Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Cooking, Food, Nutrition, Women's Health

What the Nutritionist Said

Oh dear. I’ve had a very mild, tickly cough for about a month and yesterday it escalated into a full-blown, nasty choking, phlegmy cough. During the night I developed a painful sore throat and woke up this morning having largely lost my voice, so I am now on the antibiotics. So much for having a super-sonic immune system with 39.7-level white blood cells! Pah!

So, the nutritional therapist. I had a 1 1/2-hour consultation on Friday with Liz Butler, founder of Body Soul Nutrition, with a view to getting some advice on what I should be doing to keep my cancer away, and finding out whether any of my eating or lifestyle habits could have developed a better environment for the cancer to grow in the first place. One of the things she said was that many people have their cancer treatment and then go back to living their lives exactly as they did before – continuing to eat the same things, maintaining the same stress levels and doing the same amount of exercise, thus preserving the same body conditions in which the cancer initially thrived. It’s vital, according to Liz, to make drastic changes, both emotionally and nutritionally, to keep the cancer cells from growing again.

Her main recommendations were that I cut out dairy altogether and avoid sugar as much as possible. She also gave me some nutritional plans and talked to me about how each meal should be ideally composed, i.e. 50% vegetables and fruit on each plate, 20% starchy carbs (but only whole grains – no white rice, white pasta, white bread etc), 20% protein (eggs are allowed – phew!) and 10% fats (including nuts, pulses and butter, which is the only dairy allowed).

All of the above seems largely doable, apart from the giving up of dairy products and sugar, which is difficult for me to envision for the rest of my life. Two weeks, as I proved before, is easy peasy, but a life with no pizza (cheese), tea and coffee (milk), cheese and biscuits, cake, chocolate and many other tasty things is hard for me to get my head around. On the positive side, she did say I’m allowed red meat (once or twice a week, max), as long as it’s the best type of meat I can get my hands on – i.e. organic, free range etc (because the lower quality the meat, poultry or fish, the more likely it is to have been injected with antibiotics, hormones, etc).

One thing to stress is that the nutritional therapist didn’t say I have to give up all these things entirely – she said it’s fine to have a little of what I fancy, when I fancy, i.e. a couple of squares of dark chocolate every couple of days or a slice of cake or a dessert once a week, which is also fine. But I will struggle more with dairy because I eat a lot of it.

I decided for my last chemo I would be good to myself and let myself eat what I wanted, because often you feel so miserable and your tastes change so much, I didn’t want to punish myself like last time. So I’ve been eating something sweet most days, though not going overboard. And Christmas is coming up, so I’m not going to punish myself then either. But it’s important during radiotherapy to eat well to minimise the side effects, so I will definitely start being a little more strict in January.

I plan to take Liz’s advice to the extent that I can manage, cutting out dairy and sugar as much as possible but essentially allowing myself what I want in moderation. I am still very much aware that the oncologists don’t recommend any specific dietary changes and they certainly don’t recommend giving up sugar and dairy, and there is no proof or concrete evidence that doing so would guarantee my cancer never recurs, but at the same time changing what I eat to some extent will at least allow me to have a little more control over the situation. Nevertheless, I thought I might as well start as I mean to go on…

I started off well. Saturday morning, I had my first ever black coffee, and I quite enjoyed it. (I forgot to mention she told me to give up caffeine, but I may have to do things gradually!) Then I had a ginger steeper (fresh ginger in boiled water) at Leon. For lunch at Giraffe, I ordered a fresh fruit smoothie and a brown-rice sushi salad consisting of spinach, smoked salmon, mango, avocado and various seeds. But because I didn’t quite have the 50% veg/20% carbs ratio quite right, I ordered a separate side helping of sauteed veg (green beans, peppers and the likes – delish). Which brings me to Nutritional Problem #1: eating better is way more expensive. The better quality and the more organic the meat or the veg, the more the price increases. And the more veg portions you order to try and get the right balance, the more you end up paying. And Nutritional Problem #2: The better you want to nourish yourself, the more you have to plan what you eat, where you eat, when you eat, etc.

And then it all went down hill. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, Saturday night I went to Bubbledogs and ate two hotdogs. I am not convinced the pork sausage was the most organic meat in the land (largely because I do not know its origin) and I can take an educated guess that barbecue sauce and ketchup both have a fair amount of added sugar. That said, at least I didn’t have a pudding, and the jalapeños on the Mexican dog would have been good for me. But I did have a glass of champagne.

