Friday, 28 February 2014

Reclaiming my body from the devil called chemo

Every morning when I get up, I check my hair growth in the mirror. It is a source of endless fascination and excitement for me. I'm constantly taking photos of my head, from all angles, so that I can see the progress.

If you will indulge me, I'm going to start a hair growth diary and take weekly photos so that you can also share in my excitement at moving on from being a baldy.  Maybe monthly would be better actually. Weekly might just be that little bit too boring.  A bit too much like watching paint dry?  I'm now feeling a bit sad that I didn't take more photos of my head when it was properly bald.  But it wasn't a good look so I guess it's understandable that I didn't feel like immortalising it.

So to start off......

Just before final chemo (hair had started to grow back as I had the week's delay )

2 weeks post chemo

6 weeks post chemo

The hair that has come through so far has a weird texture, quite coarse really.  There is definitely a lot of grey and it is very patchy!  I gave myself a number 2 all over the other day as I had quite a few wild grey strands giving me the mad professor look which I wasn't liking too much.

I started taking Tamoxifen on Monday, the final part of my treatment which is a tablet that I will take everyday for the next five years. (Except when I forget, like I did yesterday.  Oops.)  It is an anti-oestrogen drug which which is prescribed to women like me whose breast cancer is of the oestrogen receptive type. It switches off the hormone in order to reduce the chances of my cancer returning.

I was dreading starting this to be honest. I've had oestrogen in my body for a long time.  What were the effects of turning it off going to be?  Its a bit scary, knowing that I'm in it for five years, whatever the side effects. Ive purposefully not read much info about it until now as I didnt want to stress about it whilst everything else was going on.  So we will see what happens. Nothing drastic has occurred so far, five days in (with one day off!). I know plenty of women have been there before me and carried on with their lives so I'm not going to dwell on it.  The main side effect seems to be hot flushes, but I was having those already from the effects of the chemo. I don't like to think that they are going to last 5 years but it that is the worst of it then I guess I'll cope. 

It's 7 weeks since my last chemo, and the muscle fatigue is still there. I feel like an old lady every time I get up from sitting for a while. But it isn't stopping me from getting out and exercising as I'm determined to reclaim my body from those chemo demons. I cycled to about half of my radiotherapy appointments (12 mile round trip) and I started a 'couch to 5k' running program on Monday. This resulted in me exposing my bald (ish) head  in public for the first time. I experienced a hot flush whilst walking home from my run/walk and I just had to get that hat off my head!  I wont deny, i did feel a bit self conscious but it felt so good to have the wind in my hair (stubble). As soon as I get a full covering I am ditching those wigs and scarves. Freedom!

I had my final meet with the oncologist yesterday.  Sadly I didn't get to see my favourite Oncy, but the guy we saw was very nice too.  He checked my radiotherapy burnt chest which he didn't seem too concerned by, and answered a few questions that had been bothering me.  Will and I both seemed a little reluctant to leave.  This was it, the end of 7 months of intense care.  In some ways, I'm quite glad I still have the regular Herceptin  treatments on the horizon.  Otherwise it would feel a little like a safety net being pulled out from under me.

Nevertheless, I celebrated the occasion by meeting up with one of my online chemo buddies.  Our first 'real' meeting.  We had a great catch-up, not dwelling at all on the past few months but just having a good old natter about all sorts of things.  Talking to someone who totally gets it is very comforting.  I have met six of these ladies from the forum now, and we are planning a big meet up of about twenty of us in April.  It is so lovely to meet properly after going through the tough bit together.

The cycle trip down to Turkey has had to be put on hold sadly as Will has been offered a 5 month work contract and we felt that it would be silly to turn down such a good chunk of work.  So we have had to rapidly recompute - our heads were already on the way to France.  We are both quite disappointed but I'm sure we'll get over it.  We are planning a big trip next winter and will have some time off in the summer too so its not all bad. 

