There’s no doubt that 2021 has a lot to answer for. Having spent three quarters of last year under government restrictions of some kind – birthday parties celebrated over Zoom, weddings postponed, catch-ups with friends only allowed one-on-one via a socially distanced walk – we’ve all been hoping that this year would be, well… different.
And, whilst it’s been slow to get the good stuff off the ground (mostly because those ruddy covid restrictions are still keeping us housebound), 2021 is looking promising. There’s hope and optimism, and there’s light – if we squint hard enough we can just about see some scrapes of normality hovering on the horizon.
We spoke to five women who have already had an absolute cracking start to the year. We hope their stories serve as a constant reminder that even when it doesn’t feel like it, there’s beauty and goodness happening all around…
“I was discharged from Liverpool Breast Unit 18 months after my elective double mastectomy”
Siobhan, 30, from Southport.
“In June 2019 I had an elective risk-reducing double mastectomy. I always knew that cancer ran in my family, and in 2017 I found out that I carry the BRCA2 mutated gene. Finding out that I carried it was daunting, but knowledge is power and I felt (and still feel!) lucky to have been given the chance to make decisions to potentially change my future.”
“I decided to have surgery rather than go through yearly screening. I felt I was tackling the issue head on, rather than feeling like I was waiting for the inevitable to happen and to develop breast cancer. Most women in the UK have about 12% chance of developing breast cancer. BRCA2 meant that my chance was over 80%. Following my double mastectomy, I have about 5% of developing breast cancer in my lifetime.”
“My operation was drastic, but the positives outweighed the negatives for me. I’ve always had big boobs and loved them, but when I found out that I had BRCA2 I felt like my boobs had become ticking time bombs on my chest. I was very well supported by my friends and family with my decision – my best friend Clare and my mum organised a surprise ‘Boob Voyage’ party as a send off to my boobs before my surgery.”
“It was important for me to remain positive at each stage of the process. This wasn’t easy, and of course I did have down days but I kept reminding myself that this was my decision, this was my way of exercising control over a crap situation and that short term pain was going to make the long term gain so worth it.”
“I’m feeling very grateful for my health and for our NHS and I hope the rest of the year continues positively. I’m looking forward to the easing of lockdown and being able to hug my family and friends and to go exploring again. My garden became my safe haven following my op and during lockdown and I can’t wait to keep nurturing it this year!”
“I’m celebrating a year since I cut ties with toxic friends”
Suad, 31 from Bedford.
“Last year just before my 30th birthday, whilst carrying a five-month-old baby in arms, I declared that I was culling people from my life. Best friend included.”
“I know, I know, this all sounds very dramatic. I was saying goodbye to my twenties – a decade of parties, traveling and near misses – and promised myself self-acceptance in the coming years. To do this I knew it meant letting go of the toxic pals that made me feel crap because I’d allowed them to have such great influence in my life. There was the best friend, someone I’d loved for years and years, who repeatedly acted unforgivably and a couple of others who fell short too often. With these particular people, I found myself constantly giving, listening, and fixing problems all of which accumulated to emotional exhaustion on a near daily basis finding I had very little energy for me. We never recommend staying in negative relationships and the same rule should apply to friendships. It wasn’t as brutal as it sounds but it did take a level of willpower I didn’t know I had. I am after all a recovering people-pleaser.”
“I am the happiest I have ever been, and I no longer feel guilty about it. My only regret is not feeling brave enough to have done it sooner. There’s a lot of pressure to be a ‘good friend’ but that doesn’t come at any cost. It’s okay to outgrow people in the way we might outgrow places. It’s also okay to say this isn’t for me anymore.”
“After lockdown I’m looking forward to taking my youngest down to London to stomp around my hometown and see extended family again. Restrictions permitting, I’m also looking forward to throwing dinner parties again and planning our big Benglish (Bengali and English) wedding!”
“My baby boy was born in January after two miscarriages”
Rachel, 34, from London.
“My husband and I got married in September 2017 and we felt extremely lucky to discover I was pregnant in January 2019. We were totally over the moon and whilst there was a small element of worry, I rather naively, as a fit and healthy 32-year-old (I was at that point training for the London marathon) assumed things would be OK.”
