So where am I at right now?

When I was about 7, I went to a gymnastics day at my local sports hall. For some reason I put sunscreen on… perhaps it was the day before that I put it on? Perhaps I’m mixing my memories, but this feels right. That day I found out I was allergic to sunscreen. Banana Boat, specifically. I suppose I had worn sunscreen before that, but that day we used Banana Boat and my skin screamed. I came out in big, scary, angry red welts. My skin felt tight, itchy, unmovable. I’ve always remembered the itchiness, but up until now I hadn’t remembered the tight feeling across my face and the inability to make facial expressions. As I tried to smile, the creases my face made felt like I had layers of thick mud on top of my skin. But no, that was just the swelling and reaction to the sunscreen.

Post implant surgery I have been like that again – not red, not itchy. But the tightness and the swelling has brought back memories to that day.

A particularly odd sensation – my ears have felt like they’re being lifted forward off my head. I’m not sure why, perhaps because of the tightening of skin in my face. I remember this from the last surgery too, but there was a lot of other stuff going on that it wasn’t my top worry.

Well the obvious thing to say is that what I’ve been going through this time is nothing compared to what I was going through coming out of surgery over a year ago. It doesn’t even register on the scale compared with that.

But with me being me and thinking everything will be ‘all good’… it’s also a lot more serious than I thought it would be. I’ve needed more recovery time than I was anticipating.

Weirdly, the pain in my face has been greater than it was from THE surgery. I guess it’s less numb now and I’m on less pain killers…

They cut all the gums in my mouth in order to access all the points they needed, so there are stitches and raw wounds in there.
My lips have been cracked and sore from a couple of hours of having tools shoved past them.
My face is bruised from having instruments on it and people working on top of it.
My neck has been sore from the angle they had me at during the surgery.
My jaw has been really painful.
My cheekbones ache from the inside and hurt from the outside. They feel bruised to touch.
When I wiggle my right cheekbone it wiggles my lip… that’s kind of fun.
I am exhausted most of the time.
I’ve had to sleep upright again, which has been mentally taxing. Trying to get comfortable by stacking pillows on top of each other has thrown me back to what it was like a year ago. Things always seem more difficult at night.

Sometimes I wonder how my body is able to take all this beating and still come out the other side, essentially functioning… But here we are, still going.

So. I went in to see the dental implant guys at Dawood and Tanner and they have given me some teeth… kinda. They’re just temporary teeth. Placeholders. They don’t really fit right (they just kind of stick out in the middle of my mouth), I can’t eat with them (super difficult since I can’t take them out…), but they’ll stay in for the next 3 months until I get my proper ones. I did a few videos on my instagram so you can see them – click on the circle on the top left that says ‘implants’ at the following link:
https://www.instagram.com/thecancerchrons/

They’re uncomfortable, painful, don’t look right and make it quite difficult to talk and obviously eat, but they look like teeth, and it’s nice to know that people won’t look at me strangely anymore. Well not quite so strangely, anyway. Still a way to go before we get them right, but I’m one step closer.

Surgery part 2

I think we tend to build up our medical professionals as wizards, magicians, Gods. And in a way, they are. The work that they are doing is beyond belief, and I have gone into my surgeries with complete trust in these people, putting my life in their hands.

Lay-people have said to me all along ‘oh, you’ll be fixed as good as new by the end’ and ‘you may have concerns, but don’t worry, it’s amazing what they can do these days, they can fix anything’. Of course there is a lot of truth in that. And I know when people say these things, it’s to be reassuring. But I also want to point out that continuing to propagate these messages is somewhat dismissing the mammoth task these people are doing, as well as dismissing me for being realistic about it.

From the beginning, the surgeons and my implant specialists prepared me for that fact that although we were hoping for everything to go wonderfully smoothly, it really is a big and difficult job, and there are no guarantees. I just want to stress this fact. There were so many things that could not go according to plan. Apart from the usual surgery things, there’s also the fact that they’re trying to fix implants into a ‘jaw’ that is actually a shoulder bone… Like…what?! How is that even possible?

And this is why it was a combined job between Andrew Dawood and his specialist dental team, and the original surgeons who did my reconstruction. I saw Deepti before, and the surgeons after, but I wasn’t able to see the Dawood team at all during my hospital stay, which felt so odd because I knew they were there, behind the scenes… I was comforted knowing I had met them previously however, I can’t stress how much of a difference it makes to already know the people who are doing things to you while you’re asleep. Ok that sounded creepy…

Going into this surgery, they were planning on 5 implants. 3 zygomatic ones (those big ones that go into my cheekbones) and two ‘normal’ ones which just go directly into the roof of the mouth. When I woke up, my tongue found three. I wondered if this meant that it didn’t go as successfully as they had hoped, but Deepti mentioned the next day that they didn’t think they needed the other two, so I think that’s fine. She also said in passing ‘it was a bit of a difficult surgery, the left side was fine but the right side was a bit tricky, as you would expect considering how much we’ve done in there’.

