Chocolate, my sweet medicine

There’s one thing you can say about chemo – it’s certainly saved the best ’til last.

My body is now chock-a-block with the cancer killing chemicals and the pain has been an absolute nightmare. Far worse than the exhaustion and sickness.

It was all so different a week ago. I was on such a high, finishing chemo and putting the whole horrible cancer treatment behind me. The adrenalin got me through. Now the party is over and this feels very much like the hangover.

But as with a hangover at least there’s something unhealthy that helps to ease my pain – chocolate.

I’ve been getting massive cravings for great big slabs of the stuff. Well, any kind really, it doesn’t matter…..chocolate ice cream, chocolate fudge pudding, chocolate truffles. It’s all good to me.

Six sessions of the evil chemo cocktail means that my feet are always ice cold and that’s where the pain starts. A nasty tingling in my toes spreads into my ankles; it gets worse as it works its way up my leg bones and into my knees. It finally stops about half way up my thighs.

During the day I’m battling to stay awake so it has to vie for my attention. But when I do want to sleep it just screams at me. Last night it felt like there was a machine at the end of the bed trying to wrench my legs away from my body.

Since when did the side effects of chemo become some kind of medieval torture?

Following the treatment last week, this intense agony has been hitting me in waves. It’s been so bad that at times it’s almost impossible to walk.

With all this going on, chocolate and plenty of it, has made things feel a bit better. It also cuts through the metallic taste in my mouth that chemo leaves behind. But there’s more to it than that. Apparently chocolate does actually helps with pain relief too.

Considering everything I’ve been through over the past six months, I’m amazed that my body is still able to work out what I need and let me know. And that fact that what it needs right now is more chocolate is pretty good.

My last chemo. Ever.

Whooo hoooooo! Finally it’s over. Yesterday I completed all my cancer treatment.

The day started well. On the ward you usually have to share a room with three or four others but I got to turn left instead of right as I was given my own side room. In the world of cancer having the superbug MRSA gets you an automatic upgrade.

My friend Tamsin came with me to the hospital. She may not be having chemo but as a surprise and to show her solidarity Tamsin wore a vivid purple wig. Normally part of a fancy dress witch outfit, it was almost like Halloween had come early! Seeing her fake almost florescent hair certainly helped to ease my anxiety.

As it was such a big day I wore my Candice wig for the first time. She’s reserved for special occasions and it was certainly one of those.

I’m still getting used to wearing a wig again. They’re quite hot and itchy even when you wear a wig liner over your head. My wig liner looks like a foot has been cut off a pair of American tan tights. It has a snug fit. Pull it down over your face and you look like you’re ready to do a bank job. After a couple of hours I had enough of the wig and ditched it in favour of a headscarf.

My friend Chantal, the flower girl spent the afternoon with me. She didn’t bring a wig instead she borrowed Candice. Seeing it on someone else was quite surreal. It’s such a massive WAG wig – I’m really glad I picked it!

I was so excited that after six months of treatment this was my last ever chemo. The hours seemed to speed past in a blur of coffee, cake and thinking about James Bond. It was his final tour of duty for me. Maybe one day I’ll be able to thank Daniel Craig for doing such a great job. Every chemo I have imagined that a whole battalion of Bonds were shooting the tiny but deadly cancer cells inside me.

As always I had several bags of cold clear liquid slowly dripping intravenously into my veins. Then at about 4pm it was all over. No more evil chemo cocktails. We punched the air with delight. I finally got to flick the V sign at cancer. I said goodbye and farewell plus other choice words beginning with F.

Now I had officially beaten this killer disease.

But I couldn’t go yet. The chemo is so dangerous that it doesn’t discriminate between the good and bad stuff in your body. It’s now destroyed my magnesium levels. To stop side effects like numbness and tingling in my hands I had one last bag of liquid to give me a magnesium boost.

