4 Year Cancerversary

For once in my life, I don’t have much to say. But I wanted to share this picture from Sunday. I “celebrated” 4 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 26 by swimming 2.5km in the glorious River Cam. It was the best way to mark this weird and wonderful day.

I am, for the most part, incredibly happy to be alive. And moments like this make this world feel like such a magical and wonderful gift.

How LiveJournal Shaped my Life and Writing

The internet has revolutionised everything. The way we eat, the way we shop and the way we communicate have all changed with the advent of the internet. Completely changed too are the ways we socialise, the way we learn and the way we grow up. Gone are the days of kids needing to flick through an ancient, dusty encyclopedia to figure out what the difference is between arteries and veins. They can take a tiny computer out of their pocket and ask Google with but a few taps of a screen. The internet is the part of the human existence now from the day babies are born. But people like me, Millennials, if that’s what you want to call us, had a very different experience to the generations both before and after us.

I was born in 1988, the same year founding father Tim Berners Lee invented the world wide web. The two of us (that’s me and the internet, not me and TBL) have grown together and the internet was a huge part of my formative years. I got my first email address when I was about 11. I simulated AOL Live conversations on a word processor to persuade my mum I was ready to talk to strangers online. I put audio of me singing through a scratchy, low quality microphone on Myspace. I joined Facebook in my second year of sixth form and used it as a tool to share the mundane details of my life. Alice-May Purkiss is now seriously wondering why she felt the need to share what she had for dinner 12 years ago. Especially when it was just a bag of crisps.

But there was no other place that I felt more at home than on LiveJournal, where I hung out for many of my teenage years. Like most overly emotional pre-teens I was obsessed with the idea of a blogging platform. The fact that a space had been created through which I could share the unique and true depths of my complex and revolutionary feelings about the world in which I had found myself habiting, finally gave me a sense of purpose. It was like I had found my home. Yes. That was the style of every single post I ever wrote. Equally pretentious and preposterous, I positioned myself way, way above my station, like some modern day Sylvia Plath whose feelings were so over zealous they could not be contained in the vessel I called my body. But it was through those early ramblings that I found perhaps my most worthwhile skill, developed my writing and discovered what would eventually become a huge part of my life and career. But by god. There was an awful lot of honing involved.

I have always written but there’s no denying technology shaped the way I approached that. From my days of writing stories on my mother’s Fontwriter (somewhere in between a typewriter and a computer) not long after Tim Berners Lee had created the monster that would eventually become the internet, but before 4g, WiFi and Facebook was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, to deciding to pursue the written word as a branch of my career, words have made up a massive part of my existence. And LiveJournal was the seed from which the old twisted oak tree grew.

It started off fairly nondescript. My first blog was called – and I apologise in advance if this makes you sick in your mouth like it just did when I dredged it from the very depths of my memory –  Likkle Rainbow. God only knows why I thought “little” needed to be spelled with the saccharine sweet K’s rather than, you known, the usual t’s, but I did. This first blog was around the time our internet was charged at a penny a minute and only useable after 6pm. Unless Mum was on the phone to Grandma, obviously. So I squirreled away hours when I wasn’t playing on Neopets, pre-writing the “blogs” in notebooks or on the word processor of the very first iteration of iMac (you know, the green ones that were shaped like an actual eye) then relentlessly copied them from paper to screen when I could access the internet.

LiveJournal was social media for beginners. It was a lesson in curating content before anyone had even thought of the word “Instagram”. Even before MySpace, with its penchant for forcing you to shoehorn your friends into a hierarchy of “the top 8” then “the other peasants you didn’t care as much about”, there were some of us who were carefully curating our blog design aesthetic, choosing images that represented ourselves and writing words to accompany those elements.

In the mid-noughties, rather than selecting which filter looks best with which version of the selfie you took 736 times for Instagram, there was a band of “Journallers” who were choosing which Dollz icon represented them best. Do you remember Dollz? Small cartoon icons which, with some basic coding ability could be personalised to look exactly like you – but with enormous anime eyes, teeny tiny waists, and jeans slung sufficiently low that there’d definitely be a whisper of lady garden should a real person wear them. They were the online iteration of Barbie – so fatefully ill-proportioned, should they ever come to life, they’d be unable to stand or walk. Or, apparently, dress without revealing their pubic hair.

