Archives for category: Taxotere

IMG_3350This time last year, I had just finished the last of six rounds of chemotherapy and was preparing for my first post-chemo Christmas. It’s hard to believe a whole year has gone by, particularly as I still remember the day I was ‘sentenced‘ to eight months of treatment as if it were yesterday.

Since then, I’ve met a lot of people going through chemo and I’ve been surprised at the varying advice given to them by different hospitals, for example the woman whose nails went black and started falling off after chemo because she had never been given a simple tip to help protect them.

With this in mind, I’ve written a list of ten top tips to get through chemo for this month’s post for Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita magazine. Click the link to read the list.

Merry Christmas all!

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Phew! So yesterday I got back from an exhausting two-day tour of the UK and Ireland’s cancer hospitals.

It started with a 5am rise on Tuesday for my flight to Dublin with Mum, to meet the oncologist who’ll be looking after my radiotherapy treatment. By 9am I had trekked through two airports and endured a cramped Ryanair flight with a screaming, kicking child in the seat behind me, people coughing all around me and the constant intrusive din of Ryanair’s overhead advertising of refreshing J20, a selection of hot drinks and snacks and a very special, exclusive 2-for-1 scratch card deal. Let’s just say I understand why air travel is not recommend during chemotherapy treatment. It’s exhausting.

First up, I headed to work to see my colleagues and pick up my post before going to my hospital appointment. At 11:30, after greeting half of my department with a hug and being regaled with tales of how half of them had just got over the 24-hour vomiting bug that’s sweeping Britain and Ireland, I called my doctor for the results of Monday’s blood test and found out I was neutropenic again. My white blood cells and neutrophils had completely reversed their earlier gain and were so low that I had virtually no infection-fighting abilities and shouldn’t really be around anyone at all, let alone sitting on Ryanair flights and hugging germ-ridden workmates (no offense!). However, I was already in Dublin by that point and any damage had already been done, so the hospital said they’d test me when I got back to Manchester.

Next up, my appointment at St. Luke’s, a specialist cancer hospital in the leafy Dublin suburb of Rathgar. Now, for those of you who’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you’ll know I was diagnosed at St. Vincent’s, which is a large hospital in Dublin, and I was expecting something similar. But as soon as we pulled up in the taxi outside St. Luke’s, I could see it was different. You can’t really tell from the photo to the left but it was more like a quaint old people’s home or an American chapel than a hospital – just one storey high and with a very friendly, intimate vibe. I loved it immediately. (Well, as much as it’s possible to love a hospital where you’re about to be blasted to pieces with radiation).

I walked up to reception and said “Hi, I’ve got an appointment with Dr McVey” and the response from the reception desk was a very hearty, smiley, “Ah, you must be Laura!”

Honestly, I have never felt so welcome (even at a hotel, never mind at a hospital!) It turns out I had been in touch with the friendly woman on reception via email, and when she saw me with my little wheelie suitcase she realised I was from out of town and put two and two together that I must be the young British girl coming over for radiotherapy. But still! What lovely people.

Unfortunately, after all that, it turns out I won’t be able to have my radiotherapy at St. Luke’s because they couldn’t fit me in on the public system so I have to go privately at St. Vincent’s instead, but that’s fine because it’s closer to work and my flat. I’ll write a separate post about my radiotherapy treatment plan because it’s too much information for this post, but basically I should start on 2nd Jan and finish at the end of February, with 33 radio sessions.

Flying Back to Manchester

On the flight home, with Aer Lingus this time, I was momentarily delighted when I saw that we were sitting in the emergency exit seats, i.e. plenty of leg room and as much space as possible away from my fellow passengers with their various vomiting bugs and winter flu. The delight was soon snatched away from me, though, when your lady from Aer Lingus looked at me, gestured towards the window I was sitting next to and said “You’re guarding the emergency exit there, are you willing and able to initiate an evacuation in an emergency?” (You see, I had taken off my wig by this point and was wearing a snazzy purple beanie and I obviously screamed “cancer patient/invalid” to her.)

I paused for a moment, recalling the opening scenes from series 1 of LOST. Was I really strong enough, after six rounds of chemo and one exhausting day of travel, to lift a 15kg aeroplane door off its hinges in a crash and lead my fellow passengers down the inflatable slide into the sea, making sure they all took off their heels so as not to puncture it?