By the time it finished it was past the opening hours of the ward. Some of the nurses had already changed out of their uniforms ready to go home. They didn’t look like medical professionals anymore. As I walked out I realised that they would no longer see me in the same way either. I had stopped being a cancer patient.

Outside the fresh evening air somehow seemed much more wonderful than normal. It was an incredible feeling to leave that chemo unit and know that I wouldn’t be coming back again to have my veins filled with poison.

Dad and I headed for the car park. We went past a small square of grass surrounded by wooden benches. This is where you go for a quiet cry. It’s what me and my cancer fighter friends call the garden of tears.

But at that moment I was full of joy. The days of needing this hidden green space felt like a lifetime away.

As we drove us back to the countryside, the sun was starting to set on what had been a brilliant day. The dazzling weather on the motorway home matched my mood. The sky was ablaze with dusky pinks and gold that stretched all across the horizon. Enjoying the view it suddenly struck me – now I’m really going to live.

A letter to my cancer

Dear Cancer,

It was six months ago that we were reintroduced. I’d already got rid of you once and I can’t believe that you came back for more. This time I only had a fifty fifty chance of surviving. Like the flip of a coin. Well, heads I won.

After half a year of hell you are now just dust and dead cells.

You started out as ovarian cancer, if that wasn’t bad enough you took the liberty of spreading around my abdomen. It took a team of surgeons the length of an average day at the office to remove all visible traces of you. I imagine that the tumours have long since been incinerated. All that’s left is an awesome battle scar.

The next step was to kill off any lingering reminders of you. I had chemotherapy to destroy the teeny tiny cells that couldn’t be seen. On Wednesday I’m having the last of my six sessions

Like a coward you left me before the chemo had even finished. Repeated blood tests show that you are no more.

I’ve not just beaten you; I’ve proved just how much I want to live. My body hurt so badly when I woke up from the operation that I thought I was dying. I wasn’t.

But the drugs to deal with the pain almost killed me. They lulled me into a deep sleep. I quickly slipped into a happy bubble of unconsciousness and stopped breathing. I was only a few minutes away from my own death. But I fought back.

I wish I’d never met you. Okay maybe that’s only partly true. In many ways you’ve changed my life for the better. During the cancer treatment ten years ago I came up with a big list of things I wanted to do. Afterwards I went out and chased my dreams. The reality was even better than I dared to hope for.

So why did you come back? I thought we were done. I really didn’t need another reminder that life is precious.

When I was in the process of being diagnosed the second time round someone who should have known better suggested the cancer could be terminal. It wasn’t. She told me this devastating news over the phone. I was sitting on my bed on top of my pink stripy duvet at the time. As I cried my life didn’t flash in front of my eyes. Instead I saw images of my future, of what I was still to achieve.

I’m so angry that I’ve had to put almost everything on hold. Hey cancer – in a few hours I get my life back.

Over the past few months I’ve done everything I can to annihilate you. I’ve been having the maximum strength chemo cocktail. It’s been a marathon of pain, sickness and complete exhaustion but I haven’t considered asking for a lower dose.

Chemo has so many petulant demands. It wakes me up in the middle of the night. The poisonous chemicals make me run to the bathroom to throw up. I have no eyebrows now and only six eyelashes. I’ve watched my lovely hair fall out, there’s just a thin covering left to go. Then there have been the bugs, bacteria and infections. I never expected to have an emergency stay in hospital.

And yet, you haven’t managed to break my spirit. I’ve even been able to do some things which I thought were virtually impossible. Just days after my last chemo I managed to get to the Olympic Games. When the cancer treatment is over, I won’t collapse in a heap at the end. I’ll be flicking the V sign at you as I cross the finishing line.

Don’t worry, I won’t forget about you. How could I? There will be tests and scans every few months. When I go to hospital for the results I won’t be able to think about anything else. You’ll be constantly me on my mind.

However I refuse to be scared of what hasn’t happened. Because of you, I appreciate every moment. Well almost every moment. And so because of you I live.

