Feel Good 100 with Feel Good Drinks

A lot of pretty cool things have happened to me since I got diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015. I mean, chemotherapy was a riot and having a mastectomy and the followup surgeries was my favourite thing, obviously, but those things aside, I’ve been lucky enough to get some awesome opportunities. From having my name featured on a Formula 1 Car, to walking in the Breast Cancer Care fashion show,  joining an army of incredible women and regularly strapping on an enormous boob as one of CoppaFeel!’s Boobettes, to taking the jump and going freelance, pursuing my dreams of writing something that matters (though this may be temporarily on hold), I’ve been so very, very lucky. I’m grateful for all of these opportunities. The last two years haven’t been easy, but they’ve been pretty entertaining on the whole.

And I’ve started saying yes to things I never would have said yes to before. I think I’ve talked about this before, but I just don’t see the point in letting my nerves or fear or apprehension or anxiety stopping me from doing things. I’m pretty lucky to still be here, so why should I neglect opportunities that come my way? There’s a lot of things I can’t do right now (like surf) so why wouldn’t I say yes to things I can do? Even if they rip me out of my comfort zone and plonk me down next a beautiful lake in Malaga, completely naked and surrounded by 99 other naked women, all about to skinny dip in the aforementioned lake, I feel like I have a duty to do them. A duty to say yes. To myself as much as anyone.

Oh yeah. That lake thing actually happened. That wasn’t just some wild stream of whimsy consciousness I went off on there. A few weeks ago, along with some of my other awesome Boobette Babes and a bunch of other women from all over the UK, Feel Good Drinks escorted us out to Spain for their Feel Good 100 project. Their idea? To promote their 100% natural drinks they wanted to get 100 women in a 100% natural environment in 100% their natural state.

So here we were. Women of all shapes and sizes. A handful of breast cancer survivors. Models. Bloggers. Mothers. Every single person with a story that had led them to say yes to this opportunity.

So there I was. In beautiful sunshine in a stunning location with an incredible group of women wandering around with my The Artist Formerly Known as Breast out for everyone to see. Bizarrely, I felt more self conscious of the boob I still have than the war wound that marks my experience of breast cancer, but mostly I felt liberated. With all my wobbly bits and all my scars on show, there was something really honest about baring everything. Probably more honest than I had been with or about my body in a very long time.

Today marks two years since I had my mastectomy. Since the start of my treatment, I suppose. The start of my “triathalon”. In terms of surgery, it’s kind of turned into the Marathon des Sables, with 7 surgeries down and (hopefully) only two more to go. But at the end of this month I’ll go back to having two boobs as my (hopefully) penultimate surgery sees me have an expander implant put under the fat they’ve gathered from my legs and stomach in the past couple of surgeries. It looks like this is gonna be a big ‘un. Another scar. Drains. More liposuction. More bruising. More exhaustion. But I’m here, eh? I’m alive and kicking. Who cares if it works out that on average, I’ve had a surgery every three months for the last two years (I do a little bit. But only a touch).

The timing was really right for me with this campaign. I’m constantly searching for ways to feel alive at the moment and I really did feel alive and grateful for this opportunity. It kind of marked a transition in my treatment as I come to the end of living flat, 22 months after I had my implant removed. It’s the start of the end of my cycle of surgeries (hopefully) and I loved being able to celebrate my body honestly – for what it was before cancer, what it is now and what it will become. I still have so much growing and healing and learning to do.

feel good drinks

You can see the video created by Feel Good Drinks here – and I’d also recommend getting your hands on their infusions range. Genuinely delicious.

Beauty Tips for Cancer Patients

During my cancer-based travels, I’ve met a lot of people. Doctors, nurses, radiotherapists, other people living with cancer. But none have had as big an impact on me as my Boob Gang girls. There’s three of us in Boob Gang. Kate, Izzy and myself. Kate and I decided to be friends after she found out she had cancer having read my blog (still feel conflicted good and bad about that), and Izzy and I got introduced to each other at the Breast Clinic by our hero breast care nurse. Not only have they been an incredible source of strength, support and humour, but they’re both exceptionally talented, remarkable and intelligent individuals that I feel proud to call my friends.

