Sickness and in health

The last few months have been some of the worst of my life. I’ve never ever been so ill for such a long period. I started my current chemotherapy in July and it’s been horrific. I’ve had plenty of this kind of toxic treatment before. Almost 50 sessions when I last counted. But this weekly chemo is by far the hardest to cope with.

Imagine what it’s like to wake up with a bad hangover and the flu, pretty much every day. That has been my life for almost four months now.


The tiredness has been chronic. There have been days when walking from one room to the next has been almost impossible. I’ve clocked up some serious sofa time. Lying down of course, as sitting up is too exhausting. I often feel really dizzy when I do stand up. Even just bending down makes me feel faint. Most of the time, reading or looking at a computer is too much effort. Yet despite not doing anything all day, I still need a huge amount of sleep at night. Bad days feel incredibly bleak. The never ending fatigue is debilitating.

And so too is the sickness. Mostly it’s just nausea. Ha, I say just nausea, but it’s ridiculous. (It’s perhaps best not to read on if you are feeling a bit queazy.) Generally I have about three days a week of actually being sick. Here’s how I cope: I lie on the sofa, take a variety of tablets and stare at the TV trying not to think about it. Willing myself not to throw up. I concentrate on the screen and the sickness seems to pass eventually. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes it’s best to get it over with. It doesn’t hurt that much but these days I always seem to have tears rolling down my face as I vomit. It’s not that I’m particularly upset so I’m not sure why it makes me cry.

This nausea taints so much of my daily life. I have a long list of food and drink that I can’t bear. Most of the nausea is associated with hospital visits. It reaches a peak a couple of days before chemo. Just thinking about my treatment can send me rushing to the bathroom. A few weeks ago, a friend who was coming to chemo with me sent me a text. We were arranging where to meet. But just reading the text made me throw up!

Must of the time I haven’t been able to eat much, which is no bad thing, although not eating doesn’t stop me being sick. It’s a strange sensation when it’s just cold water that comes out. But thats much better than bile. I often wake up early in the morning and my first thought is that I’m going to be sick NOW and before I can say to myself, you’ve got to be kidding, it’s started again.

I should explain that this is not a standard chemo, I’m on a clinical trial. The weekly infusion only takes 15 mins and as it slips into my veins I get the taste of almonds in the back of my throat. Something else for my banned food list. This is experimental stuff and so it’s taken a while to establish the right dose for me. My chemo cocktail has been reduced a couple of times. This has eased the symptoms, a bit. It means more sitting on the sofa and less lying down. It’s still really tough though and I have many more weeks to go.

But there are a couple of things which are getting me through all the horribleness and make it all worthwhile. My tumours are shrinking and I am happy to still be alive.

62 thoughts on “Sickness and in health

  1. Oh, poor thing! I can’t even imagine feeling so sick all the time. But it is so good to hear from you again!! Sending power hugs x

  2. Sounds unbelievably tough Helen! I’ve thought of you several times recently – listening to Lynda Bellingham on the radio and then the sad news of her death yesterday – I wondered how you were doing. Hang in there and keep shrinking those tumours!

  3. Oh Helen, so good to hear from you again and being so positive. How is the garden looking? I still haven’t bought the ipad! Jeannie Marshall Witney

  4. Hello Helen, I was thinking about you just this weekend. Sorry that you are having such a difficult time with the chemo. I am so proud of you! Keep fighting on.

  5. You are a very brave individual. Your amazing lucidity must help endure the tedium as I am certain it helps many others who face comparable challenges. Wishing you a steady recovery.

  6. Hi Helen, being on a clinical trial makes you a pioneer / explorer and therefore a hero. I would class you as a hero just for going through with all this stuff, but pushing back the frontiers of medical science makes you even more of a hero.

  7. I have been thinking of you so often since your last post and wondering how you were getting on. Now I know, it sounds awful, but you are so stoic and I pray all these symptoms begin to lessen. Keep fighting. xx

  8. Really good to hear from you. You have a lot of us here, us online strangers, willing you on, as I’m sure you’re ‘real’ friends and family are. Take good care of yourself.

  9. Have you read “You are the Placebo – Your Mind Over Matter” by Dr Joe Dispenza? Inspiring book, though quite a lot of science in it. The meditation CD that he’s done is really good as well. Also “Radical Remissions” by Kelly A Turner. Definitely a must read. There are thousands of people in the world who have recovered from stage 3 and 4 metastatic cancer. I want to be one of them, and it suspect that you probably do too. Love and hugs, honey.