I’ve now beaten you twice. TWICE. I want you to know that if you come back, I will beat you again.

Goodbye stupid cancer.


What now?

The countdown is on to my last chemo. There are just days to go. I’ve dreamt about this moment for a very long time. I really don’t want to get ill and delay my final treatment. After this I’m done with the cancer. But there’s been a scary new development.

For the past week I’ve been in the danger zone. This is when my immune system takes a violent nosedive and because of this I’ve kept myself pretty much isolated from the outside world. Away from many of the everyday germs.

Following my last chemo I had that horrible hurty injection. It boosts your immune system but it makes you feel like you have flu and arthritis. I put up with the pain as I knew it would protect me.

When I had that really bad infection a few weeks ago I was advised to steer clear of certain risky foods so I carried on with this special diet. Salad, cold meat, milk that’s been opened for more than a day, yogurt, soft cheese, fruit and vegetables that haven’t been peeled and many others were on my banned list.

So I thought I’d be safe but I was wrong.

It turns out that I have MRSA. As in the superbug that kills hundreds of people each year, as in the bacteria that’s resistant to some types of antibiotics.

After my GP rang me with the news, the next thing I did was have a look on the internet. I know I know it was a stupid move. I was scared by what I saw but I did find this piece of advice: “The best thing to do is to avoid becoming infected with the bacteria.” Yeah, thanks for that.

Anyway, concerned by what I’d read I called one of my consultants. He put my mind at rest. I may feel overwhelmingly tired and have all the other horrible side effects of the chemo but I don’t have any of the worrying symptoms that would mean I have full blown MRSA. It’s unlikely to become critical.

Apparently many people have the superbug but most will never get ill from it or even realise that they have it. My case is a bit different so I’m back on antibiotics again. Plus I have a special pink shower gel which is stuffed full of ingredients with long medical names.

As long as the MRSA doesn’t turn into something serious before it’s sorted then I’ll be okay. My last chemo should be able to go ahead as planned.

Just as I’m so close to finishing my treatment I can’t believe that something else has come along but after all that I’ve been through I won’t let what is only a small problem get in my way.

Let it rain

What fantastic weather we’ve been having!

This afternoon I watched an angry rain storm drench the garden from the comfort of the living room. As the wind howled down the chimney I sat and enjoyed the show.

I’m too ridiculously tired to do much else. Mornings don’t really exist for me anymore. I sleep for at least 12 hours every night and still my limbs feel like they’re made of stone.

When it’s wet there’s nothing like being indoors and knowing that you don’t have to go outside.

Besides, now that the Olympics Games are over the bad weather is proving good entertainment. It’s still a couple of weeks before the Paralympics start. Even Sasha the dog is missing Team GB.

However cosy and dry it is inside, part of me would love to be out there going about my normal life. It’s amazing what you crave. Being stuck inside for so long means you lose touch with the elements. You understand just how much the weather makes you feel alive.

These days I’m never too hot or too cold. Unless of course I’m coming down with an infection. Sometimes if there’s a blustery shower I’ll put my wellies on and wander around the garden so I can feel rain drops on my face.

The first time I was treated for cancer I also really missed the weather. It was confusing as I lost track of the seasons. Experiencing extreme weather was on my big list of things that I wanted to do after chemo. It was one of the reasons why I loved living in Eastern Europe.

And I certainly got a whole load of extreme weather. Snow, ice and bitterly cold temperatures I had it all.

One day I was live on the TV news while stood outside in what seemed like artic conditions. When I came off air I realised my lip gloss had frozen.

At the time this was all part of my foreign adventure. Maybe I was packing in lots of wild weather back then so I wouldn’t be too frustrated now. Even so I’d quite like some more of it. Sorry in advance if you get caught in a sudden downpour but I’m going to be stuck at home for a little while yet so I’m really hoping for some more truly awful weather!

Olympic victory

Yes I made it!

