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!

Hair today but not long now

Well it’s still here. Mostly.

My hair is now falling out ever so slightly. It’s hard to work out if this is normal and or down to the evil chemo drugs. I know it’s really the later but I’m trying to pretend otherwise.

Just because I lost it all once before it doesn’t make the prospect of this happening all over again any easier.

Through a fog of chemo pain and tiredness I’ve been thinking a lot about my hair. We’ve been through a lot together. I’ve realised that it’s the bad hair days that mean the world to me. And some of them were truly horrific!

It was ten years ago that it last fell out thanks to cancer. Back then, inspired that I had a second chance at life I came up with a list of things I wanted to do once I was better. It was my list for living.

One of the things was to live abroad. Not long after my treatment ended I set out on my big adventure. I was still bald, so me and my wig moved to Moscow to work at the BBC bureau.

A few months and an inch of re-growth later and I ditched the wig. I unveiled my brand new hair at a New Year’s Eve party.

The temperature that night in the Russian capital was about -30. You can see why I’m already well-practised at having a freezing cold head.

Also on the list was working as a foreign correspondent. I was doing just that in Estonia when I thought that my hair was long enough for its first cut.

A friend was helping me translate. Unfortunately she didn’t know how to say, please don’t make it a mullet.

I was beginning to understand that bad hair dos were part of the experience although it couldn’t prepare me for my next hair don’t.

A year or so later and I’d been working like crazy covering the mass protests of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution as the BBC’s Kiev correspondent when I decided as a treat to get my hair dyed for the first time since it’d fallen.

I went in for subtle highlights. I left with bright orange hair.

There was no time to have it corrected properly because a big story broke while I was still in the salon. I had to leave before it was even dry. A few days later and still in shock I got it toned down.

It was with trepidation I got my hair cut and coloured in all sorts of places. It was never quite that awful again although I have blanked out an encounter with a hairdresser in Kosovo who had a very liberal attitude when it came to peroxide.

Now I’ve had to have my long hair cut short. It’s an attempt to stop it all falling out. Apparently it was putting pressure on the follicles. I got it chopped at the hairdressers in the village.

All those memories from my foreign adventure were left in a heap on the floor. I picked up some of locks and stuffed them into an old envelope.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them but I didn’t want them all to be just swept away.

I have to do everything I can to encourage it not to fall out. That means I have to avoid washing and brushing it too much. Then maybe I’ll only lose some of it.

So I’ve got a short bob now. I’m getting used to another hairstyle that I didn’t want. But I’m not sad. This symbolises another important stage in my life – beating cancer again.

Chemo hangover

Imagine running a marathon without any training. Afterwards you go out and drink a load of cheap red wine, the nastier the better. You have a couple of hours sleep when something makes you jump out of bed. As you quickly wake-up, your whole body is in agony.

Well that’s kinda what chemotherapy has been like.

It was more than a week ago that I had the anti-cancer drugs. It’s only now that I’m feeling almost human again.

The hangover from this special toxic cocktail didn’t kick in straight away. The next day it crept up on me slowly, so slowly that I’d thought I’d been lucky. Then wham, it got me.

I’ve been chronically tired. Just sitting in a chair was a massive achievement. Moving around made me breathless and dizzy. It also felt like I was going down with the flu.

Worst of all has been the horrendous pain in my legs and joints. Some of time I could barely stand up or walk. It felt like my legs were going to break but if I didn’t get up occasionally the pain would become more intense.

No matter how much I concentrated on James Bond, it didn’t stop the evil effects of the chemo. Maybe too much time thinking about Daniel Craig had something to do with being breathless and dizzy??

Anyway, along with strong pain killers, I found that plenty of hot water bottles and daytime TV helped the most.

As usual I’m staying with my parents in the countryside. I know this might seem strange but Mum has been microwaving a small bag made out of material and stuffed full of wheat and oats.

When you put this thing where you have the pain, it does actually work. As long as you don’t mind an overpowering smell of warm flapjacks.

In this roll call of horrible reactions something is missing. Amazingly I haven’t felt sick unlike last time. If that changes I’ll have to ditch the hot bag, I’m not sure I could deal with the sickly sweet smell.

Thankfully most of the side effects from my chemo hangover are easing although I’m still tired and breathless.

