Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Cooking, Food, Health, Humor, Humour, Nutrition, Taxotere, Women's Health

Chemotherapy: Round Five

Five down, ONE TO GO! Hoooraaaaaaaaaay… I just have to get through the next 10 days or so of horrific pain and self injections but at least the nasty hospital bit is done and there’s only one more session to go – I’ve practically flown through it!

Here’s a couple of pics of me enduring the ice torture with my giant frozen baseball foam hands and feet, which seemed appropriate for election day!

Unfortunately my little finger on my right hand doesn’t seem to have thawed out properly after an hour and is still tingling and red and painful so I’m holed up in my room with an electric heater and the radiators on full blast hoping my pinkie won’t go black and drop off in the next few hours.

In other news, the sugar challenge is going well but I really feel like I could use something sweet right now…

The Big Sugar Challenge

DAY FIVE (Monday)

Pre-breakfast: Four steroids and a banana.

Breakfast: Grilled bacon sandwich with grilled tomato on grain bread. One cup of tea.

Lunch: One mushroom, tomato and cheddar omelette with a bit of salad and balsamic vinegar. One cup of tea. Four more steroids.

Snacks: An apple, kiwi etc smoothie with a little spinach, broccoli and other bits of vegetabley goodness (I’m not sure where the boundaries lie between fruit juice and a natural smoothie…) Another cup of tea with milk.

Dinner: Roasted chicken stuffed with Philadelphia cream cheese (no sugar… am I allowed this?) and wrapped in bacon with a fresh basil leaf. Boiled potatoes with butter and steamed veg. A bowl of blueberries.

Snacks: More cashews and raisins and a cup of tea with milk.

Well done so far to Mum, Dad, Beth, Michelle, Ed (?), Emma, Lucy, Flavia (?), Elspeth (?), Niki (?) and anyone else I’ve forgotten for joining in the sugar-fighting efforts!

P.S. In the below pic you may notice an empty glass dish on the wooden table. I can assure you this was a FRESH FRUIT SALAD and NOT ice cream! I would never lie to you… 🙂

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Baking, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Cooking, Food, Nutrition, Taxotere, Women's Health

The Big Sugar Challenge – Day Three/ Countdown to Chemo Five

Tomorrow I am having chemotherapy round five. To prepare for the ice torture, I stood outside in a field for a couple of hours last night until my feet felt like icicles. Now hopefully it won’t feel too bad when I have my hands and feet deliberately frozen tomorrow. I have also started taking the steroids again, which has left me feeling sick and even more hungry, making the no-sugar challenge that tiny bit harder.

Day three of the no-sugar diet was a little tough as I went out for a big lunch with family and friends at one of my favourite local restaurants, The Farmer’s Boy, followed by a bonfire complete with cake stall in the evening. Going on any kind of diet can make social situations such as dinner parties and restaurant meals more difficult as you become the picky one who can’t eat most of the things on the menu. It is debatable whether I was allowed to have an enormous battered haddock and chips for my lunch, but I reasoned (with myself) that there is no sugar in it and it was all freshly prepared, so it was probably fine. Chips unfortunately don’t taste quite as nice without ketchup (which contains loads of sugar and is thus on the NO list) but lashings of vinegar did the job instead.

At the end of the meal, the bill came with a few mint imperials. I put one in my mouth as a natural impulse and immediately spat it out on realising I was on a no-sugar diet. This was a bit like the time I did a sponsored silence when I was 8 years old and managed to last for a couple of hours in complete silence before shouting out “Daaaaaad!” from my bedroom in the final two minutes and then cupping my hand to my mouth in disbelief when I realised what I’d just done. So, slightly cheated there, but I didn’t actually eat it.

At the bonfire in the evening, I had to contend with a cake stall that comprised of fresh ginger muffins, coffee cake, Mum’s incredible miniature Victoria sponges, cakes with chocolate icing and smarties on top, parkin… the list goes on! (Thanks Kimm and Howard, for hosting!) But we both managed to say no to all the sweet goods and even my father declared he would start the no-sugar diet today.

DAY THREE (Sunday):

Breakfast: Bowl of porridge with berries, cinnamon and a banana. One cup of tea.

Lunch: Small bit of salmon mousse with cucumber, a large bowl of artichoke soup with tomato bread and butter and a huge battered haddock, chips, mushy peas and vinegar (no ketchup!). One cappuccino. A highly regrettable, momentary lick of a mint imperial.

