Cancer 101

So obviously there are no rules to cancer or the treatments that may follow. No rules. No map. No way of teaching. Nothing. And that means there is no actual way I can tell you how to deal with cancer and the treatment that comes with it. All I can do is give you an insight to the symptoms and effects I experienced with the treatment I recieved.
According to Cancer Research UK‘s website, 1 in 2 people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer durning their lifetime.
I have found that since starting my blog I have had a few people contact me on what to expect when they undergo chemotherapy. What to expect, how can they prepare themselves, etc. So below I have created a post on what to expect and what is good to know before treatment begins. Whether you are just curious, about to go through treatment yourself or know of someone that may find this helpful and you’re just doing some research, please be aware that this is what I discovered for myself, experiences vary and you may find you have more symptoms than what I did or if you are lucky, less! My experience is UK based under the care of the NHS with Intravenous Chemotherapy and External Radiotherapy. I’ve also had Internal Radiotherapy known as Brachytherapy but this is not discussed in this post. There are hundreds of varieties of chemotherapy and can be given in different forms. If you would like more of an overview of chemotherapy then click here. You can also find more indepth information here which may answer any questions you may have. The Chemotherapy drugs I have experienced are Paclitaxel, Carboplatin and Cisplatin.
Feel free to message me if I have missed something or if you want me to go into more depth in certain areas! You can also find at the bottom of this page some relavent links to previous posts I have created when undergoing treatment. If you find you want more, then I have set up an easier system where you can now look back on older posts too. Take a look under the archive, it is linked in the drop down menu above, under the heading “blog” or if you prefer click here. If you are that dedicated then Kudos! I’m grateful that I have been of some use!

 

OK, first things first, don’t believe everything you’ve heard about chemo. Some chemo’s you don’t lose your hair. My first chemo actually made me feel better and function for a few days. If you are sick or feel nauseous constantly then tell the nursing team. There’s no need to feel like that any more. They have hundreds of varieties of anti-sickness. Pills, powders, dissolvables the lot.

If you haven’t started chemo yet and have time, book a dentists appointment for a check up. I would still do it even if you’ve been there in the last couple of months. It keeps them in the loop of your condition but also they may do any work before chemo begins if it needs it. Dentist’s don’t like to touch you, unless they absolutely have to, when you’re undergoing treatment.

If it’s a long infusion, as in you’re in for the day, take a supply. Lunch will be provided for the person going through treatment but not for any others who join you for company. Take a blanket to keep warm, then you don’t have to worry about taking jumpers on and off before being hooked up to the IV. Also I found I was always on the colder side as sometimes the chemo going into me was on the cool side and that does make you cold fast.

Take snacks. I called it my junk food treat bag. Whatever you want take it. Take plenty. Eat it whenever you want too. It’s for you and the person going with you because they will need it as much as you.

Books, puzzles, TV series, movies, music, if you have the option to download and bring it with you, do it. But don’t be surprised if you don’t have the function or attention span to use any of it. I pretty much slept the whole time. But it’s there for your chemo buddy.

Don’t be proud, have a chemo buddy!! It’s easier to be with someone then on your own.

Take warm socks. If they have a grip to the base of them then you don’t have to worry about the faff of taking your shoes on and off.

If you’re in for a long infusion, and you can, ask for a port for your chemo. This is something I discovered recently and wished I asked for it for myself! They don’t tend to like to do it unless they have to, or you’re further into your chemo program. But it’s easier and kinder to you when administering the drugs. You then won’t have to be jabbed everytime to get a cannula in and worry about collapsed veins. Chemo can be harsh on the veins and can toughen them if used too often which can make it sore for you. If you don’t have a port then make sure you rotate arms each time. With a port, you just can’t get it wet but if I’m right in thinking, there’s waterproof sheaths to put over them that the nurses can supply you with.

If you take any non-prescriptive supplements talk to your oncology team to see if its OK to still take them. Some supplements can interfere with the chemo.

Not all chemos make you lose your hair. My first chemo I half lost it. It just thinned a lot. Second chemo I lost it all. Don’t be surprised if you find you have patches of baldness. First lot of chemo made me look like I had a monk cut! Bald on top but hair around the sides. Alternatively, your hair can go all in one go! Second lot of chemo I knew I was gonna lose it all in one go, I could feel it! No time for clippering, no preperation.

