Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Da pain, da pain!

I can imagine that's what Tattoo would've said to Mr. Rourke as they engaged in their nefarious nocturnal activities on Fantasy Island. It's also what I've been saying since I woke up this morning. Sadly, I am in agony: every muscle in my body hurts and I can barely walk. I blame the chemotherapy, of course.

I came across an article (over the Internet, so IT MUST BE TRUE) that chemotherapy may cause osteoporosis, so it encouraged those undergoing chemo to partake in weight bearing exercises, such as running or weight-lifting. I stopped running a couple of years ago, and although I have been going to the gym regularly, I have only concentrated on cardiovascular, flexibility and core work. So on Monday, I did a Body Pump class, which is basically weight-lifting to music. I used to do this class regularly, but have not done so since March. Oh. My. Word. My body is in so much pain that I think even my eyelids are sore in sympathy. I have discovered new muscles that I had forgotten even existed.

I suppose I now look properly ill. I am waddling instead of walking and I have a permanent look of pain etched on my face. I should make use of this: added to the Sick Face this could be a very effective weapon in getting things done MY WAY. I only have a couple of days though before the pain goes away, so I'd better make a list, quick.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Yellow Hand

Since my diagnosis, I have been unable to count the number of times people have told me that I am brave. This is very kind of them, but I do find this funny, as I am actually a bit of a wuss. So many things frighten me, it's almost ridiculous: spiders, toads, snakes, yellow hands that come out of wardrobes left open in the night...

Having cancer has not suddenly given me courage, as longed for by the Lion. Alas, I did not choose to have cancer; sadly, it chose me. And what I'm doing is living with it, the best way I can. Which is what all other cancer victims are doing, day after day. And I'm no exception.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Always look on the bright side of life

There are, at the end of the day, some positives to having cancer.

1. No such thing as a bad hair day. You're either bald, or balding. So, you grin and bear it and show off your pate with pride, or if you're a coward like me, don't shave and wear a hat or turban. So much faster in the mornings.

2. The lack of body hair. Hooray for Hollywood. 'Nuff said.

3. Faster showers. No need to condition hair, and no need to shave.

4. The choice of eyebrow look for the day. So, do I go for angry or shocked today? Hmmm...

5. The excuse to eat everything in sight, at anytime of the day. It's the steroids, you know.

6. The excuse to lie down in the middle of the afternoon.

7. The ability to gross your friends and family out just by showing off your portacath.

8. The opportunity to try out your friends' cooking.

9. All the lovely flowers and presents.

10. Friends and family telling you they love you because they care for you.

11. The opportunity to tell friends and family that you love them without them thinking that you've gone mad.

12. The Sick Face.

For the record...

...my illustration did not depict wings, nor ears. They were crab claws.

(Now I know what illustrious artists have to contend with!)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

15 x 12 x 10mm

That's the new size of this evil parasite in my body. Down from 16 x 15 x 12mm. Not much smaller in size, but certainly smaller in volume. Yippee. To give you a better idea of what it looks like, I've drawn it on a piece of paper. Please note that I've employed a bit of artistic license.


Yes, I'm afraid that this is the enemy that we're dealing with.

The Things We Do

A is three months ahead of me in this chemo business - and what an inspiration. First of all, her tumour has completely disappeared, and she's also managed to stay pretty upbeat throughout the process. When I wrote about my fatigue and dizzy spells, I heard from her immediately - she explained that she had suffered from the same because her red blood cell count was low. She recommended green leafy vegetables (no problem), chicken livers (gross) and Guinness (huh). It certainly made a lot of sense to me so after breakfast I took three horse pills which promised to provide 126% of my iron RDA, then I called chemo nurse AM to discuss the fatigue issue. She asked me to go to hospital for a blood test, to find out whether or not my haemogloblin was too low, thus causing the fatigue.

So weird uncle M and I set off and nurse R proceeded to siphon the blood off me. Now the purpose of this very odd protrusion in my upper right arm is to make blood taking and chemotherapy much easier. Huh. That certainly was not the case today. Nurse R could not get any blood off me, so she proceeded to massacre my poor arm. Whilst giving me a blow-by-blow account of what she was doing. I certainly believe in this case that ignorance is bliss; I did not want to know that perhaps a fibre or something was stuck making the blood not want to come out. Poor weird uncle M was subjected to my writhing and strange noises whilst she tortured me. Picture the Dentist Scene in The Marathon Man and you get a rough idea. Eventually we left the scene of the carnage and had lunch at a lovely pub bistro close by. Now I normally order the Crispy Duck Salad whenever I come to this restaurant, but because I was determined to increase my iron levels, ordered the Chicken Liver Salad instead. I was obviously hit by some form of madness at this point as I absolutely detest liver (unless in a pate). Suffice it to say, I managed to eat a few globules of the awful offal (ha!) but eventually had to give up this altogether valiant effort as I had started to retch.