Of course you don’t want your surgeons going on and on about how difficult it was and how much they struggled, but I wonder how much ‘it turned out ok’ in hindsight relates to some real struggles in surgery. So I really just want to take a moment to mention all the people who were in there, the huge team of people and support staff who were poking away at me, toiling through the hours of the evening to take me that next step.

So to follow up on ‘when I woke up, my tongue found three’, let me explain. The only difference I could tell post surgery (aside from swelling) is that there are there little caps sticking out of the roof of my mouth. As I write this now a few days later, I can hardly feel them anymore. The little caps are on the end of these three big metal posts that go through the roof of my mouth and into my cheekbones. Eventually these little ‘healing caps’ will be taken off and the teeth attached to them. These are what will anchor the new teeth in.

One other difference was that they released the damn scar tissue that was pulling my lip in. When I saw Deepti the next day she said I would be happy to know that they did that. I smiled and nodded. Well I tried to smile, but with all the swelling, I think I just looked at her. But I’m sure she knew I was smiling.

So it was around half 10 (pm) when I got back to the ward after surgery, I spent the trip to my bay chatting with Anna, the nurse from my ICU stay over a year ago. I think I was overcompensating for my dopey wakeup and was talking about 100 miles an hour. She said she’d been keeping up with the blog, nothing made me happier than hearing that.

I slept in bits and pieces overnight, as it goes when sleeping on a ward. It’s all a bit confusing, I’m not sure how much of that is related to the anaesthetic, and how much is just the odd environment and the people around you talking, turning lights on and off, alarms going off, etc. either way it’s all a bit disorientating. But I felt surprisingly calm. And I was grateful not to have a feeding tube (it was a potential risk), and holding onto those words I hoped I hadn’t dreamed: ‘it went well’.

The next morning was ward rounds and a whole army of people came by. Seriously, there were  about 20 of them. Through the sea of faces, Deepti came to the front, loitering at the back were Mr K and Mr Lieu (my original surgeons – I tried to smile at them, but I think my smiling capabilities were rather compromised, so again I think I just stared), and then Claire (surgeon from the first time around) rotated to the front at one point and said hi, more attempts at smiles from me.

They said I would be leaving that day and that Deepti would be around later to ‘fill up the holes with glue’. Ah now that’s terminology I can understand! Wait, you’re gluing my mouth up??? In the process of chopping through scar tissue and securing implants etc. some of the ‘flap’ (roof of my mouth) collected a few holes in it. Two that I could feel with my tongue but didn’t hurt, and one at the back that was quite raw and painful. Later that afternoon she came back and filled them all in.

It was quite a big day. A few other people I knew swung by and said hi, and I met with someone who was doing a Masters and working in patient involvement. She was awesome and we had a good chat, glad to be connected with her. Australian of course – we seem to find each other.

There was also an emergency on the ward during the morning, alarms going off, people running around, with phrases being shouted out such as ‘we got him back into surgery’ and ‘he just started bleeding and we couldn’t stop it’ ‘we had to give him 6 packets of blood’. Don’t worry, it wasn’t my friend, he was recovering down in ICU at this point. But it was a little throw back to me getting rushed back into emergency surgery over a year before, from the exact same ward. I hope he was ok, as I was then. But of course, ok because the surgeons rushed back into surgery to save him. What a job. Nurses had to go and change their uniforms as they had blood on them. This hospital business is serious.

So eventually Deepti made her way back to me, having dealt with the emergency and she filled my holes and we had a chat. She said she’d see me again in clinic in a week or so.

I also saw a nutritionist. The hospital is not set up for people who need a liquid diet. Yes they have soup (when they haven’t run out) but they had on my file that I could only have yoghurt. But it wasn’t easy to find yoghurt, and the nutritionist said she thought I probably wasn’t allowed yoghurt because it wasn’t liquid enough. I had been fasting since Monday night for surgery, and it was now Wednesday morning. Someone gave me a yoghurt after surgery so I had that, but then I wasn’t sure what I could or couldn’t eat. It was like going back to a year ago when there was literally nothing in hospital that I could eat. At least this time I was physically able to put yoghurt in my mouth, but the year before I was not able to because of the swelling, which meant no food while in hospital for Jen. When the nutritionist turned up she gave me some terrible supplement drinks to take home and we discussed what I would eat once I was discharged. I’ve got this, I promise. Ain’t my first rodeo.

