Hot hair!

This heat wave has made me to do something I’d rather not have done. I’ve been forced to ditch the wigs much sooner than I’d planned.

Even on the dullest of days when it’s cold outside they are annoying to wear. A wig is like a hat you aren’t able to take off. So this sweltering weather has made it unbearable. Please spare a thought for the far too warm wigged-up women. There are more of us than you realise.

I’ve already managed to cut down on my wig wearing. Candice and Raquel really don’t get out much this days. However I still wear a wig for work and important occasions. That was until last week. It was so hot that I couldn’t bear it any longer. It was making me feel ill so it had to come off.


It’s strange and scary to go without a wig in public. I’m used to having long hair but now it’s incredibly short. Sometimes I forget and have a shock when I look in the mirror. I no longer see the healthy person I used to be.

Considering everything I’ve been through I still find it hard to comprehend why it continues to matter quite so much. After all it’s only hair and I’m not bald anymore. The funny thing is that to the outside world I look well.

But my lack of hair reminds me of the deadly disease that’s in my body, currently, hopefully, still asleep. I didn’t suddenly decide to have a cropped cut. The cancer did that.

I’m trying to make the most of what I’ve got while I’ve still got it. I went to see my lovely hairdresser Angela and she managed to do something with the unruly regrowth. I now have an actual hairstyle and I like it a whole lot more. I’d say that anyone growing their hair back after chemo should get it properly cut sooner rather than later. It was amazing how much better it made me feel.

Even so, I’m not quite ready to put all my wigs away just yet. Besides today there’s going to be torrential rain and I’m going to need a hat…

No 41 on the List for Living

41) Be a model and work the catwalk

Wow the response to my List for Living has been incredible. Some people have now come up with their own lists of the things they’ve always wanted to do. A BBC friend has been so inspired that she’s in Africa right now! I can’t get over how many people have contacted me offers and suggestions. Thank you so much. As I’m shattered from the chemo, most of it will have to wait a while. But not everything…

After hearing about my list, a woman called Adele got in touch to ask if I wanted to be a model. Every year she organises Tea for Ovacome, a champagne afternoon tea and fashion show to raise awareness about ovarian cancer and funds for the Ovacome charity. Like Adele, the other models all had personal experience of the disease. I didn’t need to be asked twice!

I’d put this thing to do on my List for Living as I wanted to celebrate who I am now. Cancer changes you in so many ways. Not just medically and emotionally but also physically. It can make you ever so skinny. Or, as in my case, you go large.

When the disease came back a year ago, I was fit and healthy. But the chemo, the steroids and the not doing too much has meant that I’ve put on weight.

The clothes that we had to model were all on the small side but luckily I found a couple of dresses that I could squeeze into.

I may not look like I used to but my body has done a brilliant job in keeping me alive. Far too many women die within a few years of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Amazingly my body has beaten the odds. It manages to keep battling against the stupid cancer every time it comes back.

Compared to choosing my clothes, getting my hair sorted out was a lot simpler. My lovely hairdresser Angela offered to prepare Candice. The WAG wig was demanding some serious TLC. I left her with Angela. After cutting and curling she was beautiful again and runway ready.

As we rehearsed on the big day, Candice made herself comfortable. A couple of hundred people had bought tickets to the charity event which was at one of the fanciest hotels in London. In just a few hours they’d be watching us strut our stuff.

I have to admit that I felt like a right idiot to start with. I wasn’t exactly graceful. I’m pretty tall and so normally I don’t need to wear killer heels. However it felt empowering to be with so many strong women who had such similar stories to me. We each had two looks to model. Daytime and then night wear.

Just before the show began, I felt a bit anxious, nothing too bad but it did make me wonder why I’d wanted to do this. I think that most of us had the jitters. As we chatted nervously one of the models pointed out that we’d all been through a lot worse.

So true. This time last year I was in hospital after my massive operation, I’d been in intensive care after I came close to dying and I needed a Zimmer frame to help me get around. Now I was about to sashay down a catwalk.

We waited in our daytime outfits in a long, narrow corridor which was lined with abandoned furniture. Then one by one we headed out into the opulent room.

By the time it was my turn, it felt like my heart was beating as loud as the music. Wearing a summer dress and a big smile I walked out in front of the audience that included mum and some of my friends.

Being a model, just for a few seconds, was a surreal but I loved it. And the people watching sounded like they were enjoying the show too.

