This page is written with love and to share a few experiences. Cancer touches many individuals at some point during their lives, it is not going to be the same for everyone. So this page explores what happened to me from January 2017. I hope it will burst the fear bubble for some people and bring more awareness to those seeking information. I hope it will reassure people that cancer does not have to be a frightening experience. I appreciate that for many people it is scary and even fatal, but it isn’t for everyone.
It does affect one’s life. In my case, there were more positives than negatives. Cancer enabled me to appreciate in new ways the support and love from friends and family as well as giving more meaning to my life.
There are still a lot of taboos about sharing cancer experiences, assumptions that everyone with breast cancer is passive and suffering.
My diagnosis came as a surprise. I had not experienced much physical illness during my life. I was active, dancing and a healthy 70 year old. I had danced in Jerome Bel’s GALA on the main stage at Sadler’s Wells in November 2016 and had a successful Viva for my DProf. Early in 2017 I felt a tiny ‘splinter‘ that I thought was embedded in one of my ribs. It did not feel like a lump. I could get my finger round it a bit, so it thought it could not be in a rib. I went to the doctor. Luckily, he sent me to the hospital and two weeks later I had tests and an operation and informed I had Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). This is a virulent cancer that cannot be treated with hormonal medication. A second operation confirmed the cancer had not spread into my lymph glands. It was fortunate that I had gone to the doctor as soon as I thought something was wrong and my doctor had not delayed sending me to the hospital to have it checked out. Chemotherapy followed and then radiotherapy. I did have a few negative side effects including feeling tired, emotional days and not sleeping well. It took time for my incision to heal and this delayed starting chemo. I enjoyed all the different hair styles during and after chemo and radiotherapy.
During summer 2017, I made a feather hat to protect my head. I used colourful pipe-cleaners and ribbons to make the framework and decorated it with feathers, butterflies, crystal flowers and bobbles The gaps in the frame let air through.
In Autumn, as the weather got cooler, I invested in a purple sequined hat to keep my bald head warm when I went out.
As my hair grew back it went through several different stages.
Fuzz growing back! My hair is getting curly.
The stage I didn’t like was when I had tight curls. I was definitely on the road getting back to looking normal again but I felt like a pixie and not a woman!
However, once I had my wild free-flowing curls I really enjoyed my new look.
I really appreciated the medical staff in the different the departments of the North Middlesex Hospital. I was treated as an individual; my questions were always answered honestly. I was given excellent support and care from my specialist nurses and doctors.
I was completing my doctorate and that was more worrying than having cancer. I joined an on-line American support group organised by Breast Cancer Care for those having treatment for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. It was fun and supportive. I enjoyed being part of the group who were feisty, caring women. It was moderated by a specialist cancer practitioner.
I had a personal trainer from a programme supported by Macmillan and Tottenham Hotspur.
Emiliano was friendly, caring and professional and it was such a lovely treat to have individual sessions with him. He made sure I remained fit as I could be during treatment and was very encouraging. He patiently adjusted the tasks at the Tottenham Leisure Centre gym to complement my energy levels and ways I felt. Sometimes I was very tired. This opportunity ensured I also got out the house and had something completely different to look forward to!
The week I completed my radiotherapy treatment I graduated from Middlesex University. It was a very happy experience. December 2017.
A friend I had made whilst dancing in ‘Gala’ told me about Move Dance Feel and I was so fortunate to attend sessions.
I attended very good post-cancer sessions at the hospital run by Macmillan Cancer Support. It was so interesting to share experiences and learn how to sort out one’s life in a trusting, friendly environment. I felt very sorry for younger women who worked for employers who were unsympathetic or had families who thought that everything including having meals made and housework done would carry on as usual. I was in contact with my specialist nurse if I had any queries or concerns. Following treatment, I continued to have a few side effects. I benefitted from having some alternative therapies offered by The Haven .
I gradually returned to more dance activities and committee work and life was getting back to normal. I was definitely appreciative of Life.
In Summer 2018 I went on the Remain in Europe march with my friend Jo. I wasn’t able to walk the whole march. I got too tired.
Here I am dancing at the Notting Hill Carnival in 2018. This pic was included in a Sunday newspaper in 2018 and has appeared again in The Guardian in 2021 . The person behind me with spectacles is my friend Onike from Toronto.
During the second year following treatment, I started getting “syndromes” of symptoms including those of the menopause – hot flushes, sleeplessness and mood swings. My breasts also got bigger and heavier. My GP did not know what to do with me and suggested I needed counselling. This was not appropriate, I just needed reassurance that I was OK. With TNBC, the first three years have to be monitored in case it returns because it is virulent. I was concerned that I did not know the signs of cancer coming back. I also got tingling in my fingers and feet, which is not very good as I am a dancer. However, because of Covid, I spoke to an oncologist on the phone and he reassured me that the various syndromes and symptoms and the effects of the chemo and radiotherapy were individual. Most of these symptoms have now gone and I am healthy, positive and joyful. As already mentioned, I am so grateful for all the support and love I have been given, the wonderful treatment I received from the staff at the hospital and the NHS. I am delighted and feel blessed that I am still alive!