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
So I just had my bi-annual check-up with the surgeon who saved my life and I’m pleased to say it’s all good.
It was just a manual examination – no scans, no cannulas, no tears this time – but for some reason it seemed more thorough than the last time and I felt quite satisfied.
Anyway, Dr Lifesaver seemed very pleased (‘Your scars have healed so well! You can barely even see the armpit one.’) and told me to come back in October for my next MRI scan. (Well, it’s not actually that simple – he said I have to come back and ask him to write another letter to the NHS board asking them if I can have another MRI, so it’ll probably be Christmas by the time I have another one, but anyway).
I have a different hospital appointment next week for a separate chemo/Tamoxifen-induced problem that I shan’t go into, but after that, no more hospital trips until July, when I see the oncologist again. Hooray!
As you can see, my hair has grown a bit since last time I wrote. It’s not actually as long as it looks in this hospital-gown selfie – it’s just got volume today because I went to sleep with it wet and woke up with a semi-Mohican (as happens most days). It is also getting mullet-like at the back again and needs a bit of a trim.
But the good news is I’m *almost* back to my pre-chemo pixie. I think it’ll actually be two entire years after my pixie cut (August 2012) by the time it grows back to that length, which is insane. But my latest theory is that if my cancer cells grow anywhere near as slowly as my hair cells then hopefully they have NO CHANCE.
Oh, and I figured I could get away with today’s headline since yesterday was apparently National Yorkshire Pudding Day. Didn’t know it was a thing? Nope, me neither. But fortunately I have a bezzie who knows these things and thankfully she was on hand to cook me a truly splendid Yorkshire roast. So it is, indeed, all gravy.
I forgot the one-year anniversary of my last chemo. Yep, it passed by completely unnoticed on November 27 and it took a whole week before I realised. That I could forget my own “Chemo-versary” is some serious progress.
The funny thing is I’ve been forgetting a lot of things recently and it could be down to chemo killing my brain cells. Over the last year or so, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “Chemo brain,” a post-treatment loss of memory, concentration and general brain-scattiness.
I’ve always put my own memory loss down to age and other factors, but lately I’ve been forgetting more than usual. So whether it’s technology overload, the onset of my 30s or a side effect of the treatment, I don’t know. But it would be pretty ironic if chemo brain made me forget my own chemo, wouldn’t it?
The good news is, while I may be a few brain cells shorter than when I began, I’ve grown a lot of hair in the mean time.
A few weeks ago I had my third hair-cut since chemo (the second one went unmentioned on this blog because it was awful and made me hate my hair for an entire two months). As you can see from this pic, the lovely Irish hairdresser did a great job.
Despite its growth at the front though, it’s still looking pretty thin and baldy on the top. My eyebrows are also still pretty much non-existent underneath the make-up and I don’t know if they’ll ever grow back. Having spent a fortune on eyebrow-growth products with no results whatsoever, I’ve now decided just to let nature take its course.
If I was in any way feeling sorry for myself about my winter flu and thinning eyebrows, last week saw me put firmly back in my place at a thank you party organised by my favourite charity, CoppaFeel! Every time I see or hear from the amazing founders, Kris and Maren, I am reminded of how incredibly lucky I am to have come out of cancer virtually unscathed, with my life and health in tact.
The rather glamorous party was a celebration of the first four amazing years of the charity set up after Kris’s diagnosis in 2009 that has since helped so many young people and spread a very important message about knowing our own bodies.
There were speeches from Kris and Maren as well as the lovely Dermot O’Leary and a most inspiring young lady called Sarah Outen, who won an MBE after sailing the Indian Ocean all by herself. There was also a performance from Newton Faulkner, another proud boob champion who was thoroughly delightful in the flesh, and I got chance to catch up with loads of inspiring ladies my own age who have all had breast cancer too.
Though I’ve been feeling thoroughly under the weather and exhausted of late, I have to say this event cheered me right up and put everything very much into perspective.
In memory of my “chemo-versary,” I’ll be posting a blog for Vita magazine in the next few days with a few tips for people going through chemotherapy, so stay tuned for that. Otherwise, I suspect this will be my last blog of 2013 so I’ll leave you with a pic of me and my festive attire and wish you all a very merry Christmas.
