Happy Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday, two years ago, it felt like I was barely alive. I was stuck in hospital. But it was thanks to my mum that I wasn’t dead. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to her.

I hadn’t long been out of intensive care. I was rushed there the day after my massive cancer-removing, life-saving operation. While I was recovering from the surgery, I slept pretty much all the time, but suddenly without warning I quietly stopped breathing. It was my mum, who’d been sitting beside my bed, realised that something was badly wrong and raised the alarm. She saved my life. For the second time.

The first time was much less dramatic. A month or so previously I’d had some worrying symptoms. The severe pain had been dismissed by a couple of medical professionals. They’d said it was probably nothing to worry about. My mum wasn’t convinced and made sure that I went for some proper tests. She was right to make me see my consultants. She ensured that I survived.

 

Then…

That Mothering Sunday in hospital in 2012 I felt so incredibly ill. I’d lost a huge amount of weight and could hardly walk. I didn’t realise how frail I was at the time. Mum and dad visited that afternoon. It wasn’t your usual Mothering Sunday. We chatted in the ward’s television room. I got there with the help of a walking frame. For the past couple of weeks I hadn’t been able to sit in a chair without collapsing so for me these were big achievements. We celebrated that I’d made it through the worse.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as I accidentally came across some photos a few days ago from that Mothering Sunday. To be honest I can’t really remember them being taken. My cancer treatment over the past two years seems so much of a blur. Perhaps it’s easier to forget many things. Last Mothering Sunday I was bang in the middle of more chemo.

But this year is so different.

The chemo cocktails are finished. Hopefully it’ll be a long while before I need any more. I don’t feel ill, I feel brilliant. I’m still very tired but I just have to pace myself.

 

…now

I haven’t been able to do too much lately other than concentrate on recovering and getting my normal life back. Plus I’ve been planning a few more things from my List for Living. I’m now settled in my own home in the countryside. I’m very much enjoying number 1 and 2 on my bucket list!

Compared to the past couple of years, I feel so much better. But there is something else that makes this Mothering Sunday so special. While you read this I could well be baking or boiling or maybe burning. This year, for the first time since getting cancer, I’m cooking a family lunch for Mothering Sunday. It’s a very small way of saying thank you. However lunch turns out, this will be a very happy Mothering Sunday.

Result

I’m back. Finally, for the first time in months I feel much more like me.

The trouble with chemo is that it takes such a long time to recover from. It doesn’t help that by the time I finished, my magnesium levels were almost non-existent. Slowly I’m getting better. I wish that just having the toxic drugs automatically annihilated tumours but it’s not that easy. You could go through all this and it still have no effect.

One of the hardest parts of having cancer is waiting for important test results. It’s like having a really evil lottery ticket. You get automatic entry into the draw. With the right set of numbers, your life could be transformed. You get to have more years on the clock, a renewed sense of hope for the future and a holiday from the chemo.

Before you find out the result it seems that anything is possible. You run though all the lovely things that the good news would bring. It seems so real. Despite the odds, which for this advanced stage of ovarian cancer are bleak, you always dream of winning the jackpot.

What makes this cancer lottery such a nasty game is that being given the wrong set of numbers can only mean more pain, suffering and worse. When it’s bad news, it feels like you were almost within touching distance of something great and it’s been snatched away. When the reality is that you weren’t even close.

So several weeks after finishing chemo I was back at the hospital to find out my magic numbers. It’s at times like this that you’ll find me next to the fish tank. Sitting in a high backed chair with hard wooden arms. The chair is a nasty shade of pink. It’s a colour that is probably supposed to be welcoming to cancery people. When to me all it says is bulk buy and wipe clean.

I am solid block of nerves. Not the excited, adrenalin infused buzz that I get when I’m about to do something scary or go live on TV. But there is a crushing lump of anxiety which fills my body. It makes my breathing short and my brain run slowly.

You wait and wonder about the numbers.

My coat is off and laying across my lap and my bag is by my side. I am more than ready to spring out of my seat when my name is called. The fish tank seat is nearest to the consultants’ rooms.

No news is good news. For those few moments or even hours you are not being told something horrible, which is why I don’t mind the waiting part.

It’s the wondering that I find stressful. It’s as if every cell in my body is on standby. Ready for flight or fight but all you can do is sit. I’m almost frozen with fear. I don’t really want to talk, I can’t eat or drink, I can’t move. The tips of my fingers tingle with nervous energy. Or maybe it’s the chemicals.

