Blue-sky thinking

Now that my treatment has finished the doctors need to make sure that I really really have beaten the stupid cancer so I had to go back to hospital for a scan. I’ll get the results next week.

While I was there something happened which was a bit strange. I started to meditate.

I was sat in a changing room the size of a big cupboard at the imaging unit dressed and ready for my appointment. I’ve had so many scans over the years that I know how to properly tie those pesky medical gowns so that everything is covered.

With its familiar sights, sounds and smells, just being in the hospital was horrible.

I needed to relax. As I waited, I began meditating. I counted my breath in and out, trying to ignore the noise around me.

That was until I heard something which sent my heart racing. An alarm was going off in the next room. The loud bleeping sound meant a patient had stopped breathing, just like I had following surgery. It was a false alarm but it took me straight back to that time when I was so close to death.

I opened my eyes, giving up on the mediation and feeling more stressed than ever. Not long afterwards a man with tattooed arms came and got me. It was time to be scanned.

So why the sudden interest in meditation?  

All my medical treatment is over. Yes, I’ll have check-ups and routine tests but aside from that I’m on my own. I want to do more than just hope it doesn’t come back.

During the chemo I had some less conventional treatments like acupuncture and hypnotherapy. They seemed to help ease the nasty side effects. I thought I’d try some more complimentary methods and last week I went on a course at a holistic centre for people dealing with cancer.

I have to admit that part of me was sceptical however I’m willing to try anything.

Even so, I did smuggle in some sachets of coffee. We’d been told that the menu would be ultra-healthy and there’d be no caffeinated drinks on offer. I thought I might need my own supply and I was right. One of the coffee substitutes was something called Slippery Elm!

Contraband coffee

The course at the Penny Brohn Cancer Care centre took place over three days. Inside the Georgian building it felt like a cross between a hotel and a posh hospital, outside there were acres of landscaped grounds which overlooked a river. With bright blue skies and dazzling sunny weather everyday, it was uplifting just being there.

It was almost like a health spa for cancer fighters.

Based on the edge of Bristol, the place helps people live as well while coping with the impact of the deadly disease. The charity was set up in the 1970’s when eating brown rice was considered by some to be subversive. Since then what they do has become known as the Bristol approach. Now it’s part of an NHS pilot project.

The focus was on mind, body and spirit. It might sound new age and some of it certainly was. The course was led by a couple of healers who spent most of the time barefoot. Right in the centre of the carpeted room there was a collection of lit candles and flowers which were arranged in a bowl of sand.

There was a group of ten of us, all affected by cancer in some way. You’d think that it would’ve been a sad few days but it was inspiring to be with people who’d been through similar experiences.

We sat wrapped in soft baby blue blankets in a circle of comfy chairs. We were given talks and taught relaxation techniques including mediation.

I’m glad that I went. It made me determined to improve my lifestyle. Despite my concerns that it was all going to be far too alternative, it turned out that most of the stuff was common sense.

Essentially it comes down to this. To live well after a cancer diagnosis it’s best to eat healthily, exercise more – a whole lot more, worry less but don’t ignore how you feel, take time out to relax and do things which make you happy.

I’m off now to meet a friend to celebrate the end of my chemo. Coffee and cake may well put in an appearance too.

I’m going to count all that as something that makes me happy.

Back to my old self

I have a hot date later today! 

I’m feeling both nervous and excited. By all accounts this man has made countless women very happy. I’m hoping he’ll do the same for me.

No, this isn’t George the doctor from the other day who made my healthy heart flutter. The person in question is the hospital’s wig-man. It’s time for him to sort me out.

I need to choose my NHS wig. I can only do this at hospital. Today I’ve got more breath tests plus the usual pre-chemo stuff.

My hair has been slowing thinning rather than falling out thick and fast. Sadly the bald patches are getting bigger. My comb-over is getting higher.

It’s incredible that my hair has lasted this long but I reckon that soon I’ll have to shave my head.

I want to get my wig while I’m still feeling kinda okay. Due to the relentless build-up of the toxic drugs I’m worried that in the next few weeks I’ll feel so horrendous I won’t want to get out of bed most days.

My wigs have been locked in a hospital cupboard just waiting for me. I picked out a selection from a catalogue a few weeks ago. I now have to fit them on and decide which one I want. They all look pretty much like my hair used to.

There weren’t many that I liked. It seems that the world of wigs is stuck firmly in the 1980s. If you want to look like Princess Diana then you’re in luck. I’m hoping that my wig will be more Duchess of Cambridge.

The hair may be taking a while to come out but the chemo really must be working its magic as my eyelashes and eyebrows are disappearing. I can disguise these with make-up. The loss of head hair is harder to hide.

I still have Barbarella, the blond bombshell of a wig, on stand-by so why do I need an NHS one?

As I start to feel more and more tired, my confidence is quietly ebbing away. I’m not really sure that I could pull off the Barbarella look every day. In the past it would be no problem. I’m quite outgoing, well I was. Since being diagnosed with cancer I don’t always have the energy to be the person I used to be.

