It’s not even Valentine’s Day but already I’ve been struck by chemo’s very own Cupid’s arrow. There’s now something very close to my heart. I’m the proud owner of a PICC line. For a cancer fighter like me I’m going to get a whole lot more pleasure from it than a dozen red roses.

It’s become just too painful to have needles forced into my hand every week. The veins on my hand are difficult to find at the best of times and the chemo is making them worse. To solve this problem I’ve had a permanent line put into my upper arm where the veins are a lot more juicy.

I went to get the PICC line the day before treatment. Simple, I thought. I had to go into a side room of the chemo ward and it would soon be sorted.

Wearing a beautiful silk blouse, the hospital’s vein expert arrived for the small op. As she was wearing such a lovely purple top, how bad could it be? When she put on a blue surgical gown, I realised I’d lulled myself into a false sense of security. Even then I didn’t quite realise how gruesome it was going to be.

The consultant selected a big vein on the inside of my right arm. After some local anaesthetic she made an incision. A thin plastic cable more than 40cm long was inserted and gently eased into the vein in my arm. Bleugggh!

The tiny tube travelled through the vein up my arm, across my shoulder and then down until the tip was pointing right at my heart. There it will stay for months, until the chemo is over. The other end of the cable now pokes out of my arm but most of it is covered with a clear dressing.

It means that I can’t play netball, swim or have a proper bath. I can carefully shower but I won’t be able to have long hot showers. That’s a real shame. Showers are the perfect place for a good cry. Although I don’t seem to have so many emotional showers these days. I still get upset but I have far less of the raw grief that seems unstoppable. I guess that I’m coming to terms with my new reality.

The restrictions of this chemo Cupid’s arrow are a small price to pay. It’s lovely to say goodbye to the needles plus there’s no need for any more friendly threats to pinch me. The PICC line will be used for chemo to go in and blood for tests to come out. If I get an infection like before and have to go into hospital in an emergency, it can also be used for an antibiotic drip.

The next day and chemo#4 was a breeze. It didn’t hurt at all. Just like last time, I only had half a dose of steroids. It seems I’m not the only one who gets a rush from this medication.

I had a comment on my last blog post from a woman called Janice whose husband who was being treated for tongue cancer, telling me how the day after hospital he’d be out in the garden from 6am wielding a powerful petrol strimmer. She said he was as high as a kite and worked like a dog for two days and nights. Their garden had never looked so good!

The past week has been much better. No steroid high, followed by a crash and burn. Instead I felt good but incredibly tired. I was wiped out. Now I’ve lowered the dose my mood feels more stable.

As always once the drip started the chemo cocktail virtually knocked me out. My consultant, The Professor was visiting the ward. I saw him walking towards me but I didn’t recognise him until he spoke to me and gave me a hug.

I wasn’t much company for mum and dad who were with me for this week’s chemo. As always I couldn’t stop myself drifting off. As I fall into a deep sleep I love to imagine my tumour getting a good battering from James Bond.

On the way to my parent’s home I dozed on the train, again I visualised Daniel Craig, I have to admit it got quite violent. I think of the chemo as 007 licensed to kill my cancer. Normally he has the biggest, baddest gun. On this occasion he took me by surprise as he turned up with a rocket launcher! Good work Mr Bond.

Almost home and I woke up, still woozy from the drugs. On the opposite seat – someone joined me for the journey. I’m sure he wasn’t there before I went to sleep. There was something familiar about him and I did manage to recognise this man.

Hello chemo, again

Oh chemo, how I haven’t missed you. It’s only been 21 weeks since we were last hooked up. I didn’t think you’d have me back so soon.

It’s been a strange few days as I’ve been preparing to start this toxic treatment again. You may have read about this blog in some of the newspapers following my post on Friday. Wow, what a response. It’s been incredible. Thanks for all the messages. Sorry that I can’t reply to each and every one, it’s just been overwhelming. But they really do help to lift my spirits.

Seeing the facts in black and white somehow made them seem even more shocking. It was as if they were talking about someone else. How can something so terrible be happening to me when I feel so full of life? The headlines were about my ‘months to live’. Yes, that’s a possibility but my focus is firmly on the ‘years to live’.

I’m sure it was difficult too for those close to me. Although some of my friends found it amusing that the papers had used an unflattering photo of me. They knew I wouldn’t like it and they were right. I think it’s great that my friends can still make fun of me. This is lovely, if slightly embarrasing, normality.

Anyway, just to redress the balance, here’s one of my favourite pictures of me. Here I’m reporting for BBC Breakfast. If there are any more stories about me then I hope they use something like this rather than a screen grab from the TV!

