The dog with a ridiculous name

img_7212

This is Cuddles, the dog with the ridiculous name, who came into our lives via The Dogs’ Trust when our lives were turned upside-down by cancer the first time around.

Back then I was grieving: for the loss of a limb, for the loss of a future with children (the infertility diagnosis was thankfully wrong) , the post-cancer loss of my self-confidence. Getting a dog when our life was an uncertain mess wasn’t the sanest idea  but Cuddles, the car-sick hound with the embarrassing-to-shout-in-the-park name got me through those first dark months. She needed to go out for a walk even when I didn’t want to leave the house, and when I sat down sobbing on the kitchen floor she would pad over and put her head on my lap.  Not judging me, just being there.

 

As the years have gone by, I’ll admit I haven’t paid Cuddles as much attention as I once did. Pete walks her so she is ‘his’ dog really, and life with a full-time job, kids and sport has meant that whilst Cuddles is always a much-loved member of our family, her advancing years mean she’s happy to curl up in her basket out of the way of frantic activity.

And yet, now I’m at home much more on my own, drowning once more in the enormity of my second cancer diagnosis and what this means now for my future and that of my children, Cuddles is playing her part once more. There have been tear-filled hugs lying on the floor (because it’s OK to cry in front of the dog once the kids have gone to school) and some pitifully slow limping walks around the block (because chemo and limb loss don’t mix well).

Today we even staggered up to the field where I collapsed/sat on the soggy grass for a while next to my loyal friend.

Not thinking, not worrying, just being there.

 

 

 

 

Chemo round 4

After round three’s meltdown, chemo round 4 was a breeze – for me at least.

I had plenty of company – thanks to Emma, Zelie and Pete for keeping me smiling.

Also my lovely chemo buddy Vicki (read her latest blog here),  who’s had a really rough week in hospital battling a nasty infection, but still found time and energy to bring me a matching wooly hat to keep our balding heads warm. She also had to endure some very painful injections in her hand today, after the chemo drugs started to leak out into surrounding tissue.

Here’s hoping we both have an easier time of it over the next couple of weeks. See you on the other side of the side effects xxx

Mother’s Day

IMG_7081

It’s Mother’s Day and that’s the perfect excuse to say thank you to my mum for supporting me through cancer treatment for the second time.

Last time around, I was in my twenties and living an hour-and-a-half from my parents’ home. But that didn’t stop mum driving over the M62 every weekday, bringing homemade food to me in hospital and sitting by my side on the ward. It was a boring, tiring slog but she never complained, even when I was grumpy as hell and unwilling to communicate.

This time around, I have a family of my own to take care of, and mum has stepped up again – helping to distract her grandchildren from my health worries with trips out and craft-making. She and dad are just a phone call away whenever I need a lift to the hospital or help with school pick-ups.

I’m not an easy patient – I’m too obstinate, introverted (on chemo) and irritable to accept help readily.

But I am grateful, lucky, and thankful to have my mum.

Friends

fullsizeoutput_802d

I’ve seen lots of friends over the past few days during my ‘good week’ – when the chemotherapy drugs have left my body long enough for the side effects to be minimal: A group of cheery colleagues came to ply me with cake and raucous work gossip; my sister drove up from Birmingham for a catch-up; we had Sunday dinner cooked for us by lovely friends while the kids played together; and I’ve even ventured out for coffee with neighbours.

Spending time with friends during my good week each chemotherapy cycle is a huge boost to morale. It reminds me that when the chemo fog lifts, I can still be the sarcastic, chatty, outgoing person that feels like the authentic me. Rather than the curled-up-on-the-sofa depressed misanthrope. Because, in case you haven’t noticed (and my husband has definitely noticed), I am really very grumpy for at least ten days after chemo.

There have also been some very thoughtful gifts – a magazine subscription, cosy blanket, HelloFresh food delivery, to mention a few.

