For the first time in months I woke up without a nose bleed. It’s a sign that my chemo-cation is coming to an end.

It hasn’t been a typical holiday although I’ve mostly just done a whole load of nothing. As I recover from my anti-cancer treatment, the hardest thing to deal with is the tiredness.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished my chemo, since then I’ve mostly slept or sat in a comfy chair but my favourite place to be is outside lying on the grass with the sun on my face. A soft fabric hat protects my thinning hair (more of that later.) Sasha the dog likes to sit next to me. I ask her why when I’ll stop being ridiculously exhausted. She has no answer.

Some of the side effects are easing. So, my moon-face seems to be deflating. But others are actually getting worse. My feet are so swollen that wearing shoes is painful. My toe nails and one finger nail appear like they’ve been dipped in acid.

My eyebrows and eyelashes are growing back but the hair on my head is falling out. And I mean seriously coming out. Towards the end of the chemo cocktail sessions my hair had started to grow. Now that it’s falling out in handfuls it seems so cruel. It’s difficult to stop myself constantly checking but each time I’m rewarded with a load of my hair between my fingers. I reckon that I’m going to need my wigs for longer than I thought.

Compared to what I went through during my treatment, both the hair loss and tiredness seem much harsher. It’s meant that my chemo holiday has been tough however there was one amazing afternoon when I got away from it all.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Buckingham Palace garden party. As you do! Along with several thousand smartly dressed people, I had afternoon tea with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

My fug of fatigue was gone, it felt as if I’d woken up and for a few hours I was back to my old self. I think it was down to being part of something so special.

During my chemo-cation I also had a trip to Accident and Emergency. Not quite so pleasant. Last Wednesday I caught an infection and my temperature started to rise. As this happened before I knew not wait too long before going to hospital. When we arrived my temperature was bad but not critical. We sat and waited to be seen by a doctor.

Over the next hour I felt increasingly ill. During that time we were joined on the hard metal seats by five other patients. Separately they hobbled in and bizarrely everyone seemed to have twisted an ankle.

My temperature wandered into the danger zone. I was eventually given a bed in the emergency ward. By that point my blood pressure had dropped and my heart rate was worrying.

After some treatment and a night at the hospital, my immune system was back in charge. After the battering that it has taken recently, I was so pleased that it was able to fight back. It was only when I’d properly woken up that I realised I was staying in yet another room without a view.

I was able to leave hospital the next day but the infection took its toll and made me even more shattered. Ugggh.

Finally, life is now returning to normal and I worked at the weekend. At the end of my shift I felt like I’d done a massive work-out at the gym. I had no energy left. Not just my legs, but also my arms really ached. This was a different kind of tiredness. It comes from deciding that the chemo holiday can’t go on forever and pushing myself to do more.

Considering my diagnosis – this is a luxury. I’ll never beat the cancer but I can enjoy the time when I feel good and I’m not having treatment. I’m more than happy to have this sort of exhaustion as it shows that after 17 sessions of toxic chemicals I’m slowly starting to feel better.


Merry Christmas from the chemo ward! I’m not sure why but the coffee cups now come with a seasonal greeting.

The weird thing is that it could well be Christmas for all I know. When you’re going through intensive treatment which lasts for such a long stretch, time seems to be elastic. Months melt into each other. You lose track of the seasons. Each week is pretty much the same and mostly spent inside.

The first ever time that I had chemo more than 11 years ago I found this so hard. I really missed the elements in a way I never could have imagined. I longed to feel the rain on my face, to get cold waiting for a bus.

It wasn’t until then that I understood how much the weather helps you to feel alive. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. In fact I think that bad is better.

That’s why one of the things on my original List for Living was to experience extreme weather. And I certainly did that. When I was based abroad as a foreign correspondent I lived through some of the coldest temperatures on record. There was plenty of snow, ice and all sorts of wonderful wintery weather. Perhaps that explains how come I’m not quite so worried about being disconnected from the weather during this lot of treatment.

Even so, I do what I can to be out in the elements. Before chemo#15 I had lunch outside with my friend Anna. I wanted to absorb as much of the sunshine as I could before an afternoon in the not-so-great indoors.

