Coming out: When professional meets personal.

In June last year I celebrated thirty years as a qualified therapeutic radiographer, fourteen as a clinical practitioner in the NHS and sixteen as an educator and researcher. In these thirty years all I have wanted to do is to make a difference, to make things better. By better I mean to make the experience of having radiotherapy following a diagnosis of cancer a little more bearable, to improve radiotherapy techniques and improve treatment accuracy.

As a clinical radiographer I tried to do this by challenging the status quo and conducting research and service developments. My PhD investigated the radiotherapeutic approach used for treating women following a diagnosis of breast cancer and my current academic research and teaching has been in this field also. In my breast cancer research (The S4A study) the focus has been about enhancing accuracy and enhancing the patient experience.

I’m a huge advocate of women understanding how to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. I’ve been acutely aware of the risk factors since studying as a student back in the 1980s and I am currently a trustee for a charity called The Bust Trust who aim to support breast health and wellbeing.

So it was a big shock when in March of this year I was myself diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. I have worked hard over the years to reduce my own risk of breast cancer,  I had my first child before I was thirty and breast fed both my children (considered protective factors for breast cancer), there is no family history of the disease, I’ve never been over weight and my alcohol intake is minimal; ok maybe my instagram posts of martinis in different locations presents a slightly different image-is it to late to delete the evidence? So I considered myself low risk, how wrong I was.

I have tried to keep my diagnosis private for the benefit of my children and really because I just wanted to get on with treatment with minimal fuss. But I think it’s time to come out and declare I’m now an official member of that not so exclusive and not very popular guild, the cancer club.

So why is it time to go public

Well it’s certainly not about gaining sympathy, it’s about doing justice to the hundreds of women that get a diagnosis of breast cancer every day who are brave enough to share their stories so that professionals like me can learn to do things better, make cancer care better. It’s about adding my voice to the growing throng of people who have received a diagnosis of cancer, that this journey is not a fight or a battle to be won or lost, it is a deliberate process of undertaking treatment and self care based on the very best scientific evidence, guided by well informed clinicians, taking each step with deliberation, affecting my own informed choice of the path to take, maintaining control over the decisions that are made and hopefully doing all this with a modicum of dignity.

I have made the decision to continue to work as much as I can during my treatment. This is not because I am in any way attempting to be super-woman, or because breast cancer treatment is a doddle-trust me it is not. Continuing to work is not for everyone and managing treatment, clinic appointments, as well as all the crazy stuff going on in your head is not at all easy. But I have chosen to continue to work because I love what I do, and I am more than ever, passionate about making radiotherapy for breast cancer a kinder, more dignified and even better treatment than it currently is. Also because working is a distraction, it helps to stop thinking about yourself and focus on other people. Mostly though, I am continuing to work because it is integral to my entire being. I was a competitive gymnast as a youngster; a sport that instils an ethic of hard work and commitment. You were never allowed to miss training, ever! The only time you were allowed to miss training was if your leg fell off, even then you’d be expected to turn up for conditioning.

I remember as a gymnast falling off the asymmetric bars doing a new move, and lying on the floor staring at the gym ceiling, gasping for breath and in excruciating pain. In the distance I heard my gym coach, he was supporting a gymnast at the other end of the gym, he bellowed across to me “What are you doing on the floor? Get back up and do it again!” I did, and I felt better for it. So that’s all I know what to do, when you fall down, you don’t stay down, you carry on and you keep trying to do better.

