Friday, 31 October 2014

Expecto Patronum

Last week I had a bit of a whinge about chemo blues. I'd gone in to my 4th chemo last Wednesday (my first of a drug called Docetaxel, or Tax) with the incredible news that my CT scan was clear - no cancer beyond the first lymph node. I came out completely and utterly miserable. I asked others in the Younger Breast Cancer Network group about this and immediately discovered I was far from alone. Tax is generous in dishing out misery, blues, anxiety, oversensitivity, self esteem attacks, tears. The YBCN experts explained why this is. After Tax chemo the Dementors come for you, sucking away your hope and your happiness.

So I've spent the last week commanding "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" over and over again, accompanied by masterful flourishes of my arm.... but still no Patronum.

I'm no fool. I know exactly what the problem is.  Remus was very clear about this. For Expecto Patronum to work, you have to be concentrating with all your might on a single, very happy memory.

How can I concentrate on a single very happy memory when my mind is overflowing with countless very miserable shit? This applies as much when I am asleep right now as it does when I'm awake. I'm seriously getting on my own nerves. I keep finding myself moaning and complaining to people. Every time I try and sit down to write about something positive or purposeful (there's a bunch of good stuff I want to write about), I go off on increasingly negative tangents. Delete, delete, delete. I said a while ago how writing is cathartic. So I've decided that instead of repeatedly trying to be positive, and repeatedly spoiling it by blurting out woes, as if I've got some Annoying Miserable Whinger form of Tourette's, I'm going to do a massive offloading here of everything that's upsetting me. Think of it as a projectile vomit of all the nasties that are making me emotionally ill, into the expansive toilet that is the internet. Clicking on "Publish" at the end of this = "Flush".

Before I get going though, there's one rule, and I mean it. If you read this (and to be honest, maybe you shouldn't, this is just a self-indulgent moanfest with no other purpose than me letting off steam. But if you do...) you're not allowed to aim any sympathy or anything like that in my direction. I'm permitting myself to go full on negative beyond this paragraph because just for now, I need to, but the truth is for everything I moan about own situation, plenty of people have it far worse than me. I'm lucky and I've got loads to be happy about, I just need to have a rant so that I can get back to feeling like that. So, read on if you want, but no response required.

Here goes.

This isn't me trying to stick with a Harry Potter theme throughout this entire post, it just happens that this is my current reality. When I look in the mirror now, this is who I see:

Except my eyebrows aren't so good. Fucking chemo, killing my hair follicles. Fucking cold cap, not working on the top of my head. Without a wig and makeup, I now look like a cancer patient who is trying to look like a balding man who can't accept his hair loss. Great. Makes me feel just fucking great. Might as well just go and hide in a dark cave for the next few months.

I'm sick of being ill. I'm especially fed up because every time I get better, I inevitably immediately get ill again. And I have no choice. I've been horrendously physically sick. Half the veins in my arms have become hardened, inflamed, weak and burst. I've passed out several times. I've had a cold and cough that lasted a month. I've got oral thrush in the back of my mouth and throat which fucking hurts, a LOT, and has given me a new cough to boot. I've bled from places I shouldn't bleed from. I've had hardcore indigestion. Fuck knows when I last had a decent night sleep. I've had endless days where my skin hurts. Endless days where my bones hurt. I'm tired. I'm sick of being ill. And I have to put myself through this twice more. And that's before I go in to hospital and let a surgeon spend 12 hours on me with a knife.

I'm sick of having nightmares about my mom. I can hazard a good guess as to why this has kicked off. It's almost 2 years since she died, so I guess it's on my mind. The week she died was a week from absolute hell. I fucking hate cancer, and I hate what it did to her. After 6 years of fighting cancer and suffering through the endless bullshit that is cancer "treatment" this is what happened. 3rd November she came round to my house with a headache. 5th November she was admitted to hospital and had a brain scan. Late that evening I was told that her cancer had spread to the lining of her brain and that she'd have maybe 3-4 months to live. 6th November she was unconscious all day - she'd had some seizures in the night and was knocked out on anti-seizure medication. 7th November I spent the day with her in hospital, pretending everything was ok because her oncologist wasn't at that hospital that day to talk to her and explain. So 8th November is when she was told herself that the cancer had spread to the lining of the brain. She wanted to be left alone, and went to sleep. 9th November she died. That's it in a nutshell, but the full version of that story includes a lot more horror (like being stood outside her hospital room talking to a nurse, to hear the nurse who was in with my mom call for help and set off loud alarms which had about 10 other nurses and doctors race in there, while I am sent away to the "quiet room").

