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  • Writer's pictureSally Smart

My Cancer Journey




Mine is not a unique story, many have walked the same path, but I wish to share my journey with you as it has had an impact on Blue Bug.  Days after my Mum’s funeral in November 2021 I discovered a lump in my breast.  I could hear Mum’s voice in my head telling me to get it checked so that’s exactly what I did! 

 

Following mammograms, scans and biopsies I was diagnosed in February 2022 with two aggressive breast cancer tumours.  My main fear initially was that it had spread as there were two areas, but I quickly learned that they were two independent primary cancers with a different make up.   My cancers were called invasive ductal carcinoma, both hormone fed and one HER2 positive.

 

 

In February 2022 I had a single mastectomy without reconstruction.  Then in April I started 12 sessions of chemotherapy combined with 18 sessions of immunotherapy and as well as bone infusions I am on 10 years of hormone therapy.

 

 

The diagnosis changed my life, not just physically changing my body, but my mind too.  2022 is now a bit of a blur to me, thankfully, but I am over the worse of the treatment.  The hormone therapy is a bit of a killer to be honest with some really unpleasant side effects. 

 

 

During 2022 I had 46 weddings in my diary and my treatment meant I was unable to fulfil them.  This was one of my lowest points.  I had built up Blue Bug over 13 years and was extremely proud of the wedding photographer I had become.  I have my own style and put a lot of effort and time into my brides and grooms to ensure they have the best day with incredible images to look back on for years to come.  Thankfully there were some local photographers willing to take over my weddings and still allow me to edit the images in my signature style, thankfully most couples went with this option, but I did loose a great deal of business and money.

 

 

Cancer is not only physically painful, but mentally too.  My body is now different with a breast missing, loosing my hair made me cry daily as I didn’t like the bald old man looking back at me in the mirror with no eyebrows or lashes!  Chemo affected my skin, hair, nails, sleep pattern, in fact just about every aspect of my life, and menopause and hormone treatment was the icing on the top of a very nasty cake! Nobody told me I would have daily nosebleeds and that my toenails would fall off!  But thankfully it was not as bad as I imagined overall. 

 

 

Slowly the side effects started to disappear, my hair and nails started to grow back – my hair is now much darker, thicker, and curlier that it was before, luckily my hairdresser has worked her magic, and I am starting to resemble the person I was before.  I kept my social media posts positive as despite all the sadness, I have also laughed through my journey and kept incredibly positive.  I walked my dogs each day, albeit a little bit slower than usual, I went to the theatre, saw my friends for coffees and dinner, had the odd glass of wine and spent incredible quality time with my now fiancé. 

On my journey I met some incredible ladies going through the same treatment.  A few I knew locally already and the others I met in the hospital or via social media.  In October 2022 a group of us, called the Breast Friends, held a Charity Day at The Hideaway Bar in Prestatyn.  My fiancé walked up Kilimanjaro to raise funds, and along with the charity day we raised almost £10,000.

 

 

During 2023 I started to slowly get back into the swing of things with shooting weddings but as I had not attended my usual wedding fayres during treatment it led to many fewer bookings.  This gave me the opportunity to make a “Calendar Girls” style calendar with the Breast Friends.   The calendar has been the most fun imaginable!  18 ladies ranging between 29 and 65 years of age, all different types of breast cancer, all different types of surgery, all different types of treatment plans, all different shapes and sizes but all wanting to give back to Glan Clwyd hospital’s Cancer Centre.

 

 

During 2023 we made and sold the calendar and raised a staggering £20,000.  We had sponsorship from a huge number of local businesses and the incredible Wedding Industry Suppliers whom I work alongside all donated to the cause.  In January of 2024 the BBC picked up on our story and over two days we were filmed and shown on the BBC breakfast Wales, the main BBC breakfast, the lunch time news and a live interview with the 24-hour BBC world news channel, I had two live radio interviews, one with BBC Wales and the other on BBC 5 Live Drive Time.  We then had an interview with a magazine and are waiting for the publication date.  This flurry of activity brought more sales of the calendar and the ladies decided to host a Ball.  This will be held at The Beaches Hotel in Prestatyn.

 

 

The Breast Friends have now raised over £35,000 in total to date for the North Wales Cancer Appeal who support the Glan Clwyd Cancer Unit directly.  This has been a fantastic achievement, but the real joy has been watching the Breast Friends come together, form tight real friendships, support each other and most importantly blossom into beautiful goddesses.  I can’t describe the overwhelming delight I have received from this process, knowing I have had a small impact on their lives and also raising so much money for the cancer unit which looked after me so well. 

 

 

Apart from all the above, I was pretty chuffed to receive a handwritten letter from Lorraine Kelly; and the biggest news ever – in February I received an email saying I had been nominated to attend The Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in May.  I can’t describe the immense pride I feel, it still hasn’t sunk in!  Sadly, it is only an invitation for myself and my fiancé, but I wish I could take all the ladies with me.

 

 

So, my cancer journey has been a real rollercoaster with real lows but incredible highs.  I am a different person now, I make more time for me, I strive to have the work life balance and I still wish to be the best wedding photographer I can be.  So, I encourage all my friends to check themselves regularly as caught early, its treatable!  Cancer came but I fought back and achieved so much in return. 

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