You try to think positive but after getting so much bad news you know that hope alone won’t change a thing. You prepare for the worst. My brain is jittery.

Yes or no? Good or bad? Life or death? My consultants don’t mess around. We’ve been through this so many times before. They know that I want the cold, hard facts straight away. It only takes a second to find out. The combination of chemo and clinical trial drugs are working. It’s the right result.

Yes. Good. Life.

All I feel is relief. Not happiness or joy. This pure relief is similar to the sensation you get from quickly drinking a glass of something strong and full of ice, it seems to flood through my body. I relax.

The enormity of the news is only now starting to sink in as I start to feel more like myself. It means I get to live longer. Hopefully years longer. This is amazing!

My cancer is not cured but the disease is dormant once again. No one knows how long it will stay this way. Right now I’m just trying to focus on being the current holder of a winning ticket.

Chemo no 6

It’s all over now. My last chemo, thankfully, was a couple of weeks ago. It’s probably not the final one ever but it’s the last one for a while. Maybe for months. Hopefully for years. I’m so happy to be at the end of this current course of treatment. I’ve now had 35 chemo cocktails in total, I think, most of them over the last two years. To not have to face the prospect of that evil stuff, like that above, dripping into my veins is wonderful.

I hope the break is long enough to get some hair. It’s still a shock to see my bald head. I really miss not being able to tie it back. Yes I could do that with some of my wigs but it’s not the same. Anyway I’m not really into wigs at the moment. Wearing a wig takes up precious energy. Instead most days I wear a soft hat. It’s much more comfortable and doesn’t seem out of place at this time of year.

But to celebrate chemo no 6 I wore my favourite wig to hospital. It’s the one you see me wear when I’m occasionally on television. I now have an impressive collection of them however my work wig is the one that I love wearing the most. Despite this it still has no name!

I always like to try and look smart when I go for treatment or consultations. It gives me back a tiny portion of control, knowing that I’m not too ill to wear make-up and a dress. If I look well, I feel better. I feel worse when I don’t make an effort. Cancer forces you to give up so much of your identity that you have to cling onto what you can.

Chemo 6 was totally unremarkable. I saw my consultant, The Professor. It was the best kind of appointment as there were no test results to be told about. We ran through all the side effects of the past few weeks but there was nothing alarmingly awful. Just standard awful.

For this treatment, mum and my aunt Rose came along. To keep them entertained I sent them out on missions. First to the pharmacy, now thats always it’s an adventure which tends to take ages – finding the place and then waiting in the inevitably long queue. After picking up my prescription I asked them to go in search of a jacket potato with melted cheese. They were successful on both counts.

I then slept for a few hours. Probably the most interesting thing was eating a baked potato in bed in the afternoon. It was the first time I’d had eaten something hot while having chemo. The day really was that dull.

The nurses stayed late to ensure that my treatment got finished. I ended up being the last patient to leave the ward. Parts of it were already in darkness and the cleaner had started his evenings work. As I walked out my spirits lifted. I had a dizzy, drunk, fuzzy feeling. The potent cocktail of super strength drugs and steroids was acting like the rocket fuel, giving me the boost I needed to get home.

I felt so wired and that we started our journey by bus. It took us through streets that have become so familiar to me. Past the school where I used to play netball matches for the BBC team and then along a road to the sports centre where we used to train. The outdoor court we used was next to a row of football pitches. It had a concrete canopy as it was just below a busy fly-over. With such a stark, urban setting, it always felt like the set for a trainer advert.

The bus stopped near the training ground and a sporty looking woman got on. She was dressed in the kind of kit that I used to wear for netball. As we travelled further away from the hospital I smiled to myself. I realised that this was a tantalising glimpse of what my life after chemo could be like.

Happier New Year

This may seem a bit late but pretty much most of Christmas and the New Year has passed me by. There were some lovely moments however far too much of the last few weeks have been a blur of illness, aches and a throat full of the most painful mouth ulcers.

When it gets this bad you have to pause your life. Most of the stuff you want to do just doesn’t happen. You have a constant exhaustion. Meanwhile it seems like everything around you just carries on as normal. Recently there have been some wonderful comments on my blog. Thank you. I’m sorry that I don’t have the energy to reply right now but they’re all read and apperciated.