So I have decided I need to head back to work too and returned to the Blue Cross Vet Hospital last week to do a couple of shifts to ease me in.  Next week I do 3 days so will see how I go with that.  It will be great to get back to some sort of normality and going back has made me realise how much I have missed my job. 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Mixing it with the stars

Its been a while since I blogged.  Life has felt a little more normal recently.  I’ve been feeling pretty well and consequently have been busier than I have in a long while.

The break in Lanzarote was great.   Only three days but it was long enough to chill out and catch our breath.  We’ve not done a package holiday before.  We felt we didn’t quite fit with the other holidaymakers.  But it didn’t matter.  The sun shone (a little) and we were away from it all.

Radiotherapy started the day after we got back and I now just have 1 more session to go.  I’ve been going every day for the last three weeks but to be honest, this part of my treatment has been easy and pretty painless.  The only real issue is the discomfort of lying in one position and not being able to move a muscle whilst they zap you. It’s harder than it sounds.  Sometimes this might be for just a couple of minutes and sometimes it can stretch closer to 10 mins, depending on whether they need to take x-rays too, which they do once a week. 

My poor ‘new’ boob is looking pretty red and angry now.  I feel sorry for it.  Since it was created back in August it really hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to settle in.  The chemo made it sore and now it is being fried with heavy duty rays.  Hopefully it will be left in peace very soon.

So the weird thing about coming to the end of treatment is the ‘what now’ feeling.  I’ve been warned by others that this can be one of the most difficult periods of all.   The surgery and chemo part was all about surviving and getting through it.  Now I’m feeling reasonably well and there is a certain assumption that life will go back to normal.  But my normal has forever been changed and it is going to take some adjustment I feel. 

To be honest, since the day I was diagnosed, I haven’t felt particularly scared, not for my life at any rate.  The doctors were positive about my prognosis and I clung onto this fiercely.  But as time goes on I am facing the reality that cancer will always be a part of my life.  It may be gone (I hope) but it will never be forgotten.  I am scared of it returning and scared of it spreading.  I think these fears will lessen as time goes on (that’s what I’m told anyway) and I’m looking forward to a time when my recent experiences are a distant memory.

Getting on to happier experiences, last week I had the honour of being part of Caroline’s Campaign Makeover and what a fantastic day that was.  Caroline Monk went through breast cancer treatment back in 2004 and has made it her mission ever since to give women in the same boat their femininity back.  She organises one or two of these events every year and does an amazing job. 

Before and after shots
There were six of us ladies involved, all at various stages of treatment.  We all met up at a Toni and Guy salon in Mayfair and were treated to an afternoon of pampering and generally being thoroughly spoilt.  New wigs were donated by Trendco and then styled by the staff at Toni & Guy.  We were all given new (tattooed) eyebrows by the lovely ladies at Nouveau Beauty.  Our nails and make up were done and then we changed into our outfits which were donated by Debenhams. I had spent a great afternoon at their Oxford St store with the personal stylist Alain in the week prior to the event.  He helped me choose my outfit for the occasion.  I wish I could permanently hire the lovely Alain.  He got me trying on things that I would never normally look at, and everything looked great.  It also did great things for my self confidence as I paraded each outfit and all the other staff members complimented me and told me how great I looked.  I know it’s their job and all, but it did feel good!

Once we had all been transformed from cancer patients to glamour pusses, we were picked up by a limo and taken to a club in soho where a party had been laid on for us.  A whole host of celebrities were there including Stephen Bowen from Blake who serenaded us and Next of Kin who entertained the crowd with a few songs.  Bobbie Davro stole the show though with his rendition of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’.

The paps seemed more interested in the celebs than us ladies which I thought was a bit rude.  Oh well, we certainly felt like the stars of the evening so I guess that’s what matters!  I can’t thank Caroline enough for what she did for us on that day.  She has an incredible energy and drive and has helped so many women get their mojo back.