The ward ordered my discharge meds, but said it would take some time. It always takes some time. So I popped down to ICU in the meantime  to check up on my friend. He was waiting to come up to the ward. On the way I ran into a nurse who works at UCLH who I know from Instagram (and obviously have mutual contacts) but have never actually met. That was pretty great. Glad she recognised me, I was in a bit of a daze the whole time I was in there.

My friend was doing ok. He had a big surgery, I knew how he must have been feeling. Exhausted, to say the least. But it was nice to say hi to him and his parents. Sending so much love to them all. I can’t begin to explain how happy I had felt that we were both going back in on the same day, both getting some sort of progress, and how great it had been to see him. We’re in this together.

My nurse (again, another familiar face from the year before) said that it would take forever to get the meds to the ward but it wouldn’t take so long if I went to pick them up at the discharge lounge. So I packed up my things, said bye to my ward buddies and set off to the discharge lounge.

When I got there, they made me a cup of tea (dream) and said that my meds would be there within an hour. Great. I don’t want to dwell on it too long but it took about 3 hours until they finally got my meds. It was 6pm by this stage, my painkillers had long since worn off and I was exhausted from talking, smiling (/staring) and being switched on. I was in pain, I was tired, I needed to get home. It had been less than 24 hours since surgery and I just needed to get out of there. I hit a wall. I started crying at one point when they came back after a couple of hours and said there was still no sign of my meds. One of the people kept trying to talk to me but I had to tell her it was too painful to keep talking. I blew my nose and there was blood (there had been all day, it was an expected side effect, they drilled through my sinus cavities, though without puncturing the mucous lining). Eventually they tracked down my meds, I got in the Uber (there was an Uber strike that afternoon of course, but a couple were still working) and I eventually got home, collapsed and slept.

Tired lil puff face Jen just after getting home (with a slight black eye starting to appear):

Surgery part 1

Well I don’t know about you, but I was getting tired of the will-they-won’t-they game when it comes to implant surgeries and cancellations. After the last cancellations they said there would be nothing in the foreseeable future. Yay. So I was back onto waiting, and I tried to put it out of my mind. When they called me at the end of Thursday saying I would be going in on Tuesday, I thought I’d keep it on the down low until we found out whether it would actually happen.

Weirdly, it so happened that I was going in on the same day as a friend of mine, we had chemo together and our original surgeries together, and now, after a lot of back-and-forthing for the both of us, with setbacks, cancellations and a lot of unforeseen circumstances, we were back in on the same day. I did tentatively check first that my good fortune wasn’t a result of his surgery being cancelled, but he assured me that it was some other poor soul who had given up their spot to me (hilariously, the day we were booked in for was a make up from a week before when surgery day was cancelled due to a power failure at the Hospital… you just can’t make these things up…).

Getting to have a pre-surgery catch up was a nice touch. I may have temporarily adopted myself to his parents, and they were kind enough to look after my things as I hopped around to all my pre-surgery meetings. I got to see Deepti (remember her? My surgeon, my bestie) and gave her a huge hug. I may have even squealed. Immediately, the excitement of having this amazing group of people back in my life washed over me. Though I will say, I hope their involvement wanes off now, at least in this capacity.

So I got in at 11am (after a couple of hours at work first) and promptly found my friend and we hung about, chatted, and were consented for surgery, had our blood pressure checked, etc. At around 1, he went in and I knew I would be after, but I also knew his would take a while. At about 1:15 they took me into a room to wait, took all my belongings, sealed them in a bag and put them in a locker. By around 2:45 they came back in and said it wouldn’t be until 4:15 and would I like my things to keep me company? While I enjoyed an hour and a half of just sitting quietly in my own thoughts, I wasn’t much looking forward to another so I thanked them and took my kindle and spent my time reading. 5pm came and they popped back in and said ‘they’re still going on the previous surgery, but should be finished soon…’

Half my mind was on hoping he was doing ok, his body has some issues with getting surgery, and the other half was on hoping they finish soon for my own personal reasons… how late does it need to get before they cancel the second surgery of the afternoon? To be honest, by the time it was after 5pm, I had pretty much convinced myself that the next time someone popped through that door it would be to tell me to go home.

Just after 6, Deepti came in, and it was all go! I put my kindle away and off we went, a quick wave to my friend’s parents as we went by, Deepti letting them know he was fine and would be out soon.

Let me tell you, it was very strange to walk myself to surgery. When I went in a year ago, I was not walking in, I was wheeled in. I thanked Deepti as we walked, so grateful that they were staying late to do my surgery. She said they had booked the room for longer than the standard hours, knowing that it was likely to happen. I found out later that the people in reception had been talking about whether I had been told yet if my surgery was cancelled. Not my team, they were there, making the magic happen. My angels.

People often ask if I’m nervous going into surgery. I’m not, not at all. I feel like there is a buzz about going into surgery, and this one was particularly exciting. It was for that final bit. I think we were all feeling it.

