Sunday, 28 June 2015

The one where Helen delegates to Nathan....... (sorry!)

So Helen has asked (read “told”) me to write her latest blog entry in order to try and give a different perspective to the last 6 months- pretty much to the day in fact. Therefore this post may not reflect Helen’s views and she accepts no responsibility for what will no doubt be a poorly thought out rant.

Those of you that know me, know that I have a habit of “wearing my heart on my sleeve.”, if this post offends you, I apologise but I’m going to say it as I see it. I’ll manage some expectations here and now- rather fittingly I have no idea what or how to write about what has really been a dark half year. Sorry-  I can assure you normal “perky” service will be resumed next week. 

I think the first thing that springs to mind is the disbelief that it has actually been 6 months since we first began trying to cope with a very vague, bleak and unpleasant immediate future. I think it’s fair to say I didn’t deal with the initial diagnosis well. Having made acquaintances with cancer in the past, my immediate reaction was to expect the worst case scenario and try and plan with that in mind- impossible to do and ultimately futile. People will say this is a typically pessimistic, "glass half full" Nathan approach. As normal I’m more than happy to disagree! I like to be prepared so anything that appears as a silver lining beyond the shadows of my dark little cloud is a bonus. Let’s be clear there have been a lot of bonuses as a result so I get to sit back with a wry smile on my face. 

To see Helen now (hopefully) at the end of her Chemo and just beginning her Radiotherapy is truly fantastic. I know at the beginning there was a lot of hippy ( :-) ) chat about eating lentils mung beans  and other "anti-cancer” food. I’d really like to credit a change in lifestyle with Hel’s continued progress yet Helen’s continued flirtation with KFC, curry and wine throughout her treatment would suggest otherwise; her Oncologist confirmed as much when he underlined the need for a positive, can-do state of mind. It’s clear Hels has always had this in spades. 

I think at this point its massively appropriate to attribute some of her eternal optimism to all the well wishers and support we have had, everything from the highly vocal support from close friends to the subtle, less tangible "hand on shoulder" that I may have had here or there. 

Yet, cancer clearly scares the hell out of most people and I think that’s why, despite people’s best efforts, you do get some fairly inappropriate comments from people who are just desperate to offer some sort of input “ Oh, I  had a friend who had Cancer….blah blah- they died- blah blah” Thanks, thanks for that. It’s comments like these that have prompted Hels and I to deal with this in the most off hand way we can think of; so now we talk of “Lemons” - 

“ Oh, I was talking to a woman at work whose friend had some lemons..”
“Really? What sort? Were they really bitter?” 
“Not sure, I got the impression there might have been some limes in there too” 

Now this isn’t to say that we don’t appreciate all the help we’ve had and God knows we’ve had A LOT (and will continue to do so unless this Blog annoys everyone and you all leave in droves) but some stuff just has not been helpful,  well at least not that I can see. If recommendations about TV shows etc, with a high lemon content and an unpleasant, bleak and “zesty” conclusion could be avoided I would greatly appreciate it. Yes it may be cathartic, it may even help Hels and others currently munching their way through a whole lemon grove come to terms with their illness and mortality but for family members dealing with the fallout, it really does us no favours at all. 

Normally I’m the one who has to apologise for my galling lack of tact and diplomacy but there have been times when the sheer ignorance of people’s comments has made me absolutely seethe. I don’t mind admitting that if I ever meet some of the offending characters that have previously featured in Helen’s blog I will joyfully serve up a healthy dose of scathing wit and sharp tongued justice that will make your eyes water more so than any lemons might. Also for any opportunists who see other peoples’ misfortune as a chance to feather their own nests; life has a way of paying you back in spades. 

Cancer makes you fiercely protective. Who knew?

I really hope I haven’t offended anyone (that we care about). This post isn’t really what I intended, perhaps a nice lesson for my year 10s about the importance of planning your work before writing but that’s for another blog entirely. 


Sunday, 21 June 2015

The one where I get back on the bike......

As I continue to shake-off the side effects of the final round of chemo I find myself clocking up a rather impressive tally of post-diagnosis 'firsts'. Unfortunately my scalp still refuses to sprout any new locks and my attempt to "fake-it" with glue-on lashes failed spectacularly when their removal ripped-out the pitiful few that had survived the chemo regime but none of that has succeeded in wiping the smile off my face, this journey is starting to feel like it has a conclusion. 

The plastic surgeon injected an additional 250ml of saline into my fetching temporary rectangular implant and it had a rather unexpected impact on my confidence; I found myself admiring my new rack at every opportunity, even that small change was enough to make me feel relatively normal again, it's not enough to make me brave a bikini on holiday - I'll save that for the reconstruction at the end of the year. 

The most dramatic first has undoubtedly been my return to the bike. She had been feeling rather unloved as I hadn't paid her any attention since the diagnosis back in December but it seemed that all was forgiven as I braved the turbo-trainer for the obligitory celebratory photos and a flash of misguided inspiration convinced myself to get onto the tarmac. I can't describe how proud I am to finally  wear the special edition LVIS kit in support of this blog and in honour of everyone fighting breast cancer.

Unfortunately no matter how awesome your kit looks it won't make you go any faster. By the time I reached the top of our hill I was convinced that I was about to pass-out. I probably only managed to ride 2 miles at the most but they're the most important 2 miles I've ever clocked. It's crazy to think that those same wheels carried me from Edinburgh to Paris back in the summer of 2009. I rode over 1,000 miles that summer but today only 2 made me feel physically sick.

Cancer has taken enough away from me, it's not having this, I'll work back up to fitness one mile at a time.


