I haven’t written since January 4th. Since Dryanuary. I cannot believe how fast time has flown this year but it has been four whole months and I haven’t written a single post. It isn’t due to lack of wanting to write or even lack of having anything about which to write. So why?

That is a very good question. And now I will try to figure it out. I think I know the reasons. More or less. You see, I kind of feel like I’m in purgatory. I’m between worlds. As time has passed I must admit that although — in some shape or form — I think about “the cancer” every day, I don’t think about it the way I used to and I really don’t dwell. It’s more like I catch a glimpse of myself naked or something and think oh yeah, cancer happened and shit. And then I move on. The passage of time has caused me to think about it less, pure and simple.

Sometimes I worry that this failure on my part to obsess on what was such a life-altering event is arrogant. That for such I might be punished. I mean, who am I to say there isn’t some nasty little cell taking hold in my liver as I type. I sit here in bed trying to block out the idiot outdoors who is drunk and having an altogether too loud conversation with his comrades and what I really ought to be doing is freaking out that hey — this thing could still kill me.

But I won’t do that. I am a realist, not a masochist. And there really isn’t any point to doing that. For now, I’m done with cancer. I’m not ever going to be done thinking about it or indeed talking or writing about it, I don’t think (although never say never). But for the most part I have moved on. And I should not feel guilty about that. I can still write about it — now with some distance and perspective, I like to think.

I consider turning this blog into a book. Something I would very much like to do at some point. And I consider that I never bothered to input SEO into this puppy (search engine optimisation) so that people would actually find and read my GD blog. This I do regret. Although I can and will do it retroactively, at some point, once I figure it out (what? It’s on my list…).

So why is the title of this post “purgatory” (which incidentally I didn’t know how to spell since the first time I wrote it I used an “e” rather than a “u”)? Duh. Well see it is because I have now begun the third and final term of my interior design course. And when I get my certificate I would like to start a design blog. I want to write. Desperately. Just it’s going to be about — as Monty Python would put it — something completely different. But I don’t know what that means. Does that mean I cannot still write killingitblog? Does it mean I do both? What do I do? Quel conundrum.

At the end of the day, I think that my voice is my voice. Irrespective of whether I write a blog about cancer or about design. Because either way I will probably write about more than either of those things. Either way I will be writing about life. Either way it will be me (yes I am being agrammatical on purpose) and you get what you get. I will not pretend to be cute. I will just be myself and, as usual, will let it all hang out. Like it or not.

The hard part is to know how to make the transition and when. And whether it will be weird that if people Google my name this funky cancer blog pops up in addition to whatever design thing I eventually have going on. But then I think, “oh who cares.” Why shouldn’t they know. It’s amazing what you can tell people that might shock the hell out of them and what they will forget — or at least won’t focus on for long.

And speaking of letting it all hang out… Today I went to work out at my gym with Anna, my personal trainer. Anna has helped take me from a pathetically skinny figment of my former self (I was pretty much skin and bones after chemo, let’s face it, not to mention bald and pale so generally looking pretty hot) to my current fit self.

After my workout this weirdo who likes to strut around the gym wearing a Richard Simmons outfit (if you don’t know who that is Google him for crying out loud), generally all red or all blue, with shorts soooo short that at any minute you could have a loose ball situation, came up and told me that I work out too hard. “What?” I asked him, incredulous. “You don’t need to do all that with the trainer. You are already fit. She pushes you to the limit.” I blinked and for a moment thought I would just smile and get on with my stretching, but then I let him have it. “You have no idea where I’m coming from,” I said. I told him I had cancer two years ago and I was skin and bones. All this muscle we have put on since my treatment. It didn’t just happen by itself. And furthermore I am not being pushed “to the limit” because it isn’t like I am throwing up. He looked pretty surprised and was speechless for a moment. And feeling rather satisfied for having shocked him, I threw in “bet you didn’t know that, didja?” “No,” he said.

But before I could feel all self-righteous he started babbling about how I shouldn’t eat dairy because “it’s a killer” and how soy is okay and how he only drinks goat’s milk. Then he went on about some Japanese mushrooms that will keep cancer away for sure and some weird salt that I have to go to Croydon to get. “Cancer won’t touch you then,” he said. Well gee, great. If only he and his too-close-to-being-loose balls had been readily available when I moved here I could have dosed up on shrooms and designer salt and cancer would not have touched me. Alas. No such luck.

So of course I immediately regretted having spilled the beans, which I almost always do. Because people don’t know what the hell to say to you so they fill the void with nonsense or just irritating bullshit — wait is that redundant? Rather than just saying, wow, that’s something else. Right on, motherfucker, keep killing it at the gym. Serves me right. When I left I said goodbye to him and he looked thoughtful for a moment and then offered up another turd — ahem — kernel of wisdom: “you know, sometimes people’s stressful careers can cause it too.” “Yes,” I agreed. Wondering why on earth this person decided to take it upon himself to try and figure out why I got cancer, when the top doctors in London and Boston cannot answer this question. “I guess I was just lucky,” I said.

But really I do feel lucky. I feel like Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side. And I feel particularly lucky that I haven’t been assaulted (yet) by a loose ball from my pal at the gym. But there’s always tomorrow. Anyhow, I got pretty off topic there, didn’t I? But that’s okay. Let me know your thoughts about creating a new blog and what to do with this one. I’m all ears. And meanwhile I will be hanging here in purgatory, just trying to figure out how to get to the place I need to be.

The New Normal

Last Friday marked the one-year anniversary of my eighth and final chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. Following that I did have five weeks of radiation, five days a week, so my end of treatment was technically July 27 (not including another surgery later on). Radiation, however, was a cake walk compared to everything else up to that point so June 7 just carries more significance for me.