And then there was this:

IMG_7130.JPG

Thank you Amanda Wilkinson. There are no words 😉

Chemo round three

Chemo round three basically sucked. Mainly because I had worked myself up into such a state last night about my tumour ‘not responding’ to chemo that I had a full-on panic attack which required breathing into a paper bag followed by vomming into a plastic Haribo bucket (empty – it’s our family sick receptacle).
By the time I had realised this morning (in the car on the way to the hospital) that I had forgotten to take my pre-chemo steroids I was a snotty sobbing wreck. I managed to reduce the crying to tears-silently-pouring-down-the-face by the time my nurse had inserted the canula. But when I was still spilling big fat teardrops half an hour later the nurse suggested I might like to move to a side room. I think I was putting the other patients off their chemo. 

And being on my own did the trick. Ironically, once I stopped trying not to cry in front of other people, I stopped crying. I was still monosyllabic and moody with my lovely nurse who was working her last shift before moving to a new role at the hospital (hopefully with fewer weeping crazies) but at least I wasn’t sharing the misery round the ward. Because – honestly – the process of having chemotherapy is painless (once the canula insertion is out of the way) – it’s the emotional baggage you bring with you that turns it into a downer. 

I even managed to have a semi-normal conversation with my friend Anita, whose visit distracted me from own depressing thoughts. And two breast cancer veterans on Twitter (@Liz_ORiordan  and @secretdiaryofcg)- reminded me that chemotherapy isn’t really about the primary tumour – surgery will deal with that – it’s to ‘mop up’ any rogue cancer cells that might be swilling around the rest of my body looking for a new place to set up shop. And they’re so tiny that they’re more likely to be crushed by the chemotherapy drugs. 

So I’m feeling much calmer tonight. 

Although I have just taken a shit-load of steroids. 

Setback

Round three chemotherapy tomorrow and this time I’m not ready to face it. My MRI scan results today showed the tumour is ‘stable’ after two rounds of drugs. It hasn’t grown but it hasn’t shrunk either. So basically I’ve endured six weeks of hell for diddly-squat. 

And there are 12 more long weeks of torture stretching ahead just in case the tumour does decide to cooperate at any point. At which point I have a mastectomy to look forward to. 

So no, I don’t want to go to the oncology day case unit tomorrow and get pumped full of poison that will render me migrainous and mute for days while my tumour continues to fester away merrily. 

But I will. Because what choice do I have?

Working

The last time I was in the office was the Christmas party. I took annual leave as planned the day after. And five days after that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I haven’t been back to work since. And that’s a choice I’m wrestling with.

I realise I’m lucky that I get to make that choice – I’m fortunate that my employer is supporting me through my treatment. This isn’t the case for everyone – and  for some, there’s no financial alternative but to keep on turning up at the office and battle through the side effects.

But there are also those that choose to keep working during treatment, because it gives them a sense of normality and routine. And I get that – I’ve blogged before  about missing the routine of the mid-morning coffee run, and the banter with colleagues. I love my job as a journalist and enjoy the mental stimulation that producing and reporting on other people’s stories brings.

Victoria Derbyshire carried on presenting her TV show during chemotherapy, wearing a wig on screen. And 5Live newsreader Rachael Bland, who is currently blogging about her treatment, even did a Facebook Live from her chemotherapy session. I admire them for carrying on, and I’m also a little envious. The self-critical part of me (and it’s quite a big part) likes to beat myself up about it: Why are my side effects so all-consuming? Is it because I’m mentally weak? Would I cope better if I did carry on working? Am I being a bit pathetic about it all?

But the truth is, it’s pointless comparing yourself with other people going through chemotherapy, because everyone reacts differently to the various drug regimens, and everyone has different ways of coping with the rigours of the side effects. And for me, the first ten days after chemotherapy are so physically and mentally exhausting, that I want to spend the next ten days recovering – cooking and eating good food, spending fatigue-free time with my children and doing fun stuff like watching a film or reading a book without the brain fog. Basically, shoring myself up for the next onslaught of poison.

