Black Chick Tit Cancer: Two Years On

Well, it’s been two years since I started this blog, so it’s as good as time as any to write a new blog post. My postings have got less and less frequent, but the simple answer to that is I’m just living life. That’s the thing about going through something like breast cancer, it makes you appreciate life in a way you probably didn’t beforehand.

My last blog post had me go to my first in-remission mammogram. Fortunately, it was good news, no detected cancer nastiness in my boob!

There in black and white!


Obviously, it was a massive relief to get the news although I’m still going to be cautious and anxious as it will always be in the back of my mind that the cancer could come back.

As hospital visits have gone down to a bare minimum for me now (although I’m still heading to my GP for Zoladex injections every four weeks), apart from taking Tamoxifen and bisoprolol daily, things are generally good health-wise, so life has almost got back to what it was pre-cancer.

Luci and I at White Hart Lane


In the late May Bank Holiday weekend, I caught up with one of my old uni housemates, Luci, where we went on a White Hart Lane stadium tour as I was given tickets as a Christmas present off my sister-in-law and my brother. It was so lovely catching up and reminiscing about uni days. Luci’s Mum has also had her own breast cancer story (with a happy ending) so it was great being able to talk to someone that knows what you’ve gone through and knows what you’re feeling. Also, it’s great to see another survivor, especially when you know so many people that haven’t made it.

June was birthday month and Pride month. Birthday-wise, I broke a habit of a lifetime and actually went into work! My birthday’s always been a bit of an odd one in recent years, but it’s always nice to be able to see another year.

Go Ghana and Go Pride!

I love a good photobomb!

Love wins


I was flagbearing again at Pride In London, representing Ghana. It’s always overwhelming how much love is on the streets during the day of Pride.

Queen Bey

Becka and I couldn’t contain our joy at watching Beyoncé

Get into Formation, Beyhive!


June also had me head up to my adopted second home, Sunderland, as Beyoncé was kicking off the start of the European leg of her Formation tour at the Stadium of Light. I went along with my mates, Becka and SJ, who graciously let me stay at theirs for a couple of nights.

Not long after seeing Beyoncé, I also saw Stevie Wonder at British Summer Time Hyde Park, which was all kinds of wonderful. My Dad liked Stevie Wonder so it was a nice reminder of him, as well as having the opportunity to see a legend perform.

Rachel and I enjoying the sunshine before Stevie Wonder

British Summer Time was also great as my mate from uni, Rachel of Life in Geordieland, came down from the North East, so we had a great catch up. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog postings, Rachel has had her own issues with cancer, going through cervical cancer, and was invaluable with help and advice when I got my diagnosis, so I love that we are both living proof that cancer can’t keep us down for long (and that we’re obviously fabulous!)

Captain A-mizzie-ca, ready to fight cancer. Or something


I’ve also become a Godmother for the second time, which I was understandably chuffed for. I’ve known Carley since we were in the same form group at sixth form college when we were 16, so it was really amazing that she asked me, and our other mates from college, to be godparents to her son.

Daaaaaaaaaaaaan to Margate…


Last Sunday was two years to the day that I received my breast cancer diagnosis so as the weather was actually what it was supposed to be in August – sunny and warm – I went to Margate to relive happy childhood memories, as well as doing something nice on my Cancerversary. Dreamland Pleasure Park has been renovated and I’ve got such vivid and fond memories of going there as a kid, so going back was a must. It’s pretty much the same as I remember it (which is a good thing) and I had such an awesome day. A day two years ago I never thought would be possible.

Eat your heart out, Mo Farrah and Team GB!


It’s not long to go until the Great North Run, which I’m running for Breast Cancer Now this year. I’ve probably not done enough training, but I’m not trying to run for a specific time as I only signed up to do it in April. Also, with the medication I’m on and the side effects I’m still experiencing from treatment, I’m nowhere near the level of fitness I was two years ago (even though I was training with breast cancer and didn’t even know it). All I can do is try my best and enjoy the day as much as I can. I’m not doing too bad with donations to my Virgin Money Giving page and Just Giving page but would love to go over my £350 target (under promise and over deliver!)

A lot has happened over the past two years. Some good. Some bad. That’s life, I guess. Peaks and dips. It’s not a question of fair or unfair, it’s just life. So you might as well enjoy it while you’re here. Life really is too short.

