Saturday, June 30, 2007

And the beat goes on...

One of the things that constantly amazes me is how I am taking these poisonous drugs on a three weekly basis, which are strong enough to wipe out all the parts of me that make things (hair, white blood cells, nail growth, skin renewal etc) and yet my body struggles on, the rest of me apparently relatively normal.

Take periods for example. It's a messy business and my male readers are probably sitting at their computers right now, fingers in their ears singing 'rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb' in an attempt to ward off evil menstruation spirits.

Well sorry boys, it needs saying.

Chemo is known to stop most women's periods. After my first treatment, my first 'due' period came and went on time, and seemed relatively normal. Being on a three week cycle of treatment, Chemo two came and went before the next period was due. Chemo three was also due to take place just before my second period was due. So I have spent the last three weeks waiting to see if my period would come, or if the evil posion had put paid to that after all.

Earlier this week, safely two weeks on from 'due date', without so much as a spot in pants, I heaved a bittersweet sigh. It seemed I would not have to deal with mess and pain of periods every month, at least not for a while. But it was a little sad. I felt less womanly. You spend all your adult life trying not to get pregnant and yet when the monthly symbol of your fertility vanishes, however temporarily, the moment is rather poignant to say the least.

And yet Friday brought a familiar feeling in my loins. The dull ache of a period arriving. A whole eleven days late but other than that, recognisable in every form.

I clearly have the womb, and stomach, of an ox. The chemo may make me bald and susceptible to infection but my body stumbles on. I don't vomit and my periods continue, albeit erratically.

I am a miracle of modern science. Hear me roar.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Grumpy bitch

I've avoid posting the last few days. Mainly because I've felt really moany, and I hate the feeling that every time I post something it's a complaint. A complaint against my health, a complaint about how unfair this all is, a complaint about my treatment, even complaints about the attention friends give me.

So sue me - I can't avoid moaning any longer.

Despite my breezy healthcheck post on Sunday (when I really was feeling okay and thought I was over my infection last week) this third treatment cycle has been a real struggle. I'm in the third week, when I should be fine and enjoying life relatively normally. I'm not. I feel like shit, I keep getting really painful aches in my bones, I am fighting a rising temperature (again) and I feel permanently tired and grumpy. It's not danger zone yet - but I've hit 37 degrees twice this morning which is much higher than normal for me.

I feel robbed of my 'good week' and I'm starting to worry that I will be going into chemo 4 at a disadvantage and that the whole thing will spiral into a tougher and tougher fight for my health.

I should be at home in bed. But I'm in the office, as we have a big meeting tomorrow. I may go home shortly (and I only came at at 10.15, giving myself the second self appointed lie in of the week - I'm getting good at those) but I hate this tussle between genuinely having to point out to colleagues that I'm not that well actually versus the feeling of burning matyrdom I get as soon as those sort of words come out of my mouth.

Moan, moan, moan. For the first real time in chemo, I'm feeling like it's sucking me down and preventing me from living a normal life. Taking a few days off every three weeks is fine. Feeling like you are wading through treacle FOR three weeks is not. It's really grinding.

And it's starting to take its toll on my psychological state. I no longer have the energy to be jolly for people who want to know 'how I'm doing'. I'm turning into a miserable cow. I almost bit a friend's head off last week for 'pestering me' when she deigned to be concerned about me because I hadn't returned a text. I feel bad but I cannot find the energy to call her and apologise. It's taking me all my energy just to drag my arse in and out of the office and do a semblance of work. I can't seem to find it in me to be nice on top of all of that.

I am, officially, a grumpy bitch.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Health MOT

So, coming up to the last week of chemo three and How am I doing?

1. Overall health:

Managed to contract an infection, but that's all behind me now healthwise.

Now I'm through that, I don't feel so tired. But week ones will remain buggers, with week twos needing to be taken relatively easy. July should be fun. We have something on virtually every weekend. Reunions of rally people, music festivals, weddings. And because of the way the dates fall, two chemo treatments. I'll be pooped come August.

2. Hair loss:

I'm balding but not completely bald. And the hair that's still on there seems to have pretty much stopped growing.

Haven't needed to shave my legs or armpits since mid-May. As for my 'lady garden', well... it's extremely sparse. In fact, I'm almost completely bald down there, which, when I have caught my reflection in the mirror post-shower, is slightly unnerving. Body of a thirty-four year old, mons pubis of an eight year old. I'm sure some people would get off on that but I don't.