But, weird proportioning and wardrobe choices aside, my Dollz icon was my online personality and curating that online personality became something I did long before I knew it would become what it is today. I spent hours considering whether I wanted my Dollz icon to represent me accurately, or show off the person I wanted to be on my LiveJournal. The cool, sophisticated wordsmith I saw 13 year old me as, or the dorky, antisocial, slightly emo kid I was. You can guess which one I chose.

But beyond allowing me to show off my personality through my choice of cartoon icon, LiveJournal gave me a platform from which I could write all the things that were in my heart and in my mind. I don’t remember what I wrote on LikkleRainbow, but I believed that I had something important to say and LiveJournal allowed me to do that.

As my hormones went into overdrive as puberty hit, I decided I had outgrown LikkleRainbow. No longer was I a girl for whom K’s needed to replace T’s. At 14, I had matured. I was deeper now, I had loved and I had lost and I had experienced so much of the world I needed to change my online persona to represent it. And so OpenHeart was created. A place where I felt I could truly be the realest version of myself without fear of recrimination – where I could open my heart and let the world see in. To be honest, looking back, I think I find the memories of OpenHeart much more cringeworthy and distressing than the decision to spell little incorrectly, but at the time it was the sort of safe space I needed.

But it didn’t come without its issues. I’ve always found writing things down makes me understand them better. Even now, at the age of 30, if I can’t figure out what’s going on in my mind, writing it out makes it clearer. That’s why I decided to blog my way through my entire the 10 months of treatment when i was diagnosed with breast cancer at 26 in 2015. But I have more wherewithal now than I did when I was younger.

I wrote about bomb scares and fires in the toilets. I wrote about being called names for wearing the wrong type of jeans in early noughties Yorkshire, if you wore tight trousers you were a townie and that was, apparently, a bad thing). And I wrote about friendships. Or rather, the tempestuous relationships I had with the other girls in my year.

Before I get into this, I think it’s important that I specify I am a woman who is very not OK with conflict. I avoid it at every cost. I am far from violent, and it is very, very rare I get angry these days. But the same could not be said for 16 year old me who was dealing with a surge in hormones, an unexpected family loss that threw me for a loop and very confused feelings about boys who were paying attention to ugly me. I would never have acted on any of the things I wrote about in the anecdote I’m about to tell you, but I was sufficiently cross to write about them in a public space.

Like every teen girl, I struggled with friends. I was awkward and uncomfortable in myself and I often took it out on other people. When I was 16, circa 2004, I used my LiveJournal as an outlet to talk about my hurt feelings when the other girls at school talked about me. I remember telling someone about my very first tingly feelings for a boy, in confidence, and her betraying that confidence to some of the popular girls in school, who then teased me about it.

I turned to LiveJournal to rant about her betrayal and in the style of dramatics to which I was prone, I went all out. I pounded my feelings of treachery out through the keyboard, unthinking of the circumstances, unashamed of my uncontrolled emotions. I ranted about violence and fury, revenge and my despair. It was more than an overreaction. It was the online equivalent to flipping the dining table after dropping my fork on the floor. I wrote about punching her, about seeing her suffer, about watching her in the pain she had created for me. I went a bit Teen Hulk to be honest.

I never named names, but to anyone reading who knew the people in school, it was obvious who I was writing about. And I got pulled up on it. As far as I remember, there were no teachers involved, but I remember a friend emailing me to tell me she was worried about the things I had said. She’d had her own tempestuous relations with the girl who had “betrayed my trust” but, she told me, “she’d never even dreamed of doing the things I had written about”.

So I deleted the post.

And then, in the harsh light of day when I realised I had gone a little bit OTT and my angst had got out of control, I deleted LiveJournal. I put an end to the part of my life where I wrote about the trials and tribulations I experienced as a mid-teen school girl on the crux of adulthood. And I started writing in notebooks that I kept secret. My love affair with LiveJournal was over, but my love of writing was only just beginning.