The three weeks recovery time after chemo no 5 are always the worst because it’s the penultimate load of drugs. The build up of toxic chemicals is horrific. There is no real chance to recover before the final session. Somehow chemo no 6 doesn’t seem quite so awful as you know that the treatment is over. At least for the time being.

So it was on Christmas Eve that I had chemo no 5. This was exactly a year after being told that the disease I’d thought I’d fought off was advanced and would kill me someday soon. What is it about my cancer that ensures I spend Christmas Eve at hospital??

This year there were no mince pies as we waited. It didn’t matter as I’m not allowed to eat on the morning of my chemo anyway. But there was some Christmas cheer on the ward. Especially as my friend Chantal brought along some festive flowers.

I saw the same lovely consultant as the year before. I’ve been her patient for so long. We have shared some Incredible highs….she gave me the all clear from my ever first lot of cancer. And more recently, some terrible lows…on Christmas Eve 2012 she explained that I may only have months to live.

But Christmas Eve 2013 seemed so much more positive. The latest test results were encouraging and showed that the chemo was giving my latest tumour a good kicking. Most importantly I was still alive! Still able to sit in that small, bright room and talk about my future. On the way out I gave my consultant a hug. I thanked her for helping to prolong my life. There’s not many people you can say that to!

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It wasn’t great being in hospital at that time of year. But at least we were all able to leave at the end of the day. There was a unique feeling that we had something special waiting for us when the treatment finished. Normally all you have to look forward to is projectile vomiting and a chemo hangover.

Even my bag of drugs had a Christmassy look. As they slipped into my veins I had a dreamless doze under a thin, blue blanket. When I woke up it was time for Christmas.

That night, when we got back, I slept in my own home. I’ve now properly moved to the countryside. Thats no 1 and 2 that I’ve been able to tick off my List for Living! It means I’ve stayed alive long enough to do the most important on my list. As I fell asleep I was happy that this Christmas Eve was much better than the last one.

No 50 on the List for Living


50) Drink champagne in one of the best bars in the world just before Christmas to celebrate still being alive.

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It’s exactly a year since I was told I may only have six months to live!! And here I am, very much alive.

I marked the special day with a festive chemo cocktail at hospital. But I’ve also had some proper celebrations. If you keep beating the odds what else can you do but drink a glass or two of champagne.

Happy Christmas! x

Chemo no 4

If you’ve never experienced chemotherapy then you should consider yourself incredibly lucky. It is really, truly, one of the worst things I’ve ever had to go through.

I’m now just over half way through my current course of treatment. What makes it so bad is that it builds up in your system. This cumulative effect makes each evil chemo cocktail more horrific than the last one. This stage is also tough because I’m still a while off from finishing.

It seems like ages ago that I had chemo no 4. It’s taken me more than a week to start to feel sort of normal.

My normal is very different these days. It means I feel okay. I’m not stuck in bed. I’m not throwing up. I’m not feeling too emotional. I can walk without too much pain. That’s my new normal.

Despite this I still quite enjoy the actual chemo day itself. As usual I had lovely friends there to help distract me. They came armed with some very thoughtful presents. So Chemo no 4 went quickly.

But within hours, I could feel that the poison was working. This doesn’t usually happen so fast. Over the next few days it got worse. It seemed like I was tumbling into a deep pit of misery. My body and my head hurt so badly. There was intense tiredness and nausea and all sorts of other horribleness. It took four days to hit rock bottom. It was a very dark, bleak place and it took far too long to leave.

Now, I’m out and suddenly it’s almost Christmas. When you go through cancer treatment you kinda dip in and out of life. You lose track of time.

Luckily I have something to remind me about 25th December. My next session of chemo is on Christmas Eve. It’s not the most festive of things to do. But I’m still here. And this time last year I wasn’t sure that I would be.

Chemo #3

I didn’t realise it at the time but I think that it all started to go wrong with the chocolate milk. The night before my chemo I forgot to have my usual glass of cold, sweet milk. I read somewhere that it helps you prepare for the onslaught of cancer-kicking chemicals. Not sure how much science there is to that but it’s a comforting routine.

It was dark when we set out for the hospital on Tuesday morning. My aunt Judy was driving us. She was a games maker driver for the Olympics so I knew I was in safe hands. But the miserable weather and sloooooow traffic jams seemed determined to conspire against us. Then I remembered about the missed milk. I knew it was going to be one of those days.