Long after chemo ends, a strange and somewhat unexpected thing happens in the post-cancer world: You grow a mullet. Yes, a mullet, that most glorious and beautiful of haircuts only sported in modern times by Argentine footballers and, er, people who are growing their hair from scratch after chemo.
That’s right, while several months ago I was told I looked like the Mexican footballer Chicarito, I recently found myself bearing a closer resemblance to Messi.
There was only one thing for it: the mullet had to go.
So, a year and a month after that fateful pre-chemo haircut that turned me into a PFF (Pixie Fan Forever), I finally got my first post-chemo haircut. In Vietnam. For £5. A bargain at the price.
It had been a long time coming. My hair has grown so slowly I didn’t even think it was worth a trim, but after detecting one too many disapproving looks from fashionable friends and acquaintances, I decided it was time to nip the fast-developing mullet in the bud.
I’m delighted with the results, only I still have The Bald Patch. Everyone keeps telling me it’s not actually a bald patch, “it’s just the way it’s growing on top” or “it’s just a bit thin there, that’s all,” but I’m still not convinced. It looks like a bald patch to me. (In the below pic, the bottom right is the before pic and the others are all after.)
Anyway, bald patch or no bald patch, I honestly could not care less. I’ve never been a girlie girl or a hair straighteners girl, but I now care even less than ever about being perfectly groomed. I am absolutely delighted to have a full head of (albeit very short) hair, but beyond that, and far more importantly, I am still unbelievably grateful and relieved that I’m alive and healthy. Not a single day goes by where I don’t worry that the cancer will return. And I’d happily have a mullet and a bald patch for the rest of my life as long as I don’t have cancer.
Next week, I return from Vietnam to have my long-awaited MRI scan at the Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester. The MRI is recommended for women under 40 because it’s more reliable (and less harmful) than a mammogram, so the results are very important to me. I’m quite certain there’ll be nothing untoward on the scan, but it would be fantastic to get a definitive all-clear. And then hopefully, just hopefully, I’ll really have something to celebrate.
This week I gave my first breast cancer awareness talk to a class of young women at Notre Dame school in south London. It was my first experience as one of the ‘Boobettes,’ a group of young women who’ve all had breast cancer or some kind of scare and who are now helping Coppafeel! spread the message to boys and girls around the UK to check their boobs.
I did the presentation with Jo, a fellow breast cancer survivor who had the disease at the remarkably young age of 21 and who is doing fabulously now, 15 years later. I talked about my personal experience while Jo talked more about the charity. The teenage girls were very receptive and asked everything from “Do you sometimes have to have your boob chopped off?” to “Are you going to be able to have children?” Ah, life’s big questions! Let’s just say I got a proper grilling, but I didn’t mind.
The next day, I got some results back from a blood test I’d had earlier in the week at my local doctors. It was my first blood test since December, and I was quite alarmed to discover that my blood counts have not returned to normal since finishing chemotherapy. My white blood cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes are still lower than they should be, meaning my immune system hasn’t returned to normal and I’m not quite the strong ox I thought I was. There’s nothing I can do to raise the blood counts, but my GP is writing to my oncologist to see if anything needs to be done. Given that I haven’t had so much as a cold since before Christmas, I thought my immune system must be pretty strong, but maybe I’ve just been lucky.
Meanwhile, my hair has been growing pretty nicely and is starting to look a bit like my Dad’s. If I don’t comb it down when I get out the shower, it sticks up hedgehog-style, so here’s a pic of me post-shower and au naturel, with Pricey Senior. Also note my make-up-less eyebrows, which are still a shadow of their former selves but slowly, slowly getting there. (The eyelashes, on the other hand, are pretty much back to their pre-chemo state).
This morning I did my final bit of training for the 10k Race for Life I’m doing in London next Sunday (14th July). I practically killed myself running up and down the hills of Yorkshire in 25C heat today and I haven’t managed to run 10k in less than an hour yet, but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. If you’d like to sponsor me and Team Stylist 10 to raise money for the all-important life-saving charity that is Cancer Research UK, please click here.