So what did those few years of LiveJournalling teach me? Well, first up, reflecting on it for this essay has reminded me that curating our online lives isn’t a new thing. Actually, we were curating our lives long before the internet even existed. Think of any classic story – Mr Darcey was not what he seemed in Pride and Prejudice. The image Severus Snape showed the world was not who he really was. The stories we tell the outside world very rarely reflect what’s going on inside, but while it has it’s foibles, the internet has created a space where we CAN be authentic, if we choose to be. It’s become a place where people can talk openly about their mental health, their physical health. They can talk about things that are difficult. They can talk about grief and death and sickness and relationship woes. In fact, more people are doing this now than ever before. We don’t want to see perfect lives on Instagram anymore. We want to see realness. Authenticity. Honesty. Admittedly, we often want to see these along with perfectly curated imagery, but we’re getting there. Baby steps.

Secondly, my LiveJournal days taught me that having a place where you feel like you belong is a crucial part of growing up and is essential for helping to figure out the world we live in. It doesn’t have to be online – maybe the young people today belong in rowing clubs or book clubs or science clubs. But the reality is that these days, any communities that are being created for young people are probably going to have an element of being online. And d’you know what? That’s no bad thing. I made an internet friend on LiveJournal and, while we aren’t close, we still talk. We still follow each other on social media. I still like pictures of her son on Instagram. She still likes pictures of my tattoos. We share something pretty unique. She was the person I asked what Dollz were called when I couldn’t remember as I started researching this essay. Young people need to find their people and, as long as they’re safe and smart (and they’re often smarter than we give them credit for), it’s OK if that’s online.

This reminiscence has also reiterated to me what a tough place the internet can be. While I was LiveJournalling, I also experienced what would now be called cyber bullying. Hate-filled, name calling emails. Shitty texts to my Nokia 3310 that buzzed when I was playing Snake II. The internet was a difficult enough place to exist when I was a kid, so it must be even more difficult now with the 24/7 approach to communication that exists. So educating our young people on how to make the internet a safe and positive place to exist is essential. And the good thing is, those who are having kids now, grew up with the internet. They get it. It’s not as new to them as it was to my generation’s parents. But it’s important that we arm the future generations with the tools they need to make the internet work for them. To make it a good place to be. To only follow people who make you feel brave and strong and powerful. And to know when to turn it off and walk away if they need to.

As I sit writing this essay, I feel a bit sad that I deleted both of the LiveJournals I had in my youth. Because with their kitsch k’s and their excessive amount of oversharing, both shaped me a lot. They taught me a lot too and I’d love to spend an afternoon in my teenage brain, no matter how much it made me cringe. Because that girl, and how she was online, was a huge part of who I was and who I am now. And I suppose, whatever you think of the internet, the chance it has created for posterity is quite something. We’re going to be able to see so much that might have otherwise gone unremembered. Baby photos. Wedding moments. Thoughts from a moment in time.

I have a blog these days. Not a LiveJournal, though I checked recently and it still exists. I use WordPress now. But much like LiveJournal offered me a safe space to come to terms with the overwhelming emotions of being a teenager, this blog offered me a safe space to come to terms with what it was like to be diagnosed with breast cancer a decade later.

I’m still that same girl who needs to write things down to make sense of them. I’m still that same girl who probably has more feelings than she knows what to do with them. I’m still that same girl who probably shares too much online. But I’ve learned that I am in charge of my own narrative. I can share as much or as little of my story as I want. And I thank LiveJournal for teaching me that.

Things I’ve Learned Cold Water Swimming This Winter

I edge down the steps gingerly, taking my time to let the shock of the change in temperature ripple across my skin. The water folds over my feet, ankles, my shins, knees as I lower myself bit by bit, inch by inch, one step at a time. I pause for a moment when it reaches the mid-section of my thighs, to steady the ragged breath as it comes in and out. There’s an uncertainty to it, as if no matter how many times I do it, there will always be a moment of learning that comes with every visit. I walk slowly, submerging my body bit by bit, taking my time to notice the sensations as they change. There’s a pooling in my belly button under the neoprene of my swimming costume, the momentary shiver as the water rushes down my back and my hands rest on the surface, the cold edging under my neoprene gloves. I lower my chest, the sounds of the world around me distorting as I push my face through the pool’s icy surface, and I begin to swim.

And it is as if a switch has been flicked. As if the noise of the world around me and the noise inside my head has been dulled. There is a release. I escape. No longer am I wondering if I am enough. No longer do I question every movement, every thought. I am certain in myself. Certain of myself, certain of my ability to glide through the water, to propel myself for length after length, to control the breath as it enters my lungs, prickling with each expansion and contraction.