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Life Is Tough, But So Am I

Well, it’s been quite some time since my last blog post. Some people have said they’ve enjoyed reading my blog (including my Aunt, which is a lovely surprise!) and wondered when I would post again. As I’ve had a mammogram today, there’s no better time to start up again.

To be honest, the start of the year wasn’t great so it took a while for me to try to deal and process that. As well as Rashpal passing, another beautiful lady that did the Breast Cancer Now ad, Danielle, died. This was just as cruel and just as devastating, especially as I’d only seen her last December when we went out for a Christmas gathering with other women that had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It just seemed that everyone was dying of cancer or being diagnosed with cancer and sometimes it gets difficult to see the light when surrounded by darkness. But, like riding a bicycle, the best way of moving on and having balance is to move forward, so I’ve just been living life as best as I can.


It’s not easy, though. Finding a balance of leaving everything cancer-esque behind and just living life but having to worry about it possibly coming back is always there. Also, you don’t want to bore people by being that person (“God, does she ever stop talking about cancer?!”) but at the same time, you do want people to be aware and to check themselves.

I think at the moment, my life is leaning more towards post cancer than anything, although as I’m still taking Tamoxifen and beta blockers everyday, as well as my Zoladex injections every four weeks, it never really goes away.

Personally, things are okay the moment. After a little bout of part time work and volunteer work, I’ve finally managed to get a full time job. It’s maternity cover but it’s still great being able to work and have some cash coming in. I’ve been re-connecting with some friends I hadn’t seen in ages, going out and just having a laugh!

Me with my mate, Kirsty, who was in London for a short visit. We did a skinny dip for charity years ago (but that’s a story for another day!)

Got a really cheap deal to go to Leeds on the train so I went to visit my mate, Andy (in the middle) so he invited his mate, Dan, (on the left) to come along too

My brother and his wife had another baby girl, so now I’m the aunt of two lovely nieces. I’ve got tickets to see Beyoncé in June up in Sunderland (still can’t keep away from the place), Stevie Wonder in July at British Summer Time Hyde Park, both of which I’m really looking forward to, obviously, and I’m waving the Ghanaian Flag again at the parade for Pride in London.

Stevie Wonder ticket!!!!

Me last year at Pride in London. Got more hair on my head nowadays but still the same silly smile!

I’ve also gone and signed up to run the Great North Run again. I was umming and ahhing about it for ages as I didn’t think I would beat my time two years ago and I would be nowhere near as fit as I was but I got a good talking to by my mate, Laura, so I’ve now got four months to go until I run it.


It’s taking place two years to the day that I started chemo, which I took as a massive sign. My main aim is to just finish it. A couple of people I know are also running it so it’ll be nice to see some friendly faces at the finish line. Obviously, I’m running it this year for Breast Cancer Now, hopefully Rashpal and Danielle would be proud. I’ve sorted out a Virgin Money Giving donation page and a Just Giving donation page so I’m hopeful I’ll reach and smash my £350 target before the run.

Last month, I did an e-interview for Care Across, an organisation with lots of information about various types of cancer. They sent me through a bunch of questions and I just answered them as honestly as I could. That was a great bit of fun to do!

So today was my mammogram. The first of my annual mammograms that will happen until I hit 50, then they’ll happen less frequently than that.

Had my boobs squashed with this


Have to admit, I was nervous as mammograms in the past hadn’t given good news and seemed to take ages but I was in and out, figuratively and actually, especially my breasts, in about 10 minutes. Mammograms aren’t the most glamourous and comfortable things in the world but they are effective, so you’ve got to do all you can do to make sure cancer is gone or that it’s detected as soon as possible. I’ll get the results by post in two weeks but if I get contacted before, then I’ll know it’s not a good sign. I do check my breasts but there’s only so much you can do with self examination.

Got my Zoladex injections tomorrow morning so more cancer stuff in the space of a 24 hour period but in the great scheme of things, it could be a lot worse.

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

Well, I knew it was too good to be true. I last blogged about how much of a good mood I was in and how things were great. Talk about tempting fate! It’s only a week into 2016 and it’s already turning out to be a trying year. On New Years’ Eve, I got a phone call from my brother to say that he had the family cat, Wallace, put down.