That said, it has been a huge relief to stop with all the pruning and shearing that goes on as a woman, both down there and on my legs and armpits. Men moan about shaving their beards off every day. They don't know the half of it.

Incidentally, my nail growth has also slowed. I know this because I bite some of my nails and they are growing back less rapidly. I've only had to cut them once since treatment began (toes this is, as I bite the hands regularly enough to keep them in trim myself!).

3. Weight

Yes I'm gaining weight. As someone who grapples with their weight anyway, this is not particularly welcome.

Not sure whether it's because: I'm eating more due to the steroids; I'm eating more because R has moved in and I'm cooking big meals every night for us both (a single girl will often arrive home late from work, stare at the contents of the fridge, and think 'oh fuck it, an apple and a piece of cheese will do me' - it may not be nutritionally sound but it's a darn sight less calorific); or if it's just the fact that my sheer lack of energy in week one and two means I'm sitting on my arse more and supplementing that with exercise is hardly that easy when you're short of breath because of the chemo wiping out all your red blood cells.

But I have a plan.

When radiotherapy starts I'm going to ask for an appointment some time during the middle of the day. I had assumed initally the most convenient time for me would be early morning or in the evening, so I could work it into my journey in and out of the office. But riding a motorbike means you're dressed in bike gear which is clumsy and hot to find your way round hospitals in, plus I'd have to rely on finding a parking spot in a bike bay otherwise I'll get ticketed. Then, if it was a morning slot, by the time I'd get to my office I'd be later than most bikers and my regular bay would have filled up.

However, if the appointment is in the middle of the day, then I'd be able to store my pushbike at the office and use that to ride backwards and forwards to the hospital. No parking problems, and I get fit all at once. I just need to keep a suitable pair of shoes and shorts and sweatshirt at the office and use that to go to my appointments in. Six weeks of riding what I'm guessing to be around six or seven miles a day and that should start things off nicely. Once radiotherapy finishes, well, I'll have that much more time in the day to develop a more regular and permanent routine (now how many times have I said that?).

4. Recovery from surgery

My boob shape looks normal but my nipple is still blue and I keep getting little bits of fluid (seromas) in my upper right shoulder area. At the moment, I can feel a small seroma around my shoulderblade when I lie down. It hurts me slightly when I lay on my right side. There is also soreness around the forward tip of my shoulder, and if I stretch my arm up and back, it feels sore along the underside of the muscles. I've had the odd pain in that area over the last two months and yet it seems to fade away. Then it pops up again a couple of weeks later. I'm not entirely sure why it happens.

A question for Professor Mokbel methinks, when I see him at my check up in early July.

But I've given up hope of him doing anything about my blue nipple. It will just look like I've got a bruise on my tit. FOREVER. Bang goes sunbathing topless on that millionaire's yacht. And my lapdancing/glamour model career.

All in all, not too bad really. Halfway through chemo and I feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.

And that's not a bad feeling at all.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Synchronicity or just plain Plagiarism?

Intellectual property is a sticky area in advertising.

Most agencies, knowingly or not, have ripped off a few ideas in their time.

1. Stealing from the art world

Sometimes justified as a 'homage' to the artist, sometimes done with their permission, sometimes not. Often undertaken in a country far removed from where the artist is based, as Oglivy & Mather in China did with their 'crying kids' campaign for an local Italian Chinese restaurant chain. Ripping off artist Jill Greenberg in a very obvious way. They should know better.

Spot the difference:

2. Borrowing by getting out the cheque book.

In advertising we work with a lot of directors who also direct feature films or pop promos. Likewise with photographers. They may just shoot commercial stills, on the other hand, they may be Annie Liebowitz and have a known style in a parallel industry.

Often a campaign looks similar to something else you've seen because the agency has consciously sought out the original person responsible for that look or feel, and asked them could they please repeat it for Client X?

Only trouble is, certain artists may not want their 'style' or some ground-breaking new technique they've developed used to promote sanpro products in the Americas. But a certain number will do anything for money. They're much the same as us advertising monkeys in that way.

3. When ideas collide... or do they?

Sometimes it's clear that two people have simultaneously developed the same creative idea. Not that impossible when you consider how many brands there are out there with similar product attributes, similar business objectives, and similar market challenges.

Take skincare for example. Now, what are the big consumer insights around skincare? You want products to take care of your skin, right? Your skin is a living organism, made up of thousands of individual cells, right? You want to show how Product A takes care of all of those individual cells, which takes care of your whole body overall, right?

