Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Normans back - this time he means business!

I'm big on anniversaries, which is why I like the "On This Day" app. It’s so easy to forget things we have done and people we have seen, mainly due to busy and frenetic lives. Today marks an anniversary I would rather forget. A year ago today I found lumps in my neck - which ultimately turned out to be cancer. 

It marked the start of a tough 12 months for me and my closest. I underwent three months of chemo and a month of radiotherapy. I lost one my oldest friends to cancer in November, lost my beloved stepdad Roland to cancer only 6 weeks ago and received the news last week that I have relapsed and my cancer is back, less than two months after receiving the all clear. 
This time round, they are getting the big guns out. Intensive chemotherapy for the next three months here in Brighton, followed by a four to five week stay in The Royal Marsden in Sutton. Here I will be put in an isolation room, my stem cells will be harvested, cleaned and frozen, they will administer chemotherapy so strong that it strips me of every last bit of bone marrow in body - together with my hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and body hair - if I still have any left after the initial bout of chemo! The room I am in will have filtered air and I will have limited contact with the outside World, as the smallest germ will have the potential of killing me as I wont be able to fight infection. I will have side affects – some they will tell me about, some they wont. They will give me drugs to counter the side affects and then more drugs to counter the side affects of the drugs that they give me for my side affects. 

The next 10 – 12 months are going to push me physically and mentally, with another year after that recovering from the trauma my body has been through. One thing any cancer sufferer will tell you is that you live your life on a knife edge, feeling like your neck is on the block, waiting for the guillotine to drop. Granted – I didn’t expect it to drop again quite as quickly as this. 


Only a handful of people knew what I was going through last year, and I took such a lot of strength and positivity from their support. This time round, its out in the open and I have already been overwhelmed by the messages of encouragement I have received. But more than that, it’s the support and love that has been shown to my family, who will be on the front line – as they were last time. 


Last year I had every intention to blog regularly, for my own sanity. The reality was that very early on in to my treatment I lost my motivation and my ability to string a sentence together, thanks to the dreaded chemo. Since January, which is when my last blog post was it has been sheer fatigue - well that and as it has now transpired cancer.  This time health permitting I will persevere, because its a great outlet. 


Oh and one more thing. I am so sick of “that word” – I’ve re-named it Norman!
So that’s me, laying it bear. Warts and all! But for now, I'm feeling upbeat, the summers here, I’m off on holiday next week with two of my favourite people and the Prosecco is flowing! 

‪#‎StandUpToNorman‬ ‪#‎LifesForLiving‬

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bon Voyage

Everyone has their battles. In 2015, cancer was mine. So what can I tell you about my experience?

Firstly, the disease is a small part of the overall picture. Cancer is a thief of the highest order. It robs you of your soul, your humility, your independence, your happiness, your sanity, your faith, your feeling of immortality. It also robs your nearest and dearest and for me that was the hardest bit to deal with – knowing how sad my illness, made the people I love. Also, as a woman, one of the most horrible aspects, is it robs your looks and confidence. Looking through pictures from the last 12 months, I have gone through a metamorphosis and feel unrecognizable to the person I was. 

Nothing prepares you for the physical side affects from the many different medicines you take. Three months of intensive chemotherapy was grueling. Steroids and four difference poisons intravenously pumped in to my body fortnightly (including one that has big writing on a sticker “LETHAL IF SWALLOWED”. Sickness, hair loss, collapsed veins, personality and mood changes, weight gain from steroids, tiredness. Also knowing that if you come in contact with anyone who has even the smallest infection, it may end up killing you.

In comparison, the three and a half weeks daily radiotherapy would be a stroll in the park I was told. Not so. Clamped to a table in a draconian style mask, a mouth and throat so ulcerated and painful I could barely talk, let alone eat and drink for over a month – despite the gallons of liquid morphine I consumed daily. Third degree burns on my neck. Tiredness that is so debilitating that walking from the bed to the sofa felt like running a marathon.

The mental side affects are also pretty horrific. That feeling of complete loneliness and solitude. the feeling of dread, depression - shock that your own body has turned against you and is trying to kill you, anxiety and panic attacks. 

