29/12/2014 16:11 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

The Glass Half Full: A Breast Cancer Blog

My breast cancer blogGetty

Five years ago Elizabeth Glasson was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her shock diagnosis came slap bang at the beginning of her family's eagerly-awaited summer holidays - and treatment began immediately for what turned out to be an aggressive grade 3, stage 3 breast cancer.

Until then, as she herself says, she had been "living an ordinary life worrying about nothing more than getting home from work in time to pick up the kids and whether there would be another series of Desperate Housewives."

I am very proud to call myself a friend of Elizabeth's - one of the warmest, kindest, funniest women you are ever likely to meet. But back in September 2008, when her friends regrouped in the playground at the start of the term, we discovered that far from sunning in France, Elizabeth had been in hell and alone.

What was happening and how could we help? Did she want company or peace? A meal rota for the family or lifts to the hospital for chemotherapy?

And then Elizabeth started her breast cancer blog - a painfully honest, often funny and even more frequently tear-wrenching account of how being diagnosed by breast cancer feels for a mother of two children, the oldest of whom had started secondary school while her mother was pole axed by chemotherapy and guilt.

During her treatment her blog formed a lifeline for her friends and family, desperate to know how she was but knowing often she simply couldn't cope with phone calls and visits - and I think writing it was something of a lifeline for Elizabeth herself.

I remember being choked up with tears at the start of one post and cackling by the end - only Elizabeth could combine a description of chemotherapy followed by a hilarious description of an ill-fated mission to buy towels at John Lewis.

Five years on and healthy and well, Elizabeth has revisited the blog and published it.

What shines through most is how, as Elizabeth says, "this is an ultimately hopeful story from a mother, wife, friend and colleague who (nearly) always saw the glass half full."

I asked Elizabeth to write her own introduction to the blog to whet your appetites:

The Glass Half Full – A Breast Cancer Blog Revisited

By E M Glasson

"Talking about breast cancer is incredibly difficult. When you are diagnosed the world does not turn pink and fluffy as you might have been led to believe. The day you are diagnosed the world turns black.

It should have been a perfect summer. After a couple of years of work hell, near bankruptcy and the death of my elderly in-laws within 24 hours of each other, we were finally getting away for a well-earned break. My husband Pierre had inherited his parents' crumbling old house in France, which needed endless work on it if we were to keep it going. So on 22nd July 2007, we filled the car with sheets, tea bags and a feeling of happy anticipation as we headed for the French countryside with our two children, Eva, aged 11, and Louis, six.

Ten days later, on August 2nd, I looked around the empty London square outside St Bartholomew's hospital and realised that the adventure I had prepared for was a long way from the adventure I was about to undertake.

My fingers trembled so badly I could barely press the keys on my mobile phone. Pierre picked up the phone on the first ring.


It's not a cyst,' I whispered. 'It's a 3 cm, grade 3, stage 3 malignant tumour. I'm starting chemotherapy in two days.


It was impossible to take in. Just a few days earlier, we'd celebrated the start of a whole new phase of our lives with a bottle of chilled champagne. Then, as I washed in the shower after a day spent scrubbing floors and cleaning windows, I felt something hard and sharp in my left breast.

I'd only checked my breasts a few weeks earlier and hadn't felt anything like this, so I didn't feel unduly worried. I nevertheless made a visit to the local doctor to get it checked out. She sent me for a mammogram and an ultrasound, where I was sure the radiographer said it was a cyst, but as there were no consultants available in this small holiday town, they advised that I went home for further tests, just to be sure.

We cobbled together the price of a plane ticket for me to fly back to the UK. I waved at my little family as I went through to the departure lounge, with assurances I'd be back in a few days.


I was 43 years old. I cooked a hot meal for my children every night and I belonged to the PTA. I had no family history of breast cancer and couldn't remember the last time I'd been to the GP for myself.


The fear of the future was overwhelming. I thought about the Race of Life I'd ran and the women I'd known or known of who'd succumbed to this terrible disease. I felt as if I was in a film; that it wasn't happening to me, but to someone else as I looked on helplessly.

It was August in London. All of my close friends were on holiday and my husband and children were in a tiny one room seaside rental. My mother, sensing trouble, had kindly made the journey up from Wales, so I was not entirely alone – but I have never felt so isolated in my life.

The idea to write about my experiences came as people started to drift back to London and news of my unexpected illness travelled. Kind well-wishers phoned constantly to ask for news. Someone gave me a wonderful book by Deborah Hutton, called, What can I do to help? which she wrote while undergoing treatment for terminal lung cancer. In it she suggested that to keep people up to date and to save yourself from spending hours every day on the phone repeating the same old stuff, it might be an idea to write a blog that everyone could access.

In many ways, writing the blog became more of a life line for me than for anyone else. It not only kept people in touch with my progress, but it helped me to make sense of what I was experiencing.

I was desperate to find others who had been through the same thing as me. A woman with children, who found herself waking up in what felt like someone else's shoes. This proved to be far more difficult than I'd imagined. Breast cancer chat rooms were filled with women in the same sorry state as me, just as frightened and just as sick.


The many thousands who had been successfully treated for breast cancer were far too busy getting on with their lives than to hang around cyber cafes reassuring the newly diagnosed that it was possible to make it out the other side.


Which is why, as I approach the big five year milestone, I thought it may be helpful to look back at what I wrote then, and how what I said, felt and thought at the time has altered over time.


I thought about the me of five years ago, staring into the mirror at a bald, bloated creature and how much she would have loved to have met the me I am today.


My world is still not pink and fluffy, (perhaps I'm just not that kinda gal?) but it is not the bleak dark space I inhabited back in 2007. My life now is filled with light, laughter, family and friends and I have become my own living proof that there is life after cancer."

To read more of The Glass Half Full click here.

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More on Parentdish: 10 ways to help a friend with breast cancer