Not long after my last session of chemo I actually got to see the Olympics. I still can’t quite believe it.

The day before I’d been shattered. I wondered if I could even make the journey across London. But there was no choice. I wanted to go so I had to feel well. After months worrying about tumours, rogue cells and being so agonisingly ill, it was great to focus on something totally unconnected to cancer.

Mum and I had tickets for basketball but our first event of the day was show jumping at Greenwich Park.


To get to the venue we did it like David Beckham and sped along the Thames by boat.

I have to admit I was nervous about the day ahead. I hadn’t done anything requiring this much effort for such a long time. Despite being determined not to be beaten by the chemo, I knew I was going to have to take it easy. But this wasn’t about what I couldn’t do; it was about enjoying a glimpse of normal life and how things will be when I’m all recovered.

Because of this I thought there was no better time than to wear a wig for real. Say hello to Raquel! This is a Raquel Welsh wig and so it becomes my Raquel. It was quite surreal suddenly going blonde.

The Olympic day was planned like a military operation. I’d slept as much as I could since chemo. I’d organised my medicine so that I was taking the max pain killers at the right time on the Sunday. Most importantly mum had hired me a wheelchair.


There was a torrential downpour as the morning session of the show jumping started but it didn’t matter. I’d managed to get to the games. It was an amazing feeling to be part of the Olympics.

For Team GB it was the beginning of an historic gold medal winning performance. I was also finding it quite tiring. Plus the super strong tablets had left me drowsy. As the final horses finished I had a sleep in my wheelchair. I was very grateful for that chair. There was no way I could have managed without it.

It had been mum’s idea to get the wheelchair even though it meant that she had to push me. I thought that we might only manage the morning. Mum had had other ideas and we headed for the Olympic Park. Luckily she’s very fit and when we had a clear stretch of pavements we whizzed along. If there were people walking the same way as us, mum enjoyed overtaking them.

It was definitely fun but shocking too. It made me understand just how much of an impact the cancer, surgery and chemo have had. Thankfully I know that I’ll recover.

Spending all day in the wheelchair also left me stunned. It was as if some people had never seen a wheelchair before. As we tried to navigate busy areas, some just starred and stood in the way. When we needed help few people offered any assistance.

The people working at the games however were brilliant. At the Olympic Park we were given a lift on a golf buggy. The wheelchair was strapped to the back. Our driver tooted his horn and shouted, “Team GB on board” as we made our way through the crowds.

The last time I was there was back in January. I was reporting live for BBC News on the start of the Olympic year. Just a few days before I had symptoms that made me think that something could be wrong. So much has happened since then but it’s almost all over. I’m so glad that I made it. This feels like I’ve come full circle.

Incredibly we managed to stay to the end of the evening session of basketball. I was knackered, of course and in some pain but delighted. This was good pain, the kind that you get from doing too much. It’s taken days of sleep to recover.

Since the opening of London 2012 I’ve been watching Team GB with so much pride. Now the Olympics has helped me to achieve something that was way beyond my expectations and I feel very proud of myself too.

Just one more

Exhausted, so exhausted. But also I was slightly excited that I managed to make it through chemo number five. The end of my cancer treatment is really in sight now.

For the previous sessions friends have come over for a chemo coffee on the ward with me. I was too ill for that this week. Although I did have a cheeky chocolate muffin before it started. Then all I could do was to lie in bed.

Not only do I want this to all be over but so do my veins. They’re beginning to give up on me and I don’t blame them.

They appear normal but once a needle goes anywhere near them they seem to disappear. During my emergency stay in hospital last week, it took three people to get just one blood sample and some rather spectacular bruises.

The chemo is delivered via a needle that has to stay in a vein all day. My evil chemo cocktail is so toxic that the nurses wear gloves when they’re handling the bags of liquid. If the drugs escape from my veins into the surrounding tissue this could be really dangerous. So the nurse has to hit a good strong vein.

