18 Hours

I am sitting at the kitchen counter. It is 3:20pm and I am waiting for my seven-year-old daughter to arrive on the “late” bus. She always takes the late bus on Wednesdays, which is early release day followed by a piano lesson. Any moment now she will ring the doorbell and possibly also flip up the metal flap of the mail slot, bend down so that her mouth is level with the slot and call out to announce herself.

I take a deep, satisfied breath and allow myself to slump a little in the bar stool. I have just devoured a leftover meatloaf sandwich (the meatloaf was leftover, not the whole sandwich) on toasted wholemeal bread with a generous smear of mayonnaise and some watercress, with cornichons (which the Breeteesh spellcheck changed to coronations — really?) and cherry tomatoes on the side. If there were Breeteesh speech correct I imagine it would be all offended now, and correct my pronunciation of toe-may-toes to toe-mah-toes with slightly softer “t’s.”

Up — there she is. Excuse me. Fast forward 20 minutes. Now she is seated across the counter from me, having brought in her lunch pack and washed her hands, which is the after-school routine. She is reading a book called “Crunch” which her friend Timothy lent her over the summer. She wants to know what “duh-rell-er” means. What? I say. Point to it. Oh, “derailleur.” You don’t come across that one every day. Anyhow…

I’m thinking about the last 18 hours. And wondering how things can change so quickly. How in that period of time, which does not seem very long at all, one can experience a fury of circumstances and emotions.

Last night after dinner I washed Charlotte’s hair. Actually, a more accurate recount of the evening might include the fact that she had refused to bathe two nights running, had succumbed to a quick bath which she gave herself (but no shampoo) two nights ago and was protesting again last night despite clear signs that she could not go one single day longer without a shampoo. She then had a tantrum and pretended to go on a hunger strike, refusing to come down for dinner “because I don’t like fish curry anyway” until we tried to convince her she might starve to death. “I don’t care if I starve.” She said. And I wasn’t concerned that she would or in fact that she was in any danger whatsoever.

Of course once she had sauntered down she cleaned her plate and said it was the best fish curry she’d ever had. And to think I bought that monkfish from some dude who was going door to door ringing bells and asking if anyone would “loik fresh fish” several months ago! He caught me at an opportune moment seeing as I had just returned from vacation and had neither help nor dinner plan. So I said yes in fact I would “loik” to buy fresh fish and then came the kicker — I had to buy 10 lbs of fish (not all monkfish tho cuz that woulda been weird). So I did and we are all still here today. You know, sometimes you just have to say “what the fuck…” Anyhow, I digress.

She got into her pyjamas and then I aimed the blow dryer at her while she slouched over the latest issue of “Match of the Day,” a magazine about soccer. She became soccer obsessed at some point — exactly when eludes me — in the past year. So she pours over these publications and the accompanying “Match Attax” trading cards ad infinitum. She even categorises the cards in clear plastic sleeves in a notebook, periodically pulling them out and reordering them according to her master — whatever that is — plan of the moment. So you get the gist. She was absorbed. She’s a woman who knows what she wants. And knows who she is. In fact, when asked to describe herself in one word by her second grade teachers, she reflected briefly and responded “Chartastic.”

Once her hair was reasonably dry and she had brushed her teeth and either actually flossed or claimed to have flossed, we settled down in her bed to read a chapter of “The Secret Garden” which we have been reading for a few weeks now. We are at the part where Colin, the little boy who has been told all his life he is disabled and going to die young, stands up from his push chair in the secret garden to prove to old Ben Weatherstaff that he is no invalid.

The bedtime routine is all very calm and cosy and warm, and at the close of the chapter I bookmark our place, lay the book on her desk, tuck her in, kiss her on the forehead and turn off the light. “I love you.” I say. And leave the room.

I trot downstairs — can one trot on stairs? Well I am using that verb. I seem to manage to trot while ascending and descending. And I begin to put away the leftover rice and monkfish curry when I hear what sounds like faint crying.

I trot back upstairs, calling to Charlotte, since I know that the other child, the 10-year-old, is in the living room practicing the clarinet. I reach Char’s door and open it. “What happened?” I ask. “I hit my head!” She cries. So I flip on the light and honestly I can tell you that I was not prepared because she wasn’t crying that loud. I had one of those text-book “don’t react this way in front of your child” reactions, mouth agape, exclamation taking the Lord’s name in vain, what have you. Because she is sitting in the bed and her right hand, sleeve and the entire right side of her forehead are smeared in blood.

Simultaneously, Isabel, who has followed me up the stairs (clarinet still in hand), appears at the door and has a similar reaction. Which of course escalates Charlotte’s crying. At this point Char starts yelling “I’m going to die,” which was actually, in retrospect, kind of funny because after we settled her down and cleaned her up it was clear that the bleeding was under control and that the gash was small, about 1.5 centimetres.

Having rediscovered my rational self, I assured her that she would not die and would be just fine but that we might have to go to the hospital to get the wound closed because it was rather “gashy” (that’s a medical term — did you know?).

I spent about ten minutes trying to decide whether we should haul ass to the Royal Free Hospital’s A&E department (this is the local NHS hospital for those not familiar), knowing that we would probably wait an eternity. But, once I ascertained that Bill was en route home from work, and after calling the GP, texting my plastic surgeon friend and having a good think about it, I decided to get things going and we prepared to leave. I told Bill, who was in a cab, to have the driver leave the meter running and we would jump in and go to the hospital when he got home. That didn’t leave much time, which is why Char was wearing a white, pink and purple bunny pyjama top smeared with blood, no underwear, red sweatpants with blue polka dots, my pink Mickey Mouse socks from H&M, Isabel’s old Uggs that are at least a size too small for her and a shabby green fleece. Oh and she was armed with Froggie, a favorite green stuffed animal that somewhat resembles the shabby green fleece though it is a different shade of green (which isn’t easy, I hear).

