Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What's going on?

When I was first told that I may have breast cancer, I told my family and a few good friends. H and S counted amongst them - we all live in the village, our children play together and we spend a lot of time together. As is typical in these situations, they immediately booked themselves in for mammograms to make sure that they were both okay. Sadly, this was not the case: as it turns out, S also has invasive ductal carcinoma. She is due to start her chemotherapy next week.

The day before I went for Round 2, I received a telephone call from one of my oldest friends C, who's currently based in the United States. She was sat in her car, at the parking lot of her local hospital. She had just found a lump in her breast and was pretty distraught. Although she had not had a proper diagnosis, the radiographer had told her that she was pretty sure it was breast cancer, something which was clarified last Thursday.

People have come out of the woodwork to let me know that they, or someone close to them has had breast cancer: our postman's wife, the lady who does our ironing... As I mentioned in an earlier post, the statistics say that 1 in 8 women in the US and UK will get breast cancer. What is going on? Although deaths caused by breast cancer have gone down considerably, the incidence of breast cancer continues to rise. Breast cancer in the UK has increased by more than 50% in the last 25 years, and by 3.5% in the last ten years.

Initially, I tried to pinpoint factors that other victims and I have had in common, but have found nothing. Some may have had a genetic predesposition, but some to do not. Fertility treatment? Not all of us. Obesity? No. Smoking? None that I know of. I have since given up on trying to find an answer - it seems that like most cancers, this is as random as the rest.

This is frustrating me though - finding an answer would give me more control: of the possible outcome, or of a recurrence. If I know what had caused it in the first place, I could just stop it, simple as that. And not only that, I could do all I can to ensure that it doesn't happen to any of my loved ones. But as it is, it's all down to chance. Kismet. Fate. Destiny. So there is nothing I can do. Except live each day the best that I can, to the best of my ability. And drink gallons of green tea.

So far, so good...

Thank goodness - it seems as if this second round of chemotherapy has not affected me as badly as the first - I suppose knowing what I'm up against has been a big help.  The fatigue has not hit me much this time; more a feeling of nausea and unease. The acid reflux has been put under control - I'm so glad I don't need to take that vile concoction that is Gaviscon any longer. It did make me retch. But as I'm paranoid and was worried about burning my esophagus, I took it anyway. Hiccoughs, and metallic taste in the mouth - still there - but they're pretty minor and something I can live with. I've found that the best solution is to not give in too much and stay in bed the whole day - because inevitably, once I'm up, I always feel much better.   I suppose sometimes we just need a kick up the a*se or else we're just feeding the feeling of weakness.

Sadly my hair is still falling - I was hoping it may taper off eventually, but no such luck. Am now slowly developing the Prince William/Friar Tuck hairdo - not a look I expect to hit the fashion pages soon. So it's scarf and turban time for me. Sister T and I went out shopping the other day, and as I was shedding hair in the changing rooms each time I tried something on, and as not a lot of clothes call for a turban as a matching accessory, I bought a new roasting tin instead. As you do.

And much as I don't want to sound like a broken record, friends and family have been fantastic. Delicious food has been dropped off nearly everyday (helping me to properly attain Friar Tuck's waistline) and messages of love and support continue to come in. However, I can't seem to help the feeling of despair that has slowly started to creep in. I'm hoping that this is temporary; perhaps once I'm off this chemo fog I will feel better.

Fingers crossed.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Day 3

Up this morning at 5.30am after a very good night's sleep. Made like a Whirling Dervish, contemplated doing yoga (but couldn't find my mat) then completely crashed five hours later. Have only left the comfort of bed to eat as I hate crumbs on the sheets. Am feeling really rough and nauseous and can't stop hiccoughing. Hair still falling, have finally beat the cats in terms of shedding. LH happy that I'm in bed resting, but I'm getting terribly frustrated.

Have been debating on whether or not I should force myself out of bed, have a bath, put on some wake-up music and if I'm feeling any better, find the mat and do yoga. I've been thinking about it for the last hour or so. Ho-hum.

Okay, that's it! I'm doing it! Wish me luck that I don't topple over...

Thursday, 26 May 2011


It seems that I am sadly one of the unlucky 30% for whom the Paxman cold cap does not work. My hair has been falling at an alarming rate. Since my earlier post this morning, it seems I now only have a third of my hair left. I'll be lucky if I'm not bald by the weekend. It's pretty shocking, but hey ho. If it's killing my hair follicles, it had better be killing that nasty evil tumour.

Luckily, I've discovered a funky website that sells hats and turbans for women with no hair. So it seems I'll be rocking the bohemian look pretty soon - or looking like a mad fortune-teller. Now, where's my crystal ball?