“Yes,” I finally said. I was too exhausted to move and I really didn’t care that much about my fellow passengers anyway. (Apart from Mum, and I’d help her down the inflatable slide first anyway). Plus the evacuation procedure looked simple enough.

“Please ensure all electronic devices and mobile phones are switched off,” the cabin attendant said, eventually, preparing for take off.

“Oh NO!” Mum exclaimed from the seat next to me. She had left her mobile phone on, and the cabin lady had insisted we put our bags up in the overhead cabins so as not to block the emergency exit, and now we were all firmly belted in and ready for take-off. “What should I do?” she said, looking at me for answers.

I was in two minds. I knew Mum’s phone was unlikely to cause a crash during our 40-minute flight to Manchester, but I wanted to avoid any increased risk that I would have to get off my poor chemo-sapped arse and shuffle 100-odd passengers out of that emergency exit, so eventually we asked the cabin lady to get Mum’s bag down so she could switch her phone off.

The plane did not crash. We made it safely to Manchester. Then I got a paper cut from one of the items of my mail I’d picked up from the office. Will it ever end?!

Back to the Christie

Luckily, we had the good sense to stay overnight in Manchester on Tuesday, otherwise I don’t think I’d have even had enough strength to get myself back there on Wednesday (purely due to tiredness and still fighting this infection). I was in for my three-week post-chemo check-up, which truly marks the end of chemotherapy – hooray!

Because I was neutropenic on Monday, I went in for another blood test on Wednesday. Unfortunately, I was dehydrated from our overnight stay in a stuffy hotel room (I know people commit suicide sometimes but I really wish hotel rooms had openable windows…) and it took three painful attempts before the nurses could get blood from me. Yuck! Seriously, I must have had more than 100 needle injections so far in 2012.

Then followed a tense wait for my blood count results. If my white blood cells and neutrophils went down from Monday, I would have to be admitted as an inpatient and be hooked up to a drip again for a few days in hospital – possibly spending Christmas Day at the Christie Clinic. But if they went up, I would be allowed to go home. So you can only imagine how relieved I was when the doctor told me they’d gone up. Not exactly by much, but honestly, I couldn’t care less as long as I was able to go home.

Now please let me not have picked up any vomiting bugs in the past two days! (Not that it matters anyway, seeing as the world is going to end tomorrow…)

Many of you have asked me whether my chemotherapy is working, which is a very good question.

Sometimes chemo is given to people before they have surgery, to reduce the size of the tumour and operate once it has shrunk. The doctors do scans routinely to see whether or not the tumour is shrinking, so it’s possible to see whether the chemo is doing its job.

In my case, my tumour was relatively small and my surgeon hero successfully removed the whole nasty thing in June. He also took some of the surrounding tissue and tested it for cancer cells, and this came back beautifully clear (which is why I declared myself footloose and cancer-free in early July). It was the best possible outcome and I got it.

My chemotherapy and radiotherapy, therefore, are entirely preventative. I am technically as cancer-free as the rest of you, but because I am young, I need to be blasted to bits with the strongest drugs and radiation just to make sure that if there is even one minuscule, evil little ‘C’ cell still hanging out somewhere inside me, it gets absolutely obliterated and never, ever, EVER has the chance to grow and multiply and make friends with other little nasty ‘C’s to form a tumour again.

Because my chemo and radiotherapy are only preventative, there is no need to do any tests or scans to see if it’s ‘working,’ according to my oncologist. Giving me scans to check for anything at the moment would expose me unnecessarily to further radiation, so there will be no scans for the foreseeable (although I may have to have one before radiotherapy, to decide where the radiation will be given).

So, the answer to the title question is “we hope so!”  It’s basically a case of trusting the statistics and assuming that subjecting my body to all this short-term poison is doing me some long-term good… Here’s hoping!

In other news, I still have a very croaky, husky voice and a horrible cough and cold (along with half the nation) and am on the antibiotics and going for another blood test tomorrow (when will the needles stop?!) But the good news is my hair still seems to be growing nicely in random patches and there has even been a vague glimpse of some sideburns. I never thought I’d be so happy to see those big, dark sideburns again!

