Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food, Health, Humor, Humour, Wigs

“Can I Touch It?” – Wig Etiquette & First-Class Train Woes

“Who’s this then?”

That is the question people often ask me as soon as they see me these days, referring to whichever wig or alter ego I am currently wearing. (The options being Brandi, Valerie, Candy Pink, Samantha, Tiffany, Joana or the very natural but chilly Sinead).

“Can I touch it?”

This was the not-quite-as-common follow-up question I was asked by a friend yesterday, fortunately in reference to the wig (Valerie) and not to my post-surgery breast. (FYI wig touching is fine, breast touching is usually not).

After very nearly cancelling because I felt so ill, I made it down to London yesterday for a quick trip to support superstar singer-songwriter Tom Figgins at his EP launch. The trip to London was brief, rainy and fun-packed and involved an interesting challenge as yesterday’s self-injection took place for the first time in a Starbucks toilet!

My short stay in the capital was also replete with gastronomic opportunities, my favourite of which was this chicken teriyaki hot bento box at Blossom, City Point.

It was all going well until I jumped on the train home from King’s Cross station yesterday. Unfortunately, the train before mine had been cancelled, so all 15 coaches’ worth of rush-hour travellers had to pack into my already busy train. This meant that every seat was taken and many people were standing, so my tried-and-tested infection-avoidance technique was about to be truly tested.

I have been splashing out a fortune on first-class train tickets whenever I go anywhere since starting chemotherapy because the first-class carriages are usually empty and thus I normally have a whole germ-free table or area to myself. This time, however, I was wedged into a corner surrounded by businessmen, people standing and – horror of horrors – a rather large lady with a dreadful cough, who squeezed into the seat right next to me. There was only one thing for it, I would just have to hold my breath for the entire two hours and avoid touching anything…

Not only that, but I had been wearing my wig for a few hours by the time I got on the train and was ready to take it off. To give you an idea of how uncomfortable wigs are, gentlemen, I’d say it’s like you wearing a bow-tie. Or a shirt and tie on the beach on a very hot day. Ladies, the equivalent would probably be wearing an extremely tight corset sitting down at the dinner table over a very large meal… or perhaps tights on a hot, sweaty summer’s day… or an uncomfortable pair of heels, maybe? Anyway, you get the hint – anything you want to take off at the earliest available opportunity.

So let’s just say I was a little bit distressed when I took my seat on the train and realised I’d forgotten to take my wig off in the loo before I got on. And you can’t exactly just peel your own hair off to reveal a bald head in front of a load of strangers in close proximity on a train – I mean, of course you can, but it feels like unwritten wig etiquette that you probably shouldn’t. It’s up there with applying your make-up on the tube (I know people do this – I personally struggle with the concept) or stripping down to your swimwear anywhere other than the beach. It’s fine to be bald in the first place, but the shock factor of wig removal is sure to make people feel uneasy.

So anyway, I was lodged in among seated and standing commuters, preparing to spend the next two hours holding my breath and grinning and bearing my uncomfy, tight hairpiece. Fortunately, just as I was starting to panic, coughy lady was asked to give up her seat to its rightful owner, who got on at the first stop, after twenty minutes. Peace and tranquility in my life were restored and I could finally exhale, even if I couldn’t take my wig off. Huge sigh of relief…

Here’s a photo of me awaiting the train to London, sans hair, with an enormous marshmallow-and-cream-laiden hot chocolate afternoon treat.

Chemo Update

It’s been a long and rather painful 10 days since chemo. The terrible aching bones lasted a few days before it started to ease off a bit and I thought that was it. Unfortunately, 24 hours later, the terrible aching pain was back and had just moved positions. The pain was all-over but for the first few days it was concentrated in my legs and lower body, making my knees and joints feel like those of an arthritic 100 year old. Then, by Monday night, it suddenly went to my back and upper body and I spent the night writhing in pain as I experienced what felt like sharp, shooting electricity volts going through my back constantly. This lasted for another day or two before finally easing off a bit by Wednesday. I then began Thursday with a tremendous wig-induced headache, which could only be eliminated with a very large cup of tea (the Paracetamols didn’t work!) And then finally, after the Starbucks toilet immune-boosting injection, the aching pain was pretty much gone but the all-over sore muscle pain (like you might have after a hardcore spinning class and a spot of weightlifting) returned. So I’ve been through the wars a bit, as my mother might say. I still feel quite crippled and still have the soreness, though it is gradually easing and is totally bearable compared with the aching. Oh, and I’m pleased to say my tongue has now gone back to a perfectly normal shade of pink!

I also have my 10th and final self-injection to do today, followed by 10 injection-free days – yippee! (I am now a total self-injection pro, by the way, and have been taken off the local district nurses’ system for good.) For my final post-jab treat, I will be digging something out of this delicious, retro sweet selection sent by the very kind and thoughtful Lizzie G.