Sister Act

Last week my sister T arrived from Manila with her husband, her adorable 3-year old twin girls and a nanny in tow. Admittedly I did have worries about how she would cope whilst she was here (she has a nanny for each daughter, not to mention a live-in cook and a housekeeper) but my fears were unfounded. T has been extremely helpful to the point that I feel she's hounding me. Every time I make a move to do anything, she's at my back asking me what I need and telling me to sit down. And T has bravely taken over the task of injecting me with Neulasta today (ewww). More importantly, she and I have been able to talk only as sisters can, with complete candour and honesty. And she has also made me laugh a lot.

And last week when I was pushing myself to the limit, she imparted words of wisdom that made so much sense. (LH said afterwards that he wishes he'd thought of it himself...) She told me that friends and family know that I'm going through difficulty with the cancer diagnosis and the chemotherapy, so I don't need to prove anything at all to them. They all accept that I am tired, and possibly weaker, than my normal self so there are a lot of things that I am unable to do. However (this was the clincher), I need to find acceptance in myself. I need to accept that I am ill, and thus weaker and cannot push myself to the limit as this will just lead to frustration.

Admittedly, I am finding it terribly difficult to just lie down and rest; but I'm learning, and I'm getting there. With sister T watching my back, I have no choice!

(Ding-ding) Round 2

Ha! Blood test came out fine which means that I was back yesterday for my second FEC treatment. (Wish I was Irish at this point - can you imagine all the swearing opportunities???) I had decided to go for the cool cap again - although I've already lost at the very least a third of my hair, I'm hoping this is just a thinning and will eventually taper off. Sigh... One can but hope... The good news about the cold cap though is that nurse R used the newer Paxman machine on me (why didn't she use it the first time, you ask?) and it was much much better than the first as it was put on my head warm, thus avoiding the instant migraine. LH was there of course, holding my hand and giving me strength in a way that only he can. Friends arrived bearing love, laughter and gifts - special mention must go to L's apothecary of anti- toenail falling off remedies. Came home, had lunch and an absolutely amazing reflexology session. In comparison to my first chemotherapy treatment, I'm actually feeling fine. Perhaps it's all the wheatgrass I've been imbibing, the reflexology, the nausea bands - or all three. Whatever it is, I'm certainly going to continue with all of them.

Despite feeling pretty good, off I went to bed anyway. Twins E and N had a school production scheduled last night and tonight (what terrible timing) and I was determined to go and see it so I forced myself to rest. And I managed to get to the play - but had to leave after the interval as I started to feel quite nauseous and tired. So with utter frustration and sadness I let LH bring me back home so I could rest. Needless to say, I cried most of the way home... Oh FEC...

But I must look at the bright side: 50% of the FEC done! Yippee! After the next two FECs, I've got 12 weekly Taxols which should go on until October, followed by my surgery, then radiotherapy. Phew. And a brand new cancer-free me for Christmas! For once, I think I'll be very happy to see the Christmas decorations up in October - it will be a sign that I'm near the end!

Liz Atkinson (super reflexologist!) - 01582 841615

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Oh heck

Woke up this morning with a sore throat. Unbelievable. Not on the day of my blood test to find out whether or not I'm fit for chemotherapy tomorrow! Anyway, I took everything I could to combat any infections festering inside me: two shots of wheatgrass juice, a teaspoon of LifeMel honey (I'm convinced it's a placebo, but what the hey, I'm willing to try anything), echinacea tea, vitamin C... Fingers crossed everything goes well. If not, I'm going to have to postpone the treatment which will get me quite cross indeed.

Blood test was fairly straightforward. Except that I get palpitations the moment I hit the road leading to the hospital and I hum like a madwoman whilst the blood is being siphoned off me. A-M the chemo nurse did take three tubes of blood from me - you would hum too, wouldn't you?

Would you rather...?

One thing that I've found very comforting is meeting cancer survivors - I just love the success stories. Inevitably, I interrogate them about their experiences and although it's understood to be rough, they've come out the other side and it's pretty good.

At the weekend however I was introduced to N, who has just finished her second bout of chemotherapy (sadly her cancer had come back). She struck me as a very lovely, vibrant person. However, I think in order to show the world that she has had it rough and despite it all is still a positive person, she has to let everyone know just how bad the whole experience is - and that includes me of course.

