Ange’s Left Tit – A Breast Cancer Journal

Hey there!

Diagnosed with stage 2, grade 3 triple negative invasive breast cancer on 22nd April 2021, I decided to blog and hashtag my “journey” #AngesLeftTit

From the blog

The beginning

Breast cancer. Oh God. Isn’t that the one where your hair falls out? And you die?

55,000 women a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. The 5 year survival rate here up to 2014 is 85%. There are over 8,000 women every year who don’t make it. Survival rates in the USA, Australia and Japan over the same period are 90%. Screening and early detection are critical to survival outcomes. But there is so much we still don’t know about breast cancer, especially genetic types. I decided to blog this journal and if it’s helpful to anyone else, that’s a good thing.

Sunday 14th March 2021

In the shower. I’d just come back from a regular 5k run down along Brighton seafront. I’m 55 and started running 3 years ago after recovering from a hysterectomy. I was fat and unfit. It was around the time “Couch to 5k” was becoming popular and I was actually the couch. Fast forward to March 2021. I’d lost 15 kilos and was running a 42k ‘marathon a month’ challenge to keep fit during lockdown.

Big lump.

Doesn’t hurt. Probably a cyst. That’s annoying. I’ll have to get it checked out. I haven’t got time for this.

Monday 15th March

Amazingly (as we are still in lockdown) my local GP surgery whisk me in for a physical examination with Dr Findlay. She checks both my breasts and armpits (they are looking for lumps in the lymph nodes) and immediately refers me to the Park Centre for Breast Care in Brighton for a mammogram. I’m already familiar with the Park Centre due to a family history of breast (and other) cancers, I’m in the annual screening programme. My last mammogram was only 6 months ago in September, and I received the “all clear” letter. Dr Findlay reassures me not to worry, it’s quite likely to be a cyst or something benign.

Tuesday 30th March

At the Park Centre. Mammogram. Ultrasound. Biopsy. They collect three tissue samples from the lump under local anaesthetic. It doesn’t hurt. The doctor says he thinks it’s a fibroidenoma (benign cyst). Another doctor fills in a form and tells me they’ll “ring with the good news” in a few days. In the meantime, I’m told to make a courtesy follow-up appointment in 3 weeks time.

Wednesday 31st March

I google “breast lump”. Reassured to learn that benign cysts or fibroidenomas are “smooth, like a grape” whereas cancerous lumps are “rocky” and “irregular”. Mine is definitely a grape.

Thursday 22nd April

8.30am. I rock up at the Park Centre for Breast Care for the follow-up appointment I made 3 weeks ago. Due to Covid rules, they don’t want too many people in the waiting room so the Wonderful Husband stays in the car. There’s no phone or wifi signal. One lady is already waiting, three other women arrive and are called in. 45 minutes later I’m still sitting in the waiting room. I feel a bit uneasy about the fact they never rang me “with the good news” but still, put it down to covid times and the strain on the NHS.

Suddenly, a consultant appears and calls me in, apologising for the delay. The nurse isn’t available, he says. Ah I think, it’s the protocol thing where you have to have a nurse in the room with a female patient and male doctor. No problem, I breeze.

We sit down. Our eyes meet above blue paper face masks.

He says “I’m futhing drubble tengtingnith fromh newths”.

Pardon? Sorry I can’t hear you very well with the mask on.



OKaaaay. So it’s a dodgy lump and now I’ll have to have an op, that’s bloody annoying. But better out than in and…

Triple negative. Genetic. Chemo.

Wait. What? Chemo?

I’m totally calm. No tears. The poor chap is clearly terrified I’m going to make a scene, he rushes to the door and shouts for the nurse. A Macmillan nurse enters. I ask a lot of questions. I demand to see my September mammogram and most recent one. You can clearly see Grape. It’s 3.3CM. Grade 3. Genetic. Blah blah. What type of genetic? We can’t be sure. You will have to have genetic tests, but even still it may be a gene mutation we don’t know about yet. Oh great.

What’s the prognosis? He looks me in the eye and says “You’re young.”

He’s silver-haired and I’d hazard a guess is about 70.

In moments of crisis my inner Princess Margaret often appears. I graciously thank the consultant, radiating calm. His eyes are now boggling.

The Macmillan nurse takes me into a sideroom for a private chat. Does the chemo make your hair fall out? Yes. I didn’t know there was a difference between hormonal and genetic breast cancer. Is triple negative worse than the other kinds? Patiently she says “it’s not rare, but it’s not common.”

I tell Simon in the car.

Friday 23rd April

Google triple negative breast cancer. About 10% of all breast cancers are triple negative. They grow and spread faster than most other types of breast cancer. Grade 3 means it’s aggressive. It has a high risk of metastasising (spreading) to bones and liver. If it comes back within 3 years, survival rates drop to 40%.

Go to see my best friend Hils and her dog Bob in London. Take the dog for a big walk around a large cemetery, reading all the headstones. She admits she cried the night I told her over the phone. She cooks a delicious risotto a la primavera and pan-fried hake. We both get drunk. Hils is so drunk she misplaces the samphire to accompany the hake. She bangs around the kitchen like a demented Mrs Doubtfire, proclaiming in her Scottish burr “I cannae find the samphire, I cannae find the samphire”.

I walk Bob out the communal garden at the back of the flats for his last pee. A huge fox dashes across the gardens.

Tuesday 27th April

Appointment at the Park Centre. This time Wonderful Husband is with me. We’re here to see Dr Bertelli. It says on the form he is a Medical Oncologist. I was fine to come on my own but sensed that Simon would prefer the opportunity to hear and speak with the medical professionals himself, and of course, he is there to support me.

Essentially, this is The Treatment Plan. Dr Bertelli explains the chemo frequency, type of drugs and timeframe for treatment. Chemo for 20 weeks. Sure, why not? There’ll be a double dose every two weeks, he adds. Then you get a 4 week recovery period before surgery. What kind of surgery? Too early to say. Then radiotherapy for 6 to 8 weeks or something. How soon can the chemo start? Within 3 weeks Dr Bertelli says. ok so around 20th May?

Telling people you love that you have cancer is the hardest thing.

I take a pic of my chemo plan and send it to friends and family. It’s 15 cycles from May to September including 3 months of weekly chemo. Goodbye Summer! LOL

Hilary: It’s real now


Wednesday 28th April

I’m told to get a 2nd Covid jab as a matter of urgency before starting chemo. A young Mancunian manning the NHS 119 phone line regrets to inform me, after speaking to his supervisor, that “the system” won’t allow him to change my 2nd covid jab appointment scheduled for June. I decide to ‘walk in’ at the Brighton Centre.

Arrive to find a long queue of pensioners, mobility scooters and a tall security bloke in a yellow high vis jacket.

TIME? he barks at me.

Er, I’m just doing a walk in.


Every geriatric eye in the queue is now firmly on me.

Sorry, I was told by my GP and NHS 119 to get my 2nd jab here because they are prioritising cancer patients and I’m starting chemo soon. I wave some papers around in my hand that say Sussex Cancer Centre.


I stand there looking helpless. It works.

LET ME SEE WHAT I CAN DO. He then shouts into his walkie-talkie whilst strutting up and down the line of OAPs. GP TOLD HER. AND NHS 119. YES NHS 119. WHICH GP? This to me.

Montpelier Surgery I say weakly. MONTPELIER he booms down the line.

A few moments later, NO WALK INS man turns to me and says you can go straight in. Princess Margaret arrives to graciously thank him. I duck ahead of the pensioners just as he yells GOOD LUCK WITH THE CHEMO!

Thursday 29th April

The chemo starts on 7th May. Wow, that’s in a week’s time. The oncologist said “you can forget about work” during the chemo and that “most” people couldn’t manage it.

Tell work. Ed, my boss and cofounder of the company is incredibly kind and supportive. We run through a handover plan. His partner Nick, our company CEO also calls me on my mobile for a personal chat. We’re all still working remotely. I was looking forward to returning to the London office after the lockdown ends in June. It suddenly dawns that everything has stopped for me just as everything is opening up for everyone else.

Saturday 1st May

Kitchen disco with Gay Best Friend Andrew. Drink pink Bollinger and gallons of wine. The next morning realise I’ve spent £160 on 4 tickets to see OMD at the Brighton Dome in November.

Sunday 2nd May

There’s an interview in the Sunday Times magazine with John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten about him caring for his wife Nora who has Alzheimers. She is 15 years older than him, they’ve been together for 45 years.

He says “Life is absolute. You have to fight for it until the bitter end.”

I find it very moving. Existential advice from the Sex Pistols when you least expect it.

Tuesday 4th May

9am dentist. Told to get an emergency dental check up. Once you’re in chemo, any dental issues or infections can be very serious due to your battered immune system. The senior dentist and his assistant are standing in full PPE and scrubs, he says “So what’s happened?”


It transpires the receptionist put EMERGENCY appointment in the system. They’re expecting me to have half my jaw missing or something. Once we establish that is not the case, he says I haven’t been since 2016. Check up is all fine.

Next, I beetle over to a beauty salon to get my eyebrows microbladed. This is essentially tattooing the eyebrows. Mine are naturally fair and sparse and I’ve spent years dying and pencilling them onto my face. Soon they won’t exist altogether. I don’t want to wake up every morning looking like Alexander Litvinenko. Having resolved to sort the vanity issues first, I take the plunge.

Strictly speaking, they advise doing this several weeks before chemo starts to avoid any risk of infection, but reader, I do not have time for that.

Wednesday 5th May

Our 31st wedding anniversary. 9am chemo info call. A nurse called Jenny from the Sussex Cancer Centre calls to find out if I have any questions about the chemo. I say I’ve read the Macmillan website, don’t want a cold cap and that I’ve had my eyebrows tattoeed. She laughs and says see you on Friday. Champagne and fish and chips for dinner.

Thursday 6th May

A week ago I excitedly spent 4 hours in Brighton Headmasters getting my hideous lockdown hair sorted. £150 for highlights, cut and a blow dry. Today, I have the same stylist, Elyse, who bemusedly asks why I’m here again for a cut. I tell her and show her a pic of a buzz cut with a bit of a top quiff. We chat away as she cuts, great lengths of the £150 quid highlights falling to the floor. We go for a “number 2” with the clippers and she does a brilliant job with the top quiff.

At the reception desk, I get my purse out and wait for another customer to finish paying. Elyse is behind the plastic screen at the desk. “Absolutely not”, she says as I try to pay. “I wish I could hug you”, she adds. It brings tears to my eyes. I thank her and walk out the salon. It’s only the kindness of other people that make me emotional.

Friday 7th May – 1st Chemo

At the Cancer Centre to have a PICC line inserted, by Jenny as it turns out. This is an intravenous line for administering chemo, taking bloods etc that will stay in my body until the chemo finishes. They recommend it if you’re having a lot of chemo over a long period of time. The leaflet and diagrams made me feel queasy so I only have a rudimentary idea of what this will entail.

I need not have worried. After a local anaesthetic in my inside upper right arm, Jenny inserts a fine tube up through a vein in my arm and into my chest. I am aware of the sensation but there is absolutely no pain or discomfort.

I now have a permanent canular protruding from my arm. Hello little friend, I whisper.

Upstairs to the Chemo ward.

It’s arranged across an entire floor, with brightly coloured pleather recliner chairs in the corners, all covid-spaced by 2 metres, approximately 4 chairs to each area.

First impressions, it’s very quiet and everyone is 30 years older than me with no hair. Later, I relay this to my mum over WhatsApp who replies “maybe they all looked like you 6 months ago.” Family humour.

One of the chemo nurses points to a lime green recliner in the corner, facing out to the whole room. There is a window behind and a little wooden table. I’m hooked up to a saline drip while they start to make up my chemo dose. The chair nearest to me is unoccupied.

A little while later a pretty young woman arrives and sits in the chair.  We say hello and strike up a first conversation. Her name is Maria. I say ‘you’re very young’, she nods but doesn’t tell me her age, I guess 30? Her story is horrific. She found a lump three years ago which grew to 10cm, she’s already had a mastectomy and today is also her first chemo. I want to ask what type of breast cancer, but don’t.

She has shoulder length dark hair and has opted for the cold cap. I pretend to read my book while the nurses wet her hair, put a blue plastic bucket type cap over it and then a grey pointy martian-style cloth cap over that. She is hooked up to a cooling unit, about the size of a small fridge. The nurse says each one costs the NHS £40,000. The idea is during the chemo session, freezing cold air will be blown continuously onto her head, “freezing” the hair follicles in an effort to avoid chemo hair loss. It’s not guaranteed, though.

