Breast Cancer and Me.

Just over a month ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

When the consultant told me, it was as if all the noise had been sucked out of the room. I knew I had a lump, so I got it checked and half-convinced myself that everything would be fine. But instead, on a beautiful summer’s day, I was told that the lump in my breast was cancerous.

I remember few things in that initial blur except my mum’s shock and the consultant saying the cancer was treatable – I clung to that word like a person at sea clinging to a rubber ring.

My mind went blank after that bombshell, until I went into another room with my mum and one of the nurses and cried my eyes out. A few minutes later, I had to have another biopsy, this time to check whether my lymph nodes were affected. I cried throughout – not because it hurt, but because I was in shock. Mum reassured me that whatever happened we would get through it, but I was in a daze.

Telling my family and friends was hard – every time I told someone close to me, I ended up tearful. My dad had no idea because I did not want to worry him until I knew the results. When I told him, he gave me a huge hug and tried to hold his emotions in check. I told my brother and sister later that day and there were lots of tears, hugs and some laughter, which was what I needed in a heavy situation like that.

The whole week leading up to the second biopsy result was awful. Everyone I know sees me as a positive person but I constantly worried that the consultant would have more bad news for me. When I went back, I discovered that my lymph nodes were also affected which was not great but, weirdly, I felt relieved knowing because waiting for results when diagnosed with breast cancer (or any cancer) is the pits.

I have had many health issues throughout my life, mainly concerning my heart. Countless operations, check-ups, a heart valve replacement – I’ve had them all. You could say I’m a veteran, but that makes me sound old (I prefer to be called unique, thanks). But this was something else. All my operations took place when I was younger and – if I’m honest – I did not understand the enormity and complexity of what I was going through. Whereas now, I’m older and wiser and understand what I’m facing.

Also when I had my heart operations, they were usually the last thing and once I got over that, I was on the road to recovery. With breast cancer, the operation felt like the beginning.

My operation was due to take place within ten days of my diagnosis but was postponed (with good reason) until a week later. I had a lumpectomy and axillary node clearance, but have to undergo another (minor) operation. I’m not as worried about that because nothing compares to the nerves I felt before my first op. After that, it’s all about what comes next: radiotherapy, chemotherapy or both? I’m steeling myself to undergo both treatments.

Physically, I feel ok. Although my wound is still sore and tight, it is healing well and feeling steady. I’m mainly thinking positive and trying to be good to myself. I have had so much love from my family and friends – but it is not always easy. I wish I could magic the cancer away. I wish I could go to the gym and (if I exercise hard enough) all this would disappear, but it does not work like that. So I distract myself by writing, drawing, watching TV and scrolling through Twitter.

My cancer situation has triggered a whole load of emotions. When I got the initial diagnosis, I was very upset and surprised at how angry I was. My other health issues had calmed down so I was looking forward to a lovely summer, going out and enjoying life. Now, all that was on hold and I didn’t know how long for.

Also, this is happening during the hottest summer Britain has had in decades. Bar the torrential downpour that came a couple of weeks ago, London has had no rain since May, just wall-to-wall blue skies and sunshine. It is both amazing and unbearable.

Now, ladies (and gentlemen), I cannot stress enough how important it is to check your breasts. If you feel awkward doing so then you need to start getting acquainted with your body. If you think something feels a bit odd but not enough for you to go to the doctor – DO IT ANYWAY. Too many people choose to ignore things instead. Don’t do this. Check yourself and get checked out. ❤️

©️ G. Holder 2018

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Korean Skincare Cleansing Routine: My Verdict.

I tried the Korean 10-step skincare routine that has revolutionised the beauty world. Here are my thoughts on how it went…

Why?

I am a sucker for beauty products and love trying and buying new skincare items and finding different ways to get great skin. Although my skincare routine prior to this made my face flawless, I had been wearing more make-up recently and was keen to try out Korean-style cleansing, so I threw caution to the wind and went for it.

The method.

The 10 steps to glorious skin Korean-style are laid out below:

To start with, I cleansed my face with extra virgin olive oil almost everyday, smothering it all over my boat-race with abandon before wiping it off with a hot(ish) cloth. I then used my soap-free face wash (from a well-known brand) or my cleansing lotion to complete the double cleanse.

