My Olympic recovery

I really was getting worse.

Not long after updating my blog I climbed into bed and got under the duvet. It was a sunny afternoon, my temperature was rising and yet I was freezing.

Then suddenly there was a spike in my temperature. I knew I couldn’t put it off any more. Mum drove me to the nearest hospital.

By the time we made it to Accident and Emergency my heart rate was racing, my blood pressure had slumped and my temperature was a sweltering 39c. I was quickly put into a hospital bed in what felt like the hottest part of the building.

So I was now a MEDICAL EMERGENCY and terrified. I may have been in hospital before but not this one and never in such a rush.

Tests showed that I was neutropenic. Basically my immune system was dangerously low. I had some kind of an infection and my body couldn’t fight it. Surely it was just a cold?

The doctor wasn’t so sure. He went through a list of possibilities with me; some were very serious and would mean emergency surgery.

I was put on a drip of antibiotics. Lying on my back, I stared at the ceiling and worried. Mum sat at my bedside, occasionally swatting the insects that flew in through an open window.  

It wasn’t until late that night that I was taken by wheelchair through the empty corridors to the cancer ward. I was wheeled into a side room with a television and an ensuite bathroom.

Result, I thought to myself.

The next day I realised it wasn’t such a good thing. I was almost in isolation. With the door shut, I stayed in the room on my own. I looked out on a couple of building and the wonderful weather.

By the time I saw a specialist consultant I was already responding well to the treatment. I was relieved to be told that I probably wouldn’t need anything more than antibiotics.

Most of the time bags of medicine or fluids were slowly pumped into my veins. It was lovely to be on an intravenous drip that made me feel good rather than the evil chemo cocktail that I’m more used to.

My consultant had said the treatment was going to be boring but relatively painless. And he was right. Less than 48 hours after I arrived at the hospital my immune system had recovered enough for me to be allowed home. I was shocked that I was so better so quickly.

Having an emergency stay in hospital was pretty traumatic. I was so glad to be leaving that I cried on the journey home.

I know that while the last lot of chemo will be horrendous, it won’t be nearly as bad as that.

I’ve been celebrating my release with Sasha the dog. It’s amazing that I got out in time for the start of the Olympics. I thought that I’d be stuck on my own in a hospital side room instead we’re going to be able to watch the games together!

A turn for the worse?

Something has changed. Following each session of chemo you’re really ill for a while and then the symptoms start to ease. I had thought this was happening. I’ve had a good day or two but now instead of getting better, it seems like I’m getting worse.

I suppose I should’ve expected this. My body is taking a pounding from the poison that I get every few weeks.

I think that I may have an infection or a virus. In normal life it wouldn’t be a big deal but my immune system is compromised. Once again I’ve called on the services of James Bond. But to be honest it’s the painkillers which are helping more than a fictional hero with a six pack.

My digital thermometer has become a close friend. Constantly checking my temperature has got a whole lot more obsessive. If it gets much higher then I have to go to hospital. I suppose that I’ve been luckily as my chemo has been relatively uneventful so far.

When I first started having this evil treatment I was given a couple of medical cards to carry at all times. If I need to go to A and E these tell the staff that as I’m having chemo I have a high risk of something called neutropenic sepsis which is a MEDICAL EMERGENCY. You know it’s serious when the NHS spells it out in capitals.

As well as feeling rubbish, I don’t look too well either. My eyebrows are disappearing. You never realise quite how important they are in framing your face until they begin to go. One of them is fading faster than the other. It’s almost as if I’ve been on a dodgy stag do and it’s been shaved off, right in the middle of the brow.

I’ve tried using make up to disguise this but it doesn’t look right. So I’ll have to get myself an eyebrow stencil kit off the internet. And I need some fake eyelashes too. Right now I barely have the energy to buy them let alone use them but one day I will.

That’s what is keeping me going. Not the fake lashes and brows although they’ll go very nicely with my new big blond wig. No, it’s the knowledge that I just have a couple more months of this to go.

It could be so different.

If I hadn’t had that random pain just after Christmas and if mum hadn’t insisted that I got a second opinion when I was told it was nothing serious then my cancer may not have been caught in time.

I wouldn’t have this luxury of moaning about how awful the chemo is instead I’d be fighting for my life. I know this nightmare will be over soon enough and then I should start to feel better. Hopefully by this Christmas my life will be back to normal and the chemo a horrible but hazy memory.

