Thursday, 23 January 2014


I've recovered amazingly quickly from my final chemo. Its like my body knows it was the last one and is jumping for joy. Now I really feel like I can celebrate the end of that nightmare. This makes me happy.

Happy that...
  • as I recover, this time I will be allowed to just get better and better, rather than having the sledgehammer hanging over me, ready to strike again
  • I can stop worrying about what I eat - sushi and soft cheese are back on the menu!
  • I don't have to be paranoid about infections anymore
  • food may actually start to taste normal
  • my hair can grow back (although in some ways I might miss my bald head, it's comforting to stroke especially now that there's a little bit of hair there, and is very easy maintenance)
  • I might soon be able to enjoy a glass of wine
  • I can make plans without thinking about how many days post chemo it will be and consequently what variation of shit I will be feeling
  • I can throw out all the medication that I have been relying on to manage those evil chemo side effects
These thoughts pop into my head several times a day, and I get that happy feeling.   Do yourself a favour and click on the link below.  As my sister Sas says, I defy anyone not to feel happy whilst listening to this song! (Pharrell Williams - Happy, in case the link doesn't work).

(I realise I've possibly overused the word happy in the last few paragraphs.  But that is after all what this post is all about.  So I think I won't worry about it.)

Seeing some hair growing back on my head is very exciting.  My eyebrows and eyelashes seem to keep disappearing sadly but luckily I started off with thick eyebrows so they're taking a long time to disappear altogether.  So the moral of this story is, don't pluck your eyebrows, you never know when you might need those extra few hairs!  Losing these has been far more distressing than losing my head hair.  A face seems to lose all definition without them.  I've never been one for wearing make up but at the moment, I can't walk out the door without applying eyeliner and mascara first.

Look closely, you will see some hair there somewhere

Radiotherapy starts in a few weeks. I went for a CT scan last week so they could line everything up to know where to direct the beam.  I've been given three little tattoos, one in the middle and two either side of my chest which I guess will be used as markers for something or other. These look like little blackheads, nice.

Herceptin continues of course, so its back to the chemo ward next Wednesday for number 4 of 18 and then the following day, Will and I will be off for 3 days of sunshine in Lanzarote. Hurrah!  Best get myself a sunhat.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Final chemo - I made it!

My last chemo didn't happen when it should have....

On Christmas eve I was getting ready for a family get together and looking in the mirror, noticed my neck was swollen.  Initially I thought bloody hell, even my neck is getting fat now!  But then realised it was just on the one side.  Oh man, what was this now?  I showed Will, who agreed it was definitely there.  Oh well, nothing to be done now, I would keep an eye and get it looked at after Christmas.  I managed to put it to the back of my mind.

I called the chemo hotline the day after boxing day and they didn't really have much to say about it.  It was obviously not a common, chemo complaint.  They said to try and get a GP appointment or go to A&E.  It didn't seem like an A&E thing to me and I managed to get an emergency GP appointment for that afternoon.  The 'chemo card' can be pretty useful sometimes!

The GP said it looked like a thyroid issue.  Thyroiditis?  That's about all he said.  It was probably totally unrelated to breast cancer or chemo.  He sent me for blood tests and organised an urgent ultrasound. 

I was worried about going for my final chemo in a few days time though, I didn't have a scheduled appointment with my oncologist before then (due to stupid Christmas) and really wanted her to see it and advise me on what to do.  I had to go for pre-chemo bloods the day before the originally scheduled chemo, and they very kindly slotted me in to see Oncy (my lovely oncology consultant) whilst I was there.

She was flummoxed.  She had never seen this as a reaction to chemo.  Was it infection? Possibly.  An abscess?  Unlikely as it wasn't painful.  She was unhappy about putting me forward for chemo whilst it was unclear what it was so it was decided to hold off for a week.  I was disappointed.  Just wanted to get it all done.  I was looking forward to starting the new year with that part of treatment behind me.  Now I just had something else to worry about.

Oncy fast tracked me for an ultrasound the following day (thank goodness, as I got my appointment through via the GP for 30th January!!)