After that, it was onto the toner, then I gave the essence a swerve. I will freely admit that I sort of skipped that part because I am a cheap bitch and did not fancy paying over £60 for something that may or may not have aggravated my dry and sensitive skin. I am a high-street kinda girl – nothing wrong with more expensive items but high-street stores have upped their game when it comes to skincare.

Also, facial essence is quite a highbrow product and I could not find many on the high street, only online at ridiculous prices. So I used a Vitamin C skin booster as an inexpensive alternative to the essence and mixed it with my facial serum. But the strong scent of the skin booster triggered a reaction (the serum was not fragranced) so I had to stay away from that as well.

I finished off with the final three steps (eye cream, Shea butter and cocoa butter) and went on my merry way.

The result.

I was so enthusiastic when I started adopting the Korean skincare routine. It may have ten steps but it was not as long-winded as I thought it would be. I enjoyed the self-care element of it, as you couldn’t really rush yourself. You had to give yourself a bit of time to devote to your face and that practice was nice.

But I soon realised that double cleansing literally meant over-cleansing. Yes, the routine removed every last bit of makeup from my face, but a few days after I started, several dreadful dark patches rocked up on my face. I’ve had these patches many times before and now they are on my forehead and all over my cheeks and around my mouth. The irony is my face felt good and not dried out or dehydrated, but the dark areas showed up to a party they were not invited to, along with a load of blemishes and have scarred my face.

The Koreans are all about looking after their skin with more than a face wipe and, while I understand that this is beneficial, there is such a thing as over-cleansing. The whole ten-step routine proved too much for me. The glowing skin that I had a fortnight ago had gone and it was all because I over-cleansed. My skin was telling me, ‘Leave it, Gill,’ and I did not notice until it was too late.

I still think oil cleansing is a good way to cleanse your skin, especially if you have been wearing make-up all day. It purged all traces of foundation and concealer, but it also dried my skin out and gave me an uneven skintone. However, I will continue using this method, but not so often – once or twice a week rather than everyday. After all, less is more. People with oily skin would more than likely find double cleansing to be a real boost to their skincare regime but for me, doing that on a daily basis was problematic.

So now I’m going back to basics to restore my face to its former glory. Bish, bash, bosh.

Overall, I’m glad I tried the routine by I realised that a lot of these skincare trends aren’t for me. Ten steps to flawless skin is not happening via this method. I’m keeping it simple from now on.

Sizing Up ‘Mermaid Thighs’.

A new trend has apparently swept social media and women are feeling happier and perkier because of it. It’s called ‘mermaid thighs’ and is (and I quote): ‘curvy thighs that meet like a mermaid’s tail.’ Sounds like everyday regular thighs to me but, to my surprise, I found over 6,000 posts on Instagram tagged with #mermaidthighs, all proclaiming body positivity.

I am 110% for body positivity and if you want to post a photo of your thighs for the world to see, then go for it. My issue with ‘mermaid thighs’ is that something that 98% of women have is being treated as a trend. It is not a trend. I’m always late when it comes to following trends anyway and having big thighs is not something I wanted to try for a while and then discard when something new comes along- I was born this way, so I work with it. 

Why are people marvelling in wonder at such a thing? ‘Oh my word- a pair of big thighs! On a woman! Wow!’ Seriously? It is a normal thing that a lot of women have, like cellulite or short eyelashes, so pardon me if I do not see why ‘mermaid thighs’ are considered revolutionary.

If we go back in time to the whole ‘thigh gap’ phase, as we all should know by now that was something promoted to make women feel inferior to models and celebrities who had these airbrushed into their pictures. Of course, there are naturally slim women who have naturally slender thighs and that’s lovely but this is not about them- this is about women like me who have thighs that could start a fire (possibly). Possessing a pair of ‘mermaid thighs’ sounds nice but is not something that I feel needs a funky name attached to it. Nor is it something to be ashamed of. To class it as a trend is problematic. We should not treat it as something that is in season one minute, but when summer comes around, suddenly it is ot of fashion. It is a vicious circle that messes with women’s heads as they feel like they are never enough. To put it bluntly, it’s bullshit. 

So as I say, if you want to post your big beautiful thighs (or other parts of your body) on social media, do it- but don’t be sucked into doing it as part of a ‘trend’. For many of us, it’s a fact of life so sod your trendy terminology. I’ve got chunky thighs and that’s that. 

Love Yourself.

This year I am trying to do better in various aspects of my life. One of my main goals is learning to love myself because such a thing does not come easily to me. 