I put the recliner footrest up and joke I’m pretending to fly Business Class to The Maldives, whilst Maria is on a space mission to Mars. She laughs and takes a selfie.

My chemo is ready. The nurse brings out a blue plastic tray containing 4 of the hugest syringes I have ever seen in my life. Each one is about the size and shape of the giant Fruit Pastilles tubes you get at Christmas. One is bright red. Tooty Frooty.

The nurse sits with me as she administers each syringe into my PICC line. She is very good humoured and amiable and we chat easily. She tells me, ‘you may experience prickling in your undercarriage’.

10 seconds later my entire bum and foof are on fire with hot pins and needles. Luckily it passes as quickly as it arrived. Next, she says, you may experience cold tingling in your forehead or nose. I hold my breath. Nope. Ha!

This goes on for a couple of hours as we chat about an old film I just watched on the telly, The Return of the Pink Panther. Cue much guffawing as we say minky, rhome and laugh about the parrot and the sauna scene. I look over and Maria is green. There are two nurses attending to her, one is holding a cardboard sick bowl. One of the nurses tells Maria “the cold cap and the chemo can make some people feel ill”. Feel so terribly sorry for her. I say I hope you feel better Maria and she gives me a wan smile. Also glad I opted out of doing it.

My first session ends and I jump up and say can I go now? Yes, beams my chemo nurse and she says proudly, you’ve done your first chemo! Yep, I say. Only 400 to go.

For the next 24 hours I pee Tizer. It’s the red tooty frooty chemo.

In a moment of bravado, I decide I fancy a glass of Rioja with dinner. I take one sip. It’s a cheeky local anaesthetic vintage with undertones of metal piping. Tip the wine into the Bolognese sauce for our Spag Bol dinner.

Chemo weekend

There is a daily regimen of at-home DIY injections to boost your white blood cells, steroid tablets for anti nausea and tablets to help with constipation. Feel immensely relieved not to have any nausea.

For the next three nights, wake up at 4am.

It’s still bloody dark. There is no hope of falling back to sleep. Lie awake until 7am then get up. It’s the steroids, stupid. During the day, I sink into 2 hour comas on the sofa. So far, this disruption to sleep patterns is the only physical manifestation of the chemo.

Jim and Pam, two NHS Community nurses arrive to clean my PICC line. It’s a home visit this first time, but in future, every two weeks I’ll need to go to the clinic in Portslade for the C&M (care and maintenance clean) and for bloods to be taken to check the cancer.

Wednesday 12th May

The hospital phones to say I have to do an at-home covid swab before every chemo. This covid stuff is extra tedium.  I think fuck covid. I’ve got cancer. Might get a T-shirt.

Phone a friend.

I call a lovely woman Erin I’ve known in our friend circles for many years but only see occasionally at social events. And therefore not at all since 2019. Other friend has told me Erin had breast cancer, diagnosed at the start of 2020 and has had chemo. Erin is only 50 and a mum. I text to ask if it’s ok to speak to her.

She calls me back immediately. It’s fantastic to hear she is “out the other side”. Erin’s was picked up in her first ever 50+ mammogram screening. It’s an hormonal HER2, often associated with menopause and HRT which she’d been taking for about 8 months at time of diagnosis. In Erin’s case, it was a lumpectomy, followed by “light” chemo (her words) and then radiotherapy. She lost all her hair. ALL. We laugh. I said yep why don’t people realise your pubes, eyelashes, everything falls out. We make jokes about not having to wax. She kept a positive attitude throughout. She says people tell you things like “you’re brave, you’re so great” but what else are you going to do? I say exactly. What’s the point in collapsing on the floor weeping and wailing? It is what it is. You have to go through the programme and take each step as it comes. We are a sea of clichés.

On an absolutely brilliant note, she warns me about the MRI. You’re not on your back, she says. Oh no? No. You have to lie on your front with your norks dropping through two holes.

Saturday 15th May

My mum’s 76th birthday. Mum and Bernie travelled down to Brighton yesterday from Rushden, Northamptonshire, where I grew up and where all my side of the family live. Mum and other family members have put together gift bags with sweets, biscuits, books, cosy socks, lavender bubble bath and other assorted, thoughtful treats. My niece Lily gifts me a book called The Cancer Ladies Running Club by Josie Lloyd. In the gift bag are a knitted grey and a pink hat with a label “Jeannie Beanie”. Mum had cut out an article from a magazine and ordered the two hats.

Jeannie Donnelly, from Bushey in Hertfordshire has been going through cancer and chemotherapy treatments for the last 10 years. There’s a pic of Jeannie an absolutely gorgeous, smiling girl, wearing one of her pink beanies. She set up a business, to help others dealing with chemo hair loss, which makes soft hats from 100% bamboo to keep your head comfortable when follicles get damaged in cancer treatment. £5 from every beanie sale goes to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. She is an inspiration

A good friend of my sister Helen, a woman called Sandra whom I’ve never met, has sent down a gift box from Scotland full of Scottish fudge, biscuits and a bag of Highland Toffee Chews called Oor Wullies. Everything is individually wrapped in tartan wrapping paper, with a hand written card. I’m really touched by this lovely gesture. Two of my own Scottish friends plead with me to save them some of the Highland Toffee Chews.

We make a favourite dessert – gin & tonic cheesecake – with birthday candles for mum. Everyone loves this fresh, zingy cheesecake, you can find the recipe here on the BBC good food website:

On the Sunday, we drive up to Stanmer Park and take a walk through the bluebell woods, in completely inappropriate footwear. Me: boxfresh white Adidas. Mum: pink Converse. All the dog walkers are strutting around in wellies and clumpy brown walking boots. It’s been raining so it’s pretty muddy and wet underfoot.  We stroll through carpets of bluebells occasionally illuminated by shafts of sunlight through the silver birch trees.

Tuesday 18th May

7am home covid swab test. The package arrived in the post last week. Read all the instructions carefully. You have to register the test kit online, book a courier and take the covid swab 3 days prior to every chemo treatment. The instructions insist you take the swab at 7am before packaging it for collection. A Royal Mail courier will collect it anytime from 8am. He turns up at 11.30am.

Wednesday 19th May

8:47am. Out of the blue, receive a direct message on Instagram from M. Her profile pic is of a stunning blonde woman with a huge smile.

M writes:

Hi Ange, started following you yesterday. I’ve been diagnosed with triple negative grade 3 as well. I was diagnosed on 7th April. I feel my world has ended. I admire you for posting and blogging. I feel down and anxious (worried face emoji)

I reply:

Thanks for messaging me. It’s ok to feel whatever you feel. Do you have support from partner, family, friends? I’m assuming you’re already in chemo? It’s going to be tough but it helps me to think of it as a beginning not an ending. No one would choose this “journey” but we’re on it now and you’re not alone. Sending a big hug etc

M writes:

Thanks for responding. I’m 48 and have a wonderful husband, a 23 year old son and a 17 year old daughter. I’ve had 2 sessions already and am seeing the genetic specialist today. My mum passed away 20 years from ovarian cancer so they are looking at testing me now, though I asked for testing years ago. You’re right. Nobody would choose this. But we are in it. A beginning, not an ending. I like it!!! Makes a difference to know I’m not alone, it really does. Are you in the UK? I’m in Dublin, Ireland.

I write back:

I live in Brighton. Well done, you’ve already started chemo. The genetic stuff is scary, I have no idea what mine is yet. Get every bit of help and support that’s going! So sorry to hear you lost your mother to ovarian cancer. But you have to remember they have made incredible improvements and advances in treatment and survival outcomes since 20 years ago. I know it’s hard, but take care of yourself and try to stay positive. My niece says WE’RE GONNA KICK CANCER’S BUTT! Sending all the love and positive vibes to Dublin.

M replies:

Awwww Beautiful Brighton, I was there with a friend years ago. I will be following your journey. You’re right, incredible advances have been made. WE’VE GOT THIS!!! And right back at you to Brighton (heart emojis).

Well, that’s a good start to the day.

Decide to take a shower. Stone cold water. The boiler’s broken.

Thursday 20th May

12.30pm. Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath for an MRI scan.

According to Wikipedia (I only use the very best research resources) magnetic resonance imaging is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to form pictures of the anatomy and the physiological processes of the body. MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields, magnetic field gradients, and radio waves to generate images of the organs in the body. The science is astounding.

If you’ve ever had an MRI you’ll know the machine is really noisy. I learn from the MRI nurse that the machine is packed with copper wires, through which are passed radiowaves, resulting in the loud banging. We can put a man on the moon, but medical science hasn’t yet managed to make a quiet MRI scanner.

I lie down on my front with a surgical gown on backwards (open at the front) and they wheel me into the machine wearing ear plugs and ear defenders that also allow the MRI nurse to communicate with me. A squashy alarm device similar to a squeezy stress ball is pressed into my hand, in the event I feel the need to bale out. Apparently it’s very common and many people do press the ejector seat.

It starts. An incredibly loud, single note horn blast that lasts for 10, maybe 20 seconds. It reminds me of the sound the Dodgems are ready to start, on Brighton Pier.

This is followed by several minutes of a bad 1980’s synthesiser group, accompanied by a one-armed drummer.

The MRI nurse speaks into my headphones, everything ok Angela?

I have been lying face down, wearing a face mask, the entire time. Every scintilla of saliva has evaporated from my mouth.

“Meth thang oo”, I manage.

Next, the piéce de résistance. The machine goes into overdrive, clanging and whirring so hard my jaw, breastbone and entire upper body are vibrating mercilessly. It’s like being strapped to a washing machine on spin cycle. Naked. Fine if that’s your thing, who I am to judge?

After 45 minutes of the interminable banging and clanging it stops and I’m wheeled out like Jane Doe on a morgue trolley.

It’s the third week in May and we’re experiencing an unseasonable cold snap of 10C degrees, and stormy, windy weather. With the boiler broken and no heating or hot water, the house is already feeling cold.

Simon makes a vat of homemade French onion soup and I pile on my biggest fleece and winceyette pyjamas.

Friday 21st May – 2nd Chemo

9am. 70mph winds are battering Brighton. The house is really cold. The British Gas engineer arrives to fix the boiler, estimating it will take him about 4 hours. I’m quite looking forward to getting on the chemo ward to warm up a bit.

10.45am arrive at the ward. So it turns out I haven’t got a reservation for my lime green chair corner. And there is a different nurse today. She leads me to the furthest corner of the ward, to a purple pleather recliner. I am the only patient in this area. Immediately she says there was a problem with the bloods taken on Wednesday (reader, it’s too boring to diarise, it happens every Wednesday). My liver enzymes are “elevated”. She bustles off for a minute. I surreptitiously google “elevated liver bloods”. It’s fairly common due to the chemo. The nurse returns and takes more bloods. I then have to sit there waiting for 2.5 hours until the new bloods are tested and the doctor approves my chemo dose. Settle in my corner and take out my book.

Before long, two ladies enter the ward and chat briefly to the nurse. They are both mid to late 60’s, I guess, and wearing lanyards and badges that say VOLUNTEER. My heart sinks. I am in their direct eyeline and trapped in the corner, back against the wall. Inevitably, they make a beeline towards me.

I’m not very good with do-gooders. I don’t want to have to chat to these people about why I’m here or about my life / treatment / state of mind.

They are Jane and Elaine. Jane is volunteering for Macmillan, helps out at the Macmillan Horizon Centre across the road and “usually does Tuesdays”. Elaine is a qualified nurse who works in the hospital 4 days a week. She gives up her Fridays to volunteer on the chemo ward. I silently chastise myself for being so churlish. These are good people, giving up their own time to help others.

I gather up some enthusiasm and chat to them for about half an hour.

Today, I noticed when I arrived, there are several very sick-looking people on the ward. Due to covid restrictions, no-one is allowed to have a partner or friend with them during treatment. I’m sure that many of them really appreciate a chat with the volunteers, as a welcome distraction and a friendly face. It’s just not for me and I prefer to sit quietly observing and reading.

At one point, I get up and discreetly take a quick walk round the ward hoping to see Maria. She said she was in on Fridays. She’s not here today.