 

Myself and Wallace Cat


To be fair, he was a very old cat (about 17/18) and we had had him in our family since the summer of 1998 (I remember it was during the World Cup in France). My brother said that Wallace had been unsteady on his feet, had been fitting and unable to control his bathroom activity, to put it nicely. I know that the correct decision was made to put him down. Wallace was such a character for a cat (he was able to open door handles and once brought home a paper bag full of donuts) and no-one would want him to suffer more than he had been.

I’ve also been rocked by the news that Rashpal Thomson, who was also in The Last One ad for Breast Cancer Now, sadly passed away. I only met up with her last month at the Breast Cancer Now’s Christmas party. She was full of smiles and laughter. We talked about what we were doing for Christmas, both living in South London, drink far too much Prosecco and just loving life.

 

Leo, Rashpal, myself, Mary and Rob at Breast Cancer HQ for their Christmas gathering. Leo and Rob are the directors of The Last One ad

 
When it came to the end of the night, I didn’t want Rashpal waiting by herself in the middle of the City of London by herself for a taxi so, despite her gently protesting, I waited with her until her taxi arrived. Even though my meeting with Rashpal was brief, you could tell how much fun she was to be around and didn’t want to have a fuss made of her, even though she totally deserved it. Rashpal epitomises the saying, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years” Knowing she will live on through her work with breast cancer awareness, metastatic and otherwise, is a bit of a comfort but I would rather she was still here, obviously.

Rest easy, Rashpal, you wonderful woman.

Goodbye 2015: The Year I HAD Cancer

So… 2015. That was some year, ey? Not as traumatic as 2014, but still had its moments, good and bad. However, if I had to boil it down to one thing, it’s that I had breast cancer. Not have. HAD. It’s taken me a while to get my head around it and to admit it out loud, but there you have it. This year had me finishing chemo, having a lumpectomy and axilary node clearance, going through radiotherapy, starting to take Tamoxifen and bisoprolol (beta blockers), finishing Herceptin and having Zoladex injections. And after all that, I can say with confidence that I had cancer.

This year has shown me so many things. It’s shown me that there is something about having to confront your own mortality and death to make you appreciate life. It’s shown me the kindness of strangers. It’s shown me the importance of the National Health Service. Most of all, this year has shown me the beauty of love and friendship.

Without doubt, I do not think I could have got through this year like I have without the love and support of my friends and family. Sometimes, when I look back at 2015 and think of the times that I got a text, or a card, or a hug, or a kiss, or even a smile, it’s overwhelming. Part of me can’t believe that I actually deserve it, but, in a fucked up way, I can believe that I deserved cancer. Why can we readily believe the worst of ourselves but struggle to believe the best of ourselves?

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is to all of my friends and family, in London, in Sunderland, in Ghana, online, everywhere, you have you no idea how much you all mean to me. You make life worth living and fighting for. I love you more than you’ll ever know and than I can type in a blog post. I’m glad that you’ve come into my life and that you are in my life.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and cancer-less 2016!

  

The (Christmas) Present Is A Gift

It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve been to the doctors to have my monthly Zoladex injection. This time last year, I was also having needles poked into me but for a different reason – it was for blood tests to make sure I could proceed with my sixth cycle of chemo. It’s amazing how much can change in a year. This time last year I was pretty much bald. Now, I’m rocking a bad ass Afro, if I do say so myself.

This past month, I’ve gone back to what I was like before diagnosis by being a social butterfly. I’ve been to a wedding, met up with loads of friends, old and new, took part in a Top of the Pops Christmas and New Year Special recording, seen the new Star Wars film, chauffeured a couple of weddings for Buttercup Bus and hugged a lot of babies!

 

Myself with my mate, Andy (who I know as George – long story) and his wife, Jo

  

Meeting up with Laura and Andrea. We went to the same secondary school together so I’ve known them for 22 years!

  

Cheeky secret selfie with Lee at the recording of Top of the Pops at Elstree Studios

  

Meeting up with Rashpal and Mary, who were also in the Breast Cancer Now ad

  

Shenanigans with fellow Badass Booby Bitches!

  

Driving Beatrix Beetle for a wedding

 

I don’t know if something in the universe is in alignment but I’ve really been in a good place and happy. In the back of my mind, I do have a little voice saying that it’s not going to last, but I’ve been enjoying the good times while they  decide to stick around.