I have been swimming through the winter months at Brockwell Lido, one of London’s unheated, outdoor pools. If we’ve spoken over the last few months, I will have told you. If you follow me on social media, you will have seen every snap documenting the season. I have swum in the rain, I have swum while the wind has whipped around me, I have swum while the sun has glistened on the ends of my eyelashes. I have swum in water as cold as 4.8 degrees and as warm as 9.8 degrees (earlier today). The water has been different every time I have pulled on my swimming costume and made my way across to Herne Hill. I have been different every time I have pulled on my swimming costume and made my way across to Herne Hill. I have been sad and I have been desolate and I have been excited and I have been hopeful. I have been lost and I have been found and I have felt loved and I have felt lonely. But one thing has been constant. And that’s the awe I feel at my body’s ability to adapt and change to whatever is thrown at it and the appreciation I have for the quiet I feel in my chest when the cold water rushes across it.

It has been a strange few months. The book I have written now exists in the world and at the moment, I feel very little. I have no sense of pride in my achievement, and I am feeling little to no joy from completing this project. I have had flashes of delight and gratitude – when so many people gathered at the book launch, when I saw an advertisement for it on an enormous billboard that someone had offered me on a pro bono basis – but most of all, I have felt an overwhelming concern that it is not enough. That I am not enough. That I will never be enough. Enough for who, I have no idea. At the moment, I just feel nothing.

But in the pool, I’m forced to feel everything. Every milimeter of the skin that covers my organs and holds my blood inside fizzes with sensations. The feminine layers of subcutaneous fat that exist around my hips and on my bum become electrified. I’m brought right back to the very bones of what it means to be human – our bodies. I stop thinking about all the things I need to do, all the things I haven’t done, all the things I wish I could do. My tendency to berate myself harshly and unrelentingly does not exist in the pool. All that matters is my breath, the lengths, and knowing when I’ve had enough. When my body has reached it’s limits.

I have learned a lot about myself over the recent months and I have no doubt these learnings will continue. There’s something to be said for the resilience of our bodies, their ability to adapt and change regardless of what we put them through, whether it’s cancer treatment, or training for a half marathon, or having the wild idea to submerge your body in dwindling temperatures of water every week. Your body knows what you need. And it knows what to do in most situations. It’s the way we are designed. And that is marvellous and magnificent to me.

There’s a lot of chat about the idea that cold water swimming cures depression. I do not believe that it does. But I do believe that it can be a great tool to have in your arsenal should you and your brain regularly get into clashes with one another. If you already like to swim, you might find that the buzz you get from temperatures that drop and rise with the changing seasons helps you feel alive, reminds you what it is to be a human, which can be a useful thing to experience when the demons in your brain are telling you that you don’t deserve to exist. But to say that cold water swimming cures depression is, to me, about as helpful as telling someone to stop doing chemotherapy and just introduce broccoli to their diet. It minimises an enormous problem. Broccoli might be a great addition to your diet if you’re going through cancer treatment, but it is just that – an addition. It should never be used as a replacement for conventional treatments. The same goes for cold water swimming. It’s a tool that might give you some relief. It might keep the beasts at bay or it might not. I can’t tell you what it will do for you, all I can tell you is what it has done for me, and it has become as crucial for my mental welfare as my antidepressants, my CBT techniques and it’s become a key part of my mindfulness practice.

I love swimming. I love cold water swimming. It has kept me going through some really weird times this winter. But let’s not get carried away and start presenting it as a miracle cure. Let’s enjoy it for what it is and reap the benefits it rewards without asking it to do more than bring a bit of joy to the life of those who love it. A lifeline. A love affair. But not a cure.

(IN) Equality

Every 8th of March the same question is asked

“When did we celebrate International Men’s Day last?”

“It’s the 19th November” voices reply

But the questioners don’t notice, don’t bat an eye.

“Well we don’t make a song and dance” they say

“We don’t kick up a fuss in quite the same way

Why are you using your voices to make such a row?

Haven’t you heard there’s equality now?”

“Equality?” I think as I start raising my voice

Not when there are people who can’t help but rejoice

At a deftly created rape joke delivered with a smile

Because it’s all just banter isn’t it? Not vitriolic bile.

