Archives for category: Chemo Brain

Today marks six years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I’m not quite sure how to sum up everything that’s happened in the last 24 hours, let alone the last year or six years. So here’s a list, in no particular order, of random thoughts and people who have inspired me.

  1. Five-year all-clear

It took six attempts before I finally managed to have my annual MRI breast scan last Christmas. You’re supposed to have the scan at a certain point in your monthly cycle, but in 2017 my periods went quarterly (they’ve since returned), which made the whole thing quite difficult. And of course when I finally got a period, the MRI scanner broke and I only found out after I’d made the train trip from London to Manchester. But we got there in the end and after 26 phone calls I finally got the letter through the post in March to say that nothing sinister had been found. God love the NHS.

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  1. Saying goodbye to my surgeon

Due to the aforementioned difficulties in appointment scheduling with a hospital that is 200 miles away, I finally decided to move. This is easier said than done because of the emotional connection I have with Mr Sharif, the surgeon who saved my life. But I haven’t seen him once in the last two years – there was always a different doctor at every follow-up – so it was time to change. I have my first appointment with the Royal Marsden in Sutton next week and I’m hoping they’ll agree to continue with my yearly MRI scans. I never got to say goodbye to Mr Sharif and Dr Chittalia, but I love them both to bits.

  1. Tamoxifen, periods, brain fog and mental health

I’ve been on the hormone suppressant tamoxifen for five and a half years and although I haven’t suffered the horrible side effects that many of my friends have, I’ve still had plenty of unwelcome effects. One of these is what I can only refer to as a sort of brain fog or haze, where I feel spaced out, depressed and utterly exhausted, rather like a migraine without the headache. It is hard to explain to work that you are unwell when you don’t have obvious physical symptoms, and this in turn leads to feelings of guilt. But in a world that is increasingly paying attention to mental health, I’m doing my best to be kind to myself.

  1. New eyebrows

Of all the things to worry about when you have cancer, you’d think hair wouldn’t be one of them, but of course it affects the way you feel. So after five years of hating the way I looked without make-up and doing a terrible job of drawing my eyebrows in, I finally invested in the painful procedure that is microblading, or permanent eyebrow tattoos, at a brilliant place in South London called Beauty Clinic Simone. I am so pleased with the results and can’t tell you how nice it feels to wake up and feel vaguely confident with the way I look. Here’s a before and after – just bear in mind I’m wearing make-up in the after pic.

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  1. Serpentine Swim and Plymouth Half in memory of Laura Weatherall-Plane

When Laura died just over a year ago aged just 37, it affected way more people than she probably ever knew loved her. She was one of the most caring, selfless people I’d ever met and she dedicated the last few years of her life to raising money for CoppaFeel! to try and prevent young people from being diagnosed with breast cancer at the too-late stage. She ran half marathons right up until a couple of months before she died, and she never stopped. So last September, a bunch of us swam 2km in the Serpentine lake, enduring far-too-cold temperatures and mouthfuls of duck shit. Then in May this year, Laura’s husband Jon gathered a group of 150+ people to run the Plymouth Half in her honour, raising almost £20,000 for CoppaFeel’s livesaving work.

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  1. Running retirement

I’m pleased to say the Plymouth Half marked my official retirement from long-distance running, because my body has told me very firmly it’s not good for me. I’ll still do up to 10km runs and I will definitely get my nip on again because I’ve discovered open-water swimming is one of the best things ever – it’s great for mental health and, curiously, I’ve also found duck shit to be a natural face and hair mask. When I announced my official retirement on social media, I received a card in the post from Jackie Scully – quite possibly the biggest legend of the physical challenges world – saying that I had been the one to inspire her to take up running after cancer. From the woman who ran a marathon on her wedding day and has undertaken to run, cycle and swim 2018 miles in 2018, this really meant a lot.

  1. Writing a novel

Part of the reason I’ve been so busy and stressed for the last couple of years is that I’ve spent every weekend and holiday trying to write my debut novel, Single Bald Female. I am still a way off finishing it, but from September til March this year I did the Faber Academy’s (brilliant) Writing a Novel course, and yesterday the class of 2018 had our work printed in an anthology, which was sent to agents. I am incredibly excited to have already received some interest from agents and this has certainly provided added motivation to finish the book as soon as humanly possible, so watch this space.

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  1. Stylist piece

In October I wrote a piece for Stylist magazine for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They sent a photographer round my house and she did some wonderful portraits while my cats tried to sabotage her technical equipment. The article was republished online last month on National Cancer Survivors Day, which is a weird one because it makes people living with secondary cancer feel excluded – and they are the people we need to supporting the most.