So let me do some explaining.

This surgery was a combined effort between my amazing surgical team who we met in a big way just over a year ago, and the wonderful people at Dawood and Tanner.

A couple of weeks ago, the people at D&T realised that I didn’t know much about what was coming up and after the first cancelled surgery, they brought me in and took the time to sit me down and explain what was to come. For that reason I’ve got pics that I can now share with you all.

This is my skull (3D printing is cool!):

img_8414.jpg

And these were the plans for implants – they are called zygomatic implants, and we wanted three through the roof of my mouth and into my cheekbones:

img_8425

So we went in to the surgery with these plans and models, and a ‘best case scenario’ but of course going in to surgery (or at least one this difficult), you never actually know what is going to happen.

Let’s just talk first about that fact that I hate going under anaesthetic. That’s not to say it’s something you should be worried about if you haven’t had surgery before, it’s absolutely fine. I just hate being ‘put’ under. I was super calm before, excited, the cannula went in fine, but right near to going under, I was still stressed – I think it was the point where they put the mask over my face and told me to breathe through my nose – of course I can’t breathe through my nose anymore, but I couldn’t tell him because the sedation was making me drowsy…

I thought coming out of surgery this time would be fine, with it being so much shorter than my other experience (and it was better, in so many ways), but I still woke confused, in pain, and with the same feeling like I needed to say something (I probably always think I need to say something). I couldn’t see anything as it was all blurry, people seemed to be bustling around. I remember at one point lying on the bed groaning. I think someone said ‘it went well’, was that Deepti? Was she there? I think I was reaching my arms out towards something, or at least trying to. I felt sideways, upside down. I kept blinking, hoping my eyes would clear and then eventually they did and who was standing next to me but Anna from Portugal – one of the nurses who first looked after me in ICU after my first surgery. This started the string of ‘wait, I think I know you!’ that kept happening over the next few days.

And that’s all I can manage for today, next instalment to come soon.

The Lucy Effect

Through the whole cancer thing, we cling to the idea of options. As long as there are options, it’ll be fine. Things don’t necessarily go according to plan, which is something that is terrifying at the time because no one explains to you at the beginning that it’s common, and usually that’s fine, there are other options to try. You do tend to forget the true seriousness of this cancer malarky sometimes. Especially when you know so many people with it who look so ‘well’. And I talk a lot about how people are successfully living with cancer these days, or being treated, cured, and you start to forget just how serious it is. Then you get a harsh reminder.

I know so many people now with cancer. There was a point back around this time last year when a good friend of mine died (you might remember Amy?) and I sat myself down and said ‘ok, this is going to keep happening. Although everyone you know will eventually die, you are putting yourself in the line for making friends with people who are more likely to die sooner than others. Is this what you want to do?’ And I did think about it, I really did. Was it time to step away from the cancer community and my friends? It can be hard trying to get through this cancer thing yourself, let alone also losing friends along the way from the same (well, overall same, though there’s nothing same about all the different types of cancer) disease. It’s weird to think you are entering into relationships with people sometimes even knowing that they won’t be around much longer.

But the answer I gave myself was yes, a resounding yes, my life is so much richer for having these people in it, that’s all there is to it.

Today the world has lost another bright light. And so bright it was. I’ve been friends with Lucy for a while, but our friendship really started around October 2018 when she got a WhatsApp group together of a whole lot of ‘badass babes’ who were in different stages of different cancers. We have become each other’s family, in contact almost every day since then, talking through absolutely everything we’ve been going through, finding solace in knowing we’re not alone.

I think about Lucy back in October, when she brought this group of girls together, I don’t think any of us would have believed that we would now be outliving her, that our biggest test as a group would be helping each other through her death. At the time she brought us together I think she was out the other side, the cancer gone. Little did we know we would go through that yet another time with her, and that now we would be here, shocked at the fact that she is not. We were there with her when she got good news and bad news, I remember her sitting in the car when she told us one of the bad bits, feeling like I was right there with her. In  my memories, I was. Each stage, as she found out that the treatments were working, or when she found out they weren’t, we were there, trying to comfort her, trying to remind her that options are good. But I suppose we all eventually come to a time in life where there are no more options.

Up until I met Lucy, I had learnt from other people with cancer that saying ‘I am so sorry’ as a response to their bad news was the best way to go. Lucy taught me to never use those words to her. I remember one blog post, when she got the latest of bad news at the time, she said ‘Once again, keep your ‘I’m sorry’s and your ’sympathies’ to yourself; they don’t help anything, especially not me!’
To everyone who has heard me ramble on about language before, here is such a prime example of how you just need to listen to someone in order to work out the right language to use for them. Don’t just say whatever you want to without a thought for what they might want or need to hear.