I was wearing a peach-coloured cotton sweater with large sequin lips on it (what?) and brown Lulu Lemon sweatpants. And I think I had on underwear, but can’t remember for sure.

We got in the cab and the driver said “Royal Free?” and when I responded in the affirmative Char hollered “I don’t want to go there — I’ll get Ebola!” “You won’t get Ebola,” I said. The driver backed me up on this. So it was kind of funny that the first thing we saw when we arrived was a huge sign that said EBOLA with signs and symptoms and pictures and information and shit. I have to hand it to Char though, because I know damn well she saw it and thought “what the hell” but she didn’t say anything. She doesn’t miss much, even with a minor head injury, so she must have decided to believe me or that her fate was sealed and resistance was futile.

They checked us in (I could use the term nonchalant but a more accurate descriptor might be “could not have given two shits” to describe the young man and woman behind the counter). I had not bandaged Char’s head after cleaning the wound because the bleeding had pretty well stopped so at this point I asked if a nurse could come put a bandage on hoping that would get things moving (hello, head injury!!!) but they just gestured for me to go into a waiting room and said that a nurse would be “right out” to triage us. I would say we waited at least half an hour to 45 minutes for anyone to come out, and this after I complained several times because the wound had started to bleed again and I wanted them to put something on it rather than just let her bleed from the head in the waiting room (duh).

I looked at the signs on the walls. One boasted a 95% cleaning rating. I didn’t get close enough to see 95% of what, exactly. But a downward look revealed what I might call DIRT on the floor along with a discarded plastic bag and stuff like that.

Once the nurse attended to us, which encounter consisted of the usual wound cleansing and the application of some steristrips and a bandage, it took another two hours or so to be seen by a doctor who, after he confirmed that Char didn’t have a concussion (which I could have told him since she was her typical, sarcastic, Chartastic self), cleaned the wound again, pressed the edges of the gash together and glued the sucker. I noticed that during this Charlotte didn’t flinch or complain a bit and indeed I was proud of her stoicism.

When we got outside into the bracing cold she even suggested that we walk home. Um, no, I think we will take a cab honey, I said. It was half past midnight. But again I admired her determination and sense of adventure. Heck, she was probably thinking, it isn’t that often I stay out this late so let’s make the most of the situation and scare up some action!

I put her to bed for the second time that night. Froggie made a detour into the laundry room just in case he had come across any ebola. Char told me to wake her at the regular time for school and that she would see how she felt and reevaluate. And then I turned in myself. But a terrible wind kept stirring up this plastic sheeting covering the scaffolding on a building across the street and it took me a while to succumb. Or maybe it was the excitement of the evening or that I had other things on my mind…

The next morning I woke her and she voted for sleeping in so Isabel and I had an uncharacteristic breakfast together sans little sister and Izzy went off. Char woke up at about 8:30 and after another breakfast we set out for school.

I had to go out anyway because I had had a virus (otherwise known as the common cold) which culminated in serious laryngitis. The inflammation of my vocal cords combined with my loquaciousness, a trip to New Orleans and three weeks of house guests and my penchant for yelling from the ground floor of our house to the top floor didn’t help so after three weeks it was still hoarse. When I informed my mother that I had been hoarse for that long she gave me that look. And told me I needed to get it checked. Do you know what I mean by that look? Yeah, that’s the one. The one that says. Oh shit you had cancer so it could be cancer. And then I told my husband that I hoped I didn’t have nodes on my vocal cords (which is short for nodules — a benign callous like thing that people can get), then he gave me that look. So I said to myself, oh for fuck’s sake I’ll go to the otolaryngologist and determine that I do not have laryngeal cancer. That’ll shut everyone up. And I made an appointment to see a guy on Harley Street.

So I drop Charlotte off at school and make my way to Harley Street. I’m called into this nice dude’s office and we have a chat about my history of breast cancer and thyroid disease (at which point I sort of always feel like a loser because I am only 42 for crying out loud) and I explain the reason for my visit. He talks about the various sinister things it could be, such as, yes, cancer, caused by the HPV virus (ew, right?) etc. and then he sprays some anaesthetic on the back of my throat which he says will prevent me from having a gag reflex when he sticks this long metal thing down there to look at my vocal cords. Tempted though I was, I resisted the urge to mutter some totally inappropriate joke about — you know what? I am not even gonna say it. I’m above that (not really, but the parents are prob reading this so ya know).

So he sticks the probe in there and tells me to intermittently breathe and make a high-pitched “eeeee” and then after about three minutes he yanks it out, tells me I’m perfectly fine and let’s me have a look on the screen at my pretty, healthy vocal cords.

So I leave, my step noticeably lighter. And decide to hightail it to that mecca of all places in which to celebrate LIFE, the Oxford Circus Top Shop. Sometimes when I am in a great mood (or am not but need to be in one) nothing else will do, especially if they have a live DJ. And it is always only a matter of time before I scarf down some fro yo or Lola’s cupcakes. I’m telling you, the weird fake fur stuff I bought there today will totally require a separate blog entry. But let’s just say I plan to take funky to new levels before my time in London is up. And no, one really cannot own too many pink fake furs.

While shopping it occurs to me that a matter of minutes beforehand I had wondered — not outright worried but wondered — if somehow I could possibly be unlucky enough to have cancer again somewhere else on my body. At the age of 42.

And how only hours before that I was putting my daughter to bed and had tucked her in all safe and sound but she managed to hurt herself in her own room. And the fleeting yet unforgettable moment of terror I experienced when I opened her door, flicked on her light, saw the blood and thought she might have a serious head injury.

To better contemplate the unexpected twists and turns in life, I order a frozen yogurt and slurp it down, while balancing a purse, a parka and an entire large shopper full of ridiculous fake fur items.