Snacks: Two cups of tea with milk. A handful of raisins and cashew nuts and one solitary strawberry.

Dinner: One hotdog with some onions, two extra sausages (compliments to chefs Howard, Tim and Dave!), half a burger in a bun (STILL NO KETCHUP – a travesty). One cup of tea with milk.

Snacks: Some more handfuls of raisins and cashew nuts. One green tea and one camomile tea.

Not the healthiest day of my life, but still no sugar!

How is everyone else getting on?

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Cooking, Food, Nutrition, Taxotere, Women's Health

The Big Sugar Challenge – Day Two

I woke up on day two of the no-sugar challenge with a headache, though it’s hard to say whether it was from the lack of sugar or just a general effect of the chemo. Nevertheless, it was gone after a quick cup of tea – I don’t know how I’d cope if I had to cut out the caffeine as well. (I may try it after two weeks).

I didn’t have any major sugar cravings for the rest of the day but I did feel constantly hungry and finished off all the remaining sugar-free items of my Graze box – i.e. a possibly unhealthy amount of dried fruit, nuts and seeds, but I guess it’s better than the chocolate I would’ve eaten otherwise.

In the evening I went to a public bonfire and had a fairly unhealthy large hog roast sandwich, though at least it was sugar-free. It was difficult to say no to the parkin (a traditional Yorkshire cake made of treacle and oatmeal) though. I’m told it keeps for a good while so I’m saving a piece until Nov 16.

Mum has found some novel ways around her no-sugar diet. She came home on Saturday afternoon and declared she had signed up for it, to support me, but there was a catch:

“I’m going to give up chocolate, sweets and cake,” she said, sheepishly, “But I’ve decided I’m allowed scones. There isn’t much sugar in them anyway and I don’t have butter or jam with them.”

Fair enough, I said. (I inherited my love of sweet foods from her and she is known to hide large amounts of chocolate buttons in secret places about the house.)

When I arrived back home from the bonfire later that night, I found she had adopted some interesting alternatives to sugary drinks.

“I read the label on the Horlicks packet, just to check whether that had sugar,” she said. (Of course it has plenty of sugar). “And it did. So then I just thought I’d check the label on the Options [hot chocolate!!] packet to see if that sugar… And it did…”

“So what did you have instead?!” I asked, thinking ooh… maybe peppermint tea?

“I had two spoonfuls of cottage cheese [with pineapple chunks] from the fridge,” she replied.

So there you go! Next time you feel like reaching for that Mars bar, just try cottage cheese instead! The perfect substitute, brought to you by Pricey’s Mum.

DAY TWO (Saturday)

Breakfast: Porridge, berries, a banana and cinnamon. Two cups of tea with milk.

Lunch: One boiled egg, a slice of grain toast, fresh buffalo mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and red peppers, lettuce and tomatoes. One punnet of black pepper pistachios. One cup of green tea.

Snacks: Two punnets of berries and dried fruit. One handful of nuts and raisins. One tea with milk. Half a glass of red wine.

Dinner: One enormous hog roast butty and a cup of Bovril at the bonfire (which turned out to be just a beef OXO cube…)

Snacks: A bowl full of grapes. Another tea with milk.

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Cooking, Food, Nutrition, Women's Health

The Big Sugar Challenge – Day One

Back in 2005, in my final year of university in London, I attempted a complete detox. This meant going from drinking several cups of tea a day and eating a lot of chocolate and sweets (pretty much all day long to get me through exam revision and freezing cold temperatures at my Wolfson House halls of residence and the King’s College library), to living off fruit and veg.

The sudden cold turkey was a terrible shock to my system. As many of you know, I am pretty obsessed with food. I go to bed thinking about what I’m going to have for breakfast, wake up thinking about lunch and then obviously spend the rest of the day thinking about dinner. So, when I took away all the amazing stuff I usually ate (toast, pitta breads, cheese, meat, rice, potatoes, not to mention the chocolate, tea, coffee, sweets), the obsession was amplified to the power of 10 and I literally could not stop thinking about food.

Instead of finding something else to occupy my mind, I ate everything in sight, as long as it obeyed the list of “Yes” foods. This meant that I ate 6 bowls of pure-vegetable soup in one day, 5 bowls of porridge with honey, oodles of cups of fruit tea and plenty of extra veg. My 5-a-day became 25-a-day, and my concentration went out the window.

