In this weeks episode of meet the team, we say hello to Alison Gordon, or Ali as many of us will know her.
December is often a reflective time and as we approach the anniversary of Annabel’s death, I’d like to share how someone I’d never met in person had such a profound effect on my life and the incredible things we’ve achieved in this first year since the development of Annabel’s Angels in January.
When they said life begins at 40, I was pretty sure being diagnosed with Breast Cancer wasn't what they meant. Like most women I was busy juggling my life, kids, career, and friends.
Breast Cancer Awareness month came and went in its pink flurry and I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know what the signs and symptoms of breast cancer were. Could knowing this have made a difference? Quite possibly. So when I detected a lump in my breast after being injured in a martial arts lesson I wasn't unduly concerned. I mean I felt well, had no family history, exercised regularly and wasn't overweight, all of those factors surely meant it wouldn't be serious? Sounds terribly naïve now.
I can safely say, exercise saved my life, had I never been injured – maybe I’d never have detected the lump that was clearly deeply rooted and only thrust to the surface in a freak accident. That being said I still took another two weeks before I went to my Gp as my lack of awareness of symptoms of cancer and perhaps my selfless attitude, putting everything and everyone before me meant I was in no rush. I cannot urge anyone reading this to not make the same decisions as me and if you find anything unusual for you, act upon it promptly.
So from May 2012, my life changed, I started my ‘cancer career break,’ which was a bit of an extreme way to escape the huge pressures at work, working within Adults Social Care management I’d often dreamt of taking a year out and travelling in the months leading up to my diagnosis. Hmmm, 9 months out on a cancer journey is not quite the same. My treatment started in June 2012, including a mastectomy, followed by 6 cycles of chemotherapy that ended by Christmas 2012, radiotherapy followed into February 2013 and finally being prescribed hormonal therapy for the next 5 years.
Being diagnosed with cancer can be a mine field, after the knee buckling shock and fog of the initial diagnosis lifts, you can be left with many unanswered questions and seemingly no one to turn to. Shortly after being diagnosed I discovered Macmillan Community Forum and initially started blogging as an outlet, before finding a breast cancer group. The women I met, my Macland mates, Annabel, Dorothee, Denise and many others really understood where you were coming from. We became the Class of 2012, as we’d all been diagnosed at similar times and could share, relate and help one another through the unsteady path of uncertainty that cancer brings. There are silver linings to a diagnosis, the support these new friends from all over the country can bring and are there with you through every milestone and every symptom.
However not everyone graduates from Boot Camp or Tanning, as Dorothee calls them. Breast cancer still kills women, despite research and treatment now available. Sadly our friend Annabel, amongst others didn’t graduate with us, however her good nature and caring qualities towards others has inspired many people in what has been an action packed year.
I'd like to reassure anyone that worries about being diagnosed with Breast Cancer , that although at the beginning it seems overwhelming and that things may never be the same, it hasn't ruined my life or prevented me from participating or living life to the full, sure there are challenges, and things to be worked through, but when isn’t there ? I’m also aware that this is my subjective experience and many others may have a different experience.
In 2013, like Dorothee, I’ve set myself physical challenges, represented Annabel’s Angels at Race for Life 10K London and 5k in Derby, entered Moonwalk, returned to my beloved mixed martial arts and learnt to surf.
I returned to work full time and spent the summer travelling Europe. I think the sporting challenges perhaps are an act of defiance, a two finger salute to cancer, you will not interrupt my life further, and almost look what I can do now, and many people find new passions or seek adventures.
Life beyond cancer is at times daunting, of course nothing is guaranteed, and you have to work around fears of recurrence and learn to trust your body again. In many ways you have a greater appreciation of life and what matters most. It's also fair to say over time, things settle back into a new normal, and you can discover a new found confidence, that again varies and needs time. Repair, restore, recover – reboot are vital and there really is no time specific period this takes, it takes the time it needs to and like grief fluctuates.
In January 2013 I promised I would dedicate the coming year to Annabel and I was fuelled with determination to make a difference.
My initial aim – getting a clean bill of health and completing treatment. Followed swiftly with aims of challenging people’s perception of cancer, spreading awareness about the benefits of early detection, and helping others diagnosed to access peer support which isn’t readily available throughout the UK. As the year has progressed we’ve worked together to explore what’s available and fundraise to develop supportive services for people diagnosed with cancer in Annabel’s home town of Derby. We developed a peer support Facebook group available to anyone diagnosed as well as our community page.
I’ve also worked with London Health Improvement Board, Cancer Programme as an Exemplary Cancer Activist to begin to train others to raise awareness of early detection in London areas. To say I’m passionate about change would be an understatement.
Looking back on 2013, I feel proud of our accomplishments and excited by our aims for the coming year. Do you dare to make a difference too? Can you help us to help others?