Now, Izzy has a particular set of skills that I am distinctly lacking. She is an exceptionally gifted makeup artist (you can find her on Instagram and check out her website) and I know how many women struggle with their appearance while going through cancer treatment, so I asked her if she’d be interested in sharing some of her make-up know how right here. She said yes! So here are her top tips (and actually, a lot of them are just handy for life):

Skin

Your skin gets a hard time on during cancer treatment. Chemotherapy targets the fastest growing cells, and can’t distinguish between what’s good and bad, while there’s also a chance you’re getting jabbed with a range of hormones. The many skin side affects of cancer treatment range from pubescent breakouts to skin that feels like sandpaper. Keep your skin moisturised, introduce gentle products to your skin care. Avoid washing your face with water, it can make the skin feel drier and sometimes more sensitive. A creamy cleanser wiped away gently with a soft muslin cloth or cotton wool pad is much kinder to the skin. Jojoba seed oil is an amazing base oil; kind and nourishing for the skin and even gentle enough for acne breakouts. My go to is MV Organic Pure Jojoba.

Brows

On the days you don’t want to feel like you’re channeling Lady Gaga 2016, and would like to see some brow use a soft brow pencil, ideally with a waxy texture, to create the shape and offer more hold. Start from the inner corner (closest to your nose) and slowly stroke the pencil upwards and into the middle of the brow bone, pulling up slightly to create the arch, and then work the pencil along and out towards the ear keeping the outer corner of the brow a little finer, where it should taper off at the end.

You can always fix any mistakes with a cotton bud and makeup remover and I would still brush very gently over the brow shape to soften a little. There’s always the option to use an eyebrow stencil too – just hold the stencil in place and begin filing in with your brow product.

Lips

Neal’s Yard Bee Lovely Lip Balm is amazing for soothing dry cracked lips and there’s no petroleum in sight! After applying, grab whichever of your favourite lipstick, gloss, lip crayon you fancy wearing and slap it on. This is an easy way to spruce up both your appearance and your mood – a little lipstick goes a very long way.

When your lips aren’t feeling sore, a gentle buff with an old toothbrush is a quick and easy way to exfoliate your smackers!

Eyes

You don’t have to fiddle with glue and spider lashes after the final lash that has been clinging on decides to call it a day. To instantly create definition, use an eyeliner to draw along the lash line and into the upper waterline too. Pencil liners and kohl’s give a softer and subtler finish. Pat a little eyeshadow over the top of your liner to lock in the colour and add a bit more lasting power. Add a little more dimension by using a shadow deeper than your skin tone blend it into the socket of the eye.

Before applying anything, use an eye base primer to dramatically improve the longevity and application of shadows and liners.

To help hide dark circles – the sure fire sign of fatigue, pat and blend few dots of concealer under and into the inner corner of your eyes to lift and brighten.

And here’s one she prepared earlier…(sorry – it is my face again)

Alice_315-1-colour

Self Confidence in the Face of Cancer

Self confidence is something I’ve often grappled with. Like most people these days, I scroll through Instagram, Facebook, the Internet as a whole and I’m subjected to images of photoshopped bodies, made to look smaller, more taut, more toned. I see adverts every second breath telling me how to get glossier hair, I’m subjected to images that suggest women are little more than a pair of knockers. Or magazine articles that exclaim “Fix your eyebrows, find love!”. These articles, adverts, posts, messages all tell me how I “should” look.

So what do you do then, when you find yourself squidgy round the edges because a gruelling healthcare routine has left you with little time or energy to put on your running shoes? When you no longer have any hair at all, let alone hair that you need to make thicker? Or when one of the parts of your body that defines you as a woman is taken away from you? When you haven’t a single eyebrow hair to speak of, when you couldn’t make your brows “on fleek” if you tried. How do you find self confidence if you don’t even recognise the face, the body, looking back at you in the mirror? When you’re as far away from how you “should” look, as you possibly can be?