When you embark on chemotherapy they warn you that the medicine — in addition to killing cancer cells, which is sort of the point, duh — will affect you, not only immediately, but also for some time in the future. No one can say exactly how and how long you will enjoy the effects of this venomous intravenous cocktail, because how you react and for how long, like so many things medical, are highly individual.

Of course, a number of “individuals” told me what I was in for, either from personal experience or from what they had heard or observed in others undergoing treatment. Solicited, this is helpful advice, provided you don’t take it as scripture since you don’t really know what you, yourself will experience. Unsolicited, it is, well, not. There are things that you know you will probably have to deal with, such as fatigue, loss of muscle, appetite issues, lowered immunity, hair loss, et cetera. And then there are other things that may or may not strike you, such as oral thrush, loss of finger nails or having a constantly runny nose or watery eyes… I could go on but how long have you got?

The thing is, you just don’t know. What you do know is that you will not feel “normal” for some significant period of time. I was prepared for that, as much as one can be. If I’m honest about it I have not really felt like a normal person ever since I suspected that I might have cancer at age 39, because that in and of itself is not normal and made me feel physically weird.

But what is normal? That’s the question I have been asking myself a great deal lately. Normal is somewhat tricky. It’s a little bit shifty. Elusive.

I am sitting here digesting the last year and a half and thinking about how I felt before, during and after treatment. And how I feel right now. At this very moment.

And I have to admit that I do not know if I feel completely normal, one year out from that final chemo. I am not trying to be cute or philosophical here, people. I don’t mean that mentally I will never be the same because I am “forever changed” by this experience. I am talking physically. I’m talking about how my body feels.

See, about two weeks ago I thought that I felt normal. And then something happened and suddenly I noticed that when I woke up in the morning I had so much more energy. And at the gym I had so much more strength and stamina. And I thought, “gee, I guess my body is still ‘recovering’. I guess the way I felt three weeks ago, although I thought it was pretty good, wasn’t as good as it’s going to get.”

And you know what? A few weeks before that (aside from an unfortunate stint with some unexplained infection which dragged on for weeks and seems to have started with a stomach virus) I thought I felt normal, too. But clearly, if I feel the way I do now, then by comparison, the way I felt then was, if I may borrow a line from Ving Rhames in Pulp Fiction, “pretty fucking far from okay.”

I remember chemo. I remember the first time, which I did before I had a port surgically implanted into my chest for treatments two through eight. The nurse pushed the juice into a vein in my left arm. I watched the liquid flow from the huge syringe gripped by her gloved hands through the line and into my arm. I began to feel the effects immediately. My nose tingled, a metallic taste enveloped my tongue, and when I went to the bathroom my piss was pink because the doxorubicin was red in colour. Let me tell you: this was somewhat less festive than rosé champagne and eminently less drinkable. By the time I went home I was rather grey in the face and very tired. And didn’t have much of an appetite. Which for me is not at all normal. I never refuse food unless I have an acute stomach virus. And even then I try to relish the white toast, flat Coke and sliced banana. Oh wait — I lie. There was one time recently when I refused food on a Bangkok Airways flight because the mystery meat was just a little too mysterious even for me. Ew.

I had a dose every two weeks, and by the end of the second week I was always feeling better, more — yup, you got it — normal. And then they would hit me again. Halfway through I was switched to another medicine (part of the original plan) which was easier to take but had other side effects. And then suddenly there I was in my pink wig and feather skirt (see Zero) for my last treatment. And that was it. Dunzo. So when that third week rolled around and they did not hit me again it was fucking magic. I mean I could not believe how much better I started to feel. It was like someone flicked a switch. In fact, you can actually see it on a graph that reflects the data from this exercise circuit I had been doing at the gym. You see a slow decline over the course of my chemo and then the day I worked out in that third week following my final treatment the graph jerks right up into a steep climb.

I remember how I felt that day at the gym. How much easier the exercise was. How much more normal I felt. I thought, “wow, I cannot believe how good I feel.” But now, looking back, I realise how good I didn’t feel. My reconstructive surgeon alluded to something along these lines last year. He said you think you are doing pretty well and only later do you realise you actually felt absolutely crap. I get it now, dude.

And it isn’t always linear. There are ups and downs and setbacks and gains and the whole thing is linked to mood so it’s really very difficult to measure what normal is.

One morning last summer during our visit to the US I waited in a small, sandy parking lot with my husband to meet our dear friends riding the Pan Mass Challenge (a hard core two-day bicycle ride to raise a hellofalotta money for cancer — see http://www.pmc.org). They would do a quick pit stop before making a hard right and continuing on. I remember standing there, chest all beet-red, enraged from radiation, barely any hair on my head, skinny and certainly a little weak. It was so great to see them. But I did not feel normal. I felt like they were riding for me. It was moving, unnerving.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago Saturday when my older daughter (who is eight) and I did a four-mile walk through Regent’s Park to support people fighting cancer at the school by raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. The walk was fun and easy and although our legs were mildly fatigued by the end it was great. And it hit me that throughout the walk and afterward I felt as though we were doing it to support others. Not for me. It wasn’t for me anymore. Because I am that much closer to normal. There is a whole universe between that day and the day I stood in the sun on Cape Cod waiting to spot my friends.

So what now? Well, after aspiring to normal for so long I’ve decided to scrap that, regroup and come up with a new plan. Normal, whatever that is, is no longer my end game. I want to feel amazing. I want to feel awesome. Sometimes, already, I do. But I want it consistently and I’m going to get it. By the way, I know many of my friends and family are chuckling and thinking that I have never been remotely “normal.” Very funny, people, but you know what I mean.



