ALF: Cycle 6

A pre Christmas update from friend Rosie who, now in Cycle 6, continues to fight breast cancer with impossibly cheerful tenacity, bless her. 

 

"Stop press... Breaking news... Hold the front page...

My head appears to be covered in what can only be described as fuzzy felt.  Or, to put it another way : the world's shortest haircut.   If I had a pair of Doc Martens to complete the look, I could easily get a bit part as a skinhead in "Forever England"...  Amazingly, despite still being on chemo, my hair is growing again.   It's as though my follicles, freed from the oppressive regime of Epirubucin, are romping joyfully through the Docetaxel...  Kind of the lesser of two evils.  I am terrified that the next two rounds of Docetaxel could wipe it all out again, but the lovely peeps in the Oncology Unit tell me that although incredibly fine and fragile, chances are, it is going to stick around.  I hasten to add the words "glossy" and "voluminous" do not apply here.... and I won't be ditching the Guinea Wig any time soon, but my goodness, it's a start. 

This cycle SO much better than the last : no funerals, falling ceilings or shingles. The biggest issues this time round are falling blood counts (again) and fatigue... unsurprisingly, the two are intrinsically linked.  I have been stuffing spinach, steak and dried apricots (who knew?) but haemoglobin once again in free fall and flights of stairs and steep hills a bit of a challenge.  Picked up some fabulous voiceover work this cycle, but of course, most sound studios are tucked away in the top of some garret in Soho ; so I cunningly arrive horribly early in order to negotiate the stairs (oxygen tank anyone?) and have plenty of time to get my breath back before recording.  Obviously a few sound engineers think I am the unfittest woman on the planet, but otherwise, I think I got away with it. 

Fatigue an ever present uninvited guest : I'm pretty good at entertaining it and slumping on the sofa at the appropriate moment, but just occasionally it catches me unawares...  not only am I liable to forget what I am saying mid sentence, I can now nod off in the interim... 

Blissfully, Buzzers filling up : Daughters 2 and 3 home for Christmas (Daughter 1 will be whooping it up on an Alp) and parents incoming Christmas Eve.  To organise the feast, I have decided I shall sit on the island in the middle of my kitchen and delegate like fury, champagne in one hand, spatula in the other - shouting orders left, right and centre - before nodding off in the sink. 

It just remains for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.... As ever, thank you all SO much for your continued support and good wishes.... I cannot tell you how much it means.  I can't say I shall be sorry to see the back of 2015.... definitely my 'Annus Horribilis'.  Please let 2016 be better...... 

I leave you with...

The Good : I can actually "brush my hair" as opposed to "arranging my hairs"

The Bad : Note to self..... when wearing the Guinea Wig (which is acrylic) be very careful when opening the oven door...intense heat tends to disappoint...

The Ugly : In the time it has taken me to write this, I have eaten an entire packet of mince pies...

xxx"

Rosie Digs Deep

Time for another update from dear and brave friend Rosie who is currently knee deep in the trenches in her fight against breast cancer. Cue Rosie and action...................!

'Chemo is vile. I appreciate the fact it's supposed to suck the life out of cancer... but I wish it didn't have to suck the life out of me.  It’s like being drowned 1 week in every 3… or the medical equivalent of being wrapped in loft insulation material whilst simultaneously being hit over the head with a steel-plated breeze block.  This is the sad, mad week when I sleep a lot… cry a lot… and swear a lot.  The total antithesis of brave.  It has even spawned a new type of irritating telephone call; forget “Drink and Dial”, try the “Phone and Moan”…

A lot of moaning this cycle… I am now officially bald.  24 hours before our Silver Wedding Anniversary, my hair exited stage left (and right and centre).  Deeply distressing as plans for our Silver celebrations had already been seriously compromised and downgraded, so the prospect of having to commemorate 25 years of wedded bliss without any hair was the final insult.  I didn’t feel very pretty…. or as L’Oreal would have me believe: “Worth it”. 

Praise be for the ‘Guinea Wig’ as it is now affectionately known; together we sashayed into Godalming’s finest Italian and I think we just about got away with it… 

I have a few wispy strands left… my Mother (who does a fine sideline in hairdressing) came to my rescue and cut what is left very short. Amazingly, despite being shorn, what remains is still trying to curl - defiant to the last.  I look like a dandelion puff…  On the bright side - I can no longer have a “bad hair day” as the Guinea Wig is always perfect and I have definitely shaved my legs for the last time this side of Christmas.  Say what you like about side effects, there is no denying that chemotherapy offers the ultimate in chemical depilatory systems.  So much more efficient than Immac….

And what of the eponymous villain of the piece? Essentially "under surveillance" ...  I have had baseline MRI's, ultrasound and tiny titanium markers inserted to monitor every movement.  In my wild and vivid imagination, Alf is a rather hideous cartoon criminal lying on a deckchair sipping a cocktail thinking all is safe and sound on Costa del Breast.  Right now we have just got to the part where Alf realises the cocktail is spiked, has dropped the glass and is rolling around underneath said deckchair clutching its throat.... Keep choking Alf, keep choking...

Cycle 3 looms tomorrow ... but in the meantime with breast cancer all over the media this cycle, I leave you with : -

The Good : -  More people today are beating cancer than ever before.....

The Bad : - but RIP Jackie Collins - glamorous to the last....and

The Ugly : - ....However fabulous the performances, I don't think "Missing You Already" is a film the we need to see any time soon....'