Finally, at 2.30pm, my nurse returns with the chemo doses. Today’s liver bloods are fine. Mary is Filipino and has worked in the NHS for 20 years. She likes talking. Infact, she doesn’t stop talking for an hour and half whilst administering the shots slowly into my PICC line. It’s not a conversation. I just have to make lots of animated eyebrow motions and clucking noises behind my mask to show I’m paying attention. She is very sweet. And about 4 feet tall.

At 3.15pm I can finally go home. On the ward for 5 hours today, 1.5 hours of which involved being given the chemo.

At home, it’s like a tropical paradise. The heating is blasting out and I rush upstairs to run a hot bath.

Sunday 23rd May

The Cancer Club. It reminds me of the Groucho Marx joke, “I refuse to join any club that would have me for a member”. This is a club where you don’t get to choose membership.

In 1994, at 48 years old, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She had a partial mastectomy, including lymph node removal and radiotherapy and then several years on Tamoxifen. She is a happy and healthy 76 now. It was 28 years ago and we have not been able to locate any records of her original diagnosis to establish whether it was an hormonal or genetic breast cancer. Tamoxifen is only prescribed nowadays for hormonal breast cancer. 11 years, ago mum had the genetic test for the hereditary BRCA gene mutation. She tested negative. If mum doesn’t have it, I won’t have it. I must have another type of gene mutation. We will have to see.

Monday 24th May

After two nights of 4am wake-ups, I decide to bin the anti-nausea steroids on day 3. Sleep through the night. No nausea.

Tuesday 25th May

A special outing. Dearest Andrew insists on chauffering us to London and back for a lunch with Hils. In his Jag! Simon in the front. I’m in the back, wearing dark glasses. Princess Margaret, eat your heart out.

A lovely lunch with dear friends. I’m chemo teetotal obviously, but Simon has a couple of cheeky cocktails. Sleep all the way back to Brighton.

Wednesday 26th May

Lightly run my fingers through my top quiff. Great clumps of hair come away. I knew it was coming. Still, it’s hard to describe the feeling when it actually happens. However much I thought I’d mentally prepared myself, surprised to feel quite sad. It’s only hair.

Have stockpiled prepaid turbans ordered from Some natty retro / vintage styles with polka dots, a gorgeous red one with a huge top knot, a white towel-lined one, very Hollywood diva. I’ve been browsing through google images of movie stars wearing turbans from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. A deranged-looking Gloria Swanson. Bette Davis, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn. Liz Taylor. Totally Iconic Turban Stars (TITS). Decide to launch my Insta TITS Gallery on days when I need to cheer myself up.

I’ve always loved Marilyn Monroe. Find several Marilyn shots where she’s wearing a turban. Decide to put on full slap and create my first Marilyn hommage. It’s a still shot from Some Like it Hot. I love it and I’m using it for my Instagram profile pic. She’s on the sleeper train, wearing a towelling turban and bathrobe and cats eye glasses. I’ve acquired a few pairs of vintage cats eye glasses and sunnies over the years. Drag up, take the selfie and edit it to black and white. Not bad, I kid myself!

A parcel arrives in the post.  A jiffy bag containing pink socks with… my face printed on them! And a very sweet card from a lovely lady I used to work with who now runs a holiday cottage business in Cornwall. They are called Socks Smile and this design is to show support for women with breast cancer. They’re very soft, bright fuchsia pink and feature my grinning head with the blue polka dot headscarf and a pink breast cancer ribbon motif. Message lovely lady and say “It worked! They really did make me smile.”

Thursday 27th May

I’ve seen the colour of cancer. In 2018, Simon was diagnosed with rectal cancer following a screening call-up aged 55. The proverbial pain in the arse. Yep. Wonderful Husband is also a member of the Cancer Club. At the diagnosis appointment, the consultant flicked through a folder of the scans.  There suddenly, a blown-up A4 image of the tumour. Livid green and bright purple. You don’t have to be an oncologist to spot that unnatural alien in the human body.

Where possible, for bowel or rectal cancer, oncologists prefer to go straight to surgery. Simon had a significant operation, a stoma (with colostomy bag) for several months and then stoma reversal surgery, over a two year period. No chemo or radiotherapy. Fortunately, with regular follow-ups and cancer blood checks, Simon continues to be all clear.

Friday 28th May

After only 2 chemos, my hair loss has accelerated dramatically. It looks like my hair’s been cut with a butcher’s cleaver. Raw-looking pink bald patches and random tuffs from my now sadly departed top quiff still clinging on, desperately. Thank the Lord I invested in my natty turbans in advance.

Summer arrives at the weekend in a wave of sunshine and beach days with family & friends. We picnic on the beach and take a jaunt on Brighton pier. Insist on one ride on the Waltzer with Simon. It’s a few minutes of unadulterated joy and hilarity. Afterwards, our party of 8 occupy all the available seats at the Dolphin Derby. You have 3 balls you frantically throw along your individual gaming table, trying to get the balls into different coloured holes, which makes your tin dolphin race along the wall. Honestly, it’s the best £2 you can spend on the pier.

Find a zero alcohol Tanqueray in Waitrose and very happily enjoy my placebo gin whilst the gang proceed to drink about a thousand beers on the beach. Discover it’s impossible to talk to drunk people when you’re sober. Sobriety hitherto not being my forté.

Wednesday 2nd June

Send Instagram to message M in Dublin.


Hi M, I’ve been thinking of you. How are you doing at the moment?

M replies:

Lovely to hear from you. I’m ok. I had a checkup yesterday and my consultant examined me and couldn’t feel the tumour. It was 5cm when I was diagnosed so I am delighted with the news. The consultant is happy too. How are you?

I reply:

That is fantastic news on the tumour shrinkage! I’m so glad for you, really, really good news. The chemo is a drag but it does zap the little blighter! I’m ok thanks. Lots of hair loss I now look like a skinhead. Sending love from Brighton.


I look like a skinhead too! It’s all the rage at the moment. My second and third chemo knocked the stuffing out of me for 4 solid days, but I bounce back. I’m only one chemo ahead of you. We’ve got this.

Thursday 3rd June

Best friends Annie and Mazz arrive in Brighton by train from Cambridge and Reading. So lovely to see them, it’s the first time we’ve been together since the Covid restrictions all started. Treat the girls to lunch and have a stroll along the seafront and pier, followed by relaxing on our patio and chatting until they have to leave in the early evening. At one point, whip off my headscarf to show them my bald pate!

Friday 4th June – 3rd Chemo

It’s not a pretty sight. Top quiff is no more.

Naturally, as I now look horrific, the chemo nurse today is a dishy young Italian called Matteo, from south Calabria.

We talk about Italy and food the entire time. Have visited Italy many times over the years, including Calabria, Rome, Florence, Naples, Capri, Sicily, Pompei, Tuscany. Discuss the merits of spaghetti versus linguine al la vongole. Spaghetti wins, obviously.

Maria arrives and we have a quick chat. While the nurses are setting up her cold cap, she says she is “well”. She still has her dark shoulder length hair, but I notice it’s much thinner. She shows me several bald patches on her scalp and says “it’s not really working for her”. Still, she has a lot more hair than I do now.

I am chemo’d within 2 hours and take my leave.

Monday 7th June

Low weekend, poor sleep, 5am wake-ups, nausea. Two hour crash-outs on the sofa.

Best chum Hils and her dog Bob have arrived in Brighton, staying very nearby.

Brilliant news. My nieces Lily and Jasmine, niece-in-law Claire, my sisters Helen and Lynda and a friend of Lily’s called Amy have launched a fundraiser on Facebook for Cancer Research UK… in my name. They will each jog 31 miles (50k) in July to raise a target of £500. We would be thrilled if you could spare a few quid to donate on the Facebook fundraiser page!

Thursday 10th June

A few quiet days sitting like grannies in deckchairs on the beach with Hils and Bob.

Have struggled all week with headaches, nausea and low energy. Can’t help worrying if this is how I’m going to feel for the next 3 months. Or even worse.

Hils says: It’s 3 months to save your life.

Yesterday, at my regular weekly PICC line appointment, the nurse clucked about my low blood pressure and asked how many more chemos I had left.

13. Lucky for some!

Best to take each one as it comes and tick them off as you go, she offers.

No shit, Sherlock.

Friday 11th June

A gift box arrives in the post from my lovely sister-in-law Alex. It’s a box full of Jennifer Young hand and scalp balms, scalp cooling spray, bath oil and other gorgeous products from

In the afternoon my sister Lynda and brother-in-law Gareth arrive in Brighton. We have a lovely evening and BBQ on the patio. They’ve agreed to stay on until Sunday morning to take care of Rooti our 5 year old house rabbit until we return from a short visit to Kent.

Saturday 12th June

Simon jabs me in the love handle with the last of this week’s daily injections to boost my white blood cells. The needle is about an inch long and has to go all the way in. This is a daily chore for 7 days after every chemo. After that, he drives us down to the lovely village of Wingham in Kent to visit the French Andersons. We haven’t seen Simon’s brother Adam, his wife Eve and our adult nephew Pierre for two years. The weather is scorching. We have a wonderful lunch in the garden – saucisson, camembert and other assorted cheeses with Adam’s home-baked sourdough bread.

In the evening we’re invited to their neighbours for Champagne and canapés to celebrate the opening of their new pool. The neighbours, Chris and Claire are charming and welcoming and offer me a pink alcohol-free gin. The pool is stunning. I take care not to hug or mingle with the other guests, which seems a bit rude but instead install myself in a pool-side chair and enjoy my pink placebo gin. It transpires that Claire has undergone surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer. Everywhere you go, there are women who’ve had brushes with breast cancer.

On the Sunday morning, we take a walk through the nearby village of Goodnestone which boasts an impressive Queen Anne mansion house built in 1704 and walled gardens Jane Austen was a frequent visitor at Goodnestone after her brother married into the family in 1791. We eschew visiting the house and garden and instead start out on a sign-posted walk known locally as the Serpentine Walk. It’s a circular amble across fields carpeted with large, white daises and through stile gates and shaded copses until you pause for a magnificent view of the house in the distance. Jane Austen apparently often walked this route.

As we set off, we pass several family groups from the nearby Bruderhof community in Nonington, out litter-picking. The Bruderhof are an “intentional Christian community” based on a movement founded in Germany in 1920 and now with established communities in the UK, US and other countries. The women and girls wear long “Little House on the Prairie” skirts and headscarfs. I’m in linen dungarees but sporting a red dotty headscarf so I would fit right in. As every inch of our walk is pristine, it’s hard to imagine the enthusiastic litter-collectors finding a single discarded lolly stick.

More exciting (to me) than Jane Austen, is the news that until recently Joanna Lumley lived in the village in a large, privately-walled house which we pass en-route.

On the way back to Brighton we pop into a farm shop for cherries and local cheeses. A wonderful weekend, great company, food and fun. I feel as if I’ve had a mini holiday, helped by the glorious sunshine all weekend.

Monday 14th June

M from Dublin pings me on Instagram and we message back and forth about the horrible after-effects of the 3rd (and upcoming 4th chemo). M sends me a brilliant pic of her with a huge grin and completely bald head, having recently clean-shaved it. The next day, I send her a selfie of me with a completely clean-shaved head. Touché!

Tuesday 15th June

10am. Appointment with the oncologist. The MRI shows the tumour is localised. The lymph nodes and right tit are clear. No sign of the genetic results (which are due to come from Guys Hospital). He raises the topic of BRCA and clarifies that even though my mum tested negative for the BRCA gene mutation, I may still have it as it can also be passed down the male line. Frustrating to still be waiting for the results.

Use the Jennifer Young scalp cooling spray and balm on my newly depilated bonce. Message M in Dublin to say with sunnies on, we look like the cool emoji.

Friday 18th June – 4th Chemo

The last of the fortnightly chemo cycles. Everything goes quickly and efficiently on the ward. A brief chat with Elaine the volunteer – she wants to find out more about my eyebrow microblading. She’s considering getting hers done as they were plucked to extinction in the 1960s. In and out in a couple of hours, home by 12pm.

At home, the full-on nausea starts almost immediately. This is a first. Not the nausea, but the immediate reaction on chemo day. Green around the gills for the rest of the day. Go to bed early feeling sick and cold with no supper, like Oliver Twist.

Saturday 19th June

Feel rotten all day. Over the weekend, experience the usual 5am wake-ups with the added bonus of the horrendous chemo hangover – banging headaches, dry mouth, ulcers on my tongue.