Dog days of chemo

When you’re being treated for cancer you’re prepared for it to be horrendous and scary. What no one tells you is just how boring it will be.

But at least I have Sasha the dog.

Most days are pretty much the same. I try to spend as long as I can out of bed. I sit in a comfy armchair in the living room while Sasha curls up in a chair next to me.

She is able to go outside in the garden or run around in the surrounding fields but she prefers to stay with me. Together we watch daytime TV.

Sasha is a very happy dog. She enjoys snoozing and when she’s awake she likes walks and wagging her tail. The thing is she doesn’t do much but that’s why she’s great. I never quite realised how important Sasha would be during my battle to beat this killer diesase. She’s my silent constant companion. With her, life isn’t quite so dull.

My family and friends have been brilliant during all this but I can ask Sasha the questions that no one really knows the answers to. Why did I get cancer again? Why is life so unfair? When will I stop being so exhausted? Shall we watch another Jeremy Kyle show?

Sasha looks at me with her brown eyes. I take it to mean, stop worrying. But she could just be wondering if it’s lunchtime yet.

No matter how I’m feeling I try to have a tiny walk everyday. The reward for making it outside is on the other side of the garden fence.

Some of my dad’s cattle graze in the field. These young boys are an inquisitive and friendly bunch. As we sit on the lawn and watch them, they like to come over to say hello.   

It’s so peaceful. The only sound is made by the animals. They help to take my mind off things. It’s a lovely way to pass the time and you can’t help but feel calm. I know that I’m very lucky to be able to recuperate here.

I can only walk for a few minutes at a time. After my brief burst of activity I need a long rest so it’s back to the living room.

The past week has been tough. The pain has been awful but mostly it’s been all about the tiredness. It’s like suddenly being hit with a very big sleeping stick. I have no choice but to give in. It feels almost as if I’m fainting. A few days ago I woke up from one of these deep sleeps and I was so drained that it took me an hour before I had the energy to have a drink from a glass of water that was right next to me.

Today has been a good day. The side effects of my last chemo are finally starting to fade but I know that the better I feel, the more bored I get.

It can often seem like you’re adrift in an ocean of illness with months of the same stretching out in front of you. But Sasha the dog and the cattle in the field are showing me how to be more content with a much slower pace of life.

Cancer makeover

Chemo number four was very different. This time I was sat in a hospital ward with a lively group of chatty women. All of us with various stages of hair loss.

My friend Tamsin joined me for some chemo coffee. It made me realise that maybe it’s not my confidence that’s been effected by all this treatment. It could be that I just spend so much time on my own.

With gossip, cake and fancy chocolates, I was soon feeling like myself.

The wig-man did keep his promise even though he was almost two hours late. I’d never normally wait that long for a man but this was no ordinary date. Besides I had a needle in my hand and a toxic cocktail on ice.

By the time he arrived we were ready for some fun.

I had the fittings in a side room that’s mostly used for private consultations. The kind you never want to have. If there’s something that a doctor can’t say to you on the ward then it’s likely to be horrific news. I was so glad to be in there for a happy occasion.

And it was happy.                               

I’ve finally come to terms with my falling out hair although I’m going to hold off getting it shaved off. Hopefully not until the chemo is over. I like still having hair while I’m so ill. Somehow it makes me feel not quite so bad.

It’s crazy that it’s been so difficult. When I last had cancer I wasn’t nearly so worried. Perhaps because it was another sign that I really did have cancer again.

I was determined to have long light brown hair, similar to how I used to look. I wanted to be able to hide behind my old hairstyle.

But as I was feeling much more like me and a whole lot braver, it didn’t quite work out like that. I may soon be bald but I’m also going to be blonde and bold.

My new look!

But not like this one below. Woah, I’m back in 1980s.

That’ll be a no then

Tamsin had difficulty taking the photos as she was laughing so much. But not at the next wig.

Oooh big hair

Wag-tastic, I had to have this one too!

It’s almost like my Barbarella wig, only a bit less of a bouffant. It’s something that could be straight out of the TV show, The Only Way is Essex with a touch of Kate.

This will be my going out wig.

And it won’t stop there; I’m going to get a whole wardrobe of wigs. When I’m bored of being blonde, I may go red, blue or black. Whatever takes my fancy. So much for fading into the background.