There are options to prevent hair loss like the cold cap. That’s personal if you want to use it. Depends on who you talk to on how it feels. Some don’t like it, some feel nothing of it. It basically cools the head down to keep the hair follicles cool to prevent the chemo damaging the hair follicle and prevent hair loss. Using a cold cap doesn’t always work though! My second chemo was strong and a cold cap would never have prevented me from losing my hair.

If you lose hair and want a wig you will have to pay. However if you are in hospital and have chemo when admitted (the day unit is not included) then you can get a prescription and it will be free.

All prescriptions are now free. Make sure you fill in a medical exemption certificate.

Car parking should be free when under chemo and radiotherapy… Just check with the hospital you attend…  I hope it’s not just available at my hospital!!

Eat what you want whenever you want. As my chemo was in 3 week cycles I found I didn’t eat a lot for the first week then a bit more by the second then a lot on the third to build me up for the chemo. Eat junk but also eat healthy… If you can! You may find textures and flavours change. I lost my taste buds the first week of my chemo cycle so strong flavours worked best for me. Meats and fats made me feel sick and were the kickstarter to queasiness if I ate them. By the end of chemo, once it had built up in my body the things that I found in the first week of the cycle were staying with me. So eat whatever you can and what ever you damn well please!!!

Look after your hands and feet. Neuropathy (numbness) is common in these areas during and after chemo. I still have neuropathy in the balls of my feet and I’m 7 months post chemo. It may come back but it may not. Keeping active can help. A brief short walk is good enough.

If you can, get out everyday. Even if its for 5 minutes. But be sensible. Don’t go in the rain and get wet. Avoid anyone with a cold or even a sniffle.

Listen to your body. You’re gonna feel tired. Sleep! Don’t over do it and compare it to what you used to be able to do.

Chemo brain is a thing. You may experience forgetfulness or find it hard to function or even pay attention. For a few days after chemo I zoned out on everything. I couldn’t pay attention to anything. It’s common to find you’re forgetful for weeks/months after it has all finished.

Keep your mouth healthy. If you already suffer from mouth ulcers then talk to your team. They may be able to suggest a good mouth wash that will help. Chemo can give you bad mouth ulcers. This is not something I found I suffered with myself so my experience is limited here.

Keep well moisturised. Chemo will make your skin dry and it will prevent any soreness from occurring. Don’t use perfumed moisturisers. If you are having radiotherapy too only use what they recommend. Cetraben or any similar brands that can come on prescription are fine. DON’T USE ANY OILS!!! AT ALL!!! Aveeno is a good moisturiser brand that you can pick up anywhere and can be still used if you’re undergoing radiotherapy too.

Discolouration or damage can occur to the nails. Ridges, lines, bruising or even the nail itself can fall off. Don’t be surprised if this happens. This didn’t happen to me but I found mine went very brittle. As a beauty therapist, I have had clients who have been advised by the nursing staff themselves to get their nails done. With Gels or normal nail paint is fine, but not Acrylics!! You won’t have the strength there if they’re on the weaker side, if you go for normal nail paint as to UV Gels. They advise this for one, so you don’t see the discolouration to the nail and two, so you have a bit of strength for the nail which may preserve them. Go for the darker shades if you do happen to have discolouration. You may find that still having regular manicures may not preserve the nail or you may find they drop off after treatment is complete. It takes a good 6 months for fingernails to grow from the base to the top, 12 months for toe nails, so be patient.

You are probably going find everyone has an opinion on what you should try to do to beat cancer. Juicing, going organic, turmuric, cannabis oil, aloe vera. All of these I’ve been told to try by others (who have not had cancer). Take it with a pinch of salt. Whatever you do though DO NOT TRY ANYTHING WITHOUT TALKING TO YOUR ONCOLOGY TEAM. A lot of these things can interfere with chemo and can actually compromise you. Although you’ve probably heard “chemo is a poision” there’s a reason it’s the number 1 go to drug still. Most of these “remedies” are still very much unknown and media stories don’t help. If you dig deeper you’ll find they’ve actually had chemo at some point or surgery along the way.

If you have radiotherapy in the stomach region, be careful of heartburn. The second lot of radiotherapy I had gave me odd bout’s of sickness. I found avoiding oily foods helped. Take anti-sickness if you find it but also tell your doctor. They may put you on a stomach settler to help and prevent. My dad also read of a story of someone who had radiotherapy near his head. He had a mouthful of metal filings and radiotherapy heated these up and gave him bad mouth sores! Again talk to your Radiotherapy team if you have the old style metal filings because they may be able to change them for the more modern filings before treatment begins. It could be a case that it doesnt matter, if your radiotherapy sessions are short and few then it may not be a problem. Each radiotherapy program is different. My first lot of radiotherapy was 15 minutes each appointment for 36 sessions as where my second lot of radiotherapy was no more than 3 minutes and I had 12 sessions there.

