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IMG_4596What an extraordinary week. In a good way.

After a very tough month (surely there should be some kind of referendum to abolish January?), things are finally starting to get better and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The main triumph of the week was giving up my wigs and unleashing my bald, slightly fluffy head to the entire world. Although the final result has been liberating, it certainly wasn’t an easy move. In fact, from Monday to Wednesday I ditched the wigs but instead wore a bright red woolly hat that I’ve had since I was about 16.

IMG_4482After three days of having an itchy and sweaty head, I finally felt semi-ready to ditch the Paddington Bear/ Little Red Riding Hood look and whap out my naked head to the entire office. And, believe me, ‘naked’ is the operative word.

You see, bearing your bald head all-of-a-sudden to an office of 400 people is very much like walking around the office in a bikini. Or your underwear. It feels disconcerting, uncomfortable and very, very scary. And ‘self-conscious’ is certainly an understatement.

But, fortunately, by Thursday, two males in the office (one gay, one straight and married) told me respectively that I look ‘sexy’ and ‘much better’ with my bald head than with my wigs or hats. And, I know it might not seem like it, but that meant an awful lot.

IMG_4548It also helped that some kind soul had posted a very uplifting message on the mirror of the ladies’ toilets on my floor, so I get told I look FABULOUS every time I go to the loo. I think I might make one of these posters for my bathroom mirror at home as well…

Saturday night, I was ready for a bit of a night out, despite feeling exhausted, and I would have probably gone back to wearing a wig for extra confidence, had I not been told about a live music night called “Shave or Dye” to raise money for the Irish Cancer Society. It’s part of the “Punks Vs Monks” fundraising event in Ireland and basically does what it says on the tin – you go along for the night out and either shave off or dye your hair to raise money for charity. Naturally I decided to attend the event with my naked scalp in tow, assuming I would fit right in.

IMG_4601Unfortunately, there weren’t actually any takers for the head shave, and I was still the only woman in the pub with a bald head. It was still completely worth it, though, because everyone assumed I had shaved my head for charity and I became the heroine of the evening. One woman said “Wow, your hair looks amazing!” as she passed me on the way to the loo, and another high-fived me and shouted “Did you get the full head?!”

IMG_4605On the eyebrow front, I burst out in tears of joy earlier in the week when I noticed there were some 30 or so tiny little eyebrows starting to sprout on both sides. In the picture to the left, you can see my original eyebrows circa May 2012, and my current eyebrows, circa three days ago (sans make-up). As you can see, I still have a few stragglers, but nothing like the caterpillars I had before. But what you can’t see is the tiny little shoots that are starting to grow, and bringing me infinite joy.

IMG_4534Also bringing me infinite joy this week was the massive package full of goodies I received all the way from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Through the online cancer support groups I’ve joined recently, I have met a number of women in their late 20s and early 30s who are also going through the horrible experience that is breast cancer. One of these girls is Heather, who is even younger than me, at 29, and was diagnosed around the same time as me. Not one to sit on her arse and moan, Heather set up “Fighting Fancy,” which sends out boxes full of amazing, useful goodies (mascara, hair-strengthening shampoo, etc) for women all around the world going through chemo. (Or those who have just finished it, like me). I was the lucky first ever Dublin recipient of a Fighting Fancy box and it very much brought a smile to my face, so thank you, Heather.

IMG_4550Finally, this week hailed my ‘Not Birthday’. On February 2nd, for some curious reason, I received not one, not two, but three birthday cards. And it was definitely not my birthday.

The date was 8/2, and my birthday is 2/8 (Aug 2nd) but by total coincidence two friends sent me cards that day that had the words “Happy Birthday” crossed out inside, and both of them wrote “I didn’t realise this was a birthday card when I bought it, soz”. And a restaurant sent me a discount voucher because it was my birthday.

IMG_4604So, with 28 rounds of radiotherapy down and only 5 remaining, I’d just like to wish myself a very Happy ‘Not Birthday’! I think this calls for some cake…

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Well, I know I said the last post would probably be the final one before Christmas, but then I spent a while making Christmas Cupcakes (they are sort of like miniature Christmas cakes, only more cakey, with rum and dried fruit) and Mum told me I should post my creations online. So here they are!

