Strong Women: My life expectancy is tragically short, but I am not obliged by it.



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What does it mean to be strong?

It's not all about muscles, even when it comes to sports.

In our series, Strong Women, we celebrate women who show their strength in all ways, and observe how being active shapes their lives.

A study by Sport England found that 75% of women say that fear of judgment makes them non-active.

So it is more important than ever that women regain their definition of strength and find ways to make fitness a part of their lives.

Any woman can find her strength, love her body and be physically fit – regardless of the outward appearance.

Rebecca Willcox It was worthy of cancer and said it was terminal. Fitness, specifically yoga, has been a lifeline for Rebecca – reconnecting her to her body in ways she did not know were possible.

Rebecca's cancer has intensified recently and spread to her bones and vital organs (Photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

Tell us about your diagnosis

It was in August of 2016 that I developed a sudden pain in my right breast. I went straight to my doctor, who gave me an urgent reference.

She seemed overly cautious: I was fit, had no other symptoms, and had no family history of breast cancer. However, after a biopsy and ultrasound, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had already developed three areas of breast cancer on my right side, as well as a small cancer in the lymph nodes under my arms.

My medical staff agreed that I could cope well with an aggressive treatment plan, with the goal that by the end of the treatment I would be free of cancer and never have to think about it again.

I had a mastectomy and lymph node cleansing operation, along with 18 chemotherapy sessions and 15 fractions of radiotherapy to the chest wall.

I received all the treatment I could have received at that time and left with the assurance that there was no detectable cancer in me.

The final treatment was difficult – many people assume that you are "well" without cancer and back to your old self but found that this is far from the case.

For me, the possibility that the cancer would return was always on the front line of my mind.

The emotional challenge really began when the main treatment stopped.

I was placed on a 10-year treatment plan, which involved taking pills daily and receiving regular injections and check-ups. This was done to keep the cancer from coming back, but I also felt that I should do what I could to minimize the chances of recurrence.

Rebecca never expected her cancer to return in just six months (Photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

I got involved with the incredible charity Breast Cancer Care. I began to explore how I could better help myself in my new post-cancer world.

I realized that I had to allow myself time and space to get accustomed to my new body – which had become quite healed and beaten as a result of the treatment – and to accept my revised mentality that we have to enjoy every moment we are on Earth. .

Having been a pre-cancer fitness fitness nut, I went back to the long distance race, and in December 2017 I made a beautiful 17km race along the Thames on a cool winter day. Halfway through, I developed a terrible backache. I thought I had pulled a muscle.

My oncology physiotherapist treated me regularly at the moment, so I went straight to her for help. She diagnosed a displaced rib and a bit of bad luck.

However, when the pain did not dissipate, she contacted my oncologist and organized an MRI just to make sure it was nothing more sinister .. Unfortunately it was.

What happened when the cancer came back?

I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. It has spread from the original site to my bones, spine and pelvis.

A secondary diagnosis of cancer has many names. It is also known as a diagnosis of metastatic cancer, stage 4 cancer, terminal or incurable cancer.

Rebecca says the people in her life give her a reason to continue (Photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

Because it has now traveled beyond the primary site, doctors consider it to be anywhere on the body, even in microscopic form. Therefore, they say it can not be cut, poisoned or irradiated like the primary cancer, and you will never get rid of it.

These are really hard ideas to accept, and I did not believe that I'd only gotten six months before my cancer returned.

Secondary cancer requires a whole new mindset, and I at least found it difficult.

Unlike primary cancer, where you have a treatment plan that has an end date, secondary cancer treatment involves the daily management of symptoms caused by cancer. You are placed on a long-term management plan that aims to prolong your life whenever possible.

Like many patients with secondary cancer, I had to accept that, from the diagnostic point of view, my health probably deteriorates little by little, requiring an increasing dependence on analgesics and palliative care.

Of course, miracles happen and some people can live with secondary cancer for years without much worry, so I keep living in hope, even if time is passing.

I received a revised life expectancy estimate, which I did not share with many people. It is tragically short and I do not consider myself obliged to do so.

Instead, I am doing everything I can to work with my medical staff and ensure that my symptoms are kept to a minimum.

Frustratingly, I think I can be relatively well one day and then be crippled by the nerve pain the next day. What this taught me, however, is that I should not expect to get sick: if I feel good now, I get up and leave.

With every minute of symptom-free I can enjoy life and do it.

Tell us how yoga has helped you

Before my cancer diagnosis, I never really thought about yoga. However, once I experienced a yoga session for people with cancer, run by the Trekstock charity, I was hooked.

Yoga moves are adaptable, so you can physically challenge yourself or simply enjoy the idea of ​​"being present" in your own body for a while.