Tuesday 22nd June

5pm. My mum and elder sister Helen arrive in Brighton for a few days, staying at a hotel on the seafront. Simon sparks up the BBQ despite the gloomy, overcast weather. Lovely to spend the evening chatting and catching up, but am so tired, I head to bed not long after 8.30pm.

Wednesday 23rd June

Feel much more well today and the sun is out. We arrange to have lunch al fresco together, at a little place on the beach.  We make the most of the sunshine and install ourselves in deckchairs. Mum: in shorts and a strapless top. Me: full length linen boiler suit and headscarf. I’ve smothered factor 50 on my face and hands, everything else is covered up. I’ve developed strong skin sensitivity to the sun, with a few blotchy rashes appearing, unattractively.

Thursday 24th June

Have a couple of work meetings over Teams video this morning. It’s great to see some of my colleagues again! An international project I was leading with our Amsterdam office has been nurtured by the team, ready to launch. For Mum and Helen’s last evening, we all go to a family-run Italian restaurant near to the Theatre Royal Brighton. Gorge on pizza and ice cream. Please sir, can I have some more?

Friday 25th June

Reading The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, a gift from Hils.

It won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. Described as a ‘biography of cancer’, it’s an extraordinary achievement, essentially the history of cancer, and mans attempts to cure it.

The author is a Rhodes Scholar cancer physician and researcher, with degrees from Oxford and Harvard Medical School. It may sound daunting, but it’s beautifully written and the history is fascinating, including the first forays in the 1940s into what we now call chemotherapy. I find it surprisingly easy to read.

If like me, you want to know what you’re fighting:

Cancer is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of a single cell. This growth is unleashed by mutations – changes in DNA that affect genes to incite unlimited cell growth. A cancer cell is a cell that cannot stop growing.

And here:

Cancer comes in diverse forms – breast, stomach, bowel, skin, cervix. But all these diseases are deeply connected at the cellular level. In every case, cells all acquire the same characteristic: uncontrollable pathological division… When a chemotherapeutic drug attacks cancer, mutant clones grow that can resist attack. The fittest cancer cell survives.


In other news, we’ve decided to sell our knackered old Jeep and get a new car!

Saturday 26th June

My French sister-in-law Eve recently enquired regarding any hair loss in the pubes department. “What about your nou nou?” Quick check downstairs. Definitely losing hair from my nou nou. Less Brazilian more straggly comb-over. Hardly designer, darling, but could become a thing.

I wasn’t prepared for the amount of love and support from all directions since my diagnosis.

Not only the lovely thoughtful gifts from books to candles and bath treats, but the sustained shawls of love that so many people keep throwing round me. Plus anyone who continues to read my blog gets a solid gold star, obvs.

I confess I had not a clue what I’d write when I started this blog. Or having started it, what if I run out of things to say? Along the lines of:

Had chemo. Felt shit.

2 weeks later

Had chemo. Felt shit. Repeat.

I started it as something to do, since working full time in a very busy job would be untenable during my treatment. And in the hope it might reach or help other women going through this. But I’ve come to realise I’m the main blog beneficiary. Writing is therapy, as someone once said. It helps me to process what I’m going through whilst reminding me of the many joys to be found in the ordinary.

Lovely friends Toby & Pearl visit and we have a jolly evening. Pearl is a legal secretary and Toby teaches at a school in London. Both have a life-long passion for music and enormous vinyl record collections including legendary ska, reggae, soul and lovers rock. They regularly appear on radio and DJ at UK and international events.

It has been such a tonic catching up with friends and family since the easing of Covid restrictions, despite the circumstances.

Sunday 27th June

Invited for Sunday lunch with good friends Adrien and Lizzie in Shoreham-by-Sea, they’re a lovely young couple we’ve got to know since moving to Brighton in 2015. Such a treat to be invited somewhere! Lizzie, makes a delicious salmon and broccoli quiche from scratch, and there’s a wonderful charcuterie and cheeseboard. Adrien is French and has been training me at a local gym for the past 4 years and online throughout lockdown. It’s all down to Adrien for encouraging and training me to get into running. Sadly, do not feel capable of running or training at the moment, so it’s great to see them socially. Lizzie is a qualified vet nurse and has helped us with great advice several times regarding our house rabbit Rooti when he’s suffered from a few bunny ailments. Excitingly, they are getting married in France in March 2022 at a ski chalet and lovely ski resort and we are invited! Have already booked our flights to Geneva.

Monday 28th June

Realise wistfully that Friday was my last chemo-free Friday for the next 3 months. Feeling some trepidation about starting the weekly chemo. Have developed an angry red, hive-like rash completely covering my back, chest and arms. Ring the GP and are prescribed strong antihistamine tablets which are ok to take during chemo. The hive-like rash is very common with chemo treatment and infact I’ve been warned it will get worse on the weekly drugs, along with increased sensitivity to sun exposure (not that that’s been much of an issue so far this summer). The oncologist recommended taking Omega 3 capsules to help with skin health and improve the rash. M from Dublin also had the skin rash but the poor girl got it all over her face and neck “like acne”. She says it’s since improved, thankfully.

Wednesday 30th June

My zero alcohol repertoire has expanded to include any zero alcohol gin; zero Peroni and an alcohol-free pressed grape juice, slightly sparkling from Lidl (available in rosé or white). The being completely sober part seems to intrigue most of our family and friends the most. What, not even a small glass of wine? Did they say you can’t drink alcohol, etc?

Actually they don’t say you can’t drink, but I decided to give my liver it’s best chance of processing the chemo drugs without pouring booze into my system as well. Did I mention the regular chemo hangover? Who needs the real thing! And to be honest, our lockdown drinking was excessive to say the least. We got through enough bottles of wine to sink a cross-channel ferry.

Friends Craig and Melanie pop down to Brighton, staying at an apartment-hotel for the evening. We go out for a meal locally. The next day there is some sunshine, so we take up deckchair positions on the beach and have an impromptu baguette and paté picnic.

Later, after a bath, I drag up as Carmen Miranda to amuse myself and add to my TITS gallery on Instagram where I attempt to recreate the looks of Totally Iconic Turban Stars.

It’s amazing how much fun you can have when you’re sober and bald.

Friday 2nd July – 5th Chemo and 1st weekly

9.30am Simon drops me off at the Sussex Cancer Centre. I confess in the car to feeling more nervous about starting the weekly sessions and the new drugs than I did before the very first chemo.

10.15am Walk onto the ward. It’s nearly full, but the atmosphere is quiet and depressing. Most people look ill and bald. With a shock I realise I’m like them, now. I’m one of the cancer baldies, too.

Hot tears of self-pity well up without warning. I fight them back. Distract myself with music on my iphone.

Today is a ‘double session’ of drugs. The next 12 sessions will alternate the drugs to single doses for 2 weeks followed by a double. Gone are the enormous Fruit Pastille syringes. The drugs appear in half litre bags, similar to saline bags and are attached to the electronic drip which in turn is hooked up to my PICC line. There are 3 bags and it takes an hour per bag. I have to get up to pee 3 times, wheeling the drip stand with me into the loo. I’m on the ward for 5 hours.

Breaking news – my amazing sisters, nieces and friend of the family have reached their £1,000 target for the Anges Left Tit Cancer Research UK fundraiser! The first to admit they are of, ahem, mixed running ability, they are all determined to complete 31 miles (50k) in July. I could not be prouder of them.

On 29th April, I submitted a blood sample for genetic testing. This was sent to a lab at Guy’s Hospital. Having not heard anything in two months, I call the Cancer Centre and chase up the results. Susan returns my call almost immediately and promises to chase Guy’s. Within 24 hours, Susan calls me again. She’s spoken to Guy’s and has my results.

BRCA gene mutation: NONE

Any other hereditary gene mutation: NONE

It’s an enormous relief to know that my sisters and nieces are not at risk, as there is no hereditary gene mutation for breast cancer in the family.  As my mum tested negative for BRCA, there was a fear that something may have been passed down the male line, but that is not the case. Mine is still a genetic breast cancer, not hormonal. I say to Susan, so it’s just bad luck? Yes. Nobody knows why.

I immediately tell my mum and sisters the news and that it’s simply bad luck.

Lynda: It’s welcome news for us but bittersweet as it doesn’t help you at all. Simply unlucky is the biggest understatement of the year.

The results will not alter my chemo treatment or overall treatment plan. I receive a text message to say I have a video appointment with the Genetic Clinic at Guy’s Hospital on Wednesday 7th July.

Wednesday 7th July

Simon and I dial into an NHS Zoom video call with a doctor from Guy’s Genetic Clinic. She tells us the results we already know and reiterates there is no known hereditary gene or risk to my sisters or nieces, but they should remain breast aware and both my sisters should continue with the annual mammogram screening. She wishes me good luck.

I have deliberately planned a quiet week, to monitor my reaction to the new weekly chemo. To be honest, it’s more of the same. Headaches. Nausea. Very tired. Steroid insomnia is worse, if anything.

On Sunday morning, our beautiful little house rabbit Rooti stops eating and pooping. We’ve been here before, it’s a sign of gut stasis which can be fatal in rabbits. Cue 4 days of worry, with Rooti staying overnight at the vets for 3 days and 2 nights, having tests and x-rays, the vets trying to get him to eat something. It’s the longest he’s ever been away from home. My separation anxiety goes off the charts! I don’t feel well, the weather is crap and I’m worried sick about the rabbit.

At one point, Simon drives to the vets with fresh dandelions he’s picked for Rooti to try to tempt him to eat something. I’m completely miserable until late Wednesday afternoon when the vet calls to announce he’s done “40 poops and eaten some dandelions” (Rooti, not Simon) and we can take him home. I am overjoyed.

Once the bunny is home and getting better, decide after two and a half months I’ve had enough of the insomnia and daytime comas. Call the GP and ask for sleeping pills. I will only take them on the 3 nights of the week that I have to take the steroids (Friday to Sunday). Hoping this finally kicks the 2am and 4am wakeups into touch and I can be a bit more productive during the day. Another silver lining, I only have to be jabbed in the love handles with the horrid white blood cell injections 5 days a week instead of 7. Small mercies.

Thursday 8th July

Started more research into TNBC (Triple Negative Breast Cancer). I don’t want to fear-monger myself or anyone else. I want to know what I’m dealing with.

TNBC has the worst prognosis of all breast cancers. This is partly due to the fact that it doesn’t respond to targeted treatments in the same way as hormonal-driven cancers and partly due to the fact it is one of the most aggressive types of cancer. If you don’t get rid of it the first time, it has a high risk of progressing rapidly and metastasising. Survival with a recurrence is measured in months. It is a fact in the UK that recurrence within 3 years reduces survival rates to 40%. is a government health forum for oncologists and medical professionals with research and clinical studies published in the UK. PubMed says:

“TNBC is a rare type of breast cancer known as basal type breast cancer. Despite women with TNBC being more likely to receive extensive chemotherapy plus surgery, they have poorer overall survival than those without TNBC. The 5 year overall survival rate for patients with TNBC is 62% compared to 85% for all breast cancers”.

They do not tell you this on Cancer or the Macmillan website.

There is a reason why, shortly after diagnosis, in my darkest moment, I sobbed to Simon “Am I going to make it to 60?”

Modern oncology and chemotherapy are laser-focused on somatic (genetic) anti-cancer treatment. This has one aim – to kill the cancer’s abnormal cell division. But as we know from many experts, including oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies, and Otto Warburg (Nobel Prize for Physiology), cancer cells have both a genetic and metabolic composition.

With TNBC, metastasis and recurrence to terminal stage IV is much more common than in other breast cancers. It’s also a fact that cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy drugs and mutate.

An emerging field – still virtually on the fringes of contemporary oncology – is to treat the metabolic side of cancer, not just the uncontrolled cell division, but what is “feeding” the cancer stem cells, in our bodies. Cancer professionals agree with the latest research that glucose, glutamine and saturated fats “feed” cancer cells. With chemotherapy and surgery, oncologists aim to destroy the cancer cell division, but it only takes one pesky cancer stem cell to survive and off you go again.

There are a number of research studies underway in the USA, Brazil and Japan, looking at ways to develop drugs that inhibit cancer cells metabolising glucose and glutamine. As with everything related to cancer, the incredibly difficult challenge is finding ways to starve and kill cancer cells without killing the patient.