Finally, one of my readers pointed out that he feels well-versed on the colour of my pee. I do appreciate sometimes I share a little too much information, but I must say that it’s purely for educational purposes and I know you can all handle it. The one thing I haven’t been sharing, and probably never will, is photos of graphic stuff like needles and yucky medical things. I am personally 100% squeamish, if you haven’t noticed, and don’t like looking at those images myself (or living the reality of them, for that matter) so I promise to keep the images in this blog as fluffy, happy and food-related as possible!

To prove my commitment to banishing thoughts of my multi-coloured pee, I leave you with this picture of my hot chocolate treat. See, dear reader, I am good to you! Happy Friday.

Standard
Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food, Health, Humor, Humour

Chemotherapy: Round Four

Four down, two to go. Almost two thirds of the way there! Elated doesn’t begin to cover it.

Today was by far the worst chemo session yet. The good news was that the steroids worked and the treatment was allowed to go ahead.

The bad news was that I felt so sick I very nearly puked all over myself in my chair and had to whip my wig off at top speed lest I vom all over the lovely Joana. (That’s another advantage of being bald/wearing wigs – you don’t need anyone to hold your hair back when you’re sick.) Fortunately, I managed not to spew and the new anti-sickness drugs eventually kicked in.

The biggest piece of bad news, however, was that I would have to wear special ice packs on my hands and feet for the duration of the chemo session to stop my nails from rising from the nail beds and falling off! (Grim doesn’t begin to cover my thoughts about this).

Words cannot describe how awful this was, but I’ll certainly have a go. I can only say it was like having your hands and feet pushed into a bucket of ice and not being allowed to move them for 1 1/2 hours as the ice is constantly topped up with freshly frozen cubes and you slowly lose all feeling in your extremities. I already have a low threshold for cold, despite being raised like a hardy northern sheep, and found the whole experience so deeply painful and uncomfortable that I almost didn’t notice the nasty drugs going into my arm.

As if that wasn’t enough, on the way home, after stopping to buy crisps to quench my sudden salt craving, we missed by the very skin of our teeth what would have been a crippling if not fatal head-on car crash. My already shot nerves were rather shaken by this point, and I pretty much shut down when the very aggressive driver of the other car tried to get out and start a fight with us. (Fortunately my father wisely drove straight on, concluding there were more important things to worry about.)

As soon as the crisps had gone down, I immediately craved vanilla ice cream and made us stop at Longley’s specialist ice-cream shop in Holmfirth, heart of Last of the Summer Wine country, for those of you who know what I’m talking about. We were just innocently eating our ice creams when we came across another car crash (the product of a very bright, sunny, cold winter’s day in Yorkshire) and had to stop in front of the police vans. Fortunately we were not involved in this particular collision and made it home safe soon after.

All in a day’s work then. All in a day’s work.

Standard
Breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Food

A Change of Chemo

Tomorrow is round four of chemotherapy and I am to start a different type of drug for the final three cycles of my treatment. My chemo regimen is known as FEC-T (or Fecked, as I affectionately call it). The four letters stand for four different liquid drugs that get fed into my veins each time I go to the day spa (or hospital, as it is more commonly known): Fluorouracil, Epirubicin (the dark red one that makes my pee a lovely shade of Tizer for 24 hours), Cyclophosphamide and then Taxotere, or Docetaxel.

I have proudly finished the FEC and tomorrow I start the T. Because of the problems I’ve had with my low blood count, the oncologist gave me a course of steroids that I began taking this morning to boost my white blood cells, so fingers crossed it works. Unfortunately, I now feel completely drugged up and groggy and weak after taking 16mg of steroids.

Because of the change of chemo drug, I can expect a few different side effects as of tomorrow. The main side effects are the same – sickness, extreme fatigue, vulnerability to infection, etc, but there are a few new ones such as dry, sore hands and feet and possible nail blackening (these were possible with my old chemo drugs but more likely with the new ones, apparently).

Hair loss remains a very common side effect of Taxotere so my locks won’t be growing back any time soon. The funny thing is, I still have a little hair on my head and it grows a tiny bit at the start of each treatment before breaking off again in the third week. My nails are growing super-fast, and my arm hair, eyebrows and eyelashes are exactly as they were pre-treatment. I would love to be able to understand why I lose all my hair in some places and not in others. (By the way, I’m certainly not complaining – my eyebrows and lashes in particular are welcome to stay as long as they like!)

I literally spent the first two weeks of my last chemo cycle gorging myself with food. I have always had an enormous appetite but I was eating even more than normal and not doing any exercise and started to feel really sloth-like. I was relieved, then, when I lost my appetite a little in the final week up to now. I also started doing daily walks with my Mum, so any weight I put on from stuffing myself I subsequently worked off by dodging muddy puddles and spiky bushes in the Yorkshire countryside. I am now eating like a normal person but I suspect once the steroids kick in I’ll resume eating for four.

I managed to survive another three weeks without getting an infection and finished off with an amazing weekend with my friends in London. It was refreshing to get away from being cooped up in bed and even more refreshing to have brunch and afternoon tea and gorge myself on delicious cakes before my appetite goes awry again tomorrow. I now feel absolutely exhausted though – partly the effect of the heavy dose of steroids I took this morning, but no doubt they will make me a total insomniac by tonight.

