Earlier this year, I had the idea of dedicating a part of Love My Dress over to our readers – give them an opportunity to write, on an anonymous basis if they wish, about all things life and love – and, as often has proved, not necessarily anything to do with weddings. The resulting ‘From the Heart‘ series has been a huge success and exceeded all my expectations for the nature in which it has offered a safe, non-judgemental and reassuring space online for our readers. The features themselves remind all who enjoy visiting Love My Dress that they are amongst a caring, supportive, nurturing community, which means the absolute world to me (Love My Dress was always so much more than a ‘wedding blog’, whatever that is, these days). From the Heart has encouraged many of our readers to come forward and share intimate, personal experiences that they hope resonate with others, and they truly have.
I feel humbled today, to be sharing our final From the Heart story for 2016. All the stories we share are significant, but this one really is special and contains a vitally important message for all women. It is my pleasure to hand you over to designer Mette Baillie this morning, the lady behind Edinburgh based ‘Freja Fashion‘. Over to you Mette…
So I write this article in my sofa, surrounded by hygge big mug of tea, candles lit and big woolly socks on, trying to make sense of what this crazy 2016 offered me.
Mette Baillie of
Freja Fashion, Edinburgh
I love spring time, and everything about spring. All the flowers – I can name them all in Latin – and their common names in a few languages. Every year I am on a high when spring starts, and I have such a huge amount of energy, just as well as an independent wedding dress designer I really really need bags of the stuff at that time of year.
2016 was the same; the 12th of May is my dad’s birthday and whilst he has long passed away, I always make a date with myself on that day to think of him. We were so close and shared the craziest form of humour. This year no different, I had arranged an early finish from work and a wee run along the sea front. The sun was wonderful and warming my skin, and I was so happy, I could feel my dad as if he was so close by. I was laughing to myself about jokes we had played on each other and other people. I got home and while I was in the shower, I found a lump in my right breast.
I am very body conscious, and knew straight away that this lump was not usually there. I thought it must have been an abscess or a cyst, so the next day, I arranged an appointment with my GP. My GP referred me to the breast clinic and was told to bring a book, as it could be a long day of waiting. It was!
I was strangely calm throughout this experience. I just thought it was something benign. I eventually had a mammography, followed by some ultrasound. And then more mammography.
I was then called to the doctor and asked if I wanted to call somebody? I couldn’t understand why I would be calling somebody! The situation still didn’t click with me, until the Doctor said “I have bad news, you have cancer”.
My obvious and immediate first reaction was that it was a mistake. How could they just say that there and then like that? But the Doctor assured me that thats was what it was, and that she would need to undertake some biopsies to find out more.
I then went to speak to one of the nurses, who told me it was just a small tumour and would be quickly resolved with surgery and radiography – that I would be ‘done in a couple of months’. My first question was ‘can I run the half marathon I plan to run in October?’, and she said she couldn’t see a problem with that. Looking back it’s the strangest things that come into your brain in that early state of shock.
And so it all started. I had to have many more tests and scans and it went on and on. It felt surreal – I just wanted to be at work, hanging out with friends, being normal and carrying on. I tried to not bring my cancer thoughts and worries to work, and that worked well. I actually really enjoyed coming to my ‘cancer free’, safe place.
After all, the scans showed a mix of good and bad… Good news was that there was no spreading, and the bad news was, that it was a grade 4 cancer, which means it’s the fastest growing cancer you get. For that reason, it was recommended I had Chemotherapy. This was just something I absolutely did not want. I care so much about my body, so the thought of all this medicine with horrific side effects entering my system over many weeks really upset me – the unknown of how my body would deal with it, was terrifying, to be honest.
The first day of the Chemotherapy arrived and it was the lowest day. I had just returned from the Royal Ascot, where I had been invited to attend in the Royal Enclosure, all my closest friends had headed off on holiday, and there I was ready to be pumped full of crazy drugs.
But I coped with them well, and in a way I could manage. I was told I would lose my hair after the second lot of treatment, but it ended up falling out after the first. I didn’t think it was such a big deal, but it was, it was really hard. I had just come out of the shower and put the brush to my hair and it almost all came off in one go.
I went to see my very good friend, who is a hair dresser. I was going to a wedding on the Saturday and this was the Wednesday! So I asked her if she thought I could wear my own hair, and she agreed. She later told me that she knew I couldn’t, but that I wasn’t ready to hear it. I called her in tears on the Friday night and she came round first thing Saturday morning and shaved the last few strands off and cut my wig to shape. It was the hardest day – we both cried and hugged together. I couldn’t look at myself I took some bald selfies. It took me 3 days to brave looking at them. I had not told anyone at the wedding what was going on. I didn’t feel myself and had to go and lie down for two hours in the middle of the wedding celebrations, as I just got so so tired. The experience of attending the wedding actually exhausted me so much, that I ended up in hospital a couple of days later.