Same goes, if in chemo or radiotherapy you get an upset stomach, there are pills to help.

Some anti-sickness pills can be steroids or they may provide you with steroids before your chemo infusion. This can cause the usual steroid symptoms. Added weight, restless leg syndrome, a boost in energy for periods of time… usually at inapropriate times like 3am!

Phew… Ok, I think that is everything that I can think of. If I remember anything else then I’ll add it on. You can also check out some of my older posts that I created when going through treatment. Take a look back on those, if they don’t help then feel free to drop me a message! There are loads of different ways cancer can be treated, so please dont be alarmed if I haven’t talked about any experiences you have had or can’t find the information you are looking for. For any other treatments then please take a look here.

A life of crackers and coke

Hair today, gone tomorrow

When in doubt just add hairspray!

When you become a real life zombie

Chemo 21 and counting… 

Chemo: it’s not me, it’s you!

Baby, it’s just never gonna happen

The power of puppy cuddles and good brows

I like an easy life these days. Since losing my hair the care for my appearance has dropped a fair bit. I’m not self conscious about my looks or anything,  I’m just not bothered by how people perceive me. From someone who was heavily involved in the beauty industry and had a fairly structured skincare routine from the age of 12 I’ve surprised myself.
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This is me au naturel! Sneaking in cuddles with my new puppa Hugo 😁

I haven’t quite lost all my eyebrows and eyelashes but they’ve massively dropped out. When I’m without make up,  I’m fairly featureless. So without hair and pretty much no eyelashes and eyebrows,  I thought I’d give a few easy products a go!

Before all this cancer drama,  I would say I filled in my eyebrows fairly heavily… Even though I probably didn’t need to. So to find a product that makes my life so much easier without going into the dramatic side of permanent make up makes me scream with delight.

Maybelline’s tattoo brow is a gel like brow product that tints your brows and the surrounding skin.

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I’ve used light brown. I would have normally gone for dark brown but having no hair, I’ve toned down the colour for a more subtle appearance

You apply the gel and leave it on for 20 minutes for an all day wear. Now the best bit that makes my simple easy life all the more better is that if you leave the product on for 2-3 hours it can last up to 3 days!! 🤗

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The colour is harsh but this is just the guide colour! I promise!
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After a couple of hours I peel it off. Go with the hair so you don’t pull any hairs out. Don’t worry it’s very gentle, it doesn’t hurt.

I find as my skin care routine is pretty shocking these days and you’re lucky if you catch me on a day that I shower, I find that the gel tattoo can last me up to 5 days.

Thankfully being a beauty therapist, getting the brow shape matching doesn’t take too much time. However if you’re new to any kind of brow product or don’t feel too confident it’s probably best to practice with a normal brow powder or pencil first. The gel is pretty forgiving in removal if it’s wet and you remove it straight away but if you leave it to set, then it will stain the skin beneath and you’ll be left with that error unless you scrub a fair bit.

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YAY! The brows are back in a nice subtle shade

I tried the new fad of magnetic eyelashes too. They’re an “easier” alternative to strip lashes that use glue. With my eyelashes quite sparse and thin I thought strip lashes would preserve those that I have left as I won’t be aggravating the area like I would if I used mascara and the whole removal process with it. I’m shit with the normal glue strip lashes so the magnetic lashes sounded right up my street!

Well… That one wasn’t such a great one. They ended up making me look like a toy doll. And not in a good way. They stuck on pretty well but they were too straight and unnatural against the lash line and I looked like a twat.

So I’ll keep with my new fave product for brows but that’ll probably be as far as I’ll go.

In other news… Last last week was a pretty rough week! From having shingles, then chemo,  I got a cold straight on top of it all. I have to say it is the absolute WORST I have ever felt during all of this. It is the first time I can say that I actually didn’t want to get out of bed. I pride myself on the the fact that I’ve never moped about and always kept somewhat of a routine. The only reason I did actually get out if bed was because I had a doctors appointment to see how my shingles was going 🙄

Thankfully after some strong pills and a lot of rest and relaxation I’m almost back to normal.

I’ve had a little help in my recovery this week too…

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Meet my new puppa Hugo! 🤗

When narcissism is replaced with blissful oblivion

I’m in a really good place right now. I’m not sure what made me turn this corner and see things differently and I can’t tell you the secret on how I did it. It’s just something I’ve noticed in myself in the last few weeks. It’s probably my I-don’t-give-a-fuck-attitude but I don’t think it’s all that.

