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 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*)

I have cancer. Again. And this is why it sucks…

I’ve just started treatment for breast cancer. Here are five reasons why it sucks:

  1. I’ve been there, done that and got the chemo T-shirt. 2005 was another vintage year, involving a diagnosis of osteosarcoma, an above-knee amputation of my right leg, and nine months spent puking into a cardboard bowler hat as an in-patient on the grey and airless cancer ward at St James’. But apparently (and of course, I knew this really), being critically ill once doesn’t insure you against getting cancer again. But it does seem cruelly ironic, that having spent the past ten years worrying every day about the sarcoma returning, it’s a different variety of the disease that’s come knocking.
    2 Breast cancer is common, where osteosarcoma is not. But I had hoped that having some of the smallest breasts ever seen on a fully-grown woman (less boobs, more moobs) might offer me some protection. But no – my miniscule lady lumps have still managed to produce a malignancy of impressive size – a 2.7cm tumour plus a ‘suspicious’ (which is the word the docs always use to mean ‘probably cancerous’) area of calcification taking the total to 9cm. Meaning a mastectomy is likely. Something to look forward to in 2017.
    3 I have spent most of my life studiously following a ‘healthy lifestyle’ – I eat vegetables and fish, restrict sweet treats to the weekends. I drink in moderation, have never smoked, and exercise like a demon – it’s my stress-reliever. Hell, I even meditate using an app on my phone. And yet, I still have cancer. Again.
    4 Having two young children gorgeously unaware of the horrors of illness also offers no protection against going back into the pit of despair. I’m lucky to have a wonderful kids and supportive family but I really wish I didn’t have to drag them down into the quagmire with me.
    5 I threw my chemo wig and head scarves away during a clearout a couple of months ago. Because I wouldn’t need them again. Dickhead. 

I’m not ready for anything ‘motivational’/sentimental – I’ve cried enough already. But if anyone wants to message me with anything funny/rude/inappropriate to make me smile over the next few months, it would be appreciated. My warped sense of humour is still there somewhere. It just needs bringing out again xxxx