But then there are women being killed by their ex

Beaten and belittled because of their sex

Only six of the FTSE 100 have female CEO’s

And women who are raped “deserved it, those hoes”

Because their “skirts were too short” or they “got too drunk”

It’s their fault, isn’t it, not down to that punk

who took advantage, didn’t get consent

Thought he could do what he wanted without her assent

Yes we can vote, and yes we can thrive

As long as it’s in a way which doesn’t seem too contrived

“The PM’s a woman” the meninists decree

“And the Queen is a woman, so just leave things be”

But we “feminazi’s” can’t let things go

While the media picks out something else to show

Us we’re not perfect, not doing as we should

How skinnier is better and pretty is good

When trans women are told they’re not real women at all

And board members “belong in the kitchen chained with a ball”

As women are ejaculated on on the tube

As we’re felt up and catcalled and harassed by some dude.

“Equality?” I think as I start raising my voice

We are feminists, we do not have a choice

But to stand up for our sisters and others as well

Every woman we know who has been going through hell

While being battered and damaged and kicked and destroyed

raped and murdered and belittled by boys

Underpaid, overworked, judged and harassed

Nothing more than a pair of boobs and piece of ass

So every 8th of March when the same question is asked

“When did we celebrate International Men’s Day last?”

I’ll stand with my sisters, intersectionality first

And say we know #NotAllMen are the worst

But tell them we have a long way to go

That the patriarchy is still very much in full flow

We’ll stand our ground and fight for the day

When women and men are treated exactly the same way.

No Cure for Heartbreak

I have been watching a lot of Grey’s Anatomy recently. I discovered it was on Amazon Prime and I started watching it from the beginning. Some people say it’s depressing but in those early days, the dialogue was quick witted, sharp, moving and funny, while the storylines pushed the boundaries of medicine and beyond. You’d think given the amount of time I’ve spent in a hospital over the last three years, and given the fact that my own hospital gives me palpitations every time I visit, that I’d want nothing to do with a medical drama. Sometimes I don’t. But as with most things I find comfort in the familiar and the old storylines and well-worn characters offer me some kind of safe space. A space in which I can exist without my mind for a while. It’s chewing gum for the brain with a heart.

Obviously watching Greys, you see a lot of surgical scenes. You see amputated limbs and gore and loss and the medical terminology washes over you like a second language you’re almost fluent in. You hear talk of scalpels and defibrillators and “apis” and sutures. Sutures. That’s the one I have become fixated on of late.

When I had the tiny cyst removed from my left breast when I was 19, I remember asking them how many stitches they had used. There were eight of them, I think. I’d never had so much as a cut really, before then. Nothing more than a papercut. So I was fascinated by the idea that these little stitches had been put in my body to tie up the loose ends of my skin and help them knit back together. Now, obviously, I have had my fair share of sutures. I have been cut open and sewn back up eight times in the last three years. I have had little stitches over little holes and lots of bigger stitches over bigger holes. I have had the soluble type and the ones my surgeon has had to pull out and discard. I no longer know how many stitches they have put into me. I stopped asking that question once cancer was part of the equation.

But these sutures have helped my scars heal cleanly and tidily. The scar across my breast is hair thin at points – an absolute credit to the man behind the cutting and the teams behind the stitching. My chest is a battleground and the sutures were key in helping to rebuild the damage that cancer had left behind.

But there are a lot of other places I could do with some sutures. Some little stitches to help do-up the other scars that cancer has left behind. And the wounds that I leave behind on myself as a result of harsh words or criticisms or unreasonable expectations that I apply to my life. The places where I feel I am ripped open again and again – where the fear slips in and the heartache begins or where the old wounds are failing to scab over, but continue to come unstuck. There are so many parts of life that can be fixed with carefully applied medicine – sutures, or chemotherapy or radiotherapy or a hysterectomy or an appendectomy or a dose of antibiotics – but there are so many parts of life where you can’t apply a sterile dressing and walk away. Where the sutures will not hold. Where a surgery cannot remove the thing that is trying to kill you.

