Category Archives: Chemotherapy

The Good Life (nearly 3 years after chemo)

So three years ago, this is what I was blogging about: wigs,coping with losing my hair to chemo, celebrating that I just had my fifht round of treatment, my frustration at not being able to do chemo on time and my stay at the hospital due to being neutropenic. You can read it all here.

Three years on and my life (and hair after chemo!) looks quite different that it did then. For one I have moved back home to Barcelona, best decision ever. I have met a wonderful man and a great dog, who are now my family and who make me oh! so very happy. I have an exciting job. I am finishing my PhD. And I am hoping to have children in the future. In short: I like my life.

So while this is great and lovely, it is also terrifying. It appears sometimes that the happier I am the more fearful I become of my cancer coming back. For those who have had cancer, you know how much of a life changing experience it is. Emotionally it wrestles you to the ground, it makes you re-asses your values your priorities and it can often push you to the limit. It brings home how fragile life really is. It confronts you with death. From a practical point of view, don´t even get me started: hospital appointment after hospital appointment after…well you get the point.Your day to day life and routine may also significantly change, being absent from work, not being able to go to the gym or losing (some) of your social life. And the thing i that I love my life and I hate the idea that cancer may come back and take this away from me. Please cancer, stay away.

And this is what I have been up to since my last post in June and what my hair after chemo looks like, nearly 3 years on from treatment. This is why I am happy.

Raoul and I did the anual 10k run in our neighbourhood

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My little brother (yes brother, not nephew) is growing up so fast. He is simply gorgeous.

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I did the women´s race in Barcelona, along with my friend Vicky who makes the cutest plushies and many other things over at Anda Panda. Big fan of her work.

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One of my best mates came to visit over from London. Friends are the best. Particularly Fausto.

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Aby loves being on my lap. And I love her being on my lap. What you call a win-win situation.

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And last but not least, the man and dog who help me through my darkest moments. Meet the family.

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Chemo number 4 coming

So after a long, long wait chemo number 4 is finally arriving! It’s been so long since I last had treatment that my hair has started to grow back and I now have a shaved head, rather than a bald one. I was never brave to go outside bald, but I shaved off my hair before chemo and loved it. So I am going to be leaving the wigs at home sometimes now (although hair may go again after next chemo). Look!

Hair has really grown back since last chemo!

Ok. I am officially obsessed with hair. Have you noticed? You’d think given what is going on I’d focus on the “more-important-things”. Pssst. I think that it is because I cannot see the side effects of chemo on the inside, the way the drugs are stopping the rapidly reproducing cells to stop doing so.  But I can see the effects that chemo is having on my exterior, on my outer shell. And that involves mainly hair, or lack of. I have been very lucky so far and have not had the nasty side effects that chemo can have on you: mouth ulcers so painful you cannot eat. Extremely sensitive gums. Changes in your taste buds (either by messing up your sense of taste or by stopping you from tasting anything). Metallic taste in your mouth. So really the only thing to talk about is hair. Because really you don’t wanna know about the tiny mouth ulcers i had on my tongue a couple of times. Or how for a few days my gums did feel sensitive. Or the uncomfortable heart burn I suffered for a week after each chemo. None of them were drastic enough to talk about.

What was pretty drastic was my last chemo session, number 3 and thus the one that took me to being right in the middle of my treatment. I had it on a monday and it wasn’t until the saturday that I left my bed. On that occasion I managed a 10 min round trip to the supermarket to pick up the guardian and some croissants. Then back to bed. The following day was slightly better. A trip to the local park with nick, which saw me in tears half way through, thinking I would not make it. But I did. We sat on a bench. It was one of those beautiful autumn days, when the sun is shining, the sky is clear blue and the air is fresh and crisp. The week after was, to my surprise, a recovery one too. But this time instead of bed I was on my sofa. Just feeling weak. Feeling down. Feeling hard done by. Feeling that life is just not fair and why-has-this-happened-to-me? just not fair.

