October is Breast Cancer awareness month, a time to reflect, educate and become aware of the many sides of breast cancer. We are so happy to be bringing you this blog in collaboration with the lovely Sam of SamSpaces. Sam is inspirational, she has been diagnosed with cancer three times and is an advocate to life after cancer offering advice, support and simply a space of healing for those going through cancer or at the end of their treatment. We asked Sam to share a bit about her story and to tell us more about the wonderful work of her business SamSpaces.
Over to Sam…
Every October a wave of pink ribbons washes over our winter knitwear and tie dye plastic bracelets adorn A list wrists as they model their designer handbags, but is having a mere thirty days to focus on breast cancer, while social media encourages us to routinely check ourselves, truly raising the profile of a disease that is becoming so frequently diagnosed, that in 2014 there were approximately 990 diagnosis per day in the UK? (Cancer Research UK)
What does Breast Cancer Awareness month actually mean? Are we not already aware or do we need to be more aware in order to prevent, treat and manage this disease?
For me, breast cancer awareness month is more of a constant 365 day awareness. October always brings reflection and insight, but only as much as my frequently repeating cancerversaries! I have had three hormonal breast cancer diagnosis over the last twelve years and in February this year, my ovaries were removed with a full hysterectomy as a repercussion of my treatment. Though challenging, these experiences have shaped me into a more sensitive, open minded person and heightened my awareness of my own self care.
Back in 2006 when I was first diagnosed with grade 2 hormonally receptive breast cancer, I was in my twenties. My carefree life came to a grinding hault. After a year of radio and chemotherapy I took time to re build and looked back on the year as a minor blip.
Seven years later, with a husband and child in toe, I was diagnosed with a secondary breast cancer in my clavicle. Having a family added a whole new dynamic but after a much longer waiting period for surgery and radiotherapy I realised the effects on my mental health went way deeper than I appreciated.
When I was diagnosed with PTSD I started blogging about my cancer experience to offer solidarity to other younger patients who might be struggling to adjust to the far reaching side effects of cancer, as well as needing that empathy and support.
Being able to share my story this way was both cathartic and empowering. Openly talking about the ups and downs, as well as the complexities of life after cancer, gave me space to reflect and grow. Space became a fundamental concept for my recovery. As I began to understand the benefits of this slower pace I needed to find emotional as well as physical healing, and the Samspaces website developed. It became a resource of information, ideas and advice for any other pro-active patients who wanted to dip in and out and explore different ways and means of helping themselves and empowering their recovery.
When I was diagnosed for a third time in 2014, I was devastated. I was mystified as to how it could come back while I was taking tamoxifen and had made huge lifestyle changes. I felt more vulnerable and confused than ever but after a head spinning amount of conversations a double mastectomy and reconstruction were booked. No further treatment was required but as I convalesced, with my ‘rocks and my bags’ (Implants and drains!) I blogged in real time about what was happening but I wanted to connect to others in my shoes, face to face.
As I grew stronger, I felt inspired to create a support group for anyone affected by life post cancer; patient, survivor or supporter. Somewhere they could find a safe space to connect, relax and talk about their own experiences. The lack of formal support in this area, for me, was blindingly obvious. Having been diagnosed with depression during my first remission and falling down the rabbit holes of fertility, mental health, fatigue, parenting, relationships and so on, in subsequent remission periods, I felt passionately about offering a hand to hold to others in this position.
Clearly, I needed the group as much as everyone else. Friendships formed, confidence and resilience was uncovered. There was light! I am so proud of this space; the workshops I organise are based solely around self care and healing practices to nurture and nourish. Building this network and promoting the importance of a post cancer tribe has been energising, positive and life affirming. It has become a unique community giving purpose, not just for my writing, but with my interest in self care, healing and communication. I am also thrilled to add that in May, while I climbed Snowdon for charity, Samspaces won the MPower Award in the Inspire Category for Mums in Business.
We are so much more aware of caring for ourselves today, whether affected by illness or not. However, this is not always easy. The ultimate goal for Samspaces is to provide a practical source of encouragement and inspiration to anyone recovering from cancer and the side effects of treatment.