They say if you can get past the first 24-48 hours of a detox, you’ll suddenly feel like the most energetic, spritely elf in the world and will start bouncing around like a 3-year-old. Unfortunately, I didn’t get further than about 13 hours, at which point I vomited everything up, popped a few pills for my splitting headache and promptly gave up.

So I’m pleased to say that it’s been a little easier this time. Nothing like a bit of chemotherapy to prepare the system for all kinds of shocks! Here’s my food diary so far: (And I realise this is probably incredibly boring for some, so don’t feel the need to read on if you’re bored already).

DAY ONE (Friday)

Breakfast: One slice of grain toast with margarine and marmite. One cup of tea.

Mid-morning beverage: One flat white (espresso + milk)

Lunch: One of slice of serrano ham, 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 slice of grain toast no margarine, a pile of lettuce and vinaigrette (may have to check the label on that for next time), a pile of mozzarella balls, roasted red and yellow peppers and sun-dried tomatoes from Morrisons deli counter.

Snacks: Two bowls full of salted microwave popcorn (with no added crap) and two cups of green tea. And two slices of taster cheese from Morrisons. One normal cup of tea.

Dinner: Two homemade Jamie Oliver salmon fishcakes, minted peas, basil, tomato and chilli sauce and mashed potato. The rest of the packet of microwave salted popcorn and another cup of green tea.

Snacks: A handful of nuts and raisins.

The verdict:

I didn’t crave sweet stuff much at all today, but funnily enough I kept craving salt, hence finishing the entire 4-person bag of salted popcorn.

I realised later on that the salad dressing I used at lunchtime had a tiny bit of sugar in it, so I may have ever-so-slightly cheated there, but I’m switching to balsamic vinegar from now on.

So far, so good…

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Baking, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Cooking, Food, Health, Nutrition, Women's Health

Pricey’s Big Sugar Challenge

Can I survive two weeks without sugar and processed foods? That is the question.

What on earth would prompt me to even consider doing such a thing? I hear you ask. (And if you couldn’t care less, then don’t read on.)

Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, I have had nutritional advice thrown at me from all sides. (Apart from the oncologist, whose main advice is that I can eat pretty much whatever I like, provided my diet is fairly balanced and healthy.) My mother has read many a book on nutrition – eating during chemotherapy, eating for breast cancer, etc. And I have heard, for the first time in my life, about Functional Medicine – the study of why we get diseases such as cancer and how we can prevent them, rather than just looking at how we can cure them.

I have been looking for a Functional Medicine specialist who I could see in London for the past few months, and it has been a difficult task because there are relatively few of them in the UK, partly because the concept of Functional Medicine was only created 22 years ago. A couple of days ago, I got to searching again, and found a practitioner in the UK called Elizabeth Butler, who runs Body Soul Nutrition and focuses specifically on nutrition advice for cancer patients.

While reading Liz’s blog, I came across the following article: Have Your Cake and Eat it! and decided to take on a personal nutritional challenge while waiting for an appointment with Liz to discuss how I can keep cancer at bay for the rest of my life by obeying certain nutritional advice. That’s right, I am giving up sugar.

THE CHALLENGE

So, the challenge, which I have already accepted, is to go for two weeks, which started this morning, without sugar or processed foods. See below for my self-imposed list of yes and no foods.

NO

Chocolate

Sweets

Crisps

Biscuits

Cake

Added sugar in coffee and tea (but coffee and tea themselves are allowed)

Microwave meals or other processed meals

Fruit juice

White bread

White rice

Sugary cereal

YES

Fruit

Nuts, seeds, dried fruit

Veg

Meat, fish, poultry

Porridge

Pretty much everything else that’s not on the NO list.

 

A few things to be aware of:

* The challenge ends at 07:00 on Friday 16th November.

* There will be regular updates on my progress in this blog.

* I am aware that I am to have chemotherapy on Tuesday and this is probably a very, very, very bad idea, but I figure it can do me no major harm, plus I stop craving half these things during chemo anyway.

* If I relapse at any point, I will let you know but I will pick myself up and carry on.

* I know it’s Friday afternoon and the weekend’s about to start but, as with everything in life, there’s no time like the present. 