So, when I told her that I had just had my first treatment, there was the huge intake of breath accompanied by the head shake, and "Ooh, it will just get worse." I then asked her about the cold cap - and with sucking of teeth now - "Instrument of torture (I already know that) and doesn't work at all". She then proceeded to show me her very shiny pate peppered with a few hairs (think Homer Simpson on a good day). Hmm... By this time I was starting to develop a nervous tic, so in a desperate effort to look for something positive, I remarked on the fact that she still had her eyebrows intact. "HA! It's just grown back! Everything fell off!" Oh, okay then... (Nervous tic has been joined by a bad case of palpitations.) Then, she had the killer for me: "Your toenails also fall off you know", she said as she showed me her feet, with nails that are just starting to grow back. LH had to support me at this point as I nearly passed out.

Augh!!! Is this someone's idea of a bad joke??? Even my toenails are not going to be spared? Oh please, take all my hair, leave me as bald as a coot, take away my eyebrows and eyelashes but please, please don't let my toenails fall off. I am cringeing as I type this. I think I could deal with all the side effects but that...

N then left saying "Feel free to call me whenever you want." Huh? When I'm feeling too happy and suddenly have the urge to poke needles into my eyes? Needless to say, I didn't take her number.

Monday, 23 May 2011

So no-one told you life was gonna be this way

Generally, people take stock of friendships when they are confronted with hardship; the understanding is that this is when you find your true friends. This however is not the case with cancer; the word comes with so much baggage that people are at a loss on how to approach it. My friend and gym buddy J admitted that I didn't hear from her for a week or so after my initial email message informing her of the diagnosis simply because she needed time to process the news; and also, she didn't know what to say. I know where she's coming from as I most probably would've done the same in her case.

However, there are friends who have disappeared; and much as I have tried my very best not to take it against them, I cannot help but feel hurt. I'm certainly not expecting daily telephone calls nor email messages, but a little message of support is always uplifting, especially from someone who has been considered close to the heart.

I hope that these disappearances are temporary and once I've received the all-clear they will come back into my life again. However, if for whatever reason they decide that our friendship was not worth it then I will move on. Although cancer should not be a test for friendship, it has strengthened a lot of my relationships: friends who were close before are even closer now, and some acquaintances have developed into firm and beautiful friendships.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Cancer - 1, Me - nil

In my determination to prove to myself that this cancer thing would not get me down I made a decision to live my life as close to normal as I could. Thus, a lot of offers of help were turned down and I made it a point to be as active as I could. In so doing, I started to feel my normal self again.

However, every now and then little things would happen which would remind me that things were not all good: whether it would be from looks of pity thrown my way or just bashing my port. But I would just brush these events off and pick myself up and start all over again. Yesterday however I fell hard and found it very difficult get up.

It started off with a full day at a self-defence class. I thoroughly enjoyed the class as it made me feel strong and empowered; however, I started to flag by the afternoon session. I soldiered on, but I found myself so tired that I started to lose concentration. I ended leaving the class nearly an hour early and so frustrated at my inability to finish it. I cycled home (yes I know, how silly, but I had cycled to the venue) and immediately hit the shower. Where my hair fell in droves. I thought I was prepared for this, but seeing my hair all over the bath was terribly distressing. Poor LH had to deal with the flood of tears and the self-pity that this brought on - how do you deal with a woman who feels weak and ugly?

The problem is that I was determined to prove to myself that this evil affliction would not change me - and in my determination, I overdid it with exercise and activity. I found myself exhausted. And although I talked and joked about my hair falling out, I secretly hoped that I would be spared. But I am weaker as a result of the drugs coursing through my body. And why should I be spared the trauma of hair loss? I need to accept that chemotherapy has unfortunate side effects because until I do so, it will always be a fight between myself and the cancer treatment which I will lose. But only for now. Because at the end of it all, I may find myself bald and weak, but I will be the ultimate winner.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Let's Get Physical

"Long time no see", I said to my uh... drawer that houses my workout clothes the other day. But after surgery, two weeks in South Africa, chemotherapy and numerous hospital visits, I had skipped the gym for over a month. However I am feeling back to normal now, and ready to be active again.

So, I've been to the gym thrice, and have done a couple of spinning classes, a run and pilates. I'm going back tomorrow for more spinning and I have a self-defence class the whole day on Friday. I know it wasn't two weeks since I'd had the treatment, but I am feeling back to the way I was before my diagnosis (ie healthy). And it's one of the best things I could've done. Apart from feeling that by going to the gym I was giving the ol' cancer the finger (nyah-nyah you can't stop me) I'm also convinced that one of the reasons why the chemotherapy has not affected me as much as it could have is because I was (am) fairly fit.