I think I’ve been more than guilty of either looking too much at the past or preparing for the distant future and not enjoying the moment of the present. This month has shown me there is a lot to say for enjoying the moment. Life is for living, so go live it!

The End Of The Chapter, But The Book Remains Open

Well, it’s finally here! Last Wednesday I had my final Herceptin injection. This means I’m officially out of active treatment and, according to my fav oncologist, Dr. Susie Stanway, I am now in remission! It’s still hard to believe it’s happened but, understandably, I am incredibly happy about the news. I even had a couple of glasses of champagne to celebrate.

Cheers!

It’s taken eight cycles of chemo, a lumpectomy, twenty rounds of radiotherapy, seventeen Herceptin injections, countless side effects (constipation, hair loss, nail loss, nausea, joint pain, possible infertility) and the pills I’m still on (beta blockers and Tamoxifen), not to mention the Zoladex injections I still have, but I can finally say with confidence that I am in remission.

I can’t bring to say that I’m cancer-free. I don’t like that term. For me, it’s incorrect. I will never truly be cancer-free. I will never be able to donate blood in case there are still traces of cancer cells in there. We all know that cancer is a sneaky bugger. I could be fine for decades, then all of a sudden – BAM! Back to where I was. But I’m in a better place now than I was a year ago and all the drugs I have to take will help my chances of sticking around long into old age. I prefer the term NED – No Evidence of Disease. It will be about five years before I can legitimately use that, but, for now, remission is my new BFF.

Before I had my last Herceptin injection, I took myself off to Reykjavík for the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. It was my fourth trip to Reykjavík and my second time to Airwaves, so it’s safe to say that I love going back.


  

Sólfar sculpture

  

East India Youth


Sleaford Mods

  

Hot Chip


I wasn’t in a good head space before I left. A combination of issues with lack of self worth, lack of confidence and hormones all over the shop due to the Zoladex injections kicking in (I’ve started to experience hot flushes. They’re not too bad and seem to, for now, happen at night). But going away did me the world of good. Being able to travel, see and hear so many musicians, chat to different people, it was like my pre-cancer life. I even managed to walk past Björk and got chatting to Charlotte Church, who was incredibly lovely (especially when I said I was going to see Vagina Boys because “if it’s anything to do with vaginas, I am in there!”)

Today I had a smear test. I know only too well about how important early detection of cancer is. Also, my friend, Rachel of the Life In Geordieland blog (we went to uni together) is a cervical cancer survivor herself and does a lot to make people aware of cervical cancer and testing. My smear took less than five minutes to perform (my cervix was being well behaved this time – it’s normally shy and hard to see) and I should get the results in two weeks.

Cancer will always be a part of my life, but, for now, this chapter is closed. Onto the next chapter!

Inconceivable Outcome

It can’t have failed to escape your attention, but if it has, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I started the month by having my third Zoladex injection (what a great way to “celebrate” the occasion, right…?) . I think I’m starting to experience the side effects like the hot flushes, but they’ve not been too bad.

I’ve also written an article for Young Women Breast Cancer Blog UK about my potential infertility, here it is:

“I got diagnosed with Stage 2 Grade 3 breast cancer on Thursday 21st August 2014. To say it was a shock is, clearly, an understatement. My father died unexpectedly in February, so I thought nothing else as devastating as that could possibly happen, never mind so close together in time.


I was with my mother in the hospital when I got the news. I remember being told by my breast consultant, Miss P, “You seem very quiet” “It’s just a lot to take in, that’s all” I replied. If you know me, being quiet is very unusual behaviour from myself.


My head was swimming with thoughts of death, funerals, mastectomies, tests, chemotherapy, hair loss, weight gain, weight loss and other equally negative thoughts. At the age of 32, I couldn’t believe I had to deal with breast cancer. Even though it runs in the family, (both my maternal aunts in Ghana have had it) I never expected it would get to me. I probably hoped it wouldn’t more than anything.


Early on, I was asked, due to my age, if I wanted to have eggs frozen as chemotherapy affects your fertility. Before my diagnosis, I was in two minds whether I wanted children or not. Now, because the choice had potentially been taken away from me, I developed a burning sensation of wanting the chance of being a mother. There’s nothing like being forced to make a decision that crystallises your mind. It reminds me of the episode of Friends when Rachel takes a second pregnancy test to see if she really is pregnant. She isn’t sure what to do and if she wants to have a baby. Phoebe looks at the test result and tells Rachel she isn’t, which makes Rachel sad, but Phoebe reveals that she was lying in order for Rachel to confront her true feelings and decide what she truly wants.


