HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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My first proper haircut in four and a half years!

I don’t have many cancer milestones or hurdles these days and for that I am very grateful. But the one area that was still hanging around that I couldn’t quite bring myself to deal with was my hair.

In 2012 I had chemotherapy and lost all my hair, every last strand of it. Before the chemo started my hair was really really long and thick but even so when I was told that my hair would most likely all fall out with the chemo, I was surprisingly calm and not too fussed about it. To me it seemed like a small price to pay for a much better shot at long-term survival.

After my chemo started I decided I didn’t want to wait for all this long hair to fall out for various reasons, the main two being that I found the hair falling out physically quite uncomfortable and even painful and also emotionally it was hard.  I particularly hated how every time my baby son grabbed onto my hair a handful of it came out in his hand, and so I decided it had to go.

So in a fit of enthusiasm,  I went all GI Jane and got a buzz cut (without a guard on the shaver so it was really really short!) To be honest I slightly regretted going quite so short as my head was like Velcro, which made sleeping difficult as I just stuck to the pillow and in the end it actually took quite a few weeks for my hair to fall out entirely (I definitely should have just gone for a pixie cut, but you live and learn!).

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(Me in my hat and wig)

About five months later my hair had started to grow back (sort of) so I gave up on the hats and wigs (which I hated by that point) and once again sported the military look. The first time I went out with no hat/wig it was to a barbecue with about 80 people, most of whom I knew. I had just had a mastectomy and was feeling pretty awful. It took all the courage I could muster to not wear a hat/wig but I didn’t want to hide anymore so I just went for it.

I think I was looking pretty terrible and although everyone was really kind, no one mentioned my hair which was disappointing because to me it was a really big deal. About halfway through the party one friend came up to me and whispered, “You look beautiful” in my ear. I blatantly did not look beautiful. My skin was grey and I couldn’t move one arm after my recent surgery. I had gained so much weight from all the steroids and I basically had no hair or eyelashes. But in that moment, I felt seen by my friend and I felt so loved and I was so grateful to her for her kindness.

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(Hair just growing back)

Since then, I have never had a proper haircut, just a trim every now and then to make sure my hair didn’t look too 80s (which, I have discovered, will happen if you are growing your hair out from zero). Every time I went to the hairdressers I would be sure to clarify that I didn’t want them to cut anything more than absolutely necessary off. And so my hair has been getting longer and longer and longer.

Fast forward four and a bit years and my hair was once again really, really long and really really thick and to be honest it was driving me nuts. It was this frustration with my hair, rather than some deep philosophical revelation that made me realise it was time for it to go. So on Friday I had about five inches cut off and am now sporting a new look.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to the point of being ready to cut it off and I don’t know why up until now it was the one thing that I couldn’t seem to let go of. Maybe it was vanity. Maybe it was something to do with feeling like growing my hair was part of my recovery and so if I cut it my recovery must be over.  Maybe it was because I wanted it to get to the point that it was at before it all fell out. To be honest, I’m still not really sure and I still haven’t had any deep philosophical revelation about my hair and its length!

But, what I am sure of is this. I am so glad that I have finally felt ready to let go of another of the legacies of cancer and to take one more step towards normality. I am so thankful that cancer is part of fewer and fewer of my key milestones and life choices. I am so thankful for every day of good health and of course, I am so glad to have options with what to do with my hair!

Thank you to all of you who have supported us through all of my hair lengths. We love you and couldn’t have gotten to this point without you. Here’s a shot of the new hairdo (excuse the shiny nose!!) X

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Why we have moved house AGAIN: choosing to participate in the adventure!

Recently I have been working through a course called Storyline with a group of friends and together we’ve been looking at the story of our lives so far, the ups and downs, the themes as well as looking for the redemptive perspective – the gold that comes as a result of the bad stuff in our lives.

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(Storyline ladies on a recent night out)

It has been really interesting to reflect on what has happened but also to think about how do I live a great story going forward? How are the choices that I make building into this story or am I always choosing the safe option, the easy way out? Would my choices and my life make the most boring book known to mankind or would there be some good stuff in there; some adventure, some conflict that was overcome, some struggle, some fantastic relationships?

 This slight shift in the way I think about my own life and decision making has really helped me to deal with some of the huge change and upheaval that have come in the past few months and as I have sought to live a great story courage has risen within me in a surprising way. 

When I wrote my last blog post 5 months ago (I really don’t know how it has been five months already!!) I wrote about feeling a call to be brave. It was such a strong sense at the time and the message was everywhere I looked. But when I wrote that blog post I honestly had no idea what that would look like at that point in my life. What would being brave at home with two little people actually mean as my life didn’t contain anything that required much bravery at all?

A week or two after I wrote the post, an opportunity came up for Joel workwise which would mean a new everything… New job for him, new house, new school for Jonty, new community. Not only this but this opportunity also meant that all of this would be temporary and that we would most likely be moving again next summer (which we were always due to be doing anyway). So it meant an additional house move, an additional new community, an additional mountain of hassle and admin tasks for me! It was quite honestly not that appealing a prospect!

This was not what I had in mind when I was feeling that I needed to be brave! I was thinking something a lot more low key and involving a lot less paperwork and time spent on hold sorting out bills and direct debits (and I now seriously wish the council would get something other than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as their hold music!!) 

But this was an amazing opportunity and very quickly we realised we had a choice to make: Do we participate in the adventure or don’t we? Do we move with where we feel God calling us, embracing all the upheaval that it entails or do we stay put where it is safe and comfortable? 

