Sinking

I had forgotten how horrible this feels. This post-poisoining place of grimness.

I could list the seemingly-endless side effects: the sore throat; the angry rash covering my chest and neck; the aching limbs, the fatigue. But it doesn’t do it justice.

My brain is a fog and I can’t think straight. I am vaguely aware of things going on in the house – my children talking, dinner being cooked, the TV is on, but I can make no sense of any of it. I don’t even know what day it is, or what time I took my last lot of pills, and I can no longer take solace in a cup of tea because everything tastes like metal.

My phone beeps and the postman arrives and I know people are willing me on, but I can’t respond because I’ve been stripped of my wits and it takes too much effort to talk.

So I sit cocooned in a blanket on the sofa and wait. Because this will pass. And I will revive. And feel like me again.

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Chemo round one – done!

A picture tells a thousand words, so here are a few – ranging from anxiety through companionship to nausea.

Feeling tired (after last night’s steroid-fuelled cleaning frenzy), and my tastebuds are off, and now it’s just a waiting game for the side effects to kick in.

And visualising those cancer cells getting walloped too.

 

And so it begins…

Chemo tomorrow.

And, as it turns out, the day after too – because I’m “on too many drugs” to have all in one day.

Shame they won’t be giving me a high.

But I’m not doing this alone. I’m fortunate to have wonderful friends and a loving family to hold my hand (literally and metaphorically).

Many of you have asked if there’s anything you can do to help, so I’ve come up with two things:

  1. Carry on sending me your stupid jokes, funny YouTube videos and messages – it really helps, even if I’m too sick/fed up to answer straight away.
  2. Donate some of your hard-earned cash to help pay for research into bone cancer.

It may seem odd to be supporting the Bone Cancer Research Trust, when my current cancer is breast cancer, but breast cancer is relatively common and attracts donations more readily. And I’ve seen the difference that money can make – into tailored chemotherapy regimes (still with nasty side effects, mind) rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

But treatment for bone cancer – which affects mainly children and teenagers – hasn’t changed much at all in 20 years.

It would mean so much to me, as I go through treatment, to be able to raise even a small sum of money towards research into more effective, kinder treatments for this horrible disease.

Just click this link to donate to my JustGiving page

Thank you,

Sally xxx

My friend Vicki

If I was writing the following story as a work of fiction, it would seem ridiculous – farcical even – but what follows is the horrible truth, and it’s happening right now, to me and my friend Vicki:

Like me, my kickass friend (check out her blog here) had her leg amputated after a diagnosis of osteosarcoma more than 20 years ago. Only she never actually had cancer. She was misdiagnosed – after the amputation and chemotherapy, she was told that the pathology actually showed her tumour had been benign.

We first met back in 2004 while I was working for local radio and I interviewed her about her misdiagnosis. I remember thinking what a positive attitude to life she had, despite the agonisingly dreadful experiences she had been through.

A year after the interview, in the first bizarre twist of fate, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma too, and Vicki became one of the people I turned to as I came to terms with losing my leg. She still is – when I was suffering with sores on my stump recently, Vicki came round with a bagful of creams, and silicone plasters, and helpful advice.

We both have children and jobs and the usual hectic lives so hadn’t spoken for a few weeks, but when Vicki called me in mid-December to tell me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer I was horribly shocked, especially as I had an appointment at the breast cancer clinic the very next day – when I was also diagnosed with the same disease.

Now we are going through the same set of scans and appointments and blood tests and the same sense of disbelief and grief that we have to go through all this again. On Tuesday, we’ll be in the same hospital, sitting side-by-side, getting drip-fed the drugs that will hopefully halt the tumours’ growth.

It’s beyond surreal. And awful. But here’s a message Vicki sent me the other day. It’s one of my favourites:

You are braver than you believe

Stronger than you seem

And smarter than you think

A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Social recluse

For two weeks following my latest cancer diagnosis, I became a social recluse. I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone, especially not anyone who didn’t know I had cancer a-bloody-gain and might casually ask, “How are you?” because replying, “I’m fine” would be lying but answering with the truth felt like a bit of the bombshell to drop in the middle of the school run.