**THE IMPORTANT BIT: How YOU can help!**

1. Please don’t send me any more sweet stuff in the post! (But thank you so much for everything you’ve sent me thus far).

2. Feel free to join me in this endeavour! I know plenty of my (mainly female) friends have done this or thought about doing this in the past, so here’s an added incentive to try it now, while we can all go through the pain together!

(So far I have think I have recruited Beth, my Mum is thinking about doing it after she finishes the flapjack she’s just made (which is delicious and I’m sad I can’t help with it, but at least I had some last night) and Michelle, once she finishes off the banana loaf she’s just about to make…). No pressure, girls – just a public name-and-shame, that’s all! 😉 

Finally, thanks to Saz for the wonderful package of thoughtful presents below, received earlier in the week. Fortunately most of it has already been consumed so I won’t be too tempted by amazing chocolate for the next two weeks!

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food, Health, Humor, Humour, Taxotere, Women's Health

Saturday Night at the Hospital

I was always planning on a Saturday night in front of the TV watching the X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Jonathan Ross. I just wasn’t planning on watching it all at the hospital.

I had been getting the tiniest of nosebleeds on Friday night and Saturday and decided late Saturday afternoon to ring the chemotherapy hotline as I knew it could be a symptom of a low blood platelet count and I wanted to make sure I was ok.

Unfortunately, the nurse advised me that I needed a blood test and would have to go to the hospital to get it. My chemotherapy drug, Taxotere, can have a massive effect on the bone marrow and lead to reduced blood platelets, which could mean my blood failing to clot. I spoke to the oncologist, who also said patients usually start with a small nosebleed and then get a much bigger one later, so it was best for me to get it checked out. Since I have also had a little itchy rash on my neck for the past few days and this is another symptom of low platelet levels, I knew I should get it checked.

Unfortunately, I would require a platelet transfusion if my levels were low. Normal levels are between 150 and 400, according to a quick Internet search, and a platelet transfusion – which is different from a normal blood transfusion – would require an overnight stay at the hospital.

And so it was that I quickly packed an overnight bag and we set off last night towards the Christie in Manchester. We could have gone to A&E at a nearby hospital in Huddersfield, but I didn’t fancy waiting in a noisy room with the usual Saturday night crowd of drunken teenagers requiring stomach pumping and domestic violence victims. This turned out to be a very wise decision.

At the hospital I was given a very painful blood test – painful because my veins are no longer working properly and refused to give blood, and as a consequence I now have a huge bruise. So much for no more injections for 10 days!

We then waited for an hour while watching Strictly Come Dancing in a private room before getting my result. The result came back just before 9pm and the good news was that my platelet levels were ok (190) and I wouldn’t need a transfusion – PHEW! The oncologist was satisfied, but unfortunately he wanted me to wait to see a doctor before I could leave, and this meant waiting for an on-call doctor who had to see all the emergency cases before she could see me.

Two and a half hours later, the on-call doctor arrived. She was much younger than myself and ran through a series of tests and questions on pretty much everything I could imagine. Finally, at 11:30pm, I was given the all-clear and could go home. The whole trip took six hours. Although we missed dinner, I know I should count myself very lucky that I got to sit watching X Factor and Jonathan Ross in a comfortable private room instead of sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a possibly blood-drenched A&E room at the local public hospital.

So, just a typical Saturday night…

The silver lining was that the clocks went back last night so when we arrived home at 00:30, it was actually only 23:30 and we could all have an extra hour in bed. And, to make up for the missed dinner last night, I just had a large sirloin steak for Sunday lunch and – as an extra special treat – a small glass of red. I’m sure the red meat and wine will help boost my platelet levels, right?

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food, Health, Humor, Humour, Wigs

“Can I Touch It?” – Wig Etiquette & First-Class Train Woes

“Who’s this then?”

That is the question people often ask me as soon as they see me these days, referring to whichever wig or alter ego I am currently wearing. (The options being Brandi, Valerie, Candy Pink, Samantha, Tiffany, Joana or the very natural but chilly Sinead).

“Can I touch it?”

This was the not-quite-as-common follow-up question I was asked by a friend yesterday, fortunately in reference to the wig (Valerie) and not to my post-surgery breast. (FYI wig touching is fine, breast touching is usually not).

After very nearly cancelling because I felt so ill, I made it down to London yesterday for a quick trip to support superstar singer-songwriter Tom Figgins at his EP launch. The trip to London was brief, rainy and fun-packed and involved an interesting challenge as yesterday’s self-injection took place for the first time in a Starbucks toilet!