  10. Helen- good to hear from you- I was thinking of you the other day. It sounds so tough but I’m glad you found the strength to reach out and communicate- there are so many people wishing you well. All best wishes

  11. Your courage and determination is inspiring- stay strong and remember this too will pass. Thoughts (and prayers) are with (and for) you. X

  12. Helen, so sorry to hear how the last few months have been. Your strength and honesty is incredible. Thinking of you, thank you for the update. From Anne in Oz

  13. I’m just another virtual friend who has also been thinking of you recently. So glad to hear from you even though you are enduring such awful times.

  14. You are such a strong, brave person and I have thought of you and wondered where the latest update was for a few weeks. Its disappointing to hear how tough things are for you and I do hope you will improve over time. Will continue to hope for an improvement for you and send positive thoughts and some hope for an end to the nausea.

    Kind regards

  15. Helen, you are amazing. Think about you often and Kath’s mum sends me bits of info as well. Miss your smiley face and sexy voice on the telly. Keep fighting. Lots of love Edna

  16. hi Helen, so sorry for what you are going through – you are so brave. My prayers and thoughts are with you x

  17. Keep going Helen, you’re beating it. People like yourself are an inspiration to the rest of us.

  18. Do you mind complete strangers sending you messages, when so many of those messages must inevitably saying similar things? I don’t know what I can say that would be startlingly different from other messages, or bring some sort of new hope or relief and comfort to your life. I wish I did. And it seems that reading such messages would, currently, be a trial for you – yet you carry on fighting for your life through such awful circumstances. Fighting so hard, with such determination despite all the unimaginable horribleness you have to bear. I don’t have the fighting spirit you have, yet I have no physical illness – just sadness, loneliness, and a life messed up. I could not go on as you do. I have some notion of why you do, and you deserve life more than I. I wish I could give you a life free from what you are suffering, physically and mentally. You are amazing. I wish relief and happiness visits you again for you soon… soon, soon, soon. So soon. I squeeze myself so tight wishing this for you.

  19. I’ve been following you for some time. I live in Upstate NY and my mother was born and raised in Ireland, so I relish in all your British references. I am an Ovarian Cancer survivor, dx in 2010 DURING a C-Section with my second son!
    YOU are an inspiration to me. I will continue praying and sending positive thoughts! Thank you for sharing your story!

    Fondly, Aileen

  20. Helen, so pleased to see you posting again. Stay strong as always and keep looking for forward. Sending lots of positive energy your way. Claire (former breakfast colleague) x x

  21. Hello helen I am also going through another reoccurance of ovarian cancer for the 4th time , and am finding it hard the chemo in question is ecx.Reading your blog gives me inspiration but we both know how hard it is ,but we also know we wont give in to this horrible disease so good luck and my last chemo is next week and it is also working, and then starting my life again

  22. My dear Helen, I was so sorry to read those lines! Have you tried listening to audio books, besides watching TV? Maybe it could be a decent distraction. I’m thinking about you lots and sending you massive amounts of happy thoughts and positive energy!

  23. Helen,
    Good to hear from you.
    I have checked your blog everyday and prayed for you often.
    I hope you are very soon back to living

  24. Hi Helen,
    We had a date a few years ago when I was in a bad place but not anyway near yours. I used to live in California as you know…try a little pot for the nausea…it will work, they wouldn’t hesitate over there. Really, just try a little in a biscuit, cake or brownie. I’d never advocate this otherwise.
    Jon x

  25. Helen – You have been in my thoughts for a number of weeks now. I can’t imagine just how awful life has been for you, however I think that you are a truly remarkable woman. Its nearly 7 years since my wife died, and I forget the detail of the day to day ups and downs of being on medication…and everything (sickness tiredness etc) and the too frequent trips to hospital. That said it was fantastic to read that your tumours are shrinking….. which is wonderful. Take care xx

  26. Love your last sentence. Not so keen on the first. Just another online stranger and fellow Journo wishing you well.

  27. Keep going Helen. Glad to hear the tumours are shrinking however wretched you have been feeling. I hope you can draw some comfort from the love and support surrounding you. X

  28. God Bless Helen
    I hope it is a small comfort to you to know that so many people are on your side.
    Mark xx

    I promise you, I’m always there
    When your heart is filled with sorrow and despair
    And I’ll carry you when you need a friend
    You’ll find my footprints in the sand

    Leona Lewis – Footprints in the sand

  29. Helen, it is horrible but as you say the tumours are shrinking so there is a benefit. Your messages always inspire me and as Winston Chruchill said ‘If you’re going through sh!t, keep going’ Mary

  30. Ten years ago this week you interviewed me standing in a cavalry camp at the top of the North valley at Balaklava. It was the 150th Anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade – I explained the battle to you, and you explained the forthcoming Election to me. Two points of Eastern European history colliding, and a very fond memory.

    I was fortunate to get rid of my testicular cancer the following summer. Hope you can continue to improve.