It’s very early days in terms of metabolic cancer treatment development – and I promise I’m not going all woo-woo – but along with my research I’ve adopted a new diet and (safe) supplements.

It’s simply a low GI diet: no sugar, low carb, no saturated fat, no alcohol, no red meat, tons of fish and shellfish, lots of green tea, avocados, broccoli, spinach, a lot of the kinds of foods that I eat anyway. Some low GI fruits are good, especially berries, I’ve bought bags of frozen blueberries and blackberries to add to Greek Yoghurt or bran. It’s all very healthy and not a drastic departure from my usual diet, with the exception that the Percy Pigs and Rich Tea biscuits are on hold. But if I crave a piece of chocolate I’ll have some. I’ll celebrate with cake and Champagne when the cancer’s gone.

Supplements include Omega 3 (recommended by my oncologist), Vitamin D to boost the immune system and half an aspirin a day. Aspirin has widely known health benefits for people with heart problems and so forth. It’s actually a highly effective anti-inflammatory. A recent study published in June 2021 by the University of Cardiff with 250,000 UK patients, found that taking aspirin was associated with a reduction of about 20% in cancer deaths. The research focused on breast, colon and prostate cancer patients. There is now scientific evidence that aspirin can help cancer patients by reducing inflammation that feeds cancer cells and thereby reducing metastatic spread.

On a number of breast cancer forums, some women say they are chugging back turmeric shots (ugh revolting). I have not found any clinical studies to support this in my fledgling TNBC research. Besides, as Simon sweetly points out, I’ll just make you a nice curry, darling.

Friday 9th July – 6th Chemo

9.30am Hit the chemo ward determined to be more cheerful today with a Positive Mental Attitude. Volunteers want to chat? Bring it on! I’m rocking a blue velvet turban which I fancy is a tribute to Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet, 1986 movie, director David Lynch).

And as if by magic, Elaine appears like Mr Benn. This time, I ask her more about herself. She is a very quiet and unassuming person. She has a 29 year old daughter who is getting married in October. She tells me her husband died 5 years ago. She has always been in nursing but decided to become a Macmillan volunteer as a way of coping with her loss. During the week she works 14 hour shifts at The Martlets hospital in Shoreham as an end of life care nurse.

She talks about how certain patients at Martlets stay in her mind. A really pretty young mum with a tiny baby, given weeks to live. Elaine still cannot comprehend the woman’s courage and calm in the face of a terminal diagnosis.

I tell her I could not (would not) do her job. I’m in marketing schmarketing, darling. 

Where would we be without people like Elaine?

The ‘single’ dose chemo takes 3 hours. Saline-style bags, awkward trips to the loo with the drip stand. Maria is not on the ward, perhaps she is doing the afternoon shift? Filipino Mary is here today. I can hear her. Torturing some poor chap on the other side of the ward with her incessant chatter. That makes me smile.

Later, a direct message from M in Dublin. She’s received her genetic results. No BRCA or any other gene mutation. We both have TNBC with no hereditary gene mutation. Her immediate reaction is relief there is no direct risk for her sister and kids. I am delighted for her. We agree “it’s good news” (dancing lady emoji).

Monday 12th July

After the recent chemo lows and bunny dramas, something of a revelation – I’m fairing so much better on the single dose weekly chemo than I feared.  They warn you the chemo effects are cumulative and maybe I will hit a few more bumps in the road (the double dose weeks are still not great), but I feel better than I have in weeks.

Although I’m officially signed off on sick leave, my wonderful employers have kept me on full pay, despite knowing I’m going through long-haul cancer treatment. I’m incredibly grateful for their kindness and support. I appreciate that not everyone is so lucky and on top of the worst thing happening (being diagnosed with cancer), can struggle with a sudden loss of income, especially considering statutory sick pay is a derisory £100 a week.

It’s been important to me from the beginning to stay up to date with work emails, have a weekly video call with my boss and, this week, I have the energy to follow up on the progress of a number of key work projects. I even speak to a client in Amsterdam as an informal catchup, which results in learning she has moved to a new role within the same company, where we could potentially develop some new business. Feeling quite chuffed and productive!

Wednesday 14th July

The weather is fine and having caught up with work for a couple of days, we decide to take a trip out of Brighton to Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent. It’s a wonderful 13th Century castle with a 16th Century Tudor mansion built within its walls by Anne Boleyn’s father. You cannot escape the fact that it was THE CHILDHOOD HOME OF ANNE BOLEYN as this is plastered over every tourist leaflet and tea towel in the gift shop. The castle and gardens were restored in the early 20th Century by William Waldorf Astor (as in the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York), who reportedly inherited a fortune of £100 million, £10m of which he spent on the restoration. That’s in the region of half a billion quid in today’s money.

The castle visit is fascinating and the gardens are a delight. We pack a low GI picnic; smoked salmon sandwiches on Simon’s sourdough, fresh cherries and strawberries and sugar free orange squash, which we enjoy on the lawns facing the castle.

Friday 16th July – 7th Chemo

Uneventful on the ward. Everything goes efficiently. I ask about Maria and after a spot of toing and froing between staff, one of the nurses says Maria has finished her chemo treatment. In my thoughts I send her a huge wish for a happy and cancer-free outcome.

Saturday 17th July

Wake up feeling fine having slept pretty well. Decide to go for a run. Simon insists on standing guard in case I have a funny turn, as I put in a 4k around Hove Lawns. I haven’t run for 10 weeks. A few days after my diagnosis, I did a gung-ho 10k as a two fingers up to cancer. That was my last run until today. Well, I use the word “run” loosely. I’m like a complete beginner. My legs are fine but I’m breathing like an old lady going uphill with heavy shopping. It’s quite a struggle. It’s more a Geriatric Jog than my usual running standard.

On the chemo ward, every week you have to fill in a form of any side effects you’re experiencing from the treatment. The list is as long as your arm, including everything from nausea and headaches to skin rashes and breathlessness (I’ve ticked all of them at some point, but thankfully not all at the same time). The breathlessness catches me when I’m going upstairs or walking up the slight hill home after a short trip to the shops. Now, as I’m struggling to get round a route where I can usually run 5k or 10k with my eyes shut, it reminds me of what I was like 4 years ago when I first started running. I’ve borrowed an old baseball cap of Simon’s, but at one point, a sea breeze picks up and the cap flies off my head, startling an old chap walking his dog, as a puffing bald woman comes lumbering towards him.

As I finish my 4k GJ, I plonk onto one of the benches facing the sea. On the seat back of the bench a brass plaque catches my eye.


1964 – 2001

Having the same first name, and noting she was born a year before me, I quickly calculate she died at the age of 36 or 37. I stare out to sea and think how grateful I am for every day of the twenty years more of life I’ve been luckier to have than Angela Neal. May she rest in peace.

Sunday 18th July

The weather is scorching (hottest day of the year!) and we drive over to see lovely friends of ours near Tunbridge Wells. Keith and Debs have a beautiful house and garden and we are treated to an impressive homemade paella, cooked outdoors in a vast paella dish on a specially made tripod imported from Spain. It’s a lovely lunch and a wonderful afternoon catching up with such good friends. Debs presents me with a gift-wrapped navy blue t-shirt. Printed on it in white is the word BRAVE. I’m really touched and resolve to wear it to my next chemo.

Tuesday 20th July

7.30am go for another 4k GJ on Hove Lawns. This time tell Simon he doesn’t need to be on “fainting watch”.  Breathlessness is still an issue but I get round it without scaring any dog walkers this time.

Fantastic news from my amazing family running girls – The Left Tit Team – the total on their Cancer Research fundraiser is now over £1,200 from a £1,000 target! My niece Lily is in charge of the spreadsheet, keeping track of everyone’s miles completed. All 6 of them are on target to complete 31 miles in July (50k).  I’ve begged them to take a team photo wearing their light blue Cancer Research run t-shirts. They send some brilliant group shots, including one showing the back of the t-shirt which says TOGETHER WE WILL BEAT CANCER. I am beyond proud. They are all awesome.

12pm appointment with Dr Bertelli, the medical oncologist in charge of my treatment. He confirms he has received the genetic test results and is mainly concerned with how I’m coping with the chemo treatment (good). I already know that TNBC has a high risk of spreading to bones (and liver). He mentions that starting in August I will have a weekly drug that is supposed to stop the cancer spreading to my bones. It will be an infusion (another saline-style drip bag) to be added to the other 3 or 4 drip bags per session. We briefly discuss my surgery as he informs me the surgical team will contact me about that in due course. He then says I will not see him again until 3 to 4 weeks after my surgery, so based on the current timings of my treatment plan, that is likely to be sometime in November. The next steps are to continue to chemo until 17th September, then surgery in October.

Friday 23rd July – 8th Chemo. Halfway!

I wear the BRAVE t-shirt Debs gave me and a hot pink polka dot headscarf. I’m in a great mood despite it being a “double dose” day, as today marks the halfway stage of my chemo!

It’s been 3 months of cancer and chemo so far, so this feels like a real milestone. I have renewed energy to carry on for another 8 weeks.

Thursday 29th July

Wow. You know this girl’s an optimist but I should have kept my big mouth shut. Bumps in the road? The double dose last Friday opens up a gigantic sinkhole. It’s taken me 5 days to crawl out of it.

It’s hard to believe I managed a couple of breathless jogs last week. This week I can barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom.

Not feeling so BRAVE now.

Each night I think surely I’ll feel better tomorrow? Nope. Today is the first day I feel semi-human again. Just in time for chemo tomorrow. In the alternative universe of the Cancer Club, single dose weeks now feel like a godsend. On the bright side, only 2 more double dose sessions between now and the end of chemo. Yay.

Have my weekly 10am trip to the IV clinic for PICC line cleaning and to take bloods.

Friday 30th July – 9th Chemo

9.30am arrive on the ward. They haven’t received the blood results taken yesterday morning. I suggest they call the IV clinic. No, sorry, we have to take the bloods again (again? That’s nearly an armful!). It means a 3 hour wait before the results come back from the lab and they can start the chemo. Can’t help feeling annoyed. It means I’m stuck on the ward for 5.5 hours again.

At one point, roll the drip stand to the loo and open the door. There’s an old chap sitting on the pan looking horrified. He’s clearly not mastered how to lock the door. I seem to have developed a habit of inadvertently startling elderly gentleman.

I can now count my eyelashes on 1 hand. There are 2 remaining on the right eye and 3 on the left. Notice my eyelids feel red and sore. I have invested in magnetic eyelashes You apply a special black eyeliner which contains microscopic magnetic particles, wait for it to dry, then attach the fake eyelashes which have tiny magnets along the lash line, et voila!

I’m pretty good at applying these but even still it’s not something I want to do every day, especially as my eyelids are now more sensitive.

The husband of a friend and colleague at work was diagnosed with stomach cancer a couple of years ago and went through all the chemo and surgery. Devastated to hear from her this week that his cancer has returned – this time in his lung – and is inoperable. He is starting chemo all over again. Whilst my heart goes out to them both, this is also my biggest fear. I know rationally that many people recover from cancer and remain cancer free. But many do not.

Saturday 31st July

Despite struggling with a drop in morale due to the effects of the double dose and the missing blood test farrago yesterday, feel absolutely fine this morning after the single dose Paclitaxol. Clean the fridge, put a wash in the machine and then grab my trainers and go for a 4k geriatric jog along the seafront. Have a little rest on the Angela bench. The weather is fine, some sunshine and a light breeze and I breathe in deeply the salt and seaweed tang of the sea.

Dr Bertelli said that in about 50% of women, the chemo “melts” the tumour. This is why they inserted a marker at the cancer site before starting treatment. In the event the tumour has shrunk or gone, the surgeons will know where to find Cancer Ground Zero. With TNBC, they will still perform a mastectomy as the best option to remove any rogue cells that may be skulking in the breast region and lymph nodes.

In the shower after my run my hand returns to my left boob to search out the lump. I can’t find it. I press attentively all around the area, the sides, higher, lower. It’s not there. Two weeks ago I noticed it had shrunk to the size of a hard pea from the original 3.5cm grape. I’m not due a scan or MRI until I’ve finished chemo and before surgery, but I know this is not wishful thinking. It’s gone.

In my heart I allow a tiny celebration, but in my head I know there is still a long way to go.

Wednesday 4th August

I had a slight dizzy spell yesterday, nothing dramatic like outright fainting. I was standing at the kitchen sink washing up when I got that sparkly light headedness familiar to anyone who has had a fainting bout. Sat down for 15 minutes then carried on with work catchup and household chores. It didn’t happen again.