And I'd like to keep it that way. I feel that I'm in a slight position of strength now, knowing what I've got coming. So I've decided to look at it this way: every three weeks I have a scheduled "flu", which will keep me feeling ropey for a week. I then have two weeks to be myself before the darned "flu" hits me again. But I intend to spend those two weeks doing whatever I can to stay healthy and fighting fit. Which means going to the gym and licking the inside of a lawnmower. Actually, I meant drinking two shots of wheatgrass juice every day. Which tastes like the inside of a lawnmower...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

She Blinded Me with Science

I received a letter from my oncologist, telling me that my breast cancer is HER-2/neu negative. This has been added to the ER+PR+ and type 3 that I had been given before. Who would've thought that breast cancer could be so complicated?

The important thing is that this is good news apparently. I spoke to M, my breast cancer nurse (I have three nurses: 2 chemotherapy nurses and the aforementioned M) and she explained that this was all good. In terms of breast cancer types, this is the one to have. Huh.

Just thought I'd let you know.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


Every time I've come across an hour- or so long television programme devoted to extolling the virtues of a particular movie star, the first thing that comes to my mind is "uh-oh, he/she must be dying". Call me cynical but I'm very suspicious of unnecessary fawning.

This has come to mind because since my cancer diagnosis I have suddenly been told by so many people how beautiful I am. Flattering as this is (everyone wants to be told they're beautiful, after all) I am certainly no Angelina Jolie. Although I'm not a slob, I have enough self-respect to make sure that I leave the house with makeup and matching shoes. I've always believed in making the most of what a person has, without resorting to surgery and Botox*. However, the past month has been rough on me. Since the treatment, I now have to contend with:
1. a silly haircut and grey hair (no dyeing allowed)
2. a protrusion on my upper right arm which looks strangely like a third nipple (my portacath)
3. weight gain (I'm not exercising but am eating enough for three) and
4. bumps on my face (no-one told me about this!)
This is just the beginning of my problems because apart from most probably losing my hair, I may also lose my eyelashes and eyebrows. Which should give me a look of permanent surprise. Joy.

So, although I appreciate the kind words, I am realistic enough to know that I'm not looking my best. I promise though that I will not fall for the victim trap and start dragging my feet and wearing smelly old fleeces simply because I am ill. I will wear turbans, pretend the bumps are beauty marks, embrace my voluptuous figure and draw in my eyebrows. But you don't need to tell me that I'm beautiful. I relieve you of that responsibility. I'm not dying after all...

*Botox is one of the world's top ten deadliest poisons. If you're thinking about having it injected into your face, read this first: http://thexodirectory.com/2008/05/top-ten-worlds-deadliest-poisons/

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


It's been a week since my first chemotherapy treatment. And I feel fine. I've been out, I've been shopping, I've done the school run and although I have yet to make it back to the gym, I fully intend to be back there by next week. Apart from the portacath on my right arm and my silly haircut, I feel the same.

I won't deny it - the first four days after the treatment were pretty rough, as I felt tired and suffered the worst case of acid reflux. Food tasted different and the steroids made me jittery. This is to be expected as the first seven days are supposed to be the worst. My chemo nurses told me that I should listen to my body and sleep when the desire overtook me. I did make attempts to sleep, but I found it nearly impossible.

The fact is, I wonder if I lay down because of an actual feeling of fatigue or was I using chemotherapy as an excuse to have a lie-down in the middle of the day? By the fifth day, I felt back to normal, if slightly tired, but no more than I would have felt had I had a late night pre-chemo. And a lie down then would not have even crossed my mind!

It's easy to use the cancer card to get out of a lot boring and menial tasks. But I need to make sure that I don't become lazy, expecting others to do things that I'd rather not do, not because I am physically incapable of doing them, but simply because they're boring and mundane.

Another reason to avoid using the cancer card is that people will label me as ILL. Apart from this annoying little blip which I will hopefully come out of in the next seven months' or so, I am fine. I will stop writing this blog and get on with my life as a healthy person.

Then of course there's donor fatigue. There's only so much friends and family will do to help; at this point I already feel that I have relied on them too much. This is scary: I still have 15 more treatments, surgery and radiotherapy to look forward to and I will have to depend on them a lot for that.

Oh well. Better get the ironing done.

The Sick Face

Earlier this morning I asked LH to do something he wasn't keen on doing, so I employed The Sick Face. My oh my, I didn't realise the power a little facial expression could wield. Forget Rhonda Byrne and her Law of Attraction, all you need is a little downturn of the mouth and puppy dog eyes.