    • Hi Martin, really great to hear from you. It’s a such fond memory for me too. This was one of my favourite stories that I covered as a foreign correspondent. You brought to life what had happened so many years ago. I remember standing in the valley of death in the early morning and a shiver when down my spine as I watched the recreation of the Charge of the Light Brigade. It was an honour to be there. Congratulations on beating the cancer, brilliant news.

  31. Helen, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. You are so strong and brave, and I know that your blog and story will inspire others. What you’ve been through is horrible, but I’m so glad to hear that the tumors are shrinking. Keep fighting this awful disease. You are an amazing woman!

  32. Oh Helen- Nausea was the one thing I dreaded during treatment so I am so sorry you have to endure it. I am thrilled though that your tumors are shrinking. <>

  33. Just keep doing what you are doing and taking it a step at a time, amazing lady. Thanks for making what must be an enormous effort to let us know how you are

  34. I read this and it really struck a chord – I’m lucky in that I have had to endure barely any chemo compared to you, but I developed anticipatory and association vomiting really badly. You may well be on it already, but if not, I found lorazepam was helpful. I also had psychology input. I still find hearing the names of the chemo drugs vomit inducing 9 months after my last infusion, and red squash makes me run to be sick! You’re doing great though, well done & keep sharing your journey! :)

  35. Helen,
    I’ve been thinking about you most days lately and hoping that you were ok. I was so pleased when I saw your name ping through my email but so sorry to hear that you are going through such a horrendous time on this clinical trial. It’s great that the tumors are shrinking and my thoughts and prayers are always with you.

  36. Can’t even begin to imagine what you are going through. Like everyone else I can only send happy thoughts, but be in no doubt they come from the heart. As a man once told my husband when he was ill “remain steadfast”!!

  37. i’m so sorry you’re going through all this but at the same time i’m glad to see that these horrible side affects can’t break your spirit. I hope your treatment finishes soon and you get the time to recover and do things that you enjoy. your list has many more fun stuff that are waiting for you and I truly wish you feel better and get on with ticking them off!

  38. I’m another stranger following your messages…..I’ve been thinking about you alot these last few months and wondered how you’re doing. My daughter told me 2 months ago that she has to have a double mastectomy….that happens tomorrow Oct. 24th. Cancer runs in my family, grandmother, grandfather (both maternal), mother, aunt, cousin, brother, but for some reason not me – yet at 69. My heart aches for what you are enduring…… I admire you writing about your feelings and taking the time to educate those of us that haven’t experienced chemo and cancer….I just can’t imagine…. Stay strong…..I’m sending you a big gentle hug.

  39. Helen it is wonderful to hear from you, you brought a smile to my face seeing your tweet pop up. Good news that the trial is having an impact on shrinking those tumours. Sorry that the SE have been so hard but keep trucking & remember we are all behind you every step of the way.

  40. Helen you ‘re a real inspiration for me. I fell your power and I fell better. Thank you. I know , it can seem an egoistic message but it s the true: you ‘re helping me in my actual , difficult life…you ‘re powerful for you and for other people !

  41. I have been thinking of you a lot a lot as the time has gone by and heard nothing from you. I was hoping you were busy enjoying your life and so sorry to hear how awful it has been for you. As you say the good news is that the tumours are shrinking. I do hope you start to feel better soon.

  42. Thank you for even writing this update. I hope the tumours keep on shrinking and you get through this as soon as possible.

  43. Sorry to hear how dreadful you’ve been feeling but so glad the tumours are shrinking. Sending you positive vibes.

  44. Phew is all I could think reading this new post – I even Googled you last week to see if there was any news I had missed! I am so relieved to see you are well enough to post something and that is GOOD! Well done you, little steps lead to big journeys… x

  45. Thinking of you Helen, you are so brave and I pray the tumours will continue to shrink.

  46. Dear Helen, I am glad to hear the cure is working, stay strong and keep fighting. My prayers and thoughts are for you.

  47. Dearest Helen
    You’re such an inspiration.
    Despite all you’re going through, whenever I think of you I see you smiling and laughing – as those are my memories of us working together on the road: and, like you, they are very strong.
    My much-promised ‘leaving do’ still hasn’t happened – but whatever and wherever, you’ll be part of it.
    Stay strong. You are so much bigger and more powerful in every way than the illness.
    Much love, Sean xx

    • Oh Sean, what a lovely message to get. I had the time of my life abroad and you were an important part of that. We had some great adventures together. What wonderful memories. Just writing this, thinking about them is making me smile. And you are so right, I am much more than my illness. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded about that.
      Lots of love, Helen xx

  48. And somehow, god knows how, despite all that ghastlyness you’re still writing a brilliant, insightful and informative blog! Hang on in there. You’re alive – and fabulous!

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