Tears and night sweats on my pillow, but far fewer hairs

Just over three weeks since my last chemotherapy, and I’m pleased to report my hair has nearly stopped falling out. After four months of vacuuming hairs off my bed daily, the hair loss seems to have abated considerably.  I’ve made a couple of videos to show progress. I’ve tried to join them together, but I can’t work it out (I would use chemo brain as an excuse, but I’m actually just not good at tech stuff). Here’s the hair progress.

Brave The Shave – please don’t

At the moment, Macmillan are advertising their Brave The Shave campaign. Now, I love Macmillan, they are an amazing charity, and I have benefited from them hugely. But this campaign really gets my goat. I know people want to fundraise, which is hugely admirable. But choosing to shave your head hair off, by choice, is nothing compared to the trauma of losing all of your hair, day by day, because you have a life threatening illness. I feel it belittles the experience of those going through chemotherapy.

You see your identity, your femininity, your confidence, disappear down the plughole everyday, not knowing if, or when, it will grow back. Having very few eyelashes means constantly watering eyes, grit becomes a real problem. Sparse eyebrows make your face look bald. Loss of body hair makes you look pre pubescent. And you have to cope with this when you are emotionally and physically spent from everything else that chemotherapy does to your mind and body. And none of this is brave, you just have to get through it as best you know how. I’ve come to dread catching sight of my reflection when I haven’t done the “full works” of hair and make-up.

By all means, if you have long hair, have it cut short and donate it to a charity like The Little Princess Trust. But I think there are much better ways to fundraise, show solidarity, and support for those dealing with cancer than having a head shave.

Treacle

Fortunately, the treacle days are over. After emerging from the last round of chemo treacle, I had a couple of tearful days. I felt low and totally wrung out – I think it was the relief of chemo being over, and me processing what I’ve been through.

The legacy from my chemotherapy is a continued aversion to tea (it’s been months since I had a cuppa) and fatigue. I pace myself as the fatigue is now constant. If I have a busy day or two, then the next day I will need lots of sofa rest. On the plus side, I’m doing better at boxsets. For instance, I watched all of season two of Top Of The Lake in one day (totally ridiculous plot, but great television and good to see a strong female cast, including the wonderful Elisabeth Moss. What am I supposed to do on a Sunday evening now that The Handmaid’s Tale is finished?).

So, it’s more like intermittent syrup than full on treacle.

My overnight bag

Since the start of chemotherpay, I have had a standby overnight bag packed, at the ready, in case I needed suddenly to be admitted to hospital. It was a great piece of advice to do this.

I was delighted to unpack the bag this week, another milestone.

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Tamoxifen

This is the longest phase of Project Lumpy. My oncologist saw me on Monday, was happy with my progress, so prescribed Tamoxifen straightway.

Tamoxifen is a hormone therapy which works by blocking the effects of oestrogen on the cancer cells’ receptors. My cancer is oestrogen positive, meaning that the hormone oestrogen stimulates the growth of the breast cancer cells.

It’s a simple daily tablet, and I will take if for five years. During this time, my natural menopause should happen. After five years of tamoxifen, I will move to an aromatase inhibitor, which stops the production of oestrogen in post menopausal women.

Tamoxifen is not without its own risks. It increases the risk of womb cancer and deep vein thrombosis, so I need to be vigilant for symptoms of both. There are also the delights of hot flushes, night sweats, loss of libido and mood changes. Some women also report weight gain and facial hair – blimey, I’m thinking Life And Loves Of A She Devil.

St Nora

St Nora has brought gifts again (thank you), including the re introduction of some long lost friends in to my life. Through the wonders of social media, I have met up with some old school friends in recent weeks, and it has been so heart warming to reconnect.

Radiotherapy

The next phase, radiotherapy, starts on Monday. I feel positive about it. I’ll be having it at the Royal Free, which is a lovely walk across Hampstead Heath from where I live.

There’s a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.