Self confidence is a funny old thing and often in the UK it gets confused with arrogance, much like it’s close sibling, self belief. People would far rather pick at things they don’t like than look at the things they do like. So next time you’re brushing your teeth or your hair, or figuring out if you really can wear that skirt with that top (by my rules, you deffos can, I know I can’t see, but you can), I’d like you to do something for me. Look at yourself. Really look at yourself and find one thing you love about your face. Maybe you’ve got beautiful eyes, maybe you’ve got really full lips, maybe your cute button nose is a real family trait. Perhaps you can look at your body and be proud of the strength you see in your biceps or calves or maybe you’ve got stretch marks that prove you’re a mummy and you love them because they show you carried another human for 9 months. These things are what make you, you. They tell your story. They don’t have to be perfect. But if you can come to terms with them now, it won’t matter what’s thrown at you in the future.

I stepped out in a swimming costume the other day for the first time in 7 months. Chemo and surgery had both played a part in stopping me from doing one of my favourite things. I didn’t wear a hat and I dont yet have a prosthetic designed for swimming. I was terrified, worried about what people would think of me if they noticed how lopsided my boobs were. Scared that people would judge me and my bald head and my tired eyes. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to swim fast or for long any more. All of these things came down to my self confidence. And there were two things my friends said to me that gave me pause, and helped me park my insecurities. “No one will notice what you look like because they’ll all be too worried about what they look like” and “you may be being treated for cancer, but you’re still a swimmer. That hasn’t changed”.

And when I got in the pool, it didn’t matter. I did get some weird looks, but I get weird looks when I’m not bald. And I reminded myself that it’s OK to look like a cancer patient. Because that’s what I am at the moment. It’s not all I am, but it’s a big part right now. And that’s OK.

For my whole life, I’ve been conflicted by wanting to avoid having my photograph taken, but being desperate to take – and be involved in – a shot to preserve a memory (I made a hilarious typo when I wrote that sentence first time – see if you can guess what it was). And I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding mirrors too. So why then did I appeal for someone to take professional photos of myself when I looked less like myself than I ever could have envisaged? Because cancer has changed my approach to self confidence in one way or another.

That’s not to say I’m any more confident than I was BC (before cancer) but I guess the goalposts have moved or the parameters have changed. Whichever cliche you want to adopt. I have a list of things I won’t moan about when I don’t have cancer and some of the more superficial of them include “bad hair days” or “looking like shit”. If I’ve got hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and skin that doesn’t look like tracing paper, I’m a step ahead of cancer me. And I wanted to remember the strength I’ve found during my cancer treatment. To celebrate the me that’s finally become brave enough to be out without a hat on and be comfortable with it. So here’s a couple of the photos I had taken the other week. So I can look at them in the future and remember this version of self confidence when I can’t find another. If I hadn’t been diagnosed with breast cancer, there is no way I would have bared my chemo face and my scarred body to a stranger (who I now hope is a friend). I hope these photos, especially the ones of my mastectomy scar offer some strength to other breast cancer sufferers. I bloody salute you all.

Photos by the INIMITABLE Georgia Devey Smith. Mega thanks to Georgia for taking these photos – I’m sure you’ll agree she is exceptionally talented and I feel very privileged to have been photographed to her. Thanks also to my homegirl Isobel Kennedy for doing my makeup – but more on that next time (with more photos of my mug. SOZ)

Operation Barnet Be Gone

As many of you will know, I was fairly perturbed about losing my hair because of the nonsense. Having had hair longer than Cousin It’s as a child, I rebelled at 18 and lopped the whole thing off in one fell swoop. From there, I dallied with hair of varying lengths, often deciding to let it grow then giving up at the first fluffy ended hurdle and heading back to the hairdressers for the chop.

Some time ago, I finally committed to growing my barnet and despite many, many discussions about getting it cut short again, I stuck with it and grew hair that I loved more than I ever had before (thanks fringe, you really helped with this one).

Alas, as you all know, a cancer diagnosis came along and ruined my plans. I was told straight away I would lose my hair during chemo – including, eyebrows, eyelashes and…I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. And (I know this sounds painfully vain) I was cross about it. I had worked SO HARD to get hair long enough to plait and not only was cancer going to take away my boob and make having kids much trickier, it was going to take my hair. Not cool cancer, NOT COOL.