So what can we turn to when medicine isn’t enough? Today, I baked bread. I left the house. I had a shower and tried to wash all the negativity and bad feeling and tears and emptiness away. I tried to find my own sutures for the cuts and scrapes that life throws at us. It’s funny because the emotional turmoil of cancer doesn’t go away, long after the tumour has gone. If you’re lucky enough for the tumour to go. The emotional turmoil of cancer lingers longer than most people realise. Than I realise myself a lot of days. Sometimes I feel like I am moving forwards, sometimes I feel like I am no further ahead than I was the day my treatment finished. I am still in need of sutures, because the emotional and mental wounds that cancer left behind keep on reopening. They reopen with every surgery, every hospital appointment, every lump or bump or cough or ache. Every dose of bad news. Every loss.

The wounds are healing but they never get the chance to recover completely. Because life and death and everything in between happens and we are expected to buck up and carry on and keep getting up and keep going and be the best that we can be in this world so that our lives are not wasted. So that this chance we are given, this one life we have, can be the absolute best we can possibly make it.

No amount of sutures can heal the cuts that run much deeper than the skin and the tissue and go beyond the body. But we do the best we can.

We will get up every day and keep doing the best we can and hope that it is enough.

We do the best we can and hope that it is enough, because as of yet, there is no cure for heartbreak.

Getting to Know You

I wondered how long it would take me to get a reference to a musical into my breast cancer blogs. Answer: not very long. Thanks King and I.

I’m about to be quite frank about my new boob and breasts in general. If this is the sort of thing that gives you the heebie jeebies, you might want to look away now. Click that little X in the corner and be gone. Consider this fair warning.  This post is where my boobsaurus is going to come into play though – so you might want to stick around for the lols. For those of you who may be facing a breast cancer diagnosis and are considering your options, I had a single, nipple sparing mastectomy with immediate implant reconstruction. I considered having a flap, but unfortunately, the size of my breasts and the ares of body fat I had on me didn’t match up – so I didn’t really have the choice.

I’ve always had an interesting relationship with my boobs. I was one of the first girls to develop at school, and as a perpetual tom boy, I was pretty cross about it. Not only that, but within what felt like seconds, I’d gone from being one of the only girls in school with boobs, to being one of the few who had developed rather large jumper stretchers. As I got older, they just grew and grew and grew. And while I can’t say they were enormous, they seemed unreasonably big to me.

All through my teenage years, I never appreciated my breasticles. I tried to hide them at all costs. For a while, naively, I thought wearing a polar neck would help cover them up. Alas, i soon learned that that’s like trying to hide Mount Everest under a napkin – almost entirely futile. Just makes ’em look more obvious and that is NOT what you want as a large chested teen. Even when I got older, I was never especially happy with my rack. It was there but it made running uncomfortable. And gave me back pain from time to time. They were largely a pain in my arse. And I never really appreciated them. I’d never really thought about the fact that these two lady lumps on my chest were a huge part of my femininity. I know how stupid that sounds. But it had just never crossed my mind. I never thought about that until I faced losing one (or both – still TBC) of them because my body had decided to betray me with a collection of poisonous little cells.

For me, having a mastectomy was never as big a decision as I expected it would be. When I got my diagnosis, I remember thinking to myself that if I had the choice, I’d just get them to take the whole thing away. Reduce the risk of it returning, get rid of the whole thing. It was a no brainer. Medicine is as such now, I knew I’d get a realistic reconstruction I’d be happy with and as the swelling has settled, that’s definitely what I’ve found myself with. Looking in the mirror the first few times was hard. I was still covered in marker pen and the scars looked angry. My nipple was bruised to shit and I generally looked like my knocker had had an unfortunate accident. I still had the drains in. And it looked so alien. If I’d written this post two or three weeks ago, I think I would have been bemoaning the surgery. But time is a healer.

And over time, this all settled down. The more I was able to wash myself, the blue marker pen, a stark reminder of the day I was in the surgery, started to fade. The swelling reduced. I got to know the scars and I began to see them as a part of my story. A victory. As the swelling subsided, the boob with the implant looked more normal, more like the one I’d grown up with. I was lucky because the positioning of my cancer and the skill of my surgeon meant that I was able to keep my nipple – which I think helped with the mental healing process quite significantly. Because I think having a mastectomy is as much about the mental healing process as the physical healing process.