The possibilities are endless, and the entire process consumes so much less energy. Instead of having to scream at the children to pick up their stuff off the floor, all I would have to do would be to use the Sick Face - add a heavy sigh for good measure - and the job would be done. If the task's a bit bigger I suppose I could add a bit of tongue hanging out and eye rolling. Foaming at the mouth could be excessive, but may be used for drastic cases.

The power! I feel like I have just been handed the Remote Control.

May as well...

Since I look like a militant lesbian at the moment, I may as well embrace a cause and go all out for it. So I've decided to embrace breast cancer and mammograms, a subject very close to my chest (pun intended).

Did you know?
- That breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK?
- That 1 in 8 women in the US and the UK will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime? (Look around you now - if you're in a room of eight women, one of you will get it. Pretty scary thought.)
- That breast cancer incident rates have increased by more than 50% in the last 25 years?

I did not find out about my breast cancer because I found a suspicious lump in my breast; I paid for a private woman health check and had a mammogram added on. I admit I did hesitate initially - I'd had it done two years previous and it had all come out normal. And besides, it is extremely uncomfortable. It's no fun having your breasts squeezed horizontally AND vertically between two plates whilst a woman with cold hands and an evil grin manhandles them. I'm convinced that mammographers have secret lairs where they practice heinous S&M misdeeds...

Anyway, it seems that I'm one of those that has been hit very randomly by this Evil Crab - there is no history in my family, I don't drink nor smoke, my BMI is good, I limit my dairy intake and I'm a regular gym goer. So it can sadly happen to anyone.

In light of this, I implore you to pick up the phone, or go online, and book that mammogram now. It's not just for you - it's also for all the people who love and care about you.

*Mammograms are covered by the NHS if you're over 50 or have a family history. If not, pay the £85 and do it - it's less than a pair of shoes and will be well worth it.


Monday, 9 May 2011

A Day at a Time

Last Friday, feeling not as quite as rough as the previous days, I decided to download a yoga app on my iPad and preceded to do a 40-minute (gentle) yoga workout, followed by "meditation" (ie I slept). Apparently, it was not as gentle a session as I had intended because it completely knocked me out the next day. As a consequence, I ended missing out on a lovely supper at K's. So, I've learnt my lesson and have been taking it easy. Yesterday, I forayed out of the house for the first time and walked around the village. I had to get out as I was beginning to suffer from cabin fever.

Today however is LH's mum's birthday, so what better excuse to finally venture forth. So armed with a steely determination, we drove to the nearest mall where we sat and had a light meal (I find myself hungry every couple of hours or so - apparently my hopes that cancer would make me lose weight are misguided). We trawled the shops before I noticed a panic rising in my chest and the desperate need to leave overcame me. I felt that every single person I was coming into contact with was harboring germs that would stop me on this road to wellness; every unintentional cough was going to send me straight to hospital. We immediately left and once back on the road thought that I had been rather hasty, so rather than going straight home, we passed another shop, where we proceeded to do a bit of food shopping. The first half-hour were fine, but again, the panic took hold and I needed to get out.

I know - in retrospect - that my fears are ridiculous. I cannot spend the weeks between chemotherapy sessions stuck at home. But I just want to get better and any setback, caused by any form of infection, would thoroughly upset me.

I just want to get well!

The Utter Frustration of it All

Monday morning, and it almost seems as if life is back to normal. I'm not beset with fatigue and I've managed to haul myself out of bed without much difficulty. However, it's not quite the same. The twins are leaving this morning for a week-long school trip, yet I'm at home rather than waving maniacally at them whilst they look down at me (with embarrassment) from the windows of their bus. Eldest son C has walked to the neighbour's house so that they can take him to school this morning and LH's mum has tidied up the detritus of breakfast. These small seemingly inconsequential events that I am unable to do, or partake of, are causing me great frustration.

I hate the feeling of helplessness and reliance that seems to be the mainstay of cancer; it almost feels like a loss of identity. Because if I cannot do what I am supposed to do, as a mother, wife, or friend, how else would I define myself? I do not want to be the third leg in the dynamic, the 'saling-pusa' as we say in the Philippines, the hanger-on with no discernible purpose.

I am truly hoping that this is a temporary state of affairs. I am feeling better so look forward to doing the school run before the end of this week. I never thought I would say that; but then, it's only when the inconsequential things are taken away from you that you realise that what was once trivial is actually a matter of consequence.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble

This 1970s John Travolta film came to mind the other day when I was speaking to my chemo nurse and she was going on and on about about infections. Chemotherapy compromises your immune system - it kills off your white blood cells making the patient more vulnerable. So, I am to avoid crowded places such as the Tube, or any places where snotty children are around. As I have three snotty children of my own, this is going to prove to be quite difficult. And since I do not want to ensconce myself in my own little plastic bubble (how uncomfortable would that be?) I have had to make a few compromises.