Life After Treatment

I don’t feel like I’ve been writing very much about cancer (per se) these days. Maybe it’s because I am done with treatments going on three months now. In fact, this Saturday will mark the three-month anniversary of my final treatment and it also happens to be my eleventh wedding anniversary. Hot spit.

Being done is super. I’ve been tooling around London a fair bit and when I step back and think about it, it feels oh so different to be going about my business as “a normal person” rather than as “a cancer patient.” Of course, when I was a cancer patient I still tooled around and did things, but somehow it always felt like I was squeezing the good stuff in between appointments.

For a period of about seven months, appointments formed the scaffolding of my existence. First, a myriad* of appointments with surgeons and oncologists and the requisite imaging and scans and preparations for surgery, then the surgery itself and the follow-up appointments. And shortly after that, chemotherapy every other Thursday for four months. Then, two-and-a-half weeks following chemo, five weeks of radiation, five days a week. Plus a ton of extra appointments for random crap like the shingles on my head, a 7mm-deep collection of blood under my right thumb which caused it to look like a sickly Goodyear Blimp and other tedious but not-too-serious medical travails.

When you look at it that’s a busy schedule. So, getting out and doing things not related to killing cancer or dealing with the spate* of problems that killing it spawned seemed extra. As in extracurricular. “Outside of.” It’s Latin you know.

*My dad will be so proud. I used myriad and spate in the same post.

Now that scaffolding is gone. It’s been disassembled and put back in the shed and I am building a new one all on my own. Unless you count the every three-month check-ups. But those aren’t often enough for me to consider them the same way structurally. Not even close.

There was an article in The Times last weekend by a breast cancer survivor (Gail Rolfe). She wrote about life after treatment and how she battled depression. Here is the link but you have to subscribe to The Times online in order to read the whole thing, I’m afraid, unless you get the times delivered and have last weekend’s still lying on the coffee table or awaiting recycling in your blue recycling bag (are they blue outside of Camden? I dunno).  http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/health/mental-health/article3572415.ece

I suppose I am entirely too subjective to judge whether the article resonates with people who haven’t been touched by the topic. It was easy for me to understand what she was talking about, even though I am, thank goodness, not personally struggling with depression. Because I do struggle with a lot of things post treatment.

She made a number of points that I have made in previous posts and have noodled about in some detail. The obvious first one is that it can actually be hard/weird/disquieting/scary (I could go on) when your treatments are over and you are on your own. This is true. That scaffolding has been removed. And you sort of feel like, okay, I made it through that unbelievable shit show, so now what the fuck am I supposed to do?

It’s like that solid, stable bridge you’ve been walking over has just become invisible but you have to move forward because you can’t turn back and you can’t stand still. It is, to say the least, unsettling. And not easy. Did I mention that the bridge has become a suspension bridge, that it shakes when you walk, that the drop below is fatal and that most of the people walking along beside you have fallen back? Now you’re getting the picture. You need a lot of core strength to walk over that bridge. If you are strong and centred it makes the movements easier and more natural. But it takes focus and will and strength. It doesn’t just happen by itself. Unless you are truly unthinking.

I’ve talked to so many people who said they were depressed or freaked out when their treatments ended and had that walking over the invisible bridge feeling. Whose friends didn’t get it because they thought it would just be party party party when the last drop of crap went into the vein or the last photon beam zapped the problem area.

It is so very personal. So very individual. What you feel at that moment.

The biggest deal for me was being done with chemo. Sure I had radiation ahead of me but that didn’t seem like that much of a thing, compared. Being done with chemo was the biggie. As you may have read, I had a number of visitors that last time. My husband and two fellow survivors came to hang out, not all at once. But by the time the treatment was winding down my guests had left and I was alone. And it was great. To have the last bit of that nasty liquid drip in and then get disconnected and bid the chemo suite adieu.

I didn’t feel anything negative in that moment. Of course it may have helped that I was wearing a pink, fringed bob wig, a feather skirt and rubberized leggings at the time. How can a person feel bad in that? Really. It’s like happiness armour.

The point is that for many people that isn’t such a triumphant moment. Or at least it is a moment of major ambivalence or even terror. Keep that in mind if you know someone going through this so that when they are finishing you say “how do you feel about being done” rather than “so you must be so excited to be done!” How the hell can you know how they are feeling? You can’t.

Back to the bridge.

Sometimes my mind wanders into troublesome places and I have to extract myself from that and force myself to take another step on that rickety-ass contraption. Force myself not to worry about the what-ifs and for the moment not to dwell, at least, on the topic. At times like that, being able to forge ahead and take that next step is sort of like having faith, but also just accepting the futility of obsessing over things over which we have very little control. Squeeze the core and advance. And don’t forget to breathe. That’s sort of what life is like even without cancer. Isn’t it? A leap of faith. Letting go. Moving forward.

In her article, Gail mentioned being a member of the club no one wants to join. I get that for sure. I wrote about that very thing. I am downright pissed off that even though I am done with treatment, I am still not really a normal person. I’m a little bit bitter about it. I think about it. It affects my actions daily. What I eat and drink. I get a little antsy if I feel that I am exceeding my self-imposed limit of alcohol (bad for cancer) or that my diet is too high in fat (bad for cancer) or sugar (bad for cancer). It irritates the hell out of me to have to think about things in this way.