So I took things into my own hands, flipping cancer the good old fashioned bird as I headed to see my family hairdresser, Bev, first thing this morning to get my hair cut on my own terms. I figured, after a suggestion by Chris’ sister Kathryn, that if I was facing losing my hair and I was going to take it off before it started to fall off, I would donate it to someone else in need. Cue The Little Princess Trust. Luckily, I have enough hair to donate to this incredible charity, who make wigs for little girls who are suffering with cancer. I’m getting through this quite fine, but I can only imagine how terrifying this must be for a little girl and facing hair loss as well must only make things worse. If my hair can make one little babe feel beautiful again, then that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to take. And that is not cancers decision.

So here are a couple of snaps from the morning…Bev asked me to clarify that the last pic on the collage was NOT a final cut…

image

image

imageThough I definitely would have liked to keep my locks forever, if I’m gonna lose ’em, I might as well lose them this way. Thanks so much to Bev at Upperkutz in Northallerton for making what could have been a pretty miserable experience so much fun and for sending me out of her salon with this dreamy do.

Also it’s surgery on Monday so I’ll be off the grid for a little bit. Next time you hear from me, I won’t have cancer anymore! I’ll still be having chemo later, but the nonsense will be GONE.

My Skincare Routine

Recently, I was tagged by the lovely Keeley (who is a fellow LBQ contributor and has her own blog over on phatcupcake.com) in a skincare post asking me to detail my routine. It’s taken me an eternity to get round to it, but I finally have some answers!

Describe your skin care routine in 5 words

Cleanse, Moisturise, Cleanse, Exfoliate

What’s your skin type?

My skin is temperamental at best. For years, I struggled with dry skin but was able to be careless with my skincare routine. As long as I moisturised, I didn’t need to cleanse, take off my make-up properly or really pay it any means at all. Then I had a change to some of my medication and my skin went mental. Though still dry overall (in a really unsightly way sometimes), I often find blemishes cropping up in my hairline, on my chin and around my nose – three spots which have become inconveniently greasy.

What’s your favourite skin care product?

2013-07-21_1845I often surprise people when I tell them that my favourite skincare product is a Soap and Glory goodie. Some seem surprised that I don’t opt for something from Clarins or YSL, but for me the Peaches and Clean cleanser is the perfect addition to my skincare routine since my skincare worry free years caught up with me. A lovely, milky texture, it leaves my skin feeling gloriously smooth and if I’m religious at using it every night, I stay spot free.

Top blemish zapper

If I do get a breakout, it’s usually just one or two spots. I once read an article by former Hills star and all round beauty guru Lauren Conrad strongly advising against squeezing spots. No matter how tempting it may be, we all know it’s a bad idea, but rather than just banning us, Lauren offered a simple solution to removing ugly whiteheads without aggravating your skin.

The details? SIMPLE. Take a flannel and run it under hot water – not scalding, but really quite warm. Press the flannel down on the whitehead and hold it there until the flannel begins to cool, then firmly pull the flannel down, away from the spot and repeat until the head is removed.

It genuinely works – but can sometimes take a bit of patience – and is much better than poking and prodding at your skin leaving unsightly marks and a bloody mess on your face.

Face wipes yay or nay?

Absolutely, definitely YES. I love Simple Cleansing Facial Wipes for taking off my make-up and the general dirt and grime of the city after a long day. They leave me feeling clean and refreshed and help keep my skin clear.

High-end skin care or high-end make-up?

Having previously declared my love for Soap and Glory, it’s going to have to be high-end make-up. There’s nothing better than getting my hands on a YSL Touche Eclat or a Benefit mascara to take my make-up to another level. As I don’t wear much make-up day to day, it’s important that what I do use is good quality – so my complexion is even, my mascara is clump free and lip colour I’m wearing is long lasting.

What’s the most unusual skin care product you’ve tried?

I don’t know if it’s unusual as such but I recently got my hands on a sample of Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse. Designed to add moisture to your skin, this “dry oil” smelled amazing but I never really got on with it particularly well. I really suffer with dry hands (that get sore and cracked in the winter months) so I thought this would be a good product to combat that. I found it quite sticky and greasy, and could definitely never use it on my face.

Tell us your top skin care tip

Don’t just use any old moisturiser. There’s something out there fore every skin type that can really make a difference to keeping your complexion balanced between moisturised and blemish free. I know it might seem like an expensive experiment but it’s worth trying out a few until you find one that really, really works for you.