real life

"Set up a WhatsApp group." Everything that helped me when I was first diagnosed with cancer.

My Darling,

I’m so sorry. If you are reading this and seeking out information for you or a loved one, I’m sorry. It’s just shit. It’s not fair and I’m sorry that you need this info.

The first few days and weeks can be a little overwhelming, so this is everything that I found helpful after my diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and I hope it will help you too.

Briony Benjamin shares her story below. Post continues after video.

Don’t google it and don’t get too far ahead of yourself.

On the day I was told I had Lymphoma my specialist advised me not to google what I had and not to get too far ahead of myself. Not to spend energy thinking about the unknown but instead focusing on the next few steps. For me, that was focusing on the next three things – blood tests, heart and lung tests, and an appointment with IVF Australia. That was all I needed to focus on. It’s challenging but in the first few days for me, less info was more.

Sometimes things don’t need to be accepted, just understood.

An amazing friend of mine sent the below postcard to me early on:

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It was a good reminder not to waste energy wondering why this had happened but just accepting it, so I could instead focus my energy on things that would help me.

Setting up a WhatsApp group.

I set up a WhatsApp group in the first week and I added anyone to it that reached out and wanted to be kept in the loop. It was a great simple way to keep everyone up to date without having to do massive amounts of life admin. (This tip came from the amazing Mia Freedman herself and was super helpful.)

Get a bob.

If you have long hair like I did, I’d advise getting a bob when your hair starts to fall out. For me I was three weeks into treatment. We had a gorgeous family friend who was on standby so I could get as much time out of my long hair as I could. The day it started falling out, I called her and went around (after a few last pics) and we did it then and there. By that stage it was a relief to cut it off. If you have a lovely hairdresser you can touch base with that will be flexible to your timings, that is ideal.

Find where to get amazing headscarves and how to tie them.

I didn’t have the foggiest about how to tie or wear a headscarf – I found they all looked a bit daggy and a bit cancery and I wanted to look fab (if we’re going to do this cancer thing we may as well make it look good right?) The amazing Emily Somers (a cancer kicking legend) started Bravery Co for exactly this reason. She also has a stash of video tutorials on her Instagram and website showing you how to tie the perfect headscarf. They look so gosh-darn stylish, you’ll forget you’re in treatment and just feel like a super trendy human all of a sudden.

When Briony Benjamin got sick no one listened. Post continues after podcast.

All the hair accessories.

My sister bought me a ponytail band and this was a LIFESAVER for me and I wore it just about everyday. The advantage of a ponytail band over wigs is that you can just chuck a cap over the top of it and it is very cool and breathable (important for me as I was doing chemo in Qld during a heatwave.) But it just meant I could exercise, go for a walk or go to the shops quickly and easily and still feel fab. You can get them from online from stores like this.

Lots of wigs.

Initially, I didn’t want to get a wig, it freaked me out a bit too much at the beginning. However, my mum and sister investigated options for me and I came around to the idea. The first visit to a store was confronting but trust me wigs are actually amazing these days. You’ll be surprised to realise many of them just look like a really awesome blow-dried version of your own hair! I actually felt like a total babe in my wig, which was not how I had expected to feel mid chemo. I got one from Starkles that was divine. The Beautiful Hair Boutique is also another supplier if you’re wanting something premium.

Here is a pic of me wearing my wig… it’s hard to tell it’s a wig!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Hats off! It’s time for an english wedding #gettingwiggywithit

A post shared by Briony B | Video Producer (@briony_benjamin) on

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Watch comedy.

A beautiful friend pointed out to me the importance of watching comedy and trying to force as many laughs as possible into your day. At that time, I was five weeks into chemo and realised I hadn’t watched any comedy at all. So get the Netflix specials on and just force yourself to have a good chuckle. It’s good for the soul.

Be over the top about dental hygiene.

If you’re going to start chemo, be really over the top about oral hygiene. My dear friend Lauren, a dental hygienist bought this to my attention. You want to reduce any risk of getting mouth ulcers as they are really painful and can prevent you from eating. So rinse your mouth and brush after everything you eat.

See a psychologist.

No matter how tough you are, you’re about to go through a life changing event. Any tools and strategies you can get may help in some way. The hospital had some psychologists available in the oncology wards. If you don’t click with the first specialist you speak to, don’t be scared off. Ask to speak to someone else that might suit your personality a little more. I found this a challenging step but there were some really helpful strategies I took away from a few sessions.

Just take it one step at a time.

There is no denying this is going to be tough but so many people have gone through this and come out the other side.  I just kept coming back to this mantra. One breath at a time, one step at a time, one day at a time.

Sending you love and best wishes for the time ahead. Xx

Briony was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Symptoms can include night sweats, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, fever, persistent cough & itchy skin. (She has since made a full recovery and is in remission.) 

You can follow her adventures on her Facebook page or Instagram account. For more information on Lymphoma, please visit the Lymphoma Australia website or The Leukaemia Foundation

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