I have endeavoured to cover the three main languages spoken by the bulk of my readers (English, Spanish, Portuguese). If your language isn’t covered, it’s not because I don’t love you, it’s because I don’t speak it. And I know all of you speak English. And I still wish you a Merry Christmas.

Just so you know, it was no easy feat getting the ingredients for these cupcakes. I know the apocalypse didn’t happen (funny, that) but it felt like the world was ending in Morrisons supermarket Huddersfield yesterday. I should’ve known when it took me 30 minutes to find a parking space that I ought to turn around, but instead I soldiered on to get my icing sugar, rum and whole milk and joined the longest queue in human history, only to wait for more than an hour to pay for my 15 or so items. I have honestly never seen anything like it in my life: queues of hundreds of people the length of the entire supermarket, blocking all the aisles and corridors, people scrambling for the last turkey and trolleys overflowing with mince pies and sherry bottles.

“It’s Blitz mentality in ‘ere!” remarked a Yorkshire man at one point, as customers guarded each others’ places in the queue while they went to fetch items they’d forgotten, and I went to grab bottles of ice-cold water for myself and another stranger as we both sweated and choked with thirst in aisle 22. (The Christmas items aisle – one of the worst to be stuck in in an Apocalypse scenario on Christmas Eve Eve, surrounded by enormous tins of Quality Street and Roses and sweet packets adorned with different kids’ celebrities’ faces to make them sell better. (Do kids really think their One Direction jelly sweets actually have anything whatsoever to do with One Direction, seriously?))

Eventually, after an entirely exhausting hour and a half in Morrisons, I managed to pay for my items, by which point my friend had made almost the entire journey from London to Wakefield. At least the cakes turned out nicely.

All that remains to be said is Merry Christmas.

Oh dear. I’ve had a very mild, tickly cough for about a month and yesterday it escalated into a full-blown, nasty choking, phlegmy cough. During the night I developed a painful sore throat and woke up this morning having largely lost my voice, so I am now on the antibiotics. So much for having a super-sonic immune system with 39.7-level white blood cells! Pah!

So, the nutritional therapist. I had a 1 1/2-hour consultation on Friday with Liz Butler, founder of Body Soul Nutrition, with a view to getting some advice on what I should be doing to keep my cancer away, and finding out whether any of my eating or lifestyle habits could have developed a better environment for the cancer to grow in the first place. One of the things she said was that many people have their cancer treatment and then go back to living their lives exactly as they did before – continuing to eat the same things, maintaining the same stress levels and doing the same amount of exercise, thus preserving the same body conditions in which the cancer initially thrived. It’s vital, according to Liz, to make drastic changes, both emotionally and nutritionally, to keep the cancer cells from growing again.

Her main recommendations were that I cut out dairy altogether and avoid sugar as much as possible. She also gave me some nutritional plans and talked to me about how each meal should be ideally composed, i.e. 50% vegetables and fruit on each plate, 20% starchy carbs (but only whole grains – no white rice, white pasta, white bread etc), 20% protein (eggs are allowed – phew!) and 10% fats (including nuts, pulses and butter, which is the only dairy allowed).

All of the above seems largely doable, apart from the giving up of dairy products and sugar, which is difficult for me to envision for the rest of my life. Two weeks, as I proved before, is easy peasy, but a life with no pizza (cheese), tea and coffee (milk), cheese and biscuits, cake, chocolate and many other tasty things is hard for me to get my head around. On the positive side, she did say I’m allowed red meat (once or twice a week, max), as long as it’s the best type of meat I can get my hands on – i.e. organic, free range etc (because the lower quality the meat, poultry or fish, the more likely it is to have been injected with antibiotics, hormones, etc).

One thing to stress is that the nutritional therapist didn’t say I have to give up all these things entirely – she said it’s fine to have a little of what I fancy, when I fancy, i.e. a couple of squares of dark chocolate every couple of days or a slice of cake or a dessert once a week, which is also fine. But I will struggle more with dairy because I eat a lot of it.

I decided for my last chemo I would be good to myself and let myself eat what I wanted, because often you feel so miserable and your tastes change so much, I didn’t want to punish myself like last time. So I’ve been eating something sweet most days, though not going overboard. And Christmas is coming up, so I’m not going to punish myself then either. But it’s important during radiotherapy to eat well to minimise the side effects, so I will definitely start being a little more strict in January.

