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Breast cancer news and research

Guest blogs on breast cancer and wellness


Thanks for joining me!

Yes, I’m still alive and here’s proof…….the story continues:

Year three NED

I used the COVID isolation to spend more time on artistic projects. I refound my love of art and in 2020 I launched the Thoughtful Bugs range to help others going through breast cancer. The collection is available on paperback book from Amazon, greeting and postcards on Etsy and gift items on Redbubble

A recent podcast interview from 100 Stories was released where I discuss life after cancer quite candidly: https://100storiesbook.com/100-podcast/nikki-bednall/

I’m beginning to feel the effects of isolation life. I miss my family and human interactions and going out to restaurants. I don’t miss traffic congestion and rush hour. The upside of isolation life is that I’ve learned to make soya yoghurt which I’ll probably continue beyond COVID isolation life. I think we’ll all emerge from this a little different. I’m feeling quite sad that achievements in the cancer community are being lost due to COVID. It’s hard helping out in the community when you discover that your friends who are metastatic are receiving letters to inform them that they will not be eligible for COVID medical support. It’s tough helping people in the community who are newly diagnosed and are having changes and delays in their treatment due to COVID risk reductions. They have extra anxiety. As if cancer alone wasn’t enough. I’d like to think that perhaps some new opportunities for treatment flexibility might emerge as a result of this. I’d like to think something positive may grow from adversity.

3 May 2020: It’s 3 months since my reconstruction surgery and I’m healing well. I’ve been a bit lazy about my physiotherapy and need to push myself a bit more to get full flexibility in my leg again but it’s not too bad.

21 March 2020:  Today is my 3rd Cancerversary and once again the daffodils are in full bloom.  Just when we think things are on the up: enter COVID.  All plans are literally up in the air.   Once again isolation. It feels like chemo-life again only this time we are ALL in this together.  A global pandemic shows us just how fragile and interdependent we really are and how much we need to pull together with a common goal.  I know how to do this isolation and super-hygiene thing.  I’ve done it before.  We can only do things within our control and hope that is enough to reduce the impact on the most vulnerable in our society.  None of us knowing whether the most vulnerable might be us.

Two weeks after surgery, I was interviewed at BBC Breakfast in Manchester alongside the Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency regarding their new announcement on CBD product safety and content guidelines.  I agreed that consumers would benefit from having clearer labelling on products to assist decision-making and improve standardisation.  I managed to hold myself together really well throughout the interview, even though I was bruised and limping with stitches tight and pulling.  I took my soft and trusty emoji cushions along with me for the taxi ride for protection against the seatbelt.

January 2020 was finally the time for my breast reconstruction which went really well and I’ve written about it on a page dedicated to delayed reconstruction.  

Year Two NED

My good start to 2019 took a bit of a turn later on and I wrote an article about this for Mission Remission to help others who may be feeling a bit low further down the line: Difficulties in Life: How I Cope

In October 2019 (breast cancer awareness month) I “took the pledge” to follow the recommended guidelines to reduce recurrence risks.  This project was lead by Dr Kristi Funk and Dr Neal Barnard.  My dietary choices have become more and more whole-grain plant based over the last two years.  I haven’t eaten eggs for well over a year.  I’ve occasionally had a couple of prawns, maybe once or twice a month.  I’m probably 99% vegan now and I feel more energetic as a result of healthy eating, not drinking alcohol and exercising daily.  Early on, I felt a bit burdoned by the healthy regime but not any more.  I realise that was just the inertia of my habits being changed but now I’ve formed new habits it requires no mental effort.

I still post updates on my blog relating to research.  I feel it’s important to research my breast cancer type and I have become my own experiment.  I’m persistent and curious and I need to know how I can improve my risk factors.  The only factor I received was the risk of recurrence but I wish there was a counter-score given for reducing that recurrence factor. I’d love to see a prognostic calculator which allows you to enter lifestyle factors to take the risk down, rather than just being a tool for inputting tumour size, lymph nodes etc.  I have suggested it in the past when I was involved in a related research project.  

I wonder whether my illness had an impact on both of my children at a critical time for making life decisions as they have both gravitated towards medically allied careers.  I can only see this as a good thing.

I had a really good summer and went on some lovely holidays which enabled me to escape mentally and relax. My mind is more occupied with new experiences when I’m on holiday and that is enough to distract me from negative thought cycles. It’s as if my bad thoughts take a holiday too but go to a different location from me! I think time has made the thoughts easier in some ways but not in others. I’ve made peace with the anxiety surrounding the disease to some extent but learning to live with the aftermath is another story. I sometimes like to read nancyspoint blog (Nancy Stordahl) which is great for a bit of humour and is a place where you never feel obligated to be a certain way.