You might retort: you don’t have to but rather you choose to. Fair point. But see even when I go “aw, screw it” and say, have those two chocolate Oreos and wash them down with a cup of hot chocolate despite the fact that I had a small bowl of vanilla ice cream two hours earlier, I think “oh crap that wasn’t so good.” But as my oncologist said, you have to live your life. I can’t live it on a seaweed and raw cabbage diet, people. And I can’t let myself go and not take care of myself either. I am not into extremes. So I take the middle road which goes something like this: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, indulge from time to time and try not to beat myself up about it too much.

You will say that over time this will change and I will think less about these things. This may be true. In fact I hope it is true. But knowing myself, I will always be careful. Or at least more careful than I was when I felt a little less mortal.

I got a newsletter from the lady in charge of the organic farm that delivers produce to me every week explaining that she had found a lump in her breast and had a scare but that her biopsy had come back clean and she was exhilarated and felt “immortal.” Interesting. I think if I had had that result rather than the shit luck I had I still would have come out feeling a little more mortal, not the other way around. I mean, something’s gotta get you. Think I should call her up and suggest that she might have a heart attack tomorrow? I know, probably not.

So this other thing on my mind post treatment is, go figure, boobs. Why not since they seem to be on everyone else’s mind too.

To wit: a day after the article about depression after cancer treatment was a spread in The Sunday Times magazine (the cover of which featured a model with a t-shirt on that had a rather grotesque–I thought–photo of naked breasts on it) about the longstanding obsession with breasts and how prudish we have become about naked breasts. It touched on topics such as the topless pap pics of Kate Middleton, how uncomfortable English women feel about sunbathing topless, how bipolar America is about boobs (simultaneously prudish and obsessed) and it contained a timeline about the naked breast including “historical” events such as Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. It even had a quote by Marilyn Monroe lamenting being defined by her tits (well, and ass).

I didn’t really get the whole point of it. But I guess I am jaded. The article promised that I would not think of breasts the same way after reading it. Um, whatever. Like I needed to read that to get some perspective. I mean, step into my office for a minute, honey…

Just a week ago I visited my plastic surgeon, thinking that at long last he would put back some of the saline that he was instructed to remove from my temporary implants prior to beginning radiation in June. If you didn’t read my posts about that, it had to do with exposing more of the left breast to radiation than was desirable given that my cancer had been only on the right side. (The temporary implants, called expanders, are really place-holders for my permanent implants which I should get sometime early next year. The process of inflation is to form a good “pocket” in which the permanent implants will lie). The long and short of it was that I was too, and I quote: “pumped up” for them to get the correct angle so they had to partially deflate me. It was not an awesome experience.

It has been a few months and frankly I’ve grown used to a flatter look. But for some reason, (maybe because the killing it part is over) lately, I had sort of gotten focused on getting some volume back in the rack. So I was rather nonplussed when my surgeon told me that in fact he thought we needed to wait a little longer before inflating me. The skin looked good, better than it had the last time he examined me, he assured me, but things were still a bit inflamed from the radiation and he wanted to see if they would settle down and soften up a bit. Which of course raised a number of questions. What if they don’t? What if this is as good as it gets? Will I have to settle for a smaller size? Will the surgery get screwed up regardless of size? What kind of implants should we use? Has the plan changed? Is there a plan?

I felt like yelling “but I want bigger tits and I want them NOW” à la Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Just to see what would happen.

It’s really quality not quantity that concerns me, at the end of the day. Oh shut up, male readers. I am being serious. If he can make them look decent I don’t care if they are petite. It would be nice to feel a little less like part of that club no one wants to join and a little more like just another chick with boobs, hanging out in the ladies locker room. Not that I am planning to parade around topless once I have my new set. At least not at the gym. But I might if they are really top quality. Just to see if anyone notices they’re plastic.

My surgeon once told me about a breast reconstruction patient he had once. She was an ageing rock star’s (don’t worry he didn’t tell me who) girlfriend, who the first time she came to his office, produced a tiny dress from her hand bag and said “do what you have to do but it has to look good in this.”

You know what, I can really respect that. Honey badger don’t give a shit as long as it looks good.

How I got from deep thoughts about life after treatment to this point I am not quite sure but it’s all part of that journey on the invisible bridge.

My Latest WTF Moment

It’s sort of difficult running into people who haven’t seen me since I had long wavy hair and didn’t know I had cancer. When they recognise me (and it registers) I feel somewhat apologetic at the shock and horror they experience.

Then the usual happens. After the initial surprise wears off, they ask when I found out and how I am doing and tell me I look great, which is true, of course, so I smile and thank them. Ha ha.

Once in a while I get a slightly “different” response. The latest happened just the other day, in fact. I ran into a lady I hadn’t seen (well I had seen her but from afar and she hadn’t really seen me) since last fall. Let’s call her LB for short.

After LB and I exchanged pleasantries, she touched the side of my head and said “I wanted to ask you about this haircut!” Um, yeah. Je suis très chic, dontcha know. I explained that the haircut was not my choice and then the shock and awe part happened. It happened and happened and kept on happening and there were gestures and hands clapped over the mouth and lots of “Jesuses” and even a few “fucks” thrown in for good measure. And grunts and groans. And a “but you were so healthy!” It really went on for a while. It was like watching a broken fountain: the water just came out in fits and spurts and kind of all over the place. I just stood there waiting for it to be over.

She threw in a “we thought you were making a political statement!” I considered this. Hmm. This might have been a keen assumption had I also been sporting an eyebrow piercing or a fresh tat or had I been (at that moment) worshiping the devil, cultivating armpit braids or ripping up a picture of the Pope or something of that nature. But there I was, sitting cross-legged in my premium denim (no I won’t name names cuz then you will just have to run out and buy the same jeans) and a purple J Crew merino wool sweater (don’t care if you buy that) and flats. And I was wearing my diamond studs and mascara and shit. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly channeling Sinead or a Nazi skinhead.