When I came off the catwalk I felt quite emotional. Backstage we all hugged each other before rushing off to change our outfits. My night time look wasn’t exactly subtle.

This time as I waited for my catwalk cue I felt much more confident.

It was fantastic doing something else from my List for Living. We all worked that catwalk although Kate Moss certainly has nothing to worry about!

We might not have been supermodels but we were something much more powerful, we were all cancer survivors.

What I like about my list is that you get much more than you bargained for. Thanks to the charity event I’ve met some very impressive women who’ve beaten cancer or like me are living well with the disease.

It also dramatically shifted my mood. In the days leading up to doing no 41 I’d been quite miserable. The relentless treatment and tiredness is tough to deal with. But that high from the fashion show is still with me.

Hair we go

Something strange happened. I was taking off my make-up recently at the end of a long day.

Make-up is the cancer fighter’s friend. It helps you to look kinda normal and feel good. It fills in the gaps, giving you eyebrows and lashes plus a healthy glow – all the things that go missing.

After my chemo hair loss, I stopped looking at my face too closely and put my make-up on using a rubbish tiny mirror. I didn’t want to focus on what wasn’t there.

Anyway, that night I was removing my make-up. The eyeliner was proving to be quite stubborn, it just wouldn’t come off.

I found a proper big mirror that was well lit. I stared at my eyes and rubbed harder. Then I realised that it wasn’t smudged make-up. Ohhh no.

Amazingly, it was my actual eyelashes. They’re back!!

I was so surprised to suddenly see them again. I thought that it would take much longer. Not only that but I also have eyebrows again! Even the hair on my head has started to come back thick and fast.

I now have a brown coloured scalp. It’s like snap-on Lego hair. It’s way too short to go wig-less. Besides, I didn’t choose to have this very severe hairstyle; this is what cancer did to me. That’s why I don’t want to be seen out in public like this. I’m sure no one would care if I did but that’s not the point.

The toxic treatment takes away much of your identity but it also gives you a chance to experiment. I think that why I’ve enjoyed being blonde. I’ve had fun being Raquel and Candice which came from the hospital’s wig man.

I decided that it was time to see what else was out there and went wig shopping. I tried on plenty of new styles but there was only one that I wanted.

So, what did I get?


Candice, Raquel, the new wig and Barbarella

I chose to be me again. My new wig is just like my old hair. A bit shorter and slightly lighter but very very similar to what I once was.

It feels much softer and more natural than any of my other ones and moves almost like real hair. For my fellow wig wearers – it has a monofilament top and comes from the Vicki Ullah Wig Boudoir – hey get me!

Right now, my new wig has no name. I can’t think of anything that seems suitable. Maybe it’s because this isn’t a new identity. This is me.

But, don’t worry, I won’t be putting the other wigs back in their boxes just yet. I’m now going to a part time blonde.

Kindness of strangers

So what’s the best thing to do the next night after going to the James Bond premiere?

Go to see the film again?

Yes, 24 hours after watching Skyfall at the Royal Albert Hall, I was at the cinema for more 007 action!

It was thanks to my friend Rache. When not organising fancy dress themed nights out, she loves to enter competitions. She’s very good at winning and has bagged some incredible prizes.

Rache, me and Barbarella

For months Rache had been trying to win tickets for the Skyfall premiere for me. She wasn’t alone in doing this.

She’s part of an online forum for fellow compers. Many of them also did what they could by entering quizzes and competitions for me. These were people I’d never met before, they only knew me from this blog, yet they put in lots of effort into doing something lovely for me.

And they came up trumps!

A man who goes by the online name of Greatbigrobot won tickets to a VIP advanced screening of the movie for me the night after the premiere. I was delighted. Then a couple of days later the charity, the Willow Foundation managed to get me invited to the premiere.

The tickets for the advanced screening were non-transferable so I ended up with a double dose of 007.  Well, you can never have too much Bond in your life.

Anna, Bond girl for the night

My friend Anna came with me to the advance screening. It was a really great night and another fabulous excuse to wear Candice and a posh dress. You wait for months for something like this to come along and then you have two big nights out in a row. Not that I’m complaining.

Before the film we were served champagne by handsome waiters, played roulette and met men in tuxedos. Surely this is what it must be like to be a Bond girl?!

Although I don’t imagine that Bond girls normally drink champagne from plastic glasses.

Watch out Daniel Craig!