I’m five and a bit weeks post mastectomy now. While I know that there’s still a journey in front of me as my boobs change over time and as I find out if I’m BRCA positive and need to have the other one removed too, at this stage I’m pretty pleased with the job my extraordinarily talented surgeon has done. I know my breasts are a huge part of my femininity but I’m OK with them as they are for now. I don’t feel hugely feminine at the best of times and I suppose that’s probably helped with getting used to the change. I know this probably won’t last forever and I know some days I’ll be heartbroken when I look in the mirror and see what I have lost, but for now, I am content.

I saw a tshirt the other day that said “Yes – these are fake. The real ones tried to kill me” and it made me think of the day I decided to have my mastectomy. I remember Chris said to me “I just don’t want you to look back in the future and regret making this decision. I don’t want you to look back  and wish you’d just had a lumpectomy”. I replied “When I look at myself in the mirror in the future, I don’t think I’ll look at myself and see a boob job that I regret. I’ll look in the mirror and say “that was what I had to do to beat cancer”.”

My Grandma

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I won’t claim to have known my Grandma for a long time. In a life that spanned a wealth of experience, I knew her for only a fraction.

Growing up, we visited regularly and I was, inevitably, always pleased to see her. She was kind and caring, as all grandparents are supposed to be, but I knew very little of her than what I saw before me.

But it was just a few years ago that I got to know her properly. After I passed my driving test, I began to visit her regularly – taking her out for tea, bringing her over to the home I was making with my boyfriend, spending time with her, just the two of us.

And it was only then I realised what a remarkable woman she was. She talked openly about her childhood as she never had before, she told me stories about raising my mum (who was by all accounts a total horror) and her two sisters, we talked about musicals and the opera. We hunted high and low for a copy of Alfie Boe’s Les Miserables recording in HMV in Middlesbrough, leaving in our wake a rather smitten – with her, not me – alternative chap significantly less than half her age. We ate good food and we enjoyed, relished each other’s company.

She had a wicked sense of humour, a sharp wit and a brilliant mind. She was hilarious without knowing it sometimes, and I think I’ll always remember that look of glee and mischief in her eyes when she shared with me something she thought she probably ought not to. I think that’s a look many will have seen before.

Her love of music was infectious. Her passion for reading knew no boundaries. And her love for her daughters, grandchildren, great grand children, son in laws and cat was unstoppable. All consuming.

The last few months haven’t been a testament to my grandmothers life, but echo the silent struggle she’s carried with her through the years. Though I think we would all have liked her to pass quietly and comfortably in her arm chair, the last three months of struggle presented yet another side of my grandma to us all.

Someone said to me that they hope they can be as brave as she was in the face of such illness – and that’s exactly what she was. Brave. She fought with every inch of her for the last couple of months. And she was so strong and so incredibly brave. I’m proud that I knew her, and proud to say she was my grandma.

She was my Grandma first. But then, I think she became my friend.

I cannot say and I will not say
That she is dead, she is just away.
With a cheery smile and a wave of hand
She has wandered into an unknown land;
And left us dreaming how very fair
Its needs must be, since she lingers there.

The Trussell Trust – Challenge 22

On Saturday 9th November, Chris and I went to Sainsbury’s to do a shop but for a change, the grocery shop wasn’t for us. Armed with a list from the Trussell Trust we did a basic shop for things to take to Battersea Food Bank after I discovered that 13 million people in the UK live below the poverty line.

I’d set myself a budget of £15 for this donation, and I didn’t really know how far that would stretch, but it certainly went an incredibly long way. I ended up donating a heap of coffee, sugar, tinned puddings (an infinite amount of rice pudding), tinned meat, soup and a whole host of other non-perishable items. I was amazed how much food we managed to get for such a small amount of money.

After we’d been shopping, we jumped on the bus and headed to Battersea, an area of London I’ve never really been to before, and found ourselves at the Food Bank really quickly. When we arrived, we were greeted so warmly by one of the volunteers who was incredibly grateful for us taking the time and the money to drop by with a donation. She said, that someone donates something every week.

I was amazed how little time and money donating to the Trussell Trust took. It was literally an hour of my time and less than £15 to help provide a minimum of three days food to a family in need in Battersea. In the run up to Christmas and over what looks set to be a particularly cold winter, I really think this is an incredibly beneficial cause, and certainly one that I’ll be donating to again.

If you’re interested in donating, check out The Trussell Trust to find your nearest food bank or donate at Tesco stores nationwide on 29th and 30th November and 1st December. I don’t want this post to sound preachy (sorry if it does!) but this is such a simple way to give back to your community and I really think it’s worthwhile.