And several unoriginal thoughts occur to me at once:  (1) that life is full of the unexpected; (2) that you have to leave the house because you cannot control everything no matter what your (quite possibly false) perception of safety and security and how ritualistic or careful your routines are; and (3) that there is nothing worse than worrying about your child and the other ones you love, and that this is precisely why my mother and my husband gave me that look, and why it was the right thing to do to take it seriously and get myself checked out.

This was a long one and I commend you if you read through to the end. I didn’t call it 18 hours for nothing, eh? Well, to quote an oldie but goodie, good night, sleep tight and don’t let the corners of IKEA shelving units slam into your foreheads while you are reaching for a toy in the dark — or something like that.

Spotty fur










‘Twas the Night Before (Last) Chemo

Wow. Here I am. And this is it. Last chemo tomorrow morning. I have to say the whole thing has gone so fast it makes my head spin. I’m really not sure what to be thinking right now.


Here is a picture of what I look like now with absolutely not a trace of make-up on. It is not particularly pretty. Losing the eyebrows and eyelashes isn’t a good look. But I think I may soon do a post on how to glamify when one looks like this. So here it is. At least I have some colour in my cheeks.

I spent my day shopping for an appropriate farewell to chemo (read: final fuck you to any random cancer cells floating around) outfit. I have a couple of contenders and will make the final determination tomorrow morning. But I think I know what I’m going with. One day I have to do a post on hi/lo fashion. You know, high being the expensive stuff and low being the cheaper stuff. I like to mix and match. Good shoes, but cheap t-shirt, and so forth.

Tomorrow we are definitely going for low. British low in honour of the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrating Her Majesty’s sixty years on the throne. I bought everything at Top Shop. If you don’t know what Top Shop is, it’s sort of like the British H&M. If you don’t know what H&M is, you are probably one of my parents or similarly aged relatives. This is okay. You can always Google it.

Maybe I should just go naked and paint my body with a big Union Jack. I mean everything in this place has been “Jubileed.” There was a chick on the tube this afternoon with pink, press-on Union Jack finger nails. But I have to admit I kind of liked them. She only did the thumb and ring fingers, so it was understated tacky. Just my thing. I bet you could get a Union Jack merkin in Soho. If you still don’t know what a merkin is you have to read Vag Toupee immediately.

Back to the white elephant in the room.

So, what is the meaning of last chemo? After tomorrow’s potion wears off, no more poison coursing through my veins, which is good and bad. Good because the side effects will eventually start to wear off and I will start feeling normal again. Bad because then it is up to my body to repair any bad cells. Although I will be on Tamoxifen (endocrine therapy) for five years starting in a couple of weeks, so my body will still have some help fighting this SOB, just in case.

I had chemotherapy because I needed it. So it is good that I did it. But damn, are there things that I will not miss. Let me list some of them for you here, so that I can simultaneously remind myself and share with you what they are:

Thrush (in mouth) going on about four times now, queasiness, taste bud changes, metallic taste in mouth, skin rashes, dry skin, breaking out, bloody nose, runny nose, bloody other places that I won’t go into detail about, pink urine from the red doxorubicin, loss of hair on head, and now, finally, eyebrows and eyelashes (starting to go I’m afraid), night sweats, shingles outbreak on back of head, pain under finger nails, brown spots under finger nails, pain in bones, pain in joints, fatigue, steroids (fast heartbeat, trouble sleeping, “irascible” behaviour according to close relatives), constipation, yucky bitter-tasting anti-nausea meds, being on so many meds generally, skin tenderness (so bad at times it hurt to be touched), discolouration (hyper-pigmentation) of skin, particularly knuckles, old-looking, dry, peeling and wizened hands, and the portacath that is now living under my skin (gross).

Yeah, WHATEVER. Is that all you can throw at me? That shit is child’s play. I went to Paris last weekend for crying out loud. And walked all over creation. And stayed out late. And drank champagne. And ate escargots. So I can handle all of those stupid side effects and other crap if it means I killed it. I bet there isn’t even anything left to kill in there. There probably hasn’t been for weeks now, if there ever was. So there. Take THAT, you microscopic pieces of you-know-what.

Excuse me. Now that that’s done, here are the things that I liked about chemo: the superb and attentive staff at the LOC chemo suite, having visitors during treatments, having reflexology during treatments, cheering up other patients, white leather adjustable Dr. Evil chairs, my chemo outfits and umm, let’s see, oh yeah, NUKING cancer. Chemo may be draconian and there may be new drugs coming out soon that target cancer cells and meanwhile do not harm good cells, but for now this is it and it is effective. So.

Now I have to read a chapter or two of the second book in the Hunger Games series and then get some sleep. Tomorrow is my farewell to chemo party.

Do you think anyone will bring a cupcake with the number eight on it?

Summer Buzzies Are Out

For the (wow I’ve already lost track so fill in blank) day, the weather in London has been absolutely, positively supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I don’t think I saw a single cloud today and that is something else considering how the wind blows things across this island.

We had a mellow day. My big event was walking to Hampstead for a polish change, a medical necessity to help strengthen my nails (sort of hard hit by the chemo drugs). Plus it gives a bald girl a lift. A little colour is always good.

I slathered on SPF 50 and put on the bare minimum of clothing, having worn my parka just last week! (Do you think that warranted an exclamation point, or what is overkill?) A black GAP body tank top, my H&M striped miniskirt, flip-flops and an apple-print headscarf (also H&M). I’d post a pic but I am in my pyjamas now and that train has left the station.

Then I hoofed it up the hill to the Beauty Boutique on Flask Walk. I love this place because it is low-key, friendly, they know who I am and act normal toward me. How nice.

With good weather comes skimpy clothing. People of all shapes and sizes partake, and there were indeed some eye-catching ensembles this afternoon.

The thing I noticed most was how everyone’s tits were out. Lots of tank tops, bustiers, revealing sundresses, you name it. A little sunshine and all hell broke loose. The women of north London were practically serving them up on a plate.