The sonographer could see no sign of infection.  This was worrying.  I was hoping for something simple.  She said it looked like nodes and cysts on  the Thyroid.  It is apparently common in females and is hormone related.  Bloody hormones have caused me a whole load of grief in my recent past!  My thyroid bloods came back normal.  The sonographer seemed to think this was a good sign.

I was now a bit worried and made the dreadful mistake of googling nodes on Thyroid on the train on the way home.  Cancer kept being flagged up!  Shit.  I was doomed.

So New Years day was not the celebration I was hoping for.  I was feeling pretty sorry for myself to be honest.  The wind had been knocked out of my sails and I felt cheated.

Fortunately I had another meeting with Oncy scheduled for the following day.  I went in there expecting the worst.  It felt, all over again, like the day I was to be told I had breast cancer.  HOWEVER, magically, it didn't end up going the same way.  Oncy said it didn't look like cancer.  And she was CONVINCED it wasn't secondary breast cancer.  Huge relief. She said the cysts could always have been there and have just become inflamed for some reason. She was still in the dark as to what may be causing it though, and had spoken to the rest of the team who have never seen it happen during chemo.  

I will be referred to the thyroid experts, who may want to do a biopsy, but they would wait until chemo was over.  This was also good as there is no sense of urgency which is in itself reassuring.  We talked briefly about Thyroid cancer and I was happy to hear that it is totally treatable, should the worst come to the worst.  But I came away from that appointment feeling like I'd been given my life back again.  What a high!  What a rollercoaster.

In light of all this, Oncy was happy for me to go ahead with chemo the following week.  Happy days.  I never thought I'd be so relieved and so looking forward to a chemo.  Just one more set of blood tests to make sure my white blood cells (which had now become raised would you believe) had gone back to normal.  They had.

I was able to enjoy the rest of my day with my nephews Hamed and Yousef, who were overnighting with us on their way back to uni after holidays.  We had a great day showing them Greenwich and surrounds.  Being out of towners (actually, out of country'ers - they come from Bahrain) they think of London as Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus.  They seemed pretty impressed with our scenic and quiet side of the tracks.

Greenwich Park with my handsome boys

And back when I had proper hair and the boys were cuter

I had a make up session with the Look Good Feel Better Charity at a hotel in Soho the other day and it was a real treat.  There were about 10 of us ladies there and a very flamboyant, male professional make up artist showed us how to take care of our skin and apply make up to turn us into glamour pusses.  It was a fun and very light hearted afternoon.  Will thought I looked like a drag queen when I got home.  Hmm... not the look I was after.  I must admit I would never wear half that amount of slap even on a special occasion, but I did pick up some useful tips and came away with a great haul of make-up to top up my very meagre supply.  So a big thank you to this great charity.

So all in all yesterday, final chemo day, was a good day.  Despite the fact that I had a poison dunking and also that it was probably the least smooth chemo experience I have had.  I was there an hour and a half before anything started, my slot had been triple booked for some reason.  Then the Herceptin contraption didn't work so this had to be sent down to a pharmacist to have a look at and dispense another and get it through the clunky hospital system. 

It then took 3 attempts to get a cannula in.  My penultimate chemo had been a dream in this respect.  The lovely Sophia had slid the cannula into a nice chunky vein on the side of my wrist and I barely felt a thing.  I was confident this time.  I asked the nurse to use the same vein.  It didn't work.  She called in the cannula queen.  She tried the same vein, but it blew.  We asked for Sophia.  "Bring in the big guns! " Sophia arrived  - my saviour.  She found another big fat vein and slid the cannula into it like a hot knife through butter!  Hoorah!

I could relax now.  This would only take an hour then I could go home.  Except I still had the Herceptin to go.  A new Herceptin dispenser arrived on the ward.  Good start.  Once my Docetaxel had finished running, they administered the Herceptin.  But then came the good news that I was supposed to be monitored for 2 hours afterwards (which is why they always give it before the chemo).  It was after 6pm by this time and I should have been all done and dusted by 4.30, in theory.  We managed to talk the nurse down from 2 hours to 1 hour of observations.  Will went home to cook dinner and the nurse held me ransom and relayed me the story of how her boyfriend had recently done the dirty on her with her best friend.  It kept me entertained.