Most of all it’s time to go public because I need to say thank you. Thank you to my family and friends for their unending support, and understanding. Thank you to those that have messaged me, laughed with me, had coffee/drinks with me, checked in with me religiously without need for a reply, shared my sadness with me, and shared their inner personal experiences of their journeys with me so I didn’t feel alone. Thank you to those who have offered help at any time of day, who have done school pick ups, gym pick ups, and sleep overs so I can get to clinic appointments and recover from surgery. To those that have offered to run with me to help me get back to fitness, to all of you -thank you. To those that when I said we were running the CRUK 10K Race for Life and would they support us (meaning would they come and cheer us on) they all signed up to join us and many of them don’t run or hate running- from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Because I will never be able to repay the kindness shown to me. But mostly because out of the trauma of a cancer diagnosis I have felt the most amazing love from my special family and from incredible friends-you know who you are. This image of my daughter with her gym buddies says it all, it says unbreakable friendship, a circle of strength and support and I feel that this is what all the special people in my life are doing right now for me, and it makes me happy.


And though she be but little, she is fierce.

Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 3 scene 2.

I love Shakespeare and this quote from a Midsummer Night’s Dream about Hermia is often seen as an insult because it is about how Hermia behaves when she becomes angry. However, it has become my inner mantra at clinic appointments where the unending trail of bad news each time you visit has potential to crush us (my husband and I). I have held back the tears each time the news worsens because my circle of strength makes me fierce.

25 thoughts on “Coming out: When professional meets personal.

  • Thank you for sharing Heidi ….such strength; family and friends make up our lives and it’s so lovely to hear that you’re surrounded by those who love you. You are also such an inspiration to others….x

    Liked by 1 person

  • To my beautiful, brave extremely strong clever and witty inspirational sister, we love you for what you strive to achieve,continuing to help others and for getting back up when things get tough and for just simply being you. We know you can make a difference we know you can fight this and with all your circle of friends,family,colleagues and medical staff you WILL BEAT this X X

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thank you Heidi on behalf of all those travelling their own road to back fitness who benefit from the clinical and research work. So glad you have shared about how love balances the crazy stuff. Go team Heidi x

    Liked by 1 person

  • Very moving post H, you are one strong and determined lady. Already you are metaphorically getting back on that asymmetric bar! When I read your post it brought to mind the quote below. Always here for you H whenever, wherever and however 💕.
    “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

     Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey .

    Liked by 1 person

  • Never has there been a more apt mantra. You are tiny but so strong. Stay positive and keep fighting, and remember when you don’t feel so strong friends are there to help you, David and the family get through this time.

    Liked by 1 person

  • So sorry you have had such a rough time Heidi but what an amazing lady you are! Truly inspirational! Wishing you all the very best for the future and lots of love xx

    Liked by 1 person

  • Heidi, I saw you a couple of weeks ago and had no idea! What a hero you are. Kindest regards and thank you for being so inspirational x

    Liked by 1 person

  • Oh Heidi. I’m so sorry to hear this. I feel for you and I absolutely understand your want and need to work. You are such an inspiration in so many ways. Sending all my best.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks for sharing Heidi – what a brilliant blog. Your words will be inspiring others. Just back from Cornwall and words on a card I saw read “ you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” – I reckon you’re a surfing dude for sure !
    Love to you and yours, Helen C x

    Liked by 1 person

  • Heidi, I had no idea… Thank you for reaching out to me when Joe was diagnosed. Feel an arm of support reaching out to you, from me. Life has the power to place everything into a new perspective – with no notice. Be kind to yourself and listen to your body. Your strength (in every way) will be your comfort. Big hug 🤗 xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks for sharing Heidi. I continue to try and support my sister through a similar scenario. Sadly she doesn’t have your fantastic network or a sympathetic employer but she values what she does have and is getting on with it. You can only take it 1 day at a time. Not sure my comments can have any real purpose or impact other than to share the distress we all feel as those around us cope with life changing and emotionally shattering diagnoses. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  • To You Heidi from me

    “The light within us shines. Sometimes brightly – so brightly it can blind us with its force.
    At other times is flickers and wanes under the pressure of forces we cannot control.
    But it remains.
    If we look closely we see what those who love is observe
    – that our light is never dimmed-
    Juat rests a moment, and fathers force to ignite our souls once more”

    Liked by 1 person

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