I think there was a time in my life where, like most people afraid to talk about or properly acknowledge death, I maybe would have spoken about her in the present tense, like she’s still here, like she never truly left. I know that isn’t the case, I know she’s gone. But also, in a way, she will never entirely be gone. In the wise words of philosophers Banksy and Macklemore – they say you die twice, once when they bury you in the grave, and the other time the last time someone mentions your name.

Thanks to Lucy, I have now taken up knitting. I now drink oat milk. She got us all into playing the Sims at some point. A lot of us have matching backpacks to her. She got me onto Jody Picoult, her favourite author. I am happy to know I have all of her books now to read, holding Lucy in my heart with every word. Lucy was very… persuasive without particularly trying to be. Maybe persuasive isn’t the word. She inspired us to do the things she did by the way she spoke about them.

I’m finding it hard to get the words to describe her, to talk about her. I find it hard in these situations when words fail me, because there are not words enough to describe Lucy or the effect she had on us. Or to fix this.

This also goes to show that even if you’re prepared for it, it comes as a shock. We knew things weren’t going well, we knew she was at the end of treatment and speaking ‘hospice’. We all knew in the back of our minds that it could mean the end was near, but none of us really believed it. Even Lucy herself said ‘I don’t know if I will come home but if I don’t I don’t I’ll be in the right place’. The hope that it would only be temporary ever present. I wonder if she said that for herself or for us. Did she believe it? Did we? Did we keep fooling ourselves up to the last minute that it wasn’t as serious as it was? Is that a bad thing if we did? I can’t imagine what it must be like to be at that stage. But even then she was looking forward to Hospice care to take the stress off her mum to actively look after her.

I have an audio clip saved on my phone of her singing ’The Reaper’ by Sia –
You came to take me away
So close I was to heaven’s gates
But no baby, no baby, not today
Oh, you tried to track me down
You followed me like the darkest cloud
But no baby, no baby, not today

I even got a mug made with the lyrics on it and sent it to her. A reminder, no Reaper, not today. When she told us a few days ago that she was out of options, I told her I was not going to start talking about her as it it were the end, I wouldn’t yet start going on about her ‘legacy’ just because she had bad news, I wasn’t going to talk about her like she was dead yet. I told her that I would write all those things down and send them to her (though when I did, it wouldn’t necessarily signify that the Reaper was imminently nigh). I sit writing this looking at that letter on the table next to me, in an envelope, addressed, ready to be sent along with a book I know she loved.

I’m sure she knew we loved her, but sitting next to me now are all the things I hadn’t said that I wanted to. Maybe I had said them all at some point along the way… It’s hard to find the balance between saying these things too early, or too late. I don’t think any of us thought that we would already be at the ’too late’ stage by now.

No I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING shhhhhhh!

Friends, if I can urge you to do one thing right now, it is to tell your loved ones that you love them, why you love them, and how much you love them. I know it’s cliché to say that, but write to the ones you love the most all the things you would say to them if they were no longer here – it seems we are better at sharing our feelings in hindsight – and show them, tell them, even mail it to them! If your loved ones are gone, do the same anyway.

It’s funny sitting here now, I realise how much she has leaked her way into my life in her own kind of way – not pushy, not loud, very unassumingly, but in a big, strong way. She planted so many seeds in my head that grew into beautiful, fractal trees. I say fractal trees to more embody who she was. Aside from being an amazing human, she was also a scientist. A conservationist. She cared about the environment – a girl after my own heart! She studied Conservation with birds, me with ants. In fact at one point back in February she was telling me that she was looking at PhD projects. The dreams of those who never get to fulfil them. I hope this can be a lesson to you all: never stop having dreams. There is hope in dreams, and where there is hope there is life, for however long you are blessed with it.

Every time I see a photo of her it feels like someone has stabbed me in the heart. I feel like I’ve been winded. So I put it to good use and wrote a song about/for her. Now to be able to play it through to the end without crying.

I can write this post, filled with love and an outpouring of gratitude, and just get back on with my life. As I said, she will always be with me, but I don’t have to deal with the daily reminder of her not being around quite like her family have to. Nothing can prepare you for losing a daughter, a sister, and my love goes out to her family. Their lives will eventually go on too, but the hole in their lives will feel insurmountable.

I love you Lucy. We love you. I still haven’t accepted this, I don’t know how you are supposed to go about processing this, but I feel you in my broken heart, and I hear you in all my thoughts. You were one of the good ones.

Friday surgery retraction statement

You know… I probably jinxed it by telling you all it was happening…

But I got a call earlier in the week saying they ‘couldn’t find a consultant’ for Friday.

