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 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.



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.

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.

‘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?


You know what’s great? The second chemo drug I am on, Taxol, has not caused me the queasiness, metal mouth, taste bud changes and other annoying shit that the first drugs (AC) caused. Consequently I’ve been eating my way through the month of May. And cooking up a storm. I’ve definitely put on a couple pounds because of it too, which probably isn’t a bad thing.

You might think that cooking is the last thing a chemo patient would want to do. But it’s become one of my favourite activities. Makes me feel rejuvenated. Healthy. In control of what I’m eating and what I’m tasting. ALIVE. It’s, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing.

I really have to thank my friend, Dee, who gifted me The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz. This is not just a cookbook for people who have, had or are being treated for cancer. It’s something anyone can enjoy if the name doesn’t give you the schkeeves. And if it does would you put-lease just grow up and get over it? Who couldn’t use some good cancer-fighting chow in his kitchen, anyhow?

Tonight I made carrot fennel soup. I bought this ridiculously overpriced American blender (the Blendtek) and I have been using it a lot to justify the price tag. Well, it was my fortieth birthday present to myself, so it didn’t require that much justification. But still. I’ve been having fresh fruit and vegetables delivered every week from an organic farm (no it isn’t Abel & Cole so don’t ask me that) and the fun part is that I never know what’s coming. So when the ingredients arrive, I take a look and figure out what I’m going to make.

The cookbook has had a recipe for me every time. Tonight’s contained olive oil, onion, fennel, carrots, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, red pepper flakes, sea salt, orange zest, fresh orange and lemon juice and vegetable broth. Ooh and a dash of maple syrup. That’s right! There’s nothing bad for you in there (unless you put too much salt or syrup but we don’t do that here).

One of my kids said it was delicious. The other one didn’t rave but at least kept dipping her green beans in it during the meal. I had two bowls. And my husband will be home soon so I better hear spoon scraping the bottom of the bowl in the next thirty minutes. Or I’ll be pissed (in the American sense — I am not on a bender).

I’d like to give some to the crying baby next door, maybe with an extra dose of red pepper flakes for the parents. I swear these people don’t know how to put a child to sleep. Two days with me and the kid would go right to bed. It seriously cries every night and we have been here almost a year. WTF.

This book contains a glossary of ingredients and their cancer-fighting properties. I haven’t vetted the science behind the claims but the recipes are great and easy, the food tastes wonderful and it all makes me feel so… so… so… cancer free. So I think it is working. Helping me kill it but in a very tasty way. Lots more fun than surgery, chemo and radiation combined.

So thank you, Dee, for this wonderful gift that just keeps on giving. I can’t wait until the next farm delivery so I can whip up another winner. And I need to have you over soon so that I can show you what all the fuss is about.

Why I’m Lucky

Yeah, I know. This is a loaded title. There are just too many ways and too many things I can think of. But I am going to start with a couple of ideas and maybe soon there will need to be a part deux, trois and even quatre.

I am tolerating the Taxol pretty well. For you newcomers or those who just, ahem, haven’t been keeping up to speed (tsssk tsssk), that is the chemo drug that I am currently on. Sure, I have a couple of irritating little side effects, but nothing the honey badger can’t handle. One of them is zits (or as the English like to say, “spots” which is what I thought one found on a dalmatian). Yes. I broke out. Ridiculous. Hair loss, then a break out. My young and gorgeous gal pal and fellow survivor pointed out to me at lunch the other day that it’s like going through puberty in reverse. Throw in that I had to give up my boobs and that something else (if you catch my drift) hasn’t shown up in a while and she’s really got a point.

So I decided I didn’t need to be dealing with that bullshit (the pimples, people) and went straight to the dermatologist (okay full disclosure I also had some irritating little rashies developing on my hands and head… so it was a multi-purpose visit) who promptly put me on something to curtail that unwanted effect. It’s working. Part of feeling good is looking good, right? Balk if you will, but to me this is important. To the dermatologist too. Which is why I love her.

When you think about it, it is not at all surprising that one might erupt on the outside given what’s going on on the inside of one’s bod at the moment, no? No.

So what else? Bone pain. Not bad, just a little. Not enough for me to run out and buy the cane (read Countdown if this isn’t ringing a bell) but enough to remind me I have bones and they hurt. Just the legs so far. I don’t even need Tylenol (sorry Brits — Paracetamol). Just a little homeopathic stuff and I can deal. In fact I’ll pop one right now… excuse me. There.

And for some reason it hurts under my finger nails, especially my right thumb. I took off my fingernail polish yesterday to investigate and lo and behold there was some brown discolouration under there. I had read that this could happen. In fact your entire nail can fall off. (Ew!)

Oh — sorry. I am rambling and you are confused. This is where the “why I am lucky” part comes in, in case you were wondering what the hell the title was about since all I have done thus far is bitch about insignificant side effects. I’m getting there…

Today I visited the nail salon to get a polish change on my fingernails and a pedicure. I wanted to see if there was more brown discolouration under my toenails and get new polish on all the nails to strengthen and protect them. I do a lot with my hands (cook, mow the lawn (really), give my kids a bath, you name it), so it is pretty annoying to feel weakness and vulnerability in that area.

So I was chatting to the aesthetician about all of this when I noticed a woman watching me and slowly approaching. Call her Greta. I would say she was about sixty-five. Short white hair, blue eyes, one eye completely dilated. Attractive.

Turns out she was a fellow breast cancer survivor and had heard me talking about it.

She was about six months out from treatment, having gone through a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But unlike me, she did not have an easy breezy time of it. She ended up in the hospital for three weeks during chemo because her white blood cell count didn’t rise as it should have despite her having had immune booster shots (as I do) after every treatment. Her right eye was dilated because she had developed a serious infection in that eye and they were now watching it closely — the outcome unclear. She had a prosthetic breast and hadn’t had a reconstruction because her body couldn’t tolerate it after chemo. She had had a hell of a time. But there she was, out and about, standing before me. Dealing. And she was lovely.

She was also both empathetic and encouraging, without any preachiness or gloom, unlike previous “mentors” I may have unwittingly had (see Assaulted at the Global Festival: Things Not to Say to a Cancer Patient for that story). She didn’t tell me how I was going to feel or prescribe anything except courage, basically. I really liked her. I hope I see here there again.

She made me feel like I am having a cake walk. Just an inconvenience. Just a few months out of my year so that I can kill this piece of crap and get on with my life, thank you very much.

I’m not Job, sitting on that dung heap. No sir. I’ve had way too easy a time of it.

I’m lucky.