Article by Deb Hunt
My name is Deb Hunt, I live in Oxfordshire with my husband Martin, two teenage children and a horse sized Labradoodle dog named Bailey. It was on April 1st 2008 that I discovered I was to become one of the 46,000 women in the UK that are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. April 1st, ‘April Fools Day’, a day when jokes are played – unfortunately for me it was no laughing matter! At the age of 43; wife; mother; part-time charity worker; dog walker; taxi service etc etc, juggling life and trying to keep all the balls in the air on a daily basis, as we all do, I decided that I was not going to become a ‘victim’ and that I would tackle this challenge head on. A mastectomy quickly followed, then 18 weeks of chemotherapy and 5 weeks of daily doses of radiotherapy, with the weekends off for good behaviour!
Black humour got us through and smiling and laughing really was the best medicine. When I went in for my surgery I hung a picture of that famous David Beckham Armani ad on the end of my bed with the strap line ‘only doctors this good looking need stop here!’ It worked like a dream, all the doctors and nurses had a smile on their face as soon as they entered the room and it immediately banished any gloom.
I can’t pretend the chemotherapy was fun
I can’t pretend that the chemotherapy was fun, believe me, having one tit and no hair doesn’t do a lot for a girls confidence! But, with the support of wonderful family and friends and more laughter than I have ever had in my life, we made it through. I say ‘we’ because being diagnosed with any sort of cancer doesn’t just affect the individual, it has an impact on all those around you.
So, what are my top tips for getting through the biggest challenge of your life?
1. Smile, smile, smile – don’t let it get you down. If you smile, those around you smile too and I believe looking at the funny side of things really helped.
2. Write a diary (mine’s called ‘My Right Tit!’) – Write down the good things, write down the bad things, write down how you feel. When you really don’t feel like smiling it’s a good way to vent your anger and frustration at the down right unjustness of the disease and why it’s chosen to inflict itself on your life.
3. When you go in for surgery get David Beckham (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp – the choice is yours!) on the end of your bed, it works a treat!
4. After surgery aim to wear your ‘normal’ clothes as soon as possible. Girls, get your lip gloss and mascara on before the docs come round, celebrate your eyelashes – let’s face it you may be without them for a while so make the most of them while you can!
5. Get your ‘new hair’ sorted as soon as you know you will be having chemo. Take your wig to the hairdressers; get it cut to a style that suits you. Wigs usually have about 40% too much hair in them, having it styled makes it look more realistic. I took mine to Trevor Sorbie’s salon in Covent Garden and I was so pleased with mine I wore it out to lunch that day. I met people whilst on chemotherapy that had absolutely no idea what I was going through – that was a massive morale boost. Having a good wig (or several if you prefer) also gave me the pleasure (?) of shaving my hair off as soon as it started to fall out. I was in control of it, not the chemo and I didn’t even cry until I saw it disappearing up the hoover nozzle!
6. Acupuncture courses helped me too. I had a weekly session and it really helped control fatigue and also kept my blood counts high, preventing any delays in the chemo cycles.
7. If your chemo is on a 3 week cycle by the third week you usually feel reasonably good. Plan something for each of those weeks. Get out to lunch with your girl friends, do something fun, do something ‘normal’.
8. If it’s possible carry on working. I was lucky in that I had an office based job. I had one week off after each chemo cycle and then went back to work for two weeks before starting the process again. It keeps a sense of normality in your life and certainly makes the weeks go by faster.
9. Welcome all the treatment they throw at you. Accept the chemo as a friend not an enemy. The side effects may not be pleasant but at least you know it’s doing something!
10. Eat chocolate, drink wine, read magazines, laugh with friends, make the most of life and don’t let the shear damned inconvenience of having breast cancer change the person you are.
So, there you go; Deb Hunt’s top tips for getting through it.
I finished radiotherapy in November ‘08 and looking back the whole experience now seems to be a bit surreal. As I left the hospital for the last time I suddenly felt as if I had fallen into a vast void. What now? No more routine visits, no more doctors feeling your boobs (oops, sorry I meant boob!), no more monitoring your every move. I needed something to focus on and in a moment of madness decided that I would do something that I would never have considered doing before; a skydive!
Five months later I threw myself out of a plane (strapped to a good looking instructor of course!) and raised £2500 for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, the UK’s leading breast cancer charity. It was an amazing experience and made me realise that anything was achievable. I have never felt more alive than during those free-falling seconds before the parachute went up and by the time I had landed on the ground I was a different woman.
The old cliché that ‘life is for living’ is so true. Cancer is a wake up call. With the great research that is taking place, around breast cancer in particular, more women are surviving the disease but having gone through it puts a new perspective on your life. It has given me a new focus and I am now determined to help in the fight against the disease in the hope that none of my family or friends have to go through what I have been through. Great research doesn’t come without a cost so following the skydive, and a few too many glasses of wine, myself and three great friends decided that we would do something ‘big’ to raise a few more pennies for the cause.
It was a pretty fateful evening that night in the pub, because by the end of it we had decided that we were all up for a massive challenge, something that was way out of our comfort zone, something that would mean that we would have to train hard to be fit to do it and something that would be impressive enough to enable us to raise the target we had set ourselves of £20,000. That challenge is the Kilimanjaro Summit Trek in September 2010! At 5,895 metres Kilimanjaro is the highest point in the African continent and the tallest free standing mountain in the world. Now if I could just put things into context, all four of us get out of breath running up the stairs, so you can see we have quite a way to go before we tackle the summit!
This adventure has completely changed my life
This adventure has already completely changed my daily life. We all decided that we would fund the trip ourselves so that all the money raised would go to the charity (Breakthrough Breast Cancer) and have tried to approach the challenge in as business-as-like fashion as possible. We started off by getting ourselves into the local paper and from there we were offered a free fundraising website by a local web-design company, Web-Right of Chipping Norton. Having our own website (www.twin-peaks.co.uk – get the pun, twin peaks!!) has made a tremendous difference and it’s now attracting quite a bit of attention, with several corporate sponsors either donating cash or good and services that will help us reach our target.
This challenge is also a journey of self development, something that we didn’t anticipate. We have found ourselves giving press and radio interviews, meeting with business executives, learning marketing and PR tricks, blogging and Twittering (www.twitter.com/4pinkbras), all skills that will no doubt help us in the future. It’s also been amazingly good fun thinking up different fundraising ideas and innovative ways to get people to part with their money, as charities in particular are finding it hard in the present economic climate.
We produced a cheeky 2010 calendar featuring all local business men called ‘Chaps for Baps!’ They advertised their business with a tongue in cheek pose, a cheeky smile and very little else! All the photos were in black and white with a pink bra somewhere in the scene. It was received really well and raised around £3500 on its own. Six months in to our fundraising and we have just gone over the £16,500 mark and have been very humbled by the support received by old and new friends alike.
We are all trying to concentrate on the training too and are now regular visitors to the gym. Kilimanjaro will I am sure be another life changing experience, a massive challenge but one that we are all determined to meet.
So you see, there is life after breast cancer. If I’m being totally honest I think it’s fair to say that my life is better after breast cancer. I enjoy and appreciate my friends and family much more than I did before (and that was quite a lot!); I try to see the funny side and the positive in everything; I don’t take things for granted, and I make the most of each day. All these things have new meaning when you become a ‘survivor’. At the end of the day, none of us know how long the Earth will be graced with our unique presence, so let’s make the most of it while we can and make a difference whilst we’re here.
If you would like to help us achieve our mountainous mission please check out our website www.twin-peaks.co.uk