Today it’s cloudy with a light breeze (no chance of meatballs) so I decide to chance a geriatric jog along Hove Lawns. Not such a good idea. My legs feel like lead, my breathing is so bad I have to walk most of it, stopping to sit down every few metres at any brick wall or bench I pass. It’s mostly a power sit down interspersed with walking.  Really disappointed, I don’t understand it. I’ve been managing a couple of 4k’s a week since I re-started my efforts, this is way worse than the 1st one I managed 3 weeks ago.

Thursday 5th August

10am my usual weekly appointment at the IV clinic to have my PICC line cleaned and for bloods to be taken. The weekly bloods are sent to the Royal Sussex hospital lab. Each week they measure a battery of indicators from lipids to liver function.  At the IV clinic, the nurse takes my blood pressure and literally goes WHOA. Anything the matter? Yep. Your blood pressure is very low, 89/60. Have you had any fainting? I tell her about the slight dizzy spell earlier in the week and the tragic jog attempt yesterday. As I’m leaving, she says “please don’t go running today”.

At just after 5pm, my phone rings. It’s the chemo ward. They’re ringing to tell me that I “failed” my blood results. I was expecting an A*. It’s like my maths O level all over again.

My white blood cell count is too low. They are cancelling chemo tomorrow. My initial reaction is YAY! I ask if they will add this missed session onto the end of the treatment to which he says no. I get to skip this one until my immune response improves.

It’s the first chemo free week since the end of June.

Saturday 7th August

We take a trip up to the midlands to see all my family, with a clan gathering at the oldies house. Mum lays on a buffet of fresh hot and cold food, with everything ranging from salads to chicken nuggets for the kids. Without meaning to be rude, I’ve brought a home-made salad Nicoise I pre-packed this morning. I just need to assemble it at Mum’s. Fresh spinach leaves, anchovies, tuna, green beans and black olives (no eggs, no dressing).  Yes, I am now that person who brings their own food to someone else’s house.  There is an array of cupcakes and other sweet treats which I studiously avoid. No sugar is my mantra.

It’s really lovely to see everyone, especially the children.

Tuesday 10th August

Something I’ve been looking forward to – a trip into London! Thankful that I skipped chemo on Friday as I’m now feeling much more like my old self. My energy levels feel normal, no dizziness. Take an empty train into London then a taxi to Notting Hill to meet my bosses and co-founders of the business, Nick & Ed. We have a lovely lunch at an outdoor table at Julie’s Restaurant, a bastion of the Notting Hill scene. I have mackerel salad and sparkling water. We discuss how well the business continues to do and a little client gossip also goes down a treat! They kindly arrange a car to whisk me to Victoria and I take an empty train back to Brighton. It’s been such a tonic to see them both and I feel less disconnected from my former life as a result. A good day. Sleep like a log.

Wednesday 11th August

4k jog. This time it’s 80% jogging and 20% power walking with no sit downs!

Friday 13th August – 10th Chemo

In the rules of the universe, having got away with no chemo last week, this week is scheduled for the dreaded double dose of Paclotaxol and Carboplatin. Actually, scratch that. It’s a triple dose. I’m also having the anti-bone cancer fusion. Put in a 9-5 shift on the chemo ward today. I’m there so long, I manage to finish 2 full length films I’ve downloaded onto the ipad.

When I arrived on the ward, they took my bloods – again. I ask if it’s because they didn’t get the blood results from the IV clinic? No. It’s because my blood results still show low white cell count and low calcium count. Off they go again with another round of blood and I wait 3 hours for the results and for a doctor to sign off that the chemo can go ahead. It turns out the benchmark count for both is 1.5 and my reading is 1.4. But still, this is the protocol and the chemo nurses have to follow it.

Eventually an anonymous doc somewhere in the hospital (you never see a doctor on the chemo ward) gives the thumbs up. As I’m leaving, they pack me off with a batch of the white blood cell injections (O let joy be unconfined) and 3 packets of massive calcium tablets which are white and chalky and have to be chewed twice a day. No problem, I just add them to my daily repertoire of natural supplements and hospital drugs which now looks like this:

  • Aspirin 75mg (anti-inflammatory)
  • Omega 3 (fish oil)
  • Omega 7 (from some fish oils and nuts)
  • Berberine (lowers blood glucose)
  • Resveratrol (found in red wine which is off limits at the moment) it’s a clinically proven antioxidant which can slow down cancer growth
  • Niacin B3 (DNA repair, lowers blood glucose)
  • Milk Thistle (active ingredient silibinin can stop cancer growing and spreading)
  • Turmeric / Curcumin. Yes I cracked. I can’t stomach the idea of chugging turmeric shots but research supports that turmeric is an anti-inflammatory which can slow down cancer growth
  • Filgrastim injections (to boost white blood cells)
  • Dexamethasone (steroids to prevent nausea). I’ve tried not to take these, but they are essential after a double dose of chemo
  • Adcal D3 (calcium tablets)

Holland & Barrett’s share price must be going up thanks to me. All this is on top of my low GI diet and endless cups of organic green tea. I have done a lot of my own research into TNBC, cancer in general and any relevant clinical studies available on the metabolic side of cancer. As we know, chemotherapy and radiotherapy only target cancer cell division. They do nothing to kill cancer stem cells. Only surgery can (hopefully) remove cancer stem cells from the tumour site. If one of these gets left behind, metastasis and the inevitable follows.

I have read How to Starve Cancer Without Starving Yourself by Jane McLelland and found it very compelling and quack-free Jane was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 30, in 1994. She had chemotherapy and a total hysterectomy, including removal of her ovaries, leaving her childless and infertile. In 1999, the cancer returned this time in her lungs. She was diagnosed stage IV terminal and given only a few months to live. She had chemo again but this time she was armed with her years of research into clinical cancer studies from around the world.

She devised a plan for her cancer including diet, exercise, natural supplements and off-label drugs. Off-label drugs are things like statins or diabetic medications which are really cheap and have been around for years. She researched how some of these types of easily obtainable, clinically proven drugs might help with the battle against cancer.

Her book was published in 2018. Jane was born in 1964, she’s a year older than me and cancer free.  Jane has been alive for 22 years since her terminal diagnosis. I don’t know about you, but I thought it was worth a read and I find it very persuasive. She argues that traditional chemo and surgery treatments go a long way to fighting cancer, but as chemo only focuses on the genetic / cell division, we have to find additional ways to fight the metabolic / stem cell side of cancer.

Thankfully, since that time 20 years ago when Jane first started to focus on the metabolic /stem cell side of cancer – how to starve and then kill it – cancer researchers have become increasingly more focused on this side, too. There is now a growing research movement, with more published clinical studies into the metabolic drivers and blockers which could stop many cancers, including TNBC, from growing and spreading.

None of the natural supplements I’m taking will do any harm – and they may do some good.

I have not gone down the route of the off-label drugs, even though I am interested. There are many barriers to this including oncologists and GPs not willing to prescribe a drug, say, to regulate insulin in diabetics, to a cancer patient. Even if you show them myriad studies in relation to cancer outcomes. Anyway, I’ve learnt a lot and think not only is Jane’s story of how she cured herself of cancer incredibly inspiring, her research and cancer-killing strategy has done a remarkable service to this field.

Saturday 14th August

A jiffy bag arrived in the post yesterday. I open it this morning, it’s a gift from M in Dublin. A silver bracelet with THIS TOO SHALL PASS engraved on it. I’m really touched. Message my thanks to M and she says she has the same bracelet. I say “we’re twinning to winning”!

Monday 16th August

Readers of The Guardian or The Observer may be familiar with the journalist Sarah Hughes. I knew that she very sadly died of breast cancer in April this year at the age of 48, leaving behind a husband and two children aged 11 and 13. What I only recently discovered is that she had triple negative breast cancer. After going through all the initial treatments, it came back. Once the cancer had metastasised, she was diagnosed with terminal stage IV and died within nine months. She wrote about her cancer with great humanity and insight and I was very moved by her words, particularly this:

Try to find some part of the day that is worth relishing whether it is a moment of beauty half-glimpsed outside, the joy found in escaping into a different world on page or screen, or the pleasure of dressing up for yourself and no one else because it makes you feel fine.

The worst thing that you can do is wish your life away thinking of what might have been. Instead and no matter how hard or how impossible it might seem, try to enjoy at least one moment each day.

Wednesday 17th August

Friends Mike and Helene visit for the day. The weather is windy with some squally rain, but nonetheless we head to a favourite seafood shack on the front and order up dozens of oysters to eat at a little wobbly wooden table on the beach. I look on enviously, having read that it’s best to avoid raw shellfish while undergoing chemo. After the oyster starter, we head to a place under the arches for lunch. After the meal, we indicate for the bill and the waitress comes over and says “you’re too late”. Eh? Helene has secretly paid the bill.

Thursday 19th August

Weigh myself this morning. I’ve dropped 5 kilos (about 10 pounds) since all this started. It’s not a sudden weight loss, averaging around a kilo a month over 4 and a half months. It’s not surprising since I’m ‘clean eating’ and not drinking, although I’m far less active than I used to be. Since the double dose last Friday I haven’t managed a geriatric jog, although I have been out for some gentle walks.

Friday 20th August – 11th Chemo

Once again, my blood results are of concern so have to be taken again this morning. The ongoing issue is a low white and red blood cell count, which is a result of the chemo hammering my immune system. The all-clear comes about 2 hours later and the chemo can go ahead.

Tuesday 24th August

I video dial in for the agency Board meeting. It’s the first time I’ve seen all my fellow board directors together at the office. I’m the only one joining remotely. It’s great to attend a business meeting, like a normal human being. It’s another connection to my suspended life.

Wednesday 25th August

Our friends Carmen & Jez arrive in Brighton for the day. It’s gloriously hot and sunny. We decide to repeat the Wednesday oysters and lunch ritual. Carmen and Jez insist on paying for lunch – this is becoming something of a trend. We are so touched by the generosity of friends.

Thursday 26th August

To amuse myself and have an excuse to get dolled up, I’ve been attempting to recreate iconic movie stars wearing hats or turbans. So far, I’ve done a couple of Marilyns, a Bette Davis, a Grace Kelly and an Audrey Hepburn. I have something of an epiphany this morning and decide to post a selfie of what I actually look like when I wake up in the morning. Bald, sore, red eyes, patchy eyebrows (the tattoo is fading already). It’s important not to sugar coat the ravages of cancer treatment and I hope it might show some solidarity with other women going through chemo. Within minutes, it chalks up the most likes and comments on my Instagram feed to date, I gain half a dozen new followers and a lady called Ali direct messages me.

Ali says: I found your posts on one of the chat forum websites and it inspired me to think positive. I have recently been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer also in the lymph nodes. I’m now waiting for my CT scan results to see if it’s spread. This is the most frightening for me. I want to say you are amazing and I’m loving all your different head wear. Can you please let me know where you got them from as they are all my kinda style. Sending you loads of love.

I send Ali links to Etsy and my favourite sellers and we exchange several messages of support, discussing cancer diet tips and recommendations. I send Ali all the positive vibes and ask her to stay in touch.

Friday 27th August – 12th Chemo

All goes according to plan.  I’m on the home straight now, only 3 more chemos to go!

A package arrives in the post. It’s a T-shirt with Fuck Cancer printed on it. A gift from my sister Helen.

Absolutely brilliant! Definitely going to wear it to my last chemo.

Monday 30th August

Single dose Paclotaxol on Friday goes ok and I feel fine all things considered. My friend Mazz and her daughter Sam are staying in Brighton for a few days before school term starts. We arrange to meet up for coffee on the beach today. Treat them to a cone from the best ice cream place in Brighton, Boho Gelato.

Tuesday 31st August

Spend the morning working, reporting results from the international campaign in Amsterdam and get consensus to extend the campaign in September. In the afternoon, a special treat. Mazz, Sam and I have afternoon tea at The Grand! Silver pots of tea and floor-to-table cake stands full of finger sandwiches, scones and teeny cakes. I donate some of my cakes to Sam to reduce my sugar intake, but I have to confess I enjoy the scone and a tiny raspberry éclair! Mazz insists on paying.