As it turns out, this heroic effort was all in vain - nurse R called an hour or so later to say that my iron levels were fine. So unfair.

PS. I have obviously given up on my pescaterian diet - although I'm still keeping beef and pork consumption very low, I've started to eat chicken again. Much to the disappointment of our chickens Charlie and Jo...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

What's normal?

From the onset of my diagnosis, I told myself that I would try and keep things as normal for the children. And so far, I think I've succeeded. They've seen me stuck in bed a few days after treatments, but as I'm back on my feet soon after, screaming at them like a banshee to pick their stuff off the floor (admit it, all us mothers do), the T household has stayed mainly the same. And I suppose it's helped that I have not let them see my bald patches - I think it would terrorise them too much and may possibly give them nightmares.

However, I find myself in a bit of a dilemma now. With this stupid fatigue, I find that I cannot do the most menial of tasks and will need to rely on my children much more. I found myself getting really cross with them yesterday when they would not listen to me - don't they understand that I'm ill???

According to weird Uncle M (who's very sweetly come from Scotland to manny for the moment as LH is in Sweden) I'm giving the children mixed signals - I want them to go on as normal, yet I want them to understand that I'm ill. I suppose it's true - but isn't there a balance? I'd like their lives to proceed as usual, but possibly with a little more responsibility and empathy, with the realisation that their mother is not in peak health at the moment.

So, we've had words. I've spoken to the children, explained that I need their help all the more as the chemotherapy is finally taking its toll on me. They seem to have understood; so I'm keeping my head under wraps for the moment. No nightmares of mad friars attacking in the night then...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Oh my

Everyone warned me about fatigue: apparently, this is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. I thought I'd done quite well - I'd always feel tired a few days after treatment but I'd bounce back afterwards. As it turns out, I didn't actually know the meaning of fatigue till it properly hit me yesterday.

Since yesterday afternoon I have been incapable of staying up more than two hours; this morning, I pushed it and nearly passed out. I was in the middle of tidying up the children's bathroom when this wave of fatigue hit me and my vision doubled. I had to quickly rush to the bedroom where I lay down immediately and fell asleep. It's a very odd sensation - I feel tired, very weak and almost constantly dizzy. When I make any effort to do anything, I get palpitations... I'm finding it difficult to concentrate and even this blog is proving to be such an effort to write.

I've always found sleep elusive; even when pregnant, or with newborns, I could never take afternoon naps. I always envied those who could fall asleep as soon as their head touches their pillow. However, now that I find myself in the same situation, I'm very frustrated. I can't get anything done - all I want to do is lie down. Sleep is lovely when you make the decision to have it, but when you have no choice, it just gets in the way...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Three down!

Had my 3rd FEC yesterday and only one more of that nasty one to go. Yippee. Yesterday's treatment a heck of a lot better as did not do the cold cap, which made it shorter and a lot more comfortable. Also, again had the chemo party and it really does cheer me up!

Am feeling slightly more fatigue than the last treatment, but there's a lot less of the nausea, which is very good. But I think I may only be tired as I was the recipient of a little bit of drama yesterday.

An hour or so after having arrived home from hospital, I was just about to lie down when I received a telephone call from daughter N's form teacher to say that N had had a nose bleed whilst in a sports event at another school. No problem, as my twins are veterans at the nose bleed. She then proceeded to say that the blood had started to come out of my poor daughter's eyes. She immediately followed this statement with 'There's nothing to worry about.' Is she mad??? Blood from the eyes and nothing to worry about??? The adrenaline kicked in and I went into panic mode and called, in order:
1. LH who was doing the school run for the boys;
2. friends to find out who could bring N back from the school;
2. the GP to get an emergency appointment;
3. good friend paediatrician C in Virginia (who just had her first chemo session the day before), and
4. sister T's children's paediatrician based in Manila.
Luckily, everyone seemed to have understood me as I was pretty incomprehensible, since I was sobbing my head off. I drove daughter N to the GP who got me referrals to the ENT specialist, a full blood count (FBC) and a blood clot test, which is all being done on Friday. But the GP (and neither did the two paediatricians I had called) did not think it was really anything to worry about. Phew.

Arrived back home, made the necessary appointments, and crashed. I think the stress of the event, knowing that sister T was leaving this morning for Manila, the pressure of the days before the chemo and the chemo itself finally got to me and I just hit the sack.