Friday turned out to be rather stressful. Having had a higher-than-normal temperature for almost a week, I had been to the doctors for a full blood count test, to check if everything was in order before I headed to London for my nutritionist appointment (of which, more in a later post). Of course, when I called for my results, the receptionist told me to call back at 11:30am, which was precisely the time my train set off for London.

When I was admitted to hospital with a high temperature a few weeks ago, I had a condition called neutropenia, where I had an abnormally low number of white blood cells called neutrophils. While I was neutropenic, anyone who entered my hospital bedroom had to wear rubber aprons and gloves so as not to spread their germs, because an infection can quickly become life-threatening for chemotherapy patients. My neutrophil and white blood cell levels at the time were something like 0.5 (i.e. extremely low).

Naturally, I was concerned on Friday that my GP would call back and tell me I was neutropenic again, and I’d have to abort my lovely first-class train journey with my mother and pay £100+ to jump on the next train back home, forfeiting my nutritionist appointment and weekend plans. So imagine my surprise when the good doctor called back and told me my white blood cells and neutrophils were at 39.7 and 34.9 respectively!

These abnormally high levels, he said, indicated that I must have an active infection but that my immune system (for once!) was fighting it extremely well, producing more white blood cells to kill the nasties. Of course, the daily injections I’ve been having are to boost my immune system and the blood test was taken on day eight of the daily injections, so there was every chance my counts were artificially high because of those shots.

Slightly alarmed, I called the hospital to ask them what to do. Did I need to get the next train to the hospital in Manchester because I had an infection? Or was I fine to continue with my plans because my body was fighting it effectively? I felt absolutely fine in myself, apart from the slightly worrying temperature, nose bleeds, hot flushes, tiredness and other usual chemo side effects.

I managed to get all the way to London, do my final self-injection in the loo of a Vauxhall Pret a Manger café and have my 1.5-hour nutritionist appointment before I got a definitive response from the hospital: I was absolutely fine. The abnormally high white blood count was a natural response to the daily shots and my immune system was behaving exactly as it ought to. I still to this day don’t know whether I had an infection or not, but I have at least stopped worrying about it.

I didn’t manage to perform a jig after my last self-injection because I was still too stressed at that point. My left eye has also been twitching sporadically for the past few days, something that happens when I am stressed. A quick straw poll revealed that a twitchy eye is a Price-family-wide problem. (Good to know it’s not just a side effect of the leftover eyelash glue.) I went to a doctor about it many years ago and was told it was “psychological”. I had saved up four different problems for that particular doctors visit as I didn’t think it sufficient to take two hours off work to ask about a twitchy eye alone, and the very unhelpful GP kindly declared every single one of my ailments as “psychological”. So that told me!

I do feel bad going to the doctor and being told there’s nothing wrong with me. I am a constant guilt sufferer. They tell you to report everything from high temperatures to sore veins to stomach pains, but then you do so and find out there’s nothing wrong and you start feeling like a hypochondriac time-waster. But, as with the lump in my breast that I decided to seek a second opinion on, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

I finally got back from London late last night after spending Monday catching up with different friends, among whom a 9-months-and-one-week pregnant lady and a friend hobbling around on crutches after breaking her toes surfing. When I went to bed at 8pm on Sunday night and slept until 9am Monday morning because I was so shattered, I never imagined I’d be the fittest and most able-bodied of my friends come Monday afternoon!

The good news is the hot flushes seem to have finally stopped, which means I can rule out the menopause and blame it all on the steroids. I may have had a wee glass of champagne with my hotdog on Saturday night to celebrate (as you do).

Dear inventor of make-up and wigs,

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know what I’d do without you. (See photo)

From Laura Hetty Price, aged 30 years, 4 months and 4 days 

(3 months and 6 days of which bald as a baby)

IMG_3719

Right, that’s it – I give up on fake eyelashes. They are officially the devil’s work.

