Chemo#3

I have a confession to make. The last two blog posts have been written under the influence. I didn’t realise it but both times I was on a steroid high. Chemo#1 and chemo#2 have gone something like this…

Tuesday – Have chemo along with a load of steroids to help my body cope with the toxic side effects. Tuesday night – Insomnia.

Wednesday – Feel so energetic that I go for a little run. I know. A run – the day after chemo! Wednesday night – Horrific nightmares followed by insomnia.

Thursday – Feel miserable.

Thursday night – Sleep returns to normal.

Friday – Wake up feeling like me. No high, no low, no desire to do any running.

On Wednesdays I felt amazing and was bursting with energy. The real problem was with that awful Thursday comedown. Both times it’s hit me hard and I have months of treatment to go. I couldn’t work out what was happening until I mentioned my mood swings to a doctor.

If I really needed to have so many steroids then I’d just deal with it but why put up with something that can be changed?

Red band spells steroid danger

Before I started chemo#3 I asked if I could get the moody drugs reduced. It caused a bit of a kafuffle. Not many people opt for this. Steroids are used to reduce this risk of your body from having a bad reaction to chemo; like that patient did last week. Apparently it’s rare but a really bad reaction can be deadly. Cutting back on the steroids was a gamble although the doctor on the ward preferred to call it a calculated risk.

I knew that my body copes well with chemo. Oh yes, it’s one of my hidden talents. But I still wasn’t sure and neither were the medical staff. In the end we agreed that I’d have half the usual steroids and be closely monitored.

If something scary is going to happen it will do so in the first 15 minutes or so. I wanted to be awake to watch and worry however like before, the chemo cocktail put me straight to sleep. I didn’t even have time to take my wig off. I was relieved to have my friend, Chantal the flower girl at my side.

So what happened? Nothing. I was totally fine and slept all the way through the critical period and beyond. I’m still writing this after all!

It was quite stressful though. Not exactly what you need. I’m trying hard not to turn chemo into a big deal. I want it to be just part of weekly life.

As I’m keeping everything normal I offered to work an early morning shift before chemo in the afternoon. Getting up at 4.30am wasn’t great. But that was the whole point. I was playing mind games with myself and it worked. My brain was more annoyed about the stupidly early hour rather than the prospect of chemo.

It was a busy morning at work doing live TV reports and interviews for the BBC News Channel. I didn’t have time to think about my impending trip to the chemo cocktail bar.

I can see why my consultants have encouraged me to continue to work if I’m able to. The morning made me realise more than ever just how important it is to do the things you really enjoy. It gives you a sense of purpose that you’ll never get from a trip to hospital.

Also work is a big part of my identity. I may have cancer but that doesn’t define who I am. Being active is another part of my identity which has nothing to do with the disease. Earlier I went out for some exercise. I used to be very sporty and I’m keen to get fit again. Playing netball again is on my List for Living which I’m still working on.

I think that I’m now having much less of a steroid rush. The insomnia wasn’t so bad last night. The steroid highs made me feel like I had boundless energy. Today I managed to jog for two and half minutes with great difficulty. It’s good not to feel so hyper but just happy, tired and rubbish at running again.

Chemo #2

For my second week of treatment I was out for lunch. No,really, I went out for lunch half way through my chemo day. I escaped from hospital although I did it with permission from my nurse.

Weekly chemo is supposed to be quick and easy. Ha! That’s more hope than reality. The day starts with blood tests; this is to prove I’m well enough for what’s to come. It takes about half an hour for the results to come through.

It’s only once the doctors get these, that my order is put in at the chemo cocktail bar. The clear liquid has to be mixed. Shaken not stirred. This then has to be delivered to the chemo ward. The process takes around a couple of hours.

As I knew that there was a long wait ahead, I decided that the best time to leave would be straight after the blood tests. I snuck out with Mum and my Aunt Rose who’d come up to London to keep me company. My friend, the blogger joggingjenny, also joined us although instead of running there, she did actually get the bus! For a couple of hours I was free.

For a stressful day, it was lovely to go out for lunch. It took my mind off things. I wasn’t surrounded by medial sights and smells. Plus Jamie Oliver has a far better menu than the hospital canteen. It felt strange, almost like I was skiving from school.

Afterwards I was able to start my treatment with a really upbeat mood. That lasted about oooh a few seconds until the moment the needle went into my hand for the IV drip.

“I just need to push it in a bit further,” my nurse kept repeating.

Before I had Tamsin promising to pinch me as a distraction, this time I thought of yellow. Bright, warm, sunshine yellow. It may seem odd but I’ve been reading an interesting book called The Yellow World by Albert Espinosa. He had cancer as a teenager and is now in the clear. But not before he had more than 8o sessions of chemo. In total I’m only on number 14.