There’s just contentment. Weird I know in the state my life is in right now. I don’t know how I can explain it… Cancer is very much still in the forefront of my mind 24/7 but I’m not letting it rule my life. I mean obviously it does, but I guess I’m less bothered about it? Oh gosh, this is hard to write… I mean I’m bothered by the status of which direction it’s taking me in my life but I’m dealing with it.

I guess there is no word that exists for how I feel. Because any positive word detracts from what is going on and I’m still very much involved with it all. Positive words make it seem OK and makes it minor but this cancer isn’t minor. It’s a huge, horrible thing going on. It’s up all in my life saying “look at me!”.
Negative words make it all sad and worse than it is. I mean it’s bad… The worst it could be, but if I let that rule my life then I wouldn’t be the person that I am.

It seems strange, but I think my turning point was when I lost my hair. There was something very liberating about it. I really couldn’t give two shits about what people think when they see me. If you knew me a couple of years ago, you would have known I wouldn’t have gone to the supermarket without even doing my make up! 🙈 I look back on that now and think how shallow?! But then I think it was a time where my biggest dilemma in life was deciding what my plans were for the weekend… Oh how nice it would be to be back there. Narcissism and all.

When I’m out and about I’m very much aware on how people look at me. And to be fair their reactions surprised me. Most people didn’t care. They didn’t do a double take. They didn’t stare. They just went about their normal business.
To be honest though, I only go out when I’m well so they may look at me like I’ve just decided to shave my head. It seems to be a popular thing at the moment.

I say most people because I have seen people stare at me. And weirdly enough it’s the older generation and they’re in no way subtle about it. They literally stop dead still, stand and stare. And they don’t even look away when I catch them doing it! 😂 I don’t let them get away with it (that’s the best bit about having cancer, you really don’t give a shit) I’m not sure why the older generation are so obvious. Because those who know me, know subtly is lost on me so they really could get away with it if they’re discreet. I’m not sure what they’re seeing… Maybe I’ll ask next time I catch them staring. A walking time bomb… Cancer… Or just a fashion statement? I’m just not sure.

Now the weather is getting colder I’ve had to buy a hat so I blend in better with everyone else. I don’t care about blending in, but it’s freaking cold when you have no hair!! I’ve also gotta be sensible about these things. I can’t risk getting a cold for how I look for the sake of being defiantly different.

I’m playing the big fun game of waiting again. I don’t really know what’s going on until I’ve had my 3rd round of chemotherapy and they can scan me again to see what the cancer is doing. I’m not so bothered that I’m playing the waiting game this time round. Last time it was torture. The not knowing. But this time… I’m in this blissful place of oblivion. I guess you could say it’s a form of denial. But lately after every waiting game I play I seem to get bad news. So yes, maybe it’s a form of self preservation but I feel good in myself and how I feel, so this waiting game at the moment I am fine with. And I can play it a lot longer if it means I don’t have to find out the outcome. But that will never happen. I will find out my fate eventually no matter how much I mentally scream and cover my ears.

When in doubt just add hairspray!

I’m trying to keep these posts with a bit of variety coz I don’t want to be that boring cancer story. But really how interesting can you keep this topic?

So I lost all my hair. I told you it was happening but I bet you didn’t think it would all happen in one go. Haha. So I had a really good week where I was busy out visiting friends and this was the week where my head hurt. So by that weekend if I really tried I could have pulled it all out. But I wanted to keep it in for the weekend as I was out with friends and I didn’t wanna look like “that” person. So I just hairsprayed the shit out of it all. I figured if hairspray can normally keep a style in place it can keep my hair from falling out too, right? Haha. Well believe me… There was no disaster! It worked! So by the time bank holiday Monday came round I didn’t think I could push it for any longer. So I went outside and just started pulling… And pulling… And pulling. It didn’t hurt. By this point I think it was just sitting in the hair follicle. By the end of it all it looked liked I’d just brushed a big fluffy dog but unfortunately there was no dog to cuddle at the end of it 😂

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👆🏻Yep, all my own! No dogs involved!

I was OK about it all, I mean it took me a while to get used to looking at myself in the mirror every time I came across one and I have major tan line issues going on but I’m OK with it. This is just another factor of cancer I have to deal with. It just annoys me that I now look like the cancer victim. Before I could hide it pretty well and pretend to be normal but there’s no denying what I’m going through now. I’m still not doing the wig route. I don’t see the point. It’s obvious what they are and they’re never nicely made. And the whole head scarf look is worse! That’s just highlighting the fact of what you’re going through. So I may be a beacon of light with my pastey white head but at least I’m still being me.