Monday, 15 June 2015

The one where the boys do us proud.....

I can't quite believe that I am typing these words..... chemotherapy is over!!!!

As luck would have it, the final round really wasn't that bad, I'm sure that had a lot to do with my state of mind but I can confidently say that it could have been much worse. Don't get me wrong, Docetaxel loves to control your movements ensuring that a toilet is always within sprinting distance and it has made a last-ditch grab at the pitiful fuzz that was starting to grow back on my baldie-head but I don't care, I've got that monkey off my back and I am a very happy girl.

So what's next I hear you shout.....? Well, I go for my "inflation" next week which is where my plastic surgeon will insert saline into my lovely rectangular temporary boob in order to expand the skin and then I go for the radiotherapy "fitting" which is where they set the machine up to remember said lovely rectangular dimensions, tattoo the settings onto my skin ready to start blasting my chest and neck with radioactive isotopes the following week. Believe me, I will take all of that over chemotherapy any day!

As you have probably noticed, Nathan and the LVIS boys did us proud in their own 24 hours of hell racing pro-tour riders in Italy while I was curled-up in my chemo cave and they have managed to raise over £2,000 for breastcancercare as a result. Everywhere they go the kit seems to grab attention, so much so that it's prompted a factory re-run, I never thought I'd have my name plastered over so many bums - my life is now complete!!

This is starting to turn into a hyperactive ramble so I will sign off before I hurt myself. I honestly cannot put into words how good it feels to feel good and to know that the plan as it stands is not to go through that bullshit again, your support continues to get us through this, we're not done yet but I am well and truly back in business - now I just have to lose 20 pounds - bummer!

#fightlikeagirl  GO VEGAS!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Last round of chemo......DONE!

It now looks like we'll be set to reach 2 milestones by the end of this week, I'll be curled up in my chemo cave counting down the last few days of the fog and this humble blog will have reached 100,000 views! This time last year I was completely oblivious to the fact that those things would be important to me but they both represent just how much can change in 9 months.

As if the last day of chemo wasn't enough, it seems that I will now only be having 3 weeks of radiotherapy and have managed to negotiate an early slot at the hospital each day so can get on with relative normality while my chest and neck are blasted with radiation. That means, all being well, treatment will be finished on 26th July! Hormone therapy and the management of my menopause will continue long after that but I'd take them over chemo and radiotherapy any day.

Don't forget, Nathan and the LVIS boys will be off to Italy at the weekend to put themselves through their own 24 hours of hell racing against some of Europe's fastest tour riders, there is still time to sponsor them and ensure that your pennies make it over to Breast Cancer Care - an organisation that have pulled me back from the brink on many occasions, for example, when I became concerned about persistent breathlessness and, thanks to Google, became convinced that the cancer had spread to my lungs, a conversation with the helpline and a simple check of my blood count clarified that it was likely caused by reduced platelet counts - Nathan then helpfully speculated as to whether or not I may be able to get hold of some EPO - ever the supportive and selfless husband! Here's the shameless sponsorship link. and you can follow their progress here

Although my journey is far from over, with your help and support I am emerging from the epic-downer that's been plaguing me for the last couple of months. I've lost body parts, experienced indescribable pain, started the menopause, lost friends and gained friends but have developed an unfaltering clarity about what really is important in my life. I felt compelled to put those things together in a video in order to remind me just how lucky I really am (if you're watching this on a mobile device it's likely you won't be able to see the embedded video so you'll need to head over to the YouTube link..)

I'll let you know how the final round of chemo pans out and look forward to sharing the hair regrowth selfies!


Saturday, 6 June 2015

If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you....

As I contemplate the 6th and final round of chemo I find myself reflecting on the many guises that the journey has taken. It’s annoying as hell to describe it as a journey but there really is no other metaphor that fits; you need to get from one point to another, you don’t really know what’s going to happen along the way and you sure as hell don’t make it alone. I’ve been to some pretty dark places and have learned to appreciate what's really important. Cancer is one of the most unforgiving levellers you can ever have in your life, you can either mope about the fact that the disease has chosen you or you can choose to turn the experience into a positive.

It still continues to amaze me just how popular my warbling blog has become, we now measure views in the tens of thousands but I still remember doing a mini fist-pump when it first reached five hundred! I had no idea what I wanted it to be when I first started writing it back in January but I really have found it to be an essential part of my healing process. The stories I’ve heard about women who had been sent away by their GP’s read the blog and were then diagnosed after going back and insisting on a referral are what keep me going, some of those women didn't require treatment after surgery because it was caught early - that is an indescribable feeling. 

I found the 2nd round of docetaxel to be more than a little unpleasant but am happy to report that, as a result, KFC is firmly off the menu. I’ve gone from craving fatty food to loathing it and although I have allowed myself to eat whatever I damn well please as I go through chemotherapy, I have committed to introducing healthier food back into my life once round 6 is over. 

On a spur of the moment act of impulsiveness we've booked ourselves a holiday to mark the end of radiotherapy, an all inclusive family package holiday is probably Nathan's idea of hell but is exactly what we need. This experience has been tough on all of us and we don't know whether or not it's over, it's a good chance for us to regroup as a family and take stock of just how lucky we are.

So please spare me a thought on Tuesday as I take on the final dose of Docetxel and play a loop of Ed Sheeran's Bloodstream, that song has got me through what felt like endless hours of chemo fog. I'm the luckiest girl to have such amazing friends and family, I feel like you've lived this with us and I can't even begin to thank you for the support that you've given us, we've all been on this journey together, it's not over yet but the fog is starting to clear!