The Spanish author has a big thing about the colour yellow. He reckons it’s very special. As I looked away from the nurse I saw a woman in a yellow jumper…maybe he’s onto something. Albert Espinosa also believes that if you think – this will hurt – then it will. Following his advice, whenever the word pain popped into my head, I replaced it with pavement because it’s a word that’s totally unconnected with pain. And it worked, a bit.

As the drugs started to flow, my friend Louise stopped by for the chemo coffee club. With a posh paper bag, she came carrying contraband. Louise broke the no-cake-it’s-chemo-again rule! The fancy cup cakes been sprinkled with blue sparkles and were inside a box tied with a long pink ribbon. I’m trying to be super healthy but the cakes tasted amazing so all was forgiven.

However just being there, squashed into a small cell of the stuffy chemo unit, made me want to cry. I was so tired and my hand was in real pavement. It was that bad I had to take my wig off.

One thing that helped me was a comment on my blog from a woman called Mary, who I think is from Australia. She was told she had five days to live. She was given some advice by a woman in the next bed to her who was also dancing with cancer.

Now three years on she wanted to share this advice with me. First of all try to think of chemo as your friend, as something incredible, like liquid gold flowing through your veins. Yet more yellowness. Accept it and welcome it. Secondly, instead of thinking why me? She suggests that it may be more helpful to try considering, why not me??

She’s right. I’m coming to realise that self-pity is such a waste of valuable energy. I’m sure that no-one thinks that they deserve to get this killer disease. But I have it and I need to focus on the fight.

Then something terrible happened on the ward. A patient near me had a serious reaction to the chemo. The drugs are so toxic that there is always the chance your body will reject them with frightening consequences. After some emergency care the paitent was fine. Not well but no longer in danger.

While the only problems I had came from my hand hurting thanks to the drip and the side effect of sleepy drunkenness. I didn’t say a word about them. I’m just so grateful that my body is still strong and can take the kicking it’s getting from the chemo. Long may this continue.

Chemo #1

I walked into the hospital with a sense of dread. This was my third round of chemo. I wasn’t worried but I just didn’t want to be there. I shouldn’t have to do this again.

There was a big queue to get checked-in. People were crowded around the reception. The hospital reeked of cinnamon, for me this is the sickening smell of chemo. I felt like I was going to collapse from the stress of it all. I wanted to shout, I’m going to faint if I have to stand any longer. Don’t you know I have cancer? But then so did everyone else so I kept quiet.

It was just a small wobble and I had my friend Tamsin with me for support. We drank cappuccinos and talked about happy things, anything other than cancer. Tamsin had brought me some lovely presents including a notebook to write my new List for Living.

The staff on the chemo ward were pretty much the same. Last time I was there I had my own hair. Despite wearing my Raquel wig for chemo#1 some of them still recognised me.

“Hey how you doing? You look well,” one of the nurses in a dark blue uniform said to me with a smile. I wanted to reply that I was only visiting, that I’d popped in to say hello.

“I’m back again for more.”

“Oh…..” Her smile disappeared.

Not much had changed at the chemo cocktail bar. The patient patrons were still mostly pensioners but at least there were some new high-tech reclining chairs.

Setting up the medical equipment, my nurse found it hard to get a vein. The chemo is delivered through an IV drip via an orange tube. My veins are rubbish and seem to run away at the sight of a needle. As my arm was gouged by the nurse, I looked away and towards Tamsin. She offered to pinch my other arm to take my mind off it. Now that’s what friends are for!

The chemo is so toxic that a collection of other things are pumped into you first to prepare your body. I was warned that one of them would make me sleepy. It actually made me feel drunk, properly end of the night and need to go home drunk. And I hadn’t even started on the evil chemo cocktail.

I pressed the recline button and settled back into my chair. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

It was time to visualise James Bond shooting the crap out of my tumour. It seems that I’m not the only one. A woman called Nicky sent me a message to say that when she had chemo she imagined Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street running around her veins killing the cancer with a rolling pin!

I slept almost all the way through the chemo. Now that’s my kind of a cancer kicking work-out.

I was woken by a loud man on the other side of the room who was visiting an older lady. I felt dizzy and disorientated as I came round. I watched the loud man talk to the nurses and other people’s visitors. He alternated between patronising and sleazy. What an idiot. If you’re visiting a cancer ward, then please shhhh, don’t shout. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of someone who’s under the influence.

As soon as the drugs were done, my friend and I made a swift exit.