These are the Negatives. But lets look at the positives – of which there are many! :)

Used correctly cancer is like having a crystal ball. Giving you insight in to the present and the future that would not have been possible before. Giving you a strength that you would never have know about before. Giving you positivity that is fresher than you have ever known. Giving you a love and respect for the most important things in your life and an overwhelming gratitude for every day that comes along.

You discover who your real friends are. The people who love and care enough about you to be in your life, for better or for worse. There are people that drop you at the first opportunity. There are friends whose silence is deafening, but that works just fine for me. Because the pockets of love and support I have received, from the most unlikely or unknown sources has been overwhelming. Thank you so much – all of you! (you know who you are).

And then there is my family. I don’t underestimate how tough it has been on them. Especially my mum. She has been unwavering in her support. Daily skyping, weekly visits, words of support and encouragement. In fact, its her stoical “no nonsense” attitude, that I have adopted in life and that I truly believe got me through this. Love you beyond any words for that mum. 

Finally the biggest thanks of all goes to a person who – not for the first time, has been there to pick up the pieces of my life. Chris Hampshire has not only been the best friend that anyone could ask for – he is not only my boss in a job I love and feel privileged to have. He most importantly has been my rock for the last 8 months and I would not have got through this without him. His kindness is unrivalled. His empathy is overwhelming and I will be eternally grateful to have such a wonderful human being in my life. 

2015 was tough. The toughest infact. But 2016 is going to be different. It already feels different, with so many wonderful and positive things going on around me. I’m taking a couple of weeks out and returning to my spiritual home Mexico, to heal and to mark the end of a horrific chapter in my life. And when I return, I know I am gonna be mentally (if not physically) stronger than I have ever been before. 

I cant wait for what lies ahead! And if you are still reading this – “A VERY HAPPY IF NOT BELATED NEW YEAR TO YOU”!

Much love. HLG x

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Swapping the Big Sea for the "Big C"

One of the hardest things to deal with when you get cancer isn't the disease itself. It's all the bi-products. It's loosing your freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom to be who you are and freedom to do what you want - when you want.

I am the epitome of a free spirit. My life choices have generally come from a sense of never wanting to conform to stereotypes and restrictions and one of my biggest loves has always been and always will be the water and the ocean. For as long as i can remember, I have wanted to be in the sea, on the sea, under the sea, surrounded by the sea, live by the sea .... you get the gist!


I have engaged in as many activities as possible that ticks those boxes. Diving, waterskiing, windsurfing, stand up paddle boarding and my favourite of all - surfing. These have all been stolen from me for the time being. I moved to Brighton back in 2011 for this very reason and finally found the place I live now, which looks out to the sea and is less than 100 metres from front door to pebbles. Up until June, this was my utopia.



  

I couldn't have asked for more. I planned a summer of swimming, surfing and SUP. This has been reduced to a summer of watching others do the same and feeling beyond envious. It feels a bit like it has all been put there as a massive wind up!!

 

Luckily my little bundle of fluff has come to the rescue. My very own beach pup honey. She forces me to leave the safety and comfort of my sofa three or four times a day - and where do we go? The beach of course. I walk along as close to the surf as possible, breathing in the sea air, tasting the salt as I inhale. 



When the tide is out, I kick my flip flops off and feel the feel the soft sand between my toes. The best time of the day is first thing in the morning, when no one is around and i watch my crazy puppy charging around after the gulls and taking in the same sights, sounds and smells that I do. She is a true surf pup.

So for the time being, all I can do hope this all goes away as quickly as possible and carry on dreaming of the day I can grab my board and my wetsuit once again and be reunited with the love of my life!

 
 












Thursday, August 13, 2015

Reach For The Stars

So I took a sabbatical from my blog! Truth is, I have found the last ten days the hardest of all. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the realisation has started to set in. Perhaps its because I move further away from my "toxic friends" (the ones I discussed in a previous blog) or perhaps the second round of chemo has hit me harder than the first. Who knows, and I guess the reason is as irrelevant as the solution is crucial.