Lots and lots of cleavage. And bouncing scoops of flesh.

As I mentioned in “One to Go,” after chemo on Thursday I saw the radiation oncologist. She warned that there was a good chance the radiation would foul up the reconstruction on my right side. Nothing to be done about that but wait and hope for the best. Expect the worst.

I am not gonna lie. I ain’t thrilled about this. But it wasn’t new information. It just sort of sucked to hear it again when I am about to kick chemo’s ass and embark on the next phase. Got to hand it to the docs, though, they are on the ball. Yesterday I got my entire radiation schedule e-mailed to me, with times and everything. It’s on my iCal, waiting to be crossed off.

I just hope that at the end of the day I won’t have too many complications. Radiation has what my reconstruction surgeon calls “the bystander effect.” For every one bad cell that you are targeting, it destroys or alters about a billion healthy cells. This is too bad. But Das ist so.

Having implant-only based reconstruction surgery following (or prior to) radiation can be problematic. Your skin acts different, the blood supply is affected and you are more prone to bleeding, infections and capsular contracture. Capsular contracture is when scar tissue forms around the implant and sort of squeezes it. It can cause the implant to be hard and/or misshapen. And sometimes further surgery is required, including eventually removing the implant.

I don’t really want to be an Amazon.

I’ll tell you what, though. If that shit happens, if that is my lot, then I’ll take it over the cancer.  I’d rather be an unwitting Amazon than have a great set of reconstructed boobs for two years and then find out I have a recurrence in my chest wall.

If that shit happens, I will become Katniss (from The Hunger Games, people) and take up the bow and arrow (although it is reputed that the Amazons had their left breast removed not their right, so that they could shoot arrows and throw spears more freely, despite being depicted with both breasts in artwork).

I will admit that it is not my first choice, and it would definitely cramp my fashion style. However, sometimes you have to make a sacrifice in order to kill it. And my reconstruction surgeon has more than one trick up his sleeve. So we’ll play it by ear. And meanwhile I will continue to watch the parade of large, jiggly buzzies romping up and down the high street.

An unruly sea to which I not so long ago belonged.

Party Dress and Party Hair

I was thinking back today to my thirtieth birthday party in Manhattan. It seems like ages ago. Bill and I were working as M&A associates at large NY law firms at the time and we hadn’t any kids. We decided to have a small party in our 800 (on a good day) square foot apartment on 26th Street and Sixth Avenue. Back when the Chelsea Flea Market was just across the street, now long since displaced by another high-rise apartment building.

Here I sit ten years later, faced with trying to decide what to wear to my fortieth birthday party this evening (celebrated a week late so it wouldn’t be two days after chemo). For the past couple of days I have half-heartedly shopped for dresses but for some reason I just haven’t been in a shopping mood. I ain’t feeling it.

That doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to my party. Au contraire. I am totally in a party mood. We are dining at an Italian restaurant (Zafferano) in Knightsbridge. We’ve hired the private dining room in the wine cellar for a small group.

Anyhow, in weighing my “hair” and dress options for tonight I couldn’t help but think back ten years ago to that thirtieth birthday. To a younger, different, cancer-free me. I love any excuse to dress up, so I took the long brunette extensions I had used for my wedding up-do (you realise that those Oscar-worthy do’s involve extensions don’t you? No one has that much hair…) and had a hairdresser create a high, slicked-back ponytail for the occasion.

I wore a knee-length beige, slightly see-through, ruched Diane Von Furstenberg dress with spaghetti straps. I might still have it somewhere. That and a groovy vintage gold-tone necklace from a secondhand shop on 23rd Street. I know I still have the extensions, but that concept wouldn’t work out so well at present, would it?

So what should I wear? An old dress or a new dress (and if new time is running out… the party is in fewer than four hours)? If old what will still look good? There are a number of dresses from before but I haven’t tested them all with my “interim set.” And what about the matter of my head? Do I go bald and beautiful or scarf it or maybe try the little black hat with a flower? Or should I bring Gabriella (read Cold Cap: From Rapunzel to Rambo if you don’t know Gabriella) as my second date?

Decisions, decisions. Whatever I choose I will let you know. I really need a killer ensemble.

Because I plan to party hard tonight.


Party in the Chemo Suite

I’m coming to you live from the chemo suite, people. So inspired am I.

Today there are a lot of drawn curtains (lame — I like to spy on my fellow sufferers and make faces at them) and someone is hacking up a lung (makes you want to run out and get a big juicy steak, doesn’t it, and eat it off the floor). Unacceptable. What this place needs is a couppla disco balls. Maybe a conga line. The choreography might get a little complicated with all of us on a drip, which hangs from this metal coat rack thingy on wheels, but it’s nothing me and Paula Abdul couldn’t work around.

My blood work came back and I am — naturally — good to go.  White blood cells up from my immune booster that I jab into my stomach the day after every treatment. Actually I kind of enjoy that. I should have been a nurse (well I do share a birthday with Florence Nightingale and that’s about all we have in common) or maybe a torturer.

Now they are pumping me full of steroids and then antihistamine (like Benadryl) and anti tummy upset and lots of sodium chloride mixed in to flush the line, all to ward off any unpleasant reaction to the Taxol. A lot of people are allergic to Taxol, which is derived from the Pacific yew, by the way. Did you think that everything “natural” was good for you? Don’t be a dumbass. What about poisonous mushrooms? One bite and you’re dead.

I don’t care for the Benadryl. Although it doesn’t put me to sleep (this is because I am defective and cannot nap during the day no matter what they do to me), it makes me a little sluggish, so I am chugging a flat white (I described this in What I Wore To Chemo Today so you had better catch UP), which my awesome friend Paige brought me from Gail’s, my fave coffee shop and bakery. I am also chugging tea. It’s England so everyone drinks tea constantly — it’s really true. And water. This makes for a lot of trips to the loo wheeling my coat rack to and fro. But it’s good to take in fluids. Flush the system. Stretch the legs. Sashay around in my absurd outfit.