Now, hmm, how you could possibly represent that creatively? I know, have thousands of bodies, human bodies, naked as the day they were born, undulating like a big sea of naked bodies, which we then pull back and reveal to actually make up the skin on your body.

A fairly solid, if predictable response to a creative brief. A creative brief which must have landed in the in-trays of the creatives working on the Vaseline and the Sanex accounts at the same time, judging by their very similar campaigns which broke within days of eachother:

Unless of course they simply lied and cheated and one has just ripped off the other?

It's possible. We are in advertising, after all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fever all through the night

Chemo had just been getting normal. I'd fallen into a pattern which worked. Have chemo, feel a bit shit for several days, don't sleep, have trouble 'going', and end up starting to feel normal again by the following week.

Except this time round my energy levels had picked up a little earlier and by Saturday I was feeling alright. Woohoo. I'll have the next three treatments licked, I thought.

But then on Sunday I felt exhausted again. Couldn't move. Monday felt like I had lead weights around my ankles and after a rubbish night's sleep, I took the easy option and called work to say I'd be in late and grabbed a few more hours sleep.

It felt like skiving. There have been a million Mondays where I just haven't felt like getting out of bed, it's only now I have a legitimate excuse. I eventually got in a little after 12 on Monday and worked til 6, then joined R at a friends house for a casual dinner.

Halfway through dinner I tasted something funny in the back of my throat. Nope, it wasn't the tuna. I had that horrid sore throat 'You're about to get sick' taste. I said nothing and we went home about 10.30pm. By 11.30, I was in bed wearing pyjamas, a big woolly jumper and a knitted beanie hat. I was freezing. The night before I had slept with nothing on, the covers off, and the fan on low all night long. It wasn't cold. I lay there, trying to get warm enough to sleep.

Then at 2.24am I woke up with a start. I was now boiling hot and threw off my layers. A few more hours of sleep and I was up again at 6am, listening to my upstairs neighbour crash around and wondering what was wrong with me.

I took my temperature with my cheap digital thermometer.

37.5 degrees.

I check the chemo book. If it's more than 38 degrees they admit you to hospital. If it's more than 37.5 on two readings less than an hour apart you have to call into the chemo ward. Chemotherapy means no immunity, so if you get an infection, your body cannot fight it. Great.

Half an hour later the thermometer still reads 37.5 degrees. I start wondering if it's under-reading me as I feel so hot. It only cost me £7.99 and all the other digital thermometers on the shelf were over £40. And when I first took my temperature at the start of this process I'd sometimes come up really low - around 35.4. Maybe it's not calibrated right. Either way, I'm more than a whole degree hotter than I normally am.

R appears from having spent the night in the spare room and encourages me to phone the ward. I call and start telling my story four times before being interrupted halfway through and handed on to the next person. This happens four times until I end up with the doctor who is patient and listens to my whole tale.

He wants me in for blood tests and to check my other symptoms. If my sore throat is an infection and I do have a temperature, then treatment will depend on my blood cell count. If my white blood cells have recovered sufficiently from last week's chemo then they simply send me home with some antibiotics. If not, and my blood count is deemed too low, then I will be admitted to hospital.

Part of me thinks this is crazy. I've spent nights tossing and turning in pools of sweat in my bedsheets countless times before. Bouts of flue, tonsilitis, bad colds. This feels just like every other cold I've ever had, so why all the fuss.

But there's a bit of me that's genuinely scared of my lack of immunity and what's going to happen next. The idea that I have no natural way of fighting infection, that my body's defences have been removed by the chemotherapy treatment, is terrifying. It may just feel like a fever and sore throat this morning but what happens in the next 24 hours? How do things like this progress when your body is helpless?

This side of me might just be grateful if someone doctorly chose to take control and admit me.

Later that morning I'm back in Chemo Day Care. I can see the nurses brows creasing slightly. Wasn't she only in last week? I'm back too early, the cycle is broken, I'm out of sync.

The doctor arrives and takes my blood. He's not portocath experienced so he takes it from the vein in my elbow, although as he's prodding and pushing at my veins to come up he does joke about how we may need to resort to the port after all, my veins are so hidden. Once again, I feel grateful for having chosen to have a port fitted. I'm also relieved that before I left the house I rubbed a little Emla cream in the crook of my elbow as well as over my port - just in case they went this route to take the bloods.

As I had my Neulasta injection on schedule last week he is confident that my blood cells should be okay. He is relaxed and seems happy that I will be fine. My sore throat is feeling a little better and I feel less feverish. Maybe I made this up, or maybe it has passed? Who knows. But I need to wait and find out.