But I'm feeling a lot better now. H arrived this afternoon to give me my Neulasta shot and the cleaner kicked me out of the bedroom an hour later. Which turned out to be a good thing as I'm up and about rather than feeling sorry for myself in bed. I'm tempted to do a bit of yoga as I know it will do me good, but at the same time, there's a big possibility that I'll end up shattered as well. But then I feel lazy lying in bed when I'm feeling perfectly fine now! Hmm... What to do, what to do...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Here we go again...

Tomorrow I go for round 3 of FEC chemotherapy. The last couple of days have been very odd indeed as I've had to sort out lift shares and such for the week or so immediately after the treatment. I feel very healthy at the moment so I feel a fraud asking friends for favours, but sadly it has to be done. Although I've already gone through two of the treatments and have more or less an idea of what to expect, I need to leave room for the possibility that the chemotherapy is going to hit me really hard and I'll be absolutely hopeless and useless.

So, I'm 'putting my affairs in order'. That's what people usually say when they're on their deathbeds and need to get matters sorted out. Although I'm not dying, I must do a similar thing as I won't be able to go about as normal for the next few days. So, I've had a word with my children and asked them to be on their best behaviour, I've spoken with friends and sorted out lift shares and I've made sure that my family don't starve whilst I am incapacitated. (LH will be around and although he will be all helpful and wonderful, it's all about CONTROL...)

I am really hoping that round 3 will even be better than the last one - but as I've been told so many times that the effects of chemotherapy are cumulative, I'm always preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. Wish me luck...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A Whole New World

I have stopped wearing jeans because of my weight gain as it gives me a muffin top and I cannot breathe as a consequence. I have thus had to resort to anything with an elasticated waist - they have become a lifeline. I used to always say that I would ban anything with a garter waist if I were made President of the World because I was convinced that they caused the world's rising obesity problem. But I have changed my mind about them as they have become my bestfriends...

Today an order I had made on the Topshop website arrived: a pair of cropped harem trousers with an elasticated waist. Bad idea. The trousers, combined with the turban I was wearing, made me look like Aladdin.

This of course, is not the end of the road for me. My weight will continue to rise, and I will lose more hair. Which will then make me look like the Genie.

I'd like to think that before I started chemotherapy I was more of a pseudo- Princess Jasmine. This can only mean that I could be a one-man show of Aladdin. Someone call Disney, quick.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Chemo Brain

My favourite Disney character of all time is Dory, the blue fish from Finding Nemo. I love her because she's hilariously funny and I feel I can associate with her. Don't get me wrong - I don't suffer from short-term memory loss (I do speak Whale though), but the past few years I've noticed that my memory is completely shot. I've blamed it on my two epidurals, but apparently now I can even blame chemotherapy. Sadly, the concept of 'chemo brain' is not an urban myth: studies have been done and it's been proven that both radiotherapy and chemotherapy mess with your memory and cognitive thinking and its effects may last up to five years.

This is really bad news: even before chemotherapy I found myself indulging in many forms of James Joyce 'streams of consciousness' dialogues with myself, and even more worryingly, with others. I have not recognised half the people who ask me to be their friend on Facebook. Most of them turn out to be classmates from high school or university and apparently, I even snogged one of them. (Oops.) And when I do remember something, it's a bit skewed: I was convinced that my father tried to drown me when I was a wee babe, whilst my mother and godfather watched gleefully. (I even remember my swimsuit: a red and white stripy number with an anchor design in front.) When I confronted my parents about this attempted infanticide, I was told that yes, my father had held me over a boat and let my feet dangle over the water when I was two. But apparently we were on a boat one lovely summer holiday and my father certainly was not going to let go - they just wanted me to enjoy the water - or so they say... (My parents found this memory very funny by the way. All I can say is a word to the wise: be careful what you do to your children as you may scar them for life.)

If this is what my memory was before chemotherapy, I cannot even begin to imagine what it will be like when this whole episode is over. Currently, not enough research has been done on chemo brain to prevent it. So again I'm having to rely on my instincts. Although I will not turn my back on trashy magazines, it now seems imperative that I go back to hours spent doing killer sudoku. I was so addicted to this puzzle at one point that I would spend a couple of hours each day solving them. I had to eventually wean myself off as I was not getting anything done. Well, now I can do them with impunity. It's for the sake of my mental health after all. So forget the pile of laundry or ironing: it's puzzle time for me.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Does my bum look big in this?

Considering that cancer is one of those illnesses that people associate with death, when you meet someone suffering from it you expect to see a grey and emaciated person. This is not the case however - because of the steroids pumped into you as part of chemotherapy, weight gain is inevitable. So instead of being confronted with an individual in the throes of death, you see someone edacious who looks like they ate all the pies.