Once on the ward, watching the sunlight bounce off the bricks, was as good as it got. This kind of view only adds to the feeling of your life being put on pause. But last week I found out that I’d actually managed to turn back time.

To make sure that the toxic drugs aren’t doing too much harm to your body you have various tests. One horrible side effect is that it can seriously damage your bones. A while ago I had a scan to check their density. I’ve now discovered that amazingly I have the bones of a 20 year old!

At hospital there was some more good news. I was told that I won’t have the week of chemo which I missed tagged onto the end of my treatment. It means that I’ll finish in just over a week as planned. It’s like getting a week back which is brilliant. I’m so incredibly overwhelmingly tired of it all.

I’m relieved that my third series of anti-cancer treatment will be over soon. I always seem to have chemo at the same time of year. With bank holidays and the start of spring I know that once again, it will be over soon.

There’s another sign that it won’t be long ’til the end of chemo – Sasha the dog has had her winter coat trimmed. She is all ready for lots of sunny days outdoors where once again she’ll be helping me to recover from the past few months.

Honey honey

I have a carrier bag full of tablets. Pain killers, anti-sickness, anti-this, anti-that. My medicine for the side effects of the cancer treatment is all pretty potent. Some of it is so strong that I have capsules which I have to take first to prepare my stomach for the toxic onslaught. Thankfully most of the stuff now stays in the bag.

This week I’m celebrating a medical breakthrough but it’s not thanks to a pill or a chemical potion – something much more natural – honey. It’s helped with a problem that’s been bothering me for a while. For many months actually.

Medical honey – not to be put on toast!

Before I go on, I have to warn you that there are a few euwghhh medical details so if you’re a bit squeamish, you might want to give this a miss. Otherwise let’s get on with the gore…

So, the operation to get rid of the stupid cancer was way back in March. The wound was held together with what looked like metal staples. I was left with a massive scar. I don’t mind its size as it reflects just what a big battle I fought and won.

A couple of weeks after the surgery they were pulled out (even more painful than it sounds) the skin should have all joined up. That’s not quite what happened.

Once the staples were out, I laid back on my hospital bed and stared at the scar. It looked as if it had healed lovely. But over the next half an hour I watched as part of the wound opened up. It was like a real life horror movie. It seemed like my stomach was being ripped apart. I was totally freaked out.

If you imagine two decks of cards on top of each other, that’s how long, wide and deep the wound was. Just gruesome.

I had a mixture of sickness and panic but the faces of the medical staff didn’t reflect the fear that I felt. They told me that it would improve. I wasn’t convinced. I couldn’t bear to look at it for weeks.

The area needed to be treated every day and then every other day. There was a lovely team of district nurses who came to see me at my parent’s house. Sasha the dog enjoyed having the regular visitors but it meant my life was planned around my wound. Gradually it shrank but the chemo ensured that it never healed.

You might think that compared to dealing with cancer this isn’t really a big deal and you’re right, in the scheme of things it’s not, but it just dragged on. Once the chemo was over it seemed to get worse. When I came back to London it was the wonderful nurses at my GP’s surgery who gave it the attention that it constantly demanded.

My life seemed to revolve around the wound. It was a lingering link to my traumatic time in hospital. Until it was sorted out, I knew that I wouldn’t feel like I was really getting better.

I went back to hospital where a tissue specialist suggested we try putting honey on the affected area. She told me how honey has antibacterial properties and has been used to help with healing for centuries. I was willing to try anything. Medical grade honey that had been sterilised was smeared on my wound. This wasn’t quite the gloopy stuff that you get in a jar but very similar.

I had the sweet, sticky treatment for about a month. It made such a difference.

After 37 frustrating weeks, the wound has now finally healed and it’s a huge relief. This is another step towards getting my life back. It’s amazing that in the end, it was an ancient remedy that came to my rescue.

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!

My Olympic recovery

I really was getting worse.

Not long after updating my blog I climbed into bed and got under the duvet. It was a sunny afternoon, my temperature was rising and yet I was freezing.

Then suddenly there was a spike in my temperature. I knew I couldn’t put it off any more. Mum drove me to the nearest hospital.