In the meantime a nurse takes my temperature. She huddles with the doctor. He comes back over and is more hurried, more concerned than before. He talks quietly but quickly to me. Do I have any other symptoms? Does my back ache? Does it burn when I pee? Do I have diarrhea? His manner worries me. I feel like he's about to retract his earlier prognosis and start to worry that I may be facing hospital admission again.

Turns out my temperature was 38 on the nose. I've shared my concerns over whether my cheap digital thermometer works with the doctor so at least this proves it's reading things in the right direction, if maybe a little conservatively. So the doctor is concerned but admission still hangs on the results of my blood test. Which, when it finally comes 45 minutes later is good. My white blood cells are relatively normal so I can go home with a prescription of antibiotics instead. More drugs, but I am relieved to be in a position where I know the medical profession are not so concerned about me that they want to tie me to a hospital bed.

A day later and my temperature has dropped. It's still high but not worryingly so. The drugs are clearly kicking in. The drama has passed and I am left with too many home improvement and property programmes on daytime telly. Maybe tomorrow I'll brave the office again.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Now that's what I call breast cancer!

I have a friend. A great friend.

(Actually, what this whole cancer thing has taught me is that I have many great friends so it feels unfair to single one out. But he'd just done the most marvellous thing, so he deserves it and the others will get their turn, I'm sure.)

He's never been one for simple gifts. Not for him the easy gift token, or a classy but inoffensive silver picture frame.

No, when I turned 21 he gave me a mirror and told me I should take a picture of myself in it on every birthday and then it would chart my growth into maturity and old age, a la Dorian Gray.

I wish I'd kept this up as it's a really good idea. But of course I didn't. Life just got in the way.

And he's really come up with a good one now.

He's compiling his favourite 100 music tracks for me. In 20 track installments. And calling it 'The music to beat cancer with!' in that exclamation-riddled way miscellaneous CD compilations are now titled.

Quite apart from the physical feat of compiling your 100 favourite tracks, I am also blown over by the weight of the intrigue that lies in finding out what makes one of my best friend's tick, musically-speaking. I'm not sure where I would start if it were me - I realise there is so much missing from my music collection - and the temptation to edit it to make yourself look cooler than you really are would be huge.

Of course, there are some friends whose 'Top 100' I would fear. Some people I know have terrible taste. They think James Blunt is one of today's most eminent singer-songwriters. But this guy I can trust. If anything, I know he'll do my musical education some good. My early years were very juvenile and mainstream pop based. But I have grown into a harder-edged indie girl and I'm hoping that James's efforts will uncover a few areas I left unturned along the way.

So here's his first 20 in no particular order - "For when we were very young" - with excerpts from sleeve notes by my good friend McKean.

1. Immigrant Song - Led Zeppelin

"If your musical history does not start with either the Beatles or Led Zeppelin then 'what's fuckin wrong wi ye?'"

2. Israel - Siouxsie and the Banshees

"Inspired a life-long love affair with flawed voiced weird sounding female vocalists..." [Why do all the men I know love flawed sounding women? As opposed to flawed women, which would mean they'd all be into Britney...]

3. & 4. Homosapien and What do I get? - By Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks respectively

"To show that punk and post-punk need not be nihilistic but can have a progression if done well"

[Here, I would just like to point out, I would clarify that during the very early 80s I was attending a dutch primary school in Germany and the most musically aware I was was when the Kids from Fame show used to come on the German tv. I think I was also vaguely aware of Europop, hence Eurovision, hence (ahem) Bucks Fizz. I maintain that my poor earlier musical tastes stem entirely from a difference in years - James has the edge by a few - and a difference in surroundings. I mean, as an adult, I have explored the Buzzcocks' oeuvre, but I still had to google Pete Shelley only to find he was indeed, lead vocalist with the Buzzcocks and I saw him on stage last year...]

5. Floorshow - Sisters of Mercy

"First thing I ever heard in a club" [I don't remember the first thing I ever heard in a club. I remember the first drink tho because I was 14, very underage and wasn't sure what I should be ordering to sound appropriately mature but also have it be drinkable. Sadly, a half of lager and lime was what I chose in the end. Why oh why?]

6. First we take Manhattan, then we take New York - Leonard Cohen

"I had previously thought that Monsieur Cohen was a depressing joke. This song made me rethink this." [Sadly, I never 'got' the joke and took to Cohen in an angsty, posturing sort of way when I heard 'Everybody knows' in my early University years... now I can nod wisely and pretend i was in on the joke all along...]