Ooh goody. My machine is beeping. That means the bag of sodium chloride is empty and it will soon be time for the poison. Linda, Uma, Katniss? Get ready, girls. Get your gold cuffs and your Hattori Hanzo and your bow and arrows because we’re gonna fire it up, beeyotches.  (Read Chicks I Dig Vol. 1 if this makes no sense to you).

Speaking of artillery, does anyone know where I can get me one of those long leather (nylon would do as well) belts with bullets in it so that I could incorporate that into my outfit? Can you get that shit on Amazon?

So the stuff is going in now, slowly over three hours. I thought I just had a tinge of metal mouth, which I did not experience two weeks ago. It is one of my least favourite side effects so I am plenty pissed off about it. These things can be cumulative. But I ate my lunch and that tasted fine, so maybe I am imagining it. Grr.

My bum is falling asleep. I need to do some gluteal clenches while I’m sitting here. One… two… three…….. Might as well multitask. And this really is the ideal environment for that. I mean, what else can you do? Sit here and think about cancer? Bo-ring. So I write and I talk incessantly when there is someone to listen, and I visualise the chicks I dig doing violence to any remaining cancer cell.

I imagine one trying to flee from Uma’s sword. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, MF. You have met your maker and she happens to be hot. Hot and lethal, that’s a great combination. Oh, sorry, she just eradicated your ass, as lickety-split as she plucked that eyeball out of Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah’s character in Kill Bill), the other eye having been plucked out by Pai Mei, who trained both Driver and Kiddo in martial arts the likes of which I could really get into. It was kind of mean when Kiddo then stepped on the eye-ball and squished it. But I respect that decision.

This is Elle Driver when she is about to try to inject a comatose Beatrix Kiddo with some red shit to kill her for good. I would pluck someone’s eyeball out too if they were standing over me with red shit. That looks just like chemo medicine numero uno, which was that same colour and some really naaaaaaaasty stuff.

On a separate note, Hannah is killing the ole one-eye look, dontcha think? Let’s hope that’s a look I don’t have to rock, but given my retina’s tendency to misbehave I have had to wear the occasional eye patch after a procedure. If it ever happens again I’m going to commission a Louis Vuitton eye patch with my initials on it. Not really, but it would be hilarious to see the salesperson’s reaction. All horrified yet awkwardly trying to be polite, as I stand there looking earnest amidst a sea of shoppers who just want the latest Neverfull. But I digress… blame it on the Benadryl or the chemo or whatever. Though Florence Nightingale did say “I attribute my success to this — I never gave or took any excuse.” So just blame ME. I don’t care.

Three hours after the Taxol drip started I’m outta there. Now I’m back home.

So do you want to see today’s outfit? Come on, do ya? I’m afraid it was not possible to top the last one but I made a valiant effort.

I know, the pic isn’t great quality but I was pretty far away from the computer so deal with it. I like to think of this look as Coco Chanel meets sixties biker chick (the boots have buckles and zip up the back). Badass from the neck down but sort of classy from the neck up. Classy badass. It’s the new thing. My fabulous new French buddy lent me the cute black hat. It has that je ne sais quoi, non? The flower is one of my recent acquisitions from H&M. You don’t have to pay Chanel prices, dear.

Well, now that I have killed it for the sixth time I have to make my meds chart so I don’t do the wrong thing. I have so many pills and fluids in me you could shake me and I’d rattle and slosh. But I am doing fine.

Because today I am one step closer to putting this puppy to bed.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Florence Nightingale: “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” A lot, however, can be done under the spirit of KILLING IT.

So take that, MF.


What I Wore To Chemo Today

My treasured friend Susan of 17 years came all the way from America to visit with me today. That visit happened to coincide with my first of four doses of Taxol (see my last post, Countdown, for details on that). Thus, our visit was conducted in the chemo treatment suite in white leather chairs. Susan is the director of the most prestigious public interest fellowships in the law, “a legal Peace Corps” as described by The Los Angeles Times.

Back in the days of good posture and (naturally) perky boobs (see Boob Retrospective — don’t you want to read it just for the title?), I was Susan’s legal assistant at the New York law firm that established the fellowships. We bonded immediately. She has too many qualities to list in the time I have before the fatigue hits me so just trust me on my compact description — she is HIGH QUALITY in every respect. But I do have to mention some specifics: she is both a philanthropist and a fashionista, has a wicked sense of humour, is not afraid to say “fuck,” is a hot ticket, is highly intelligent and has a true gift for friendship. And that just scratches the surface.

Anyhow, years ago, after I had left the firm and was a One L at Harvard Law School, Susan came to speak to the students about the fellowships. A Two L aspiring fellow had called her with some questions on the application process and Susan had told her to come to the talk and meet me (a built-in resource, having been through the process as Susan’s right-hand gal) so that I could help her and any other public interest students so-inclined.

Susan is very fashionable, but always very tasteful, and she had kindly bestowed upon me a number of designer suits that she no longer needed. She figured I would be wearing one at the meeting to please her and make a good impression on the students. Pale blue Armani, perhaps? Crimson Feraud?

Of course when she showed up I was sitting on the floor in a cheetah print mini dress I got at the ten-dollar store and knee-high boots. Oops.

So last night when I thought about seeing Susan after quite a long stretch of not having seen her, I realised that an appropriate ensemble was in order. I mean I didn’t want to embarrass her again and make her feel uncomfortable in the chemo suite, for Christ’s sake. She flew across an ocean. And to top it off I am bald now, which doesn’t help one’s appearance.

