It's been over a month since I last blogged because for some reason, I had in my head that I needed to have a subject or theme for my blog. However earlier this week, I encountered an inspirational woman, also a cancer sister. Hearing her speak - and subsequently reading her blog - gave me the motivation I needed to put metaphorical pen to paper
On Monday, I was a guest at the head office of a global pharmaceutical company, in my role as Executive Assistant for Cancer52, an organisation campaigning and raising awareness of rare and less common cancers, of which ovarian is one.
Members of staff of the pharma company, based across USA and Europe, had embarked on a bike riding challenge, coast to coast (USA) and country to country (Europe), raising funds for cancer (C2C4C). Cancer52 are honoured to be the beneficiary of the funds raised by the UK and Benelux riders.
So my colleague Jane and I were the guests of honour and as such, addressed the staff of the UK head office. Jane gave them an overview of the organisation and how the funds will be put to good use. Then I had my first taste of public speaking, telling my story to 150 people, putting the Cancer52 mission into some context. My opening gambit was:
"I have been working for Cancer52 for 5 years and I naively thought that it would give me some immunity towards cancer. It didn't but what it has given me is an excellent insight and knowledge of symptoms of rare and less common cancers."
(It's true, I am so grateful that I was so aware of the symptoms that I knew not to leave them, to see the GP and get a referral to a gynaecologist.
After I had delivered my 2 minutes of wisdom, the room was hooked up to the US development centre for the launch of the organisation's global patient week.
There were a number of corporate style presentations but then a woman stepped onto the stage, a patient who is taking one of the pharma company's drugs. And quite frankly, Jessica Morris blew me away. She was an amazingly powerful speaker - a beautiful clipped British accent, eloquent, elegant, stunning looking and she rocked the white headscarf which covered her bald head.
So much of what she said resonated with me. We are similar in many ways: she was diagnosed with Glioblastoma (GBM), a rare brain cancer, about 18 months ago; I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, also a rare cancer, just over a year ago. She is in her early 50s, I turn 50 next year. She has 3 teenage children, I have 2 sons, one of whom is still hanging onto his teenage years by a thread.
However, where we differ is that she is such an accomplished speaker and someone to whom I now aspire. Having read her blog, I find she is also an incredibly powerful writer too - she has even written articles for the New York Times (she lives in NY). I could really learn something from this awesome individual.
So I sent her an email. And she responded immediately saying she loved my blog and that we must talk. SHE LOVES MY BLOG, A WRITER FOR THE NY TIMES LOVES MY BLOG!!!!
She reminds me of another inspirational woman, another ovarian cancer sister, Fi Munro who initially blew me away with her appearance on the BBC documentary A Time to Live. I was so in awe of her, I started following her on Facebook and she continues to inspire me on a daily basis through her social media posts. She has recently had a book published - something else I aspire to - Love, Light and Mermaid Tails. I have yet to find the time to read it, it is loaded on my Kindle waiting for when I can devote uninterrupted time to read it cover to cover in one sitting.
Summer 2017 started better than summer 2016. In stark contrast to the end of July 2016 when I received my formal diagnosis of Stage 3 high grade serous cancer, at the end of July 2017, I received the joyous news that after my second round of chemo, I am once again classed as No Evidence of Disease (NED).
Health is still very much on the agenda, as I continue having 3-weekly infusions of Avastin. I also underwent a small procedure under general anaesthetic to remove an infected sebaceous cyst. 6 weeks on, I am still on painkillers and still having the dressing changed weekly, whilst under the influence of Entonox to alleviate the agony I experience. I never really appreciated gas and air during childbirth but oh boy, it's good shit now! The wound is healing, slowly mind, as Avastin slows the healing process in the body.
Eating is one of my passions and I was treated to some stand out meals over the summer: a client took me to Nathan Outlaw at the Capital for our annual lunch where she appraises me for the past year and confirms we will be working together for the next year. Nathan Outlaw's restaurant in Cornwall (where my Prince Charming and I dined at Easter 2016) was recently voted the top UK restaurant in the Good Food Guide.