But before I could do any of that it was time for my chemo to start.

The treatment is getting tougher. After a couple of hours, the drugs made me so dizzy that I had to get into a hospital bed and sleep for the rest of the day.

It still feels like I’m a long way off from being well enough to wear the wigs for real. But at least I’m now on the home straight.

Huffing and puffing

I have a hot date later today!

Hmmm sound familiar? Well that’s because my wig-man turned up wig-less yesterday. Mind you it’s not the first time I’ve had a disappointing date.

He’s promised that today at hospital he really will come up with the goods. So I should get to choose my new fabulous wig. He knows that I want to be much more Kate than Princess Di. Plus he’s going to let me try on some WAG wigs.

I could end up with some seriously big hair. Hopefully.

As I prepare for the next evil chemo cocktail I perhaps should warn you that I’m writing under the influence of steroids. I’ve just taken a handful of the tiny drugs. They normally make me feel wired; right now they make me feel weird. In a good way, it’s like my face is drunk and I keep laughing. I think I’m going to need a disco nap before getting ready.

Anyway after I choose my fake hair, I’ll start chemo session number four. Yayyyy once I’m hooked up to the drip I’ll be two thirds of the way through!

And there’s some more great news.

This bad boy doesn’t let any air in

My breathless tests are now all done. I needed this pair of nose clips for the last one.

Yesterday I had to sit in what looked like an old phone booth, wear these and blow into a blue rubber tube. It was quite surreal. The woman putting my lungs through their paces stood on the other side of the glass door telling me when to inhale, exhale and pant. Yes pant.

The results from all the scans, the x-ray and the panting shows that everything is healthy. Both my heart and my lungs are normal.

It’s such a massive relief. I didn’t realise how worried I’d been. I’d feared that my breathing problems could have be caused by a dangerous blood clot, a killer disease or even more cancer. Instead it seems that it’s probably down to the fact that I’m still not recovered from the huge operation and the chemo could be making this worse. Once this is over then I should just get better.

It’s brilliant that I’m not seriously ill with something else and I only have the orginal cancer to deal with. I can now breathe easy.

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.

Cake therapy

Forget chemotherapy, its cake therapy that’s helping to get me through this.

I used to have such a healthy diet and look where that got me – diagnosed with cancer for the second time.

Now I’m treating myself to whatever I fancy. If only I didn’t need the evil chemo cocktail every few weeks then I’d being able to properly enjoy this.

Cake tends to feature most days, okay, every day.

When I’m not stuck in bed and sometimes even when I am, friends and family come over. Much of the time, I’m feeling sick, in pain or too exhausted to leave the house.

Many of my visitors come with cake. And I love it.

I’ve had white chocolate éclairs topped with multi-coloured sparkles. Cupcakes decorated by my god daughter and perfect meringues made by my aunt.

Plus many many others.

Then there are my chemo coffee sessions. I think I must have tried every type of muffin sold in the hospital. The ones with the lemon curd in the middle have to be the best.

Am I worried about what this is doing to my waistline? Not so much.

After the first session of chemo, I accidentally lost a stone (just over 6 kilos) without any effort. Now there’s something I never thought I’d say! So I have to be careful about not losing too much. Plus if I get ill my weight could plummet dangerously.

As a result of the surgery, my body can’t cope very well with many of the healthy foods like fruit and vegetables that I used to eat. I’ve been told that I should only have small amounts of these things. But cake is absolutely fine.

I don’t just get given them. I’ve starting baking.

As I’m stuck at home lots of the time, it feels comforting to be able to create something when there’s so little that I’m able to do. It’s not since school that I’ve made a cake and it certainly beats watching daytime TV.

I wait until I’m feeling well enough and then start cooking. I’ve only managed to knock up a few cakes so far. One them was a sticky ginger loaf. It wasn’t too bad and gave me a rare sense of achievement.

Anyway I had to eat it as it was packed with ginger and so helped to ease my nausea. Now that’s my kind of chemo-busting-cake therapy.

Can’t breathe easy yet

Hospital gown and tights – a fetching combination


Reluctantly I’ve been back in a hospital gown again. I sat in a cold examination room with its blue blinds firmly closed and waited for yet more tests.

As if it’s not bad enough dealing with cancer, there’s now something else which could be extremely serious.

