There’s an irony to cancer treatment. When you are diagnosed with cancer your first thoughts are “is it terminal? how long do I have?”. Fortunately my cancer was caught early, but my diagnosis caused me to face my own mortality, and wonder how much time I will have on this glorious planet. Then, when I am going through the worst days of treatment, I find myself wishing my life away because I feel so wretched that I just want the days to be over until I feel vaguely like Alison again.
Thank goodness last week’s treacle is behind me. I’m now almost euphoric to be feeling good again, so I will savour these 12 days of feeling ok before diving in to a new flavour of treacle on 30th May. I want to hug trees and sing to the moon.
Chemotherapy #3 of 6
The chemo infusion itself went well. The nurse gave me a bowl of warm water to pump up my veins in my arm, and she did an excellent job of getting a vein first time (on the top of my wrist, ouch!). I took a flask, wore a roll neck wool jumper, used a headband under the cold cap, wrapped myself in a blanket, and visualised myself in the warmth of the Caribbean sea in St Lucia with the sun’s rays kissing my skin. This all stopped me getting chilled to my core.
The side effects in the week after the infusion were just the same as after #2. Sadly I didn’t like any drinks at all this time as my mouth felt so weird. For someone who has always been an advocate of drinking plenty of water, it’s very strange to find I’m forcing myself to drink fluids.
The vein in my left arm is now a tender, raised, hard cord so I am massaging it in the hope of hastening its recovery. My hair is still falling out, my eyebrows and eyelashes are thinning, but I think I’ve been really lucky so far and haven’t needed to collect my wig yet. Never thought at the age of 47 I’d be perfecting my comb over technique.
But physically, I am bouncing back quickly. In the week before my last chemo infusion I was at spin classes, I even went for a run. Most days (after treacle week) I manage 10,000 steps. I’m sure all this is helping me respond well and it definitely lifts my mood. Haven’t yet found a way to alleviate chemo brain, don’t think there is much I can do about that one.
The tougher part of this third round was the mental and emotional impact. The treacle felt thicker and the depression darker. I had been advised that the effects of chemotherapy are cumulative. Whilst I’ve been really lucky on the physical side, the mental side has worsened. I was now in black molasses territory. Also, it was my brother’s birthday and it angers me that treatment is disrupting our usual celebrations. None of us want any of this.
I’m starting to get frightened of my next three chemotherapy sessions as they change to a different drug with different side effects (muscle and joint pain, peeling skin on feet and hands, lose of finger and toe nails, skin discolouration, peripheral neuropathy). It’ll be another type of treacle.
I do not want to live with anger, fear and anxiety so I’m taking action. I’m using the Headspace mindfulness app which has a 30 day cancer series, and this is definitely helping. It’s so important to be in the moment. Worrying about the days, weeks and months to come just robs me of today’s potential.
Two days ago, feeling the full effects of chemo brain and with a very low mood, I dragged myself to a workshop on emotional freedom technique (also called tapping) at The Haven. It had been recommended to me by a few friends. I was really impressed by its simplicity and the logic of its approach. But most of all it is something I can do to manage my emotional responses. The course leaders said they work with many cancer patients and consistently see it help with anxiety and chemotherapy side effects. I’ll let you know how I get on.
The Haven is a fabulous charity offering emotional, physical and practical support to anyone affected by breast cancer across the UK. The charity was set up to fill the huge gap in treatment for breast cancer. The NHS does a marvellous job of trying to fix us physically, but does not address everything else in our lives that is impacted by cancer diagnosis and treatment.
A few weeks ago I attended an introductory day at The Haven’s Fulham centre, which is in a converted church, an oasis of calm and support. We were introduced to Chi Gong, had a meditation session, and were given the best explanation of a healthy diet I have ever heard.
This is followed up by an individual one to one where your needs are assessed and you are then offered ten sessions as appropriate. This may be from a range of support such as nutritional advice, counselling, aromatherapy or reflexology.
All of this is free.
So I was absolutely delighted when a friend put me in touch with the fundraising team at The Haven about an upcoming event at the Chelsea Physic Garden on 13th June. They have asked me to speak at the event, to share with the 500 or so attendees what The Haven means to someone like me, someone facing breast cancer. I am so honoured and so excited to be able to support this amazing charity (after I got over the instant panic of “will I be bald by then? what will I wear?”).
I have a number of tickets at the early bird price, so please do let me know if you’d like to buy one. I’d love to see you there and to have your support for this wonderful charity. There will be entertainment, the gardens are delightful and, most important of all, there’s champagne.
Since my diagnosis, it has felt like Christmas so often as I have been showered with cards, gifts and love. Now, Christmas has Saint Nick, a fourth century Greek bishop, better known as Santa Claus and the giver of gifts. So I feel there is a need to create a new saint, who bestows gifts on those going through pesky cancer treatment. Dora means gift in Greek, so that’s our woman, Saint Dora.
Saint Dora made many trips in the last couple of weeks. Thank you x x
Saint Dora excelled herself with this gift, from one of my dearest friends who knew that I would welcome a really good belly laugh. It is the ultimate solution to a bad hair and bad face day.