Sunday, it went further down hill, with a bacon sandwich on white, a cheese toastie and sausage, chips and veg for dinner. And Monday, a decent lunch of Eggs Florentine (bit of spinach, decent amount of protein) and a handful of Niki’s fries, then fish and chips on the train home (free first-class food, I could hardly refuse, could I?) I suspect the quality of the fish on East Coast Trains may not be the best in the world, which brings me to Nutritional Problem #3: It’s particularly hard to change your nutritional habits when you’re away from home. But, like I said, I’m not being strict on myself at the moment as a) I’m still under the wicked spell of the last chemo and within the three-week cycle, b) I’m sick and c) it’s the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la la.

Thank you all, though, for adhering to my request not to send me any more junk food. Alice very kindly oven-roasted me some assorted nuts in fennel and honey and they are amazing – I’ve been munching my way through them as only a gannet would. I since found out that honey is on the no-no list of sugary foods (Sorry, Mr Curado, I misinformed you), but I’m happily munching through them anyway (see points a, b and c). Thanks also to Beth for the lovely tin of personalised soup, as pictured at the top of the page (don’t ask why “Bobr”).

So, that’s (the very much abridged version of) what the nutritional therapist said. I still have a lot of reading and researching to do, and I confess I am slightly skeptical that following all this advice will keep the cancer away for good, because I have always eaten so healthily and it’s most likely my cancer was caused by a gene fault (just not the one I tested negative for). However, I have to do something to take this into my own hands, and improving my diet seems to be a good place to start (she says, while slurping through a cream-heavy tin of chicken soup…)

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

“Psychological” Problems

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).

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

Time Goes By… So Slowly

Time goes slowly when you’re not having fun, I can confirm.

And at certain points during chemotherapy, it is as if time has stopped entirely, and life is going on around you while yours is completely stopped, and all you can do is lie in bed and stare into space. I’ve had days like this in every round of chemo, and it kicked in again last weekend. It’s just like when you spend a Saturday night in by yourself looking at everyone else having fun on your Facebook feed (which I do all the time), only times the feeling by a few thousand! Quite depressing.

It took about four days before the effects of the final Taxotere really kicked in, and over the weekend I started to feel all the usual tiredness, lethargy, aching, prickling pains, sore mouth, coated tongue, horrible taste in my mouth and a general feeling of being just not right – you can’t really put your finger on it, but it really makes you quite miserable. I have been having the worst hot flushes all week, but am reasonably convinced that they’re due to the steroids and chemo drugs and not the actual menopause. It’s a bit tricky to get cool during a hot flush when you have two heavy cats sitting on top of a duvet on your lap though!

I have also been able to feel my veins pulsing and twitching for the past week – fortunately it seems to have stopped today, but it’s rather weird, as if I can feel the drugs going up and down my veins. The nurses have showed me how to massage my damaged veins and I’m trying to do some stretching exercises as I realise my muscles and joints are totally tight at the minute and not used to so much inactivity. You don’t realise how much your body will change during chemo treatment, but I feel like it has aged my body by about 30 years. Assuming radiotherapy doesn’t hit me too badly, I hope I can start jogging gently in January and get back to a good level of fitness within a few months.

I have had an elevated temperature for the past 32 hours or so – not quite high enough to go to hospital, but much higher than normal, which is worrying. I am checking my temperature every hour and dreading the moment I see 37.7 and know I have to go back to the hospital to be put back on the drip… After six rounds of chemo, my immune system is at its lowest ever, and the feeling of wanting to get past this stage and out of the danger zone couldn’t be stronger.

I haven’t taken pictures of anything other than cats for the past week at home, but my Mum pointed out that there was a patch of hair growing on the back of my head, so I asked her to take a picture. The photo on the left is from the day of my last chemo and the very ugly back-of-my-head photo on the right is from yesterday. I was quite surprised how much hair there was, and it seems a lot of it is recent growth, which makes me think my hair has already started growing back. It will probably still fall out a bit in the next couple of weeks though and start growing again, and apparently I’m likely to get ‘baby hair’ before I get real hair (I think the stuff I have at the moment is baby hair – it’s extremely soft!)

The nurse said it should start growing back one month after the last chemo, so that’s Christmas Day – something to look forward to!

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BRCA1, BRCA2, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Genes, Genetics, Health, Humor, Humour, Mastectomy, Taxotere, Women's Health

Chemotherapy: Round Six

Yes, I really did wear my birthday bunny onesie to the hospital yesterday. It had to be done, given Monday’s good news re: the BRCA gene result and then the fact that it was my final chemo session. And guess what? Not a single person commented! A few people looked me up and down with amused faces, but not even the oncologist batted an eyelid when I turned around to leave his office, revealing my white bunny tail! (Pippa Middleton, eat your heart out). Well, these people have clearly seen it all.