Like before, I’m recovering at my parents’ house. Last night I slept in my childhood bedroom – the same place that I retreated to after all the previous cancer treatment. It’s very sad to be back in my old bed again because of chemo. But at the same time I have amazing parents who look after me. Not everyone gets that kind of support when they’re ill.

And very importantly I’m lucky to still be alive. I first had the disease when I was in my late twenties, since then I’ve been living under a cancery shadow. There are many times when really it should have killed me. Despite doing this all again I feel so very fortunate. I still have options.

Earlier I walked around the frosty garden a few times. When I’m recovering from treatment I always try to do some exercise. Compared to when I first did this after my massive operation last year, I now have masses more energy. I even jogged the final lap. Just because I could.

Most of the day has been far less energetic. It’s passed in a tired and dizzy haze. There’s a certain type of Ukrainian vodka that makes me feel like this and so I’m pretending to myself that this is just a hangover.

However this is a happy hangover. Getting a third cancer diagnosis was a huge shock but now I feel empowered. I’m back on the chemo cocktails and blasting that tiny tumour.

Hello chemo, again

Oh chemo, how I haven’t missed you. It’s only been 21 weeks since we were last hooked up. I didn’t think you’d have me back so soon.

It’s been a strange few days as I’ve been preparing to start this toxic treatment again. You may have read about this blog in some of the newspapers following my post on Friday. Wow, what a response. It’s been incredible. Thanks for all the messages. Sorry that I can’t reply to each and every one, it’s just been overwhelming. But they really do help to lift my spirits.

Seeing the facts in black and white somehow made them seem even more shocking. It was as if they were talking about someone else. How can something so terrible be happening to me when I feel so full of life? The headlines were about my ‘months to live’. Yes, that’s a possibility but my focus is firmly on the ‘years to live’.

I’m sure it was difficult too for those close to me. Although some of my friends found it amusing that the papers had used an unflattering photo of me. They knew I wouldn’t like it and they were right. I think it’s great that my friends can still make fun of me. This is lovely, if slightly embarrasing, normality.

Anyway, just to redress the balance, here’s one of my favourite pictures of me. Here I’m reporting for BBC Breakfast. If there are any more stories about me then I hope they use something like this rather than a screen grab from the TV!

Many people have offered to help me with my List for Living. This is fantastic. I’m still working on that list; it’s getting longer and longer. Plenty of people have selflessly offered to help me find unsuitable men. Thanks also to all the unsuitable men who have put themselves forward!

So, it’s chemo #1. As this is the third round of the treatment I’m not especially worried. I’ve had this chemo drug before and I know the drill.

When I was here before I hoped I’d never need any more evil chemo cocktails, now I know this is part of my life forever. The best way to cope with this is not to see it as a big deal. I’m going to think of chemo in the same way as I used to think about the gym. It’s something I have to do every week. I don’t really want to go but I know that once I’m there it won’t be too bad; it’ll help keep me healthy and only take an hour or two. Chemo is my cancer-kicking workout.

Just like before, it will be a chance to catch up with friends. I know I shouldn’t admit this but last time I had so much fun with my friends during our chemo coffee sessions. I actually quite enjoyed being at hospital.

Mind you, there’s going to be one significant change. There will be no cake. Last year I ate lots of it so that cake would be forever associated with chemo and I wouldn’t fancy it anymore. We called it chemo-cake-therapy. Well, it seems to have worked. I just don’t want to eat cake anymore.

As usual I spent the night before chemo thinking about James Bond. Of course this is Daniel Craig as 007. I visualise him killing the cancer. This time it’s a whole lot more violent. James Bond has the biggest baddest machine gun. I picture him pumping the tiny tumour full of bullets. Obliterating it.

As regular readers of my blog will know I have a thing for Bond. I even managed to go to the premiere of Skyfall last year.

It was in October, slap bang in the middle of a glorious few months when I was recovering from treatment and cancer free. I’d give anything to be able to go back to that time.

But I have to think about the future.

I’ve been really inspired by the messages that I’ve had from fellow cancer fighters. The people who’re still alive and defying the odds. One lady in her sixties told me how she’s been beating ovarian cancer for almost fifty years. Others have described how they’re living well despite having a looming best before date.

These are people who’re not just surviving but thriving. I’m having this chemo so I can become one of them.

Back for good

These are the words I never ever wanted to write again. I have cancer AGAIN.

When I first started this blog last March I wrote something very similar. Back then there was hope. I went on to have so much horrendous treatment. I really thought that I’d killed the cancer. Now it turns out that the cancer will kill me.