I don’t really understand what that means, I thought it was meant to be my surgeon, Mr K who did it. But I guess maybe not? Maybe it’s just a lucky-dip, nab an unlucky intern who can consult.

Jokes.

Though I wonder why they are so cagey about giving me details about things.

So I’ve now cancelled a few things I was planning on doing and the like, which is a bit of a pain but I guess I can’t really complain, I guess these things happen.

I’m grateful to have a date, but I do feel a bit deflated that it’s now been moved… But what can you do. On the plus side my recovery will now be during the week as opposed to over the weekend, so I’ll have to have a few days off work. I guess that’s something!

In other news, I was asked to speak a few weeks ago to the ‘Airway Management Hub’ at UCLH (pic below) about my experience with the dreaded tracheostomy (post surgery breathing tube, for any of you who aren’t familiar with the terminology). I had a great time (at the talk, not with the trachy), and was able to provide some input about the patient perspective. The tracheostomy is a pretty scary thing and I would like to be able to help make the process better for the people going through it, so hopefully more will come from this, I think there are some important conversations to be had.

Anyway, happy Friday, friends. Looking forward to sleeping all day tomorrow!

Off we go again…

Hello everyone, I know I’ve been quiet for a bit, it’s been cold, I’ve been busy and my parents have been visiting for a few weeks. I’ve been ticking along as usual, a few things you would probably appreciate an update on.

I had my clinic appointment a couple of weeks ago to get my MRI results and the day before I got a call asking if some of my blood could be collected for research. Yes yes yes yes research! Always yes! So I went along early to get my blood taken. There was a new staff member who was being supervised by another, but she assured me she was very experienced. Not that it bothered me too much but I gave my usual disclaimer that my veins are difficult. They assured me there would be no issue. Cool. We’ll see.

She tried one arm and found the vein but my blood didn’t want to leave me. Aww my blood has separation anxiety. Cute. She asked if she could try again. Of course. Better luck this time. She got the needle in my hand and it started slowly filling the tube but then it stopped flowing and started hurting quite a bit.

‘The vein is going to blow!’ She announced with a wavering voice. I looked at the other nurse and she looked at me with what looked like a slightly worried face. I looked down to see my vein bulging.

Wait, did she say it’s going to… ‘Blow…?’

‘It’s bleeding under the skin… I need get it out…’

Ya… safe to say the blood rushed away from my head then. Or to it? Either way I felt very hot and faint. I’m sure that’s a perfectly normal thing to happen but it’s just not what you need to be told when you’re already in pain and stressed. So she stopped and I lay down.

Then of course I was annoyed because I had failed at helping with research. Lots of apologising from them, from me, good fun. I went and had a little cry in the bathroom, stressed by the situation and frustrated that I couldn’t help. I went back out to wait for my clinic appointment and a little while later the nurse came and apologised again (as did I) and she gave me a haematology pin to say thanks. That was sweet, I like pins.

I made a friend while waiting to see my Oncologist, he had also had a face sarcoma. Twice. We were laughing about all the random body parts we have in our face. It’s a strange club to be in. You know you’re with people who get it when you can call someone ‘greedy’ for having cancer twice and have a laugh about it.

Everything went smoothly with Mr Onc. ‘Nothing in your lungs’
‘Oh that’s good! But I thought you said…’
‘It looked like something but it wasn’t. Or at least if it is, I don’t know what it is yet so I’ll see you in 3 months and we’ll look again’
Ha. Good. Bye.  ‘I like not seeing you very often’ I said as I shook his hand and scurried out.

He also said to me ‘this summer will be two years since diagnosis, won’t it!!’ I didn’t believe him and said ‘No surgery was only a year ago’. He looked at me weirdly and was like ‘yes…… And you had treatment before that……’  LOL yes he’s right.

Well apart from that, I’ve got the first of my teeth surgeries on April 12th. We’ll find out then what will be possible (I think? It sounds likely…) and then hopefully if I’m lucky and everything goes quickly and according to plan, by the end of the year I might be ready to look at some sort of teeth thing! Though that’s probably being a bit hopeful, these things usually take a lot longer, mainly because it takes so long to hand write, print and send letters in order for any process to get moving.

Yes this is good news, and I’m so glad to have some progress! But I’d rather avoid comments of ‘that’s amazing, soon you’ll look all better’ and the like. Or ‘wow teeth in April!’ Because it will still be a while until I actually get them, whatever they may be. I don’t know how I will look, I don’t know how much they can do (if anything), and although I am optimistic for the best, I need to manage expectations, both yours and mine. So we’ll see. Progress is good. Let’s see what happens next in this crazy adventure shall we?