“Nope,” I said. Not a political statement. The malfunctioning fountain was interrupted by the speaker to whom we were supposed to be listening and as we turned our attention that way a warm wave of relief enveloped me. Saved at last. (Although during the speaker’s comments there were a few sputters and snorts, but they didn’t really rise to the level of what I consider to be verbal communication.)

Naturally LB wasn’t done with me. The questions started again the instant the speaker had finished. The pièce de résistance was when she looked at me and exclaimed “but I don’t understand; you have eyebrows and eyelashes!” “Yes,” I said. “They grew back. I didn’t have them six weeks ago.”

“Oh my God!” She cried. “What did you do? (imagine the crescendo building….) You must have looked like… a FREAK!”

Really? [Insert stupid Beavis and Butthead breathing noises and nervous laughter here.]

What did I do? Well I wore make-up. And then it was over and the shit grew back. And now here I am, for crying out loud. All freaky five feet nine (okay so maybe eight and a half) inches of me.

I’ve looked back at pictures of myself without eyebrows and eyelashes and hair and I do in fact look pretty weird without make-up on. But that is sort of besides the point, isn’t it, people?

Two excellent thoughts occurred to me during this episode:

No. 1: Thank God I didn’t run into LB while I had no eyebrows or eyelashes, the sight of which might have led to a water show that far outsputtered the one I witnessed.

No. 2: Boy will this be fun to blog about.

Luckily I have a sense of humour and am comfortable with my physical appearance. But here’s a little tip in case you aren’t sure: if you see someone who looks odd because they are bald and/or pale and/or have no eyelashes or eyebrows or you find out that at one time they didn’t have them because they had CANCER and had to have CHEMOTHERAPY for fuck’s sake, don’t say they look, or must have looked, like a freak.

Only am allowed to say that. It’s like people being allowed to make ethnic jokes about their own ethnicity.

At the end of the day I am really proud of my self-restraint. I could say a whole lot of other absolutely hilarious shit about LB now and make some truly witty ironic comments but because I am classy I don’t want to identify her.

Now if you’ll excuse me it’s Friday night and I have to get my freak on.

Roasted Armpit with a Side of Impatience

So my vacay is going pretty well and I feel great. Except for one thing.

My armpit really hurts.

My skin is healing up all nicely from the radiation but for some reason (maybe because it is an ARMPIT), there is a spot in my axilla that got rubbed raw. And it really hurts. Reminds me of one of those hot spots that our dog used to get on her bum after chewing her fur a little too vigorously to address a persistent itch. Yes, I know. Gross. I’ll refrain from photographic evidence since you all are still reeling from the super attractive thumb pics.

The rest of the area that got blasted just looks like a healing sunburn.  Sort of dry and brownish/pink. But not too awful.

Now, I realise that in the grand scheme of things this is not that big of a deal. But it is kind of pissing me off because I’ve had enough and it is cramping my style. That and the fact that my stupid thumbnail still refuses fall off. I am keen to get it off so that I can race to the nearest CVS (that’s an American pharmacy for you non-US readers) and buy me some ultra classy Lee press-on nails. Maybe with an American flag on them so that I can be patriotic and shit while I am on this side of the pond. Oh and so that I can do dishes again (not).

But enough kvetching about my leftover symptoms. Let’s talk about the good news. The good news is that my hair is growing back industrial strength. And my little head is so fuzzy that people have been rubbing it (yes, even people I don’t know that well) because it is apparently so irresistible.

It’s sort of like when you are pregnant and people feel entitled to come up and touch your tummy. I hope that in some months time when I have the final iteration of my newbs, people aren’t going to come up and cop a feel (unless of course they’ve been invited).

My eyebrows grew back so fast that I don’t even need pencil anymore. Here let me attach a photo so you can see for yourself. I will also reattach that lovely one that I took on July 13 so that you can see what a difference a few weeks makes. Both photos are with no make-up.

BEFORE (I look rather like a raw chicken, no?):


AFTER (five minutes ago):

I even have eyelashes although they are still shorties. I bought some duty-free crap on the plane over here that is supposed to make your lashes grow longer, stronger, darker and curlier. It is probably just snake oil but I had so much fun buying it I don’t care. Plus it is French. Ooh la la. If it works I am planning to put it on my upper lip as well so that I can have a nice long curly black moustache for my post-treatment new look. Just kidding.

There are some places where hair just isn’t welcome. No hair zones. Too bad you can’t pick and choose where you want it to grow back. It’s a cruel joke that after months of having smooth and kissable bare legs I will need to shave soon. Ah well.


Salt ‘N’ Pepper Chia Pet

If you are American and of a certain age and owned a television and/or visited a K-Mart growing up then you will remember the oh-so-wonderful (and giftable) Chia Pet. Here, let me refresh your recollection: click on this.

I am thinking about going to one of those make your own pottery places and doing up a head to resemble myself and then putting some seeds on that sucker and filling it up with water. Because I have been feeling sort of Chia Pet-like these past few days. But instead of green, it’s salt ‘n’ pepper chia. And it isn’t nearly as fast. I just spent the better part of an hour scrutinising my scalp to try to determine whether the itty bitty fuzzy regrowth I see is predominantly white. Under overhead lights it looks white. But in the magnifying mirror there appears to be a lot of pepper mixed in, thank God. We’ll see how it looks in a few weeks.