Unfortunately, if I dream about my mom it's never nice. It never gets to be a nice dream, where something nice happens. It's always weird and stressful. And I've been dreaming about her every night. This morning I woke up at 4.44am. I spent a couple of hours lying awake, too unhappy to get back to sleep, too ill to get out of bed. When I finally did manage to get to sleep, it was for a staggering half an hour, where I had a dream that my mom had humiliated me in front of my friends, and I woke up crying. Just fucking great.

I'm sick of cancer and chemo taking over my life, and me. I don't want to be a cancer patient. I want to be me. I want to be the best version of me. I want the freedom to be able to show me at my best. But all I've got to offer is me at my worst. I don't even like myself right now. And I feel like an idiot. I'm normally good at reading social cues but I dread to think how many times over the last few months I've misread them. Can't distinguish sympathy and kindness from anything else any more. I'm an idiot. I'm annoying. I'm weak. I'm sorry for every time I've been an irritating nightmare. Every time I've been a fucking burden. Every time I've embarrassed myself. Every time I've been too self absorbed to pay attention to others. Every time I've not been able to get a grip.

I need to go away now, have a massive cry, and then rebuild myself. Start again.

(Remember the rule now.)


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Everything I've learned about... Tax (Docetaxel/Taxotere)

I originally wrote this post at the end of October 2014, 8 days after my first Tax.
I have added some more comments in blue text, on 15 December, 12 days after my third and final Tax.

I'm starting this post on day 8 after my first blast of Tax, so it's early days, and I will need to return to it to update and complete it. But I'd say over the last week it's the thing I've been asked the most about by women who are also going/going to be going through chemotherapy and know Tax is on the cards for them.

A quick recap: There are lots of different chemotherapy drugs and combinations of drugs. My personal chemo treatment is FEC-T. Three doses of FEC followed by three doses of Tax (Docetaxel/Taxotere). At the time of writing I've had my three FECs and one Tax.

A bad reputation

Women who are having a combination of FEC and Tax seem more often than not to start with FEC, followed by Tax (although it can be the other way round). Tax has a reputation for being the bad one. (I've heard several people say FEC is the Red Devil and Tax is her big, ugly sister.) So, many women like me start with FEC chemo, find it to be mean and horrible, and then begin to panic about and dread Tax because we've heard it's so much worse.

This bad reputation is not entirely fair. Whenever people ask the question "Is Tax worse than FEC?" in the Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK) group on Facebook the response is around half think FEC is the worst, around half think Tax is the worst. So, if Tax features in your future, it's probably not worth getting too worked up about it. There's as much chance you'll find it better than FEC as there is you'll find it worse than FEC.

I'm going to hazard a guess that part of the problem with Tax is that more often than not it seems to be given after FEC rather than before, meaning there is more time to get worried. Going through cancer diagnosis and treatment is an absolute fucker for leaving you spending lots of time in limbo, fearing the unknown. I know I'm far from alone in finding the times spent in limbo (wondering what various tests and scans are going to reveal, wondering what this or that treatment is going to do to me etc) the most difficult times of all.

Different side effects and timescales

While Tax might not necessarily be worse, it is very different when it comes to side effects. Different people have different experiences, and indeed the same person even tends to have different experiences with each blast of FEC and each blast of Tax. But these appear to be the most common differences between the two:
  • The side effects from FEC kick in pretty quickly, and then ease off over time. My experience was generally that week 1 on FEC was a week of feeling ill and tired, week 2 was a lot better and week 3 I was completely back to normal. Tax is a bit different - physical side effects generally don't seem to start kicking in for people until day 3 or 4. So you get a bit of a false sense of security - and then it hits you.
  • There's more of a risk of allergic reaction to Tax. This could happen during any one of your blasts. The nurses told me that if it was going to happen it would be during the first half hour of the drug being administered. No-one likes the thought of an allergic reaction - as someone who has had a severe allergic reaction to penicillin I was quite anxious about it. But you shouldn't worry. They keep a close eye on you and can stop it immediately if it happens. (And if you do have an allergic reaction to Tax, there are alternatives they give you.)
  • Tax doesn't seem to make people sick, unlike FEC where nausea and sickness is a very common (and sometimes horrendous) side effect.
  • Tax doesn't wreck your veins in the same way as FEC.
  • Tax generally appears to be different when it comes to hair loss. It doesn't happen to everyone, but a lot of people find that their eyebrows and eyelashes thin significantly or disappear altogether on Tax, while the hair on their head often starts growing back.
  • Common side effects of Tax are bone aches and pains, sore mouth/mouth ulcers, oral thrush, loss of taste.
My own experience to date

As of day 8 after my first Tax blast, I currently hate Tax and FEC in equal measure.