This morning I scoured my closet, keeping in mind that I had to allow decent access to my port site near my left axilla for blood draws and administration of chemo. I selected and then rejected several choices as inappropriate, but finally settled on the perfect kit (look it up, Americans, it’s Breeteesh). At this point of course I was late. So pathetic to be late to one’s own chemo. And to top it off the nifty phone apps I downloaded in order to get a taxi to show up at my door refused to work and the cabs and car services were all popping up with “unavailable in your area” messages. Unacceptable. And there was no “FU I have cancer come anyway” button.

At that point I had no choice and gulped down the rest of my flat white (like a latte but better), wiped the cinnamon from the corners of my mouth with the back of my hand, and dashed out the door to get to the tube. It was raining again and so I put on my silver wellies so I wouldn’t soil my outfit. I had not planned to be sloshing about — thought I’d be cabbing it door to door.  Grrr.

I dashed into the tube, which of course crawwwwwled along. Blasted Northern Line. When I finally reached my stop I catapulted myself onto the platform, ran (yes ran) up two escalators and flung myself outdoors to hail a taxi. I was still a good 15-minute walk from treatment. Luckily I found a cabbie right away. He dropped me off in front of the clinic (most people know it’s a cancer place) and then refused to make me pay for the fare. It was lovely, really, and I was touched if not a little surprised. I mean people get dropped off there all the time and I am sure they usually have to pay. It must have been the combination of my elegant attire and — oh — the fact that he knew I was a cancer patient.

So, I was about ten minutes late. Not fatal. But I was concerned about getting a good seat under the skylight. I practically jumped down the stair case and was scolded by a lady not to rush (good point — headline: “she makes it through four chemos only to hurl herself down a flight of stairs at chemo and end up a quadriplegic”).

The staff ushered me to a nice, sunny pod. I yanked off my wellies, hung my coat up and waited for my friend. I hoped that she would like my outfit. I did not want to let her down. Again.

A blond breath of fresh air in a red and gold silk scarf, persimmon sweater and chocolate trousers breezed through the door. Susan had arrived. She saw me. She smiled.

What? You were expecting Rene Lezard? Please, people.

Nothing says “cancer, kiss my ass,” like matching leopard print tops and tails.

We killed it today, Susan and I. Easiest bloody chemo I ever did.

Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.


Hi folks. It is always a little odd how much I enjoy the day before a chemo treatment. It approaches so quickly… and suddenly there it is. That normal Wednesday every two weeks before the Thursday festivities. Unfortunately the weather continues to suck here. It is cold, rainy and windy and not showing signs of improvement. And here I thought having chemo in the spring would be so lovely — sun on my bald head, showing off my bare legs with the latest in shorts. And so forth.

Anyhow, tomorrow I start the big countdown. For the first four chemo treatments I counted up. But those are over now. And I do believe that NASA would agree a countdown is more appropriate for the final four.

Whenever I go for chemo I try to get inside my head and get psyched up to do battle. If you are taking a drug that has bad side effects, you have to focus on the positive: namely, that the positive outweighs the negative and that this drug is exactly what you need even if it isn’t exactly what you want. So when I settle into my white leather chair tomorrow morning at 0900 London time and 45 minutes later my blood work comes back showing a fabulously high white blood cell count indicating “all systems go,” I will do my battle cry.

It goes a little something like this: “Die, motherfuckers.”

Sometimes I wonder if there is even anything bad in there left to kill. But just in case, we’re going in. And they will never see it coming. I feel almost sorry for them (not).

The really great news is that people say my “new” chemo drug, Taxol, is easier for many to take than my previous drugs (AC). But there are still some pesky side effects to watch out for. I read a laundry list of them once but it started to piss me off so I filed that information sheet and now I am starting to forget. But I do remember that they include joint, muscle and bone pain, tingling in the hands and feet, alopecia (I know I am already bald but I do still have eyebrows and lashes to worry about), nail changes, including discolouration and loss of nails (that sounds pleasant and attractive) and well, lots of other icky stuff. The queasiness isn’t supposed to be as bad and I am very excited about that because I get testy when anything interferes with my meals. I love food and I love to eat. And the thing that bummed me out about the first four treatments more than any other symptom was the combination of queasiness, metal mouth and taste bud changes.

What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the new drug, Taxol. Sorry I am tired and my writing today is rather random. I’m gonna go with it.

My cousin was on Taxol a long time ago when it was experimental and she said the joint pain was so bad she had to walk with a cane for a while. But that doesn’t scare me, because if I need a cane I will get a really badass one with a stainless steel skull on the top and a retractable knife in the base and I will go around clubbing people who make inappropriate comments and picking up trash on my street with the knife in order to beautify the neighbourhood (what you thought I would really stab someone? Come on I am not that mean and the riots are over — for now). She also still sometimes has residual tingling from nerve damage. That does make me a bit nervous, pun intended. Tee hee.

So to ward off these ill effects, today I visited the special doctor. The one who does complementary therapy. I had acupuncture, which helped enormously with my fourth and final AC treatment, and also some homeopathy. Phosphorous. I like the idea of that. The idea of sparks, of flames and of powerful energy banishing unwanted sensations. I am girl on fire, like Katniss in The Hunger Games. As I lay with the acupuncture needles in me, I imagined myself floating above the table, aglow with sparks. Invincible. Ready to do battle.

Ready to kill it.

Now don’t get all serious and depressed on me. Tomorrow I have a funny one planned. Promise.

Armpit Wig

If you read my last post, “Cold Cap: From Rapunzel to Rambo,” you will know that I shaved my head in early March after trying out a number of different hair lengths. Hard to believe that I have been bald for that long already. Harder still to believe that I will be bald for my fortieth birthday on May 12. Not exactly what I had in mind when I thought about “fabulous at forty.” I need me a Lady Gaga “do” right quick. After I post today maybe I’ll run out and buy a light pink bob with fringe (that’s Breeteesh for bangs).

Before chopping my hair for the first time after my surgery, I began to contemplate a wig. I figured I would wear scarves most of the time (which I do) but it is nice to have a back-up plan should one want hair.