I was really touched that someone won the prize for me. But this wasn’t the first random act of kindness. Since being diagnosed, people that I don’t know have sent me presents.

When I went into hospital I received a care package which included tissues for tears and a notebook for ideas. During chemo I received a handbag in the post to help me look forward to happier times. Just a few days ago a Twitter friend sent me a teal green hat and earrings. Her gifts were to help make my bald look better and feel warmer.

I’ve also had cards from people who explain that we’ve not met but they know me through someone.

I’ve had so much love on Twitter too and from everyone that’s left comments on this blog.

Of course, the support I’ve had from family and friends has been wonderful but I didn’t expect so much good will from strangers. Knowing that lots of people, including many I’ve not met in real life, are cheering you on is an incredible feeling. It always gives me a boost and has been more help than I could have imagined.

So, thank you.

Never for a second would I have chosen to have cancer. It may be the worst of times but it’s also shown me the best of so many people.

Skyfall – The Premiere

When you’re told that you must use the red carpet you just know it’s going to be a special night.

The 007 premiere was held at the very grand setting of the Royal Albert Hall. Neither the venue nor the red carpet was hard to miss. Even so, with the tickets we’d also been given a map embossed in gold to show us where we had to go.

As we turned into the red road, there were thousands of people lining the route ahead of us waiting for the stars of the show. The sight took my breath away.

As this was such a big occasion I wore Candice, my long blonde WAG wig. This was the kind of event she was made for.

I’d been given two tickets so I took along Chantal, my friend the flower girl. We’ve known each other for a few years now. We met at hospital because she too is a cancer survivor.

This was my way of saying thanks to Chantal. She came with me to many of my hospital appointments and chemo sessions. My friend drove us there in her massive van which is normally filled with flowers.

When I became critically ill after the operation, Chantal put her work on hold. Mum stayed with her for weeks and together they visited me as often as they were allowed to. Chantal was at hospital during the very worst moments, when it got so bad that we both wondered if I’d pull through.

I wish that somebody had told us back then that a few months later we’d both be stood on the red carpet for the world premiere of a James Bond film.

With lights, cameras and so many celebs, it was all pretty surreal. Beforehand I’d been quite nervous but once we were there this soon melted away. It was almost like we’d wandered onto a movie set. Or we were in some kind of dream.

Yes, we saw Daniel Craig and yes, he was just as handsome in real life. I certainly didn’t dream that part of the evening!

The red carpet was surprisingly long, wide and busy. It was packed with people all dressed up in black tie. It wasn’t just me but everyone around us looked excited just to be there. It was as if we were all heading towards a very special party.

Along the way we had to be careful not to bump into the Bond stars while they were still hard at work.

I thought that our seats for the premiere might not be too good but they couldn’t have been much better. We were in the stalls with film company executives in front of us and X Factor finalists behind us.

As the Albert Hall went dark, my heart skipped a beat. I could barely believe that I was actually there.

The atmosphere was incredible. There must have been several thousand people. I’ve never seen a movie on such a large screen and with so many other people. It felt exhilarating.

I loved Skyfall and thought Daniel Craig was brilliant as bond.

The film made me very aware of just how far I’ve come. I thought a lot about James Bond during the chemo but I’m not sure why I choose this character as my cancer killer. Although seeing 007 on the gigantic screen made me realise he’s the kind of hero everyone needs when they’re fighting their hardest battle. Nobody does it better.

Did we go to any of the premiere parties? Well, we didn’t intend to but somehow we ended up in a fancy hotel bar where there were a few familiar faces! This is what most people were drinking.

Of course we had to have one too. Shaken, not stirred.

This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It’s something that I’ll never forget. I was only able to go to the movie premiere thanks to the wonderful charity, the Willow Foundation. It’s their aim to create special memories for the future. They certainly did that for me.

The night was a celebration too. All the horribleness is over now. If the disease does come back then this will be something lovely to remember. But I truly hope that I’ll be able to look back and think of this an occasion when I was celebrated beating cancer for ever.

Over the past few months I’ve written a lot about being exhausted. On the premiere night I drank a bit too much, wore stupid high heels and stayed out far too late. All the kind of things I haven’t really done since I was diagnosed.

I was shattered the next day but for all the right reasons. I didn’t feel great and that’s a great feeling. It means I’m having a normal life again. I feel very glad to be alive.