I’ve mentioned my breathlessness before. I end up gasping after just a tiny amount of activity. Doing something like walking and talking is almost impossible.

After my operation I had a bit of a problem with this. I thought it was because a lump of cancer had to be removed from my diaphragm and that I was short of breath as it healed.

Since starting chemo it’s got a whole lot worse. I find it hard to breathe after just walking a few metres. According to The Professor this probably isn’t connected with the chemo. So I’m having a series of tests.

I was wired up in the examination room. As several electrodes were stuck on my skin I looked away and focused on the walls which were painted baby blue. The last time this happened I’d stopped breathing altogether. Luckily I woke up before they had to be used.

A young doctor in a sky blue medical gown prodded me with something that resembled a small plastic bottle of deodorant. The end was covered in cold clear gel. She pushed it hard into my chest. With her other hand she tapped a key board to take images of my heart.

The computer beeped as pictures of my very vital organ were captured from all possible angles. On the monitor my heart pumped away in black and white glory.

After being so focused on having something deadly in my body, it’s a fantastic feeling to watch something that looks so healthy inside me.

The doctor turned on a loud speaker and recorded the sound of my heart beating. To my ears it was loud and strong, almost like a parade of marching soldiers. It made me think about my James Bond army. They’ve certainly been doing a brilliant job. I wonder what mission I’ll send them on next if there’s a problem with my heart. Or lungs. Or something else.

Hopefully it won’t come to that.

I could be breathless all the time as I’m now so unfit. That’s a really scary thought. But at least the cure will just involve plenty of exercise rather than anything which involves me wearing another of these hospital gowns.

A more senior doctor came into the blue room to check the images. Wow he looked like someone out of ER. Think George Clooney but younger and Australian.

Anyway back to the small screen. George was very happy. It was just his initial impression but it seems that everything appears very healthy. After my cancer nightmare it’s lovely to hear positive results. I got him to repeat the news. He reassured me that I had a good heart.

My race for life

I blame my friend Rache.

Rache likes to stand out in a crowd

If there’s an occasion that requires us to dress up and look a little bit stupid, then she is at the front of the queue dragging us with her.

When I discovered I had cancer a few months ago, it was Rache’s idea that a group of friends do the Race for Life and that they do it for me. I was honoured and signed up too.

Rache suggested that we wear the dodgy outfits that we had for an 1980s themed weekend away last year. That’s how we ended up at Cheltenham Race Course early on a Sunday morning wearing bright pink tutus and matching legwarmers.

Relax – it’s only 5K

I’d hoped to be able to walk the course but as the event got nearer it was clear that just turning up was going to be a major achievement. The last round of chemo has hit me hard. As well as being tired and in constant pain, I’ve also been feeling sick and very dizzy. It’s taken until now for me to feel half way human.

Even so by the time we walked from the car to the starting line my legs hurt and I was totally out of breath.

It was all very different not too long ago. Before this cancer nightmare I’d do an hour or two of exercise every day. I was so fit that three years ago I ran the same 5K Race for Life in just over thirty minutes.

Doesn’t everyone dress like this on a Sunday?!

As everyone lined up for the race this year I have to admit I was quite jealous.

When my friends set off, I sat down at the side of the race track. I watched as thousands of women in pink snaked their way around the beautiful landscaped course. This event was for Cancer Research and my team managed to raise loads of money. I even persuaded some people to sponsor me just to turn up.

All the girls though did complete the course. I joined the them right at the very very end and together we all crossed the finishing line. I may not have walked far yesterday but I was so exhausted that when I got home I went to bed still wearing the whole outfit and slept for several hours

But I’m very happy that I went along. Plenty of people were taking part in memory of loved ones who’ve died from cancer.

Being there with friends reminded me of just how incredibly lucky I am to have beaten the disease. To be able to actually see them doing the race for me.

My friends had my name on their backs

Afterwards we looked through our photos. There were some shockers of me in silly poses. I asked Rache not to put the really awful ones on Facebook.

“Of course they’re all going up,” she told me. “But I’m ill,” I joked with her. “Yes you had cancer. Had, as in the past tense.”

Brilliant, I’m now well enough to be totally embarrassed by my friends.

It made me realise after all what I’ve been through that is a pretty good feeling. Even though I’d still prefer that those photos never see the light of day!

Rache and Claire with their Race for Life medals