Thursday, 9 March 2017

Flesh and Bone

You are made of all the suns, moons and stars.

You are made of all the oceans and all the skies.

You have all of the world in your heart.

You are fire and ice, you are wind and earth.

You have galaxies in your eyes and the universe in your soul.


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Let's Talk About Cancer

I've had the most difficult year and a half of my life. And I want to share my story.

In September 2015, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

In January 2016, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.

*breathes in and out*

It all started in January 2015, when I was stuck in bed for a week with unbearable pain. I couldn't move, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat. It felt like something was attacking my insides. So I went to the doctor. After a bit of prodding and poking, they went "hmmm well, we're not quite sure what it is." SO they referred me for an ultrasound scan at the hospital.

That scan was so weird. I went in, expecting it to be perfectly fine. Just a little scan of my tummy then I'd be off home. The ultrasound nurse moved her little thingy across my tummy, and she kept going back to the same place. I knew she had noticed something, but she didn't say what. She asked another nurse to come in, and they said they weren't "sure what it is but we'll refer you for a CT scan". Great, another scan.

I went for the CT scan, where they said the same thing as before - and referred me for a biopsy. Now, by this point, it was July and I didn't have the pain anymore. But doctors still wanted to know what was up. They were telling me it could be a cyst or an infection. I had no clue, I just wanted to know what it was so I could stop going to the hospital. The place freaked me out.

I had biopsies taken from my lung, and about two weeks later - on a Monday, I received an email saying I needed to go in urgently.

I was only three days into my new job at the time, in a school, so I told them to wait until my appointment on the Wednesday. I didn't wanna mess up my first week of work by taking off. Oh boy, little did I know..

My doctor wanted to talk to my BSL interpreter in private first, which made me a bit suspicious. When I went in, I looked at my interpreter's face and she was completely white. I knew it wasn't good.

She was straight to the point. "Rebecca, you've got cancer. Thyroid cancer."

My whole world came crashing down.

My first thought was, "will I die?"

What happened next is a blur. I burst into tears. "But I FEEL FINE! I feel completely FINE!" I screamed.

After I calmed down, the doctor explained that she was sending me to the Royal Marsden Hospital in South Kensington, London. The Royal Marsden is the "world's first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education." (quoted from its website)

Something my doctor said really resonated with me.

"Rebecca, you are young and you are fit. You are healthy(ish). You CAN fight this. You CAN beat this. There's no reason why you shouldn't, you are strong and capable of fighting."

And she was right. Why should I give up because I have a cancer diagnosis?

That isn't going to stop me. Oh no. I'm going to conquer this. I am a warrior.

That night, I went home and I thought long and hard. I told my closest family members and my closest friends. There were tears, there were long hugs, there were determined fist punches - "YOU CAN DO THIS, GIRL." It was amazing.

I had work the next day, and Mum asked me if I wanted to go. I said yes. I didn't want to let this take over my life. I still had a job, dreams, hopes and goals for the future, and damn it, I was going to achieve them all.

The next few weeks were crazy. The craziest weeks of my life.

Even more blood tests, urine tests, heart scans, CT scans, even one where I was injected with a radioactive tracer. I had to stay away from young children and pregnant women for a few days (lol). Blood pressure checks, ECGs, urine tests. You name it, I had it. I was being poked EVERYWHERE.

At my first appointment there were literally six or seven doctors all crammed into a tiny room with me, my parents and my interpreter. It was overwhelming.

I definitely did a lifetime's worth of crying in the first few weeks and months.

But I met the doctor who would take me under her care. She was a Consultant Clinical Oncologist, for the head and neck, particularly thyroid. She was in charge of my treatment, and I had a lovely team who would look after me every time I went for an appointment. They went above and beyond to accommodate me, giving me their emails so I could contact them any time I wanted. They always ask how I am, what I've been doing, what my future plans are.

Then I finally got the go ahead to start treatment. In a sense, I'm sort of lucky because the treatment I'm on doesn't mean I lose my hair. But the side effects are very much real. I suffer from extreme fatigue, acne and super-sensitive skin, so I have to stay out of sunlight. That's OK, I never really liked being in the sun anyway.

After the diagnosis of cancer, everything was just so rushed and I had appointments every week that I didn't get a chance to realise that I still had stomach problems. I always have had problems when going to the toilet and stomach aches for most of my teenage/adult life. After a CT scan the consultant saw something was wrong with my bowel. There was a hole in it.

