In August, I’m trekking 60km across Iceland (the country, not the supermarket) to raise money for a small but perfectly formed charity named CoppaFeel! Despite the daunting prospect of sore knees, blisters, sleep deprivation from the four hours of nightly darkness and the small matter of raising £2,695, I’m up for the challenge. Continue reading
It turns out the mere mention of the word ‘cannula’ (a thin tube inserted into the vein to administer drugs) is enough to make me cry.
I had gone to the Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester for my MRI scan – a routine check-up on my breasts that’s recommended for women under 40 because it’s more reliable and doesn’t involve harmful radiation.
I have never been one to dread scans or be afraid of them in any way. I sailed through 33 rounds of radiotherapy because it was just a case of going into a room, lying down under a big whirring machine and waiting. No pain, no dark tunnels. So, for my first ever breast MRI on Thursday, I breezed into the radiology department, all smiles and regular heartbeat, expecting to be in and out within an hour or so.
I just had no idea I was going to need a cannula. It was just a pin prick so they could insert some dye half-way through the scan, to allow my boob matter to show up on the images (or something). It was actually the smallest type of cannula available, used for babies, no less. (I say this so that you know just how much of a wimp I am).
But as soon as I heard the word ‘cannula,’ I burst into tears in front of the nurse, because to me, a cannula isn’t just a little needle-like thing. To me, a cannula is synonymous with chemo. Just a whiff of the saline going into my arm was enough to make me want to vomit, bringing with it all the traumatic memories of six months of chemo. The nights in the hospital when it took three different nurses to finally (and painfully) get a cannula into my hand, and the gut-wrenching feeling of those toxic drugs seeping into the veins…
The nurse handed me a bunch of tissues and told me a story about how she can’t go down the catfood aisle in the supermarket because it reminds her of the cat she lost three years ago. This story of association was supposed to make me feel better but, of course, she didn’t know she was talking to Cat Lady Supremo, for whom any tale of dead, unhappy or injured cats is enough to bring on the waterworks. So, naturally, that just made me feel worse.
So I lay there, horizontal, on the MRI machine with my face squashed into a squashy pad looking down at a white space, tears streaming down my face, cannula in arm, strapped to the machine, for about 40 minutes. As we all know, when you cry, your nose runs (especially when you’ve had flu for the last week), and when you’re lying face down, without the use of your arms because they’re strapped to a machine, there’s nothing you can do about it. So I lay and watched a large bogey slowly drip, drip, drip, along with my tears, until it finally hit the machine. I hope it doesn’t interfere with my results.
It really wasn’t a painful experience, and the staff in the hospital were amazing, but sometimes it just takes a trigger to bring back every horrible thing you go through with cancer. I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the past few weeks and I’ve been quite emotional.
The results won’t be back for a while yet, but hopefully it’ll be another all-clear. And – with any luck – I won’t have to go through all that again for another year.
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.
“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…
So, 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!
To 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.
Anyway, 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…)
“Boob Tattoos, Five-Centimetre Soup and 66 Grays of Radiation: A Radiotherapy Diary” – my latest blog for the Huffington Post:
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.
After 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.
It 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.
Unfortunately, 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?!”
On 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.
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.
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.
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, I 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. As 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!
Cancer is a marathon and I’m on the ‘final straight’. So how come I feel like crap? Read my latest HuffPost blog here:
5am Get out of bed, 9am arrive in Dublin, 9:30am eat leftover turkey-and-stuffing sandwich and sausage for breakfast in taxi to hospital, 10:45am locate correct wing of enormous hospital and have CAT scan and three boob tattoos all before 11:30am. Plane journey sitting next to the most vile, drunken chav duo from hell, then back to Manchester in time for dinner at a city bar, spot I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and Coronation Street actress Helen Flanagan out on the razzle dazzle with her mates and leave just as the paparazzi arrive… Bed by midnight. All in a day’s work for a dedicated cancer-fighter like me!
Apart from the paparazzi (who I think were there to photograph Miss Flanagan, rather than my dear self), I expect what most intrigued you from the above were the words “boob tattoo,” so let’s delve a little further into that subject. Disappointingly, the tattoos are not actually on my boobs. They are all in a line below my boobs – one in the very centre, and one on each side.
First, I lay on the machine while the big whirring CAT scan machine bobbed me under and took a few pics (this was painless and took two minutes). Then a young man called Owen (or Eoghan – I’m not at one with Irish spellings yet but will ask him next time) appeared as if from nowhere with a felt-tip pen and drew some lines on me in an X-marks-the-spot fashion. He and another lady called Olivia stuck some stickers on me and finally Owen/Eoghan tattooed me with a needle at the meetings of each of the three Xs. It wasn’t painless but was basically just the same pin-prick as a quick injection and was over in minutes.
Above-left, you can see what one of the tattoos on my side looked like yesterday after the tattooing took place (please excuse the bra marks). It looks sort of painful and bruised, but I can assure you it’s just ink and was not in the least bit painful. Fortunately the Xs washed off, and to the right you can see what the tats look like post-wash. I was kind of expecting them to be a little smaller – you can certainly see them – but I couldn’t care less. I now have three permanent scars from my cancer and three little tiny speck tattoos, and I love having the war wounds to remind me what I’ve been through. Something to show the grandkids, I s’pose…
I have just posted the pics of the tiny specks on my side as I have a feeling I might regret it if I post the one in the middle of my cleavage, so I won’t…
Meanwhile, it seems the lovely Miss Flanagan decided to go bra-less last night, according to the Daily Mail. I’m thinking maybe she was doing it in sympathy for me?