I’ll be donating to Battersea Foodbank again every few months for the forseeable, so feel free to send anything you can spare my way and I’ll deliver it next time I go.

The Return

It has been a very, very long time since I last blogged on alicemaypurkiss.wordpress.com. This is bad. But there’s been a lot going on.

Since I last posted, I finished my internship at Index on Censorship and began working, mainly as a blogger (amongst other things) at VoucherCodes.co.uk, working on their lifestyle magazine Most Wanted. I’ve been there for over a year and it has been a whirlwind of excitement and fun allowing me to regularly write about fashion and beauty on a platform which is widely read and enjoyed. I am finally doing what I love on a daily basis, but that sometimes means that other things slip by the wayside. So that’s my excuse for not getting my finger out and hitting this blog more regularly. (If you’re keen, you can see my content for MW here).

In the last few weeks though, a couple of other interesting things have happened. I’ve started a creative writing class to develop my writing skills more, and I’ve become a regular contributor to the amazing (and award winning!) London Beauty Queen. The combination of all of these things have inspired to bring this blog back to life. Watch this space. I’ll be back properly soon!

Go on, have a giggle!

Image

It’s been a stressful and busy couple of weeks, and last week I felt like it was starting to take it’s toll. I had bags under my eyes, my skin was more blemished than usual and I was exhausted. But on Wednesday night I was invited out with a couple of friends for a Chinese in Soho and a Snog (frozen yoghurt chain in London – amazing) in Leicester Square.

I seriously thought about staying in and getting an early night, spending the evening on my own and having a quiet word with myself to get to feeling a bit better. But I opted to go out, and I’m so glad I did. It was just a regular evening with friends, but I laughed so much. Laughed, and laughed and laughed. My sides hurt, my cheeks hurt, the strange spot behind my ears that hurts when I laugh too much hurt. I was such a ridiculous evening, with good food, good company, and all with no alcohol.

Then on Thursday morning, I saw myself in the mirror. My skin looked clearer, the bags under my eyes had lifted, and my eyes looked brighter, and I got to thinking about the benefits of laughter.

Laughter is an antidote to everything. Scientific studies have proven that laughing can relaxe the muscles in your body for up to 45 minutes, relieving physical tension and stress, while it’s also good for your heart, boosts your immune system, and releases endorphins (the body’s feel good hormones – see Legally Blonde).

In September, the University of Oxford revealed that the endorphins released by laughter can act as a natural painkiller, proving that laughter is, if not the best medicine, it’s pretty much as good as pain-killing drugs.

The study also revealed that it’s the sort of laughter that determines how beneficial the good feeling is to your health. A gentle giggle or a bit of a titter won’t do much, but a good belly laugh or an uncontrollable fit of laughter will release endorphins, create mild euphoria and have a positive physiological effect on your wellbeing.

There’s even a rising trend of Laughing Yoga. Check out the Laughing Guru, who says a good chuckle is good for both the heart and mind, and will almost certainly have you in a gentle fit of the giggles. There are even laughter yoga classes and retreats cropping up all over the country.

Laughteryoga.co.uk describes the trend as “a combination of Laughter Exercises with Yogic Breathing” and explains that it increases the amount of oxygen in the body whilst being playful resulting in a feeling more healthy, energised and alive. They add “this actually changes the physiology of your body so that you start to feel happier”.

There’s a chance that this is a load of rubbish, no doubt scientists have disproved the theory created by an old wives tale. Laughter isn’t going to cure those who are seriously ill, it’s not going to treat depression, it’s not going to change the world, but it’s a start.

We live in a society where there is so much pressure and stress, it’s easy to forget that sometimes, taking a step back, and having a good old giggle with friends, family or a loved one, can be more beneficial than getting into bed and shutting the world out, no matter how much you might feel like that’s the best option.

So. However you’re feeling today, take a step back from life. Throw on that silly movie that always has you laughing. Pick up that novel that makes you laugh so hard you almost wee, or watch a couple of these YouTube clips, and chortle, chuckle, giggle, guffaw and howl your way to better emotional and physical health.

Death Star CanteenTickle Kitten, Bonjour, Girl!, Don’t Stop Me Now, Polite Bear