Thus, our house is littered with bottles of anti-bacterial gel so that everyone who has to come in contact with me has to slather themselves in the stuff first. I now avoid the cats, I wash my hands at every opportunity and worst of all, have stopped kissing family members on the mouth and keep touching to a minimum.

This is the hardest for me as I am just about the most tactile person around - I hug, kiss and touch given the chance - it's my way of showing comfort, love and friendship. But since I want to be able to do this for a much longer time, a shorter period of hugging abstinence is necessary. Chemotherapy is a bugger.

Friday, 6 May 2011


...was terrible. Didn't get out of bed till one pm, with only a message from the joiner telling me he was going to be arriving in twenty minutes that eventually forced me out. Although I'm not in the same bad state I was on Wednesday, I felt very achy and just tired. Oh well... I suppose I will have to take each day as it comes.

Yesterday's Hero

I had to go back to hospital on Thursday to get a shot of Neulasta, a medication to keep my white blood cells up and prevent infection. E had volunteered to pick me up from home and take me for the injection and drop me off at A's for lunch. But because I felt like absolute death on Wednesday night, I couldn't bear the thought of leaving my bed. So I had to call neighbour and girlfriend H to ask her if she could please pickup the shot and administer it. And, much to my surprise, she said yes.

She arrived at midday having been taught by the chemo nurses how to do it. And apart from the fact that she could not find a firm part of my stomach (Hey! I've had three children! And a twin pregnancy!) it went pretty smoothly.

The amazing thing is she didn't even balk at the procedure (I couldn't even look). H surely deserves a medal and an Ann Summers nurse's uniform.

My Absolutely Amazing Family Part 2

When I first had an inkling that something could be wrong ie. I was asked back to hospital for a biopsy - I called my sisters and brothers to tell them the news. But I did not call my parents until I had the proper diagnosis a few days later. I was too scared to tell my mom, as I knew the news would be truly heartbreaking for her. And it was. I actually ended up consoling her as she was absolutely distraught.

I think both her and my father now know that it is a curable disease, and they've both calmed down. So now I just have to contend with my father's belief that lemongrass will cure all, and that I should be taking doses of the stuff everyday. The icing on the cake though came when he asked me to send a sample of my wee to the Philippines, and did not for one moment think that this was a silly request. My father is normally rational, but when I refused his request to send my urine via Fedex, he just could not accept it. I suppose it's because they want the best for me and are looking at all angles to get me better. (But seriously??? My wee???)

My brother A believes that Taheebo is the answer, and my sister M is storming heaven with her prayers. Sister T arrives in a few weeks' time to help out during treatments 2 and 3. Brother L has sent messages of love and positive vibes. And my mother has decided to come over and stay for six months. (I dropped this little bit of information to LH whilst he and I were going through Immigration in South Africa. I thought it would be quite a task for him to interrogate me whilst he was being questioned himself.)

LH's family have also been fantastic. LH's mum arrived today to help around the house and well, spoil me. She's a breast cancer survivor, so she's aware of the trials and travails of this pernicious evil. His dad, siblings and sister-in-law have called and sent messages of love.

I'm not British, and thus I don't suffer from the stiff upper lip. I tell my family and friends I love them every chance I get. But as I have been so inundated with love these past few weeks, it's only fair that I give a heck of a lot back. And I'm going to have to employ some of A's energy buzzes from New York to do it properly. So here it goes, to my wonderful family and friends: BZZZZZZZZ... I LOVE YOU... BZZZZZZZZZZ!!!

My Absolutely Amazing Friends

The nurses said that in the years they'd worked in the chemo ward, it was the first time they had ever encountered a chemo picnic. Friends arrived for my first treatment bearing organic foodstuffs, books, magazines, newspapers and more importantly, lots of laughs and loads of love. Considering the circumstances, it was a truly unforgettable day. And not for the wrong reasons.

We've also been very well fed - we arrived back from hospital to find F sneakily dropping off food by our doorstep, and it hasn't stopped since. We've had chicken casserole, lasagne, roast chicken, salads, soup, cheese scones, fresh asparagus: the list goes on. Flowers and gifts have arrived and earlier today I found a mysterious parcel with organic chocolates, organic bathsalts and the latest Hello magazine by the doorstep - with no note attached! (Could that angel please let her presence be known? I'd like to thank you properly.)