Finally, I thought you might like to see this picture of me after my first post-treatment 3k run (in the snow) in February, vs. my third 10k run (in the boiling sunshine) today. Evidentally I’m not looking quite so much like a cancer patient these days. Cancer, we’re coming to get you!
“Baby hairbrushes are like buses. You can’t find one for months and then five come along at once!” — Laura Price, breast cancer survivor and baby-chick hairstyle advocate.
Baby hairbrushes really are like buses. Those of you who read my last blog post will know I’ve been looking out for one to tame my nascent but increasingly unruly tresses. I bought one years ago at The Body Shop for my baby niece, but alas, they discontinued the product and I couldn’t find one at my local Boots either. So I issued a call on my blog for advice on where to find one. What ensued was an unprecedented flood of recommendations: online links to baby hairbrushes and combs and advice from mums and breast cancer gals alike from around the globe.
Without further ado, I clicked on one of the links and ordered a teeny-tiny soft hairbrush last Sunday night. So I was surprised when I arrived at work Monday morning only to see my very thoughtful colleague Joana bounding over to my desk to present me with a lovely baby hairbrush-and-comb set she had found in a much better stocked Boots. And then I got home to England on Thursday and of course, Mummy Price had bought me a baby brush too. So now I have three! It’s a good job I have an army of pregnant girlfriends to avail of these surplus hairbrushes once their sprogs are born and my locks are flowing once more…
So, Thursday hailed my return to a very snowy England for the nine-month check-up with my surgeon at the Christie Clinic in Manchester. It’s hard to believe it’s actually been nine months since that fateful day when I went under the knife, but somehow it has.
The appointment didn’t exactly go to plan, with the hospital emailing me at 11am on the day to tell me that actually the surgeon wasn’t going to be in and would I mind changing it to next week? Naturally, I kicked up a fuss as I’d had the appointment in my diary for six months and had booked flights months ago. Thankfully, they managed to squeeze me in under another surgeon, so off I went to Dublin airport for the 35-minute flight.
Arriving in Manchester was a bit like landing in an alpine ski resort, with more snow over the hills than I have seen in the UK in my entire life. (Turns out it’s the most snow since 1979, before I was born.) The drive home across the Yorkshire moors involved bright blue sky and roads flanked by three-metre-high snow drifts. I’m quite grateful I had my chemotherapy during the summer, because I wouldn’t have fancied making the 1.5-hour trek through the snow every time I needed an impromptu mid-night blood test!
To the left are pictures of the snow that greeted my parents’ on their front doorstep a week ago and the cat (Tilly) contemplating whether or not to brave a garden expedition. (As a side note, for those of you who’ve followed this blog since the very beginning, Nurse Molly and Tilly are both doing most excellently. Molly has taken a well-deserved break after being my chemo companion for six months and has decided to sleep for the rest of 2013.)
Happily, everything was just as fine as I had expected with my boob (see? No need to worry!). Because of the scar tissue, my breast can feel a little lumpy to the touch (but only in a totally attractive and sexy way, you understand) and I was reassured to know that this was indeed just scar tissue and not further cancerousness.
However, I did inquire about a tiny little ball-bearing-sized lump under my armpit that appeared after the surgery and has grown slightly, and it turns out it’s a sebaceous cyst that will need to be removed. I am reasonably convinced it came from the days post-surgery when I had surgical adhesive goop stuck all over my armpit area. In my very humble and highly experienced medical opinion, this must have blocked the pores and led to the little cyst. In any case, it’s absolutely no cause for alarm, nor is it dangerous, but nevertheless I’ll have to have a little procedure to get that removed back in Dublin.
Anyway, that’s a relief. Back to the hospital next week for another check-up after the radiotherapy. Now on to more important missions: there are Easter eggs to be eaten and snowmen to be made. (Okay, maybe I won’t do the latter…)
My latest blog post for Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita Magazine:
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.
After 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.
It 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.
Unfortunately, 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?!”
On 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.
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.
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.