October sees the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which I quietly support. I say quietly because breast cancer is NOT pink, frilly and fluffy. However I wholeheartedly support and understand the importance of worldwide breast cancer education and research and welcome any opportunity to increase the awareness of breast cancer - particularly amongst younger women.
Getting a breast cancer diagnosis is both heartbreaking and life changing. The fear, anxiety that follows a diagnosis is all-consuming. It is scary to think that 1 in 8 woman in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
I was diagnosed at the age of 33 with an aggressive, locally advanced primary breast cancer. Despite my family history (my mother passed away from breast cancer when I was child) I was initially misdiganosed and had to fight for my original biopsy. When my diagnosis was confirmed I went on to have chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy and have endured 5 operations to date. It was during my treatment that I wrote a blog called Chemo For Beginners to help others as well as myself with the daily struggles having breast cancer brings and to raise a greater understanding of the complexities many young woman face having cancer so young.
Because of cancer I had found myself suddenly thrown into a world full of unexpected issues, decisions and complications. Not only did I have to address my own mortality so young, I also had to consider what having cancer meant to my fertility, my career, body, relationship with my peers (after all I was probably the only young person they knew who had cancer) and prepare for an early menopause, to name but a few. This is exhausting and challenging stuff. Which is why, to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to tell my story - to give renewed hope to the thousands of women out there who may be feeling, as I did, that all hope is lost.
Like many people I wished to gain some control over my life. It was during my treatment and in need of a distraction I noted a gap in the market. Many of my friends and family had told me they had been really stuck on ideas of what to buy me. There was nowhere selling gifts that actually understood what poorly people really wanted or needed - gifts that were thoughtful, whilst safe and practical to use during surgery and treatment. It made me realise that actually it was pretty difficult to buy a present for someone who was in hospital or needed some TLC.
Launched in 2013, Not Another Bunch Of Flowers has grown and developed from a sole employee (me!) working from my country kitchen table to a small dedicated team working in a large open plan office. We now send beautifully wrapped gifts all over the world. Each gift is hand-wrapped with a handwritten message, which can be anything from “we’re all thinking of you” to “OMG, this sucks”. It is really important that at a time when emotions are running high for many of our customers, we pride ourselves on providing excellent service - giving advice and guidance on selecting appropriate gifts based on individual needs. After all as a team we understand how important it is to feel supported and cared for at this extremely challenging time. We understand that gifts are not going to change the situation, however if we can raise a smile on those who are facing a hard time and show them that someone is thinking and caring for them, then we feel that is a job well done.
This year has seen further personal developments, with the birth of my son Monty. Like many young woman I had previously been given the dreadful news that I would be unlikely to have children due to my cancer treatment. It is a cruel fact that many young woman are faced with the real possibility that they could be left infertile. There is the possibility of freezing embryos and eggs, but only if there is time and if they get funding or have the cash to fund it themselves. Shockingly, many young women don’t have their options discussed before starting treatment. So when I became a mother in January this year, it was beyond what I could have imagined only a couple years ago.
So I find myself enjoying the complexities of being a mum and a working mother. It is a privilege that I acknowledge every day, as I never thought I would be able to be a mum and also because I have lost many friends along the way.
I now blog on a regular basis, provide support and advice on a number of young cancer social media networks as well as raising charitable funds through my business.
A cancer diagnosis is devastating at any age - we need to make sure the relevant help and support is offered to each and every person all year round. I like to think I am doing my bit throughout the year but am especially mindful and supportive, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My advice to anyone concerned about or facing a breast cancer diagnosis would be to be proactive. Have the confidence to be assertive, ask the difficult questions and seek expert opinions. After all it is your body and your future.