BCSM, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Fertility, Health, Menopause, Oestrogen, Periods, Tamoxifen, UK, Vita Magazine, Women's Health

Vita: Let’s Talk About Periods

IMG_0318Last month, I got my period. This wouldn’t normally be headline news, but considering it was the first one in the eight months since my penultimate chemotherapy session, it was rather a big deal to me.

I’m writing about this because it’s a seldom talked about part of the breast cancer experience, yet for many pre-menopausal women it’s one of the single greatest concerns during treatment. Will my periods come back after chemo? Will I still be able to have children in the future?

So, despite the fact that we don’t talk about periods, I decided to write about mine. Here goes…

To read the rest of this post in Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita Magazine, click here.

(And if you don’t want to read the post, have a look at this picture of me and my survivor girlfriends in Daymer Bay, Cornwall last week!)

Standard
BCSM, Breast cancer, Cancer, Dating, Emotional Health, Fertility, Health, HuffPost, Humor, Humour, Ireland, Online Dating, Radiotherapy, UK, Uncategorized, Women's Health

HuffPost Dating After Cancer: “Single, Bald Female (30) Seeks…”

photo (2)A few months ago, I put myself on an Internet dating website. I was still having radiotherapy for my breast cancer and barely had a few sprouts of hair on my head, but after eight months of being cooped up at home during surgery and chemotherapy, I was more than ready to put myself back out there.

The question was how to advertise myself. You see, an Internet dating profile is like a CV. Just as you have to find a way to explain the massive cancer-shaped hole in your resumé, you also have to think about how to factor your illness into future relationships.

Should I post an old picture of myself with flowing locks and bushy brows and not mention that I ever had cancer? Or should I use a photo of my natural, bald self and come clean about my possible infertility, ongoing treatment and scarred breast?

To read the rest of this article on the Huffington Post website, please click here.

Standard
Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Depression, Fertility, Hair loss, Hair regrowth, Health, UK§, Wigs, Women's Health

A Beginners’ Guide to Breast Cancer Diagnosis for Young Women

‘Oh, but you’re so young!’It’s a phrase I’ve heard repeatedly throughout my breast cancer journey. Nobody expects a woman in her 20s to have breast cancer – after all, eight out of 10 cases are in women over 50, and only a tiny fraction are women under 35, or men. But every year, about 200 women under 30 are diagnosed with the disease.

Having breast cancer is an isolating experience, regardless of age, nationality or background. It’s no less easy for a 70-year-old than for a 25-year-old. Nevertheless, over the past seven months since my diagnosis at age 29, I have found that a lot of the support and guidance available is (understandably) catered towards older women, and doctors don’t necessarily take into account the needs of the pre-menopausal.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a few bits of advice from personal experience. Most of it is relevant to women of all ages, but I hope some of it will be particularly helpful to those few fellow women in their 20s and 30s who receive a diagnosis this year.

(Please click on the link below to see my latest blog for Breast Cancer Care UK):

http://breastcancercare.org.uk/news/blog/beginners-guide-breast-cancer-diagnosis-younger-women

Standard
Breast cancer, Cancer, Fertility, Health, Oestrogen, Tamoxifen, Women's Health

Project Tamoxifen 2017/2022

Tomorrow I will take my first dose of Tamoxifen – the drug that suppresses oestrogen production to keep the cancer from coming back. I have to take Tamoxifen every day for the next five years, so that’s 1,825 tablets, and if all goes to plan, I’ll take my last one around the 18th December 2017, when I’m 35 years old. A lot can happen in five years! That said, a recent article suggested that doctors could change the recommendation to 10 years of Tamoxifen to increase survival rates, so if that happens, I’ll be taking it until 2022, year of the long-awaited Qatar World Cup! (Perhaps I’ll get tickets and go along to celebrate).

The most common side effects of Tamoxifen are:

– Weight gain

– Increased risk of blood clots

– Hot flushes

So if I’m chubby, rosy-cheeked and wearing rather tight socks next time you see me, you’ll know why!

