BCSM, Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Emotional Health, Health, Humor, Humour, Manchester, MRI, Radiotherapy, UK, Uncategorized, Women's Health

The Trauma Trigger

It turns out the mere mention of the word ‘cannula’ (a thin tube inserted into the vein to administer drugs) is enough to make me cry.

IMG_2358I had gone to the Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester for my MRI scan – a routine check-up on my breasts that’s recommended for women under 40 because it’s more reliable and doesn’t involve harmful radiation.

I have never been one to dread scans or be afraid of them in any way. I sailed through 33 rounds of radiotherapy because it was just a case of going into a room, lying down under a big whirring machine and waiting. No pain, no dark tunnels. So, for my first ever breast MRI on Thursday, I breezed into the radiology department, all smiles and regular heartbeat, expecting to be in and out within an hour or so.

I just had no idea I was going to need a cannula. It was just a pin prick so they could insert some dye half-way through the scan, to allow my boob matter to show up on the images (or something). It was actually the smallest type of cannula available, used for babies, no less. (I say this so that you know just how much of a wimp I am).

But as soon as I heard the word ‘cannula,’ I burst into tears in front of the nurse, because to me, a cannula isn’t just a little needle-like thing. To me, a cannula is synonymous with chemo. Just a whiff of the saline going into my arm was enough to make me want to vomit, bringing with it all the traumatic memories of six months of chemo. The nights in the hospital when it took three different nurses to finally (and painfully) get a cannula into my hand, and the gut-wrenching feeling of those toxic drugs seeping into the veins…

IMG_2361The nurse handed me a bunch of tissues and told me a story about how she can’t go down the catfood aisle in the supermarket because it reminds her of the cat she lost three years ago. This story of association was supposed to make me feel better but, of course, she didn’t know she was talking to Cat Lady Supremo, for whom any tale of dead, unhappy or injured cats is enough to bring on the waterworks. So, naturally, that just made me feel worse.

So I lay there, horizontal, on the MRI machine with my face squashed into a squashy pad looking down at a white space, tears streaming down my face, cannula in arm, strapped to the machine, for about 40 minutes. As we all know, when you cry, your nose runs (especially when you’ve had flu for the last week), and when you’re lying face down, without the use of your arms because they’re strapped to a machine, there’s nothing you can do about it. So I lay and watched a large bogey slowly drip, drip, drip, along with my tears, until it finally hit the machine. I hope it doesn’t interfere with my results.

It really wasn’t a painful experience, and the staff in the hospital were amazing, but sometimes it just takes a trigger to bring back every horrible thing you go through with cancer. I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the past few weeks and I’ve been quite emotional.

The results won’t be back for a while yet, but hopefully it’ll be another all-clear. And – with any luck – I won’t have to go through all that again for another year.

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Depression, Emotional Health, Guilt, Health, Ireland, UK, Women's Health

Coping With Cancer’s Ugly Sister: Guilt

IMG_5313I’m one of those people who feels guilty about everything.

Guilty for buying a new dress instead of giving money to the homeless guy; guilty for reading girlie glossy magazines instead of the newspaper; guilty about spending Ā£2.40 on a coffee when I could make one at home for free. Guilty about having cancer.

To read the rest of this Huffington Post blog, please click the link below:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-price/coping-with-cancers-ugly-sister-guilt_b_2060752.html

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Dublin, Humor, Humour, Ireland, Radiotherapy, St Vincent's, Tamoxifen, UK, Women's Health

Boob Tattoos, 5-Centimetre Soup and 66 Grays of Radiation

“Boob Tattoos, Five-Centimetre Soup and 66 Grays of Radiation: A Radiotherapy Diary” – my latest blog for the Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-price/radiotherapy-diary-boob-tattoos_b_2759582.html

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Hair loss, Health, Humor, Humour, Wigs, Women's Health

15 Minutes of Fame in the Huddersfield Examiner

Today I had my 15 minutes of fame in the Huddersfield Examiner, the follow-up to my 2004 hotpant-clad debut, back before the online archives even began.

I’m pleased with Hilarie Stelfox’s article, which focuses on how I’ve used this blog and my Huffington Post blog to help me through the horrible cancer journey. The only minor issue, as one of you pointed out, is the rather unfortunate advert for some funeral services in the online version of the article (which they’ve said they’ll remove) but we’ll let it pass, in the name of good humour!

Click here if you want to read the article.

Since I know only about 2% of the people who actually read this blog are in the Huddersfield area, here’s a couple of pictures of the hard-copy version, which my Dad just went out and bought:

(I’m not overly happy with the bald pic, which I think makes me look a bit chubby-faced. But then I realised when I got weighed at the hospital yesterday and today that I have actually put on 5kg (ie almost 10% of my original weight!) since before chemo, so maybe I am just a little chubby-faced compared to what I was before!)