Here we go again..

My consultant, to be on the safe side, referred me to one of the Gastroentreologists at the RM. I had colonoscopies, more blood tests and also had to do a food diary to see what were causing my symptoms.

When they finally told me I had a certain form of Ulcerative Colitis, I was relieved. It meant I could put a name to the disease, and get it under control. I am on lifelong medication, and I've had to adapt my diet - but it's been for the better. I still have bad days where I have flare-ups, or eat something that triggers a stomach ache. I'm still learning what suits me and what doesn't.

So there's that. A mad year and a half, huh? I'm still adapting to it myself..

I have SO much to thank the Royal Marsden for. I feel so lucky and blessed to be a patient at such a world class hospital, where the staff are so devoted to their work and where they make amazing advances in treatment and research. The staff are truly angels - they've been absolute saviours to me and my family.

I wanted to share my story to raise awareness of both thyroid cancer and Ulcerative Colitis, and so I'm going to use this blog as a means of talking about life with both diseases. I won't share the exact details of what type it is, or what stage I'm at, because that's personal. I simply want to show what it's like as a Cancer Slayer and UC Warrior.

As my best friend so eloquently put it, I literally take each day and chew it and spit it out onto the floor and step over it like gum.

I travelled through Europe last summer against doctor's orders, with a bowel infection. I had surgery on my stomach in October last year, and I was out of hospital after 6 days (they'd said at least two weeks staying in hospital). My point is, this won't stop me. I'm going to live my life as much as I can, and see as much of the world as I'm physically able to. I am going to #fightlikeagirl.

I will live the life I dream of.

Finally, thank you for reading this post. I know it was super long - well done if you've read this far!




Friday, 13 January 2017

Postcards from Europe

Last summer, one of my dreams finally came true. I went interrailing through Europe, and it was the most wonderful experience of my life. I went with my brother and three cousins, which made it all the more fun!

Interrailing is where you travel through countries on trains. You buy a pass - it could be an one-country pass or a global pass. We got global passes as we wanted to go all over Europe. We were selective about which countries we wanted to visit - I knew Italy was number one on my list. My brother wanted to go to Austria, my cousins wanted to go to Germany and Italy. It all came together quite well and we created a schedule that was easy to manage. with train times and hostel bookings.

We started our journey in Prague, Czech Republic, and travelled to Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and ended our travels in Italy. Along the way, we visited the cities of Vienna, Salzburg, Hallstatt, Munich, Bratislava, Zurich, Milan, Florence, Pisa, Rome, Pompeii and Venice.

I was worried that I'd struggle with the hot weather in Europe, as I'm supposed to stay out of the sun due to my condition. It was difficult, and I was told not to travel, but I was determined to do it. I got through it because I had my brother and cousins supporting me each step of the way. There were certain things I couldn't do, like walk up all the steps to the top of the Vatican in Rome. But I still managed to walk everywhere, carry a heavy backpack, battle through fatigue and take all my medication on time. GO me!

One of my favourite things about interrailing was how surprisingly easy it was. Obviously, it took a fair amount of planning and consideration, but it all went smoothly and we didn't have any major problems. Although my phone stopped working in Venice - thanks to the hot weather for overheating it! 

Each city was beautiful in its own right. I'm so grateful and blessed that I had the chance to go on this trip. I even wrote about my desire to visit Europe in this blog post from 2014 here

Venice was undoubtedly my favourite European city - the charm of the Italians, the vibrant markets, the relaxing Venetian way of life. I was amazed by how an entire city functioned almost entirely on water. The fact that to get to the other side of the city you need to take a water bus or taxi fascinated me so much.

Italy was my absolute favourite country - incredible architecture, steeped in history, mouthwatering food, beautiful weather, bloody good markets, charming Italians. What more could you ask for?! It definitely stole my heart, and I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Hope you enjoyed those little snippets from my adventure.



If you want to go on your own interrailing adventure - here's the link to the Interrail site.

Friday, 6 January 2017

And she's back..

So here it is. My first blog post in two years.

Hello my old friend..

So much has happened that I can't even keep up. And I missed this little space of the internet, so I decided to write again. I missed it. I miss writing, I miss letting my words pour out of my fingers as my jumbled up thoughts form themselves into sentences. Or nonsense.

I've been so inspired by other women lately, and it's about damn time I had a purpose in my life again. Writing (and reading) is a form of mediation for me, it's my outlet where I express myself. Be that on this blog, a notebook, my diary or the notes on my iPhone.