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  1. Kris Hallenga and Emily Hayward

CoppaFeel!’s founder, Kris Hallenga, is the ultimate in human beings and she has inspired me so much over the last few years – just read this post on How to glitter a turd for a brief taste of how much she is smashing it. She has been living with cancer for almost 10 years – which also means that CoppaFeel! turns 10 this year. You can support her ongoing efforts by purchasing tickets for Festifeel, which I can verify is actually awesome. Anyway, through her last blog, Kris introduced me to Emily Hayward, another magnificent human who has been YouTubing her way through a two-months-to-live cancer diagnosis and being the ultimate example of how not to feel sorry for yourself. Her wife Aisha deserves a special shout out for just being awe-inspiringly incredible.

  1. Werk werk werk

I never achieved the goal of becoming a women’s magazine editor that I set out to do five years ago, because I got side-tracked along the way when I went to intern at Restaurant magazine and heard about a job at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants that seemed like it was made for me (food + travel + writing). Four years later, I have somehow become part of an incredible family of chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders and foodies from all over the world and with every event I feel more at home. It has been one of the hardest, most stressful jobs I’ve ever done and it very much contradicts my post-cancer aim of leading a calmer life, but somehow I have stuck around because I love it and I love my team.

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Just this last week, I had the opportunity to do a live interview on stage with one of the people I most admire in the gastronomy world and whose restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns is simply incredible – Dan Barber. I also fluffed my way through interviews on Spanish radio and produced a 56-page book in the space of two weeks. It is not what I imagined I’d be doing four years ago but it’s pretty cool.

Needless to say, it’s been one of the most intense weeks of my life and I’m exhausted, sleep deprived and an emotional wreck, but I am SO HAPPY. All the love to everyone who’s supported me through these last six years xx

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Chemo 27 Nov

Last time in the chemo chair, November 2012

I forgot the one-year anniversary of my last chemo. Yep, it passed by completely unnoticed on November 27 and it took a whole week before I realised. That I could forget my own “Chemo-versary” is some serious progress.

The funny thing is I’ve been forgetting a lot of things recently and it could be down to chemo killing my brain cells. Over the last year or so, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “Chemo brain,” a post-treatment loss of memory, concentration and general brain-scattiness.

I’ve always put my own memory loss down to age and other factors, but lately I’ve been forgetting more than usual. So whether it’s technology overload, the onset of my 30s or a side effect of the treatment, I don’t know. But it would be pretty ironic if chemo brain made me forget my own chemo, wouldn’t it?

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Third hair-cut since chemo

The good news is, while I may be a few brain cells shorter than when I began, I’ve grown a lot of hair in the mean time.

A few weeks ago I had my third hair-cut since chemo (the second one went unmentioned on this blog because it was awful and made me hate my hair for an entire two months). As you can see from this pic, the lovely Irish hairdresser did a great job.

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Still thinning on top

Despite its growth at the front though, it’s still looking pretty thin and baldy on the top. My eyebrows are also still pretty much non-existent underneath the make-up and I don’t know if they’ll ever grow back. Having spent a fortune on eyebrow-growth products with no results whatsoever, I’ve now decided just to let nature take its course.

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Boob championing with Newton Faulker and my fellow Boobette, Rachel

If I was in any way feeling sorry for myself about my winter flu and thinning eyebrows, last week saw me put firmly back in my place at a thank you party organised by my favourite charity, CoppaFeel! Every time I see or hear from the amazing founders, Kris and Maren, I am reminded of how incredibly lucky I am to have come out of cancer virtually unscathed, with my life and health in tact.

The rather glamorous party was a celebration of the first four amazing years of the charity set up after Kris’s diagnosis in 2009 that has since helped so many young people and spread a very important message about knowing our own bodies.

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Coppin’ a feel with the Boobettes and the CoppaFeel! girls

There were speeches from Kris and Maren as well as the lovely Dermot O’Leary and a most inspiring young lady called Sarah Outen, who won an MBE after sailing the Indian Ocean all by herself. There was also a performance from Newton Faulkner, another proud boob champion who was thoroughly delightful in the flesh, and I got chance to catch up with loads of inspiring ladies my own age who have all had breast cancer too.

Though I’ve been feeling thoroughly under the weather and exhausted of late, I have to say this event cheered me right up and put everything very much into perspective.

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In memory of my “chemo-versary,” I’ll be posting a blog for Vita magazine in the next few days with a few tips for people going through chemotherapy, so stay tuned for that. Otherwise, I suspect this will be my last blog of 2013 so I’ll leave you with a pic of me and my festive attire and wish you all a very merry Christmas.

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