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
My latest blog post for Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita Magazine:
‘Oh, but you’re so young!’ – It’s a phrase I’ve heard repeatedly throughout my breast cancer journey. Nobody expects a woman in her 20s to have breast cancer – after all, eight out of 10 cases are in women over 50, and only a tiny fraction are women under 35, or men. But every year, about 200 women under 30 are diagnosed with the disease.
Having breast cancer is an isolating experience, regardless of age, nationality or background. It’s no less easy for a 70-year-old than for a 25-year-old. Nevertheless, over the past seven months since my diagnosis at age 29, I have found that a lot of the support and guidance available is (understandably) catered towards older women, and doctors don’t necessarily take into account the needs of the pre-menopausal.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a few bits of advice from personal experience. Most of it is relevant to women of all ages, but I hope some of it will be particularly helpful to those few fellow women in their 20s and 30s who receive a diagnosis this year.
(Please click on the link below to see my latest blog for Breast Cancer Care UK):
Another week of radiotherapy went by and I still haven’t really started feeling the effects. At some point soon, one of my boobs should go all red and sunburnt-looking while the other one remains its usual pinky self, but at the moment they’re both looking identical (except for the shark-bite scar from my surgery on the left one). I’m not feeling any pain or irritation and I don’t think the fatigue has really set in yet either. I’m still tired from the chemo and I can’t manage a lot of physical activity, but I haven’t got to the point where I need to sleep in the afternoons yet.
It’s almost two months since the final chemo and my hair still isn’t making much progress. As you can see in the photo above, there’s just a bit of fluff growing on the sides (and back) of my head, but it’s still really bald on top. I’m thinking I’ll have to start some sort of new trend for shaving a skunk-like panel into the middle of one’s head and just keeping the hair at the sides – anyone fancy joining me in that?!
Seriously though, there is no sign of any new eyebrows or eyelashes growing and it’s starting to get me down a bit. I don’t think I ever realised when I first lost my hair that it would be almost a year before I had enough hair again to grow a pixie, but that’s exactly what it’s going to be. So it’s a good job I invested in some quality wigs, as they are finally getting worn on a regular basis with me going to work every day. My target is to go to work wigless in a month’s time, though.
I’ve been conducting a silent and unofficial poll of my wigs at work this week and it seems the people’s firm favourite is ‘Joana‘ (pictured right) – funnily enough, the wig I’ve worn the least in all my five months of baldheadedness. So I got glammed up with Joana for my first proper big night out since the pre-cancer days last night and I actually almost felt I got a little bit of my confidence back.
Towards the final strait of cancer treatment, people tend to say “Oh, you’re almost finished now!” “You’re on the final strait!” “You’re back to normal now” etc etc. But it’s actually a great big myth. This stage of treatment (I won’t call it the ‘final’ stage, because my treatment will essentially go on for the rest of my life) has probably been the hardest for me. Even though I found chemotherapy infinitely more physically demanding and challenging than radiotherapy, I am finding this stage difficult for other reasons. My whole cancer treatment has been going on for so long now, it’s hard not to feel tired of it, and it’s particularly tough to see light at the end of the tunnel. The effect on my appearance is also at its greatest, but I’m no longer able to just wallow all day in the comfort of my own home and just be a cancer patient. Instead, I’m effectively living a normal life but I don’t look or feel normal, so it’s tough. Still, I know time will fly.
One of the silver linings of my week was being able to walk along the beach in Dublin to get to the hospital. It’s about a 50-minute walk from my work to St. Vincent’s and the views are beautiful, especially when the sun is setting, around 4:30pm. (Long winter…) I’m glad I took pictures early in the week when I did, because I’ve had to take taxis ever since Tuesday, when it started poured with torrential, sideways rain, hail and sleet and blew gailforce winds that nearly knocked me into the canal. Not exactly strolling weather.
Finally, I took the nutritionist‘s advice and bought an expensive juicer from UKjuicers.com. As you can see, it’s an intriguing contraption but I’ve used up all the vegetables and fruit in my flat and made the most amazing juices (apple, carrot and ginger being my current fave) in the past few days, so I think I’ll get plenty of use out of it. I’ve done pretty well increasing my fruit-and-veg intake in 2013 but my dairy-free diet is failing miserably at the moment. I haven’t given up hope, but somehow rice milk in my tea just isn’t cutting it. Still, one step at a time and I’ll get there in the end..
You may not think that sounds that great, but anyone who’s ever lived with me knows I like nothing better than a pair of boiled (or poached) eggs of a weekend lunchtime and I’ve been deprived of this pleasure for FIVE WHOLE MONTHS. Why? Because chemotherapy is like pregnancy – you can’t drink (much) alcohol, you can’t eat soft cheese, raw fish, live yoghurt or soft-boiled eggs, because of the risk of infection. Anyway, nobody told me at what point it’s ok to start eating foods off the banned list again, but it’s been 6 weeks since my last chemo, so I figured I would allow myself the pleasure on this otherwise joyless weekend. And I haven’t vomited yet, which is promising.
