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. Continue reading
So this photo popped up on my Facebook feed the other day.
There’s nothing like Facebook to give you that big surprise surge of emotions with a visual image – whether it’s a photo of your ex on his wedding day or a school photo of you with pudding-bowl hair circa 1990 that someone has recovered from their parents’ house. Or, in my case, a pic of you larking about in a photo booth mid-chemo with a completely bald head and some ill-informed eyebrow pencillage. Continue reading
I haven’t written anything on this blog since February, which is due to a combination of having just completed a Masters degree in nine months and starting a new job immediately after, and – more importantly – having no cancer news to report. Continue reading
I didn’t know it was World Cancer Day until I woke up this morning and saw my face splashed all over the Emirates Woman magazine website – quite a surprise. I wrote the article over Christmas but I didn’t realise it was coming out today. I wouldn’t say the headline is exactly my own words, but the rest is all me. Anyway, it’s in this month’s print issue of Emirates Woman so if you’re in Dubai, go buy a copy! Continue reading
So I just had my bi-annual check-up with the surgeon who saved my life and I’m pleased to say it’s all good.
It was just a manual examination – no scans, no cannulas, no tears this time – but for some reason it seemed more thorough than the last time and I felt quite satisfied.
Anyway, Dr Lifesaver seemed very pleased (‘Your scars have healed so well! You can barely even see the armpit one.’) and told me to come back in October for my next MRI scan. (Well, it’s not actually that simple – he said I have to come back and ask him to write another letter to the NHS board asking them if I can have another MRI, so it’ll probably be Christmas by the time I have another one, but anyway).
I have a different hospital appointment next week for a separate chemo/Tamoxifen-induced problem that I shan’t go into, but after that, no more hospital trips until July, when I see the oncologist again. Hooray!
As you can see, my hair has grown a bit since last time I wrote. It’s not actually as long as it looks in this hospital-gown selfie – it’s just got volume today because I went to sleep with it wet and woke up with a semi-Mohican (as happens most days). It is also getting mullet-like at the back again and needs a bit of a trim.
But the good news is I’m *almost* back to my pre-chemo pixie. I think it’ll actually be two entire years after my pixie cut (August 2012) by the time it grows back to that length, which is insane. But my latest theory is that if my cancer cells grow anywhere near as slowly as my hair cells then hopefully they have NO CHANCE.
Oh, and I figured I could get away with today’s headline since yesterday was apparently National Yorkshire Pudding Day. Didn’t know it was a thing? Nope, me neither. But fortunately I have a bezzie who knows these things and thankfully she was on hand to cook me a truly splendid Yorkshire roast. So it is, indeed, all gravy.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Long after chemo ends, a strange and somewhat unexpected thing happens in the post-cancer world: You grow a mullet. Yes, a mullet, that most glorious and beautiful of haircuts only sported in modern times by Argentine footballers and, er, people who are growing their hair from scratch after chemo.
That’s right, while several months ago I was told I looked like the Mexican footballer Chicarito, I recently found myself bearing a closer resemblance to Messi.
There was only one thing for it: the mullet had to go.
So, a year and a month after that fateful pre-chemo haircut that turned me into a PFF (Pixie Fan Forever), I finally got my first post-chemo haircut. In Vietnam. For £5. A bargain at the price.
It had been a long time coming. My hair has grown so slowly I didn’t even think it was worth a trim, but after detecting one too many disapproving looks from fashionable friends and acquaintances, I decided it was time to nip the fast-developing mullet in the bud.
I’m delighted with the results, only I still have The Bald Patch. Everyone keeps telling me it’s not actually a bald patch, “it’s just the way it’s growing on top” or “it’s just a bit thin there, that’s all,” but I’m still not convinced. It looks like a bald patch to me. (In the below pic, the bottom right is the before pic and the others are all after.)
Anyway, bald patch or no bald patch, I honestly could not care less. I’ve never been a girlie girl or a hair straighteners girl, but I now care even less than ever about being perfectly groomed. I am absolutely delighted to have a full head of (albeit very short) hair, but beyond that, and far more importantly, I am still unbelievably grateful and relieved that I’m alive and healthy. Not a single day goes by where I don’t worry that the cancer will return. And I’d happily have a mullet and a bald patch for the rest of my life as long as I don’t have cancer.
Next week, I return from Vietnam to have my long-awaited MRI scan at the Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester. The MRI is recommended for women under 40 because it’s more reliable (and less harmful) than a mammogram, so the results are very important to me. I’m quite certain there’ll be nothing untoward on the scan, but it would be fantastic to get a definitive all-clear. And then hopefully, just hopefully, I’ll really have something to celebrate.
This week I gave my first breast cancer awareness talk to a class of young women at Notre Dame school in south London. It was my first experience as one of the ‘Boobettes,’ a group of young women who’ve all had breast cancer or some kind of scare and who are now helping Coppafeel! spread the message to boys and girls around the UK to check their boobs.
I did the presentation with Jo, a fellow breast cancer survivor who had the disease at the remarkably young age of 21 and who is doing fabulously now, 15 years later. I talked about my personal experience while Jo talked more about the charity. The teenage girls were very receptive and asked everything from “Do you sometimes have to have your boob chopped off?” to “Are you going to be able to have children?” Ah, life’s big questions! Let’s just say I got a proper grilling, but I didn’t mind.
The next day, I got some results back from a blood test I’d had earlier in the week at my local doctors. It was my first blood test since December, and I was quite alarmed to discover that my blood counts have not returned to normal since finishing chemotherapy. My white blood cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes are still lower than they should be, meaning my immune system hasn’t returned to normal and I’m not quite the strong ox I thought I was. There’s nothing I can do to raise the blood counts, but my GP is writing to my oncologist to see if anything needs to be done. Given that I haven’t had so much as a cold since before Christmas, I thought my immune system must be pretty strong, but maybe I’ve just been lucky.
Meanwhile, my hair has been growing pretty nicely and is starting to look a bit like my Dad’s. If I don’t comb it down when I get out the shower, it sticks up hedgehog-style, so here’s a pic of me post-shower and au naturel, with Pricey Senior. Also note my make-up-less eyebrows, which are still a shadow of their former selves but slowly, slowly getting there. (The eyelashes, on the other hand, are pretty much back to their pre-chemo state).
This morning I did my final bit of training for the 10k Race for Life I’m doing in London next Sunday (14th July). I practically killed myself running up and down the hills of Yorkshire in 25C heat today and I haven’t managed to run 10k in less than an hour yet, but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. If you’d like to sponsor me and Team Stylist 10 to raise money for the all-important life-saving charity that is Cancer Research UK, please click here.
Finally, I thought you might like to see this picture of me after my first post-treatment 3k run (in the snow) in February, vs. my third 10k run (in the boiling sunshine) today. Evidentally I’m not looking quite so much like a cancer patient these days. Cancer, we’re coming to get you!