One extremely troublesome wrinkle is that there doesn’t seem to be any regrowth to speak of in the middle of my head. I hope it is just growing at a different pace. Because a hairdo approximating male-pattern baldness (no offence to those who suffer from it) is not the post-cancer treatment look of my dreams.

In other news I counted my eyebrows and eyelashes today, which persist in falling out five weeks after my last chemo treatment. I guess they are on their own schedule. Oh sorry — I only did the right side on which there are fourteen eyelashes — wait, make that thirteen. Dang. And twenty-four eyebrows. Trust me; this is not a lot. Drawing on the eyebrows with pencil has become sort of a daily experiment. I change it up a little every time. Not really on purpose but because I am still not used to it. One day I may just do Bozo the Clown or Bert from Sesame Street.

The benefit to all of this is that I hope to do a chemo makeover “how to” video pretty soon. I have to get on it before everything grows back. I have never done a video so expect really low budget (like it might just be me trying to film on my iPhone while applying eyeliner to myself in bad lighting) but the point is to get it up so that other women who might like a little guidance can have a look at some techniques from a real live cancer patient. Or at least it might provide a good laugh.

Meanwhile let me lay it out there for you. The “before” pic. This is what I look like right now without a single bit of make-up on. It’s dark so you can’t see my chia regrowth. Strange, hmmm? I can’t even remember what I looked like without examining pre-chemo photos. But I know it’s still me in there somewhere. Killing it.



Top Ten Reasons Not Having Use of Big-Ass Bandaged-Up Right Thumb For a Week Isn’t All Bad

Reason No. 10: One less fingernail to paint.

Reason No. 9: Makes other fingers feel more important.

Reason No. 8: Don’t even have to think about doing dishes.

Reason No. 7: Realised I can type pretty well with nine fingers.

Reason No. 6: Detracts from baldness, lack of eyebrows and eyelashes.

Reason No. 5: Good blog fodder for several entries.

Reason No. 4: One more thing to bitch about and I just love to bitch.

Reason No. 3: Easier to hitch hike. (Cars are stopping miles away now.)

Reason No. 2: Gives me something to think about other than stupid fucking cancer.

And the No. 1 Reason Not Having Use of My Big-Ass Bandaged-Up Right Thumb For a Week Isn’t All Bad: Realised at Yo-Sushi yesterday I am perfectly competent chopstick user with left hand. Now how else would I ever have found out that crucial bit of information?

All Thumb

Thanks to all you optimistic well-wishers who thought or pretended to think that the thumb would actually resolve on its own. But really? Alas, such was not the case.

Meanwhile we had plans to go to a beach party (in the 50-something degree drizzle) Saturday night in Beaulieu in the New Forest. I had some concerns about taking the thumb to the country. The first of which was whether, given its size, I might be required to purchase it a seat on the train to Brockenhurst.

I decided to risk it. Somewhat comforted by the fact that both my rads oncologist and my dermatologist (not the one at Hammersmith) had a look at it Friday and said I wasn’t in imminent danger of it exploding. When I spoke to my rads oncologist she said she really felt the nail should come off after all, so we could clean up the area and get a proper look at things. Her people made me an appointment to see a “Taxol nail” specialist on Tuesday (that would have been today) to determine whether the eleventh-hour diagnosis from the dermatologist at Hammersmith Hospital last Wednesday was correct, and presumably, to remove the nail. Delightful.

So off we went Saturday morning to Waterloo Station to catch our train.

It decided to rain all day so we ate lunch and then lazed about at a charming 350-year-old B&B (Pepperbox House) on the High Street in Beaulieu, napping (well not me cuz I don’t nap) and reading. I finished Solar. We dressed for the party, the theme of which was verdant green. I did wear a nice bright green cardy. But I had to whip out Candy Floss — surely you know her by now — for the finishing touch. Very pink and very green but not at all preppy. Not easy to do, that look, but I think it worked. And white jeans of course because they are so practical in the rain. And platform espadrilles — also a solid choice for soggy outings.

Sorry but I don’t have a photo.

There was a lot of green at the party, including Astroturf in lieu of carpet which I thought was a groovy concept. I might have to put some under my dining room table. Just think, it would be like having a picnic every meal! Neat! And no water required. Just add food and ants.

The party was quirky and fun. A hodge podge of people of varying ages and plenty of finger sandwiches, Pimms, wine, kiwi mojitos (I should have had one), cakes and later smoked pig and home-made pizza. There was a sassy magician with a dry sense of humour and a chihuahua, and a ukulele band from Bristol (?).

The girls dragged Bill outside and collected seashells from the beach in the whipping wind and watched the horses gallop around. In Beaulieu there is a law or something that animals can roam free and graze where they want to so there are horses and cows and other four-legged critters everywhere you look. Sometimes they all decide to cross the street together and stop traffic. I would like to have that kind of attitude. Just decide to wander into traffic and fully expect it to stop. Devil may care.

We decided to pull out at about 9:45 because it was getting late for the kiddies. They didn’t get to sleep until about 11. Oops. For a change we each took a child and a room so I slept with Isabel. That night my thumb started to hurt again and woke me up about four times. I was also awakened by Isabel who in the middle of the night started vigorously stroking my bald head. I wondered what the hell she was doing and rolled over to look at her. Her eyes were open but unfocused and she was clearly fast asleep. Must have been an interesting dream. Too bad we will never know whatthat was about.

Come Sunday morning the pain was bad and the thumb looked terrible. Even worse than the day before.  See Exhibit A below.

Now I ask you, if you were walking around with this thing for several weeks would you not have a hard time focusing on other things? Needless to say I was concerned about and distracted by my right thumb. I couldn’t ignore it because every time I tried to do anything there it was.