Good cold, bad cold

If you had to pick a time of year to have a chemocation then I suppose autumn/winter is perfect. A chemocation is rather like a staycation. Only this is no holiday at home but chemo enforced time off. And I can’t wait for it to be over.

Thanks to my incredible tiredness I’m still mostly stuck indoors. One of the perks of an A/W chemocation though is being able to have quality time by the log fire at my parents’ house. There are worst ways to spend an autumn afternoon.

But really I’d rather not be stuck indoors. Slowly I’m building up my stamina so that I can spend more time outdoors getting cold and wet.

The chilly weather means that when I do go out I can easily wear a hat over my shaved head and it doesn’t look out of place. I like my new number 3 hair cut but I’m not going to be showing it off in public anytime soon. That would just take too much energy. It’s less stressful to just blend in.

Raquel, Candice and very occasionally Barbarella are also helping keep me warm. I quite enjoy wearing my wigs. They still itch like crazy but over heating is no longer such a problem.

Ten years ago when cancer last made my hair fall out, it was all very different. Back then I told hardly anyone, I was so embarrassed. I didn’t even have a name for my wig. It was identical to my old hair. I didn’t like wearing it and I never realised how handy it would be on my travels.

I’d just moved to Moscow for the BBC and it was the very start of winter.

Snowy sunset from the BBC Moscow Bureau

Russia was properly freezing, exactly how you’d imagine that it should be. I’d wake up every day hoping that it had snowed overnight and often I was excited to find that it had. At times just being outside was painful; as you breathed in, the icy air would scratch your throat and made your lungs feel like they were on fire.

One Sunday afternoon, not long after arriving, I ventured out to a market on the edge of the capital. It was next to one of the furthest stops on the metro. On the way there I sat opposite a pensioner. The woman with dyed red hair was dressed in fur from head to toe. She eyed me suspiciously and then gave me a right telling off.

My crime? Not wearing a hat.

As way of an apology I said that I was English. I didn’t feel like revealing my lack of hair to a random stranger. However she was right to chastise me. It was so arctic outside that within minutes of getting off the metro, my mobile phone had frozen.

Yet my wig was brilliant. My fake brown bob kept my head beautifully warm.

These days I tend to wear hats a whole lot more, even when I’m inside. It turns out that my internal temperature gauge has bust.

I am officially cold.

All those evil chemocation cocktails are to blame. My body thinks that I should be around 35c. Unless I’m in a swelteringly hot room I tend to spend much of the time shivering. According to my hospital handbook, my temperature is a code red and I should alert the on-call oncologist straight away.

Ever since my cancer operation my feet have been a bit numb and never that warm. Now they are like blocks of ice. It’s like I’ve just come in from the cold after a day braving the elements in Moscow. So I wear thick ski socks at all times and I have a selection of hot water bottles which get a lot of use. Sometimes I sit in the living room wrapped in a duvet next to the fire.

But apparently my low temperature is nothing to worry about. The problem should just improve all by itself. In the meantime I’ve been told to wear lots of thermals. Here’s some freaky logic. It may be warmer inside but I tend to shiver less when I’m outside.

Maybe this is my body’s way of saying that I need to get out more as the chemocation is coming to an end.

To baldly go

Getting your head shaved is one of those big moments. It’s such a bold statement. You can no longer pretend cancer hasn’t happened. Some people get it done as soon as the treatment starts but I waited as long as possible.

For most of my chemotherapy I wore an ice cold cap which protected the hair follicles by freezing my scalp. It worked pretty well but was so painful that in the end I had to ditch it. Thats when the hair loss began properly.

I didn’t go completely bald. Oh, no. I was left with big freaky tufts of soft fluffy hair. It was a cross between a mullet and a mohican. A mullhican if you like.

Meet the mullhican

I really needed to get it shaved off so it would all regrow at the same length. It’s more than five weeks since the chemo ended. Amazingly my eyelashes and eyebrows have already started to reappear. It won’t be long before my hair also comes back to life.

It was good to be doing something kinda normal again. The last time I visited Daniel Galvin, my hairdressers in London, it was a few days before my massive cancer operation. I had a cut and a bouncy blow dry. I wanted to go into hospital with it looking lovely. I’m sure the surgeons appreciated the effort.

My friend Angela has been cutting my hair ever since I moved back to Britain. When I was abroad I had plenty of bad hair days – it had been “accidentally” dyed orange and subjected to many dodgy styles. Angela helped to nurse my hair back to good health. It was finally in great condition and I really liked how it looked. Now I was getting her to chop it all off.