The Challenge

Unfortunately, I have a bit of an obstacle coming up. I promised a friend I’d go to an event in London on Day 8 after my next chemo, by which time I should be recovered enough for a quick trip, assuming chemo goes ahead tomorrow. It was only after I’d booked the train that I realised I’ll still require the daily immune-system-boosting injections at that point and thus I’ve left myself with no choice but to learn how to self-inject. Injecting a small needle into one’s stomach should be fairly straightforward, but the thing is, I’m completely incapable of inflicting pain on myself.

I tried to wax my own legs once. It was neither a pleasant nor a pretty experience. I am such a wimp that I ended up peeling it slowly off (which is a million times more painful, as we all know) before attempting to scrape off the rest of the sticky wax with a plastic scraper device. Needless to say, I made a huge mess and left myself with a sticky residue that then made my clothes stick to my legs. And of course, I ended up having to shave my legs anyway.

So, wish me luck with the self-injection experience!

Finally, thanks to Niki for the beautiful pink roses in aid of Candy Pink and her breast cancer-fighting efforts, and to Aunty Heather, who sent me an entire chocolate cake filled with some sort of delectable praline centre from Betty’s! I will make sure I help myself to an enormous slice of cake every time I successfully manage to self-inject!

Standard
Baking, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Cooking, Food, Uncategorized

Tom Yum Soup for My Soul

Spurred on by the hundreds of reruns of Come Dine With Me that I’ve watched since getting cancer and the three recipe books I’ve been sent from different friends and colleagues, I decided it was time for a bit of cooking therapy.

The Tom Yum Soup recipe from the Leon cookbook had been on my to-do list for more than two years. I must have some sort of an aversion to newness because I like to wait for things to get old before I use them. Whenever I buy new clothes, I wait at least two months before I wear them, ensuring that I am positively never wearing anything fashionable. It’s not something I do on purpose, it just sort of happens. It’s like I need a while to get used to the new thing being in my life and phase it in before showcasing it in public. I order books and DVDs on Amazon with alarming frequency, yet I rarely watch DVDs and I’m a slow reader, so the Mad Men box set waited almost 2 years before being watched (it was another year before it was watched to completion, but I am now fully up to date and ready for season 5 when it arrives on my doorstep next month).

Well, the same goes for cookery books. I even bookmark the pages of things I want to make, but it takes me years before I get around to making them. This entire syndrome is particularly heightened at the moment with the fact that I only have a one-week window in every three-week period in which I am even capable of getting out of bed to buy ingredients and cook something. (Fortunately, my mother is there with her apron on the rest of the time.)

And so it was finally the turn of the Leon Tom Yum Soup, and a salmon teriyaki dish from a Delia Smith online recipe. Soup is such a great thing to make when you’re sick and it’s cold outside. I particularly love Tom Yum soup in Thai restaurants so I had been looking forward to making this recipe for quite literally yonks. (Perhaps that’s why I wait so long, to build up the anticipation, like planning a holiday a year in advance). So I was disappointed when, after all my chopping and food-processing efforts, not to mention the time spent pounding up and down the supermarket aisles in search of ingredients (let me tell you, it is impossible to find such things as Sake and Mirin in Huddersfield Morrisons, and don’t even get me started on manioc starch), it turned out to be very bland and frankly not that tasty. The salmon teriyaki, on the other hand, was delicious, but unfortunately the above photo doesn’t do my presentation skills justice because I forgot to take a photo of the two nicely presented dishes and instead ended up being left with my own salmon, which had broken in half and which I hadn’t bothered to present in beautiful restaurant style.

Oh well. More cooking to come.

In other news, I received an email to say that I didn’t get a place in the 2013 London Marathon. This is probably a good thing. I applied in April, before I knew about the cancer, obviously, and have been applying for the last couple of years in the hope that I’ll eventually get a place. It would be pretty tough to run 42k in April after only finishing radiotherapy in February and having not run at all since June. But I might’ve given it a go. They are supposed to be sending me a raincoat as a consolation prize, but I have a sneaking suspicion I won’t get one because I entered as an overseas applicant, which is just downright rude. Anyway, it’s a good job I did the Buenos Aires marathon this time last year, checking that box just in time on my mental “Things to do before I’m 30” list. Things jolly well happen for a reason.

The postman has been busy, as per usual. Thank you to Martina for the amazing care package full of goodies for my ‘brain, body, indulgence and health!’ … And a belated thanks to George for the brilliant Neal’s Yard Remedies treats for my hands, nails and general wellbeing… And to her big sister Danie, aka Rouge, for another very creative card… And to Valdimir for the São Paulo postcard, reminding me of my former home and workplace! I feel like a celeb who gets sent loads of amazing free stuff all the time, it’s brill!

Finally, I just had the last of my 10 daily immune-system injections and am very much looking forward to having 10 whole needle-free days! Hooray for Fridays. Happy weekend, all.

Standard