The last year and a half of my life has been insane, to say the least. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and Ulcerative Colitis, within a few months of each other. JEEZ, right? (more on that in a different post..)

So that's the reason why I want to start using this space as somewhere I can share my story with you. I want to write about my journey as I attempt to navigate through life while living with cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. As well as the fun moments, of course!

I cannot wait. It feels good to be back.



Sunday, 21 December 2014

Snapshots #1

A few snapshots from this week..

1. My cat Lily, being as adorable and sweet as ever.
2. Royal Albert Docks, around nine in the morning as I was on my daily commute to uni.
3. Poems on the Underground.
4. My view of the City of London as my train departed Liverpool Street.
5. A random shot of the sunset, and I noticed a few orbs.. I think someone up there's looking down on me. 

Follow me on Instagram at @rebeccaash_ for more snippets from my life.


Friday, 19 December 2014

The Breakfast Club

Time for me to broadcast my love for The Breakfast Club. This is a new find for me, a hidden gem in the heart of London's busy and bustling Liverpool Street. They have a few branches all over London, which I hope I'll get to visit in due course.

I've been twice, and it's safe to say it's up in my top five places to eat. They do the most amazing breakfasts, American style, but they also do lunch/dinner and it's such a lovely, retro place. The whole cafe is decorated in the style of a quirky American diner, with mismatched furniture, homely mugs and neon signs. When we walked in, there was a wall full of ripped out notes and receipts, Polaroids and even phone numbers from people who had visited from all over the world and enjoyed their time at the Breakfast Club so much they'd decided to leave a bit of them behind.

It was almost impossible to pick something from the menu, but I went for the American pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. OH MY GOD, IT WAS AMAZING. I was always suspicious about the combination of maple syrup and bacon, but let me tell you - it works. It works soooo good. The next time I visited, I had halloumi wraps with mac and cheese, which was equally just as amazing. I am literally drooling just writing this. My friend went for this delicious chorizo, poached egg and avocado on toast. 

And we couldn't leave without writing something on the walls in the toilets, schoolgirl style. How amazing is that My Little Pony wallpaper?!

The Breakfast Club is firmly on my list of favourite eateries in London, it's the perfect place to meet a friend for lunch and I'll definitely be coming back for more. And more. And a bit more. And a whole lotta more...


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Feeling Festive

Christmas is my absolute favourite time of the year. There's a certain feeling of merry cheer in the air, and people seem to be excited everywhere I go. (apart from Liverpool Street in the 8am rush hour!) I thought I'd make a post on what's making me feel festive this year..

- We put up our tree quite early this year, on the 28th November. I really wanted to go all out for Christmas this year, as we lost my nana quite close to Christmas last year and didn't feel too festive at the time. So my mum and I went shopping for new decorations - we bought lots of quirky little decorations and went for a red and gold theme, as I wanted to go down the traditional route. Dad's job was to adorn the house with Christmas lights and candles, and every time I go downstairs I'm greeted with twinkling lights. Certainly an easy way to get you into the Christmassy mood!

- I also absolutely love the seasonal drinks from Costa Coffee. Is it just me, or does anyone else prefer Costa over Starbucks?! I tried the brownie hot chocolate (heavenly) and last week, I tried the white hot chocolate. SWEET BABY JESUS, IT IS JUST THE BEST. I may have had it twice in the space of a week.. Hello calories.

- I've been watching Christmas films non-stop. The Santa Clause trilogy, Elf, Home Alone, A Christmas Carol, The Polar Express, basically anything Christmassy that is on Sky Movies. There's just something special about Christmas films that makes me feel like a kid again.

- I can't wait to see the family for Christmas dinner. Every year we always host dinner at our house, and it's truly one of the best family meals of the year. I haven't seen my aunts, uncles or cousins in quite a while, so I'm looking forward to exchanging stories and playing board games, as is the tradition in our household. 

- London at Christmas. There's just something about London at Christmas - everywhere I go, I see Christmas trees, lights on the streets, decorations in every shop window, people dressed up as Santa Claus or elves. The Christmas displays at Selfridges are always beautiful, but this year I was especially taken aback by the fairytale theme. Fairytales are one of my favourite things, so it reminded me a lot of the fond memories of my childhood.

What are your favourite things about Christmas? What's making you feel festive this year?