“At 10 weeks we decided to book an early private scan, but at the appointment no heartbeat could be detected and the baby was measuring smaller than it should – more like six weeks. I’ll never forget my husband and I holding each other in bed that night, both sobbing our hearts out. Having had no bleeding, I had assumed everything was going OK. Over the next day I learnt very quickly a lot more about a missed miscarriage, something I’d never heard of before – essentially where the baby stops developing but your body doesn’t respond. I opted for surgical removal under general anesthetic which was carried out a few days later. It was only after that that I could really start to grieve – devastated scarcely comes close.”
“After a month or so once my cycles resumed we began trying again and by July I had another positive pregnancy test. This time there was a heartbeat, but they told us it was already too slow and would likely stop soon. It just felt so unfair that this should happen a second time. I knew that was statistically more unlikely so why was I one of the unlucky ones? The wait again was agonising, knowing that my so-wanted baby was likely dying inside of me with every moment that passed. I cried myself to sleep every night and willed it to defy the odds. Sadly it didn’t and a week later it was confirmed the baby had stopped developing.”
“A doctor at the EPU (Early Pregnancy Unit) spoke to me about a study being done on the after effects of the ERPC (the surgical procedure I’d had), which I was happy to be part of. Unfortunately the scan showed there was some scarring to my uterus, which was confirmed at a follow-up hysteroscopy. The treatment involved cutting the scar tissue and having a coil fitted to try and prevent it reforming.”
“The coil was removed in January last year, and I was given the go ahead to try again. I became pregnant again in May 2020 – I cannot describe the anxiety I went through for the first half particularly of my pregnancy but once I began to feel movements that really helped. Right to the end I found it hard to truly believe I was going to get a healthy baby at the end of this. I cannot praise the NHS enough, I had ten scans throughout my pregnancy, which helped hugely, and felt my fears and history were acknowledged and considered throughout.”
“My son Jonas is now 6 weeks old and the love I feel for him is unreal. I think of my babies that I didn’t get to hold every day, they were and are a huge part of my journey to be a mother. I liked to think they were willing us on throughout pregnancy and feel like Jonas must be a real fighter to make it this far.”
“I left my toxic job and have a new exciting role lined up”
Chloe, 25, from Nottinghamshire.
“My previous role was at a company that was very toxic and intimidating, I didn’t feel supported or empowered to do my job, and was left feeling uninspired and undervalued. My mental health took a real turn and I experienced a number of depressive episodes – which alongside my already terrible anxiety really knocked my confidence and happiness.”
“Because of the pandemic, I didn’t want to feel ungrateful for having a stable job when so many others were in a worse position. I ended up taking a chance at applying for a marketing role at a company I love just before the New Year and didn’t really think much of it, until I got the call for an interview, then it was all I could think about. The interview went really well and then I got the call – I got the job!”
“It’s the first time in a really long time that I’ve become more optimistic and hopeful for the future. I’m hoping to become more mindful and work on improving my mental health now that I’m out of such a toxic situation – I’m able to look at my goals and aspirations for the year and work on them with more clarity, rather than feeling foggy headed and unmotivated. This past year has been difficult so all of us, but the future is looking bright!”
“I fell in love with my flatmate and am now in my first truly equal partnership”
Ally, 28, from London.
“I lived in a house share last year so when lockdown happened it was a bit of an adjustment; we all went from just passing each other in the kitchen once a day to suddenly having no other company available to us. We didn’t really have very much to do during those months so we filled the infinite chasm of time with lots of Scrabble and long, rambling conversations. There are some very funny moments from the pining months – including a photo I sent to my girlfriends when he was sitting close to me of our legs which I captioned “So. Nearly. Touching!!”
“As restrictions started to ease I felt a weird sense of impending nostalgia- like yes I was ecstatic to be able to see my friends again but I was also very aware that I was about to lose my cast-iron excuse to have M all to myself. Eventually I wore him down – we went to watch the sunrise on Parliament Hill and I think at that point a flip switched in him and he thought maybe a lifetime of board games and culinary adventures together wouldn’t be so bad. After months of me trying to let him know that I liked him (subtle hints at first that became less and less covert…) he told me he liked me too.”
“I feel very settled; we went into this as best friends and we’ve held onto that. We’re partners in everything and for the first time in my life I feel truly valued and listened to. I think more than anything 2020 has taught me (and M helped me with this – it’s not something that comes naturally) to live in the present as much as possible. Instead of hoping for things and constantly looking ahead I’m just trying to live one day at a time.”