Anyway, back to radiotherapy. Week two is officially done. Eight (sessions) down, 25 to go. This week during my daily blasts of radiation I was treated to the likes of Alicia Keys, Coldplay, Robbie Williams and even Fairground Attraction (“It’s got to be-e-e-e-e-e-e per-fect, yeah”) – I can’t say these are my favourite musical artists, but fortunately the radiation sessions were short and sweet and I didn’t have to listen to Coldplay’s warblings for long.
The major development of the week is that I went back to work – after five months off. I’m working in the mornings and going for radiation sessions followed by rest in the afternoons, which is a perfect set-up as I think I’d go stir-crazy if I was at home the entire time, but I do need the rest. Some people work during radiotherapy, while others don’t, depending on the side effects, but the tiredness hasn’t really set in yet so I’m happy to be able to go to work. Fortunately, I also work at a place that provides the most magnificent catering, so I’ve been treating myself to delicious healthy breakfasts of scrambled egg, grilled tomato, spinach and mushrooms, and they’ve even provided me with rice milk to help me along with me no-dairy crusade.
On Tuesday I arrived at the hospital a little early, so I decided to visit the breast care nurses who were there when I was first diagnosed, at this very hospital (St. Vincent’s, Dublin), more than six months ago.
As I approached the second floor of the hospital where the breast care department is, I could see the women sitting in the waiting room outside the very room where I was diagnosed. Some of them would be waiting there for their loved ones, others might be just about to get diagnosed – just about to walk into a room and be told the news that shakes up their entire world and changes the rest of their lives. Needless to say, it was quite emotional for me, returning there. I even went into the room where I received the shocking diagnosis on June 22 last year, and I just about managed not to cry.
Aside from being back at work, being back in Dublin after six months is quite strange for me, as I had only just moved here when I was diagnosed. It’s like the City That Stood Still. Basically, everything that was happening in my life before I left Dublin was frozen in time and it’s all hit me all over again now that I’m back, as if the last six months never happened. Only I know they did, because I only have to catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror to see the hairless face and I know I’m still a cancer patient. That said, it’s great to be back in my apartment and back at work, living a semi-normal life.
On Wednesday I had the bright idea that I would start cycling to work. It’s only a 10-minute walk so I figured cycling it would be even quicker. My bike has been babysat for the past six months by my very kind colleagues and my aim was to eventually be able to cycle it to the hospital each day (a 50-minute walk).
Bad idea. Whereas I thought I was regaining my fitness pretty quickly and have been walking around at my usual pre-cancer pace, it seems I am far from fit and have lost all the muscle mass in my thighs. The 10-minute cycle to work almost killed me. Not only because I nearly had to stop in traffic I was so puffed out, but also because I have forgotten everything they taught me in my primary school Cycle Safety course. So the bike is now firmly parked once again inside my apartment and will gradually be taken on further outings once I start feeling fitter.
On the hair front, I have been wearing wigs all week because I am still looking horribly patchy and bald. While I cannot wait for the day when I can stop wearing wigs and just go out with my bare head with an even layering of hair, at least I can say the wigs don’t give me headaches any more. Plus, even though they all know I’ve had chemotherapy for the past five months and am bald as a baby, that didn’t stop one of my closest colleagues from saying he didn’t even realise I was wearing a wig. So at least I’ve got a few people fooled!
Today I had my 15 minutes of fame in the Huddersfield Examiner, the follow-up to my 2004 hotpant-clad debut, back before the online archives even began.
I’m pleased with Hilarie Stelfox’s article, which focuses on how I’ve used this blog and my Huffington Post blog to help me through the horrible cancer journey. The only minor issue, as one of you pointed out, is the rather unfortunate advert for some funeral services in the online version of the article (which they’ve said they’ll remove) but we’ll let it pass, in the name of good humour!
Click here if you want to read the article.
Since I know only about 2% of the people who actually read this blog are in the Huddersfield area, here’s a couple of pictures of the hard-copy version, which my Dad just went out and bought:
(I’m not overly happy with the bald pic, which I think makes me look a bit chubby-faced. But then I realised when I got weighed at the hospital yesterday and today that I have actually put on 5kg (ie almost 10% of my original weight!) since before chemo, so maybe I am just a little chubby-faced compared to what I was before!)
And the unfortunate funeral ad:
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)
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.
After an agonising 8-week wait, I finally got the results of the gene test when I was half-asleep this morning. Amazingly, I tested negative and got the all-clear for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene faults. This is great news not only for me but also for my family, as we can just about assume none of us inherited the gene mutation (and perhaps Granny Hetty never had it after all). PHEW! This means several things (I feel a list coming on…):
1) I can keep my original boobies!
2) I won’t have to have a double mastectomy and try to make new boobs out of my back muscle/stomach flab (so I’ll stop eating all the pies now).
3) I will be able to proceed with radiotherapy in Dublin in January, dates pending – watch out Dublin & FB, here I come!
4) I should be able to have baby Priceys some day without having to worry about passing on nasty harmful genes to them.
Hooray! Now that really is a weight off my mind.