I asked around. Everyone recommended synthetic hair. Human hair is very expensive and you have to style it (i.e. wash and condition it, blow it dry and then make it be-have, baby), whereas synthetic hair is low-maintenance, requires less washing and will snap back into shape as it dries naturally on its wig stand. You don’t want to blow-dry a synthetic wig. It might melt.

With both kinds there are limitations. But a good synthetic wig can look pretty realistic.

My wonderful, kind and generous friend Kate had flown over from the States to accompany me to my first chemo, after which I felt okay. So we decided to have a “fun with cancer” day and go wig shopping right after treatment and lunch.

We cabbed it to a tiny establishment in Kensington touted as the go-to place for chemo patients desirous of a wig. They had a good selection and a nice saleswoman helped me try on many different styles and colours.

What not to buy became clear pretty quickly. I have a rather small forehead, so a heavy fringe (you should know this word by now if you have been paying attention) didn’t suit me. Also a no-no was anything too dark as it washed me out — not a good look when one is a cancer patient.

I felt a little bit like Goldilocks on the first two tries, except that I wasn’t in a house of bears and I didn’t have curly gold locks and I wasn’t eating porridge. Nothing was quite right. I just wasn’t feeling it. Too short and helmet-y made me look like a soccer mom (not my thing, really). Too long dragged my face down and wasn’t practical. About chin length seemed to work well…

We finally appeared to strike gold, or rather copper, when I tried on a chin-length ginger (that’s Limey for red head) number with great movement. But when they pulled out the same wig in the nice rich brown colour I wanted, it was slightly shorter and sort of poufed out at the wrong place. Foiled again. At this point I had had enough and was starting to get frustrated. Also, I began to feel tired from the chemo and all the decision making. If you think that a trip to the department store to buy new skinny jeans is tiring try purchasing new hair after chemo. It’s really a bit draining.

So we packed it in and went home. Wigless.

The next morning I had more surgery to install a portacath into one of the major arteries in my chest so that chemo going forward could be administered via the port. This avoids damage to the veins in the arm, which can happen after repeated treatments, so lethal is the shit they pump into you. Following that I was too sore and tired to go wig shopping again anytime soon and the next day, Kate had to fly back. So there I was, still without a wig and on my own.

After a few days I felt better and was back at it. I went to a well-known major department store. They sold wigs and hairpieces in two places, on the ground floor and in their posh salon, upstairs. I decided after my initial disappointment and frustration to think outside the box and try some wigs that didn’t really resemble my real hair. Trying too hard to match it didn’t seem to be working out for a couple of reasons. For one, synthetic wigs are mostly straight, whereas my own hair is wavy. They had some wavy ones but they looked pretty 80s and were lame. Also, getting the same colour is an impossibility.

Anyhow, I decided I was approaching it wrong and needed to have more fun with the process. I tried on a platinum blonde Marilyn Monroe (it was pretty hot, actually). “Happy birthday, Mr. President…” I tried on a human hair brunette wig just for shits and giggles, but the hair was very thick — probably of Indian origin — and it just looked weird on me. I liked a dark red one, definitely a contender, even in the red, but not enough to buy it.

I have to admit I have always had a platonic crush on Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. She had great jugs and was such a tease (did the Professor ever get on that?). So something kept drawing me to the red ones.
But I wasn’t quite sure/ready so I noted the style number and went upstairs. When I got to the salon it was the wig lady’s day off so I tried on a couple half-heartedly, including a severe salt and pepper bob which made me look about 50, and another red number. Then I made an appointment with the wig specialist for the very next day.

That morning was a Thursday and I began the day with a visit to my plastic surgeon for a little instaboob (see the end of my blog entitled Boob Retrospective if that doesn’t make sense).  I returned to the store with my husband in tow. The wig lady was good. She was a stylist and had worked in the industry for years, including on fashion shoots, and then developed an interest in helping cancer patients with alopecia when her own mother was diagnosed. She sized me up and pulled out three or four styles she thought would suit me. I tried on yet another red number, shoulder length with light fringe and long layers. Great colour and movement, but not sure. Then she whipped out a very chic, chin-length deep brunette bob. I put it on. I posed. I became European. I became… Gabriella. I envisioned myself strolling down the street in Florence with a large Prada bag and a small dog, nodding to the men who were blowing kisses and whistling as I passed. Che bella

It was by far the best one I had tried on and, as the wig lady pointed out, it was “me” even if it wasn’t really me. My husband didn’t like it at first, but when I tried on some others and then reemerged with it he came around. So I bid him ciao and set about making my purchase. I got the works. Wig stand, special brush and Revlon shampoo and conditioner for synthetic hair. The wig lady took me downstairs to get the VAT off my purchase — I had to fill out a form that said I’d had a mastectomy and voilà, VAT-free wig. I ought to get something out of this, no?

To celebrate I bought some new make-up and by then I was so high I practically skipped out the door. On the tube I came up with a new MasterCard commercial to sum up my day:

Stylish new wig: £383
New NARS make-up: £85
Bigger tits in 60 seconds: Priceless

I went to the girls’ school to pick up Isabel and her pals and bring them to hip-hop class. I tried on Gabriella in the locker room at the hip-hop place and a friend snapped a pic.

That evening when I got home, I assembled the wig stand and opened the shiny box containing my new wig.

Something was not right.

What was that smell? I looked around the room, inhaled again. I sniffed my armpit. Nope, it was not I. I looked down at Gabriella. Could it be? No….

I picked her up, had a sniff. Oh, fuck. Gabriella smelled strongly of armpit. And not my armpit, mind you. Someone else’s armpit. Definitely female, due to the slight undertone of musky perfume. I frantically turned her around in my hands and inhaled every inch. The offending areas were the crown and down the right side.

The horror, the horror!

