It’s exquisite and wonderful and painful all at the same time.

If you aren’t already a fan of WILDFIRE, you’re in for a treat. WILDFIRE is an incredible magazine written and created by women with experiences of breast cancer for women with experiences of breast cancer. Each issue contains written and visual work from women from all over the world. The ethos behind WILDFIRE is that reading the stories of others provides community and support for today’s young breast cancer survivors. You can find WILDFIRE’s website here and they are also on Instagram: @wildfire_bc_magazine.

Meet Gabbie who blogs about her experiences of a double mastectomy during the pandemic

The lovely Gabbie (@thebooblesswonder)

Welcome to Friday, everyone! We have another wonderful guest blogger for you today. We’re delighted to introduce you to the lovely Gabbie. Gabbie is a previvor who has been blogging about her experience of having a double mastectomy during a pandemic and living flat.

Gabbie sadly lost her mum to breast cancer; Gabbie was 19 and her mum was only 45. Years later, Gabbie underwent genetic testing and discovered she has a BRCA2 mutation. Gabbie has written so beautifully and movingly about her experiences in her blog. We wholeheartedly encourage you to check it out. You can also find Gabbie on Instagram at @thebooblesswonder.

Gabbie has written for us today about her decision not to have reconstruction surgery. Take it away, Gabbie:

“As soon as I heard I had a BRCA2 mutation, I knew I wanted a preventative double mastectomy. I had just turned 34 and was about to give birth to my second child. I couldn’t bear the thought of dying of breast cancer, like my mum had, and leaving behind my children. For me, the decision was easy: remove the breasts, reduce the risk.

But did I want breast reconstruction? That was trickier.

I have always felt fairly comfortable in my body. Fairly. Like most of us millennials who grew up in the nineties era of photoshopped models, I can’t help but carry around a mental list of my alleged physical flaws. Too short. Too white. Too hairy! Still, generally, I liked the way I look. Even after two kids and the permanent changes they had wrought on my body. Stretchmarks. Split abs. C-section scar. Wrinkly belly. After nearly two years of breastfeeding, my breasts in particular were unrecognisable. Deflated. But could I live without any breasts at all?

Right from the start, my gut instinct was that I wanted to be flat. But I also knew this decision was too important to make by instinct alone: I needed to consider every available option, and make an educated choice. I carried out a lot of research on different types of reconstruction. A lot. I read books, scientific articles, blogs of personal experiences. I joined multiple Facebook groups. I introduced myself, asked questions. Many, many generous women sent me pictures of their different surgical results, so that I could see what they looked like and consider whether I would want that for myself. For a while, my phone gallery was chock-a-block with boobs!

There seemed to be so many possibilities for reconstruction. Using my own tissue, using implants, using a combination of both. Saving my nipples or removing them. And so many potential complications! Rippling, rotation, necrosis. I was overwhelmed with information, fighting my way through it, trying to weigh everything up. But amid it all, I kept coming back to the idea of being flat. Turning it over in my mind, like a smooth stone. It was a calming idea, I found. As a surgery, it carried the least risk. Had the shortest recovery time. And I felt like it was the choice that would be truest to me.

When I met with the surgeon, I told her I was seriously leaning towards not reconstructing. Nevertheless, I asked her what she would suggest for me if she were to reconstruct. Not every reconstruction surgery is suitable for every woman, and I felt it would make my decision clearer if I knew which options were actually on the table.

The surgeon assessed me carefully, looking first at my breasts and then also at my body, for sites where she could potentially harvest tissue. As it turned out, my options for reconstruction were limited because of my body type – I am quite petite, with low body fat. I didn’t have enough tissue for DIEP-flap reconstruction, where part of your tummy is used to create new breasts. I could have an LD-flap reconstruction, where your shoulder tissue and muscle is used, but my surgeon said that without adding implants to boost the results, I would find them disappointing. My best option was probably to have a direct-to-implant reconstruction.

This pretty much decided me. I was certain I didn’t want implants. While I thought they looked incredible in other women’s reconstructions, I wasn’t open to the additional risks they posed for complications, however small those risks were. I am naturally very risk-averse. A born worrier. I knew that if I put implants into my body, I would be fretting about them for the rest of my life. And I just didn’t want to spend any more time fretting about my boobs. This mastectomy was supposed to be deducting worry from my life, not adding to it! 

Ultimately, I decided to go with my gut and not reconstruct. It felt right. That’s not to say I wasn’t frightened about it – there was fear there, for sure. Not just about the surgery itself, but about afterwards. What I would look like. How people would react. How I would feel about myself. Would I still like the way I looked, after my breasts were gone? Would I still feel sexy? Would I get mistaken for a twelve-year-old boy?!

Then, with less than a month to go until my surgery, it was cancelled due to Covid-19. This was a major blow. I had really geared myself up psychologically, and to have the surgery whipped away when it had been in arm’s reach was so distressing. I was terrified it would be put on hold indefinitely, that I might develop breast cancer before preventative surgery started up again.

