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

The Bog Post

My father, who doesn’t read this blog, suggested the most excellent title of today’s post on account of the fact that I spent the last 24 hours or so performing my toileting activities into a cardboard bowl so that the hospital could ‘measure how much I am passing’. This would have been vaguely bearable were it not for the fact that they were pumping several litres of saline into my veins, causing me to need the loo at least once an hour. I’m not sure what the nurses did with each cardboard bedpan every time they took it out of my bathroom… I have visions of them pouring the contents into a massive glass measuring cylinder, like they do on that programme Supersize vs Superskinny where they compare what a morbidly obese person eats in an average week compared with that of an anorexic person… Either way, my Dad was greatly amused by the proceedings.

Thankfully, the cardboard box experience is now safely behind me as I was released from my hospital quarantine this afternoon and am finally back home with a course of oral antibiotics. It was a humbling four-day experience that gave me new-found respect and sympathy for anyone who spends a decent amount of time living in a hospital. I am incredibly lucky to have spent time in a five-star private suite of one of the best hospitals in the country but even that was bad enough – the amount of freedom you lose and the things you have to do can really make you appreciate life outside the hospital.

Having grown men in suits come into your room while you’re lying in bed in your PJs, tangled up in your own sweaty bed sheets with sleep in your eyes is not the most dignified feeling in the world – nor is having your shit taken out in a box by various different strangers at regular intervals! Ditto having your food cut up by your Mum and having to buzz every five minutes for someone to come and perform the simplest of tasks for you, like taking the cap off a bottle of water so you can drink it. Getting body lotion out of a tiny bottle using just one hand was also a tricky task that resulted in me splurting it all over the bathroom wall, impressively managing to even splash it above my own head height. I am not sure what the cleaner thought I had been doing that particular day.

Last night the temperature was so tropical in my room I felt like I was abroad so I slept on top of my sheets on my plastic mattress. It reminded me of the time on my gap yah in January 2001 when six of us slept atop rubber mattresses in 40-degree heat with one tiny ceiling fan for ventilation in the Hotel Marajó in Rio de Janeiro’s Lapa district – at that time still the red light district. Both then and last night I woke up covered in similar amounts of sticky sweat, I can assure you. (Jo, Amy, Alex, Alice, Howie and Chanty, I am literally thrilled to have found a photo of the exact room the girls slept in for almost a month – I’m sure you’ll all enjoy reminiscing. Remember the breakfast?!)

I grew rather attached (literally) to the machine-on-a-pole that fed me drugs and saline on an intravenous drip night and day. So much so that, yesterday morning, I had a horrific nightmare where I was travelling up a slow-moving conveyer belt with a Russian man standing by my side, only the Russian man was actually my machine-on-a-pole and it had Hannibal Lecter’s head! As you can imagine, I woke up dripping with sweat and grinding my teeth ferociously after that one.

The same morning I had several other nightmares, including one in which I woke up and all the nurses suddenly dragged my hospital bed out into the corridor towards an operating theatre and wouldn’t tell me what was going on, which was particularly traumatic. All these nightmares were probably the result of eating an enormous cheese board before bedtime – which I only did because I couldn’t have a sweet dessert due to this flamin’ no-sugar diet!

Speaking of which, Horror of Horrors! I found out the little monkeys at the hospital were spiking my porridge with sugar!!! I know, right? No wonder it tasted so good. How dare they? I hear you ask. So, well, obviously I have inadvertently cheated but I think I’ll let myself off since clearly I had no control over the matter. Other than that minor indiscretion, the no-sugar diet is still going strong.

Anyway, I’m glad that chapter’s over. I could barely move my hand for two hours after the cannula (needle-tube thingie) was finally removed from it after four days and the skin on my fingers is all peeling off and my veins are all sore and painful. Apart from that, I feel right as rain, but I’m in desperate need of some pampering and resting for the next few days! Home sweet home, I shall never take you for granted again.

This blog post is dedicated to Helen Morecroft, my childhood best friend and co-executive-editor on a little publication you may never have heard of called the Toilet Roll Special (Circulation: one) that we used to edit, circa 1990. (We had a strong sense of toilet humour from a remarkably early age).

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Taxotere, Women's Health

The Long Weekend Hospital Retreat

And so it was that I got my first infection and spent the entire long weekend at the hospital.

It all started on Friday night. The aching and tiredness from Tuesday’s chemo had started to kick in so I went to bed at 10pm after watching a bit of telly. As usual, I took my temperature before going to bed and was very surprised to see the thermometer register 37.7 – especially as I felt very cold. My normal temperature is around 36.5 and I knew anything above 37.5 was dangerous for me, but I felt fine and my parents were out anyway so I decided to sleep for a while and see what happened.

By the time my parents got in at 11:30pm, my temperature had risen to 38.6 so we called the chemo hotline. Unfortunately, as I suspected, I was told to go straight to hospital, so I reluctantly got out of bed and started packing my night bag. The problem was my parents had been out for dinner and had had a drink, so they couldn’t take me to the hospital. We would have to a call a taxi to take us the hour-and-a-bit journey to Manchester.