When we arrived I noticed that the room on the chemo ward, which was to be my base for many hours ahead, had a stopped clock. That just about summed up how I felt.

If you’re not ill, you may think that its terrible what I’m going though. It is. But I also get to see the other side. At hospital there are many people who are far worse than I am. Clearly it means that there are sometimes emergencies and delays which can’t be predicted. I don’t mind waiting, I’m just relived that its me left sitting there, instead of causing the consultants to come rushing off through the corridors.

I was told that my blood count was really good. It means my body is coping with the savage chemo regime and my immune system is recovering well in-between the sessions. The only problem is with magnesium. As always, it seems, this is far too low and I needed a bag of it via the IV drip. That added on another two and a half hours before the chemo kick-off. And so it went on.

But there was no drama for me, thankfully. Instead I had wonderful friends to entertain me who brought cakes, presents and gossip from the outside world. I feel so very lucky to have the support of lovely family and friends.

And I’ve saved the best for last. I had my first set of test results since the start of my latest lot of toxic cocktails. Big drum roll…..They show that the chemo is working!!!

After just one session of chemo, the tumour marker tests called the CA125, has dropped by a quarter. It’s amazing news and will help me get through all the horrible side effects to come. I’m already half way through my treatment. Just three more to go. Hooray!

Back home after a marathon 11 hours at hospital, I finally got that cold glass of chocolate milk. It was a sweet celebration.

Oh, by the way, happy 100 to me! This is my 100th blog post. I never thought I would do so much blogging. But continuing to blog means that I’m still here and still going strong. Thanks for reading and being there for me.

Chemo#2

Evil. Thats the only way I can describe chemotherapy. My second cycle of the treatment was horrific. Not the day itself. That was fine, fun in the usual speeding time with special people chatting, drinking coffee and trying to ignore the drip that was feeding me the toxic cocktail of drugs. No, it was the days afterwards that were hard to handle.

As the steroids wore off, the horrific-ness kicked in. It was one of the worst chemo hangovers that I can remember having. My mood felt as awful as the physical symptoms. The last time I felt that ill was last year when I was in intensive care following major surgery and a brief, unexpected, flirtation with dying.

The only positive thing I can say is that there was none of the nausea of chemo no 1. I didn’t have any projective vomiting yay! Thanks to everyone who tweeted me suggestions about what anti-sickness medicine I should try. The new tablets are working beautifully.

Then it lifted. After almost a week, the nasty chemo symptoms just left me. I’m still tired but at least I feel human again.

Luckily this happened just as I was due to do a day at work. Okay, it was down to more than just luck. I had thought that I’d be recovered by then.

You may be wondering why I still want to do my job. It’s totally my choice to work. I don’t want the cancer, the chemo and the uggggggh feelings to be the only things in my life. Besides, I really enjoy it.

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On Monday I was reporting on the impact of the storms for BBC News. It wasn’t feeling ill again that I was worried about but more the windy weather. This was my first day wearing a wig again. Not such perfect timing.

When I was stood outside I had the straps inside the wig on their tightest setting. It was a vice like grip and it hurt a bit but at least it kept my wig secure on my head. There would be no chance that a cheeky gust of wind would give it lift off!

It’s the same wig as I wore on TV before, only my hairdresser Angela has given it a new look. I do have a whole new autumn/winter collection of wigs to wear but I want to start off with something I’m comfortable with.

My hair seriously started to fall out just as I was feeling so desperately ill. Great big handfuls of my lovely, new hair. I almost had a proper fringe. It seemed that most of it slid off at night and onto my pillow. Previously my hair has slowly left me so the speed at which I went bald this time was a shock. It took about a week before all I had was some lonely tufts. It looked as horrific as I felt.

This is one of the hardest parts of the treatment. You understand that you are going to be very ill but it the fact you lose your hair as well is very upsetting. You no longer look like yourself. The chemo takes away your identity.

I knew there was something unpleasant I had to do. A few days ago I had what remained of my hair shaved off. There is nothing left. My appearance has gone from poorly to pop star. Now I look like Jessie J when she shaved her head. Ha! I’m only joking. My head looks all white and weird however it is better than it was. Most importantly, instead of letting the chemo do something to me, I took charge. And this makes me feel strong again.

Chemo #1

Memory is a power thing. Sometimes it’s the ability to forget that’s just as important as the stuff you remember. This is my fourth course of chemotherapy. Or to put it another way last Tuesday I had my 30th session! That seems like more than enough toxic drugs for one lifetime. Clearly not for me.

