Archives for category: Dublin

IMG_5658“Baby hairbrushes are like buses. You can’t find one for months and then five come along at once!” — Laura Price, breast cancer survivor and baby-chick hairstyle advocate.

Baby hairbrushes really are like buses. Those of you who read my last blog post will know I’ve been looking out for one to tame my nascent but increasingly unruly tresses. I bought one years ago at The Body Shop for my baby niece, but alas, they discontinued the product and I couldn’t find one at my local Boots either. So I issued a call on my blog for advice on where to find one. What ensued was an unprecedented flood of recommendations: online links to baby hairbrushes and combs and advice from mums and breast cancer gals alike from around the globe.

Without further ado, I clicked on one of the links and ordered a teeny-tiny soft hairbrush last Sunday night. So I was surprised when I arrived at work Monday morning only to see my very thoughtful colleague Joana bounding over to my desk to present me with a lovely baby hairbrush-and-comb set she had found in a much better stocked Boots. And then I got home to England on Thursday and of course, Mummy Price had bought me a baby brush too. So now I have three! It’s a good job I have an army of pregnant girlfriends to avail of these surplus hairbrushes once their sprogs are born and my locks are flowing once more…

IMG_5688So, Thursday hailed my return to a very snowy England for the nine-month check-up with my surgeon at the Christie Clinic in Manchester. It’s hard to believe it’s actually been nine months since that fateful day when I went under the knife, but somehow it has.

The appointment didn’t exactly go to plan, with the hospital emailing me at 11am on the day to tell me that actually the surgeon wasn’t going to be in and would I mind changing it to next week? Naturally, I kicked up a fuss as I’d had the appointment in my diary for six months and had booked flights months ago. Thankfully, they managed to squeeze me in under another surgeon, so off I went to Dublin airport for the 35-minute flight.

Arriving in Manchester was a bit like landing in an alpine ski resort, with more snow over the hills than I have seen in the UK in my entire life. (Turns out it’s the most snow since 1979, before I was born.) The drive home across the Yorkshire moors involved bright blue sky and roads flanked by three-metre-high snow drifts. I’m quite grateful I had my chemotherapy during the summer, because I wouldn’t have fancied making the 1.5-hour trek through the snow every time I needed an impromptu mid-night blood test!

IMG_5692To the left are pictures of the snow that greeted my parents’ on their front doorstep a week ago and the cat (Tilly) contemplating whether or not to brave a garden expedition. (As a side note, for those of you who’ve followed this blog since the very beginning, Nurse Molly and Tilly are both doing most excellently. Molly has taken a well-deserved break after being my chemo companion for six months and has decided to sleep for the rest of 2013.)

Happily, everything was just as fine as I had expected with my boob (see? No need to worry!). Because of the scar tissue, my breast can feel a little lumpy to the touch (but only in a totally attractive and sexy way, you understand) and I was reassured to know that this was indeed just scar tissue and not further cancerousness.

However, I did inquire about a tiny little ball-bearing-sized lump under my armpit that appeared after the surgery and has grown slightly, and it turns out it’s a sebaceous cyst that will need to be removed. I am reasonably convinced it came from the days post-surgery when I had surgical adhesive goop stuck all over my armpit area. In my very humble and highly experienced medical opinion, this must have blocked the pores and led to the little cyst. In any case, it’s absolutely no cause for alarm, nor is it dangerous, but nevertheless I’ll have to have a little procedure to get that removed back in Dublin.

IMG_5685Anyway, that’s a relief. Back to the hospital next week for another check-up after the radiotherapy. Now on to more important missions: there are Easter eggs to be eaten and snowmen to be made. (Okay, maybe I won’t do the latter…)

Happy Easter!

Two weeks after my final radiotherapy session, I finally understood what they meant about fatigue. It didn’t kick in until at least a month after I started radiation, and it wasn’t until late last week that I began to feel a bit debilitated by it. Nevertheless, I knew it was a side effect of the radio when I started needing an afternoon nap after a solid eight hours’ sleep. (Eight hours soon became nine hours, nine hours became 10, and before I knew it, I was sleeping 12 hours and still feeling exhausted.)

It’s both a mental and a physical kind of tiredness, but it’s not a constant thing – it really comes and goes. I wake up feeling reasonably sprightly but by lunch time I’m ready for a few hours of shuteye and sometimes I’ll be back in bed by 9pm. Some days I feel fuzzy headed and can’t concentrate, other times it’s more of a physical tiredness, but more often that not, I’m just sleepy and don’t feel like doing much.

All this, I’m told, is totally normal. The peak of the side effects usually occurs about two weeks after the final treatment, which is round about now, and the cumulative tiredness from the chemo and radiotherapy is likely to last a few months.

It’s easy to feel frustrated by this. After all, I’ve had almost nine months of my life effectively taken away from me by cancer. I spent six of those months cooped up in my parents’ house, unable to go out and socialise or work. Now that I’m no longer bed-bound by chemo, I want to recover lost time: work, go out, have fun, travel, live a normal life. Unfortunately, however, I’m not quite yet free of the side effects of treatment and I’m going to have to hold onto my urge to run marathons for a little longer.