My short stay in the capital was also replete with gastronomic opportunities, my favourite of which was this chicken teriyaki hot bento box at Blossom, City Point.

It was all going well until I jumped on the train home from King’s Cross station yesterday. Unfortunately, the train before mine had been cancelled, so all 15 coaches’ worth of rush-hour travellers had to pack into my already busy train. This meant that every seat was taken and many people were standing, so my tried-and-tested infection-avoidance technique was about to be truly tested.

I have been splashing out a fortune on first-class train tickets whenever I go anywhere since starting chemotherapy because the first-class carriages are usually empty and thus I normally have a whole germ-free table or area to myself. This time, however, I was wedged into a corner surrounded by businessmen, people standing and – horror of horrors – a rather large lady with a dreadful cough, who squeezed into the seat right next to me. There was only one thing for it, I would just have to hold my breath for the entire two hours and avoid touching anything…

Not only that, but I had been wearing my wig for a few hours by the time I got on the train and was ready to take it off. To give you an idea of how uncomfortable wigs are, gentlemen, I’d say it’s like you wearing a bow-tie. Or a shirt and tie on the beach on a very hot day. Ladies, the equivalent would probably be wearing an extremely tight corset sitting down at the dinner table over a very large meal… or perhaps tights on a hot, sweaty summer’s day… or an uncomfortable pair of heels, maybe? Anyway, you get the hint – anything you want to take off at the earliest available opportunity.

So let’s just say I was a little bit distressed when I took my seat on the train and realised I’d forgotten to take my wig off in the loo before I got on. And you can’t exactly just peel your own hair off to reveal a bald head in front of a load of strangers in close proximity on a train – I mean, of course you can, but it feels like unwritten wig etiquette that you probably shouldn’t. It’s up there with applying your make-up on the tube (I know people do this – I personally struggle with the concept) or stripping down to your swimwear anywhere other than the beach. It’s fine to be bald in the first place, but the shock factor of wig removal is sure to make people feel uneasy.

So anyway, I was lodged in among seated and standing commuters, preparing to spend the next two hours holding my breath and grinning and bearing my uncomfy, tight hairpiece. Fortunately, just as I was starting to panic, coughy lady was asked to give up her seat to its rightful owner, who got on at the first stop, after twenty minutes. Peace and tranquility in my life were restored and I could finally exhale, even if I couldn’t take my wig off. Huge sigh of relief…

Here’s a photo of me awaiting the train to London, sans hair, with an enormous marshmallow-and-cream-laiden hot chocolate afternoon treat.

Chemo Update

It’s been a long and rather painful 10 days since chemo. The terrible aching bones lasted a few days before it started to ease off a bit and I thought that was it. Unfortunately, 24 hours later, the terrible aching pain was back and had just moved positions. The pain was all-over but for the first few days it was concentrated in my legs and lower body, making my knees and joints feel like those of an arthritic 100 year old. Then, by Monday night, it suddenly went to my back and upper body and I spent the night writhing in pain as I experienced what felt like sharp, shooting electricity volts going through my back constantly. This lasted for another day or two before finally easing off a bit by Wednesday. I then began Thursday with a tremendous wig-induced headache, which could only be eliminated with a very large cup of tea (the Paracetamols didn’t work!) And then finally, after the Starbucks toilet immune-boosting injection, the aching pain was pretty much gone but the all-over sore muscle pain (like you might have after a hardcore spinning class and a spot of weightlifting) returned. So I’ve been through the wars a bit, as my mother might say. I still feel quite crippled and still have the soreness, though it is gradually easing and is totally bearable compared with the aching. Oh, and I’m pleased to say my tongue has now gone back to a perfectly normal shade of pink!

I also have my 10th and final self-injection to do today, followed by 10 injection-free days – yippee! (I am now a total self-injection pro, by the way, and have been taken off the local district nurses’ system for good.) For my final post-jab treat, I will be digging something out of this delicious, retro sweet selection sent by the very kind and thoughtful Lizzie G.