I weighed myself this morning and was mortified to find that I've gained nearly two kilos since I started chemotherapy. I very nearly shaved off the patchy hair left on my head just to see the number go down, but considering that I only have a very silly coronet of hair left (please do not visualise) I figured it wouldn't make much of a difference.

So sadly that leaves self-control and exercise. Forget the first week after chemo - I'm too nauseous to exercise and too hungry to deprive myself. Which means that I've got roughly two weeks to shed the weight gained in the first week of absolute greed. (I know - it's wishful thinking.) So I was back at the gym Thursday last week and have tried, with mixed results, to control my eating. But I think it's too late: my stomach seems to have expanded and it now thinks that it needs the diet of a champion weightlifter to get satisfied. Which leaves the gym.

And it's great - I always feel strong afterwards. But I find it very odd that my gym friends think that I'm being very admirable, and brave, simply because I go spinning or contort my body into weird positions with pilates. I don't really understand this - what else would I do? Going to the gym has always been a part of my routine - I've always felt much better when I'm fit and healthy. So I don't see why I suddenly shouldn't go now, especially at a time when I need it most.

Admittedly, I did wallow in self-pity when I was first diagnosed, and started planning the video diary for my children with my life lessons (such as never ever get a tattoo) but the thought of doing that now is inconceivable. I now know what I'm dealing with and have just modified my life to accommodate this nuisance that is chemotherapy. So I go on with my life as normal, and that includes getting a bit of exercise. So don't be impressed, it's perfectly ordinary.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

A semi-colon, after all...

(For men or the squeamish: I may give TOO MUCH INFORMATION in this blog entry so I suggest you stop reading now.)

When I gave birth to the twins 11 and a half years ago, I opted for sterilisation at the same time as we already had three beautiful children and I was 34. I was very surprised and disappointed to find out that despite having my tubes tied (or cut, I'm not really sure) I was still going to have my monthly periods. After all, it's not called 'the curse' for nothing.

However, when I saw my oncologist and he was going through the side-effects (the nurses and doctor seem to enjoy discussing this - either they want their arses covered for any eventuality or they get a certain perverse pleasure) he informed me that the drugs could make me go through my menopause early. I shrugged my shoulders and was not bothered in the slightest. At least I wouldn't have the long, drawn out process of hot flushes and bad moods. And no surfing of the crimson wave. Hurrah! But when my period did not arrive when due last week, I felt a certain sadness. And not because I had recently bought a bumper pack of tampons at our local Costco either - suddenly, I felt old and infertile. I've left my youth and all that. I'm not deluded - I know I left it ages ago but sometimes I still like to tease LH about the possibility of having more children. I know I've been sterilised but I did have to sign a waiver saying there was still a one in a thousand chance of still getting pregnant...

As it turns out all that angst was premature as the curse arrived today. And what a pain. Bring on the menopause, I say.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

There are scarier things than cancer

Such as the cat bringing a toad into the house.

Wishful thinking?

One of the more knee-weakening experiences in this whole cancer journey was touching my lump for the first time. With the aid of the mammogram images, Mr Tit-man was able to pinpoint the exact spot of the tumour and guided my hands towards it. And it felt grainy and quite big, really. (It was measured at 1.6 cms, small-ish in relative terms, but still...) It freaked me out that I had not felt it earlier, but I suppose I had not known what I was looking for.

Since that first time however, I have become used to touching it. Initially, it would make me cry, but now I just do it out of curiosity. And I'm convinced that it has already shrunk since I started chemotherapy. In fact, this morning I had trouble finding the little bugger.

Ha! Shrink into oblivion vile tumour!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Argh

Someone left a comment on my entry on the prevalence of breast cancer, saying that she was going to delay having a mammogram because apparently she can roll off the names of so many who had been diagnosed with cancer having gone to our local private hospital. I find this comment particularly insensitive and ignorant to be honest. Does she think that all the women have been misdiagnosed?  That our local private hospital is making money by subjecting healthy women to unnecessary chemotherapy and surgery?  That I'm losing my hair and going through all this pain and massive inconvenience so someone can rake it in? Or perhaps there's a better explanation - that cancer cases are going up and are becoming more common. In fact, the NHS is going to move down the age of free mammograms to 48 - they understand the epidemic and are hoping to cure as many women as they can from this disease by finding it early. 

So, please ignore that comment (I will, of course, delete it) and get yourselves checked.  

Also, please excuse the rant. And my sense of humour failure.  As the comment was anonymous, I could not just pick up the telephone and scream.

Result!

Went out to dinner last night, and for the first time actually felt bohemian and fashionable, rather than an ill, militant placard-carrying lesbian or an out-of-work fortune teller with a strange hat. Or a YO! Sushi chef.

I am going to rock this look.