With so many crazy and jumbled thoughts going through my head, I couldn't extract the creativity for love or money. Maybe it was a touch of writers block? As with all things creative - painting, drawing, writing, baking, sewing, writing music ..... the key factor is "inspiration". And last night I found the inspiration in the most magical way possible. 

Anyone who knows me, will know I am a girl of extremes - and this spills out in to everything I do. This extends to the weather and my particular obsession with storms. I LOVE THEM! They are exciting, beautiful, unpredictable and dramatic. Last year I was lucky enough to witness one of the most stunning storms I had ever scene - right on my doorstep here in Hove. I even miraculously captured some incredible picture (see below).  However, the storms have been some what lacking this year, disappointingly so. 

I'm also fascinated by the skies .... the sun, moon and stars and how they all influence every aspect of nature. We are massively disadvantaged here in the South of England. Light pollution is a massive problem and we rarely get the chance to see more than a sprinkling of the stars that are in our galaxy. And with the climate we live in, more often than not, cloud masks everything else.

Last night however was one of those nights that everything came together in perfect harmony. The impending doom of a mega storm has been felt the last couple of days. The static in the air almost making the hairs on your arms stand up. Now add in to the mix "The Perseid Meteor shower"Made of tiny space debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation Perseus.  

Despite promises from the weather men of blankets of cloud, come 10.00 pm the skies were bright. So I headed out to the beach and lay there in the fresh sea air, staring up at the skies, with the waves crashing on the shore and the ominous darkness of the storm encroaching from the south - lit up frequently by sheet lightening on the horizon. 

As I lay there contemplating life, I witnessed the most incredible shooting star. It illuminated the sky briefly -  but in that brief moment I felt that nature shared one of its most intimate secrets with me.  And yes ... I 100% made a wish upon a star. But that is between me and nature as we exchanged a mutual respect that goes beyond any imagination.And as I sit here writing my latest entry, with the skies darkening in anticipation of the next tempest, I feel invigorated again. Clarity for me is still illusive - however, I don't feel it is a million miles away any more and for now, I will just keep writing, because that is the next best thing! 

Lucky photo number 1!

Lucky photo number 2!

Professional photo of the same storm in July 2014.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Penny Drop Moment

Something is happening at the moment, which hasn't happened for a very very long time. I am having to confront things I don't want to - Face My Demons if you like. And I do not like it ... ONE BIT.

I have always been very spontaneous, very headstrong - and very bloody minded when I want to be. But I do believe I have fundamentally very good values and an appreciation for people and feelings. Too much sometimes. And I live my life by these values.

I'm definitely no victim, and I don't ever seek sympathy. But the fact remains the same, that many aspects of my life have been "challenging". Even harrowing in places. But up until a penny drop moment I have had today - I thought I had learnt from these experiences and dealt with them - enabling me to be a better person.

In fact what I have now realised is that at best, I have brushed over them, At worst I have completely swept them under the proverbial carpet - never to be seen again. And I had devised a number of coping mechanisms to help me do that - dating back to my early teens. They are genius solutions and can be used individually - or all at the same time ........

  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • "Other" recreational diversions
  • All night benders
  • All weekend benders
  • The occasional week bender
  • Intense work regime
  • Move county/country/continent  (a little extreme you may think, but it has served me well!)
Let's evaluate the options  - THESE ARE NO LONGER MY OPTIONS!!! So this has now left me with a void. A huge gaping abyss full of a lifetimes worth of buried shite. The solutions are simple. Number One .....Deal with everything head on. But that's a harsh one to do right now, on top of trying to get my brain around the illness. 

But every day I get more clarity, everyday I move further from my old life and everyday I get closer to my new life. I can't help but grieve for the things that I have lost. They have been a constant companion to me for 25 years of my life. It genuinely feels like I have lost a bunch of friends. Its not going to be easy breaking a quarter of a centuries worth of hard wired thinking. 

But I gotta take the positive out of this. If this cancer had not occurred - I might still have been doing the same things in ten years time. I wouldn't have dreamed of a life beyond my list of toxic companions. But now I have the opportunity to do things differently and I am gonna grab that opportunity with both hands and never let go and never look back. 