Many people have offered to help me with my List for Living. This is fantastic. I’m still working on that list; it’s getting longer and longer. Plenty of people have selflessly offered to help me find unsuitable men. Thanks also to all the unsuitable men who have put themselves forward!

So, it’s chemo #1. As this is the third round of the treatment I’m not especially worried. I’ve had this chemo drug before and I know the drill.

When I was here before I hoped I’d never need any more evil chemo cocktails, now I know this is part of my life forever. The best way to cope with this is not to see it as a big deal. I’m going to think of chemo in the same way as I used to think about the gym. It’s something I have to do every week. I don’t really want to go but I know that once I’m there it won’t be too bad; it’ll help keep me healthy and only take an hour or two. Chemo is my cancer-kicking workout.

Just like before, it will be a chance to catch up with friends. I know I shouldn’t admit this but last time I had so much fun with my friends during our chemo coffee sessions. I actually quite enjoyed being at hospital.

Mind you, there’s going to be one significant change. There will be no cake. Last year I ate lots of it so that cake would be forever associated with chemo and I wouldn’t fancy it anymore. We called it chemo-cake-therapy. Well, it seems to have worked. I just don’t want to eat cake anymore.

As usual I spent the night before chemo thinking about James Bond. Of course this is Daniel Craig as 007. I visualise him killing the cancer. This time it’s a whole lot more violent. James Bond has the biggest baddest machine gun. I picture him pumping the tiny tumour full of bullets. Obliterating it.

As regular readers of my blog will know I have a thing for Bond. I even managed to go to the premiere of Skyfall last year.

It was in October, slap bang in the middle of a glorious few months when I was recovering from treatment and cancer free. I’d give anything to be able to go back to that time.

But I have to think about the future.

I’ve been really inspired by the messages that I’ve had from fellow cancer fighters. The people who’re still alive and defying the odds. One lady in her sixties told me how she’s been beating ovarian cancer for almost fifty years. Others have described how they’re living well despite having a looming best before date.

These are people who’re not just surviving but thriving. I’m having this chemo so I can become one of them.

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.

James Bond is back!

It wasn’t so long ago, that just like today, I woke up stupidly early. Back then a heady combination of steroids and nervous energy meant that I couldn’t sleep. That was the morning back in May when I started chemotherapy.

I knew it was going to be horrendous but I was also well aware of just how important it was. All the tumours had been removed but I needed this to get rid of any teeny tiny cancery cells that might still be hanging around.

As I lay awake in the dark I thought about how the chemo was going to work. I’d been told how cancer fighters often come up with unusual ways of thinking about the treatment to try to take away some of the terror.

This is what I wrote in my blog post, Licence to Kill:

“I tried to think about what it would be like when the drugs went in. I turned every drop from the drip into a killing machine. A kinda James Bond. I imagined my own microscopic army of special agents. Just in case you’re wondering, I’m thinking Daniel Craig as James Bond….

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

A few hours later when the toxic cocktail began to seep into my veins and poison my body, that’s what I focused on. It was the violent visualisation that I used during all the other sessions of chemo too. Whenever I was worried that potentially evil cells may be lurking inside me, I also thought about this fully loaded 007 army. They helped to shoot away my fears.

After six sessions of chemo it was mission accomplished. I got the all clear – the best news ever! The James Bonds had done the business. Of course, along with the drugs and the doctors etc etc. Since then the test results have been great.

So, back to this morning.

It’s a few months on from that first day of chemo; again I’ve woken up all excited and jittery and thinking about James Bond.

This time I’m not imagining gun-toting-cancer-killing-secret-agents blasting away at killer cells. No, I’m picturing 007 on a big screen. A mahoosive big screen. Daniel Craig is sat in the audience, all dressed up in black tie, surrounded by his co-stars. I’m there too. We’re all watching the latest movie. The difference is, this isn’t something else that I’ve just dreamt up; soon this will be for real.

You see, tonight I have a date with James Bond – I’ve been invited to the world premiere of Skyfall!!

The timing is brilliant. I’m finally feeling better than I have done in ages and now I’m off to a red carpet event in London featuring the very character that I thought of so much during the chemo.

It’s all thanks to the Willow Foundation. The charity was set up by Arsenal legend Bob Wilson and his wife Megs in memory of their daughter Anna who died from cancer at the age of 31. It aims to help young adults dealing with serious illnesses by arranging something amazing for them.

Already it feels special. Yesterday a man on a motorbike turned up at my house. Tall with broad shoulders, he was dressed all in black. As I opened the door, he gave me a wry smile and a large plain white envelope.

“Skyfall tickets,” he said.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“I’ve been expecting you…”

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.

Diary of a chemo girl

I’m still so deliciously happy at properly getting rid of the cancer.