Wednesday 1st September

Our niece Jasmine arrives in Brighton with her boyfriend Jake. They’re staying a couple of nights at the Travelodge for a mini break before Jake returns to Bristol Uni for his second year. They come straight to ours from the train station and we have lunch on the patio. It’s Jazz’s 19th Birthday next week, so earlier, I nip off to Marks & Spencer’s to get Colin the Caterpillar cupcakes. Pop a candle in Jazz’s cupcake and we sing Happy Birthday.

In the evening, Mazz and Sam come over for BBQ on their final night in Brighton. Sam demolishes most of Simon’s sweet chilli BBQ chicken wings. A lovely evening and such a nice week catching up with family and friends we haven’t seen for some time.

Friday 3rd September – 13th Chemo

9.30am arrive at the chemo ward. My blood results from yesterday are way too low on white blood cell count. It should be at minimum benchmark 1.5 and mine is below 1. The chemo is still battering my natural immune system. I’m due a double dose today including the Carboplatin. The decision is not to go ahead with chemo. I ask for the Filgrastim injections (the white blood cell boosters) but I’m told “there’s a risk taking too many of those” and sent home without having chemo or any further meds.  This is the second chemo to be completely cancelled in the last month.

Sunday 5th September

Ali direct messages me on Instagram. She’d first contacted me on 26th August following her diagnosis with stage 3 breast cancer, also in the lymph nodes. About to have a CT scan to see if the cancer had spread any further, she was understandably scared and worried. Today, she says she wanted to let me know her CT scan was all clear and she’s starting her chemo on 14th September. I am so relieved and pleased to hear her news and wish her all the positive vibes for her chemo journey.

Tuesday 7th September

Receive a letter confirming an appointment with Mr Zammit, the breast surgeon, on 15th September. His secretary calls me to say she has “provisionally” booked 18th October for my surgery. I made the decision to have a double mastectomy some time ago and have communicated this to Dr Bertelli my oncologist.

Friday 10th September – Last Chemo

9.30am arrive at the chemo ward and it’s Groundhog Day. Your white blood cell count is too low, no chemo, blah blah. I dig my heels in, quietly but firmly. I explain that I’m due a double dose and since last week was cancelled, if they cancel again today, that will be 3 weeks without chemo. I’ve been through this programme over 5 months, I feel well enough to have the chemo today. I ask to speak to a doctor. I also raise the fact they said they could not give me the at-home booster injections, the last ones I had were on 10th August. Coincidentally, the nurse today is the same one I had for my very first chemo a million years ago in May. She acts completely surprised. “Who said you couldn’t have the injections?”. I name the nurse from the previous 2 weeks who said there was a “risk” and I couldn’t have the white blood cell boosters. She looks flummoxed and says “I had no idea you weren’t getting your injections”.  I insist on having chemo double dose today. The nurse says a doctor will come to see me when they’re free to discuss options. I’m sitting there watching a film on my ipad until 1pm. No doctor appears. Then the nurse returns, she’s spoken to a doctor and an oncologist and they have agreed my chemo double dose can go ahead today. Then the big surprise. And this will be your last one. Come again? We’ll send you home with the booster injections but this is the end of your chemo. Just as I’m leaving the ward, very sweetly, she says “No offence, but we don’t ever want to see you here again.”

At the end of the session, they remove my PICC line and permanent canular by simply whipping it out of my chest and arm. No ultrasound, ECG or any of the palava associated with when they first inserted it. Gone is my dangly little friend.

Sunday 12th September

After months of direct messaging on Insta, I ping M (Martina) in Dublin and say, shall we have a chat on the phone? We speak for the first time this week. Martina’s final chemo is on 15th September and she’s meeting her surgeon on 20th September. We chat easily about all the ups and downs of cancer and chemo and I congratulate her on her new look. She’s invested in several wigs, shoulder length curly, blonde, red and brunette and she looks fabulous in all of them. I’ve ordered a short, blonde pixie wig to make a change from headwraps and turbans now the chemo is finished. It can take up to 6 months for your hair to re-grow and may come back curly or a different colour, so they say. I will be taking chemo pills at some point and have anti-bone cancer injections every 6 months, but this chemo vortex which has suspended my life for half a year is over.

To celebrate the end of chemo, post a pic to my Instagram wearing the F**k Cancer T-shirt.

Wednesday 15th September

Meet Mr Zammit, the breast cancer surgeon. After a physical breast examination, Mr Zammit remarks that it’s a “great response” to the chemo, as the tumour can not be felt at all. We then all shuffle into a side room, Simon, me, Mr Zammit, a nurse and a silent junior doctor who is shadowing Mr Zammit and “observing”.

His opening gambit is to recommend a lumpectomy and radiotherapy. I launch into my carefully prepared response which is that we are dealing with Triple Negative breast cancer, I’ve done a lot of research on, read the latest UK clinical studies and papers published by UK-based oncologists. I tell him I made up my mind some months ago to have a bilateral (double) mastectomy. We then have a discussion about this, including my concerns there is some evidence radiotherapy can trigger cancer stem cells, so I want to avoid radiotherapy if at all possible. Further, there is some evidence that TNBC can reoccur in the other (contra) breast, hence my decision for a bilateral procedure. We discuss this back and forth for several minutes.

Mr Zammit considers this carefully and says that I’ve clearly done relevant research and I have “convinced” him to go ahead with the bilateral surgery.  I’ve also made the decision to defer breast reconstruction. My reasons are to allow time to review the pathology of the breast and lymph node tissue and for my body to heal. Again, he concurs with my decision.

At this point, I say I have AXA PPP medical insurance with breast cancer cover and would ideally like the surgery done privately at The Nuffield Hospital in Brighton. He confers with his secretary and we decide on Thursday 21st October as the date for the surgery.

As we’re leaving the building, the nurse in the meeting approaches me and says she was “really impressed” with how I “convinced” Mr Zammit.

Monday 20th September

Start my online claim with AXA PPP, uploading the referral letter from Mr Zammit into the online portal, filling out medical consent forms and so forth. It’s all very clear that it will be a bilateral surgery at the Nuffield on 21st October. We already checked that Mr Zammit and the Nuffield are on AXA’s approved list. Receive an automated reply to say AXA will respond to my claim within 48 hours.

The rest of this week is busy, we have a wonderful lunch with Simon’s Dad and his sister Bex to celebrate Peter’s 86th birthday and the end of my chemo. I video dial in for an agency Board meeting and that evening, Simon and I have an amazing dinner at The Gingerman, our favourite Brighton restaurant.

Friday 24th September

My folks arrive to bunny sit / house sit as we are off to Crete tomorrow! Having cleared it with my oncologist and the team, we are finally off for some sun, relaxation and a change of scenery. Still no reply from AXA to my claim. I decide to pack my ipad anyway in case I need to contact AXA through the online portal while we’re away.

Saturday 25th September

We have a wonderful holiday on the west coast of Crete, near Chania, staying in a self-contained apartment with a huge balcony overlooking the sea and the nightly spectacular sunset. It’s bliss. Midway through the holiday, we meet up with our niece Olivia and her friend Miranda who’ve island hopped from Mykonos and are now in Chania. Have a lovely evening of cocktails and dinner by the very pretty Chania harbour.

The only fly in the ointment is checking the AXA portal and my email every day to see if they’ve responded to my new claim. They have not. Starting to get a bit stressed about it now. Send two further messages on the online portal chasing them.

Thursday 7th October

We’re sitting by the pool, reading when my phone rings. It’s a woman called Sally from the AXA Cancer Care team. She says she’s terribly sorry for the delay in responding to me, then she drops the bombshell. AXA will only cover surgery on the “affected breast”. The policy does not include a bilateral procedure, as removing the other breast is considered “preventative”. Er, yes.

I point out this is very upsetting to be told now, as we’ve lost over two weeks in the process. I now have to revert to NHS care, but the clock is ticking and I have no idea when the NHS will be able to do the surgery. The government and medical profession guideline is for breast cancer surgery to be completed within 6 weeks of chemo finishing. The 21st October would have been Week 6.

AXA’s bombshell has now jeopardised my surgery date. I also explain that Mr Zammit has recommended the bilateral procedure for my cancer. To be fair to Sally, she is sympathetic on the phone and agrees to escalate my request to a senior decision maker, as well as refer my complaint regarding the delayed response. She agrees to call me again once she’s spoken to the senior decision maker. We had carefully read the policy handbook before starting the claim, but somewhere in the small print, AXA mentions removal of the “affected” breast only. We’d missed that detail. I get off the phone and feel like crying.

To add insult to injury, the Nuffield Hospital calls me to arrange a pre-op assessment. I have to tell them it’s not going ahead as AXA will not cover it. I email Lorraine, Mr Zammit’s secretary to put her in the picture. She informs me he is also on holiday, returning next week.

Monday 11th October

Arrive home from Crete. Email Lorraine. Mr Zammit has offered to speak directly to AXA. I convey this in an online message to AXA. Get an automated reply.

Thursday 14th October

Sally from AXA calls to say the senior decision maker will not budge and that Mr Zammit “would not influence their decision” as the bilateral procedure is “outside of policy”. I say to Sally, ok look, I’ll have the double mastectomy on the NHS, but am I covered with AXA for the reconstruction surgery, as it says so in your handbook? Incredibly, she replies AXA would only pay for reconstruction of one breast. At this point, I say close the claim, thank you and goodbye AXA.

I email this to Lorraine.

The Nuffield Hospital phones me again to “reschedule” my pre-op assessment. I explain again that it’s not going ahead. Finally, they understand to cancel my op on 21st October.

Friday 15th October

6pm. My phone rings. It’s Caroline, the Macmillan nurse assigned to me when I was first diagnosed. I’ve only met her once. She was aware I’d been on holiday but is confused about what’s happening with the surgery. I fill her in on the AXA debacle.

She promises to immediately update the NHS surgery booking system, liaise with Lorraine and Mr Zammit and come back to me as soon as possible with an update.

I apologise for the mess, but she points out by trying to go privately, I was actually giving someone else the chance to jump up the NHS list for their surgery. That makes me feel a tiny bit better. Until Caroline explains the waiting list for breast reconstruction on the NSH is “at least a year”. 

I’ve essentially been doing my own medical admin with the Nuffield, AXA and the breast cancer surgeon for nearly 3 weeks and I have no clue when my surgery will happen.

Tuesday 19th October

Receive a letter from the NHS saying as I’m “immune compromised” I should get a third Covid jab. Confusingly, not the same as a “booster” apparently. Get the jab at a walk-in centre in Brighton which used to be a huge Topshop (RIP). No problems with over-zealous security men this time. I get a full shot of Pfizer. Praying this will protect me from catching Covid in hospital when I have my op.

Wednesday 20th October

Video dial in for the Board meeting. As always, it’s great to see my colleagues and update on what’s happening across Big Group.  In the afternoon, my phone rings. It’s a young-sounding chap called Gareth calling from AXA to discuss my complaint. He is authorised to offer me £100 compensation which he himself describes as “derisory”! I decline his offer and request he refers the complaint higher up. I will also be writing to the Financial Services Ombudsman directly.

Friday 22nd October

It’s Wear it Pink Day for Breast Cancer Now and all of Big Group London are wearing pink, baking pink cakes and raising money for the cause. I’m honoured to be appointed Patron of the day and as requested, I record a video message which is sent out agency-wide. I go full-on pink with the headscarf, top and lippy. In the afternoon, I’m asked to judge the cakes. They all look amazing and sadly I can’t taste them, but I choose a selection of “boob” cupcakes, for originality and humour.

Everyone at the agency has a fun day and raise nearly £1,500 for Breast Cancer Now. I’m genuinely touched to be involved in a small way on the day.

At 5.30pm my phone rings, it’s Caroline the Macmillan nurse. We have a date for my op! It’s Friday 5th November and will be at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath. Due to the AXA delays, the NHS date has been delayed two weeks, but I am so relieved. Caroline reels off a battery of appointments starting next week with a pre-op assessment, bloods etc, covid swab, more bloods and a pre-op appointment with Mr Zammit.

Tuesday 26th October

M has her lumpectomy surgery today in Dublin which will then be followed by radiotherapy. Although our surgeries and post-treatment will differ, we’ve been on this cancer journey since the beginning and continue to exchange messages of support.