It all started off in a familiar way. I had a small operation to have a new PICC line put into my arm. Just like I had last time, the PICC allows blood to be taken out and drugs to go in without having to bother my rubbish veins with a needle.

It’s hard to describe what happens without being too gruesome. Basically a good vein was selected and after some local anaesthetic, a cut was made in my arm. The same vein was used as before so a tiny scar marked the spot. A thin, flexible cable went into my arm and into the vein. I’d forgotten how it was going to hurt.

The chemo itself was just the same as always. For my fellow cancer fighters who may be interested, this time I’m on taxol and carboplatin. New for this season is the red coloured modesty bag to cover the plastic pouch of chemicals.

The medicine that always makes me sleepy, knocked me out for chunks of the afternoon. Despite this I realised that I hadn’t remembered how the hours really drag while attached to the IV machine as litres of liquid are pumped into your veins. As it’s one session every three weeks, it’s a long day of drugs.

Checking out the glass with a chemo cocktail

But it wasn’t all dozing and dragging the drip to the loo. I had a visit from my friend Chantal, the flower girl and fellow glass blower. She’d gone and collected our work that we did because of my List for Living. Still bubble wrapped, she carefully placed my five pieces of glass on the bedside table. Wow I was blown away – I was really liked how they’d turned out! Also it was so good have something lovely there that wasn’t connected to my stupid disease.

Once the drip was done and the glass was packed up, I wasn’t too ill In fact, I felt good, really good. Filled with happiness. I felt like me on a very good day. Oh yes – there’s that steroid high again. It was a brilliant surprise.

What came next hasn’t been so pleasant. Chronic sickness has now been joined by fatigue, dizziness and joint pain. Uggggggh I hate it so much. I’m glad that I’d forgotten just how dreadful chemo makes you feel. At least I still have a couple more weeks before I have another toxic cocktail.

Back again

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I never thought this would happen so soon. I had hoped to have a cancer-free Christmas but that’s not to be. I have another tumour lurking inside me.

I start another round of chemotherapy today. I’ll have it every three weeks. It’ll mean a chemo session on Christmas Eve.

Of course, I knew that it was likely. When you have advanced cancer like mine you’re told to expect it to keep coming back, each time quicker than the last.

My last chemo ended in May. I arranged my next check-up at the very end of August. I wanted to leave it as long as possible, but not too long, if that makes sense. In the weeks leading up to the hospital date my body was full of pain. I feared the cancer had not just come back but it had spread. What the doctors call metastasis. One of the most evil words you’ll ever hear as a patient.

Two weeks before the appointment I had a blood test. It was taken after a busy day at work. I felt so alive, surely, I thought to myself I must be okay.

But no. The result was bad. It was no longer the perfect ten, the score had almost doubled. There and then I had to repeat the test. When the result came back the number had doubled again. It seemed like my worst fears were coming true.

Later a scan confirmed that the cancer was active again. It turns out that my new tumour is small and thin and not too far away from the last one. Along with sadness, anger and frustration there was some relief that it hadn’t spread. Apparently a lot of the pain was caused by stress and scar tissue.

Now that I know what’s causing the pain, it hardly hurts at all. I don’t look like I’m ill and I don’t feel it either. This is the best I’m going to be until next spring so I’m celebrating that with a picture.

After my diagnosis last Christmas Eve when I found out that my cancer had become incurable I was told to get my affairs in order which I sort of did but not really. You don’t want to think that you really have to. However now I’m more prepared. Last week I wrote my will. That was a hard day.

So here we go with more chemo. Uggggh. It’s all exactly the same. It makes me want to cry being back again so soon. The same walk along the dolphin corridor to the treatment centre. Seeing the same lovely nurses. Sitting in the same chair. Having the same side effects for the same anti-cancer drugs. Being pumped full of the same steroids. And losing my hair once more.

But I do have something very special on my side that’s making me smile and it’s not just James Bond.

Along with the conventional chemo, I’m also taking part in a clinical trial. I’ll take a tablet every day which could make the chemo more effective and stabilise my cancer. It’s very exciting as the results of the trial so far are looking very good. It’s having hope that’s keeping me going and got me out of bed this morning. Now I’m just waiting for it all the begin.

Stupid, stupid cancer. You have no idea how much of a kicking you’re about to get.