Hilariously, I went along to my ‘pre-assessment clinic’, which I thought would be when I’d find out what they’re going to do in this surgery I’ve got coming up next week. But the nurse and anaesthetist who were running the meeting were asking me questions like: ‘Who is doing your surgery? Are you staying in overnight? What are they planning on doing?’
The anaesthetist even asked how long my surgery was meant to go for! Ummmmm………. You’re asking ME? Well that’s reassuring.

No one has told me anything about this surgery, I was kind of hoping that they were going to at this meeting. I hope by the time I get there on Friday they’ve worked out the answers to those questions because if not, well… I might end up with an amputated leg, or less one kidney or something. I guess I don’t really need two kidneys if it comes to that.

What I have pieced together from talking to random (non medical) people around the place is that they’re just going to drill in a bit and cover it back over for 6 months. But I guess I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks if that’s the case. I have no idea how disruptive it will be, how long I’ll be in hospital (I think just the one day?), or what the recovery will be like. I hear it will be swollen and sore but obviously nothing like what I’ve already been through so I’m not too bothered.

I’ll keep you all posted! Until we next speak, have a great week!

International Women’s Day

I realise I’m slightly behind the ball with this, as normal, but I have a few things to say about International Women’s Day.

I know this isn’t strictly cancer related, but it is life-with-cancer related (because it’s related to all life!) and my tribe of girls I have found through cancer are just amazing, I can’t even begin to explain how much they mean to me, or how supported and accepted they have made me feel.

But I guess I should start from the beginning

I have never associated with being a feminist. And I think for a long time ‘feminist’ has been a bit of a dirty word.

Feminists were those who complained that anything bad that happened to them in life was because they were being discriminated against for their gender. Every promotion they missed out on was due to the glass ceiling. They were women who looked for anything untoward and blamed the patriarchy. They were loud, they were aggressive, sometimes they were on tv with scowly expressions and posters. I saw feminists as people who hated men and thought they deserved to suffer to make up for the oppression faced by our fore-mothers. I thought ‘we’ve got everything we need, now you’re just going too far’. Obviously I say this from a place of great privilege, I know. And it would be a point to make here that I could not have had that view were it not for the AMAZING women that came before us that did so much to get equality.

Back when I worked in the Australian Government, the women of the office went to an International Women’s Day luncheon. Only the women of course, no men were allowed to celebrate International Women’s Day – I don’t know if that was their choice or if it was thrust upon them… maybe a bit of both. But sure, free food and an excuse to not be at work for a few hours? I’ll take it. Part of the festivities was watching a debate and it was something along the lines of ‘women make better leaders than men’. That already got me offside. One person was from the Army and she spent her 4 minutes going on about how men are terrible and how we should get rid of them all and how the world would be a better place without them etc. I looked around uneasily… were people enjoying this? People seemed to be smiling and even cheering. I feel like someone surely stood up on the table at one point and shouted ‘I a woman, hear me roar’ to a chorus of applause. Ok that didn’t quite happen, but you get the picture.

This didn’t feel like the quest for equality and inclusivity I was searching for in feminism and so for many years I abandoned the whole thing. I didn’t really think I needed it anyway.

I have never felt that I have been held back because I am a woman, I have never felt like I have missed out on anything. I was always brought up believing that if I wanted to do something I should just work hard at it and do it, and that has been my life mantra – I’ve never let anything hold me back. To be honest gender has never been a big part of my life or identity. I’ve never really felt like a ‘girl’ and the only time it was pointed out was when we had gender-segregated classes in sport (which I was pretty happy with actually, though not with the fact I had to play ’sport’), and then again when playing drinking games at uni and there was a ‘girls drink’ and a ‘boys drink’ category. I always did both because I couldn’t decide on one over the other. I’ve never really been a girl, I’ve always just been a Jen (hey, that’s pretty much non-binary, before it was even a thing!).

I’ve always seen it as either ‘me’ and ‘them’ or all of us together, but I never felt like ‘one of the girls’, I felt different. I also never had a big group of female friends. No girl gang. I had (and still have – you know who you are) some close female friends, but apart from that I got along better with guys. My friendship groups always consisted mostly of guys and I didn’t really understand girls, they often confused me. They were into things like makeup and shopping. Ew.

This is where I inadvertently get all my female followers offside… Please bear with me.

I remember a short while ago saying to someone ‘most of my friends are guys’ and they looked at me oddly. ‘Jen… pretty much all of your friends are girls…’

Oh. I guess you’re right…

Life is full of the stories we tell ourselves, isn’t it? Well it seems without me realising that my story has changed.

I have found myself held up and supported over the past couple of years by my girls, and I have formed some really deep connections. There have been some wonderful guys too (you know who you are), but for the purpose of this post I’m going to focus on my girls. I hope this isn’t the point where I get all my male followers offside, thinking I’m going on a feminist rant or something…

I am still learning what feminism means and what it is to be a feminist. I think in 6 months time I will be further along that track and will be able to write a far more astute and pithy analysis, but this is what I have learnt so far (some are personal, some are general observations or things I’ve picked up from other people’s experiences. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, might be true or might not).