Saturday afternoon my dermatologist called and arranged for me to have an MRI Monday morning to check (again) if there was a collection under the nail or any evidence of bone infection. When I went to get it yesterday morning, after getting up early, taking a taxi there and changing into a gown, robe and slippers, and then waiting, they asked if I had any bits or pieces in my body and I told them about my boob expanders with magnetic ports. I had figured they would be all right because the MRI was just of my thumb. Not so. Apparently the whole thing acts as a magnet so once you walk through the door you are no longer in the safe zone. I had images of my expanders busting (pun intended) through my chest. “I’m not going anywhere near that thing,” I said.

So I decided to use modern technology to my advantage and texted my dermatologist. No can do MRI due to bionic tits, I said. Or something to that effect. Do u want me to get ultrasound while I’m here? He responded immediately. Yes he was down with that plan. Or something to that effect. So we did one and guess what? There was a big-ass collection of fluid behind the nail, 7mm deep. Gee, I wonder why it was deformed and uncomfortable. He said it would be sensible (I love the English) to see a hand surgeon and could I try to get an urgent appointment. By the way do you Americans and persons other than the English know why surgeons are referred to as “Mr” rather than “Dr?” I do but I’m not going to tell you right now. Maybe later. If you’re nice.

Anyhow I called and they squeezed me in for yesterday afternoon. Turned out the hand guy was at the same office as my boob guy. Good karma, I figured. I liked him and his confident but not at all cocky manner.

If you get queasy easily or are eating a big juicy burger right now, please read on.

Bill and I spoke with him for a while. Then he took me into the back while Bill was banished to the waiting room.

He shot the base of my thumb several times with local anaesthetic with an enormous needle and proceeded to drain that sucker. Out came about 10ml of bloody fluid, not counting the part that gushed out and wasn’t collected in a small vial. Then he sliced the nail away from the bed at each side and folded the nail back like a hatch. He made a tourniquet out of a rubber glove and clamp the base of my thumb to stop the bleeding and examined the nail bed. It looked good. Pink and healthy. No obvious sign of infection. He cleaned it thoroughly with saline. After this, he decided to leave the nail attached at the base because he saw the new nail growing underneath (which he showed me) and didn’t want to disturb it or further traumatise the area. The collection had been so impressive and the pressure so great that the nail bed was concave like the basin of a pond. After all of this, however, the thumb was much closer to its original size. It started resembling a thumb again rather than an unhealthy sausage.

Finally, he dressed it by inserting a piece of gauze between the nail and the nail bed and wrapping the thumb with gauze and more gauze. Until it looked like a small white potato.

So now I have this big white thumb for the next week. Should come in handy if I decided to hitch-hike to radiation.

Who knew killing it would be fraught with so many weird-ass side effects. I give this one a big thumbs down. But here’s to hoping that it is finally on its way to resolution, with a lot of help from Mr Hand Surgeon.


There is some required reading prior to delving into this post, people. I know. You feel like you’re back in school. Sorry if that gives you nightmares. But here’s the deal: If you have not read Boob Retrospective or if you read it ages ago and it is not fresh in your mind, you should read it now so that you know what I am talking about.

I had a shitty morning. I was minding my own business, cooking up some scrambled eggs for my five-year-old, when the phone rang. It was my radiation oncologist. I answered and she thought I was my husband. I guess my voice was a bit deep because I hadn’t been up that long. I figured she was about to tell me that all systems were go for my radiation starting on Monday after getting the scan results from last Friday.

But no.

What she told me, rather, was that they were going to have to take some of the saline OUT of my expanders before beginning radiation because otherwise it would cause me to get some radiation to the left breast. (They don’t want to deliver any radiation where it isn’t needed for obvious reasons and if heaven forbid you should ever need any to that area in the future you have problems if it has already been irradiated).

Because I was in front of my children I held it together and finished cooking the breakfast. But then I went into my room and had a good cry. I mean for fuck’s sake. Here I am, finally a sunny day in London, and no more every other Thursday chemo to contend with, and now this Thursday I get to visit the plastic surgeon so he can make my boobs… smaller. By 4 centimetres. Talk about reverse progress.

I can assure you this is not going to look good. I don’t mind so much about the flatness, but it will get all wrinkly, particularly at the top and on the sides where the expanders don’t have much fluid in them. And I get to go through the next six weeks in London and then enjoy my beach vacation like that. Really good for a girl’s self-image. It’s a lucky thing I haven’t gone swimsuit shopping yet. That’s sure to be a barrel of laughs. “Um, yeah, do you have anything that will work with… this?”

The day after the deflation I must have yet another radiation planning scan and then the whole delays my treatment by two days. “But I already bought plane tickets for the US and we were leaving the day after my treatment ended.” I said. My radiation oncologist said that we could double up on two days provided the treatments are at least six hours apart. And that I could get reinflated “right away.” But naturally I won’t be here to get reinflated. I will be in the United States on my bloody vacation, won’t I. Wearing a potato sack.

I really shouldn’t complain, seeing as I have my scalp and mole biopsies to look forward to next Tuesday. That and I found this weird little lumpy thingie on my right arm yesterday and believe you me, once you find a little lump on your body that ends up being a tumour, you do NOT like to find any little lumpy thingies anywhere else. At all.

I am sure (and I am assured via telephone) that this is nothing. However, I don’t like it.

My plastic surgeon was in surgery all day today so I have not been able to speak to him about my impending deflation. I am certain he is no less unhappy than I am about having to undo his slow, steady expansion. Alas. Sucker punched again.