And yay – I still have hair. It wasn’t supposed to have fallen out by now anyway. Or perhaps that red hospital hat is working its frozen magic.

But there’s something else that’s worrying me. My immune system has been compromised by the chemo. Apparently right now it’s going into free fall and won’t start to recover until the end of the week.

It means that I’m easy prey to germs. If I get an infection it could lead to my chemo being postponed. If there was an Olympic medal for hand washing I’d win it.

The start of my chemo marathon has been bad but I’d feared it would be much worse. So until the next round I’m going to be really enjoying every minute that I feel well.

One down. Five to go.

Several big bags of clear fluid later and my first session of chemo is over. But let me rewind my nine hour day and show you how it started.

This is a photo of me taken just before the treatment. Pretty normal, if a little tired. But this picture is important as it might be my last with a full head of hair for some time.

Just before chemo kicks in

Sadly the toxic chemical cocktail didn’t come with an umbrella and a slice of pineapple on the side so instead I had a couple of friends over for chemo coffee. Mum was with me all day, just like before during my nightmare stay in hospital.

I thought about James Bond some more. I hope that the boys did the business.

The most uncomfortable part was the cold cap. A helmet of ice that helps stop chemo attacking the hair follicles, and can leave you with frostbitten ears if you don’t protect them. It was the most painful things and could only maybe prevent my hair falling out.

To add insult to injury, it didn’t even match my clothes.

The big freeze. Minus 5 degrees to be precise.

So how did I pass the time? Some chat, some sleep and some home comforts. Plus of course reading words of support from outside the four walls of the ward.

Morale boosters

Plenty of time to read messages

So far I’m not too tired or sick but I think that’s just the steroids talking. The evening they have also been shouting at me. The steroids made me eat a burger on the way home. Ha, so much for the healthy diet.

When they wear off then I’ll be left with the evil side effects of chemo. By that point I’ll be back home with my parents and back in my old bed.

A license to kill

I woke up early, stupidly early. I was so excited about the start of chemotherapy. Finally it was about to begin and soon this nightmare would all be over.

It’s made me realise just how far I’ve come. A few months ago I thought the cancer might be terminal. Now it’s all gone. I feel incredibly lucky.

There are many things I could do to prepare for today. Thanks for all the brilliant suggestions! My teal nails are painted; I have a bag of snacks ready and downloaded enough TV shows to keep me entertained for weeks.

It was still dark as I lay in bed waiting for the middle of the night to turn into the early hours of this morning. So I did some visualisation. Hey I know it sounds a bit new age but bear with me on this.

Apparently visualisation boosts the immune system by relieving anxiety and helps the body to function properly. I’m willing to try almost anything.

I tried to think about what it would be like when the drugs went in. I turned every drop from the drip into a killing machine. A kinda James Bond. I imagined my own microscopic army of special agents.

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m thinking Daniel Craig as James Bond. I have to admit that 007 often came with us on the road to most stories when I was the BBC correspondent in Bosnia and Serbia.

I travelled around the Balkans with my Dutch journalist friend who had a thing for him too. I’ve great memories of us full of nervous energy listening to Bond movie music while driving across amazing mountain ranges onto our next adventure.

Anyway, I’m picturing my troops being launched into the killing zone with charm, cunning and a wry smile. Their mission is to destroy any rogue cancer cells.

Now on the chemo ward at hospital I’m settled into a Joey from Friends style comfy chair.

With the foot rest up I have what the doctors like to call an infusion. It’s a nice way of saying that my body is being slowly poisoned by chemicals which can’t discriminate between good and bad.

But, I will be thinking of James Bond who can.

Decisions, Decisions

So that horrible horrendous treatment is just a day away. Before it starts there are a few important things I have to sort out. Like what to wear.

From tomorrow onwards what I choose to put on will be forever associated with chemotherapy.

I don’t really want to wear outfits that remind me of the things I’m missing out on. It’s almost as if I’ve closed the wardrobe door on my old life.

To get chemo-ready I’ve been internet shopping. What have I gone for? Baggy comfy leisure wear?

I don’t think so. I’ve bought a selection of bright chemo dresses.

Hopefully too they should stop me feeling like the sick patient that I’ll soon become again. Once it’s all over I’ll burn them. Okay in reality they’ll probably end up in a charity shop.