So imagine my interest when I came across an article today which listed fifty ways to love yourself. I had a read and it was ok, but I soon realised that this list was for someone who most likely lived in sunny California, not in wintry London Town. 

Telling me to ‘skinny dip in the ocean’ as an act of self-love is not going to work. The nearest thing to an ocean where I live is the River Thames and I would not wish skinny dipping in there on my worst enemy. There are absolutely no healing properties in that murky river, unless you count the ice-cold feeling that envelops you as you dive in.  

Another thing they mentioned was to ‘catch the sunrise’. This sounds lovely and I’ll admit it is nice to wake up in the summer to the sun shining and birds chirping, getting a fresh cup of tea and eating grapefruit in your garden or on your balcony, feeling like you’re in Florida. But when it is winter it’s a different story. It is pitch black when you wake up and the last thing you want to do is look at the sun. You flinch at the bathroom light when you wash your face. Then you moan about your impending commute and having to stand next to someone who either: 

A) has smelly armpits 

B) coughs or sneezes without covering their mouth

C) is playing music which is leaking through their tinny headphones while you’re trying to have a nap. 

By the time you get to work (or your train comes up from underground) you have missed the sunrise.


Another one was to breathe deeply all the time. Let’s be honest, this is not really feasible. Meditation is a great thing, but breathing deeply all day every day will result in people looking at you as if you’ve gone mad. It’s not a doctors appointment! There will be times when your breath will be shallow as a puddle, so maybe you should save your (deep) breath for those moments instead. 

So here are a few of my ways to love yourself. There aren’t fifty of them…but at least I won’t be telling you to go skinny dipping in an ocean:

•Stop comparing yourself to other people. 

Do not feel inferior just because someone you know has achieved something big, or that random woman on the bus looks amazing and full of confidence. For all you know, they might be comparing themselves to you. There is only one of you so own it. 



•Have a chat with someone you like/love about life. 

This might sound like small talk but it’s not- it must be with someone you can tolerate for more than five minutes. Bonus points if you start talking about random crap. 

•Laugh like a hyena at something funny. 

I was in a mood the other day and sat moping on the train, when I came across a video of a man in a polar bear suit falling over on an ice rink several times. It did the trick because I cried with laughter and the woman sitting opposite me momentarily looked a bit worried.



•Wear something that makes you happy. 

It could be the brightest or the blackest item in your wardrobe. It could be a red lipstick or a fedora for all I care, but if it makes you feel golden when you wear it, then put it on. 

•Dance.                                                             

The thing about dancing is that a lot of people get nervous about it. I love dancing but even I take a while to feel comfortable enough to get on the dancefloor (once I am, everybody. Stand. Back.). Don’t worry if you have no co-ordination or rhythm or you don’t look ‘cool’- just embrace it. If you’re still unsure, two-step all the way and add a bit of your own sass. As choreographer Martha Graham once said: “Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.”

Do not put yourself down.                  

There are enough people out there doing that for you. When that feeling comes a-crawling, shake it off and think of something that makes you feel good. Keep hold of that thought for as long as possible and go on from there. Yes, you can’t be positive twenty-four hours a day but there must be something about you that makes you go, ‘yeah…I’m alright, y’know.’

Take heed of your own advice.        

If you’re the one that your friends turn to for advice, but you never take heed of your own words, you need to start doing so. Now. 

List your favourite things, or things that happened that made you smile. 

These things could have happened today or across an entire week but whatever they are, write them down (and no, I don’t mean seeing someone you don’t like having karma pay them a visit. It has to be positive, so your negative thoughts about that man/woman in the other department can wait until another time). 

Show Love.

Today is World Mental Health Day so I wrote this. 💛

Show love and be kind to yourself,

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else

It is futile and makes no sense

(I know this from personal experience).

Life is not supposed to be a race

We’re all slightly odd, there’s no disgrace

If you’re feeling down and lost and low

And you feel there’s nowhere you can go

Or no one to talk to, take a look around

There’s always an outlet to be found

That’s available, so try and take heed

Whenever you’re ready or feel the need

Sometimes in life, the shit hits the fan

And ruins all your best made plans

It might sound trite but be positive,

Because you’ve got so much to give. 

© G. Holder 2016.

Smoky and the Bullshit.