(That’s mother in the background beavering away relentlessly at her work – she never ceases.)

The day in hospital took a little longer than usual, but the chemo itself flew by. Nurse Alison was one of the best I’ve had yet and she managed to get the needle and cannula into my hand with the minimum of fuss, effort and pain, much to my relief. The ice torture wasn’t even as bad this time – I swear the gloves were warmer, or maybe I’m just getting used to it. There was a period of about 15 minutes with the second pair of fresh ice gloves when my hand was completely numb and I thought it was going to drop off, but the fact that I knew it was my final chemo made it all easier to bear.

The good news is the oncologist agreed with the geneticist that I don’t need to have the mastectomy operation. The combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and five years of Tamoxifen on my left breast is the equivalent of having a mastectomy, he said. Of course, there is much more of a risk of getting breast cancer on my right-hand side at some point, but if this happened, I could have the same treatment of surgery, chemo and radio again (God forbid this never, ever happens). And if I get a recurrence on my left side, I’d have to have a mastectomy then. He said the double mastectomy and reconstruction at this stage would be such a huge and fairly risky operation that my situation doesn’t merit taking the risk, so I shall now cast all doubts from my mind and concentrate on getting back to my life – a very, very happy day!

My blood count yesterday, even after two days of steroids to boost it, was still almost too low to have chemo, and the oncologist had decided that my infection and high temperature a couple of weeks ago were the effects of the chemo, so he has given me more steroids to take for the next few days, plus some other drugs to offset the side effects of the steroids, so this is the grand total of what I’m on at the moment:

– The Taxotere chemo itself

– Dexamethasone steroids (I’m in hot-flush heaven right now…)

– Once-a-day injection of Filgrastim for 10 days to boost my bone marrow/immune system

– Lansoprazole to offset steroid side effects

– Senokot to ward off the constipation

– A healthy cocktail of Co-Enzyme Q-10 and multivitamins

– Aspirins in a few days’ time when the pain sets in

– Tamoxifen starting in three weeks for five years!

Uff! That’s definitely the most drugs I’ve ever taken, I’d say!

So, the next steps… well, it’s not over yet. I have to go back to see the oncologist in 3 weeks for a check up. No doubt my blood count will be very low by then as it’s never recovered properly and I won’t be taking the steroids any more, but fingers crossed there’ll be no infections this time. Then I start taking Tamoxifen, the drug to reduce my oestrogen levels for five years, and in 3 weeks I also go to Dublin to meet the radiotherapy team.

Then, fingers crossed, radiotherapy in January and February, then back to see the surgeon in March, back to see the oncologist in June and so on and so forth returning to the hospital for the rest of my life!

I confess I had a bit of a sugar binge last night because I really felt the need for sugar and thought, if you can’t have some Haagen Dazs ice cream, ginger ale and prawn cocktail crisps on your final day of chemo, when can you have some Haagen Dazs ice cream, ginger ale and prawn cocktail crisps?! Plus, the oncologist is absolutely adamant that what I eat has nothing to do with my cancer so if it were left to him, I could just continue as normal. But I’ll give all those nutritionists the benefit of the doubt and continue with my healthy eating from now on…

Finally, thanks to Kimm and Howard, who sent me these gorgeous flowers about 20 minutes after I got my gene test result on Monday. Beautiful!

Now it’s off to rest for a few days… This bunny is DONE with chemo!

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BRCA1, BRCA2, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Genes, Genetics, Health, Mastectomy, Ovarian Cancer, Wigs, Women's Health

The Gene Test Result

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!)

Wig Party!

(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!

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BRCA2, Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Screening, Cancer, Food, Genes, Genetics, Health, Humor, Humour, Mammogram, Mastectomy, Toilet humour, Women's Health

The Five-Month Check-Up

Barely a day goes by without a trip to the hospital. The occasion yesterday was my five-month check up after my surgery.

“Five months?!” I hear you ask. Yes, really, it’s been five months since diagnosis, five months I’ve been sitting on my bum getting fat and being frequently stabbed by needles while the seasons have changed and you’ve gone from wearing your summer frocks to winter woolies (or vice versa, for those in the Southern Hemisphere.)

To offset the unpleasantness of a trip to the Christie Clinic (lovely though it is), we decided to treat ourselves to a three-course lunch at Jamie’s Italian in Manchester, which opened in February. I thought I’d take some of you (namely Fe, Linz and one or two others) up on the suggestion of food-blogging, since writing about my life online has now become second nature and replaced my 20-year habit of writing a private diary, so you can read the first post of my fledgling food blog here.