Mental vacation

My Son graduated in the summer which was a really proud day. He successfully made it to the end of his course and is now in a graduate position. Thankfully, he “kept it together” despite his concerns and anxiety about me. Thinking back to when he was in year one and I told him the news of my diagnosis over the phone; he dashed home the following weekend as a surprise as he wanted to give me a hug. We’ve come a long way.

Priceless!

11/11/2019: A few days ago I reached 2 year’s NED. I’m hoping this means my risk has gone down a bit now as the first two years are the highest risk. I’m doing ok so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing: medication and lifestyle.

21/03/2019: Today is my 2 year anniversary since my diagnosis and, of course, the first day of Spring.  Hooray for seeing the daffodils once again!

Some of my artwork has been included in the Breast Cancer Art Project exhibition this month. The exhibition is open until 22nd February for anyone to visit and all funds raised will be going to breast cancer charities.  I felt very proud of having my artwork presented so nicely.  It somehow felt more poignant on their website than sitting in a drawing pad at home. This project has given it meaning and purpose. Visual communication is a powerful thing. 

An important milestone has recently been passed.  I hit the big 50!  A few years ago, thoughts of hitting 50 filled me with dread. In a society obsessed with youth, the prospect of reaching 50 felt slightly uncomfortable. Having had a life threatening disease, I was really pleased to make it to 50 and felt good. I want the opportunity to get old and wear this body out because I know too well the alternative is much worse.

12/01/2019: Yesterday was a year since I finished treatment so I shall not speak of treatment again now. Goodbye to clinical thoughts of this time last year. Goodbye to all treatment that is not the treatment I am now on to reduce recurrence risks. Goodbye to intense primary care treatment. There, I think that’s covered it!

Year One NED

I have passed my one year cancerversary since diagnosis and now my 6 month NED (no evidence of disease) since surgery in November 2017. I celebrated by going for a short run because my body is alive and able to do this, which feels good. A beautiful sunny day with a sunny mental outlook.

I met up with the women who supported me online throughout my cancer treatment. We shared very special friendships and it was really good to be able to meet in person.

I took part in a 5K Race for Life in London in June with a dear friend that I met from the breast cancer community. It was a very hot day but we managed to keep running the full 5K. The atmosphere was really good with a pre-run workout to get us all motivated. I’ll sign up for another soon as it gives a focus to keep me exercising as well as raising money for a good cause.

Race for life

I’ve taken a couple of big holidays since I finished treatment and I recommend this if you can afford it.   After being denied life’s pleasures whilst on chemo it was really good to travel again.

I’ve seen my Daughter graduate and get her first job and feel so very proud of her, knowing that she has achieved all of this with the turmoil of my illness in the background. My Son achieved high grades in University despite the anxiety of my illness and I am so proud of him. They have both demonstrated a resilience that I know will set them up for life. It’s amazing how much more grateful I feel for everything I experience now, like my eyes are wide open and savouring every moment, knowing that all I’m experiencing could have been taken away from me last year.

Priceless!

September 2018 and it’s now a year since I finished chemotherapy.  It feels a bit surreal when I look back, almost like it happened to someone else and I’m just an observer.  My nails are back to full health and the “moons” have come back which had vanished during chemo.  Some of my toe nails are taking longer to recover but are improving all the time.  My hair has now grown to almost a jaw-length layered bob.

6th Nov 2018: Today I am officially one year NED (no evidence of disease) apparently NED is measured from the date of your surgery.  As I had 6 months of chemo before surgery my one year NED feels like a long time.  I spent 6 months on chemo waiting to get rid of the cancer surgically before the NED measuring could begin.  I wonder if everyone on chemo before surgery (neo-adjuvant) treatment feels like this too?  I still have until January to reach my biggest milestone anniversary: the end of treatmentand after that there will be no more measuring back to “this time last year”.  Hooray!

The last few months have been an important time for me in terms of knowledge.  I read two great books Jane McLelland “How to Starve Cancer” and Dr Kristi Funk “Breasts – An Owners Manual”.  I’ve been researching ways to reduce my risk since my diagnosis and it was like a eureka moment when I read Jane McLelland’s book.  Someone else was just like me, piecing a survival strategy together, but much further down the road and I am grateful to Jane for her knowledge and user friendly diagrams to explain a complex science.  I went to a talk in London and met Jane and I have no doubt that she genuinely enjoys helping people.  I’m grateful to Dr Kristi Funk for putting more science into the arena and for debunking the soya myth as this has been debated so much in the breast cancer community and I continue to enjoy whole-bean soya products a few times a week.  I think knowledge is empowerment and it feels good.

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