And the unfortunate funeral ad:

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Fertility, Health, Oestrogen, Tamoxifen, Women's Health

Project Tamoxifen 2017/2022

Tomorrow I will take my first dose of Tamoxifen – the drug that suppresses oestrogen production to keep the cancer from coming back. I have to take Tamoxifen every day for the next five years, so that’s 1,825 tablets, and if all goes to plan, I’ll take my last one around the 18th December 2017, when I’m 35 years old. A lot can happen in five years! That said, a recent article suggested that doctors could change the recommendation to 10 years of Tamoxifen to increase survival rates, so if that happens, I’ll be taking it until 2022, year of the long-awaited Qatar World Cup! (Perhaps I’ll get tickets and go along to celebrate).

The most common side effects of Tamoxifen are:

– Weight gain

– Increased risk of blood clots

– Hot flushes

So if I’m chubby, rosy-cheeked and wearing rather tight socks next time you see me, you’ll know why!

As I said, Tamoxifen is taken to reduce oestrogen in patients with oestrogen-sensitive breast cancer, like myself. It’s a funny thing, oestrogen. Right before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had been taking an oestrogen-only contraceptive pill. I am told the pill isn’t likely to have caused my breast cancer – it’s more likely to be genetic – but if I had known about the risks associated with oestrogen, coupled with my grandmother’s breast cancer, I may have thought twice about an oestrogen-only pill, not to mention the pill in general.

Among the more devastating things I’ve been told by oncologists since my diagnosis is that if I’d had children already, I probably wouldn’t have got breast cancer. This is because getting pregnant reduces your oestrogen production, and the more pregnancies, the less oestrogen. So if I’d had kids in my early 20s instead of doing all that travelling and working, perhaps I wouldn’t be in this situation. And now there’s a chance I won’t be able to have kids at all. Kind of ironic…! Still, I’m not complaining – I’ve had an incredible time since finishing school and if I’d had kids in my early 20s, I probably wouldn’t have seen or done as much as I have. So, no regrets…

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Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Cooking, Fertility, Food, Hair loss, Health, Humor, Humour, Taxotere, Women's Health

Chemo Day Two / Big Sugar Challenge – Day Five

Well, firstly I’ll start by saying congrats to Obama – I’m pretty sure my over-sized ice-foam baseball hands and feet helped him win. No need to thank me, Mr President.

So, day two of chemo and I’m not feeling too bad so far. I went for a walk to get some fresh air while I still have the use of my limbs (i.e. before the crippling joint pain sets in).

Daily Ailments:

1) My little pinkie feels like it’s been slammed in a doorframe. Unfortunately, I can’t tell whether it’s going black and about to drop off because I already have dark black sparkly nail varnish on it, so I’ll have to wait a week or so to find out whether I lose a finger or not. But what are pinkies good for, anyway? All I can think of is proper tea-drinking etiquette…

2) My face went all red and blotchy before bedtime last night. And I am having hot flushes. I am hoping it’s just an after-effect of the steroids and not – god forbid – the onset of an early menopause.

3) I am back on the daily self-injections… with no sweet treats to self-congratulate… yuck.

Great things about today:

1) My Mad Men Season Five DVD arrived in the post. Thanks, Amazon.co.uk – your timing literally couldn’t be better.

2) The Daily Mail reckons a glass of wine a day can help cure breast cancer. Don’t mind if I do…

3) After ignoring me for a few days, Nurse Molly is back to do her nursing duties and is preventing me from reading magazines by sitting across the pages. Her heart’s in the right place.

The Big Sugar Challenge

DAY FIVE (Tuesday)

(Note that I got a bit ahead of myself yesterday and called it day five when it was in fact day four – needless to say, I’ve gone back and corrected it. Apols).

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

8:30am actual breakfast: Bacon sandwich on grain bread with grilled tomatoes and a cup of tea. (Yum, thanks Dad, the most creative sandwich maker I know. Who needs ketchup anyway?)

Hospital lunch: Tuna sandwich on brown bread with salad, a fruit salad and a cup of tea. Four more steroids and a large dose of chemo… Bleurrgh!

Snacks: A few handfuls of pistachios, assorted nuts and raisins. Two more cups of tea (or was it three?)

Dinner: Spinach and ricotta tortellini with pine nuts, tomato and basil, broccoli and a dollop of Philadelphia for good measure. A glass of sugar-free cloudy apple juice (which I had said was not allowed but Mum reeeeally wanted me to drink it before it goes off…) Another cup of tea.

Snacks: Two savoury biscuits with cheddar cheese and butter.

Notes: Woke up at 6am today wanting a Cadbury’s Creme Egg like never before. Good job it’s November.

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

The Big Sugar Challenge – Day One

Back in 2005, in my final year of university in London, I attempted a complete detox. This meant going from drinking several cups of tea a day and eating a lot of chocolate and sweets (pretty much all day long to get me through exam revision and freezing cold temperatures at my Wolfson House halls of residence and the King’s College library), to living off fruit and veg.

The sudden cold turkey was a terrible shock to my system. As many of you know, I am pretty obsessed with food. I go to bed thinking about what I’m going to have for breakfast, wake up thinking about lunch and then obviously spend the rest of the day thinking about dinner. So, when I took away all the amazing stuff I usually ate (toast, pitta breads, cheese, meat, rice, potatoes, not to mention the chocolate, tea, coffee, sweets), the obsession was amplified to the power of 10 and I literally could not stop thinking about food.