For those of you who can’t be bothered to click the above link, or simply don’t have enough time in your day, I hope you will instead enjoy these pictures of a burger and – the pièce de résistance – the Thomas Crapper loo.

I digress…

I thought the check-up was just to see if my boob scar was in order, but in fact it was also a breast cancer check – to see if any new lumps had emerged. They haven’t, thank God, but it turns out I have to have these appointments every four months for the first couple of years and then have checks (probably mammograms) at least once a year for the next 17 years until I actually hit the age where they start screening women routinely – 47. (And after that, presumably more of the same…)

This really made it hit home just how much cancer is going to be with me for the rest of my life. Talking to the surgeon and hearing about how important it is to keep checking whether the cancer has come back just reinforced how rare it is to have breast cancer at my age and how it could return at any time. I’ve gone from never going to hospital up to the age of 29, to making it practically a second home. Hey ho…

My gene test result is due any day now and will determine whether or not I have a bilateral mastectomy, so Mum and I saw the consultation as an opportunity to grill the surgeon, who I will most likely choose to perform my operation in the event that I need one.

He explained that muscle would be taken from my back in order to reconstruct my breasts after they are lopped off.

“But do I even have enough muscle in my back for that?” I asked, imagining two great chunks missing from my shoulder area…

“It’s the biggest muscle in your body,” he said. “But we would use implants as well.”

Ahh, I thought, thank God for that! They would also normally take fat from my stomach, he said, but (un?)fortunately, even after putting on 3kg, I’m pretty sure I’m not fat enough to produce a pair of 32Ds from my tummy flab.

“Are you managing to eat ok?” asked the surgeon.

“Oh yes,” I said, “In fact, I’ve put on weight.”

(I didn’t feel the need to tell him I’d just wolfed down an enormous cheese-and-red-meat-based lunch at Jamie’s.)

Meanwhile, I’m fast becoming a local celebrity, with the Huddersfield Examiner contacting me yesterday for an interview. I’m not sure exactly how they found my blog with just one obscure mention of a nightmare taxi ride from Huddersfield to Manchester, but nevertheless I shall endeavour to give them some kind of exclusive. I am as yet undecided as to whether to wear hot pants for the photo shoot, like I did last time I appeared in the Examiner, in 2004 (see link).

Happy weekend!

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

The Big Sugar Challenge: Day 14

Well, would you Adam and Eve it? A whole two weeks have passed since I decided to give up sugar. I know it may not seem like it because I stopped posting my daily consumption after I had my last chemo, but today is in fact the last day. As of tomorrow morning, I can eat chocolate again – yay!

So how did it go? Well, besides being rushed to hospital for a few days, the no-sugar diet itself went just fine. The chemotherapy had already altered my tastes and meant that I’ve been eating strangely for the past few months anyway, so the shock to my system wasn’t as great as it would have been. I have definitely wanted to eat sweet things, but funnily enough with the withdrawal of hard chocolate, I’ve been left desperate for the simplest and actually quite healthy things – for instance I would kill for a dark-chocolate-covered rice cake, and I almost cried last week when I could only eat the raisins out of my Graze box but had to leave these chocolate-covered apricots. I mean, apricots, for God’s sake! I don’t even like them that much! But they’re still sitting here, ready to be eaten tomorrow.

I haven’t especially noticed any effects – whether good or bad – of giving up the white stuff, but that is probably mainly because of the chemo. I have had lots of headaches, but again, probably the chemo. And I can’t say I am brimming with energy but that’s also most likely because I’m still on really strong antibiotics and and the after-effects of the chemo.

My Mum, on the other hand, was probably a better guinea pig for this experiment and I could tell she felt miserable a few times not being able to have chocolate. She also had a lull around day five or so where I thought she didn’t have any energy and was fed up having to eat bananas and nuts all the time. So, cutting out chocolate can also make you a bit miserable. (We didn’t really have to do this experiment for two weeks though really, did we?) My Dad is also doing the diet and for some strange reason it barely seems to have affected him. I’m not sure whether he’s secretly sneaking in loads of cakes, but I do know he had a can of lemonade when I went to hospital because he was worried about me. (We let him off).

The outcome of all this is that I still believe all the hype about how bad sugar is for us and how it’s one of the causes of cancer, so I’m definitely cutting down on it long-term. Though I believe going completely cold-turkey can make you much more tempted to eat sugar, so I’ll be allowing myself small amounts from now on.

