Archives for posts with tag: chemotherapy

Hair growth June 2014I 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.

But those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will know that Sunday 22 June was the two-year anniversary of my diagnosis, so it was high time for an update, which you can read on the Huffington Post website.

Here’s a preview:

For the last year and a half, I have taken a photo of myself almost every day using an app to track my hair growth. I started three months after chemo finished, which is why I look like a baby chick in the initial pics. I also went make-up free in all the photos so that I could track my eyelash and eyebrow growth – a whole year of no make-up selfies, if you will.

In other very brief news, I did a talk at a school in north London the other week to teach young women about breast cancer awareness. I wrote a few words and stuck a few pictures up on the Boobette blog, which tracks the work of all the other lovely ambassadors for CoppaFeel!

I’ll be back with another post in a few months when I have my two-year MRI or mammogram, but until then please assume no news is good news.

Boobettes June 2014

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

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

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

Merry Christmas all!

IMG_4596What an extraordinary week. In a good way.

After a very tough month (surely there should be some kind of referendum to abolish January?), things are finally starting to get better and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The main triumph of the week was giving up my wigs and unleashing my bald, slightly fluffy head to the entire world. Although the final result has been liberating, it certainly wasn’t an easy move. In fact, from Monday to Wednesday I ditched the wigs but instead wore a bright red woolly hat that I’ve had since I was about 16.

IMG_4482After three days of having an itchy and sweaty head, I finally felt semi-ready to ditch the Paddington Bear/ Little Red Riding Hood look and whap out my naked head to the entire office. And, believe me, ‘naked’ is the operative word.

You see, bearing your bald head all-of-a-sudden to an office of 400 people is very much like walking around the office in a bikini. Or your underwear. It feels disconcerting, uncomfortable and very, very scary. And ‘self-conscious’ is certainly an understatement.

But, fortunately, by Thursday, two males in the office (one gay, one straight and married) told me respectively that I look ‘sexy’ and ‘much better’ with my bald head than with my wigs or hats. And, I know it might not seem like it, but that meant an awful lot.

IMG_4548It also helped that some kind soul had posted a very uplifting message on the mirror of the ladies’ toilets on my floor, so I get told I look FABULOUS every time I go to the loo. I think I might make one of these posters for my bathroom mirror at home as well…

Saturday night, I was ready for a bit of a night out, despite feeling exhausted, and I would have probably gone back to wearing a wig for extra confidence, had I not been told about a live music night called “Shave or Dye” to raise money for the Irish Cancer Society. It’s part of the “Punks Vs Monks” fundraising event in Ireland and basically does what it says on the tin – you go along for the night out and either shave off or dye your hair to raise money for charity. Naturally I decided to attend the event with my naked scalp in tow, assuming I would fit right in.

IMG_4601Unfortunately, there weren’t actually any takers for the head shave, and I was still the only woman in the pub with a bald head. It was still completely worth it, though, because everyone assumed I had shaved my head for charity and I became the heroine of the evening. One woman said “Wow, your hair looks amazing!” as she passed me on the way to the loo, and another high-fived me and shouted “Did you get the full head?!”

IMG_4605On the eyebrow front, I burst out in tears of joy earlier in the week when I noticed there were some 30 or so tiny little eyebrows starting to sprout on both sides. In the picture to the left, you can see my original eyebrows circa May 2012, and my current eyebrows, circa three days ago (sans make-up). As you can see, I still have a few stragglers, but nothing like the caterpillars I had before. But what you can’t see is the tiny little shoots that are starting to grow, and bringing me infinite joy.

IMG_4534Also bringing me infinite joy this week was the massive package full of goodies I received all the way from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Through the online cancer support groups I’ve joined recently, I have met a number of women in their late 20s and early 30s who are also going through the horrible experience that is breast cancer. One of these girls is Heather, who is even younger than me, at 29, and was diagnosed around the same time as me. Not one to sit on her arse and moan, Heather set up “Fighting Fancy,” which sends out boxes full of amazing, useful goodies (mascara, hair-strengthening shampoo, etc) for women all around the world going through chemo. (Or those who have just finished it, like me). I was the lucky first ever Dublin recipient of a Fighting Fancy box and it very much brought a smile to my face, so thank you, Heather.