7. Bring on the dancing horses - Echo and the Bunnymen

"...for you my friend, it has horses in the title" [this a reference to the fact that James discovered early on that my childhood was full of ponies, so would take to buying me kitsch birthday cards featuring mares and their foals, "Look, Anne-Marie, it's got horses!". As an aside, I love this track... regardless of the horses reference]

8. Love like Blood - Killing Joke

"The most romantic song I ever heard"

9. Pinhead - The Ramones

"First time I ever drank rum I listened to the Ramones 'It's Alive' double album and it was the first time I'd come across the practice of crushing and throwing out the bottle top when you open a bottle of spirits, which means you're in for the long-haul" [By God, James is so much more rock n roll than me. I've never crushed the top of a bottle of spirits and I consider myself to have sunk a few in my time. I remain a rank amateur...]

10. Highwire Days - The Psychedelic Furs

"They are hangover Saturday 2pm. They simultaneously make you reflect on your Friday and inspire you to do better with your Saturday." [They also make me squirm with delight - I love the lead singer's cracked raspy old voice]

11. Venus in Furs - Velvet Underground

"Just ideal for recovery on Sunday afternoons"

12. Upside Down - Jesus and Mary Chain

"I used to carry this single from club to club."

13. I don't want to (go to Chelsea) - Elvis Costello

"How underrated a songwriter is Elvis Costello?"

14. Like a rolling stone - Bob Dylan

"It was the first song I heard being played at a party in Glasgow where everyone was drunk and everyone sang along with a far away look like it meant something different to everyone"

15. Highway to Hell - ACDC

"The most unifying number ever"

16. Rock the Kasbah - The Clash

"Reminds me of the Kasbar in Edinburgh where they never had the floor washed from week to week, which redefined tacky. They always played this song when we arrived for the 1 til 4 shift."

17. Terror Couple Killed Colonel - Bauhaus

"The political association. I love music that leads to research."

18. Undertow - The March Violets

"First ever love of my life used to listen to the March Violets and I used to fancy the female singer. I bumped into Tom Ashton (the male singer) 10 years ago. It was like meeting John Lennon. I asked him whatever happened to the female singer. Ashton married her, c'est la vie. We still got hammered and sang some of The Undertow on the way from the Hog's Head to The Bistro."

[That's what I love about the way James used to drink. It always led to monumental nights out. Things happened. Nowadays if you fancy a drink you don't fancy doing it in the company of the general public, so you get drunk with friends at houses and in living rooms. It takes all the seedy glamour out of it...]

19. Success - Iggy Pop

"Like a waking dream"

20. Interzone - Joy Division (when known as Warsaw)

"All that and Ian Curtis dance moves. Interestingly, I think if older people danced like Curtis they would embarrass their children less."

Wow. And all this from the man who introduced me to a band called Revolting Cocks, or Revco for the slightly less potty-mouthed among us.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Like she's just stepped out of the salon

I've just cleaned up my sitting room (long overdue - chemo fatigue will give you excuses to put off the most tedious jobs first) and i'm sat here on the sofa, the windows open, listening to a drunk shouting out on the street and feeling the breeze stir what's left of my hair.

And this reminds me that in all the drama of head-shaving, hat-wearing and scarf-buying, I don't think I ever told the story of my ghost hair.

It was just after I first had my head shaved to grade 3. The hairdresser finished, and, unaccumstomed as I was to the bald look, I wrapped my head back up in the scarf I came in with and sauntered back to the office. It was late, and only a couple of people were still there.

I leant over to Johnnie and whispered "Do you want to see my new hair/head?". He screwed up his face in consideration like a small child, "Yes" he pronounced. I whipped off my scarf and revealed all. Sinead O'Conner comparisons all round and within a few minutes I felt confident enough to walk down to the other end of the office to actually go talk business with someone, without my scarf on.

It was as I did this that I felt it. As I walked and my head moved through the air, I could feel my hair blowing in the breeze. Except I had no hair.

It felt like I had long flowing hair and I was in a wind tunnel. But I was shaven, bald, and inside with all the windows shut. What on earth was going on?

Back at my desk I asked Johnnie. "When men get their hair trimmed really short, do they feel as if they've still got long hair?".

Johnnie told me men don't feel this because the majority of them have never really known what it was like to have really long hair. What I was going through must be like someone who has had their leg amputated. It can only be because I once had long hair that I am now imagining it once it has all been cut off.

I had ghost hair. Hair that believed itself to be there despite it's obvious absence.