One way that I cope with this is to play the alphabet game. I look away from my arm and silently name countries of the world from A – Z. Usually I get to Egypt or France. These days I end up in Kazakhstan, Libya or even Mexico.

And that wasn’t the only pain. I’ve been persevering with the pink cold cap. The hat with a rubber lining that’s frozen to -5c and helps to stop you from going bald. I love my new wigs but I’d still rather have my own hair even though it’s very thin now.

Of course the more exposed your scalp is, the colder your head gets. Normally the frostbite feeling gradually subsides but not this time. This time it hurt so much. After two hours I couldn’t stand it any longer. I gave up.

So that’s it, there’s no real chance that I’ll keep my hair. It was a sad moment but I was too tired to get upset.

That’s the best thing about being so shattered all the time, you don’t have the energy to worry about much. You just focus on getting through each day. When I had chemo before, it was this period between the fifth and sixth session that I found the toughest. It seems like your body is screaming at you that it can’t take any more of the poison and yet you know there is still one final dose to go.

Since the chemo on Wednesday, all I’ve done is sleep. Mostly just waking up to be sick, take tablets and eat. My life is almost completely on hold but I’m hoping that the Olympics will help me to feel a little bit better.

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, maybe before I even had the disease, I got tickets for London 2012. This Sunday I should be there watching show jumping and basketball but the Sunday after chemo is normally my worst day. However I’m determined to make it. Even just for a few minutes.

Not only that, I’m going to wear one of my new wigs for the first time. While I won’t be going for gold, I’m quite looking forward to being blonde and proving that I won’t be beaten by the chemo.

Soldiering on

I thought I had it all sorted.

I have the chemo; James Bond kills the remaining cancer cells. I’m slowly poisoned as I imagine my own personal army of special agents blasting away at the enemy inside me. I try to carry on as much as normal while I visualise the 007s carrying out this covert operation for me.

But it turns out that I’m at war too.

Following my scary setback last week I had to see The Professor. Despite being totally exhausted, it wasn’t quite as awful as I felt during my emergency stay in hospital. With the infection launching a full on assault, my immune system dropped so low it was almost non-existent. Even he had to admit that it was impressively bad.

As I chatted to my consultant in a small clinical looking room I could hardly think straight. I was so shattered. It was such an effort just to sit on the plastic chair. Really I wanted to have a nice lie down on the medical couch that I could see behind a flimsy curtain. It was so inviting.

I had the appointment with The Professor at my usual hospital yesterday as I’m due to have chemo today. I had to convince him that I was ready to take the battering that you get from the drip of dangerous drugs.

Luckily the blood tests confimed that I was well enough. I’m so glad that it’ll continue as planned even though I still feel shockingly ill.

This will be my fifth session of chemo. After today, I’ll have just one more to go before it’s all over. The Professor reassured me that what I’m going is awful but nothing out of the ordinary. I’m not sure why but having someone else acknowledge just how horrendous things are somehow makes you feel a bit better. It was a welcome boost.

It’s not that I’ve been feeling down. It’s just that I have little energy to do much more than focus on finishing my cancer treatment.

It’s incredibly traumatic, it’s as if I’m in a warzone, my consultant explained to me. For six months now I’ve been under attack both physically and mentally. There’s the pain, the fatigue and the fear. You’re not sure if you’ll make it out alive. The last time I was anywhere near a warzone as a BBC foreign correspondent it was pretty stressful and I was only there for a week or so.

It makes sense – this is a fight for my very survival. While I think of myself as battling this killer disease, I’ve never seen myself as an actual soldier on the frontline. I’ve left that part to my gun-toting troop of James Bonds.

To be honest the fog of tiredness has meant I’ve considered myself to be more like a zombie but I must change that.

It’s much more positive to imagine myself as a solider and a successful one at that. The Professor took great delight in telling me that according to the very latest test results I’m still clear of cancer. So I’m already winning the war!