My mind was racing. “What the hell am I going to do?” I thought. I tried to think of a tactful way to phone the store and explain that my brand new wig smelled just like armpit, but not my armpit. To a British person. I considered saying nothing and washing Gabriella to see if the smell would come out. But what if I removed the tag and that didn’t work? Then they might accuse me of imparting the armpit smell myself. Maybe they would think I was into something kinky and was wearing the wig in the wrong place. I decided to sleep on it, my buzz from the day having been thoroughly killed.

The next morning I decided to come clean. I called the salon and thankfully reached the wig lady. “Er,” I stammered, “I have a sort of a strange issue that I need to discuss with you.” I explained that although I was thrilled with my purchase, I had gotten the wig home and noticed a peculiar odour emanating from it. I held my breath. “Oh bring it right in,” she responded. “I’ll take care of it.” Phew. She said she would either have it cleaned or get me a new wig, which might take over a week if it wasn’t in stock. I felt hot prickles go up my back as I recalled my experience at the first wig shop where the “same” wig did not fall the same way as the first one. I feared I might never see Gabriella again. And would have to start all over.

But that afternoon I took her back and handed her over. I left. Wigless again. I felt I had lost a good friend.

A week later I got the call. It was the wig lady. Gabriella was ready for pick up. She had gone back to headquarters and been washed and styled by their top stylist. I smiled.

The next day my friend, Susan, a terrific gal and a fellow Houstonian (I was born there), emailed with intentions of visiting that very store and did I need anything? I hesitated. “Well, actually,” I wrote, “my wig is ready to be picked up. But the thing is, you would have to smell it before you leave the store, you know, to make sure that it is really clean and fresh.” I bit my lip. Maybe this was too much to ask of a friend, even a very close friend. “I’ll do it,” she wrote. Hot damn.

She emailed once she had the goods in hand. “So, did you smell it?” I asked. “Oh yeah,” she wrote. “I smelled it so hard I probably got snot on it.” “As long as it is your snot,” I replied. “I’ll do a DNA swab when you get here.”

Now that, people, is a true friend. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

The doorbell rang. It was Susan. She handed Gabriella over. I lifted the lid and took a whiff. Fresh and clean and completely armpit-free.

So the morning after we shaved my head I put on Gabriella and left the house. I went to lunch, alone, at Le Pain Quotidien on Marylebone High Street. Leaving the house with a wig on and nothing under it for the first time was a strange experience. I kept having to remember to move my neck. “Oh God,” I thought. “Everyone knows. Everyone knows I am wearing a wig.” I tried to ignore these concerns and ordered. Then I struck up a conversation with a nice young couple who had a new baby. I reminisced about my girls when they were babies. “How old are they now?” The man asked. “Five and seven,” I said. “Oh you must have been really young when you had them,” he responded.

Dude, you just made my day. Made me feel like we can kill it, me and Gabriella together.

Assaulted at the Global Festival: Things Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

I am feeling good.  Looking good.  I have on make-up AND my new Missoni headscarf in a colourful chevron stripe — did you know that turbans and headscarves are en vogue right now?  Lucky me.

My mom is in town visiting and it is a Sunday.  We go to the girls’ school for the biannual Global Festival.  The gymnasium is chock full of delicacies from around the world.  And it is a good day so I am on my second plate of food.  I graze, zigzag and chit chat.  Run into people I know, watch the performances on stage including an astounding Crouching Tiger-esque routine with two little kids and a couple of long hard sticks.  These kids look invincible.  I like it.

I am normal.  I am just hanging out.

Until… “Oh, dear are you having chemo?”  A matronly English woman holding a plate of scones is addressing me.

You are fucking kidding me, lady.  “Uh, yes.”  I say.  Other responses pop into my mind.  “No I am just chic and wearing a headscarf.  I am a spring pirate.  I have alopecia.  I am muslim.”

The woman is still standing there.  Looking concerned.

The woman proceeds to ask about my treatment, my cancer, inform me that she had chemo for breast cancer as well a few years ago, ask if my oncologist is Prof So-And-So, blah blah blah.  Then the clincher:  “Well don’t be surprised if you feel depressed after it is all over.  And you won’t feel at all normal for at least a year, maybe even eighteen months to two years after.”

Gee, that is helpful.  Now I feel better.  I look at the scones.  I consider sneezing on them.  The interaction seems to drag on for another five minutes and then is blissfully over.

Mom is pissed.  I tell her not to worry.  I have nothing to do with her, Mom.  She ain’t me.  And that is just her story.  And you see that’s when it hit me.  Her story ain’t my story.  Nobody’s story is my story.  And vice versa.

I have met enough people who have been through this to know that everyone’s story is different with some similarities along the way.  Learning about someone else’s personal experience may provide guidance or comfort.  But it should never be flung in one’s face unsolicited — to what end?  Especially if the message is negative.

“You will feel like shit.  Shittier than you think.”  That’s the takeaway?  I’ll pass, thank you.  On the advice and the scones.

I asked myself why this woman approached me.  Did she see me and think “that woman is going through what I went through.”   Maybe.  She certainly wanted me to know that I was going to have a really hard time.  Just in case I didn’t know.

But I was just hanging out being me, eating some weird Iranian thing that I grabbed from the Iranian table without asking what it was.  And I didn’t ASK her.

So here’s some advice:  Don’t ask don’t tell.  That’s right, if I don’t ask then don’t tell me.

Don’t tell me I will have a harder time than I think, that I will get x, y and z side effects, that my energy level will suck for over a year.  Of course if I want to know I will ask you and then all bets are off.  Fire away.  Tell me everything.

One day I’ll tell you all the other dumb shit people, most of whom have never had cancer themselves, have said to me.  By then I know the list will be longer.

Meanwhile I plan to kill it, recover and move on.  However long it takes ME to do so.  But I’m planning on a speedy recovery just to prove the scone lady wrong.