Below, are a few tips that have helped me cope post cancer and adjust to life in my own time;
– Rest when you need to. Call a duvet day and change plans whenever is necessary. Don’t let guilt weigh you down. Your friends will understand and staying inside under a duvet is medicine in itself.
– Yoga and walking are hugely calming, helping to connect body and mind. I am now a total yoga bunny trying to practice every day, even if just for ten minutes. It has been hugely healing both physically and emotionally. As well as my regular class with Louise Rogers Yoga, I have also been following the Find What Feels Good app and yoga with Adrienne on You Tube.
– Eat little and often. Our body needs nourishing to keep it strong and help it heal. Clean and Lean is a great cookbook to start eating as naturally as possible. Others include Eat Real Food by Julie Montagu (who I have seen speak and she is amazing!) Get The Glow by Madeleine Shaw, The Art of Living Well by Hemsley and Hemsley and The Happy Kitchen by Rachel Kelly.
– Wear comfy, breathable clothing, especially for treatment, hospital visits and travelling. Post surgery or having treatment, or even on a quiet day, lounge wear rules, be it a tracksuit, old sweater, hareem pants or sloppy joe. Knowing I am wearing breathable, natural and cotton fabrics (like those found in Asquith’s organic activewear) that won’t irritate sensitive skin (especially post treatment) but still look good, makes relaxed clothing a fashion staple!
– Post treatment and surgery, take a supplement to help your gut. As some may be aware, tension can often manifest here causing stress to the rest of the body; IBS, bloating and bad digestion. Taking a probiotic can be hugely beneficial. Bio Care do a wonderful Acidophilus.
– Finding a nutritionist was my best investment! With my nutritionists advice and knowledge, I follow a bespoke supplement plan including bone supplements and adrenal and thyroid support.
– Aromatherapy oils are also helpful. Lavender is great for calming. Neals Yard do beautiful oils and diffusers.
– Finding a holistic therapist such as a reflexologist or reiki practitioner is vital. Booking a treatment each month or every other week counts as a huge practical step in self care. Having something to look forward to on a regular basis is important for recovery too.
– Physiotherapy is also fundamental for healing scar tissue. If left unattended it can cause even more discomfort. Fascia massage is a more relaxing type of physio that I have been having and it is working wonders.
– Get a good book. There are some wonderful books that I have discovered post cancer; Mind Platter is a stunning collection of life observations, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is hugely inspiring and I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell is totally life affirming, to name a few.
– Make an Inspiration board of words, photos and pictures that inspire you. Put it somewhere you will see it frequently. I recently did a workshop with Kikki K about this, with their fabulous products and it was a huge success.
– Keep a journal, putting thoughts and feelings down on the page can help process tough and more intense feelings. Remembering to stay grateful and keep a gratitude diary can also be a more focused way of recording positive feelings.
– Write poetry, sing, play music, draw, dance, find a hobby that makes you feel positive and creative. This can help the reflection and healing process hugely.
Breast cancer awareness month gives us an opportunity to give something back whether it be our time, or money. It is about turning a negative into a positive and on a personal level, celebrating the friendships that cancer has brought me, the lessons it has taught me and the person that I have become. Having one month a year to raise awareness and highlight different cancers, can bring a focus to areas that are not as widely discussed. Bringing it to the forefront of the news, social media feeds and advertising is an effective and practical way of reaching a wider network of people. In this day and age, it is rare for anyone not to be related, or know someone, who has had a cancer diagnosis. Knowledge is power and by dedicating a month to breast cancer, we are given an opportunity to learn more about research, treatment, medical advances and fundraising. This can only be a positive.
So while we swim in pink this October, be aware; of your body, your mind, your surroundings, those close to you, those you don’t know. Be aware of yourself; your anxiety, stress, fitness, self care, happiness. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others, because someone who may not be outwardly struggling, might be on the inside. Just as someone might not look like they have been affected by cancer may be going through radiotherapy on a daily basis or recovering from a lumpectomy. Be aware, not just this October but always.
We are proud to announce that 10% of all of Asquith October sales will go to SamSpaces.