There is still a decent chance I could get breast cancer in my untreated breast at some point in my lifetime (30% over the next 60 years, compared to about 5% for a woman who has never had breast cancer), but apparently this is not enough to merit a preventative mastectomy. I may be able to have further tests in 5-6 years to see if I inherited a different condition that caused my breast cancer, and there’s a chance I could look at having a mastectomy then, but for now the decision is that the boobies are staying put! My ovarian cancer risk is also about as low as that of any person, as far as I understand. So, happy news all round.
Fortunately, I had some fabulous girlfriends to stay for the weekend, which took my mind off waiting for the phone to ring with my results. As you can see, we had a great time frolicking in the Yorkshire countryside in our wellies, and later trying on all my wigs. My legs are now sore from all the up-hill walking in wellies, and I’m feeling drugged up from the steroids and ready for a good sleep.
(Here we are pictured hanging from a tree that must’ve fallen in the past few days’ incredibly strong wind and rain!)
(Both photos courtesy of Miss Sophie Austin!)
The No-Sugar Diet
In other news, I just wanted to clarify to you all that I am staying off sugar for good, as I don’t think I made it clear in my previous blogs. The reason for giving up sugar in the first place was that there are very strong links between sugar and cancer, and drastically reducing my refined sugar intake is one of the ways I can try and prevent my cancer from recurring. I am looking forward to meeting the nutritionist in two weeks to find out more, but it seems eating refined sugar in things like chocolate and baked goods can cause my cancer cells to grow and thrive, so the best thing I can do is cut it out as much as possible.
As my weekend visitors know, I may have lapsed slightly with a certain sticky toffee and ginger pudding and some delicious chocolates, brownie and cookies, but I am now back on the no-sugar diet. As with all temptations in life, it’s pretty tough to cut it out 100%, so the plan is just to have tiny amounts of sweet goodies occasionally, but cut them out on the whole. So if you’re stopping through the Shepley area and fancy popping in to help me through my backlog of sweeties, please do stop by!
It’s the final chemo tomorrow! I think I will be practically dancing around with joy in a 10 days’ time when I’m through the worst of it!
HOORAY FOR BOOBIES AROUND THE WORLD! GO CHECK YOURS!
After spending the previous weekend quarantined in my little hospital room and attached to a drip, it was like the best thing ever to be able to spend last Saturday and Sunday in London, relishing in the joys of freedom and 360-degree arm movement.
I had planned the trip to London for my friend Karen’s birthday lunch, but a few days earlier I was invited to take part in a mini-photo shoot for the Stylist magazine 2012 census – a form I delighted in filling in with my cat on one of my many bed-ridden sick days recovering from chemo. My photo was to appear in tiny version alongside many others in an upcoming issue of the magazine, so I decided I would go wigless for the following reasons:
a) to be a bit brave and unashamed of my bald head
b) to be 100% myself
c) to be a little bit original
I had planned to wear earrings and false eyelashes to accentuate my better features and distract from my bald head because my eyebrows and lashes are now wearing thin (more of this in a later blog post). However, I forgot to pack the fakies and, unfortunately, every single chemist and supermarket around the Holborn area was shut on Sunday morning. And so it was that my friend Sophie and I rocked up to Stylist magazine HQ false eyelash-less and au naturel.
Unfortunately, the Stylist photo booth didn’t take such flattering photos as my iPhone, I felt really self-conscious and hated the final result, but it was a great experience all the same and I’m glad Sophie came along to support me in braving the Sinead look! You’ll have to wait til the magazine comes out to see my individual photo but here are the fun shots of Sophie and I for the time being. (Apologies that it’s a photo of a photo but scanning it would require getting out of bed.)
Sunday afternoon I had a wonderful time catching up with old colleagues and friends at Karen’s birthday lunch and very much enjoyed my lamb roast at The Brownswood in Finsbury Park, before catching the train back up North and sleeping for more than 12 hours, such was my exhaustion from the weekend.
Saturday was spent mostly eating my way around London with my old housemate Beth, who almost succeeded in giving up sugar with me for two weeks, but for a few momentary lapses. Our gastronomic tour began at the Mexican restaurant Wahaca in Covent Garden, with tacos, quesadillas and Mexican soup. Unfortunately one of the things I am most craving is ceviche and sashimi but the chemotherapy means raw fish is forbidden, so I had to make do with the cooked stuff.
In the evening, for want of a better film to see, we ended up watching The Sapphires, which was amusing and entertaining, though far from being one of the best films I’ve ever seen. After two weeks on a no-sugar diet, I am still surprisingly not craving sweet things at all, but I can never resist having sweet popcorn at the cinema. We were also offered a free dessert at Wahaca and you’d have to be a fool to turn down a free dulce de leche pancake, right?
Finally, we tried to go to Bubbledogs, the new hotdog-and-champagne place, but the queue was too long and I was too tired to wait by this point so we ended up at Roka, a Japanese restaurant on Charlotte Street that reminded us of La Huella in Uruguay, where we’d been together in February. It was a shame my rice and asparagus came 10 minutes before my seabass main course but, other than that, I couldn’t fault it and will definitely be going back to try the black cod.
I’m safely back up North now for another week of resting and a hospital visit on Thursday before THE FINAL CHEMO next week.