IMG_4550Finally, this week hailed my ‘Not Birthday’. On February 2nd, for some curious reason, I received not one, not two, but three birthday cards. And it was definitely not my birthday.

The date was 8/2, and my birthday is 2/8 (Aug 2nd) but by total coincidence two friends sent me cards that day that had the words “Happy Birthday” crossed out inside, and both of them wrote “I didn’t realise this was a birthday card when I bought it, soz”. And a restaurant sent me a discount voucher because it was my birthday.

IMG_4604So, with 28 rounds of radiotherapy down and only 5 remaining, I’d just like to wish myself a very Happy ‘Not Birthday’! I think this calls for some cake…

So, tomorrow marks exactly one year to the day I found a lump in my left breast: Saturday, 4th February, 2012. For those of you who’ve only recently started reading this blog, I’ll go back to the beginning.

I was living in Buenos Aires this time last year when I went to northeast Brazil on a surfing holiday. It was just after I checked into the beautiful beachside guesthouse that I lay down on the bed and, somehow (I’m still not sure how), I discovered the lump.

Now, I’m aware that for anyone who has never found a lump, it may be difficult to imagine what one looks like, so I thought for the first time I would show you a couple of photos I took just before my surgery last June. (Please excuse the blurry, red face – I had probably been crying as I bid goodbye to my boob in its original state.)

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If you look closely, you should be able to make out the bump in the skin on the right of the photo. It is bruised because I’d had the core biopsy a week or so earlier (where the giant needle is inserted into the tumour to take a sample). But, as you can see, it wasn’t like a massive bump sticking out of the breast, nor was it a different colour from the rest of my body, nor did it have any other outwardly visible characteristics.

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I thought it might be helpful for people to see that my cancer didn’t come with a glaring neon pink sign that said “Hey, here I am – a big fat tumour just waiting to kill you!” No, it was much more subtle. Cancer is sneaky and sly. It often hides itself away while it quietly spreads around your body and waits for you to notice the more glaringly obvious symptoms.

That said, breast cancer comes in many shapes and forms. The symptoms can be anything including a lump, a dry patch, discharge from the breast, discolouration, swelling, or any change in size or shape. And it’s important to feel around the whole area – armpits included – because the cancer might not be in the main protruding part of the boob.

So that’s what happened exactly a year ago tomorrow. I had cancer and I didn’t even know it. I went to the hospital straight away for tests and was told by the Argentine doctors that it was a benign tumour (I.e. not cancerous). After the misdiagnosis, I continued living my life as normal until June 22nd, when I finally got the correct diagnosis in Ireland. I’m forever thankful to my then-boyfriend and my mum, for being the two people who insisted I get a second opinion. Without that, who knows what would have happened?

Fast forward to 2013 and radiotherapy continues to go well: 23 down, 10 to go. I think half the people at work don’t even realise I’m going out for radiotherapy sessions every day, so at least I appear normal.

That said, as you can see below, the hair growth is still painfully slow. (FYI, today’s eyebrows are brought to you with a normal eyeliner pencil, because I came back to Huddersfield for the weekend and forgot my eyebrow make-up. Someone get me a stylist, please!)