My lovely chemo cyber buddies made this for me.  They're the best!

I know I still have a shit few weeks to get through the side effects of this one, but I'm on a high (helped by steroids!).  I sincerely hope I never have to go through this again.  I sat next to a lady at chemo yesterday who was having chemo for the third time for recurrent breast cancer.  She was very matter of fact about it.  If she had to do this every few years, then so be it.  It gave her life.  I guess I would be the same, but I'd rather not have to find out.

I had a sneaky glass of white wine last night in celebration and in the knowledge that it is going to taste vile for the next few weeks so I had to get one in whilst I could!  This morning my mouth is already feeling burnt and the taste buds are disappearing.  Energy levels are good though so I'm heading out to brave the cold, windy streets of Greenwich. Guess I'll be seeing quite a bit of them as I shuffle around for the next few weeks.....

Complimentary therapies and cancer treatment

I’ve always loved a bit of complimentary therapy.  I find a massage or reflexology session a real treat.  Don’t worry though, I wasn’t about to ditch the conventional cancer treatment in preference for ‘positively thinking the cancer out of my body’.  I’m not that brave.  I know there are some that believe it is the way forward and have spurned conventional therapy in its favour.  I also think that cancer is as much a mental issue as a physiological issue so it is important that people have choices in how they are treated.  I happen to think that chemo, although not an appealing prospect, has a proven track record for blasting the shit out of cancer so I’m happy to go with it.
Fortunately, the NHS is beginning to embrace the idea that complimentary therapies can be useful in conjunction with conventional medicine.  They offer massage and reflexology in the cancer day ward at Guys Hospital where I am being treated.  This is brilliant, although waiting lists seem to be long and I haven’t yet been able to book a slot.
There is a fantastic charity in Fulham called ‘The Haven’ ( which has been set up for breast cancer sufferers.  It was founded by a woman who was concerned at the lack of emotional support and information available to those going through Breast Cancer treatment.   The Haven offers breast cancer patients 10 free therapy sessions tailored to each individual, and the range available is huge.  They also run workshops on nutrition, meditation and moving on after breast cancer amongst a host of other subjects.   There are two more Haven centres in Hereford and Leeds.
I have visited four times now and it is a very calming place to hang out.  I’ve had acupuncture to try to combat the side effects of chemo, as well as a counselling session where I just got to talk about what was bothering me.  After my reflexology treatment, I had the best nights sleep I’d had in weeks.  All good stuff.  You can eat a healthy, home cooked lunch there for the bargain price of three quid, or just hang out in the lounge area where there is tea and coffee and a whole library of books about cancer and its treatment. 

I am also fortunate that my sister in law Emily, has recently studied to become a Sound Healing Therapist, and has needed a guinea pig to practice on!  She uses all sorts of instruments to create sounds including Tibetan singing bowls, drums, tuning forks and bells.  As well as being extremely relaxing, I can’t help but feel the vibrations these sounds set up in my body must be doing some good.  The idea, I think, is that they bring the body back into harmony.  Whatever its doing, I love the sensation it gives me and can highly recommend it.

Emily has also taught me the Tibetan Medicine Buddha chant......

Tayata Om bekhanze
Bekhanze maha
Bekhanze radza samund gatay
The translation is:
May all sentient beings suffering sickness
Be relieved of that sickness
May all sickness go away and never come back
Direct and to the point I think you'll agree!  So I have been giving that a go.  Surely its worth a shot?  The idea is that you should chant it 180 times every day for 40 days!  I haven’t got the discipline or dedication to go that far, but I try to incorporate it into my yoga routine which I do a couple of times a week.
And on the subject of yoga, I have found that really useful, especially during the first week after chemo when energy levels are low.  I've done several courses over the years so know enough to be able to do a bit at home.  I make it as energetic as I can manage and it gets my body moving when I’m not feeling up to getting out and about much.  I did try going to a yoga class a few weeks ago during my good week, but the yoga teacher was so nervous about me being there.  I think she thought I was going to keel over without warning.  So although I felt fine doing the class, there seems to be a perception that chemo patients are a frail bunch.  It was an interesting lesson for both of us I think.