I plan to take Liz’s advice to the extent that I can manage, cutting out dairy and sugar as much as possible but essentially allowing myself what I want in moderation. I am still very much aware that the oncologists don’t recommend any specific dietary changes and they certainly don’t recommend giving up sugar and dairy, and there is no proof or concrete evidence that doing so would guarantee my cancer never recurs, but at the same time changing what I eat to some extent will at least allow me to have a little more control over the situation. Nevertheless, I thought I might as well start as I mean to go on…

I started off well. Saturday morning, I had my first ever black coffee, and I quite enjoyed it. (I forgot to mention she told me to give up caffeine, but I may have to do things gradually!) Then I had a ginger steeper (fresh ginger in boiled water) at Leon. For lunch at Giraffe, I ordered a fresh fruit smoothie and a brown-rice sushi salad consisting of spinach, smoked salmon, mango, avocado and various seeds. But because I didn’t quite have the 50% veg/20% carbs ratio quite right, I ordered a separate side helping of sauteed veg (green beans, peppers and the likes – delish). Which brings me to Nutritional Problem #1: eating better is way more expensive. The better quality and the more organic the meat or the veg, the more the price increases. And the more veg portions you order to try and get the right balance, the more you end up paying. And Nutritional Problem #2: The better you want to nourish yourself, the more you have to plan what you eat, where you eat, when you eat, etc.

And then it all went down hill. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, Saturday night I went to Bubbledogs and ate two hotdogs. I am not convinced the pork sausage was the most organic meat in the land (largely because I do not know its origin) and I can take an educated guess that barbecue sauce and ketchup both have a fair amount of added sugar. That said, at least I didn’t have a pudding, and the jalapeños on the Mexican dog would have been good for me. But I did have a glass of champagne.

Sunday, it went further down hill, with a bacon sandwich on white, a cheese toastie and sausage, chips and veg for dinner. And Monday, a decent lunch of Eggs Florentine (bit of spinach, decent amount of protein) and a handful of Niki’s fries, then fish and chips on the train home (free first-class food, I could hardly refuse, could I?) I suspect the quality of the fish on East Coast Trains may not be the best in the world, which brings me to Nutritional Problem #3: It’s particularly hard to change your nutritional habits when you’re away from home. But, like I said, I’m not being strict on myself at the moment as a) I’m still under the wicked spell of the last chemo and within the three-week cycle, b) I’m sick and c) it’s the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la la.

Thank you all, though, for adhering to my request not to send me any more junk food. Alice very kindly oven-roasted me some assorted nuts in fennel and honey and they are amazing – I’ve been munching my way through them as only a gannet would. I since found out that honey is on the no-no list of sugary foods (Sorry, Mr Curado, I misinformed you), but I’m happily munching through them anyway (see points a, b and c). Thanks also to Beth for the lovely tin of personalised soup, as pictured at the top of the page (don’t ask why “Bobr”).

So, that’s (the very much abridged version of) what the nutritional therapist said. I still have a lot of reading and researching to do, and I confess I am slightly skeptical that following all this advice will keep the cancer away for good, because I have always eaten so healthily and it’s most likely my cancer was caused by a gene fault (just not the one I tested negative for). However, I have to do something to take this into my own hands, and improving my diet seems to be a good place to start (she says, while slurping through a cream-heavy tin of chicken soup…)

Well, would you Adam and Eve it? A whole two weeks have passed since I decided to give up sugar. I know it may not seem like it because I stopped posting my daily consumption after I had my last chemo, but today is in fact the last day. As of tomorrow morning, I can eat chocolate again – yay!

So how did it go? Well, besides being rushed to hospital for a few days, the no-sugar diet itself went just fine. The chemotherapy had already altered my tastes and meant that I’ve been eating strangely for the past few months anyway, so the shock to my system wasn’t as great as it would have been. I have definitely wanted to eat sweet things, but funnily enough with the withdrawal of hard chocolate, I’ve been left desperate for the simplest and actually quite healthy things – for instance I would kill for a dark-chocolate-covered rice cake, and I almost cried last week when I could only eat the raisins out of my Graze box but had to leave these chocolate-covered apricots. I mean, apricots, for God’s sake! I don’t even like them that much! But they’re still sitting here, ready to be eaten tomorrow.