I haven’t lost my eyebrows or eyelashes yet. I expect I will and I’m gutted that I probably will. Because that is the epitome of “cancer victim” and you lose all your features so you look sick no matter what… But ah well… As with everything else we’ll cross that bridge when I come to it!

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I may blend into the wall in the background but it’s not that bad 😂

Hair today, gone tomorrow

It’s been a good week this week. I mean a really good week. This is what I was hoping for going through chemo. I’d have my bad days but I’d also have my really good days where I feel normal again.

Its funny, I look at myself in the mirror and when it’s like now, a good day, I think this doesn’t look like a face of cancer. Unless you know me and what I’m going through you wouldn’t know what I’m battling. I guess it’s a good thing because I have a respite from having cancer dominate my life. I mean on my good days it’s still there lingering in the background. It’s the first thing people ask if I haven’t seen them in a while and I still have to take my daily dose if medication that I never had to do before. But I’m not that sickly person where it’s obvious what’s going on.

Nobody sees me on my bad days. And I mean nobody. The only people who have seen how horrendous my bad days are are my mum, dad and sister. You might think it strange because don’t get me wrong,  I have a huge support network that would be there for me at a drop of a hat if I asked them to sit with me,  but I just couldn’t do that. I’m not sure if it’s to protect them or me. There’s a sort of vulnerability being that exposed to someone. They’ll be seeing me at my absolute worst. Maybe I’m being completely selfish by doing this but I just don’t think I could handle it if they treated me differently. I don’t think my absolute closest people would intentionally do that but I don’t want to be treated like I’m fragile. And I don’t want them to carry around that burden of seeing me like that. It’s tough. It’s not pretty. And when it’s bad it’s bad but on the upside when it’s good it’s really good.

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently on the next stages of my treatment and how I’ll be going about it. I think I’ve got a better perspective of it all this time round. Last time I was in pain and I just wanted treatment to get started. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking or what I was going through coz I can’t remember. I was taking a lot of pain meds and slept 80% of the time.

But this time, I’m aware of quite a lot. Like for example, my head hurts. And I don’t mean I have headaches but I can actually feel that my hair is going to fall out. It’s strange I didn’t know that you could feel it. I’ve never heard any stories of this before so am I the only one that can feel it? Or is it just not talked about? I didn’t feel it happening last time but that could be because I was in pain last time so did the pain of the cancer numb out the pain in my head? The only way I can explain it is it’s a bit like when you have a really bad cold where it’s bordering on flu and your hair hurts. To move it, to brush it, to touch it. Or maybe if you have a really tight ponytail and you take it down at the end of a day and you get that relief but it’s a little sore. It’s kinda like that. I can’t help but imagine these little bugs under my skin munching away on my hair follicles. Haha. I knew what was happening but it’s only on my head I can feel it. I can’t feel it on my arms or legs where other hair is. So maybe my head is just super sensitive at the minute. You might just think I’m being paranoid and a little sensitive to the fact that I know I’m going to lose my hair. I’m not. I can pull my hair out. It’s not normal to tug your hair and be able to see 10+ strands of hair in your hand. Go on, give it a go. I bet you won’t pull any out, maybe just 1 but not a lot. I got mum to clipper my hair the other week when I finished chemo. I didn’t see the point in the 80s bouffant if it was all gonna drop out. I don’t mind it clippered. I’ve been told I can pull it off. Haha.

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Little things have become a little uncomfortable to me now that my head is so sore. Showering my hair takes a lot of courage to do. Just the shampooing motion through my hair hurts. It becomes a little less sensitive after about 5 minutes under the water but it doesn’t completely go away. Even pulling on a jumper over my head hurts. That was a discovery I found out this morning when I got dressed. 🙄 it’s even worse when I forget and I go and scratch an itch!

But other than the head,  things are all really good! I’m out seeing a lot of friends this week. Gotta make the most of it whilst I can!! I bought a skateboard too! 😂 maybe I’m being a bit ambitious with that one but I thought it was a good idea! It’s giving me something to do and I can get about on my bad days. Because when it is a bad day I can’t walk very far so I figured on a skateboard I can go further! I don’t think my mum and dad think it’s a very smart idea but hey, it’s getting me out so they’re not gonna say anymore. In time, I guess we will see! Haha