Chemo has a similar effect on what you eat. It can put you off certain foods. That’s not always such a bad thing.

Last time I went through this I was warned to steer clear of anything I loved. I took great pleasure eating chocolate and cake and all sorts of unhealthy stuff while hooked up to the drip.

My chemo diet didn’t exactly work out although I still can’t stand Danish pastries. And basil.

Chemo changes the way food tastes. Gradually you notice that your mouth starts to dislike all sorts of foods.

The toxic cocktail of chemicals leaves you with a metallic taste. Not great when you eat food with a high water content like fruit.

Yet I need to be really healthy now. Since the op I haven’t been too good. I’ve been trying to put back on the weight I shed in hospital.

Thanks to my stay in intensive care I lost three stone in about a week!

Yep that’s right, almost half a stone a day. It was the quickest diet I’ve ever been on. Not exactly good for someone who was seriously ill though.

I’m now back to my fighting weight and my body is ready for the onslaught of chemo. I’ve worked out all the super healthy foods I need to eat to boost my immune system and energy levels, the things that will really suffer.

But it’s much more fun focusing on the trivial details. After my red nails successfully helped me to feel good and look well, I’ve been thinking about what colour to paint them next.

I’ve decided that for chemo session number one my nails will be teal. It’s the colour of ovarian cancer awareness and so seems appropriate.

As my hair will be falling out sooner rather than later I need to work out what I’m going to do. For me I doubt that bald will be beautiful.

When I was treated for cancer ten years ago, the steroids I had to take with the chemo gave me a best-avoid-all-mirrors look. My face puffed right up.

I’m defiantly going to buy a wig. Well let’s make that three or four. I want to get one that looks like my hair right now. I also quite like the thought of becoming a blond or a red head at a moment’s notice.

I want to get all this done in the next few weeks before the chemo really kicks in so any more suggestions are welcome. Especially if it means I have an excuse for more shopping!

Countdown to chemo

How can you want something so badly and yet completely dread it at the same time? That’s how I feel about chemotherapy.

I’ve been here before. When I beat cancer ten years ago the chemo was worst part of the treatment.

Now it’s about to start all over again.

I’d already failed once to persuade the consultants I was well enough for it to begin. So a few days ago I was delighted when they said that I was chemo ready.

It wasn’t the fact that I was looking a lot more like the old me; that I’d put on bright red nail polish or even that I had the energy to wash my hair before the appointment.

No, I was genuinely well. I was also mentally ready.

Ironically since then I’ve had some of the worst pain following surgery. Thankfully it’s now easing off.

Next Wednesday I’ll have to go into hospital for my first session of chemo. They’ll hook me up to a drip of drugs that’ll slowly slip into my veins over the course of a day.

I’ll get the maximum dose of the stuff every three weeks and there’ll be six sessions in total.

Having the chemo is the easy part. It’s what comes afterwards that’s hard to deal with. It builds up in your system. As the weeks go by you just feel worse and worse.

Imagine having the hangover from hell, arthritis, the flu and chronic tiredness all at the same time. That’s what chemo was like last time.

It’s not just the sickness I’m worried about. I’m sad too about the chunk of time it’ll take away from me.

On the morning of New Years Day I was live on BBC TV outside the Olympic stadium talking about what promised to be an incredible year. I could never have imagined that just a couple of months later I’d be diagnosed with cancer.

Putting the treatment dates in my diary was pretty depressing. It made me realise that I won’t finish chemo until the Olympics are over.

I had managed to get tickets for a couple of events but they’re a few days after chemo session number five. I doubt that I’ll make it back to the Olympic Park. By that stage I probably won’t even be well enough to watch it on the telly.

Apparently chemo is not so bad these days and the drugs for the side effects are better. Maybe. But still it’s going to be horrendous. I’ve been told that I should be prepared to feel very ill.

And then there’s my hair.

It all fell out last time and probably will again. It’s the thing that I’m finding the most upsetting.

Every time I brush my hair I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to do this for. Worst case scenario is that it’s gone by June.

Despite all this I just want to blast those microscopic cancer cells that are probably still lurking inside my body and so I can’t wait for my first toxic cocktail of chemicals.