Here’s the report on the minor cheating incidents:

1 glass of apple juice at home because Mum forced me to drink it (it would’ve been wasted otherwise)

1 glass of orange juice in the hospital because it was the only thing that could quench my thirst after the first night in the most stuffy, tropical room with a 38.6-degree temperature

Quarter of a tin of beans on my jacket potato in hospital out of sheer deperation

Clandestine sugar sprinkled on my porridge by the hospital

1 cup of Horlicks in hospital to try and help me sleep/get rid of the yucky chemo taste in my mouth

That’s it. I swear. I am too honest, really I am. No chocolate, no sweets, no packet food, no crisps, no hot chocolate, nada.

In case you have nothing else to do of a Thursday afternoon, here’s the list of stuff I ate for the last two weeks – some of it has been forgotten as I wasn’t writing it down every day but you get the rough idea. I think I ate an unhealthy amount of nuts to replace the chocolate…

DAY SIX (Wednesday)

6am pre-breakfast: A banana and four steroids.

9:30am actual breakfast: Porridge with blueberries, nuts, cinnamon and a cup of tea.

Lunch: Bowl of homemade cauliflower and almond soup with one slice of grain bread and butter. A flat white coffee.

Snacks: One cup of tea.

Dinner: Lamb chops, veg, mashed potato with an actual sprig of mint in it because I didn’t think I was allowed mint sauce.

Now that’s commitment! Bowl of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries and Greek-style yoghurt. Mint tea.

DAY SEVEN (Thursday)

Breakfast: Porridge and banana, one tea.

Snacks: One flat white coffee.

Lunch: Two boiled eggs on toast with some salad. A fruit tea.

Snacks: A punnet of black-pepper pistachios and one of savoury biscuits/cracker snacks. Ginger-lemon tea.

Dinner: Fish, potatoes, veg, 1 slice of bread. Several pancakes with fruit, cinnamon, lemon and Greek-style yoghurt. One tea

DAY EIGHT (Friday)

Breakfast: One slice of brown toast and Marmite. One tea.

Lunch: Minestrone and bacon soup with one slice of bread.

Snacks: A load of seeds and raisins and one green tea.

Dinner: Mushroom and bacon pizza with salad. One banana with Greek-style yoghurt. One tea.

Then I got rushed into hospital… And stopped taking track of what I ate quite so much.

DAY NINE (Saturday) – in hospital

Several hours and litres of saline through a drip.

Breakfast: A bit of porridge and banana and some mandarin segments. A cup of tea. A clandestine half-glass of orange juice.

Lunch: Half a tuna sandwich and a bowl of fruit.

Dinner: Jacket potato with cheese. More fruit.

Snacks: Cup of hot milk.

DAY TEN (Sunday) – in hospital

Several more hours and litres of saline.

Breakfast: Full bowl of porridge with clandestine sugar. Bowl of mandarin segments.

Lunch: Cod mornay with rice and broccoli. Bowl of fruit.

Dinner: Pasta with tomato sauce. And a cheese board.

Snacks: Half a bag of pistachio nuts, unsalted, and some more nuts and raisins. One cup of hot milk, one clandestine cup of Horlicks.

DAY ELEVEN (Monday) – in hospital

Loads more saline.

Breakfast: Full bowl of porridge with clandestine sugar. Bowl of mandarin segments.

Lunch: Some toast with chicken and bacon and a jacket potato with cheese and some clandestine beans. Bowl of fruit.

Dinner: Chicken in white wine sauce with rice and veg. Another cheese board.

DAY TWELVE (Tuesday) – in hospital

Breakfast: A slice of brown toast and butter and a bowl of porridge with a banana. Cup of tea.

Lunch: Beef bourginon with rice and sweetcorn and a bowl of fruit. Cup of tea.

Snacks: Flat white coffee.

Dinner: Chicken and mushroom pie, chips and peas.

DAY THIRTEEN (Wednesday) – back at home

Breakfast: Bacon sandwich with brown bread and fresh tomato. Cup of tea.

Snacks: Flat white coffee.

Lunch: Tomato and basil soup.

Snacks: Nuts and raisins.

Dinner: Fish, potatoes, veg. Mint tea.

DAY FOURTEEN (Today!)

Breakfast: One slice of brown toast with Marmite. One cup of tea.

Lunch: One boiled egg, one pitta bread, houmous, salad, balsamic vinegar, salmon.

Snacks and dinner: Nothing as yet, but I promise I won’t eat any sugar!

 

Has anyone else managed to do two weeks? Or almost two weeks? How’d you get on?

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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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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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