Also, I didn’t want to make anyone late for work while they spouted all the usual ‘Shit-it’s-the-Big-C-think-of-something-positive-to-say’ phrases:

“The treatment’s marvellous these days isn’t it? I’m sure you’ll breeze through…”

“If anyone can do it, you can”

“You’re a fighter/you can kick cancer’s arse/keep smiling”

It’s not a criticism – I’m sure I’ve used these platitudes myself when ambushed by abject misery at inconvenient moments (e.g. trying to wrestle two small children to school before the bell AND bypass roadworks to get to work on time), but it means it’s easier to keep your fresh diagnosis and over-sensitive feelings to yourself. Preferably in a dark room with only Dr Google for company.

But this week, I have thrown open the windows again and permitted myself to come into contact with other actual people again. And you know what? It’s been great. I’ve always suspected I have lovely friends, and this week I’ve been hideously spoilt with cards and gifts and flowers and chocolates. Best of all, I’ve been treated to the same irreverent humour, gossip and banter as always.

And no-one has done the soft-smile head-tilt cancer face.

And whilst I’m sure there will be days ahead when I will need to retreat back to my gloomy room for a quiet cry about the injustice of it all (and I will be unapologetic in doing so), I’m hopeful that there will also be plenty more times when I can laugh so hard my cheeks hurt, right in the face of adversity.

 

Chemo shopping

There can be few things more depressing than anticipating the start of chemotherapy.

Apart from shopping to prepare for chemotherapy, which adds insult to injury by forcing you to spend your own money on things you wished you never had to buy: godawful hats to cover baldness, sweets-to-suck-when-sick, and medicinal toothpaste for sore gums.

However I have found this list by the wonderful Liz O’Riordan – a breast surgeon who also had breast cancer herself – helpful in preparing for every eventuality. Her blog is much more informative than mine (which currently is mainly “I can’t believe I’m doing this shit again”), and highly recommended for anyone going through breast cancer treatment.

 

The power of exercise

For all my protestations that a healthy lifestyle hasn’t protected me against disease, I’m still a believer in exercise. It’s not that I want to punish myself by pushing myself to my limits on the bike – I actually enjoy it. I know, it’s sick.

And, if I do have a genetic predisposition to cancer, which seems likely given that few people are purely ‘unlucky’ to get two different types of cancer before 40, then it’s possible my love of sport could have actually helped me get this far. After all, I’ve had ten cancer-free years since my osteosarcoma.

The past few days have been really tough emotionally and I haven’t felt like exercising at all. So I haven’t. But yesterday, even though I was feeling groggy and tired after another bad night’s sleep (4am wakeups are becoming standard), I decided to give the turbo trainer a try.

About ten minutes into my workout, a really upbeat tune came on my iPod and I was pedalling as fast as I could, and my heart was pumping, and the sweat was pouring off me (it’s not pretty, but I’m sure getting a sweat on is tantamount to purging negative energy), and suddenly I found myself thinking positive thoughts instead of dark ones like:

“This hurts but I’m going to push through it anyway”

“I’m feeling strong”

“I can do this”

I may not be able to control the progress of my treatment, but I can control the way I deal with it. I’m going to keep on exercising as much as I can, for as long as I can.

The date is set

I’ll be starting my first round of chemotherapy on 24th January.

Before then, on my to-do list (or be done-to list) there is:

  • Pre-op assessment
  • Lymph node biopsy under general anaesthetic
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Heart ultra-sound scan
  • Oncologist appointment

Which should be enough to keep me out of trouble for a few days. Sigh.

The Witches

In hindsight, taking the kids to see Roald Dahl’s The Witches at The West Yorkshire Playhouse, when I’m about to start chemotherapy, wasn’t the best idea.

In the story (which beguiled and terrified me in equal measure as a child), real witches don’t wear pointy black hats or ride on broomsticks.

They hide in plain sight – using wigs to cover their bald heads… (*practises cackle*)