Messages of love and support have arrived from far and near, and I have especially enjoyed mad A's energy buzzes from New York and V's jokes from China. LH's best friend M (also known as weird Uncle M by the children) has offered to come and be my nanny. I have been deluged with phone calls, emails and texts from people to let them know that they're thinking of me and sending me their prayers, love and support.

Honestly, with all these going on, how can I not get better! I have not felt more loved than I have this last month or so. Thank you so very much to all you very special people

Here's a snippet of a conversation I had yesterday with second son E:
Second son E: Mummy, are you enjoying your cancer?
Me (quite shocked): No, not really. Why?
Second son E: because your friends are spoiling you and you don't have to cook!

Hmm, it seems second son E is onto something here - perhaps I should really milk this!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

My Absolutely Amazing Family

Hurrah! I'm a new person today! After feeling like death yesterday, I actually woke up this morning after a mere four hours of sleep feeling much much better. What a relief. And I've actually managed to stay out of bed and get stuff done around the house. (Cleaner stuck in Ireland as her father's just died - how inconsiderate is that??? I JEST!)

Because I was bedridden and in a very bad place yesterday, LH decided to cancel a business trip to Oslo to tend to me. I think he must've realised that it was a very hasty decision when he saw me whizzing about the house like the Tasmanian Devil by mid-morning. It was a very sweet decision though and I was very (secretly) relieved. We had a very lovely lunch together - something that doesn't happen often enough.

And I was very impressed indeed when LH and I came down to breakfast to find the children dressed and ready for school, bags and snacks by the front door and having prepared breakfast for everyone. Although we have been very open with them about my cancer diagnosis, I don't think they've fully understood the implications as apart from frequent hospital visits and a heroin addict's bruised arm, I'm pretty much the same person. (I have been hiding my manic sobbing sessions from them.) So finding me in bed yesterday, unable to do anything, proved to be a bit of a shock. I believe that my cancer diagnosis might actually prove to be very good for them: I think that children nowadays are cosseted too much and all their energies are focused solely upon themselves. Having to take care of someone else will hopefully teach them empathy, perception and responsibility, making them better people all around.

Cancer does have its positive points.

PS. Am fading now so am going to bed. Tomorrow: My Absolutely Amazing Friends.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

One down!

4pm today: (I'm writing this whilst in bed, and in a drug-induced haze, so I apologise in advance for any spelling or grammatical errors.)

Am back home after my first chemo treatment. The process itself was a lot easier than I thought it would be, with the cold cap being the most horrific part of it (more on that later). I just sat in a chair whilst the drugs were pumped into my system using the port installed yesterday.

Perhaps the process could've been more traumatic; but as I had lovely friends drop by their company got my mind off the treatment itself. It was truly uplifting to have friends around to get my mind off the whole procedure. I laughed a lot and ate very very well as girlfriend A arrived with a basket of delicious and healthy organic treats. At one point A (to distinguish him from other As I shall now refer to him as LH for Loving Husband) had to leave the room as I think he may have felt slightly uncomfortable in a small room with nine women all chattering at the same time. Poor thing... Actually I think the nurses were pretty shocked too - I suppose chemo parties are not a very common sight.

Now the Paxman cold cap. The use of a cold cap is a matter of personal choice: it stops hair loss in approximately 70% of people who use it. If I knew that could pull off the bald look a la Natalie Portman, I wouldn't bother with it. But as I know that I will look like an alien cone head, I thought I'd better give it a try. Well, I can only describe this as an instrument of torture. When Nurse R put the -5 degree Celsius cap on my head, whilst pressing down on my scalp with all her power, it took all my self-control not to slug her. Brain freeze amplified. Luckily, after five to ten minutes my head went numb and I stopped feeling it. I still looked like an enormous mutant zit though... Oh, when it was finally taken out I had icicles in my hair. Nice.

I am now home in bed, feeling pretty woozy and quite weak. It's similar to travel sickness, I suppose. This is annoying as I was hoping I'd be one of the lucky few who would still be able to go about my daily life without too much interference. I'm just grateful though that the drugs are working and zapping those nasty cells into oblivion.

So, one down and fifteen to go. It's a pain but every session brings me closer to health, so bring it on!

9.30pm. OMG. I feel like absolute sh*te.