I haven’t especially noticed any effects – whether good or bad – of giving up the white stuff, but that is probably mainly because of the chemo. I have had lots of headaches, but again, probably the chemo. And I can’t say I am brimming with energy but that’s also most likely because I’m still on really strong antibiotics and and the after-effects of the chemo.

My Mum, on the other hand, was probably a better guinea pig for this experiment and I could tell she felt miserable a few times not being able to have chocolate. She also had a lull around day five or so where I thought she didn’t have any energy and was fed up having to eat bananas and nuts all the time. So, cutting out chocolate can also make you a bit miserable. (We didn’t really have to do this experiment for two weeks though really, did we?) My Dad is also doing the diet and for some strange reason it barely seems to have affected him. I’m not sure whether he’s secretly sneaking in loads of cakes, but I do know he had a can of lemonade when I went to hospital because he was worried about me. (We let him off).

The outcome of all this is that I still believe all the hype about how bad sugar is for us and how it’s one of the causes of cancer, so I’m definitely cutting down on it long-term. Though I believe going completely cold-turkey can make you much more tempted to eat sugar, so I’ll be allowing myself small amounts from now on.

Here’s the report on the minor cheating incidents:

1 glass of apple juice at home because Mum forced me to drink it (it would’ve been wasted otherwise)

1 glass of orange juice in the hospital because it was the only thing that could quench my thirst after the first night in the most stuffy, tropical room with a 38.6-degree temperature

Quarter of a tin of beans on my jacket potato in hospital out of sheer deperation

Clandestine sugar sprinkled on my porridge by the hospital

1 cup of Horlicks in hospital to try and help me sleep/get rid of the yucky chemo taste in my mouth

That’s it. I swear. I am too honest, really I am. No chocolate, no sweets, no packet food, no crisps, no hot chocolate, nada.

In case you have nothing else to do of a Thursday afternoon, here’s the list of stuff I ate for the last two weeks – some of it has been forgotten as I wasn’t writing it down every day but you get the rough idea. I think I ate an unhealthy amount of nuts to replace the chocolate…

DAY SIX (Wednesday)

6am pre-breakfast: A banana and four steroids.

9:30am actual breakfast: Porridge with blueberries, nuts, cinnamon and a cup of tea.

Lunch: Bowl of homemade cauliflower and almond soup with one slice of grain bread and butter. A flat white coffee.

Snacks: One cup of tea.

Dinner: Lamb chops, veg, mashed potato with an actual sprig of mint in it because I didn’t think I was allowed mint sauce.

Now that’s commitment! Bowl of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries and Greek-style yoghurt. Mint tea.

DAY SEVEN (Thursday)

Breakfast: Porridge and banana, one tea.

Snacks: One flat white coffee.

Lunch: Two boiled eggs on toast with some salad. A fruit tea.

Snacks: A punnet of black-pepper pistachios and one of savoury biscuits/cracker snacks. Ginger-lemon tea.

Dinner: Fish, potatoes, veg, 1 slice of bread. Several pancakes with fruit, cinnamon, lemon and Greek-style yoghurt. One tea

DAY EIGHT (Friday)

Breakfast: One slice of brown toast and Marmite. One tea.

Lunch: Minestrone and bacon soup with one slice of bread.

Snacks: A load of seeds and raisins and one green tea.

Dinner: Mushroom and bacon pizza with salad. One banana with Greek-style yoghurt. One tea.

Then I got rushed into hospital… And stopped taking track of what I ate quite so much.

DAY NINE (Saturday) – in hospital

Several hours and litres of saline through a drip.

Breakfast: A bit of porridge and banana and some mandarin segments. A cup of tea. A clandestine half-glass of orange juice.

Lunch: Half a tuna sandwich and a bowl of fruit.

Dinner: Jacket potato with cheese. More fruit.

Snacks: Cup of hot milk.

DAY TEN (Sunday) – in hospital

Several more hours and litres of saline.

Breakfast: Full bowl of porridge with clandestine sugar. Bowl of mandarin segments.

