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.

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.


Heads up

I might not need to just yet but I’ve taken to wearing a headscarf.

Right now it’s more to hide the greasy hair that I’m not supposed to wash and to stop it from blowing away in the wind.

Luckily I’ve already got plenty to choose from. One of my flatmates is a fashion designer and thanks to her I’ve managed to build up quite a collection.

They also keep my bald patches properly covered. Since my last post I’ve discovered another one near my fringe.

I’m actually quite enjoying wearing headscarves. They remind me of being back in the former Soviet Union. Over there they’re much more popular.

This is one of my favourites. It was bought from a stall in a Kiev underpass. For my Moscow friends, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s one that Masha Headscarf would be proud of!

I’ve realised that there’s an unexpected silver lining to all this headscarf wearing. It’s not that I’m being stopped in the street to read a few palms.

No, wearing a headscarf has a kind of cancer chic to it. I think it makes me look a bit more like I may be sick.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I want to appear like I’m going through cancer treatment. It’s just that right now I’ve got the opposite problem, I have plenty of hair and a rosy complexion and so I look well.

For the most part this is great. But I’m easily the youngest patient having chemo. Even mum is younger than most of the patients. I don’t think that at hospital I’m always seen as someone who’s very ill.

Looking fighting fit when you feel like rubbish has other difficulties. The chemo means my immune system is pretty pathetic and I should avoid public transport. On the odd occasion that I do get a bus or a train I really need to sit down.

Most people do move if you ask them but it would be much easier if I didn’t look so healthy. I don’t have the energy to explain to random strangers sat in the priority seats that I’m having treatment for cancer.

You can already get “baby on board!” badges, I’d like to one that says something like, “cancer on board!”

Or perhaps to be more accurate, “I might not look like it but I’m having chemotherapy and still recovering from major surgery so please let me have your seat as I’m so exhausted that I might collapse at any minute.”

Not sure that would all fit onto a badge so instead I’ll be sticking to the headscarves.

Hair today but not long now

Well it’s still here. Mostly.

My hair is now falling out ever so slightly. It’s hard to work out if this is normal and or down to the evil chemo drugs. I know it’s really the later but I’m trying to pretend otherwise.

Just because I lost it all once before it doesn’t make the prospect of this happening all over again any easier.

Through a fog of chemo pain and tiredness I’ve been thinking a lot about my hair. We’ve been through a lot together. I’ve realised that it’s the bad hair days that mean the world to me. And some of them were truly horrific!

It was ten years ago that it last fell out thanks to cancer. Back then, inspired that I had a second chance at life I came up with a list of things I wanted to do once I was better. It was my list for living.

One of the things was to live abroad. Not long after my treatment ended I set out on my big adventure. I was still bald, so me and my wig moved to Moscow to work at the BBC bureau.

A few months and an inch of re-growth later and I ditched the wig. I unveiled my brand new hair at a New Year’s Eve party.

The temperature that night in the Russian capital was about -30. You can see why I’m already well-practised at having a freezing cold head.

Also on the list was working as a foreign correspondent. I was doing just that in Estonia when I thought that my hair was long enough for its first cut.

A friend was helping me translate. Unfortunately she didn’t know how to say, please don’t make it a mullet.

I was beginning to understand that bad hair dos were part of the experience although it couldn’t prepare me for my next hair don’t.

A year or so later and I’d been working like crazy covering the mass protests of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution as the BBC’s Kiev correspondent when I decided as a treat to get my hair dyed for the first time since it’d fallen.

I went in for subtle highlights. I left with bright orange hair.

There was no time to have it corrected properly because a big story broke while I was still in the salon. I had to leave before it was even dry. A few days later and still in shock I got it toned down.

It was with trepidation I got my hair cut and coloured in all sorts of places. It was never quite that awful again although I have blanked out an encounter with a hairdresser in Kosovo who had a very liberal attitude when it came to peroxide.

Now I’ve had to have my long hair cut short. It’s an attempt to stop it all falling out. Apparently it was putting pressure on the follicles. I got it chopped at the hairdressers in the village.

All those memories from my foreign adventure were left in a heap on the floor. I picked up some of locks and stuffed them into an old envelope.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them but I didn’t want them all to be just swept away.

I have to do everything I can to encourage it not to fall out. That means I have to avoid washing and brushing it too much. Then maybe I’ll only lose some of it.

So I’ve got a short bob now. I’m getting used to another hairstyle that I didn’t want. But I’m not sad. This symbolises another important stage in my life – beating cancer again.