And then the time for chemo number 4 came along. So I had my blood test and, voila! my white blood cells were low again. And again and again on the next 2 blood test. Hence the delay. I’t been over a month since I last did chemo. When your white cell count is very low your immune system is weak (or non-existent at times). They cannot give you chemo until your white cells are up again, so they can knock them down once more. But finally the time is arriving and I have to admit I am  scared!

Why am I scared, you may wonder? I should be an “expert” by now. Well, well. They are changing my chemo drugs, from FEC to taxotere (docetaxel). And the potential side effects do not look pretty. I do not know how will I react to this treatment. … So it is, once again, back to the unknown. Here is the “official list” of side effects:

  • Drop In Number Of White and Red Blood Cells
  • Allergic Reactions To Chemotherapy Treatment
  • Fluid Retention
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Chemotherapy Hair Loss
  • Chemotherapy Fatigue
  • Muscle Pain and Bone Pain
  • Rash
  • Nail Changes
  • Eye Changes
  • Odd Sensations
  • Infection
  • Mouth and Throat Irritation
  • Infusion Site Reaction

So lets see. Nail changes. I have read (in bc forums) people saying that their nails fell off. Apparently to avoid that happening a good trick is to paint them with a dark shade of nail varnish. So I’ll be going for the goth look this week. The bone and muscle pain is also one that people seem to complain about quite a lot. I met a 32-year-old bc patient on my last chemo visit that was doing taxotere and she was telling me how much pain she was going through. And how painkillers only worked for an hour or so, then it was back to being in pain again. And how last time she was having her taxotere infusion (that’s what is called when they administer the drugs, infusion) she had to ask the nurses to stop as her spine started to really hurt. Which takes is to the last side effect “Infusion Site Reaction”. There is a risk that you’ll have an allergic reaction to this chemo drug so when you first have it they have to give it to you very slowly, just in case you have an infusion-site-reaction. God. It sounds really toxic. Oh, and have you noticed the “odd sensations” one? Vague or what? However I have also read other women who have reacted well, so there is hope. But, when they are going to give you a drug that comes with this warning

Some Taxotere® chemotherapy side effects may be dangerous and even life-threatening, such as serious infections, allergic reactions and fluid retention. It is important to report ALL side effects to your doctor or nurse.

I think it’s normal to be scared. If only a little.

Sweet dreams are made of…

Hair!!! yes. Surprised? I guess not… Recently I have been having lots of vivid, wierd dreams. And a recurrent one is that I have hair. The funny thing about it is that every time it goes like this: I have beautiful, loooooooooooong hair that has grown overnight. Just like that.In my dreams I wake up one day and, hey, hair is back!

I miss having hair. I miss washing it and combing it and running my fingers through it. However, I have not found losing it a traumatic experience, and understandably, it is common for women undergoing cancer treatment to feel that way. And I think I know why this side effect of the chemo drugs has not upset me.

Before getting breast cancer I was really really, I mean really, attached to my long hair. I spent years growing it with the aim of it reaching my waist. But it never did ( not because i had to cut it, but because i do not think my hair could grow that long). In a way, this attachment was a source of anxiety. I loved it and i loathed it. I wanted it, the hair, to grow longer, faster, stronger. At the same time I sometimes day dreamt about having it chopped off. But no. I could not do that. No no no. This was particularly strange, I thought, as I am someone who has played a lot with her hair through the years. It all started when I was 13. Since then I have had bleached, shoulder length hair. Short spiky hair. Blue, green, red, purple, pink hair. Bicolor (red at the front and black at the back) hair, which then I turned into long dreadlocks. Bob length dreadlocks (bleached at the front). There is photographic evidence. One day you may see them.

So there I was, at the doctors practice being told that I had breast cancer. Being told that chemotherapy was on the menu. And then suddenly the thought of losing my long hair was very, very liberating.

My Long hair

So here it is! my long hair. the one I was a slave to 😉 oh, and the baby is my little brother aged two weeks.