Lunch: Cod mornay with rice and broccoli. Bowl of fruit.

Dinner: Pasta with tomato sauce. And a cheese board.

Snacks: Half a bag of pistachio nuts, unsalted, and some more nuts and raisins. One cup of hot milk, one clandestine cup of Horlicks.

DAY ELEVEN (Monday) – in hospital

Loads more saline.

Breakfast: Full bowl of porridge with clandestine sugar. Bowl of mandarin segments.

Lunch: Some toast with chicken and bacon and a jacket potato with cheese and some clandestine beans. Bowl of fruit.

Dinner: Chicken in white wine sauce with rice and veg. Another cheese board.

DAY TWELVE (Tuesday) – in hospital

Breakfast: A slice of brown toast and butter and a bowl of porridge with a banana. Cup of tea.

Lunch: Beef bourginon with rice and sweetcorn and a bowl of fruit. Cup of tea.

Snacks: Flat white coffee.

Dinner: Chicken and mushroom pie, chips and peas.

DAY THIRTEEN (Wednesday) – back at home

Breakfast: Bacon sandwich with brown bread and fresh tomato. Cup of tea.

Snacks: Flat white coffee.

Lunch: Tomato and basil soup.

Snacks: Nuts and raisins.

Dinner: Fish, potatoes, veg. Mint tea.

DAY FOURTEEN (Today!)

Breakfast: One slice of brown toast with Marmite. One cup of tea.

Lunch: One boiled egg, one pitta bread, houmous, salad, balsamic vinegar, salmon.

Snacks and dinner: Nothing as yet, but I promise I won’t eat any sugar!

 

Has anyone else managed to do two weeks? Or almost two weeks? How’d you get on?

Well, firstly I’ll start by saying congrats to Obama – I’m pretty sure my over-sized ice-foam baseball hands and feet helped him win. No need to thank me, Mr President.

So, day two of chemo and I’m not feeling too bad so far. I went for a walk to get some fresh air while I still have the use of my limbs (i.e. before the crippling joint pain sets in).

Daily Ailments:

1) My little pinkie feels like it’s been slammed in a doorframe. Unfortunately, I can’t tell whether it’s going black and about to drop off because I already have dark black sparkly nail varnish on it, so I’ll have to wait a week or so to find out whether I lose a finger or not. But what are pinkies good for, anyway? All I can think of is proper tea-drinking etiquette…

2) My face went all red and blotchy before bedtime last night. And I am having hot flushes. I am hoping it’s just an after-effect of the steroids and not – god forbid – the onset of an early menopause.

3) I am back on the daily self-injections… with no sweet treats to self-congratulate… yuck.

Great things about today:

1) My Mad Men Season Five DVD arrived in the post. Thanks, Amazon.co.uk – your timing literally couldn’t be better.

2) The Daily Mail reckons a glass of wine a day can help cure breast cancer. Don’t mind if I do…

3) After ignoring me for a few days, Nurse Molly is back to do her nursing duties and is preventing me from reading magazines by sitting across the pages. Her heart’s in the right place.

The Big Sugar Challenge

DAY FIVE (Tuesday)

(Note that I got a bit ahead of myself yesterday and called it day five when it was in fact day four – needless to say, I’ve gone back and corrected it. Apols).

6am pre-breakfast: A banana and four steroids.

8:30am actual breakfast: Bacon sandwich on grain bread with grilled tomatoes and a cup of tea. (Yum, thanks Dad, the most creative sandwich maker I know. Who needs ketchup anyway?)

Hospital lunch: Tuna sandwich on brown bread with salad, a fruit salad and a cup of tea. Four more steroids and a large dose of chemo… Bleurrgh!

Snacks: A few handfuls of pistachios, assorted nuts and raisins. Two more cups of tea (or was it three?)

Dinner: Spinach and ricotta tortellini with pine nuts, tomato and basil, broccoli and a dollop of Philadelphia for good measure. A glass of sugar-free cloudy apple juice (which I had said was not allowed but Mum reeeeally wanted me to drink it before it goes off…) Another cup of tea.

Snacks: Two savoury biscuits with cheddar cheese and butter.

Notes: Woke up at 6am today wanting a Cadbury’s Creme Egg like never before. Good job it’s November.

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