Feminism is about having the confidence to be the you that makes you happy, not the one that society has told you that you should be in order to fit in.
It is about lifting up other women and supporting them, not cutting them down out of jealousy.
It’s about fixing another woman’s crown before the world knows it’s crooked.
It’s about not staying quiet when your ex tried to tell you that ‘wolf-whistling and cat-calling shouldn’t be stopped, that men deserve to have freedom of speech always and women shouldn’t complain because it’s not physically hurting them; if it makes you feel scared or uncomfortable then you should stop being so precious’.
It’s about speaking up and standing up for yourself, even if it gets you labelled ‘crazy’ or ‘bitchy’.
It’s about pushing your doctor to diagnose you even when they call you ‘hysterical’ just for insisting the immense pain you’ve been in isn’t stomach cramps for the 8th month in a row.
It’s about not lying down and taking it every time someone jokes that you shouldn’t be in the office but should be at home cooking and cleaning (‘what’s the only thing a woman should wear out? The path between the kitchen and the bedroom’ oh har har. Yes, I have been told that by a co-worker).
It’s about not accepting when a colleague treats you terribly and you get dismissed as being ‘too emotional’ and told to calm down.
It’s about being a leader and not fearing being called ’bossy’ for taking charge.
It’s about shirking the societal pressures that the only way you can be happy or feel fulfilled in life is to find a man and have a baby.
It’s about deciding not to sit with the lads at lunch time while they leer at every girl who walks past and talk about what they would like to do to them, just because you want them to think you’re ‘a cool chick’
It is about being healthy, but not propagating the idea that females must be slim, hairless and ‘perfect’ all the time.
And if you don’t want to wear heels, don’t.
It’s about embracing perceived imperfections and showing vulnerability.
It’s about putting time into the loving relationships you have with your friends. Romantic love isn’t the only kind of love that means something.
Feminism is about making best friends in the bathroom at a club and exchanging phone numbers.
It’s about not telling someone to their face that you like them and then complaining about them behind their back.
It’s about not pointing out another woman’s flaws.
It’s about not having to deal with a male colleague saying to you ‘you look hot today’ as you awkwardly smile and wish you could sink into the carpet.
It’s about not saying to another girl ‘are you ok? You look tired today’ just because she isn’t wearing makeup.
It’s about teaching young girls in sex education at school that women’s pleasure is just as important as men’s.
It’s about just being a boss not a ‘girlboss’ (why does being a boss need to be defined by your gender?!)
It’s about blocking and reporting that person online who says you should ‘go kill yourself’ or that ’someone should rape you’ just because you express a different opinion to theirs.
And it’s about corporations like instagram and twitter taking such things seriously.
It’s about not having to be ashamed of having a period, not having to hide the fact like it’s a dirty little secret.
It’s about encouraging women to stop apologising all the time for things that are not their fault.
It’s about breaking down the ideas of what is and isn’t considered ‘lady-like’.

It’s about getting to a place where all of these aren’t daily pressures that women have to deal with. And so much more. And I think everyone, women and men alike (and everyone else who doesn’t fit within those confines) can agree that there’s nothing wrong with that, right?

Feminism is about supporting women, not about being aggressive and shouting ‘Patriarchy’ and burning bras. And it’s something that should be important to all genders. If you’re interested in knowing more about what feminism really is, check out ‘Feminists Don’t Wear Pink’ by Scarlett Curtis (the book and the podcast), and if you have Audible, please check out her 5-part series for International Women’s Day called ‘To The Woman’. She and her friends can iterate these thoughts much better than I can.

Thanks to the love and support of the females in my life, I finally feel like I’m finding a space to be me, where my opinions matter, where I am accepted for who I am and where I don’t need to always try and put on an act to be liked. Of course there will always be girls I don’t get along with, but I have met a LOT over the past couple of years and I haven’t experienced anyone being less than amazing. I honestly don’t know where I would be without all my babes.

So to all my girls, I just want to take this opportunity to say:
A part of the human condition is to feel like everyone has it sorted and you don’t
Like you’re the one who doesn’t fit in
And I have often felt like I don’t really fit in
Like everyone is having the fun and I’m not invited
Because I’m not as cool as everyone else out there and I’m lucky if anyone puts up with me
But you girls… All of you girls I love…
You make me feel like I might belong somewhere.
Like when people talk about their ‘tribe’
You are mine.
I still think you are all too cool for me
But you all show me what is important in the world.
It’s you.
It’s us.
We’re braver together.
I can’t even put into words how much you all mean to me.
I love you.