Personal stories

You can’t take my sense of humour

Posted by Emma Herring on 11 May 2021

Hi.  I’m Emma.  Married to Darren and co-owner of two small humans, Toby (seven) and Chloe (two), and Beagle Arthur (nine).  Lawyer by day- representing nurses, I’m now also an author by night – hopefully inspiring patients, after my unexpected journey with Breast Cancer.  Buckle up for that roller coaster of a ride as here we go….

BREAST CANCER WASN’T ON MY ’40 THINGS AT 40′ BUCKET LIST

In 2019 I was happily ticking off my ’40 things at 40’ bucket list after returning to work following my second maternity leave.  What wasn’t on the list was a triple negative breast cancer diagnosis. 

On the 14th June I woke up.  Yawn.  Stretch.  Happen to rub my chest and…

“What the hell is that?”

I’d found a lump under my right breast that felt like that bobbly bit on your wrist.  I knew that didn’t belong there and a couple hours later I was bearing my boob to my GP.  She didn’t like the look of it either, made a referral and within two weeks I was off to the breast care unit at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital. 

28th June – “You have cancer” a Grade 3 Mixed Ductal Lobular cancer to be exact. 

A SUMMER OF FUN IS REPLACED WITH HOSPITAL VISITS, SCANS AND CHEMOTHERAPY

To say the bottom fell out of my world would be an understatement.  I’ve never felt fear like it in that moment.  I was 40, I didn’t feel unwell, there was no history of breast cancer in my family.  Having lost three stone at Slimming World that year, and undertaken a lot of work on my mindset, I was ironically in the best shape of my life both mentally and physically.  And just as well as I was going to need all those positivity tools.

Suddenly my summer of our carefree holiday to Menorca, a mini trip to Edinburgh Tattoo, and no doubt countless soft play playdates was replaced with numerous hospital visits, scans, prodding and poking and then straight in with 16 rounds of chemotherapy (‘The poisoning’) starting 23rd July 2019.  This was followed by a lumpectomy (‘The chop’) in January 2020 and 5 rounds of radiotherapy (‘The frying’) just as COVID-19 lockdown was kicking off in April 2020.

DARK HUMOUR, SILLINESS AND BUSINESS AS USUAL HELPED ME AND THE PEOPLE SUPPORTING ME

I decided it could take my hair, but it wasn’t taking my humour.  I sent text messages to my friends and family making it clear it was business as usual, insisting that my dark humour and silliness would be the way forward. Once people got on board with this, it helped me keep a sense of normality. But it also helped them. 

I wasn’t making light of cancer – it’s a serious, bloody horrendous disease – but a cancer diagnosis didn’t mean my personality had to change or that it defined me. On the contrary, it was actually quite liberating to be constantly silly and a little bit sweary. After all, I couldn’t get away with that in the day job! Ironically, whilst going through treatment for cancer, I felt the most authentic version of me I think I’ve ever felt.

I tried to make it as fun as possible and grab all the opportunities that presented.  Uncle Fester at Halloween, sweep stakes on hair loss, a ‘chemo sitter’ rota for my friends to come with me on treatment days.  I’ve got so many stories.

Now, chemotherapy is no walk in the park. I had 12 x weekly poisonings of one variety of cocktails, followed up with 4 x 3 weekly poisonings of a rather nasty red concoction that was not kind. At their worst, the cumulative side-effects included: extreme fatigue, spotty skin, complete hair loss, dry skin, chemo brain, loss of taste, mouth ulcers, menopausal hot sweats, lifting nails, and a night’s stay on the NHS when I felt absolutely horrendous.

CHRISTMAS ARRIVES AND SCANS REVEALS ‘LUMPY’ HAS GONE

The good news by Christmas was that the scans revealed, or rather didn’t reveal, the presence of ‘lumpy’ anymore. 

Now you might think that this would be a time to be jubilant.  But this was actually the time I started to feel a bit down.  Going in for treatment weekly, and then three weekly, when chemo stopped it felt like my safety blanket had been taken away.  For the first time I’d got on this treatment rollercoaster I had time to stop, to think, and think “blimey, that was big”. 

In January I had a lumpectomy (removing ‘lumpy’s previous dwelling place) and two lymph nodes removed.  A biopsy confirmed NED (no evidence of disease) on the day of Brexit.  Sharing my personal journey with all big worldly events I had five sessions of radiotherapy just as we went into lockdown. 

WHAT CANCER TAUGHT ME

Cancer taught me lots of things:

  • It didn’t just force me to slow down but to STOP. I didn’t have a choice in the matter.
  • To be kinder to myself, to acknowledge my new limitations, to ask for help, to accept help, to not be afraid to talk about difficult things.
  • To let go of negativity. To look up more and notice the beauty around me, and the little wonderful things that were right there under my nose for the taking.
  • To spend more time properly noticing what the children were doing and trying to tell me, rather than saying ‘in a minute’ or ‘I’ve just got to do this first’. To say ‘yes’ more, and also to say ‘no’ more.
  • To spend time on myself, doing the things that make me happy. To be a ‘human being’ rather than a ‘human doing’.

During treatment I’d been journaling.  I always found it cathartic to empty my head of jumbled thoughts, commit them to paper and unscramble them.  To help keep on top of my phone constantly lighting up like a Christmas tree with well wishers I sent my weekly ‘cancer comms’ to all my friends and family on ‘Happy Chemo Tuesday’.

YOU SHOULD WRITE A BOOK

After calls of “you should write a book” I thought “I bloody will!”  I’d always wanted to write a book and ironically cancer gave me both the time and the subject.  I realised through my story I could reach out and help others.

I self-published ‘Take my hair (but not my humour)’ One mum’s journey seeing off breast cancer on the 1st October 2020 and hit the No.1 Amazon eBook spot.  I also donate £2 from every paperback sold to my local FORCE Cancer Charity.  At the time of writing, I’ve donated nearly £700.

If you’d like to read the full story sharing all the highs, lows, and everything in between you can either order a super-duper special edition version directly from me by emailing emma@lightboxblogger.co.uk (with photos, you won’t get that on Amazon) or you can grab the paperback or eBook version on Amazon. 

If you’d like to read more of my ramblings you can check out my website www.lightboxblogger.co.uk or follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter @lightboxblogger. 

I am so passionate about the importance of talking and sharing my story to show that positives can be found in the darkest of times if only you’re open to looking for them.

May 2021

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Claire diagnosed in 2016
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