And in the meantime, while I deal with what I need to physically and mentally - I will carry on with solution number two .... JIGSAWS. Oh boy, that's rock and roll for you!





Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Coffee Time

It's funny how you see things on TV, or hear about them on social media/radio/word of mouth and they don't really register - until it affects you directly.

Macmillan Coffee Mornings is on of those things. The advert has registered with me, but it was vividly brought to life by a wonderful lady I met by a beach hut the other day, while taking Honey Nut Nut for a walk.

Maxine was selling raffle tickets for an upcoming fund raiser. She explained that her husband had been diagnosed with cancer and wasn't sure how either of them would have coped without the incredible support from MacMillan.

Having only just started my journey, I can already concur that MacMillan have been amazing. From the advice they give, through to their numerous publications, to the people on the end of the phone, to the nurses that talk you through every aspect of your treatment and your feelings.

Having bought my raffle tickets, I returned at the weekend to be confronted with what can best be described as a mini festival! It was an amazing atmosphere and wonderful to see just how many people had come out to support Maxine.

I now have an open invite to go and have lunch at the beach hut, and will be taking Maxine up on her kind offer in the coming days.

There are some horrid people in the World. But, there are also some amazing people. And as bad as getting cancer is - the plus side is, that you really get to see just how amazing the human spirit can be :)

If you want to find out when Maxine and her scones will be making an appearance again - then drop her an email. Great location, great view, great people. #GetInvolved











Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Kindness of Folk

Having a bit of an emotional day today. Might be the drugs. Might be the tiredness. Might be the realisation.

That old saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is - in my humble opinion a load of old bollox. Diversely the sticks and stones and punches and pain, I can get over. Its made me a strong person. All those idiots that think aggression and physical intimidation is the way to gain love and respect - poor misguided fools. But its the words that hurt me when I was a kid. Its words have hurt me as an adult. You see the thing is they stick. In your head your head for a long time.

But equally the same rule applies when the words are nice. They are healing, soothing and can fill a person full of positivity and enough light to chase away dark clouds and thoughts

And boy of boy, do I have some lovely people around me. Mostly friends old and new - and then there are the hidden ninja's that pop up and take me completely by surprise. So i don't forget any of the niceness in the white noise of social media, I thought I would log all the positivity to refer back to when I have a day like this :)

"Remember that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and more loved than you will ever know!!" Beck G

"So today has finally arrived. First day of chemo for Hannah Louise Garber. Wishing my beautiful daughter all the love in the world. Onwards and upwards." My beautiful Mummy

"So its been talked about, ignored, analysed , fretted over and pretty much everything else in between but today is the day that it all starts to get fixed. The unknown is always a scary prospect but it is a well-trodden path, they know what they are doing and it will all be good at the end. Looking forward to getting my number 2 back to the point where the first thing you will point out is that I am the number 2!!! Good luck and the very best of wishes for today and the rest of the journey. xx" Chris H

"My big brave H! We're with you all the way Hun xx" Mark B

"I had no idea Han, tonnes of luck lovely lady - be strong and fight only the way you can! PS absolutely loving the new hairstyle, totally rocking the look xxxxx" Jen R

"Hi Hannah .... This really sucks but if youare as strong willed as you were as a kid u will def kick its arse ... Sending you a thousand trillion positive thoughts and love my oldest friend xx" Suzanna P

"You got this! Sending you lots of healing energy and light." Thomas D

"Love you lots thinking of you today x x x x x x" Gracie Lou

"Hannah Louise Garber you know what this means xxx Thinking about you today, loving you always, big hugs baby xxx" Georgia M

"Stay strong gorgeous lady. This too will pass xxxx big hugs and kisses xxx" Michelle M

"Kin hell. Well I pity cancer messing with you! Stay strong. Xxx" Richard W

And Luke Cooper - I may not know you, but your random message tonight made me smile ALOT. Thank you. It's a vipers nest out there and people like you make all the hard work mean something x