So yesterday, I had my interview with the Huddersfield Examiner. The photographer and journalist were coming to my house, so I wanted to look nice for my first local newspaper appearance since my 2004 hotpant-clad debut. As you can see by the above photo, my “Before” look is pretty dire now that I’m at the very end of my chemo treatment. Despite the fact that I still have at least 50 eyelashes and 50 eyebrows (I haven’t actually counted – that’s a guesstimate), you would hardly know it to look at me. Add to that the fact that I seem to be going through a rosy-cheeked hot flush in the above photo, and you’ll probably agree you wouldn’t want to appear in a newspaper in front of all your old school friends looking like that either. So, naturally, I wanted to put on some false eyelashes to try and recapture a little of my former dazzle.

Now, two years ago, when I was young and carefree and dabbled for the first time in fakies, I was an absolute natural. Under the careful supervision of my housemate Beth, I applied the glue (gentlemen, be not afraid) to the edges of the falsies, waited 30 seconds or so while waving the lashes about a bit to gain flexibility, then simply looked down and pressed the lashes onto the top of my own ones and held for a while until the glue took hold. Simples, as those meer cats on the telly would say.

Flash forward to 2012, my lashes a shadow of their lengthy, luscious former selves, and things were not so simple. After thirty minutes of grappling with Boots No 7’s finest lashes, Cheryl Cole’s signature collection, some professional Shu Uemera lash glue and a load of sticky, black mess, I still could not attach a single one of the fakies firmly to my own limp, ailing eye hairs and I collapsed into a frustrated tizzy. (It is not often that I get into a tizzy, dear reader, but you can be assured that my lack of experience and expertise in the area of make-up and hair is one of the few things almost guaranteed to cause me bother whenever I step out of my comfort zone.)

The glue used in the fake eyelash industry, I am convinced, is made of exactly the same stuff as the adhesive in the bandages used to protect my breast and armpit scars after my surgery. Those of you who have been reading this blog since the beginning will have no problem casting your minds back to July, when I complained about the difficulty I was having removing said adhesive from my breast and armpit, resulting in unfortunate stickage of a) my clothes to my skin and b) my arm to the side of my body. I am now, it seems, having similar problems with the eyelash glue, whereby after several applications of three different types of glue to my eyelids yesterday, my eyes and lashes are now sticking together. This does not bode well for the preservation of the remaining 50 or so eyelashes I do still possess…

Anyway, needless to say, my relationship with the fake eyelash industry is well and truly over and I will just have to hope that the aforementioned stragglers do pull through to 2013 and beyond. For those interested, I have also looked into permanent eyelash extensions, but it seems that as these are attached lash-for-lash to the eyelashes you already have, it isn’t really the ideal option for me. I don’t want to lengthen the ones I’ve got, but thicken them and add new ones. There may be a gap in the beauty market for that particular product.

(Wow, I honestly I had no idea I was even capable of writing so much on the subject of fake eyelashes…)

So, after that digression, I put normal make-up on (see the “After” pic at the top) and did the interview with the lovely lady from the Examiner. The chap came round and took a few photos of me, and I did a few with wig off and a few with wig on (Samantha). I didn’t like any of them, and have decided I’m going to stop this posing-wigless nonsense from now on because I am never pleased with any photos that don’t come from my own iPhone, so that’s that. I’m not sure exactly when the interview will appear in the paper but I will of course keep you posted. I now have a national newspaper on my trail too so I’m one step closer in my quest for world domination.

On the health side of things, my temperature has remained higher than normal for almost four days and I’ve been coughing too, so I went to see my doctor yesterday. He did a bit of a health assessment and confirmed my chest is clear, which is excellent news. I don’t have any visible infections but am still concerned because I’m going to London tomorrow to see the nutritionist and the last thing I want is a temperature spike when I’m 200+ miles away from my usual hospital. So I went for a blood test this morning (amazingly, the needle went in and drew blood first time – happy days) and will hopefully find out by tomorrow just how dangerously low my white blood cells are this time…

I just did my 49th daily injection of Filgrastim and will possibly do a little dance at the nutritionist’s office tomorrow afternoon when I celebrate my 50th (AND LAST EVER, hopefully).

I’ll leave you with a couple of pics of the first winter snow in my beautiful native Shepley yesterday. 

Unfortunately, the paltry amount of snow we received has melted and it’s now lashing with rain and bitter winds outside. Delightful.

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