Rest & Recuperation

The last couple of weeks have been spent learning some special skills and how to adapt to being post surgery. This is because along with a certain level of discomfort I have what feels like a tight iron bar across my chest which restricts my movement.

The most important skill in the early days is the “Zen art of cushion placement”. As the strategic placing of various shaped and sized cushions is vital for a comfortable night’s sleep.

The second skill is use of a “grasper” ( you know, the metal rod with a claw at the end that you can use like a litter picker, to pick things up off the floor). Mine was invaluable, if only so that I could pick my mail up and read it. But one word of warning…do not drop your grasper to the floor as you then don’t have a grasper to pick it up with!

I also had to go around the flat and ask for all the items I might need to be brought down from up high, or up from down low so that I could reach them. This is when I realised how little worktop space I had in my kitchen! And in the kitchen was I think my biggest frustration so far. This was having a pack of sausage rolls to eat for lunch and then discovering that my oven door is so stiff that I couldn’t open it to cook them! Cheese sandwich is not a satisfactory substitute!

Another realisation was that I cannot put my tights on! As I am someone that does not own a pair of trousers this necessitated a quick online shopping expedition to buy some, as it’s pretty cold in November with bare legs!

I would also recommend in these early weeks not get hiccups…it’s not pleasant!

But on a positive note some of the after effects of chemotherapy are now starting to ease. I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover nose hair! Of course my eyebrows are growing back in the one place I don’t want them, and so as soon as they are long enough they will be plucked! And I now have enough hair to cast a shadow on my scalp and actually had some “bed hair” going on the other morning. The bad part of my hair returning is that it’s most lush growth is under my armpits, the one place I can’t get to at the moment!

This week I have seen both my surgeon and oncologist for post surgery check ups. My surgeon was very happy with how I am healing, but there was a build up of fluid that needed to be drained. Ten comedy size syringes later, 500ml of what looked like lager had been drained and I suddenly felt a lot less restricted across my chest!. Apparently my breasts weighed 2.4kg, and so with their removal and all the fluid my BMI is probably looking a lot healthier!

I proudly showed the nurses that not only had I been doing my daily exercises, and because of that had a relatively good range of movement, but I had also managed to wear a t shirt. It doesn’t sound a lot, but again it’s a step back to normality after wearing button up lumberjack shirts since my surgery.

My oncologist gave me some helpful advice on how to hopefully ease the last two remaining chemo after effects. To use Arnica on the cording in my forearms ( this is where the chemo has caused my veins to collapse) and Omega 3 fish oil to help the numbness from the chemo induced small fibre neuropathy in my left foot ( wasn’t that the title of a film?).

I will now be referred to the radiotherapy department for measuring, marking up and a three week course of radiotherapy.

I think I should mention the word prognosis at this point. I was, like many others I am sure, thinking that following pathology results the specialists would be able to give me an idea of what the future holds for me. But I have come to realise that what I was told at the beginning of this journey is so true:-

I am unique.

The cancer I have is unique.

The relationship between me and this cancer, is unique.

This means that no-one knows what will happen, there is no point in using statistics as they can only ever be a “guesstimation” and no other person’s experience will be the same as mine.

My doctors are using all the treatments that they know have been successful to cure me, I am keeping my positive attitude, and bless it, my 50+ year old body is doing very well with all that’s been thrown at it. So all of us together will beat this thing as I intend to claim the free bus pass that I have paid taxes for all these years!

Chemotherapy

When you are told that you will be having chemotherapy they give you a sheet that lists all the possible side effects. I thought this information would be the same as that enclosed in everyday medication that falls into the category of…”They have to warn us of all the possible side effects so that we don’t sue them if we are one of the rare people it happens to, but it’s very unlikely to happen to me”… How wrong could I be! Now I have completed my course of chemotherapy I went back to that list and realised that not only had I had most of them but they had left some off!!

Now it wasn’t all bad as I managed to avoid one of the most common side effects, of nausea, but I had stocked up with ginger biscuits and Jamaican ginger cake just in case I did!