By the time we made it to Accident and Emergency my heart rate was racing, my blood pressure had slumped and my temperature was a sweltering 39c. I was quickly put into a hospital bed in what felt like the hottest part of the building.

So I was now a MEDICAL EMERGENCY and terrified. I may have been in hospital before but not this one and never in such a rush.

Tests showed that I was neutropenic. Basically my immune system was dangerously low. I had some kind of an infection and my body couldn’t fight it. Surely it was just a cold?

The doctor wasn’t so sure. He went through a list of possibilities with me; some were very serious and would mean emergency surgery.

I was put on a drip of antibiotics. Lying on my back, I stared at the ceiling and worried. Mum sat at my bedside, occasionally swatting the insects that flew in through an open window.  

It wasn’t until late that night that I was taken by wheelchair through the empty corridors to the cancer ward. I was wheeled into a side room with a television and an ensuite bathroom.

Result, I thought to myself.

The next day I realised it wasn’t such a good thing. I was almost in isolation. With the door shut, I stayed in the room on my own. I looked out on a couple of building and the wonderful weather.

By the time I saw a specialist consultant I was already responding well to the treatment. I was relieved to be told that I probably wouldn’t need anything more than antibiotics.

Most of the time bags of medicine or fluids were slowly pumped into my veins. It was lovely to be on an intravenous drip that made me feel good rather than the evil chemo cocktail that I’m more used to.

My consultant had said the treatment was going to be boring but relatively painless. And he was right. Less than 48 hours after I arrived at the hospital my immune system had recovered enough for me to be allowed home. I was shocked that I was so better so quickly.

Having an emergency stay in hospital was pretty traumatic. I was so glad to be leaving that I cried on the journey home.

I know that while the last lot of chemo will be horrendous, it won’t be nearly as bad as that.

I’ve been celebrating my release with Sasha the dog. It’s amazing that I got out in time for the start of the Olympics. I thought that I’d be stuck on my own in a hospital side room instead we’re going to be able to watch the games together!

Dog days of chemo

When you’re being treated for cancer you’re prepared for it to be horrendous and scary. What no one tells you is just how boring it will be.

But at least I have Sasha the dog.

Most days are pretty much the same. I try to spend as long as I can out of bed. I sit in a comfy armchair in the living room while Sasha curls up in a chair next to me.

She is able to go outside in the garden or run around in the surrounding fields but she prefers to stay with me. Together we watch daytime TV.

Sasha is a very happy dog. She enjoys snoozing and when she’s awake she likes walks and wagging her tail. The thing is she doesn’t do much but that’s why she’s great. I never quite realised how important Sasha would be during my battle to beat this killer diesase. She’s my silent constant companion. With her, life isn’t quite so dull.

My family and friends have been brilliant during all this but I can ask Sasha the questions that no one really knows the answers to. Why did I get cancer again? Why is life so unfair? When will I stop being so exhausted? Shall we watch another Jeremy Kyle show?

Sasha looks at me with her brown eyes. I take it to mean, stop worrying. But she could just be wondering if it’s lunchtime yet.

No matter how I’m feeling I try to have a tiny walk everyday. The reward for making it outside is on the other side of the garden fence.

Some of my dad’s cattle graze in the field. These young boys are an inquisitive and friendly bunch. As we sit on the lawn and watch them, they like to come over to say hello.   

It’s so peaceful. The only sound is made by the animals. They help to take my mind off things. It’s a lovely way to pass the time and you can’t help but feel calm. I know that I’m very lucky to be able to recuperate here.

I can only walk for a few minutes at a time. After my brief burst of activity I need a long rest so it’s back to the living room.

The past week has been tough. The pain has been awful but mostly it’s been all about the tiredness. It’s like suddenly being hit with a very big sleeping stick. I have no choice but to give in. It feels almost as if I’m fainting. A few days ago I woke up from one of these deep sleeps and I was so drained that it took me an hour before I had the energy to have a drink from a glass of water that was right next to me.

Today has been a good day. The side effects of my last chemo are finally starting to fade but I know that the better I feel, the more bored I get.

It can often seem like you’re adrift in an ocean of illness with months of the same stretching out in front of you. But Sasha the dog and the cattle in the field are showing me how to be more content with a much slower pace of life.