As I said, Tamoxifen is taken to reduce oestrogen in patients with oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer, like myself. It’s a funny thing, oestrogen. Right before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had been taking an oestrogen-only contraceptive pill. I am told the pill isn’t likely to have caused my breast cancer – it’s more likely to be genetic – but if I had known about the risks associated with oestrogen, coupled with my grandmother’s breast cancer, I may have thought twice about an oestrogen-only pill, not to mention the pill in general.

Among the more devastating things I’ve been told by oncologists since my diagnosis is that if I’d had children already, I probably wouldn’t have got breast cancer. This is because getting pregnant reduces your oestrogen production, and the more pregnancies, the less oestrogen. So if I’d had kids in my early 20s instead of doing all that travelling and working, perhaps I wouldn’t be in this situation. And now there’s a chance I won’t be able to have kids at all. Kind of ironic…! Still, I’m not complaining – I’ve had an incredible time since finishing school and if I’d had kids in my early 20s, I probably wouldn’t have seen or done as much as I have. So, no regrets…

Standard
Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Cooking, Fertility, Food, Hair loss, Health, Humor, Humour, Taxotere, Women's Health

Chemo Day Two / Big Sugar Challenge – Day Five

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.

Standard
Breast cancer, Cancer, Fertility, Uncategorized

To Freeze or Not to Freeze

I have steered clear of all fertility talk thus far because initially it was simply too upsetting. But it is the hardest part of having cancer for me, so if I continued this blog without mentioning it, it would be rather like lying, presenting a big rosy picture and missing out the most important part. And now I’ve had some time to become at peace with it, and it might not be so bad, so here goes.

I was offered a last-minute appointment with a fertility specialist in Manchester today, so off I went, to discuss the possible effects of chemotherapy on my fertility and the preservation methods available. If I have understood correctly, chemotherapy targets cells that are multiplying, and thus it can confuse cancer cells with eggs, damaging some women’s fertility. However, since I will be only 30 years old when I have the chemo, I stand a very good chance of coming out of the treatment fully fertile with all my eggs in tact.

In addition to the chemo, my type of cancer is oestrogen-receptor positive, which means I have to take drugs for 5 years to lower my oestrogen levels to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back. This doesn’t make me in any way infertile, and the advantage is that if I wanted to have a baby after 2 years, I could stop the treatment, have a baby, and then continue the treatment for another 3 years. So the main concern is the chemo.

My only option to protect myself against the unlikely event of becoming infertile after the chemo is to freeze my eggs. However, freezing my eggs would mean stimulating my oestrogen production for 3 weeks, which is exactly the opposite of what we want to do and could increase the likelihood of my cancer coming back at a later stage. Egg freezing is also expensive at £5,000 (uninsurable) and also has an extremely low success rate of about 10%. Having the treatment would also mean going to Manchester most days for 2-3 weeks and having a couple of injections per day, followed by a general anaesthetic and a short procedure (but not surgery).

So, to freeze or not to freeze?

There is every chance I will come out of the chemotherapy still very fertile, and never need to use the frozen eggs. However, if there is a small chance the chemo will make me infertile, is it worth creating a low risk to my own health in order to gain a 10% chance at having my own biological children in future? Oh how I wish I knew.

On the upside, when I got back in the car after visiting the hospital, the first thing I heard on the radio was a woman talking about how she had accidentally fallen pregnant at 47, so there is plenty of hope.

Please don’t feel any need to comment on this one – I have published it in the interests of sharing and being honest about my whole experience, but I’m not looking for any words of sympathy. I won’t be having babies for a good few years yet either way, so I have plenty of time to keep enjoying life and working on the Things to do before I’m 40 list. Oh, and thanks to those of you who’ve so far offered me your surrogate children, your sperm and even hair transplants – hopefully I won’t be needing them! 😉

To read the original version of this post with images and comments, see Facebook Notes: https://www.facebook.com/notes/361121431831009/

Standard