I woke up this morning to hear that e-cigarettes could be available to smokers on the NHS. I already wasn’t in the mood to get up and go to work and this nonsense has made me even more annoyed. The NHS is supposed to help people, not become a crutch for those who can’t be bothered to give up smoking.

I think this is an absolutely ridiculous idea and I’m sure I’m not the only one saying this. If smokers want to smoke- or even kick the habit -then that is their choice, but surely it would be more beneficial if nicotine patches and gum were free on the NHS? These are designed to help people try to give up smoking and also, from what I have seen in the shops, these items are very expensive (£10 for a pack of nicotine gum?!). E-cigarettes should not be prescribed. At all. Anyway those that want one can afford to get one and already have one, judging by how many I see smoking them in the street.
           
There are medicines out that are held back from being made available on the NHS because it is allegedly too expensive- things that are far more important than e-cigarettes.
If you want to make a list of what should be prescribed on the NHS, how about tampons and sanitary towels or pads, especially for women like me who suffer terribly every month? Nah, of course not because the powers-that-be hang us women out to dry and make us spend our hard-earned cash bulk-buying in Boots and Superdrug. To them, it is all about the revenue they make from such life-affirming products (you may mock but they are the difference between dignity and the embarassment of leaking on a chair on your heaviest bloodiest day). I hate to say this but if men had periods, pads would be available on the NHS. Mind you we had a woman in power and what did she do for us in that area? Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

So far, this e-cigarette idea is merely a proposal- nothing is set in stone. But if it becomes reality, it will make a mockery of the NHS and what it is truly about.

The Election Section.

Just a quick note on tomorrow’s general election. The day is nearly upon us where Britain decides who they are voting for. Most people I have spoken to are still undecided and won’t make up their mind until they get in the polling booth. I think I know who I am voting for but, much like this election, anything can happen.

Here are my thoughts on a few things that are important to me and will influence who I vote for. 

1. The NHS. It needs sorting. Get rid of some of the Chief Executives of certain hospital trusts who seem to do nothing of note. Take their massive six-figure salaries and spend it on the essentials. Wards! Beds! Staff! Training of doctors and nurses! The NHS saved my life many times and there is not one person in this country who has not been indebted to this great big creaking system. It is a vital part of the tapestry of British life. It does not need endless budget cuts, nor does it need to be privatised, it needs to (in the words of Dizzee Rascal) fix up, look sharp. An overhaul of some sort but for the love of God, no privatisation because if it is, we are all fucked. There is no other way of putting it. 

2. Housing. We need more affordable housing; places big enough for people to live in and to swing a cat in (figuratively, of course). It’s all well and good building houses but not everyone can afford to get on the property ladder, particularly in London and if you read the load of cobblers known as the Evening Standard newspaper, you’ll understand why. All they do is talk about the ultra-expensive properties owned by oligarchs and the like, which are just like a really fit man: great to look at and fantasise, but (in my case) out of reach. Speaking of London…

3. London. Gentrification is rife and I understand the need to turn certain parts of the capital into more well-kept areas…but this is not always a positive. I hate the way it appears to be turning into a rich man’s playground, with oligarchs and sheikhs helping prices to hike up and go through the roof. I hate how certain establishments are closing down; places where people gathered to feel at home and find a sense of belonging. The number of pubs are dwindling and I find that to be a shame. Many are turning into fancy gastropubs and places where they serve food on manky wooden chopping boards. If we are not careful, London will become more…minimalist. Stripped down, homogenous, lifeless and bland- everything that it is not. 

4. Travel. Stop the absolute travesty that is the high-fallutin’ HS2 railway system and the potential trampling of the great British countryside and concentrate on fixing up the current national rail service, dammit! The whole country knows how bad it is (see London Bridge and plenty of other mainline train stations nationwide), but the powers-that-be have their heads in the sand and would rather spunk money up the wall on a new toy to show off to their new friends in faraway places than focus on what is wrong at the moment. Look at what happened just last week at Clapham Junction- the train broke down andpassengers had to be led off the tracks. Engineering works are always overrunning and yet we are all paying more every year for late and terrible service. David Cameron said the Conservatives will freeze train fares if he wins this election. But Crossrail and HS2 do not come cheap, so how the hell is he going to see through this fare freeze? It is unlikely this will go to plan, Dave…

Anyway, I hope the right person and party (or parties) get into 10 Downing Street and things get better, not bleaker for us all.