On the subject of food I picked up a wonderful leaflet entitled “Eating well during your treatment“ which told me that I needed to keep my strength up, and not to lose weight. In this it stated that I should have full fat everything, add cheese to every savoury dish and cream to every sweet one. This became my bible! Sadly I think it was meant for those whose appetite had been reduced by nausea, as with my continued healthy appetite I put on a stone!

One of the biggest and surprising realisations I came to during this time was how important nose hair is! Once mine had gone I discovered that:-

  1. If I feel my nose is running I have to get a tissue STRAIGHT AWAY! This is because you do not have the luxury of a dewdrop, as there is nothing to hold it there! So, if your nose runs…catch it!

  2. I have never suffered with hay fever before, but my eyes were streaming throughout the summer season as there were no hairs to filter the pollen.

  3. And apologies for the graphic content of this one: As there is nothing to get in the way, your nose is filled with the biggest bogies I have ever seen (not that I studied them too closely of course!)

Talking of hair loss. One thing they don’t mention in any literature is that the hair on your nether regions is the first to go. I did ask one open-minded member of the hospital staff if a merkin is available on the NHS as well as a wig, but she didn’t know!

My head hair was the next to go, and unfortunately the hair cut I decided to have before my treatment started, as a halfway measure, served me badly! I had the side of my head trimmed to about a number 2 and kept it longer on the top…bad move!

What happened was that the longer hair on the top fell out first (and my fringe quite dramatically whilst I was hugging my partner, as when I pulled away I realised that my fringe was now hanging from the stubble on his face!)

This left me with a hairstyle like a monk, totally bald on top with a ring of hair left around the sides…this is when I started wearing a hat!

Ah yes, head coverings…

I got my NHS wig voucher and a “sensible” wig for work, but once I realised that I was not going to be able to work for most of the time I was having treatment I decided to have more fun! I now have a grey wig with black roots, a blue/black spiky wig, an ombre black/green wig and a beautiful manga style wig with a sharp cut fringe! Luckily the way I dress lends itself to hats as well and although I had a few already it gave me the wonderful excuse to buy more.

What I didn’t realise was that not all your hair goes. Most of my eyebrows have gone over the weeks like a case of creeping alopecia, but unbelievably I still have to pluck them as there are a few remaining stubborn ones that are still desperately trying to create a monobrow!.

This is also true of the hair on my head. I would be very happy to be bald but still have irritating bum fluff all over my head, which sadly during chemotherapy treatment you are not allowed to shave off. But at least the concern over whether my head would be ugly without hair has eased, having been told by many people that I have a good-looking head!

Luckily I have not had to have too many medical procedures in my life and so had never noticed that my veins are very deep-seated. This means that each time I go for a blood test, MRI, CT scan there is a struggle to find a good one! I decided to try to help, and for a while kept renewing a “Sharpie” mark I had made on my arm that pointed to my best vein! I made many a phlebotomist’s day by helping them this way.

Chemotherapy really messes with your digestive tract too. Some of the medication makes your rhythm speed up (if you know what I mean!) and others make it stop! So your poor insides just don’t know what to do. I became very adept at adapting my diet to match the circumstances. I found that beetroot is very good for speeding things up, and white bread and pasta for slowing them down. In addition the medication to protect your stomach from the chemo reduces the amount of stomach acid you produce. The practical effect of this is not good in social situations….as your intestines have to work harder to digest food, things get VERY noisy!. Conversations can be interrupted by gurgling noises worthy of any drain unblocker! I find strategic coughing helps or if you are lucky enough to have a pet you could blame it on them!

Introduction

As you can see from my blog title I do not conform to the usual stereotype of the gloomy Goth!

I have always tended to have a smile on my face and have used humour all my life to deal with whatever has happened to me, good or bad.

Well…I have been given a challenge now!

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March and will be having the whole gamut of treatments over this coming year.

This blog is a record of how I manage to keep a positive attitude and try to look for the humour in the new and strange world I have found myself in.

I know that my attitude will not be to everyone’s taste and the last thing I would want to do is demean or offend anyone that is going through this. It is just my own personal coping mechanism.

It would be lovely to think that I might brighten even one person’s day with my slightly different view, but I won’t lie, I am writing this blog mainly as it will give me pleasure and again keep my spirits high!