Instead of finding something else to occupy my mind, I ate everything in sight, as long as it obeyed the list of “Yes” foods. This meant that I ate 6 bowls of pure-vegetable soup in one day, 5 bowls of porridge with honey, oodles of cups of fruit tea and plenty of extra veg. My 5-a-day became 25-a-day, and my concentration went out the window.

They say if you can get past the first 24-48 hours of a detox, you’ll suddenly feel like the most energetic, spritely elf in the world and will start bouncing around like a 3-year-old. Unfortunately, I didn’t get further than about 13 hours, at which point I vomited everything up, popped a few pills for my splitting headache and promptly gave up.

So I’m pleased to say that it’s been a little easier this time. Nothing like a bit of chemotherapy to prepare the system for all kinds of shocks! Here’s my food diary so far: (And I realise this is probably incredibly boring for some, so don’t feel the need to read on if you’re bored already).

DAY ONE (Friday)

Breakfast: One slice of grain toast with margarine and marmite. One cup of tea.

Mid-morning beverage: One flat white (espresso + milk)

Lunch: One of slice of serrano ham, 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 slice of grain toast no margarine, a pile of lettuce and vinaigrette (may have to check the label on that for next time), a pile of mozzarella balls, roasted red and yellow peppers and sun-dried tomatoes from Morrisons deli counter.

Snacks: Two bowls full of salted microwave popcorn (with no added crap) and two cups of green tea. And two slices of taster cheese from Morrisons. One normal cup of tea.

Dinner: Two homemade Jamie Oliver salmon fishcakes, minted peas, basil, tomato and chilli sauce and mashed potato. The rest of the packet of microwave salted popcorn and another cup of green tea.

Snacks: A handful of nuts and raisins.

The verdict:

I didn’t crave sweet stuff much at all today, but funnily enough I kept craving salt, hence finishing the entire 4-person bag of salted popcorn.

I realised later on that the salad dressing I used at lunchtime had a tiny bit of sugar in it, so I may have ever-so-slightly cheated there, but I’m switching to balsamic vinegar from now on.

So far, so good…

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

Saturday Night at the Hospital

I was always planning on a Saturday night in front of the TV watching the X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Jonathan Ross. I just wasn’t planning on watching it all at the hospital.

I had been getting the tiniest of nosebleeds on Friday night and Saturday and decided late Saturday afternoon to ring the chemotherapy hotline as I knew it could be a symptom of a low blood platelet count and I wanted to make sure I was ok.

Unfortunately, the nurse advised me that I needed a blood test and would have to go to the hospital to get it. My chemotherapy drug, Taxotere, can have a massive effect on the bone marrow and lead to reduced blood platelets, which could mean my blood failing to clot. I spoke to the oncologist, who also said patients usually start with a small nosebleed and then get a much bigger one later, so it was best for me to get it checked out. Since I have also had a little itchy rash on my neck for the past few days and this is another symptom of low platelet levels, I knew I should get it checked.

Unfortunately, I would require a platelet transfusion if my levels were low. Normal levels are between 150 and 400, according to a quick Internet search, and a platelet transfusion – which is different from a normal blood transfusion – would require an overnight stay at the hospital.

And so it was that I quickly packed an overnight bag and we set off last night towards the Christie in Manchester. We could have gone to A&E at a nearby hospital in Huddersfield, but I didn’t fancy waiting in a noisy room with the usual Saturday night crowd of drunken teenagers requiring stomach pumping and domestic violence victims. This turned out to be a very wise decision.

At the hospital I was given a very painful blood test – painful because my veins are no longer working properly and refused to give blood, and as a consequence I now have a huge bruise. So much for no more injections for 10 days!

We then waited for an hour while watching Strictly Come Dancing in a private room before getting my result. The result came back just before 9pm and the good news was that my platelet levels were ok (190) and I wouldn’t need a transfusion – PHEW! The oncologist was satisfied, but unfortunately he wanted me to wait to see a doctor before I could leave, and this meant waiting for an on-call doctor who had to see all the emergency cases before she could see me.

Two and a half hours later, the on-call doctor arrived. She was much younger than myself and ran through a series of tests and questions on pretty much everything I could imagine. Finally, at 11:30pm, I was given the all-clear and could go home. The whole trip took six hours. Although we missed dinner, I know I should count myself very lucky that I got to sit watching X Factor and Jonathan Ross in a comfortable private room instead of sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a possibly blood-drenched A&E room at the local public hospital.

So, just a typical Saturday night…

The silver lining was that the clocks went back last night so when we arrived home at 00:30, it was actually only 23:30 and we could all have an extra hour in bed. And, to make up for the missed dinner last night, I just had a large sirloin steak for Sunday lunch and – as an extra special treat – a small glass of red. I’m sure the red meat and wine will help boost my platelet levels, right?

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