It’s ironic that it’s going to be easier to wear a wig that makes me look how I used to even if I don’t always feel like my old self. But the chemo won’t last forever. In a few months, I may be bald but hopefully I’ll be feeling a lot more like I want to be Barbarella.

Wigging out

 

Waiting for chemo round two to start and to get my new look

This is where I expected to say something along the lines of… I got my NHS wig today. Hahaha it so was hideous, I’ve been transformed into a 1980′s soap opera super-star. Get a load of the pictures below.

But there are no photos as I didn’t get my wig.

This morning I woke up to find a halo of hair on my pilliow. It looked horrendous.

But I was told at hospital later it’s likely that it’s not falling out, it’s just thinning. Maybe I’ll get to keep most of it after all.

So I spent 6 hours wearing the special freezing hat to cool my scalp and attempt to save my hair.

Again it was excuriating. My forehead felt like it had frostbite to start with. At least this time it was a bit of a better colour.

The NHS wig man came in with a selection of wigs for me to try on. He proudly took one of them out of its box and it didn’t look too bad.

He agreed with the nurses that I don’t need a wig, certainly not yet anyway. They’ve all been left at hospital. I’ll be able to try them on during my next chemo session in three weeks.

They’re locked inside a cupboard on the ward. If I suddenly lose my hair then I can quickly go to hospital for some emergency hair.

Despite the icy headwear, I actually quite enjoyed this round of chemotherapy. At times it was even fun although I’m not sure I’m supposed to say that.

What made it different? Was it the hypnotherapy? Maybe that was part of the reason. It was certainly less painful.

I think though it probably had more to do with the great company. Okay and the cake they brought me. Also we were able to watch a film. Sorry James Bond but while you were busy killing any cancer cells, we were watching Batman take out his enemies.

The evil chemo cocktail slipped easily into my veins. You have various pouches of clear liquid. I was surprised each time that the machine started beeping to say the current bag was empty.

The chemo is light sensitive and it has to be hidden in what I think looks rather like a ‘modesty’ bag.

I reckon it wants to be covered up as it’s so bashful that it could well be saving my life.

After feeling good all day, the side effects from the contents of that bright bag haven’t yet kicked in. That will take a few days.

This time I’m even more prepared. I have my hypnotherapy trances to practise and stronger painkillers. Hopefully it won’t be so awful.

Look into my eyes

“Don’t worry I won’t make you bark like a dog.”

Now those are the kind of reassuring words you want to hear when you’re about to be hypnotised.

I get my next evil chemo cocktail tomorrow. After round one I now know just how bad it’s going to be. To help me cope with the chronic pain I’m trying hypnotherapy. Prescription drugs and daytime TV are not really doing the trick.

I went to hospital for the hypnotherapy. It felt like we were in the basement next to the boiler room. I lay on an examination table covered by rough blue paper to protect me from the previous person’s germs.

The woman who was about to put me under wore academic looking glasses and a conservative suit. She explained that this was nothing like stage hypnotism and that she was medically trained.

Part of me was disappointed that it wasn’t Kenny Craig, the character from Little Britain with too much guy-liner, telling me to look into his eyes.

I was lulled into a trance and told to think of a special location, real or imagined. The first place that came to mind was my old flat in Kiev which looked out onto a row of Soviet-era tower blocks.

Nope, I need somewhere much more exotic so I thought of my perfect desert island.

Apparently the hypnotherapy will help to stop the chemo pain by getting my brain to tell my body to chillax. Or something like that. Whatever happened on that tropical island, it felt lovely. I’ll have a couple more sessions but so far it seems like the pain has eased.

What’s even better is that this is free. It’s what I like to call a cancer bonus. It’s rubbish going through all this but you do get some nice stuff to make it just a little bit easier.

Last week I took part in a pampering session. A charity called Look Good Feel Better holds workshops to help women deal with the changes in appearance caused by the cancer treatment.

I was feeling tired and emotional when I arrived. Insomnia caused by the chemo means that I cry very easily these days.

A group of us sat around a long table. We each had a mirror so I was able to watch the tears rolling down my face. Beauticians gave us all a big bag of expensive make-up and advice on how to do things like draw on eye brows that have fallen out.

By the end of the session, my mood had lifted and I looked like I was ready to party. It was a shame that I was so exhausted and had to go straight home.

With my make- up taken care of, I need to concentrate on my hair.

Since I last updated my blog it has properly started to fall out. If I run my fingers through it, whole handfuls of hair come out. I found it very upsetting yesterday but then I’d only had two hours sleep that night. Today I’m not so worried. I realise that it’s just part of the process of getting well again.

I think it will take a few days for it all to drop out. It’s a good job that I should get to choose my NHS wig tomorrow.  It’s another cancer bonus I’d rather not be getting but I’m quite excited to see what I’ll be wearing for the next few months.

Because of this I’m not dreading chemo number two quite so much. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some pictures so you can see my new look for summer!