What's more, it felt delicious. When I moved, even to duck down beneath my desk to unplug my computer, every nerve ending on every follicle was alive, my ghost hair waving around like those ladies in that terrible eighties ad who had just stepped out of a salon. And when I walked outside, the breeze blowing down the street massaged my head into a pleasuredome of shivery sensations, I suddenly thought I was the luckiest woman alive.

Imagine feeling this, every time you move? Sex would pale in comparison, the most delicious food would lose it's appeal, and chocolate sales would suffer.

Then it stopped. Almost as soon as it had started.

I think my brain had suddenly caught up with my hair follicles and informed them that they no longer had any hair. Either way, my ghost hair feeling is no longer a regular occurrence.

But just occasionally, when I've been sat still for a while and suddenly move, or if I go outside after having been cooped up at my desk all day and meet a fresh breeze, then if I'm really, really lucky, I get a moment or two of utterly pleasurable ghost hair. And I relish every second of it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cruising for a bruising

Just come out of a long bath and have been inspecting my bruises.

Yesterday evening I decided to fight the fatigue with endorphins by going for a bike ride with R. We found our way down past the River Wandle, up through the hills of Wimbledon, cruncing and skidding through the gravel paths of Wimbledon common, all the way to Richmond park where we sat and watched a herd of deer to our left and some extreme kite flyers to our right.

Then we got up to go home again and within minutes I disovered I had a puncture in my rear wheel. So I pushed my bike all the long miles home. And in doing so I clipped my calves a few times on the pedals.

This morning, my legs have blue bruises all over them. Knocks and bumps that normally would barely show are coming up on me within hours. I know what's causing it - it's the low blood cell count kicking in.

But it's still weird to see your body react (or over-react) on some sort of fast forward setting. Like some sort of time lapse photography, I can almost see the bruises blooming on my skin.

Despite everything else, the major hold chemo has on me is the sheer fascination I am finding with how my body reacts to these killer drugs. My hair falls out, my stomach churns, my shins bruise, once every three weeks I feel like a walking zombie for a few days.

But the most fascinating thing remains that regardless of how much damage the drugs are wreaking on my various systems, I feel relatively normal, most of the time. Yes, that is the wonder of my body. I may be balding and burping and not sleeping, but boy, the rest of me is still functioning and that feels like a triumph in itself.

Bitter little pills

So, in consulation with my oncologist two days ago we decide that as I still had all sorts of sleeping problems around the steroid pill popping period during cycle two, and yet I've been doing so well on not vomiting or even feeling any passing nausea, that maybe I was ready to reduce the steroid intake.

I sort of admitted to her that on both cycle one and two I had inadvertently lapsed on taking the last few Dex pills - more to do with having trouble remembering to take them once I was back at work and eating locations changed. It's all very easy to recall how many of which packet to take when you have a complex spreadsheet type list on the front of your fridge. Less so when you're scoffing a sandwich at your desk.

Anyway, I was duly given the same amount of Dex as a pre-med through the portocacth but the prescription of pills for afters has been reduced.

Except there's one problem... I got up very late yesterday and had breakfast at around 12.30. With that I took the first dose (2 pills) of Wednesday's Dex. Then come dinner (no point having lunch if you had breakfast at 12.30 after all) I realised I had a dilemma. The prescription says to take 2 pills with breakfast and 2 with lunch. If you take them any later you end up really screwing up your sleep. So I skipped them, instantly halving the already reduced dosage.

And, in that weird way where you know you really shouldn't ignore doctors when they cheerily say "keep taking those pills!", my body immediately noticed the absence of Dex. I have duly popped another two pills this morning, along with the ondansetron which also combats nausea, but still I could hardly keep my breakfast down. If I smell a strong food smell, it turns my stomach.

Not a nice experience and not one I'll be repeating in a hurry.

And I suddenly find myself viewing the small bottle of Dex with a strange fondness. Even if they cause all sorts of nasty side effects. Here's the list from wikipedia:

- Stomach upset, increased sensitivity to stomach acid to the point of ulceration of esophagus, stomach, and duodenum
- Increased appetite leading to significant weight gain
- A latent diabetes mellitus often becomes manifest. Glucose intolerance is worsened in patients with preexisting diabetes.
- Immunsuppressant action, particularly if given together with other immunosuppressants such as ciclosporine. Bacterial, viral, and fungal disease may progress more easily and can become life-threatening. Fever as a warning symptom is often suppressed.
- Psychiatric disturbances, including personality changes, irritability, euphoria, mania
- Osteoporosis under long term treatment, pathologic fractures (e.g., hip)
- Muscle atrophy, negative protein balance (catabolism)
- Elevated liver enzymes, fatty liver degeneration (usually reversible)
- Cushingoid (syndrome resembling hyperactive adrenal cortex with increase in adiposity, hypertension, bone demineralization, etc.)
- Depression of the adrenal gland is usually seen, if more than 1.5 mg daily are given for more than three weeks to a month.
- Hypertension, fluid and sodium retention, edema, worsening of heart insufficiency (due to mineral corticoid activity)
- Dependence with withdrawal syndrome is frequently seen.
- Increased intraocular pressure, certain types of glaucoma, cataract (serious clouding of eye lenses)
- Dermatologic: Acne, allergic dermatitis, dry scaly skin, ecchymoses and petechiae, erythema, impaired wound-healing, increased sweating, rash, striae, suppression of reactions to skin tests, thin fragile skin, thinning scalp hair, urticaria.
- Allergic reactions (though infrequently): Anaphylactoid reaction, anaphylaxis, angioedema. (Highly unlikely, since dexamethasone is given to prevent anaphylactoid reactions.)

So out of all of those they don;t even mention the sleeping problem. Though my doctors tell me that the Dex is what is causing it. But I can also count the infected oesophagus, heartburn, indigestion, constipation against these innocent looking little pills.

But I love those little pills if they can stop me feeling sick.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The perfect weekend

So doped up from Chemo 3 this morning that I may be a little incoherent... but here goes.

Got back from three days in Sardinia with my sister late on Sunday night (well, actually, early Monday morning).


The weekend was a perfect mini break. The mini break has become such a cliche in travel that I don't tend to think of it as a preferred type of holiday. My pattern of late has been to take as long a period of time off as my boss will allow and do a big trip, supplemented by whatever small trips I can eke out of remaining holiday allowances.

So last year started with returning from a three week trip driving to the Gambia on the Plymouth-Dakar Challenge. That was the biggie. It was followed up by a four day trip to Slovenia, a weekend in Paris, and then a week in Tunisia on a totally unashamedly package deal to rest up before we departed on the T4 Challenge in mid December for the next four week old banger rally to Mali. And although the long trips are so exhilirating and rewarding, the short breaks hold their own surprisingly well.

And this one was no different.


We arrived early Friday morning, found our way to getting the 70c bus from the airport to the hotel, enjoyed a drink on the terrace in the warm Mediterranean sunshine and then hit the beach. Our excitement was so great we managed to brave the icy water (natural springs in the bay keep it that way) and went snorkelling until we had goosebumps. The rest of the weekend passed in a haze of playing cards, lying and snoozing on sunbeds, reading books, gossiping about other guests, trying to decipher the so-bad-they're-hilarious English translations the hotel specialised in, and discussing the mighty issues of life today.

Simply put, we did nothing much.


We hired a couple of canoes on Saturday afternoon to give the impression of physical activity (though not the impression I was hoping for as I tumbled out of it whilst attempting to get in in front of the entire beach) and took the bus into Alghero on Saturday night to claim the cultural card (altho nothing cultural happened... we marvelled at the expensive Italian boutiques, bought the world's best ice cream, and watched an old lady piss herself on the bus on the way back to the hotel).

But augmenting our 'nothing' with a little light canoeing and medieval town walking does not a packed itinerary make.

So, we did mainly nothing and it was bliss.

And now I've just done Chemo 3 where both my oncologist and breast care nurse commented on how well I looked, "You have a real glow about you". I had to let them know that was entirely due to a few days in the sun, and nothing to do with inner health.

Although maybe private healthcare could provide weekend breaks on mediterranean islands as a key component of cancer treatment. It's a thought, isn't it? Although arguably that might not prove too popular among skin cancer victims...


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Welcome back to me

This week has been like being the old pre breast cancer me. Which is good, but truly knackering.

I have worked hard and late, eaten out, eaten crap, presented in pitches and compiled lengthy and very very dull tender documents, drunk wine and seen friends, and finally, packed for a long weekend away in Sardinia. Yep, we leave at 3.30am tomorrow morning to head to Stansted and sunny islands... Bliss.

But in the meantime I have a headache, I've just finished an 83 slide document, I haven't eaten since lunchtime, I've drunk far too much diet coke, the house is a mess and I'm tired of ringing R to say I'm going to be home late.