Finally, one of my readers pointed out that he feels well-versed on the colour of my pee. I do appreciate sometimes I share a little too much information, but I must say that it’s purely for educational purposes and I know you can all handle it. The one thing I haven’t been sharing, and probably never will, is photos of graphic stuff like needles and yucky medical things. I am personally 100% squeamish, if you haven’t noticed, and don’t like looking at those images myself (or living the reality of them, for that matter) so I promise to keep the images in this blog as fluffy, happy and food-related as possible!

To prove my commitment to banishing thoughts of my multi-coloured pee, I leave you with this picture of my hot chocolate treat. See, dear reader, I am good to you! Happy Friday.

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Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food, Humor, Humour

Tea, Cake and Big Achievements

I just injected myself! With a needle! In my belly! And I barely even felt it! Exclamation mark exclamation mark exclamation mark!

I know it’s only a little thing but it does feel like a big achievement. Conquering a fear is always a good thing. And it’s good to be the one in control of the situation, as it were. To be honest, self-injection seems like a doddle compared with the ice torture technique I endured at the hospital on Tuesday. Just a little two-second pin-prick compared with 1 1/2 hours of hand-and-foot-twitching pain. And I even managed not to poke the cat’s eye out with the needle.

I think I deserve a glass of champagne after that. Or a cup of tea… Fortunately, my Graze box just arrived and came with a slice of fresh pumpkin and ginger cake and a tea bag, so high tea I shall indeed have! I love the way they’ve even sent me a personalised “Laura hearts tea” card. Damn right.

Just before the ice torture also known as my last chemotherapy session, the oncologist went through a few of the side effects I might experience from the new Taxotere drug I was about to start taking. These included a very sore mouth, possible oral thrush and diarrhoea. Oh, and I might also suffer from anaphylactic shock during the drug infusion.

After that minor warning, my Mum was already on high alert when the side of my face started to go blotchy just before the chemo went in. The nurses were immediately called to my side, and fortunately they explained it was probably just the ‘flush effect’ of the steroids I’d just taken with my soup-and-cheese-sandwich lunch. Panic averted, we were good to proceed.

The oncologist also drew me a very simple graph depicting my energy levels, immune system and general wellbeing over the course of the six chemo cycles. I have never been very good with graphs and numbers, but it didn’t take much to see the picture translated as “You will gradually feel worse and worse and worse as the chemo goes on.”

Well, so far – touch wood – I’ve been feeling better than I did after the last chemotherapy sessions. To be honest, after undergoing the horrendous ice-torture experience, I’d have to hope the aftermath would be more enjoyable. Apparently the effects of Taxotere can take longer to get over, but I think they also might be taking longer to kick in.

Fortunately, the cats have been looking after me, as usual. I went straight home after the hospital on Tuesday and used a little gentle bribery to make them sit with me. I know they do not look that happy in the first photo, but it’s only because they didn’t like my Mum shoving a camera in their faces. As you can tell by the second picture, they were clearly in their elements, basking in the warmth of my leg heat.

Well, off to enjoy my tea now…

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Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food, Health, Humor, Humour

Chemotherapy: Round Four

Four down, two to go. Almost two thirds of the way there! Elated doesn’t begin to cover it.

Today was by far the worst chemo session yet. The good news was that the steroids worked and the treatment was allowed to go ahead.

The bad news was that I felt so sick I very nearly puked all over myself in my chair and had to whip my wig off at top speed lest I vom all over the lovely Joana. (That’s another advantage of being bald/wearing wigs – you don’t need anyone to hold your hair back when you’re sick.) Fortunately, I managed not to spew and the new anti-sickness drugs eventually kicked in.

The biggest piece of bad news, however, was that I would have to wear special ice packs on my hands and feet for the duration of the chemo session to stop my nails from rising from the nail beds and falling off! (Grim doesn’t begin to cover my thoughts about this).

Words cannot describe how awful this was, but I’ll certainly have a go. I can only say it was like having your hands and feet pushed into a bucket of ice and not being allowed to move them for 1 1/2 hours as the ice is constantly topped up with freshly frozen cubes and you slowly lose all feeling in your extremities. I already have a low threshold for cold, despite being raised like a hardy northern sheep, and found the whole experience so deeply painful and uncomfortable that I almost didn’t notice the nasty drugs going into my arm.

As if that wasn’t enough, on the way home, after stopping to buy crisps to quench my sudden salt craving, we missed by the very skin of our teeth what would have been a crippling if not fatal head-on car crash. My already shot nerves were rather shaken by this point, and I pretty much shut down when the very aggressive driver of the other car tried to get out and start a fight with us. (Fortunately my father wisely drove straight on, concluding there were more important things to worry about.)