Anyway, I managed through the first twelve weeks and four rounds of chemotherapy. I was over the moon I had conquered it! Just so happy. But it was very hard going – twice I ended up in hospital with infection, and I was just so incredibly tired, I can’t describe the tiredness, just so tired you can’t even imagine how you get out of the chair, or how you get home.
One of the times I ended up in hospital, I actually had a film crew due to visit the shop the next morning. I was begging the hospital to discharge me so that I could be at the shop – they finally did discharge me, in the middle of the night, but the hospital was all locked up so I couldn’t find my way out! I eventually found an open window on the ground floor and I climbed out of the window, trying not to get my wig stuck on the hinges. I was laughing to myself – who could have thought that escaping from hospitals would be part of fighting cancer?
Throughout this whole experience, I managed somehow to still work full time and fulfill all the wedding dresses orders on time. My staff worked so hard to cover for me for all my appointments in hospital, and if I ever needed to sneak off for a snooze.
After the chemo, the scans showed the tumour had shrunk significantly. It was such a happy day when I could see with my own eyes, how the tumour on the mammography looked smaller. I still had to have surgery though – and I had still not been promised if I could keep my right breast. But it turned out that I could – another very happy day! I was so proud of the surgeons work, that since my surgery, I’ve had that boob out to show all my girlfriends! I had to celebrate a new lease of life.
After the surgery, I decided to tell my story. This coincided with the beginning of October and Breast Cancer Awareness months. I had only told a handful of friends and my family – so all my friends were in disbelief as they had seen my pictures on Facebook of me out running, which I had managed to keep up. I didn’t run as far or as fast as I used to; I used to run about 10 miles on a Sunday, and around 6 miles once or twice a week, so I cut that down to approximately half. I know my oncologist and the nurses where pretty much in disbelief, but I am so glad I managed and it kept me grounded and happy and made me feel normal. After I came out of my ‘cancer-closet’, as my husband calls it, I got so many congratulations I had beaten the cancer.
Then I was told due to live cancer cells left in the tumour removed during surgery, it was recommended I had another round of chemotherepy. This was another huge low and very hard to accept, but I’m on that round of chemotherepy right now, and over half way through it already. It’s a different drug and a new set of side effects. Despite the return of the crazy tiredness, I have managed to still work full time and swim and run.
I am going to have a two week break from treatment in the New Year and then 20 sessions of daily radiography. I have already planned to run to the hospital and back again each day. Then when spring arrives, my favourite time of year, I’ll be brand new – and still with two boobs.
This journey has been a crazy one. I am usually in charge of all my own decisions as a self employed person, and it was so hard to have that taken away.
Sadly I lost my sister to cancer 14 years ago – she too got diagnosed with a small tumour and had two rounds of chemotherapy, which didn’t do anything for her. The advances made in cancer since are huge, and offer undeniably massive leaps forward.
However the biggest and most important part in fighting cancer is your own part.
Do you self examine?
Ask your nurse to show you when you go for your next smear test, because you do go for your smear tests, right?
The next woman who says to me in a wry smile, ‘No, I don’t self examine, my husband does that!’ will make me blow up! NO WAY! You must do it yourself – they are your boobs! Take responsibility for your health. This could mean life or death, and it can happen to any of us.
Breast and colon are two of the biggest cancers for women, but there are so many other ones, so stay in tune with your body and if you notice any changes, no matter how subtle, speak to your GP. If I had not noticed the lump in my boob so soon, I might not be here today to tell you my story.
For all you lovely people out there experiencing cancer from different sides, I have the biggest admiration to you. I watched my sister die, and I have now had cancer myself. Any day, any time, I would prefer to have the cancer and not be the one who can only watch and worry. I am very hands on, and I felt I could be “hands on” in my own life, So much harder when it was somebody else, so again, do your loved ones a favour, look after yourself, and check yourself, do not leave it for them to deal with, it’s too late. Cancer is so silent and discrete.
The author of this feature is Mette Baillie of Freja Fashion – who you can connect with through Instagram at @frejadesignerdressmaking. Mette has bravely shared this story as part of our ‘From The Heart series – a collection of stories on all matters of life and love, written by our readers and shared on a Sunday morning. If you would like to contribute a From The Heart piece of your own, we would dearly love to hear from you. It doesn’t matter what it’s about and it doesn’t have to be related to weddings at all – we’re looking for honest, authentic, personal, sad, happy, family, relationship, marriage, health, light-hearted, serious, baby, trying for baby, children, career, simple, complicated – real life issues. We just need you to write from your heart. Keep it upbeat and witty, or share your thoughts anonymously on a more challenging or emotional subject. Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you, Annabel x