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I’m currently trying to pluck up the courage to stop wearing my wig to work. There may be an opportunity to ‘break people in’ at a fancy dress party on Friday. The theme is 90s. I was thinking of copying a fellow breast cancer blogger, Dee, and going as a 90s-look Sinead O’Connor. But I don’t think it really fits in with what the rest of the partygoers are planning to wear. Also, it’s slightly absurd to think of going to a fancy dress party as Sinead O’Connor, just to feel brave enough to show my bald head, when everyone knows I’m bald underneath the wigs anyway! So maybe another week and I’ll do it. Or maybe a bit of alcohol is needed for Dutch courage? Maybe a few shots of tequila before work? (Actually that might not be the worst idea I’ve ever had – the drunkenness might deflect away from the baldness…)

Apart from that, there’s no real radiotherapy news. I am still quite sleepy but otherwise managing to do everything as normal, and getting 9 hours of sleep every night. (Previously unheard of in my life – another silver lining to having cancer.)

Being back at my parents’ house after a month is a bit weird. The drive home from Manchester airport on Friday night was the same drive we did home from the hospital after every chemotherapy session, and going over the Yorkshire moors I felt a slight pang of chemo-familiarity-associated sickness. Then the same again when I put a glass of water on my bedside table and got a flashback of putting a banana next to my bedside table so that I could wake up at 6am and eat it with my chemo steroids. Yuck. It’s only been two months, but these chemo flashbacks are likely to stay with me for a long time. Fortunately, it hasn’t completely coloured my time back at home.

Well, that’s it for today. This time last year I had cancer. Now I don’t. Thank goodness I found that lump.

18 down, 15 to go…

Technically, that means I’m more than half-way through my radiotherapy sessions, but I still have 1-2 months of lethargy and sore skin ahead of me. Still, at least there are only 15 more hospital visits to go, and I’ll be particularly glad to say good riddance to the late-night trips to St. Vincent’s! (A lot of my radiotherapy sessions are after 8pm because the machines are in maintenance during the day).

After three weeks of feeling spritely, it’s safe to say the tiredness has officially kicked in. It hit me like a brick wall mid-last week and I’ve been feeling sleepy ever since. It’s not quite into the realms of chemotherapy exhaustion, but my eyelids feel heavy and I can see myself becoming partial to afternoon naps. In a month’s time I may be like a walking zombie. On the plus side, though, my skin is still only very slightly red and I’m not feeling any soreness from the radiotherapy.

The highlight of my week was when a lady asked me how I did my eyeliner. As all of my girlfriends will testify, I have never been able to do make-up, particularly not eyeliner, so the lady’s question came as something of a small triumph to me. Fair enough, she was a lady in the hospital, whose husband was having radiotherapy, and not some fashionista on the streets of Dublin, but nevertheless I gave myself a small pat on the back. If having cancer has taught me nothing else, at least it’s shown me how to do eyeliner.

Other highlights of the week involved the radiotherapy computer breaking down and causing a waiting-room backlog, sparking a rare conversation among patients; witnessing 13 seconds of snow in Dublin from the office window, while all my friends and family in the UK had several inches of the stuff; being caught in a horizontal hailstorm that materialised just moments after perfect blue sky and sunshine earlier today; and being told by the heavy-accent Irish guy who came out to fix my TV that I have a ‘tick accent’. Other than that, it’s been pretty uneventful.

On the hair-front, IMG_4351I was afforded the opportunity for a rare back-of-head shot this weekend, on account of having a visitor from London, so I seized the chance. IMG_4424As you can see, I do have a bit of hair, but it’s slow progress. The good news is it’s growing back brunette, rather than grey or ginger. (I’ve mentioned previously that people’s hair can grow back a completely different colour after chemo, and very often grows back curly before it goes straight).

As you can see in the second photo, I still have plenty around the sides, including the partial resurgence of the famous Pricey sideburns, but still no sign of anything on top. (Please excuse the eyebrow situation – a result of the aforementioned horizontal hailstorm).

The green shoots, it seems, are appearing in all the wrong places, as I realised this morning I suddenly have rather hairy legs. Seriously?! Firstly, it took me just three weeks to lose every strand of hair on my head, yet pretty much every strand of hair on my arms remains strong and sturdy, 6 months after starting chemo. And then, just when I want my head hair to grow back in a hurry, I go and get hairy legs! Where is the justice? I’m going to have to start shaving again!

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