As it turned out, I was lucky. I live in an area that wasn’t hit hard by the pandemic, and my surgeon called me in to have my surgery the moment she could, in the first week of June. I’ll be honest: even on the journey into hospital, I was still worrying a little bit about whether I should have asked for a reconstruction. But the pandemic had crystallised things for me: the crucial thing was that the boobs, and the risk they posed to me, were gone.

I had to go alone to the hospital, due to strict Covid rules. I was fizzing with nerves, but kept myself calm by bantering with my nurse as I waited to be called to the operating theatre.

When I woke up, I was surprised by the lack of pain. I was groggy, but comfortable. It wasn’t long before I was able to get out of bed and get dressed to go home. As I removed my hospital gown, I decided to walk into the bathroom and look in the mirror. The moment I saw myself, I was so relieved. I knew I’d made the right decision for me. Being flat looked fine. I didn’t look freakish or boyish, or any of the things I had worried about. I just looked like myself.

I’ve been living flat for three months now. I’m having fun working out what clothes I can still wear (spoiler: most of them!) and sharing my journey on my Instagram account @thebooblesswonder to help other flatties and prospective flatties. I love being part of this club of brave, beautiful and individual women, all rocking their foobs or uniboob or no boobs at all.”

Thank you so much for your wonderful blog, Gabbie, and for continuing to share your story and support other women within this community.

Introducing Katie; an English teacher and writer navigating stage 4 breast cancer

The lovely Katie (@kates_cleavage)

Today we feel incredibly fortunate to be able to introduce you to the wonderful Katie who you may also know as @kates_cleavage. Katie is an English teacher and writer from Hertfordshire in the UK. Last year she was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer (with mets in her left hip) and now, in her own words, she is navigating stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 30.

We hope you enjoy Katie’s blog as much as we have. We’re sure you’ll agree that it so beautifully expresses those complex emotions that we know will be (sadly) so familiar to so many women in this community. 

The Big Bad: Recurrence and Life Beyond It

“I want to start by sharing an excerpt from the memoir I penned during my primary diagnosis at twenty-one. I wrote over 40,000 words during my treatment; it was a means of navigating the unknown, of making sense of the changes I was experiencing. The last thing I penned, before abandoning the project for living beyond cancer, is below:

‘Fear pulsates through my temples, pressing hard against my skull, urging my thoughts to enter my brain at a much faster pace than I would like. Here in the breast clinic waiting room at the University College London Macmillan Cancer centre I find myself repeating the same question repeatedly to myself and to my nervous father sitting next to me: what do I do if it has come back? I am wondering if my cells have begun again to fiendishly tangle together, like a pair of messy shoelaces, forming that suffocating mass inside my breast. Over the past year, I have experienced a multitude of phantom aches and pains. At one point, I went to my oncologist with a persistent tenderness in my ribs that an ultrasound deemed entirely fabricated by my fanciful imagination. On another occasion, I became entirely obsessed with a supposed swelling in my abdomen, which again did not prove to be a massive tumour crawling like poison ivy through my intestines. This is the nature of the fear that I am sentenced to live with for the rest of my life. The inconsolable fear of reoccurrence is enough to tempt you into putting an end to contemplations of a happy future. My fear is not especially unique, from reading other women’s blogs I have noted a serial trend in those entries made as soon as the wheels of remission start gaining motion. We ‘survivors’ make it our business to fixate on the probability of reaching the finishing line, of touching base at the house of complete remission.’

That was the last I wrote on cancer back then. You see, I wanted to step outside of that fear, relegate it in my mind. I suppose I mainly succeeded. For five years of remission I qualified to become a secondary English teacher, travelled, fell in and out of love, lived my life with a view to having a long future.

The Big Bad did return though, in 2016 with a new primary tumour in my left breast. I felt somewhat frustrated that all that fear had come back to justify itself. The new tumour was found in my yearly scan: an essential part of the monitoring process after any cancer diagnosis. I will wrap this chapter of my life up by saying that it was dealt with via a second mastectomy and little else medically speaking. Caught early, I did not have to endure any further treatment. Part of me wonders whether this was a mistake. However, it does not serve me now fixating on this. One again I moved on, but emotionally the fear had resurged with this second diagnosis before thirty.

In 2019, slap bang in a brand new year, I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. A dull hip ache sent me advocating for scans and investigations. This wasn’t easy, I had to have some very difficult phone calls to get the secretary to organise a bone scan. What’s more, it took four tests, including a bone biopsy, to determine that it was cancer. How do I feel now? Sometimes tired, sometimes scared, but mostly alive. Knowing that you will need to dedicate your life to healing, one day at a time, is overwhelming. But I like to think that it is not outside of the realm of possibility. Fear is life limiting, it poisons your present moment, and that is all we really have, cancer or no cancer. I am not immune to fear: it resurfaces with every three-month scan. Scanxiety takes hold but not when I do not let it. As I write this, my results are next week. Until then I will focus on what I have: a lively, life affirming classful of kids ready to learn with me, a safe home that I can return to a place of self-care, and a dream that keeps me alive. I will finish my book, but it won’t be about cancer. Not directly anyway.”

Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful blog with us, Katie. We can’t wait to read more of your writing in the future!

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