No Wonder I Don't Drink

Yesterday was the first day on my road to getting better. Started off with a blood test which went well enough until the nurse went 'uh-oh' which forced me to take a look to find my blood spurting all over the nurse's hands and the pillow. Think Texas Chainsaw Massacre to get an idea. Then went to have my hair cut: although I was trying to channel Emma Watson, now look more like a butch lesbian - all I need now is a pair of dungarees. The knee-weakening port came next. This took me aback a bit as I was only expecting a small procedure, ie. something similar to a visit to the dentist. But no! Sinister plans were afoot! As it turns out I actually had to go into theatre to have the port installed. In typical fashion, I got quite anxious and had to request heavier sedation. So I had to take two Tamazepam which took effect nearly immediately since I normally avoid medication of any sort. After a few minutes my head started to feel woozy and my reflexes slowed down considerably. I had to hold on to A to stand up - apparently, I was acting like I was drunk. I mean honestly, if this is the effect of alcohol, why do people drink at all? The stuff doesn't even taste nice!

Anyway, I digress. The port is in, but rather than installing it in the chest area, it's been put in the underside of my right upper arm. I specifically requested this because my scar tissue doesn't heal very well - so having it in the upper arm will make it less noticeable and will prove less of a reminder later on of this point in my life.

Funnily enough, I felt pretty chipper after all that. I think it's because I know that I am on the road to recovery and although things will get worse before they get any better, I'm on my way.


Woke up yesterday morning to find an email message from L, telling me that perhaps I should have a more positive bent on my blog entries. This surprised me; for although I do have my 'woe is me' moments, I feel that I have been pretty upbeat and positive in my general outlook. However, I do apologise if my blog has been moan-y and victim-like: these are two traits I dislike immensely and the thought that I have been such appalls me.

Admittedly, after reading the said email, I did try and focus on the positive: I have had friends and family rally round and send me their love and energy; something that I've certainly drawn a lot of strength from. I spend more time being 'in the moment' rather than trying to multitask and not appreciating the beauty of everyday occurrences. I feel surrounded by love and thus feel more love for my family and the very special people around me.

At the end of the day however, this cancer has really been a bugger: I hate the fact that it has taken away the security I used to feel and I hate the vulnerability that has come with it. I resent the fact that I am unable to lead my life the way I want because I am a slave to doctors' appointments, scans, and numerous blood tests and injections. And being upbeat about a cancer diagnosis is hard work; after all, the common perception is that cancer is a death sentence. This is incorrect and I know that this is not the case for me: breast cancer is the most researched cancer and has a very high rate of success. However, although I know this as fact, the word cancer has such a stigma attached to it that the question of survival ultimately comes into the picture.

I could, I suppose, be more positive - however, I write this blog mostly for myself - it makes me think and assess all that I am going through whilst purging myself of the negative feelings I may have. And at the end of the day, the only way I can make this work is by being honest to myself and writing about what I feel and my experiences - whether it be with a mad "Reiki Master" or the heartbreak of an unexpected result.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Back to the Real World

Arrived back from a fantastic two weeks in South Africa this morning. (I am choosing to employ selective amnesia at this point and will forget about the horrific delay at the airport.) As this is not a travel blog, I will just say that if you haven't been to South Africa, do go. It's a very beautiful part of the world. Also, it did get me away from the whole cancer thing, although admittedly, I did have one wobble...

It's back to the real world then - we've unpacked our bags and the washing machine is doing its job. Tomorrow is a big day as it signals the first day of my treatment. In the morning, I need to go to hospital for a blood test, to make sure that my white cells are up for chemotherapy the day after - this will need to be done the day before every single one. In the afternoon, my port will be put in - this is a valve that will be inserted near my clavicle to avoid the pain and inconvenience (and inevitable bruising) of looking for a vein at every treatment. Sadly, I do not know much about this, as I find the entire concept particularly gross. When the doctor asked if I wanted more detail, I answered with a very defiant NO. In the evening, I'm having my hair cut - very short. The nurse advised that I do this since I will be using the cold cap which will hopefully stop my hair from falling. There is a very big chance that I will end up bald anyway, but it's a good excuse to finally go for that boys' cut that I've always wanted but have never had the guts to do. The hairdresser should have a ball as my hair is currently nearly halfway down my back.

The day after I have my first chemotherapy treatment. It's terribly ironic that in order to get better (especially when I didn't even feel ill in the first place) the cure will have to make me feel pretty unwell. The list of side-effects is hideous: fatigue, nausea, hair-loss, constipation, diarrhoea, mouth ulcers, etc. Although I may not get all of the side-effects, I'm certainly preparing for the worst. Thus, I have reached out to friends and family for help in taking the children to and from school, and also in helping with meals. Although every atom in my body says that I should say "no, thank you" to any offers of help, I instead say "yes please" and put their names down for the inevitable days that I will need surely need them.

So, onwards and upwards. I could be saying goodbye to an entire year of my life lost to the treatment, but at the end of it, I'll hopefully be a much stronger person physically, emotionally and mentally.