As soon as the crisps had gone down, I immediately craved vanilla ice cream and made us stop at Longley’s specialist ice-cream shop in Holmfirth, heart of Last of the Summer Wine country, for those of you who know what I’m talking about. We were just innocently eating our ice creams when we came across another car crash (the product of a very bright, sunny, cold winter’s day in Yorkshire) and had to stop in front of the police vans. Fortunately we were not involved in this particular collision and made it home safe soon after.

All in a day’s work then. All in a day’s work.

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Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food

A Change of Chemo

Tomorrow is round four of chemotherapy and I am to start a different type of drug for the final three cycles of my treatment. My chemo regimen is known as FEC-T (or Fecked, as I affectionately call it). The four letters stand for four different liquid drugs that get fed into my veins each time I go to the day spa (or hospital, as it is more commonly known): Fluorouracil, Epirubicin (the dark red one that makes my pee a lovely shade of Tizer for 24 hours), Cyclophosphamide and then Taxotere, or Docetaxel.

I have proudly finished the FEC and tomorrow I start the T. Because of the problems I’ve had with my low blood count, the oncologist gave me a course of steroids that I began taking this morning to boost my white blood cells, so fingers crossed it works. Unfortunately, I now feel completely drugged up and groggy and weak after taking 16mg of steroids.

Because of the change of chemo drug, I can expect a few different side effects as of tomorrow. The main side effects are the same – sickness, extreme fatigue, vulnerability to infection, etc, but there are a few new ones such as dry, sore hands and feet and possible nail blackening (these were possible with my old chemo drugs but more likely with the new ones, apparently).

Hair loss remains a very common side effect of Taxotere so my locks won’t be growing back any time soon. The funny thing is, I still have a little hair on my head and it grows a tiny bit at the start of each treatment before breaking off again in the third week. My nails are growing super-fast, and my arm hair, eyebrows and eyelashes are exactly as they were pre-treatment. I would love to be able to understand why I lose all my hair in some places and not in others. (By the way, I’m certainly not complaining – my eyebrows and lashes in particular are welcome to stay as long as they like!)

I literally spent the first two weeks of my last chemo cycle gorging myself with food. I have always had an enormous appetite but I was eating even more than normal and not doing any exercise and started to feel really sloth-like. I was relieved, then, when I lost my appetite a little in the final week up to now. I also started doing daily walks with my Mum, so any weight I put on from stuffing myself I subsequently worked off by dodging muddy puddles and spiky bushes in the Yorkshire countryside. I am now eating like a normal person but I suspect once the steroids kick in I’ll resume eating for four.

I managed to survive another three weeks without getting an infection and finished off with an amazing weekend with my friends in London. It was refreshing to get away from being cooped up in bed and even more refreshing to have brunch and afternoon tea and gorge myself on delicious cakes before my appetite goes awry again tomorrow. I now feel absolutely exhausted though – partly the effect of the heavy dose of steroids I took this morning, but no doubt they will make me a total insomniac by tonight.

The Challenge

Unfortunately, I have a bit of an obstacle coming up. I promised a friend I’d go to an event in London on Day 8 after my next chemo, by which time I should be recovered enough for a quick trip, assuming chemo goes ahead tomorrow. It was only after I’d booked the train that I realised I’ll still require the daily immune-system-boosting injections at that point and thus I’ve left myself with no choice but to learn how to self-inject. Injecting a small needle into one’s stomach should be fairly straightforward, but the thing is, I’m completely incapable of inflicting pain on myself.

I tried to wax my own legs once. It was neither a pleasant nor a pretty experience. I am such a wimp that I ended up peeling it slowly off (which is a million times more painful, as we all know) before attempting to scrape off the rest of the sticky wax with a plastic scraper device. Needless to say, I made a huge mess and left myself with a sticky residue that then made my clothes stick to my legs. And of course, I ended up having to shave my legs anyway.

So, wish me luck with the self-injection experience!

Finally, thanks to Niki for the beautiful pink roses in aid of Candy Pink and her breast cancer-fighting efforts, and to Aunty Heather, who sent me an entire chocolate cake filled with some sort of delectable praline centre from Betty’s! I will make sure I help myself to an enormous slice of cake every time I successfully manage to self-inject!

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