Yesterday I had more chemo as it was back to the business of keeping it beaten. Today I’m feeling oh so incredibly sick. I still have a few more months of treatment to go but at least I’m now officially half way through!

To celebrate here’s a blow by blow account of what I go through every three weeks. There’s much more to it than having a bunch of nasty drugs…

Tuesday 19th June – Preparing for chemo

9am: Wash my hair in tepid water so that it’s ready for the frozen hat on chemo day. Depressingly loads of it comes out.

10am: Start drinking.

Sadly it’s only non-alcoholic. I need to make sure I’m not dehydrated. Apparently it’s good to drink milk. What’s better than milk? Chocolate milk.

11am: Hypnotherapy at hospital. Once again I go to my imaginary tropical island and somehow it appears to work. The bad but bearable leg pain that I constantly get seems to go.

Lunchtime: Rest at Maggie’s Centre. It’s a beautifully modern building in the grounds of the hospital. Run by a charity, it’s for people dealing with cancer. I curl up on the big sofa in the living room.

2pm: Get a taxi to a different hospital in another part of London. We drive past BBC TV centre. I really want to stop the cab and go to work. I could be starting a late shift rather than another round of medical appointments.

2.30pm: At the chemo unit I get given a pink laminated card and wait for blood tests. It’s like a speedy boarding pass and means I can jump the queue. The tests will determine if I’m well enough for the horrible treatment.

The man taking the blood tells me I have chemo veins. They’ve gone into hiding but he manages to hit one first time. I accidentally watch as he wiggles the needle and then plunges it deeper into my arm to make the blood pour out. It’s pretty gruesome but I don’t actually feel anything.

3pm: Appointment with my lovely consultant, the Professor. As I wrote in my last post, he gives me all sorts of brilliant news, a big hug and sends me on my way.

4pm: My friend, Chantal the flower girl gives me a lift home in her big flower van.

On the way to my flat she has to make an emergency delivery.

5pm: Ring the hospital. Happily the results of the blood tests are good so chemo will go ahead. Rest on my own sofa.

10pm: Start the steroids. I have to take ten of these tiny tablets. They stop me from being sick but they make me feel wired.

Midnight: Still awake. The steroids also make me eat peanut butter on toast and ice cream.

Wednesday 20th June – Chemo day

7am: More steroids. Another ten tablets and I’m wide awake despite only having about three hours sleep

10am: Back at the hospital, this is where I have to sit. All day. I share the room with five others.

10.30am: I cover my hair in conditioner and the chilly hat goes on. My hair has to freeze before the chemo can begins. It hurts like hell.

A nurse puts a needle into a vein on my left hand. I’m attached to a drip that will deliver the anti-cancer drugs. First though I’m given even more steroids and other clear liquids to stop nausea, pain and any allergic reactions.

These make my face feel funny, like I’ve drunk too much vodka. As the dizzying drugs race around my body, I start to get a puffy face.

11.20am: The chemo finally starts. It’s so toxic that my nurse use gloves to handle the clear plastic pouches. I have two types of chemo, this first one takes a few hours to slip into my veins.

I have to wear two wrist bands. White to say who I am. Red to make it clear that I have a drug allergy. That’ll be the drug that almost killed me after surgery.

11.30am: Listen to my chemo mix tape and attempt to sleep in my chair under a white hospital blanket. I feel so tired and cold.

2pm: A friend comes over for a chemo coffee. She brings a big bag of sweets. I’ve eaten so much cake, chocolate and sweets since I started this treatment. Opps!

2.30pm: I get the second type of chemo; this is the most dangerous one. It makes your hair fall out among other awful things.

3pm: Sleep. As I drift off I try to dream of Daniel Craig and his army of James Bond cancer killers. But instead I keep thinking of the fantastic things I’m going to do when all this is over.

4pm: The last drugs pouch is empty and all the evil of chemo cocktail is now in my body. I’m unhooked from the drip. My hair is frozen to the cold cap so it has to stay on for a bit to allow it to warm up.

4.30pm: I have to go for a chest x-ray. Walking just a few metres makes me breathless so The Professor wants to make sure it’s nothing serious.

5pm: The flower girl picks me up and I start the long journey back to the house where I grew up. My hair is still defrosting. You don’t have to look too hard to see one of my bald patches.

I don’t feel too bad considering but the side effects of the chemo are like a time bomb and you never know when they’ll go off.

8.30pm: Still feeling kinda normal as I arrive at my parents’ home in the countryside.

I know that I may not lose my hair.

But I don’t quite believe it so again I’ve packed Barbarella just in case.

Chemo hangover

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

Well that’s kinda what chemotherapy has been like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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