As Angela set to work, she kept checking that I wanted it all gone. I certainly did.

Here come the clippers

It’s taken me months to feel okay about losing my hair. Compared to what I’ve been through it shouldn’t have been a big deal but it was. It’s bad enough to have to fight a killer disease twice. I didn’t want to have another Sinéad O’Conner. However, I slowly got used to being a skinhead again.

Sitting in the busy salon with my tufty mullhican I wasn’t upset or even embarrassed. I was ready for my new look.

I’d thought I was going to get a baldy head, all smooth and shiny. I was worried that I was going to look awful. Instead Angela gave me a number three all over. I managed to avoid getting a close shave. I’’m really happy at how it turned out.

Hey cancer – look – I still have some hair!!!

Tah dah!

Before the drastic cut, I was scared to touch my hair because it would just fall out in my hands. Strands of the stuff got everywhere. It’s now very very short but it feels thick and strong.

With my real hair sorted it was time to introduce Candice and Raquel. This was their first trip to the hairdressers. I needed Angela to work her magic on my wigs and she couldn’t wait to get her hands on them.

The trouble with wearing a wig is that it can so easily look fake. Like a lump of unnaturally big hair that’s been plonked on your head.

Angela, me and Raquel

After both getting a trim, they looked much better and a whole lot less wig like. Even so, I won’t be wearing them all the time. They’re far too hot and itchy.

I’m so glad to have finally got rid of the fluffy mullhican. It was actually making me appear a lot sicker than I was. I had started to hate what I saw. This was something that cancer had done to me.

I’ve taken back control and now when I look in the mirror I see a new start.

From chemo cocktails to cosmopolitans

Could there be a more perfect way to celebrate?

After so many evil chemo cocktails in hospital, it seemed only right to mark the end of my cancer ordeal with some real drinks in an actual bar.

I know I’ve had a few celebrations already but quite frankly I’m going to be very greedy and I’ll be having a whole load more. Don’t worry though I won’t be writing about every single one!

It’s been a few weeks since my last ever chemotherapy and I finally felt well enough to go out with friends. We arranged to meet at a bar in Chelsea. My long blond WAG wig that I like to call Candice was all ready for an occasion just like this.

This was the first time that I’d worn Candice for a night out.

And what a difference it made. Suddenly I’d gone from almost bald to really blond. Putting on the wig not only transformed the way I looked but somehow made me feel better too, almost like a different person.

Lately I’ve been living in headscarves. I find them easier to wear than wigs although they have a certain cancer chic about them. I think I look more like someone who is sick when I have a headscarf on.  

As me and Candice rocked up at the bar I nervously checked out my reflection in the window next to the entrance. Surprised at what I saw, I smiled back. Something special had happened, I realised that I looked totally normal and I haven’t felt like that for ages.

I knew that both my friends, Kath and Anna were going to be late so I ordered myself something. Seconds later, a man at the bar started to chat me up. Really it was just seconds, my drink hadn’t even been poured!

Wow was that down to me or Candice?! Whatever the reason it was my welcome back to single life in London.

I didn’t have to wait too long for my friends, just enough time for the French banker to give me his number. Normally I would have been happy to stand at the bar but there was no way that I could manage that right now so we found a table.

Drinking Cosmopolitans, Bellini’s and the odd Strawberry Mule, it could have almost been a scene from Sex and the City where the girls meet for drinks and gossip in a glamorous bar.

Only, there were three of us. We were English and this wasn’t New York. Although Kath and I have eaten cupcakes from the Magnolia bakery made famous by the TV series. If that counts…no, thought not.

Anyway that was ten years ago. We were in New York to celebrate me beating cancer the first time round. While we were there we came up with a plan about how I could do some some of the things on my list for living. During chemo I’d come up with this crazy list of things I wanted to do when I was well. Within weeks of that holiday I’d moved to Moscow.

Now here we were celebrating again.

Just like back then we talked about the future and it felt good that I can now get on with living.

Before, the most exciting thing I’ve had to look forward to was my next trip to hospital. The chemo has taken place every three weeks. If that had continued then I should have had another session a few days ago.

Knowing that around this time I’d normally be feeling incredibly ill thanks to the evil chemo cocktail, made the drinks taste even better. Compared to the toxic treatment, the side effects were far more pleasant too.


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.