As a complete aside, (this is me now not Rosie), on the memorable 2011 'Ken & Barbie' Haslemere Rugby Club under 16's tour to Gloucestershire we stopped off at a service station on the M4. When we were walking back to the coach an old dear stepped forward and said, 'It's so nice all your boys are wearing pink and supporting breast cancer.' Absolutely Madam, absolutely.

 

ALF (Aggressive Little Fxxker)

I don’t much like cancer; I don’t suppose you do either.

As time rolls on it zaps increasing numbers of family, friends and acquaintances with a cruel and unforgiving randomness that is tough to rationalise.  Growing older is an obvious part of the picture and lifestyle decisions put some of us higher up the batting order with some cancers than other people which is fair enough. Some cancers though just hit the unsuspecting out of the blue with no apparent lifestyle mistakes to blame it on. One such is breast cancer. For every woman who is stressed, breast fed, didn’t breast feed, put on weight, on HRT, not on HRT, lost weight, vegan, carnivore, not stressed, hereditary, non hereditary………… well, you get the idea, whatever the latest fashionable reason du jour is, I can show you another girl who wasn’t / isn’t. Frankly, I don’t think the doctors have a scoobie why it targets who it does. It’s just bad bloody luck. The only mitigation is to check frequently and the excellent care and treatment that is available if you’re in the right postcode and actually, survivability amongst friends has been excellent. Indeed, my mother-in-law has seen off two different types of cancer. Cancer v my mother-in-law? Easy call there; the 3rd Soviet Shock Army couldn’t dent my mother-in-law, never mind some dodgy cancer cells.

We’re all though in awe of family and friends who wander into the operating theatre and the endless chemo cycles with a sense of purpose. Some exude grim determination and tenacity, some cheerful optimism while others adopt dark and amusing trenches humour to see them through. Many sufferers do a bit of each depending on where they are in the chemo cycle. I have a dear friend who is tackling the issue with such outrageous humour I thought, with her permission,  I would share some of her updates. Let’s call her Rosie. Rosie was recently diagnosed with breast cancer…………………………………

First and foremost - thank you all so much for the heavenly messages, texts, letters, cards and flowers that have poured in from near and far:  cannot tell you how much it means to me to know that there is this astonishing blanket of support out there that I can wrap myself in at any time.  Yes - makes me howl - but in a good way and I think this is definitely an occasion where everyone needs "permission for lower lip to wobble".

Forgive me for not replying to each and everyone of you individually yet;  I will get round to you all eventually I promise, but for now, en masse seems to be the way forward:

So - the beginning of the end of ALF (Aggressive Little F****r) commenced on Wednesday 26th August with Cycle 1 of 8 and drain cleaner administered through my newly-acquired bionic accessory embedded in my chest : the Portacath.....  Quite the scariest thing I have ever done and the temptation to tell everyone to f*** off and leg it across the car park was overwhelming. John, however, was magnificent and talked me down from the ceiling and I am now full of Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide and an entire medicine cabinet to combat side effects. So far so good - holding up reasonably well and no nausea or sickness.

I have, sadly, discovered "Chemo Fog" which renders me insensible:  A stealthy, synthetic grey fug that muffles everything..... taste, touch, acuity, reflex and leaves one feeling at least 2 steps removed from everyone and everything.  It also makes me horribly forgetful and stupid. Sleep has become my new best friend and the chemical cosh kicks in with monotonous regularity... Whoever invented the siesta deserves a medal and my bedtime is currently 9pm. I have decided the way forward is to hibernate for the winter and sleep my way through chemo....

Thankfully, it does get better - much better.  The fug recedes and rather excitingly, I managed to remain conscious until 10.30pm the other evening. I have no doubt that by the time I reach the end of this cycle in a few days time I will feel bloody marvellous - just in time for the little men in white coats to administer Cycle 2.

Currently I am preoccupied with hair - or rather no hair... After much research I decided not to try the "Cold Cap" - a grim contraption resembling an old Soviet-style swimming hat that 'freezes' the scalp and hair follicles thus preventing hair loss.  For some it works brilliantly, others less so. After discovering Epirubicin is so toxic, it pretty much destroys everything in its path and I was at risk of developing the "Friar Tuck" or "Donald Trump Comb-Over" as a hair style AND the hat is painful to wear, it was a "no" from me (and my over-active imagination running wild with the thought that if I were a cancer molecule, a frozen hair follicle would be the perfect place to hang out....)  Thus far, the hair on my head is still with me – every morning I give it a gentle tug - but I think the end is nigh as elsewhere is in dire straights and falling out hand over fist.  I am not quite sure if I'm a porn star's dream or a feminist's nightmare....  All is not lost though as I have hair (an 'heir'?!) waiting in the wings: 2 very pretty wigs - 1 for the more casual, 'everyday me' and 1 for more glamorous occasions...

Otherwise, trying to continue as normally as possible : I have obviously taken a giant step back from work, but I am hoping to hang on to my regular clients and work exclusively from home. I promise I will endeavour to keep you all updated as and when -  In the meantime, much, much love and once again, many thanks for all your good wishes, love and luck.  I leave you with.....

The Good : White wine cunningly concealed in a coffee thermos is essential when purchasing a wig...

The Bad : Raising eyebrows at The Nuffield Hospital, Guildford by wearing an outrageous pair of bright red lacy nickers with the backless hospital gown that never does up...

The Ugly :

Face down in a MRI with one's trousers round one's knees is never a good look...

xxxxxxx

 

What a great girl; she should have been a soldier. There is obviously a television comedy in there waiting to break out but I can't see television luvvies being brave enough to do it................ perhaps that's just what cancer education and treatment in this country needs. It's a scary thing and as the motto of the old Parachute School said, 'Knowledge Dispels Fear.'