Last week I read a brilliant essay by Dr. Peter Harvey, consultant clinical psychologist at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, which completely captures this phase of treatment. It’s a long read, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how it really feels to step off the rollercoaster of cancer treatment and be left reeling, still dizzy-headed, wobbly and – quite frankly – wanting to vom from the ride.

One of the things Dr. Harvey mentions is the importance of allowing yourself time for recuperation,  convalescence and rehabilitation after cancer treatment, and this doesn’t happen overnight. I took this week off work because I was struggling to concentrate through the tiredness, but I’m not going to suddenly revert to being a bouncing ball of energy (Was I ever?) as of Monday morning. It takes time.

Here are a couple of paragraphs that explain a little about the need for proper rest:

It is a widely held belief, often correct, that the treatment of an illness is meant to make you feel better. One of the many paradoxes of cancer is that, more often than not, the treatment makes you feel worse. This is not surprising – we cut and possibly mutilate, inject you with poisonous and powerful chemicals, subject you to dangerous rays all in the name of treatment. The aggressiveness and power of the treatments are a necessary response to the power of the disease, of course, but this very power takes its toll in other ways. […]

All too often I meet people who, for quite understandable reasons, want to get back to doing the things they used to before the diagnosis but find themselves falling at the first hurdle because they simply find the whole thing too much. In my view, however smoothly your treatment has progressed and however well you have tolerated the various indignities to which we subject you, some time simply to recharge and recover – to recuperate – is absolutely essential. This is the necessary foundation on which to build recovery. […] Take however long you feel you need. Recuperating is the very first step in a process of rebuilding.

And I think that’s just where I am right now: the recuperation stage. Sitting in my flat in Dublin, drinking milkless tea, listening to the rain outside and taking it one day at a time.

“Boob Tattoos, Five-Centimetre Soup and 66 Grays of Radiation: A Radiotherapy Diary” – my latest blog for the Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-price/radiotherapy-diary-boob-tattoos_b_2759582.html

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…

18 down, 15 to go…

Technically, that means I’m more than half-way through my radiotherapy sessions, but I still have 1-2 months of lethargy and sore skin ahead of me. Still, at least there are only 15 more hospital visits to go, and I’ll be particularly glad to say good riddance to the late-night trips to St. Vincent’s! (A lot of my radiotherapy sessions are after 8pm because the machines are in maintenance during the day).

After three weeks of feeling spritely, it’s safe to say the tiredness has officially kicked in. It hit me like a brick wall mid-last week and I’ve been feeling sleepy ever since. It’s not quite into the realms of chemotherapy exhaustion, but my eyelids feel heavy and I can see myself becoming partial to afternoon naps. In a month’s time I may be like a walking zombie. On the plus side, though, my skin is still only very slightly red and I’m not feeling any soreness from the radiotherapy.

The highlight of my week was when a lady asked me how I did my eyeliner. As all of my girlfriends will testify, I have never been able to do make-up, particularly not eyeliner, so the lady’s question came as something of a small triumph to me. Fair enough, she was a lady in the hospital, whose husband was having radiotherapy, and not some fashionista on the streets of Dublin, but nevertheless I gave myself a small pat on the back. If having cancer has taught me nothing else, at least it’s shown me how to do eyeliner.

Other highlights of the week involved the radiotherapy computer breaking down and causing a waiting-room backlog, sparking a rare conversation among patients; witnessing 13 seconds of snow in Dublin from the office window, while all my friends and family in the UK had several inches of the stuff; being caught in a horizontal hailstorm that materialised just moments after perfect blue sky and sunshine earlier today; and being told by the heavy-accent Irish guy who came out to fix my TV that I have a ‘tick accent’. Other than that, it’s been pretty uneventful.

On the hair-front, IMG_4351I was afforded the opportunity for a rare back-of-head shot this weekend, on account of having a visitor from London, so I seized the chance. IMG_4424As you can see, I do have a bit of hair, but it’s slow progress. The good news is it’s growing back brunette, rather than grey or ginger. (I’ve mentioned previously that people’s hair can grow back a completely different colour after chemo, and very often grows back curly before it goes straight).

As you can see in the second photo, I still have plenty around the sides, including the partial resurgence of the famous Pricey sideburns, but still no sign of anything on top. (Please excuse the eyebrow situation – a result of the aforementioned horizontal hailstorm).

The green shoots, it seems, are appearing in all the wrong places, as I realised this morning I suddenly have rather hairy legs. Seriously?! Firstly, it took me just three weeks to lose every strand of hair on my head, yet pretty much every strand of hair on my arms remains strong and sturdy, 6 months after starting chemo. And then, just when I want my head hair to grow back in a hurry, I go and get hairy legs! Where is the justice? I’m going to have to start shaving again!

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