In Berlin, the Prince Charming and I were treated to a sumptuous feast at Glass, which we both put in our list of top restaurants (others include Degustation in Prague, Passage 53 in Paris and Nathan Outlaw in Cornwall).
Whilst I didn't have a big summer holiday, I was fortunate enough to get away for short breaks in Mallorca (fantastic girls weekend with sister and best friend, staying with cousin), Cheltenham with her majesty, my mother (shopping and eating and walking very slowly) and Lille (with a group of friends celebrating another friend's 50th birthday).
I was also fortunate enough to celebrate the marriage of my sister (well, she's actually my ex-stepsister, but we've grown up together, so the ex-step bit has never really counted). It was a beautiful wedding, in Hampshire on the edge of the South Downs. The little village hall had been transformed into a fairytale setting, adorned with hops and fairy lights; the gardens were replete with hay bales and an inflatable flamingo! The happy couple have been together 18 years and have 2 teenage children who played an active part in the proceedings. The band was excellent and had the guests dancing the night away to covers of 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s crowdpleasers such as Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond and Mr Brightside by The Killers
The highlight of the summer has to be my trip to New York with my two little princes. This was my treat to them to celebrate their 18th and 21st birthdays, which both occurred in 2016 and we had planned to go last year before my ovaries decided to get the better of me and I welcomed cancer into our lives.
I had been fortunate enough to get pretty much a full refund for cancelling that trip and together with a little payout from a policy, I ensured that New York mark 2, 2017 version would be bigger and better than 2016 was planned to be. We had the full Princess treatment, from airport lounge, premium economy on both flights, shopping on Fifth Avenue, Broadway show, the works! Of course, not only were we celebrating the boys' milestone birthdays, we were also acknowledging the fact that I had kicked cancer's butt not once, but twice!
As the boys had been to NY before and had visited the touristy bits, we went off piste, exploring the villages, experiencing Brooklyn and Williamsburg and discovering the High Line. We ate and drank and shopped our way round one of the most fascinating and exciting cities in the world (IMO).
Of course, as an Audrey Hepburn fan and having seen the film Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time this summer (at an open air cinema in the grounds of Kenwood House in Hampstead), I attempted to recreate the iconic look of my heroine whilst standing outside Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue.
It was a truly memorable trip, one I will treasure forever and I hope my little princes will recall it fondly for many years to come.
Breakfast at Tiffany's wasn't the only film I saw at an open air cinema this summer. I also introduced my Prince Charming to probably my all time favourite film, Casablanca, starring another iconic actress, my namesake, Ingrid Bergman. This was in the stunning setting of the faux-French chateau in the Buckinghamshire countryside, Waddesdon Manor.
Another splendid venue, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, was the backdrop for FriendsFest where the youngest prince and I indulged our fanaticism of the comedy series, Friends.
So, that was this princess's summer. The seasons are changing, the white Guess handbag is in hibernation, having made way for its winter cousin, my faithful Coach Edie bag in metallic pewter. Soon, as the days grow shorter and cooler, the nights longer and colder, the boots will be dusted off and coats will shrug off the mothballs and all will be right in the world again. I will be able to hide my enlarged frame in layers of clothing for at least 6 months. Hello Autumn and Winter, how I've missed you!
On a final note, my hairdresser today asked me how I feel about having a disease which may ultimately be my downfall. I responded that we are all terminal, we all have to die of something at some point in our lives. I have a condition which may kill me, but equally something else may get me first. No one knows when they will die, I don't either, apart from the fact I have a disease which is likely to shorten my life...or not.
There is still so much I want to do, but after major surgery, two rounds of chemo and my recent leg op, my body is now dictating what I am and am not capable of. After a busy summer, I have no option but to rest and take it easy. Hence this blog which I am writing as I reflect on what has been a darn sight better summer than last. I am now exercising my brain and allowing the creative juices to flow whilst I put my feet up.
Cheers, sante, salud xx