15 minutes later, the taxi came. The taxi driver hadn’t been informed that he needed to take us all the way to Manchester. And he didn’t know how to get there. Nor did he have a sat nav. So he took us back to his taxi rank to pick up his sat nav, and then we sat by the side of the road for 15 minutes while he worked out how to use it. After asking us the postcode 27 times, he eventually set off. Then we stopped for petrol. Then we set off again… With a seemingly defective sat nav that was hell-bent on making us “Turn right!” against every other indication that we obviously needed to go straight on.

Fearing we might end up in London, I was relieved when finally, almost two hours later, Mum and I arrived at the hospital. Then we got lost trying to find the ward. Eventually I got settled in a private room at about 2am and thus commenced a long night of being prodded and poked as three different nurses tried to get blood out of my uncooperative veins, doctors were called and finally I was hooked up to an antibiotic drip for the night. Although the only symptom was my high temperature, I have an infection, which, during chemo, can be very serious indeed, so I’m glad I didn’t just go back to sleep and ignore it, like I wanted to.

The first night was pretty rubbish and I didn’t get a wink of sleep. I felt freezing cold and had a splitting headache. My mum (the poor thing – already keeling over from her no-sugar diet) fashioned a makeshift boat out of a couple of chairs and slept across them. It didn’t look very comfy. It was a bit like sleeping in the jungle with all the sounds going on in my room. The frog ribbitting in the next room, the whirring drip machine that sounds like an army of centipedes walking all over me… I am fully prepared for the start of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here tonight…

My room is like Piccadilly Circus, with at least 12 new faces passing through every hour – “I’ve come to take your blood,” “I’ve come to take your observations,” “I’ve come to bring you a weighing scales,” “Would you like something to eat?” “Have you finished with that food?” “Can I clean your room now?” “Can we steal your sofa?” Etc etc…

I’ve been in the hospital two days now and won’t be leaving any time soon as my white blood cells are still too low, meaning I’m very vulnerable to more infection. But fortunately I’ve learnt many a thing and conquered many a phobia since I’ve been here:

1. I can now walk around with my drip machine attached to me without falling over/tripping over my own cord
2. I can brush my teeth with my left hand
3. I can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner one-handledly
4. I can also type with one hand, though it is verrrry slow
5. I can get a night’s sleep without worrying about the tubes attached to my hand
6. I even managed to have a shower with the thing attached to my hand (but disconnected from the machine)

(Sorry there are no pictures today – technology not permitting, I’m afraid.)

You may be wondering how the no-sugar diet is going in all this. Well, I’m proud to say I’m now on day 10 with no sugar. And before you wonder whether the shock diet plan led to my hospitalisation, I can happily say the nurse assured me it has nothing to do with it and she’s also a firm believer in such nutritional plans and said many cancer patients take on a raw diet… I can’t say I am not tempted by some of the puddings on offer at meal times though, and I also did experience a slight sugar high from my cocoa butter lip balm earlier. Desperate times…

Well, this was the first blog post brought to you from the Christie hospital, and here’s hoping it’ll be the last!

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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.

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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, 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, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Health, Humor, Humour, Taxotere

Cancer Is Colourful

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that cancer is colourful. So far I’ve had green pee, red pee, blue boobs, multi-coloured fingernails… And now I have a green tongue! It has been a lovely shade of lime green for three days and goes just perfectly with my eyes and my t-shirt. The latest must-have fashion accessory, everyone should have a green tongue. (On a serious note, it’s a another side effect of the chemo so I shall be visiting my doctor tomorrow).

Aside from colourful, cancer is also painful. Well, I should really say chemo is painful, because I don’t actually have cancer any more. The pain kicked in about 48 hours after the last chemo session and has lasted the several days since then. So, while it hasn’t given me the terrible nausea I had with FEC, the Taxotere drug has given me the worst all-over body pain I’ve ever experienced. It is an intense, all-over body ache, not like the pleasant and satisfying soreness you get after a heavy gym session, but more like the bone-chilling ache you’d get if you ran two back-to-back marathons at the age of 99. I can feel my bones hurting from inside, and everything is stiff as if I’ve been bedridden for years. My knees felt like they’d buckle when I stood up to brush my teeth and I have to hold onto the banister to come up the stairs. It’s weird to feel like I’m crippled when I’m 30 and perfectly fit and healthy. (Well, apart from the cancer, that is).

Still, at least I feel like the chemo drugs are doing their job. Hopefully the pain is a sign they’re working. It’s been horrible being cooped up in bed for the past five days and it’s like going back to square one with the chemo because whereas I used to know how long the excessive tiredness would last, I don’t know quite how long the pain will last, and the oncologist said it might take me longer to recover this time. Fortunately I have been able to sleep pretty soundly and have had plenty of good books to read. And painkillers. Lots of painkillers.

Speaking of things being colourful, it was only when I stood up long enough to look out the window today that I noticed autumn was here, and it’s absolutely beautiful. There’s nothing quite like the beauty of red, green and yellow leaves. I even managed my first five-minute walk this afternoon to try and stop my joints completely clamming up and failing to function forevermore, and the crisp, cold, sunny autumn air did me good. Hopefully just a few more days of pain and I’ll be back on track.

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