At the end of the day, I don’t think that it was really all that much of a difficult decision because I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to miss out on the adventure or the blessing or the calling because I was afraid or because I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle.  

I want to be part of the adventure. I want to live a great story with God!  

So, I put my big girl pants, got out my book of lists on and we just got on with it!

We moved just over a month ago, from the suburbs of London back in towards the city, which seems to surprise everyone we meet. We always get the same response, “Oh! Why have you done that? Everyone at your stage of life always moves out, not in!” But we have moved in because it felt like the right thing to do, because it was all part of the adventure!

We have been blessed with a wonderful house in a great spot (and I discovered recently that it is five doors down from the house where my great-great grandparents lived over 100 years ago! How strange!). Last week Jonty got into an amazing local school and he started Reception there on Friday. Joel began his new job on Monday and so the new season has well and truly begun.

(First day of school fun)

So, the story continues. The adventure continues and I am excited to be part of it!

It is my prayer for myself and for us all that we never get stuck, that we never pass the adventure over because we are afraid or we think it will be too hard or we can’t be bothered with the hassle of change.

Let’s embrace the adventure and may our lives always tell a great story! 


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Cancer and strawberry milkshakes!

So, Saturday 11 April was a pretty big day for me. I had meant to write a few thoughts about it on the actual day, but in the morning I walked 14.5 miles (23.5 kms) as part of my training for the Moonwalk marathon that I am doing next month, and it just about finished me off! I was barely able to have a decent conversation for the rest of the day let alone write something vaguely coherent!

But today, a few days on, my boy is back at nursery and I have a moment on this sunny Tuesday morning to reflect on this milestone

11 April was my cancerversary! (Yes, that it a real word! Well it is in my book!) It was my third cancerversary. Three years since the language of hospitals and treatment and prognosis stats entered my vocabulary and my everyday conversations. Three years since my normal changed beyond all recognition.

I always feel a little apprehensive as cancer milestones approach as sometimes I can be surprised and even completely blindsided by the intensity of my own emotions. How is this day really going to feel? How much of a big deal should I make of it? Should I mourn for what is lost? Should I dance that I am still alive? What is the appropriate response?

Despite my anticipation of the event lurking over me in the weeks before, in the end, the day was fairly low key. Epic walk in the morning (during which I got completely drenched in the rain), riverside pub trip in the afternoon with Some of Joel’s family and then an early dinner with my boys in a local diner.

We celebrated that I was still alive by sharing a strawberry milkshake!

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There were no tears and surprisingly no reminiscing. No rehashing of how it all felt on 11 April 2012. Rather there was plenty of laughing and chatting and answering of my little one’s questions… “Mummy, why does this restaurant have windows?”, “Who are those people Mummy?”, “I like Tyrannosaurus Rex’s! Which is your favourite dinosaur, Mummy?”

Joel did ask me if I wanted to talk about it, but I said no. I didn’t need to relive the trauma. It didn’t feel necessary or right. Rather, I just wanted to celebrate life! I just wanted to be normal.

The day before my cancerversary I was aimlessly scrolling through Facebook when I saw this quotation image:

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It really struck me. It is the message of Easter. But also, it spoke straight to my heart about the hope that has been restored to me through Christ. Through him, I am a resurrection person. I am part of the new life of the Easter story. Even though there have been places of huge pain and difficulty, hope can still rise up again.

Hope does and has risen in me.

I clicked on the link attached to the quotation and began to read the article. As I did this next quotation image similarly hit me straight between the eyes:

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Something deep in my Spirit said, “Yes!”

Because I am a resurrection person, because I know new life, because my hope has risen from the ashes, hosanna is my song. Thanksgiving is my song. Joy is my song!

So there it is! My third cancerversary has passed. It didn’t floor me. I was able to stand with my head held high and look to the future with hope, standing strong on the new life that Easter promises. What a gift!


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Tombola

On Saturday the family and I went to the garden centre. (I know, very middle aged, but it was raining! 😉 ) We had our lunch and had made our purchases and were on our way out when we spotted a charity tombola stall. 3 tickets for £1… We had to have a go!

There were other people playing too and one of them won a huge bucket of fish blood and bone plant food!! I seriously hoped I didn’t win one too… Yuk! My mum-in-law played first and won an Emma Bridgwater address book and a book on chauffeurs’ etiquette. Not bad! Joel played and won an embroidered bookmark… Less good. I played and won a brand new massive terracotta plant pot… Awesome! 🙂 £3 well spent we felt!

I often think that life seems to be a lot like a tombola. Things happen, good things to “good” people, or good things to “bad” people and the same goes for bad things. There doesn’t seem to be much sense in who gets what circumstances.

Quite a few people have asked me whether I feel angry with God for allowing me to get cancer. The honest answer is no. I have never felt angry with God. I have felt very sad and heartbroken, but never angry. I was thinking about why that is and I think it is because I know that we live in a broken world where there is sickness and suffering and death and things that happen that break God’s heart. I think that my being poorly breaks God’s heart, as do all the horrible things that happen to each one of us. But… I also know that one day everything will be restored. When thinking about this I was reminded if Revelation 21:4 which speaks of this restoration. It says

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

This is such a beautiful image to me and I love that this passage goes on to say that He will make all things new and everything will be restored.

In the meantime, while we wait for this day and as I allow Him, God can use this experience to make something beautiful and I trust that as He does this my life can still glorify Him.