And no matter how much you enjoy your job, working always brings its own stresses and strains. I’m functioning, but only just. I don’t cry often, but tears are never far from the surface. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I end up sobbing into my keyboard when we cover a story about a murder/child abuse/cancer. When you’re ‘on the edge’ yourself, it becomes more difficult to maintain that journalistic detachment.

Who knows? – next week I might feel completely different and be so bored out of my mind that I can’t wait to get back to it. But right now, my decision to take a step back from work during treatment feels like the right one. For me, my health, and my family.

Food

God, I miss food. Or rather, I really miss enjoying food. I’m still eating, but it’s a process of endurance and necessity rather than nourishment.

One of the most difficult side effects I’ve been suffering with on this chemotherapy regimen (docetaxel and carboplatin) is a sore mouth and throat, which makes eating really difficult. And when you add in a suppressed appetite (I can’t remember when I last felt hungry), nausea and gut gripes after eating (apologies if this is too much information, but what’s the point in sugar-coating it?) and mealtimes have become a battleground rather than something to look forward to.

The same applies to drinking. When you’re having chemo, the medical advice is to drink plenty of fluids so you keep hydrated, and flush out the poison they’ve just pumped you full of. But, when your mouth feels as if it’s coated in fur and even a glass of water fresh from the tap tastes like it’s been drawn from a stagnant ditch, then excuse me if I’m not rushing for a refill.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m the Brew Queen – never far from a kettle and a good cup of strong Yorkshire tea. But now I can’t stand the stuff. And it’s driving me crazy. Because what does any decent British person do in a troubled times? Put the kettle on.

And now I’m not working, I really miss the daily ritual of walking round the corner to the Cafe 164 for my flat white (and maybe an apple flapjack or a chilli chicken sandwich). Now I can’t stand coffee either. Flapjack is too sharp and chilli too spicy.

And the list goes on: bread is cardboard, sweet potato is sickly, breakfast cereal is sawdust, yoghurt is gloopy. Every food I used to enjoy is rendered either tasteless, nausea-inducing or revolting.

So, whilst I still sit at the table at mealtimes and push bits of unpalatable food around my plate, I no longer take pleasure in it. And, I’m not ashamed to admit it makes me sad. I miss you, food.

Changing fortunes

 

img_6904

This certificate arrived in the post yesterday – a stark reminder of how far I’ve fallen over the past 12 months. This time last year I was preparing to compete at the Track World Championships in Italy. Today, in my post-chemo haze, it has taken me two hours to have a shower and get dressed. I am shattered.

Shattered, but not yet broken. Whilst I’ve had to shelve some of the sporting ambitions I’d set for myself this year (learning to run and competing in a triathlon following a successful initial try-out with British Para Triathlon), I’ve set myself new ones. They are small steps, tiny targets and would have seemed pathetic just a couple of months ago: get outside every day, even if it’s just to limp to the end of the road; do half an hour on the bike indoors on ‘good days’; keep going to my weekly Pilates and Physio appointment whenever possible.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My power numbers on the bike are paltry, I can barely lift half the weight I managed before on the leg press, and my arms start to shake after a few minutes at Pilates. It’s a humbling experience – to accept the loss of physical strength, and keep going anyway.

But when you’re at your lowest ebb, there are always people there to scoop you back up. And this week I have to thank my brilliant physiotherapist Elise and personal trainer Alex at Lear Fitness Harrogate for encouraging and supporting me – even when yesterday’s session was carried out with a sick bucket in reach – just in case.

 

 

Hot Valentine’s Date


What better way to spend the day of (commercialised) romance than at your friendly local oncology day unit? 

Free cups of stewed tea, Bourbon biscuits and chemotherapy cocktails! 

Added bonus of nausea/sore mouth/fatigue/rash to follow! 

Trapped in a ward for 10 hours with your loved-one is a true test of relationship strength!

Bet you’re all really jealous xxx