Wednesday 27th October

Have the pre-op assessment at the Park Breast Care Centre in Brighton and stand on the big scales. I’ve lost 16 pounds since I was diagnosed in April. Everything I’ve read suggests it’s a good idea to try to lose some weight and keep fit, if you possibly can, when you’re going through cancer treatment. Cutting out all sugar, carbs and alcohol worked for me as part of my “anti-cancer” diet. Finally, there’s another meeting with Mr Zammit. Sign a bunch of forms. We are good to go.

Thursday 4th November

Some lovely messages, cards and calls from friends and family wishing me good luck for surgery tomorrow. I have to rock up at the Princess Royal Hospital at 7.30am and it’s nil-by-mouth from 6am with the surgery planned around lunchtime if all goes according to plan.

Then it’s #byebyeboobs

Friday 5th November

One to remember, remember.

7.30am Simon drops me off at the main entrance to the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath and I navigate my way to the second floor ward. They give me a private room. Unexpected! Princess Ann should be proud. All the nursing staff regardless of age or creed are incredibly nice to me, calling me sweetie, honey and darling. I must look a fright in the regulation hospital gown with no hair and no makeup. And very soon, no tits.

The op takes around 3 hours, I’m told afterwards. Wake up in recovery with very little pain. The attentive anaesthetist is there and instructs the nurse to put a shot of OxyContin in my arm. My drug-addled brain wants to protest “that’s the Sackler drug that’s caused the deaths of half a million Americans!”. But then the OxyContin kicks in and I float off on a cloud.

Once back in my room, the nurses are obsessed with making me eat bread. Would you like a little sandwich? No thank you. How about a nice cheese toastie? No thank you. Later, would you like some more pain relief? Yes please. You’ll have to eat some toast then. I give in and am presented with 4 squares of white Mother’s Pride glued together with a slice of something that might have been Cheddar in a previous life. Anyway it means I get more pain relief. I’m like Pavlov’s dog.

Monday 8th November

Simon is banished to guest room Siberia as I have to lay flat on my back at night with two heart-shaped pillows propped under each arm; this position takes up two thirds of a king size bed. I sleep for 8 hours without moving a muscle and wake up in exactly the same position. Weigh myself and I’ve dropped another 2 kilos, which means my tits must have weighed 4 pounds.

Thursday 11th November

Go along to the drop-in breast care clinic so they can check my wounds. The nurse peels off the big plaster strips (ouch) and declares herself satisfied with the surgical site. The stitches are meant to be dissolvable and are held together with steri-strips. I mention there’s fluid building up which is causing discomfort but they say to come back next week if it’s still an issue.

Friday 12th November

Busy day working online as we have an emergency deadline for a marketing industry accreditation. I’d only just realised the deadline is today. Everything gets submitted in time. Phew.

Tuesday 16th November

About a million years ago, shortly after my diagnosis, Simon and I went to a kitchen disco at Andrew’s house. I got so drunk I only realised the next day I’d bought 4 tickets to see Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark at the Brighton Centre. Tonight is the night, my friends! I’m determined to go. Andrew and his  wonderful boyfriend Patrick join us and we stand at the back of the Stalls and sing hits like Enola Gay at the tops of our voices and dance about a bit. I decide not to wear my wig. It’s my first public outing as a basic skinhead, so I look like a typical member of the Brighton lesbian community, especially as I’m wearing Doc Martens and rolled up jeans.

Wednesday 17th November

10.30am Agency board meeting. Once again, I’m the only board member dialling in from home. I decide I’m definitely going to be in the Board Room at the office for the last meeting of the year, in December.

Thursday 18th November

Back to the breast clinic. This time, the nurse agrees the fluid build up in my surgery wounds (it’s called seroma) needs to be drained. This entails sticking a needle in the scar line and then using syringes to drain off the excess fluid. It doesn’t hurt as I have no nerve endings there. Bit weird. She gets through 8 syringes on the left side and 4 on the right, removing nearly half a litre of fluid. I say fluid, it’s essentially watery blood. At one point, she slips up and a cascade of it runs down my jeans. It’s like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in here. She is a bit embarrassed but points out she didn’t get any on my box-fresh white trainers. Small consolation as I slink out of the clinic looking like I’ve left the scene of a murder.

In the evening, we have a cocktail and a delicious meal at a recently opened Brighton restaurant called Burnt Orange. I’d ticked “Birthday” in the special occasions box on the online booking form. At the end of our meal, they present me with a large plate with Happy Birthday piped on it in chocolate. And one tiny chocolate. I declare my official Birthday celebrations… open!

Saturday 20th November

We have dinner at The Gingerman, a favourite and in our opinion, the best restaurant in Brighton. This is where we celebrated my end of chemo. The lovely and glamorous front-of-house lady remembers me, asks how I’m doing (so kind) and compliments me on looking stunning (blatant flattery. I love it). At home after dinner, we watch Mary Poppins and Rooti our house rabbit jumps up on my lap for cuddles and treats. Perfect.

Sunday 21st November

It’s only my actual birthday! I made it to 56! My Mum and Bernie arrive at lunchtime and it’s the first time I’ve spent my birthday with my mum since I was 18 years old. We have a lovely day and I pile through the mountains of cards and presents from my family. The doorbell keeps ringing as beautiful bunches of flowers arrive. Simon cooks an incredible chicken roast dinner and we have a cupcake each with a candle so everyone can sing happy birthday to me. I insist on blowing out all 4 candles. Spoiled. Rotten.

Thursday 25th November

A bit of an outing. Today is our annual Director’s Lunch, in a private dining room at The River Café! I leave Brighton at 10am to arrive 12.30pm at the restaurant after an empty train ride and a black cab from Victoria station.  There are 10 of us agency directors including the company owners, Nick and Ed. I have not seen any of them in person since the early Summer.  Everyone is complimentary about my wig! As the guests mingle outside under the patio heaters by the riverside, I’m careful not to stand too close, bearing in mind the wig is 100% polyster and highly inflammable.

We have a wonderful lunch and, as ever, the Champagne and wine flows throughout. I’m still quite sore from my surgery but a few paracetomol help to take the edge off. I nurse one glass of bubbly throughout the duration, sipping it each time we raise a glass to celebrate an achievement this year. After lunch I do the reverse journey back to Brighton, getting home just after 8pm. Exhausted but this has really lifted my spirits and I’m very glad I was able to spend some time with my lovely colleagues.

Monday 29th November

The Director’s Lunch seems to have kicked off a wave of dining out and socialising! On Friday, my best friends Hilary and Mazz arrive in Brighton for a girls’ lunch. On Saturday, my sister-in-law Bex pops down for a cheeky sleepover and we have great fun mooching around the Brighton Christmas Fayre (all mulled wine/German frankfurters and mud but quite fun) followed by a Spanish tapas extravaganza at a local restaurant called Market. If that wasn’t enough, my posse from a previous job I left 5 years ago arrive for Sunday lunch at The Ivy in the Lanes. We used to call ourselves the Ladies Who Lunch (or Bitches Who Day Drink as Vicki now prefers). Valentina has her adorable 3 month old daughter Maia with her (who behaves beautifully. Not a peep) and Vicki is driving, so Ruth and I decide we will all have a sober lunch. You really wouldn’t have known. We chat away catching up on everyone’s news and have a really easy, enjoyable time. We are just missing our wonderful friend Attallah who is currently back in the States.

Tuesday 30th November

Back to the Breast Care Centre pop-in clinic to have my surgery wounds drained again. The fluid build up is really pronounced and quite uncomfortable. Wait over an hour to see a nurse and have a similar quantity of fluid drained off as before. Luckily, there’s no Texas Chainsaw Massacre incident this time.

Friday 3rd December

It’s been a fairly busy work week with several video meetings and a number of marketing initiatives to move forward before the end of the year. This afternoon Simon and I walk down to the BAi360 to try to find someone to talk to in their Events team. The i360 is a vertical sightseeing pod, known by the locals as the Dunkin Donut. The reason for our visit is that in December 2018 we signed a contract to hold a party for 100 guests in their ballroom on the beach level. This was to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary on 5th May 2019. Then Covid came along and you know the rest. Over two years later, we are attempting to put on this party on 7th May 2022! We’ve lived in Brighton for 7 years and the past 4 years have been Simon’s cancer, covid, my cancer. More covid. Not that one ever needs an excuse to party, but come on.

Two lovely ex BA stewards manning the gift shop listen sympathetically to our tale and say they will pass on our message to the Events team, with whom we need to make an appointment.

Monday 6th December

Luke from the BAi360 events team contacts me. Our party booking is confirmed for Saturday 7th May 2022! WOOHOO! Spend a couple of hours this evening writing out Christmas cards and inserting our pre-printed invitations. There have been two previous rounds of invitations sent. Third time lucky!

Tuesday 7th December

9am appointment with Dr Bertelli, my oncologist. This is only the second time I’ve seen Dr Bertelli in person since I was diagnosed in April. He confirms there was no cancer in my lymph nodes (GOOD) but despite 6 months of intensive chemotherapy, half my tumour was still present when they went in to do the mastectomy (BAD). The tumour was 3.5CM when discovered and 1.8CM of it was still in there like a poisonous little worm that wouldn’t die. This means I have to start 6 months of chemo pills called Capecitabine. He describes it as “preventative” treatment. Two weeks on, one week off until July. In between, I have to attend the Sussex Cancer Centre (groan) for anti-bone cancer chemo infusions. Every 2-3 weeks will be a telephone assessment (ok) to check-up on how I’m coping. And regular blood tests (yawn). He is also keen to stress that neither my double mastectomy or the chemo pills “affect my prognosis”. What he means is “no one knows if your cancer will come back despite all this treatment.”

In other news, a breaking report from Cancerville: In Science Daily (a story not picked up by a single mainstream media outlet) it was reported that recent research shows having chemotherapy for early breast cancer can cause metastasis in the lungs, because it affects the quality of the blood vessels, making them leakier and allowing cancer cells to move to the lungs. Essentially, chemo causes breast cancer to spread. Current oncology proposes more chemo to fix this. But, as we know, cancer becomes resistant to chemo over time. And chemo does not kill off cancer stem cells. How do we break this awful cancer cycle? In my view, less research into new big pharma chemo drugs and more research into the metabolic side of cancer.

Monday 13th December

A new covid variant called Omicron, originating from South Africa, is dominating the news. They say it’s more transmissible but milder. Not that anyone in authority seems to be taking any notice of that, the usual brigade all calling for lockdowns and for Christmas to be cancelled. You wouldn’t say that if it was your last Christmas, would you? Or someone you loves last Christmas. This continuing pandemic saga has exhausted everyone, but I can’t help thinking that the hysteria and panic, the threat of lockdown and more social isolation, is worse than the virus. If you’ve been jabbed 3 times (and a flu jab. I thank you) you have over 90% protection from serious illness / hospitalisation. Compare that to a 60% three year cancer survival prognosis and it kind of puts it in perspective. Also, think of all those poor people not getting diagnosed, or treated, due to lockdowns.

Tuesday 14th December

The fluid has built up again in my surgery wounds making it sore and uncomfortable. Back to the breast clinic for wound draining. This is the third time I tell the nurse. Mr Zammit my breast surgeon is “anti drains” post-surgery. This usually entails a pipe drawing off liquid from the surgery wound which you have for 3 or 4 days after surgery then it’s done. In my case, I’m back and forth at the clinic every week or so having the fluid removed. The rationale for being “anti drains” post-surgery is to minimize the risk of infection. However, after three separate draining sessions over the past weeks, I contract an infection and have to take antibiotics for a week. So that didn’t work, did it?

A letter arrives in the post from AXA’s Customer Relations department. Along with a cheque for £250. This is a “no liability”, “goodwill gesture” for my complaint about the way AXA handled my cancer claim and the resulting delays in my surgery date. Not to mention ruining my only bloody holiday in Crete. I have 6 months from the date of the letter to make my complaint in writing to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which I intend to do. Not to shake more cash out of AXA, but to get them to amend their so-called “Full Cancer Cover” policy with regards to breast cancer. As it stands, their current policy thinks it’s absolutely fine for women with breast cancer to walk around with one tit, possibly for years. I want to change this for other women coming after me.

Tuesday 21st December

2pm appointment at the Sussex Cancer Centre tomorrow to start my chemo pills. Happy Christmas!

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About Me

Hi I’m Ange. I’m 55 years old and live in Brighton with my husband Simon and a 5 year old house rabbit called Rooti. I’m a board director and Head of Marketing for a creative marketing agency and until Covid and now breast cancer, divided my time between our London and Amsterdam offices.

Let’s hang out