Rebecca loves yoga because she is adaptable depending on how strong she feels (Photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

On the days when I feel good, I will focus on engaging my muscles and maintaining a strong posture – vital when the strength in the spine and core is compromised by the cancer in my bones.

If I'm weaker, though, I'm more likely to take a break and focus only on breathing.

This allows me to feel more connected with my body so that I can detect new symptoms and minor imperfections. I have become quite good at identifying when a new pain is just a normal pull or tension, as opposed to when there seems to be an underlying and more insidious cause.

Recently, I developed a sharp pain in the hip that resembled the pain in the rib that alerted me to the secondary cancer in the first place.

Several exams later and I learned that unfortunately I am right – the cancer has spread and intensified again in my bones and vital organs. That's bad news, of course, but I'm happy that my connection to my body, activated mostly through my yoga practice, helped prepare me for the diagnosis that I knew would come.

Yoga also provides a fantastic mental breakout.

More: Cheers

In these moments, you are not thinking about your next analysis, your previous diagnosis, your next doctor or the prescriptions you need to order. No. You're just thinking about your breathing. I'm not a scientist, but I'm sure this should be good for my overall well-being, blood pressure and so on.

When I am breathing deeply, I imagine that my inspiration is the fresh beach air of a beautiful beach, while my exhalation is the black smoke of the cancer coming out of my body.

Of course, this visualization did not heal my cancer, but it always makes me feel stronger and more positive, and that, in turn, must certainly be better for my overall health.

Yoga is also beautifully without judgment. No one ever criticized me because I opted for a few minutes of childish pose to catch my breath.

On a practical level, yoga is manageable, and that is important. I used to take part in fantastically energetic gym classes – circuits, HIIT, Step, spin – but nowadays, I struggled to complete the warm-up. If I attended a class, I imagine that I would quickly become discouraged by how much my physical strength and stamina deteriorated.

As much as I'd like to get back into the long distance race, my bones are a little fragile now because of cancer.

Why keeping your body in shape is so important to you?

Over and over again I was told by my medical staff that I handled well with the primary cancer treatment regimen because of my pre-existing fitness level.

Some of the particular chemotherapies were terribly difficult to cope with, causing long periods of nausea, and yet I managed to maintain a good fitness regimen during the time I was undergoing treatment.

Rebecca did not share her life expectancy with many people (Photo: Rebecca Willcox / Metro.co.uk)

Cancer treatment inevitably involves being pumped full of remedies, and I believe it greatly helps your body if you have a system that is flowing and active. It seems to me that if you are generally stronger and more fit, you are more likely to cope well with some of the stronger treatments.

I am proactive in my treatment and care, and have participated in many medical lectures on cancer treatment, recurrence and so on.

I feel that if I expect my medical staff to do everything I can to keep me well, the least I can do is try to maintain good blood pressure and heart rate, even though I do not have another marathon at the time. to be.

What does the term "strong woman" mean to you?

A strong woman is someone who perseveres even in the most challenging circumstances. Despite the side winds, bad luck and misfortune, she maintains her position and ultimately triumphs over adversity.

I think there are elements of being a secondary cancer patient that make me strong.

I live every day knowing that I may not be around much longer and that the rest of my life can be treated with treatment, visits to hospitals and doctors. Getting out of bed and carrying each day with this weight on the shoulders is a big challenge, so I suppose I am strong in that regard.

However, I struggle a bit to respond when people kindly tell me that I am very brave to go through all the treatment, tests, bad news, etc.

It seems to me that these are just an integral part of cancer treatment, and I do not see how brave I am at just letting a nurse or a doctor do their work while I sit or lie down.

How do you maintain your positivity?

My husband, my family, my friends keep me. I am so blessed to have a life with them, I can not bear the thought of letting go.

I have chosen to undergo treatment for my cancer and choose to continue even if the cancer continues to spread aggressively.

Secondary cancer gave me an entirely new perspective on life that I really feel very blessed to have.

I'm no longer worried about the little things and try to leave negative feelings as much as possible because they just do not help.

More: Cheers

I try to drown metaphorically in exciting, fun, and beautiful things that make life worthwhile: a good meal with a loved one, a walk in the park, a phone call with an old friend, a manicure. No matter what it is, it's just anything that reminds me how good life can be.

And it's a self-fulfilling prophecy because the more gentleness I discover in the world, the more I'm convinced that it's easy to find it when you start looking.


Find support

Find information and support here, or call the Breast Cancer Nursing and Nursing experts at Breast Cancer Now at 0808 600 8000.

Strong Women is a weekly series that is published every Saturday at 10am.

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