Honey honey

I have a carrier bag full of tablets. Pain killers, anti-sickness, anti-this, anti-that. My medicine for the side effects of the cancer treatment is all pretty potent. Some of it is so strong that I have capsules which I have to take first to prepare my stomach for the toxic onslaught. Thankfully most of the stuff now stays in the bag.

This week I’m celebrating a medical breakthrough but it’s not thanks to a pill or a chemical potion – something much more natural – honey. It’s helped with a problem that’s been bothering me for a while. For many months actually.

Medical honey – not to be put on toast!

Before I go on, I have to warn you that there are a few euwghhh medical details so if you’re a bit squeamish, you might want to give this a miss. Otherwise let’s get on with the gore…

So, the operation to get rid of the stupid cancer was way back in March. The wound was held together with what looked like metal staples. I was left with a massive scar. I don’t mind its size as it reflects just what a big battle I fought and won.

A couple of weeks after the surgery they were pulled out (even more painful than it sounds) the skin should have all joined up. That’s not quite what happened.

Once the staples were out, I laid back on my hospital bed and stared at the scar. It looked as if it had healed lovely. But over the next half an hour I watched as part of the wound opened up. It was like a real life horror movie. It seemed like my stomach was being ripped apart. I was totally freaked out.

If you imagine two decks of cards on top of each other, that’s how long, wide and deep the wound was. Just gruesome.

I had a mixture of sickness and panic but the faces of the medical staff didn’t reflect the fear that I felt. They told me that it would improve. I wasn’t convinced. I couldn’t bear to look at it for weeks.

The area needed to be treated every day and then every other day. There was a lovely team of district nurses who came to see me at my parent’s house. Sasha the dog enjoyed having the regular visitors but it meant my life was planned around my wound. Gradually it shrank but the chemo ensured that it never healed.

You might think that compared to dealing with cancer this isn’t really a big deal and you’re right, in the scheme of things it’s not, but it just dragged on. Once the chemo was over it seemed to get worse. When I came back to London it was the wonderful nurses at my GP’s surgery who gave it the attention that it constantly demanded.

My life seemed to revolve around the wound. It was a lingering link to my traumatic time in hospital. Until it was sorted out, I knew that I wouldn’t feel like I was really getting better.

I went back to hospital where a tissue specialist suggested we try putting honey on the affected area. She told me how honey has antibacterial properties and has been used to help with healing for centuries. I was willing to try anything. Medical grade honey that had been sterilised was smeared on my wound. This wasn’t quite the gloopy stuff that you get in a jar but very similar.

I had the sweet, sticky treatment for about a month. It made such a difference.

After 37 frustrating weeks, the wound has now finally healed and it’s a huge relief. This is another step towards getting my life back. It’s amazing that in the end, it was an ancient remedy that came to my rescue.

Hair we go

Something strange happened. I was taking off my make-up recently at the end of a long day.

Make-up is the cancer fighter’s friend. It helps you to look kinda normal and feel good. It fills in the gaps, giving you eyebrows and lashes plus a healthy glow – all the things that go missing.

After my chemo hair loss, I stopped looking at my face too closely and put my make-up on using a rubbish tiny mirror. I didn’t want to focus on what wasn’t there.

Anyway, that night I was removing my make-up. The eyeliner was proving to be quite stubborn, it just wouldn’t come off.

I found a proper big mirror that was well lit. I stared at my eyes and rubbed harder. Then I realised that it wasn’t smudged make-up. Ohhh no.

Amazingly, it was my actual eyelashes. They’re back!!

I was so surprised to suddenly see them again. I thought that it would take much longer. Not only that but I also have eyebrows again! Even the hair on my head has started to come back thick and fast.

I now have a brown coloured scalp. It’s like snap-on Lego hair. It’s way too short to go wig-less. Besides, I didn’t choose to have this very severe hairstyle; this is what cancer did to me. That’s why I don’t want to be seen out in public like this. I’m sure no one would care if I did but that’s not the point.

The toxic treatment takes away much of your identity but it also gives you a chance to experiment. I think that why I’ve enjoyed being blonde. I’ve had fun being Raquel and Candice which came from the hospital’s wig man.

I decided that it was time to see what else was out there and went wig shopping. I tried on plenty of new styles but there was only one that I wanted.

So, what did I get?

Me.

Candice, Raquel, the new wig and Barbarella

I chose to be me again. My new wig is just like my old hair. A bit shorter and slightly lighter but very very similar to what I once was.

It feels much softer and more natural than any of my other ones and moves almost like real hair. For my fellow wig wearers – it has a monofilament top and comes from the Vicki Ullah Wig Boudoir – hey get me!

Right now, my new wig has no name. I can’t think of anything that seems suitable. Maybe it’s because this isn’t a new identity. This is me.

But, don’t worry, I won’t be putting the other wigs back in their boxes just yet. I’m now going to a part time blonde.

It’s in the bag

The first time that I celebrated beating cancer, more than a decade ago, I bought myself something very special – a ruby ring.

The sparkle made me think about the bright future that lay ahead after getting the all clear.

Now, don’t go thinking this was super expensive. After some haggling, it cost me something like £38 in a Turkish market. I wore it everywhere during my time abroad. Its chunky band felt comforting when I was a bit stressed.

But I only realised just how precious it was to me when I was covering the story of a devastating earthquake in Italy. We were staying some distance away from the disaster zone. It was the early hours of the morning and I’d only just gone to bed, when there was a violent aftershock. It was the same strength as the quake itself. My hotel room shook so much that I was convinced I was going to die.

Once it stopped and I’d established that the hotel was safe, I went back to bed. I know that might sound strange but I was exhausted. However I was aware that I might have to suddenly flee the room again.

So I slept with the ring on. It was the only thing in the world I didn’t want to lose. After that I was a lot more careful. For years I continued to wear it and I managed to keep it safe.

That was until the end of last year. Around the same time that I had the painful symptoms which led me to be diagnosed with cancer again, the ruby in my ring cracked and eventually shattered. Sadly, I had to stop wearing it.

Fast forward to now and yayyy once more I’m celebrating killing the cancer.

This time I’ve spent a lot more than £38. I’ve bought myself a Mulberry handbag . It’s something that’s been on my wish list for years.

Coming face to face with your own mortality gives you new meaning. You reassess what’s important and it changes your perspective. It also told me that I needed a fabulous new handbag in my life.

I didn’t actually plan to buy it quite so soon. When I went into the shop with my friend Lynne, I only went to look. Honestly. I saw the one that I loved but I needed to think about it. You can’t buy something like this on impulse.

My friend told me to just man up and buy the bag! I didn’t need much persuasion.

And so that’s exactly what I did.

It’s a fantastic feeling to suddenly have something I’ve wanted for so long. To me it symbolises beating cancer twice. It may be only a bag but it makes me so happy every time I look at it.

Last week me and my bag went to the dentist. You’re not allowed any treatment on your teeth while you’re going through chemo. Risk of infection and all that. It was lovely doing something normal even if it was a trip to the dentist. Perhaps that’s because I didn’t need anything too awful.

On the way home we popped into a little shop on a main road. The man behind the counter said he could help me and that I should come back in an hour.

When I did, he gave me back the sparkle that I was missing. The jeweller had found the perfect ruby and fixed my ring.