Well, screw all of that. I was meeting my glamorous Parisian friend, Marie, for lunch today at a little place called Cocomaya. So I went for a brisk half hour walk in the neighbourhood, it then being too late for me to get to the gym and back before lunch. Then I put on my lowest cut shirt, showing off my fresh cleavage tattoo. I figure I might as well display what I’ve got before it’s stolen away from me on Thursday morning.

And I went out and had a very nice time with my friend. After lunch I walked through Hyde Park to Harrods to see about the big sale that’s on. I really need to go horseback riding in Hyde Park one day soon. I haven’t been horseback riding in ages.

Of course Harrods was mobbed with (mostly irritating) people. Including one red-faced old bag who yelled at the nice man behind the loose tea counter as he was assisting me “what are you the only one working behind this counter now?” “Yes, madam.” “What the others are all on tea break are they?” “Yes, madam.” “Bloody hell!” I thought she might reach across the counter to strangle him. I suppose this would have been an opportune moment for me to whip off my headscarf and say “is it all right with you, madam, if the nice man finishes helping a cancer patient who is about to have her boobs taken away (again)?” But I am sure she wouldn’t have given a shit (especially since she was probably drunk) so I completely ignored her and just slowed down my order a bit.

I bought strawberry and mango black teas and this lotus situation that comes in an unremarkable little pod but then opens into a gorgeous flower once you pour boiling water over it. I guess I have to see my own situation this way. I am just in my pod phase. Soon I will bloom again (just please don’t pour boiling water on me).

Following that I bought some fresh cod (you may as well pick up something for din din if you find yourself at Harrods in the late afternoon) and some very fine artisanal chocolates. When I got home I gave each child one chocolate and then I gave myself three. This was met with mild outrage by the seven-year-old but I looked her straight in the eye and said “Mommy had a hard day.” And then I popped that third one into my mouth and savoured it. No guilt whatsoever.

I had my eighth and final chemotherapy treatment two weeks ago this coming Thursday. Every Tuesday night before a Thursday chemo I used to think, I have one more day. One more day to feel normal before they hit me again. This week was going to be a day when I didn’t have to think that. But now I am thinking I have one more day. One more day to look (somewhat) normal before they take my newbs away for about eight weeks, just in time for summer. One more day. One more thing to endure. One more festering turd on the road to killing it.

Of course I’ll be a good sport. I will embrace the flat look. Make it work for me. Conceal the wrinkly bits if they show. Get a padded bra or shove a chick fillet in there to plump things up.

And I will still be me. Because they can’t take that away from me.


Zero Plus Seven

Here we are seven days after my last chemotherapy treatment. I figure I have about another week or so of current side effects settling down and maybe a few new ones popping up and then I am on the downhill road to recovery from that mess.

Right now I am experiencing one of my least favourite, yet still manageable, symptoms. Pain under my finger nails. It makes it hard to do things with my hands, like open bottle caps and fire handguns and such. It is an annoying reminder that my body is still processing the last of the poison.

But to know that this is it, the last time, is truly a great feeling. I figure in a few days some dermatological nonsense will pop out somewhere and following that I will be pretty much home free.

Just in the nick of time too. My remaining eyebrows and lashes are getting pretty lonely and they would like to invite their friends to come back and play. I have given up on mascara and now just do eyeliner right in the lash line so I don’t look too much like my eighty-three-year-old father (sorry, Dad, you still look good, but I am forty-three years your junior and female and it isn’t the look I’m going for).

That and I fill in the holes in my eyebrows with an eyebrow pencil, which I have never previously had to do. Hell, I didn’t even own an eyebrow pencil before. I’m getting pretty good at it but it isn’t a skill I’d like to continue to hone. Some people say that post chemo their lashes and brows never really came back as thick as they were before. With my luck that will happen yet I will grow back a raging moustache and side burns and some industrial leg hair.  Attractive.

Wanna hear the latest thing? My dermatologist wants to biopsy the shingles scar on my head. Just in case. She said she isn’t thrilled with how it has healed. Really? Give a girl a break. I have been on chemo and it was a really nasty scab… so it’s still a bit discoloured. Geez. But okay cut me again. That and I am having a dark mole on my right forearm removed and biopsied. If that fucker even thinks about coming back abnormal I am going to go postal.

In other news we made a delicious recipe from The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen tonight. A Mediterranean salad with lentils, cucumber, red pepper, mint, parsley, a little feta and some other exciting ingredients. That and some super fresh melt-in-your-mouth halibut from the mean fishmonger (see All Dressed Up and No Place To Go if you aren’t familiar with the mean fishmonger). The last time Agnieszka (our nanny) was there though they smiled at her (both of them!) and she didn’t even have to work for it. We might get to the point where we take bets on what mood they will be in on any given day.

Smile or no smile I have been eating more fish. And I need to eat still more. Including the oily varieties that are crammed with Omega 3 fatty acids and come in tins and are quite fishy. I need to embrace the mackerel and the sardine. And I can actually handle that, though no one else may be able to handle my killer breath after such a repast. Aw, well. Not all of me can be sexy all the time.

Tomorrow morning I have my CT scan and tattoos (yes they make little tattoos like freckles so they know where to line up the machine every time) for my radiation. That ought to be a barrel of laughs. Maybe I will have them do some extra tattoos while they are at it. Submit your proposals now for what it should say on the back of my head before it’s too late and my hair has grown back. (I was thinking in terms of Leave My Fucking Shingles Scar Alone or something equally catchy).

Well, I have to get into that third Hunger Games book now and eat a piece of dark chocolate for medicinal purposes. Have a good night.