I don't feel like a cancer patient. Which is a good thing in some ways, but next week it's chemo three (boy don't they come around quick) and I need to slow down again. This chaos is not good for me.

Deep breaths.

Tomorrow brings a sunny beach, clear water, good company.

Chaos Schmaos.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Feeling a little clockwork orange

Had a Very Important Meeting this morning. Bit of a landmark really.

It was the first prospect presenation I have made since being bald / shaving my head. That is, the first business meeting I've had with a hat on.

Unless you live in Texas, I don't think you see that many hats in the boardroom. So I was struggling with finding the 'right' hat to wear with a suit. A cowboy hat is too casual, so yesterday's Yeehah number is out of the question. A silk scarf is possible, but the balder I get the more slippery my head becomes and the permanent adjustment required of these things gets a bit fiddly.

So yet again, cancer leaves me with a Trinny and Susannah style quandary. What to wear?

Then I saw it on the top shelf of my wardrobe. The traditional bowler hat that my University friend Rachel left behind in our flat when she left. I claimed it, intending to return it, but time moved on, Rachel has vanished into the past, and somehow the hat is still with me. I'd used it a couple of times before, to cross-dress as Charlie Chaplin for fancy dress parties. The inner brim has a smear of white face paint at brow level as proof.

But what hat could be more perfect to wear for a business meeting when you're sporting a black suit? I feel a little City Gent meets Clockwork Orange (so I played down the mascara today to avoid too many comparisons with the latter) but it's worked. I just did a presentation to three total strangers and I felt fine.

Actually, I didn't just feel fine.

I felt a little funky too...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A charmed life

It was my birthday on Friday.

And the sun shone and work just went, and then we jumped in the car and drove out to a farm underneath White Horse hill in the Vale of the White Horse, where friends had set up camp. Their children were running around barefoot and the fire was starting to catch. We pitched our tents, balloons were blown up and festooned around my tent, and fresh trout was cooked over a barbecue as potatoes baked in the coals. I cracked open a bottle of champagne courtesy of the office, and we toasted the night. Fuzzy haired, fuzzy headed and happy, I went to bed.

Twenty four hours later, having woken about eight times the night before thanks to stiff joints, dawn choruses and noisy crows fighting over the fish heads in the fire embers, it felt less idyllic. Tired and emotional, I yet again realised that doing normal stuff when on chemo has to come with a warning for me. If not undertaken on a full night's sleep I will get ratty and be easily upset.

Or was it just the realities of camping setting in? Lets face it, the beauty and specialness wears off when you're facing your second night away from your own bed and a bathroom all to your self...

Either way, it was a fantastic way to spend my birthday and great to spend some time outside in the English countryside with some very good friends.

And when I got home one of them gave me this. A gift so well thought through it made me cry (see... I still need some more sleep). A charm bracelet with small charms representing the flora and fauna of Uganda. A giraffe, a fish, a gecko, a banana and, the best of all, a small silver hippo.

Strangely, the banana has a small hinged door on it which opens to reveal a tiny monkey. These charm-makers, they have a vivid imagination. But it remains the loveliest present.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Search engine confusion

Just been browsing my sitemeter results for this blog. Turns out I've been clicked on by someone searching blogger for the word "sapphic".

See - I'd told you I'd be getting lots of new lesbian friends. Just thought it would be the haircut, not the blog, that would do it...

When God finds you, and not the other way around

Last week R and I dived into the local charity shop. The main reason for going in was to do a 'hats and scarves' hunt but we had a nose around the other shelves while we were there. Neither of us are too proud for a good rummage amongst the jumble and before long R had pulled out an attractive check shirt. It was crisp and clean, it didn't smell, it was his size and a nice orangey pinky yellow check.

Five minutes later, having parted with a whole £2.50, it was his.

And last night, when rooting around for the washing instructions on the label he discovered it had a second label with some faded text on it. It read:

"I will greatly rejoice in God, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation."

We were both stumped. Was this some secret Jehovah plan to convert charity shop shoppers to the ways of the Lord by stealth? Stick some words on the label behind the washing label and evey time someone checks what temperature to wash the garment at, they subtly take in a little more of God's wisdom?

Turning over the shirt and looking for other clues lead us to the label. Isaiah Clothing. Mmmm. Isaiah.... wasn't he in the bible? We googled it.

Sure enough. Isaiah Clothing was a 'positive statement T-shirt company' with the line on their website 'Faith is a journey'. My wholly atheist boyfriend had somehow managed to buy a God-botherer's shirt.

We spent the rest of the evening laughing our heathen heads off.