This is the third time I’ve been diagnosed with the disease. I have advanced cancer, the kind you can never get rid of. All I can now is try to destroy each tumour every time I get one. I’m not terminally ill but I will die a lot sooner than I ever imagined.

The crazy thing is that I feel so well and yet I might be dead by the summer.

The worst case scenario is that I have six months to live. So little time. I’ve been told that it’s a good idea to ‘get my affairs in order’. That’s such a hateful phrase. I’ve started to write my will and think about my funeral. You may be finding this hard to read, I’m finding it almost impossible to comprehend that this is actually happening. It’s unbelievable. This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with.

Can it really be months?? I’m an optimistic person and I just don’t think so. I reckon it’s better to believe that I have ages left to live and be proved wrong, than think I don’t have long and be proved right.

Even so, I have to be realistic. I probably only have a few years left to live. Most likely I can expect five years. Maybe ten or more if I’m very lucky.

As you can imagine I’m utterly devastated. I feel upset, angry, emotional, sad…..it’s just so unfair. I cry so often especially when I break the news to someone. It’s all so traumatic. At times it seems like my head is going to explode as I have so many thoughts swirling around. Right now, the world seems pretty meaningless and irrelevant. Nothing really matters.

It was all so different a few weeks ago. I celebrated my D Day. It was 11 years since the first time I was diagnosed. A big happy cancer-versary to me. To be honest, I didn’t really celebrate too much as the next day I had a check-up with my consultant, The Professor. It was a scheduled appointment, three months after my last one.

“Any symptoms, any pain?” The Professor asked as I sat down in the bare white room.

“Well, some. A little pain near my scars from the operations,” I casually replied not sure whether it was serious enough to mention it.

“Right, you need a scan straight away.” He didn’t need to tell me anything else. The way he looked at me said it all.

And that was it. The moment my life changed forever.

It was at that very second I realised the stupid cancer had returned. I desperately wanted to take my words back. I tried to persuade The Professor that the pain wasn’t really that bad. I’d only had it occasionally at night for a couple of weeks.

“No matter what you say, you need a scan, you won’t convince me otherwise,” the consultant told me firmly.

Of course I had that scan. As I waited for the results, I was overwhelmed by worry. I’ve never been more frightened.

A few days later it was Christmas Eve and I was back at the hospital for the results. The nursing sister brought round a plate of homemade mince pies but it just made the grim atmosphere seem even worse. Only the urgent cases were being seen. Why else have an appointment on this day of the year?

Just as I feared the cancer had come back. Or maybe it never really went away. The tumour is tiny. Just 9mm. It’s so small, I could barely see it when I was shown the scan. Precisely 11 years and 1 day after being told I first had cancer, I have it again in exactly the same spot.

What I felt was likely to have been the tumour growing inside me. With ovarian cancer you normally don’t get any obvious symptoms. That’s why most women die from the disease. It’s incredible that for the third time in a row, my body had told me about a tumour.

This shocking news is still just sinking in. I’ve had a few weeks to start to come to terms with it but it doesn’t seem real. Next Tuesday though the reality will hit me. I start another round of chemotherapy.

My hair will fall out; I’ll get sick and be so incredibly tired. But my time is limited. I can’t afford to put on my life on hold any longer. I want to carry on as normal as much as I can. I’m still going to work, and plan to drink the odd cheeky vodka and flirt with unsuitable men. Maybe not all at the same time!

When I had cancer the first time I came up with my List for Living. It was a five year plan of things I always wanted to do. Thanks to the list I became a BBC foreign correspondent and had the most amazing adventure abroad. Now that the cancer is back for good I’m so glad that I followed my dreams.

I’ve been writing a book about my List for Living. I want to get the book published so doing that will be going on my new list. Every day I have more Ideas about what else I want to do before I die. Some people have asked me if there is anything they can do. Once I’ve come up with my new list, you could always help me with something on that.

I want to have fun and enjoy my last few months/years. Especially as chemo will now be a part of my life forever. It will keep me alive. The aim is to shrink the tumour and all its friends that follow. I will have an evil chemo cocktail every week for 18 weeks in the very same hospital as before.

It’s a case of here we go again. It’s so frustrating after all I’ve been through. With this stage of cancer my treatment options are limited. There are only a few types of drugs that can help me. This is terrible, terrible news but it could be worse. I could be terminally ill.

I know how I’m probably going to die and roughly when it’ll happen. It’s weird having a likely expiration date. I really hope my Best Before is at least 2023. But you know it’s not the years in your life that matter; it’s the life in your years.

Once I have my affairs in order I’m not going to dwell on the dying, I will soon have a new list and a whole lot more living to do.