I was referred to the fertility consultant, Mr. B in order to discuss the collection and freezing of my eggs. The day before my appointment, I received a phone call from the hospital. They told me that freezing my eggs would not be a problem but they could only be frozen for five years and because I was single, if I wanted to use them in the future, I was ineligible for free IVF and would have to pay for it. So not only was I being punished for getting breast cancer in the first place, I was also getting punished for being single. Or at least that’s what it felt like. It wasn’t like any of this was my fault, but through circumstances beyond my control, I was being kicked when I was already down.


The day of my appointment came and I was in a waiting room of expectant mothers and couples. I felt like a bit of a fraud being there and thought everyone in the waiting room was thinking, “What is she doing here?” When I got to see Mr. B, he had a look at my cervix, womb and ovaries to make sure things were okay for me to progress for egg harvesting. Through the examinations, it transpired that my ovaries were larger than normal, which indicated that I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). So, on top of breast cancer, I find out I have this. I suppose you could look at it as if I didn’t get diagnosis with breast cancer, I wouldn’t have found out when I did that I have PCOS. But it did feel that the universe was conspiring for me not to have any biological children as PCOS makes it difficult to conceive.


The examinations also found that I was at the stage in my cycle where I was nowhere near ovulating, so I would have to wait about a month before attempting to extract any eggs. However, I was told that eggs have better odds of surviving the freezing and thawing process if they are fertilised first, so I had to consider possibly using a sperm donor, which brings up a whole different range of emotions and questions. “If I meet someone, would they be okay with not being the biological father of my potential child even though they could be perfectly okay to have biological children of their own?” “Would I be able to meet someone if I’m a single parent?” “How would I feel about the father of my child being someone I don’t even know?” “How would I even start to explain to my child the circumstances behind their birth?”


All this became a moot point the next day when I went to the cancer hospital to speak to my locum oncologist, Dr. S. She explained to me that my tumour was a fast growing one and hinted that waiting a month to start egg extraction might not be a luxury I could afford to take. She told me that due to my age and great level of fitness (I’d just done the Great North Run three days before), even though chemotherapy does affect your fertility, the odds were more in my favour than not of it coming back. In addition, it had been established that my type of breast cancer was ER+. In order to stimulate egg formation, you have to be given hormones. As hormones made my tumour grow, it wouldn’t be a good idea to pump my body full of hormones, even though I would have been given more drugs to stop any cancer cells trying to attach to the hormones. I decided there and then to press ahead with starting chemotherapy without having any eggs frozen. It showed how urgent I needed to start treatment as it was arranged for me to begin chemotherapy the very next day.


I ended up having 8 cycles of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, auxiliary node clearance (11 lymph nodes near my arm pit removed) and 20 sessions of radiotherapy. At the moment, I’m nearing the end of receiving Herceptin, taking beta blockers to counter the damage the Herceptin has done to my heart and on Tamoxifen and Zoladex. As the big meaty parts of my treatment have finished, a lot of people wrongly assume that everything is over and done with. They don’t see that there are on-going ramifications. I’m at the age where my friends and family are getting married and having children of their own (I’ve been to three christenings/baptisms this year alone) but that part of my life seems beyond reach for me due to my diagnosis and treatment. When I explain to people about my issues with fertility because of the breast cancer, I’m usually met with the same response, “Oh, I didn’t realise! I didn’t even think about that side!” It’s hard being surrounded by people going through that next stage in their lives while you are unable to do the same through no fault of your own.


I was lucky that I’ve been offered some form of fertility consultation and examination, some women in some parts of the country don’t even get that chance or offer. It seems to be a bit of an after-thought, which makes an already emotionally fraught situation even worse. Not every woman wants to have children or have any more children, of course. But, for those, like myself, that do want biological children, we’re being left behind. I do have to keep telling myself that motherhood isn’t completely a pipe dream; there’s always adoption, being a step-parent, godparent, surrogacy and egg donation. It’s just a long line of difficulties that you go through when you deal with breast cancer. But you can come through it. That’s the main thing.”