(And day 12 after my third and final Tax - I'd probably still say the same. Although if I was told I have to have one more chemo, but that I could choose FEC or Tax.... if I HAD to choose.... I think I'd choose Tax.)

My main FEC side effects were:
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Painful, hard, inflamed veins in my arms which caused problems every time anyone went near me with a needle (unfortunately a regular event when you're having cancer related tests and treatment)
  • A sore, bruised feeling in my skin for a couple of days, around day 6.
  • Hair loss. And, not exactly a side effect, but I have been using the cold cap to try and save my hair and that has to stay on for a full 3.5 hours on FEC. It pushed me to my absolute limit in terms of tolerance of self inflicted torture.
Beyond that, to be honest, little worth mentioning.

In comparison, this has been my experience of Tax so far:
  • No vomiting or nausea. Point scored! (This was true for all 3 Tax cycles)
  • No vein problems at all. Two points scored! (This was true for all 3 Tax cycles)
  • Only had to have the cold cap on for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Point scored!  (This was true for all 3 Tax cycles)
  • Days 3/4 to today, painful bones. Days 4 and 5 were the absolute worst - but to be honest, I didn't really take much in terms of painkillers. Next time I will. The bone pains are not nice at all, they've been bad enough to seriously affect my sleep, but even so, once again I get the impression I got off quite lightly this time. I've heard so many other women describe it as feeling like they've been hit by a car or run over by a steam train, or that they can barely get out of bed without help because of the pain. Women who have ended up on prescription painkillers. So I think I've done ok, even though it's not been nice. Ultimately though, point lost. (The second cycle I had some bone pain, probably slightly worse than the first cycle. The third cycle of Tax - I didn't really get any aches or pains at all. I took a couple of lots of ibuprofen anticipating pain, then realised it never actually came, and didn't take any more!)
  • Indigestion. I've had indigestion a lot, days 4-7. One night that kept me awake for several hours too. But again, I haven't taken anything for it so I shouldn't really complain! But still, point lost. (I had less indigestion on the second cycle - I think I was affected for a day or so. Third cycle - n oproblems with indigestion)
  • My least favourite side effect of them all is that my mouth has turned into a disgusting, skanky pit of oral thrush. Sadly this is very, very common and can happen every time you have a Tax. Waaaaaaah! Again, I feel slightly guilty for moaning because again, I don't seem to have had it nearly as bad as others. I've no pain or ulcers and my tongue never reached thick, Brilliant White. But oh my days, the inside of my mouth is disgusting, and makes everything taste like how I'd imagine a dirty pair of pants to taste. I've now got treatment for the thrush and my tongue started returning to normal pink within hours, but apparently the taste problem is likely to stay with me throughout the whole of Tax. Two points lost, especially if this is going on during December (if I can't taste my Snowballs I am going to be PISSED OFF). (I got oral thrush every time and it is disgusting! I was given mouth drops called Nystan each time. They work but take a bit of time. I probably spent 7-10 days each cycle with a disgusting mouth.)
So at the moment, for me, Tax and FEC are neck and neck in the shit stakes.

I'll update when I have anything to add.

Final update 12 days after third Tax:

So this post tells you about my own experience of Tax. Everyone is a bit different. I think I was unlucky with the oral thrush but got off quite lightly otherwise. I haven't yet had any pain or problems with fingernails. A couple of my toenails look like they might drop off but I'm really not bothered. They'll grow back!

Another thing to mention is that while I lost most of my eyelashes and eyebrows on Tax, it's amazing what can be done with a bit of makeup. I went to a Look Good Feel Better session at the hospital and learned everything I need to know. I wrote about faking eyebrows and eyelashes in another post.

And the best part of Tax - the hair on my head has been growing back. A lot. It started to grow back as soon as I finished FEC. I think my own hair growth has been extra good because I continued to use the cold cap for every chemo. There's still a long way to go. The top of my head is horrendous! But at least it's growing back. And now I'm done with chemo altogether that should really pick up a lot more.

So, in conclusion - don't worry about Tax. Chemo isn't nice. Tax isn't nice. But you'll get through it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A letter to Dylan Sharpe, Head of PR at The Sun, about Page 3 and breast cancer awareness

Dear Dylan Sharpe, Head of PR at the Sun newspaper,

Two things caught my attention on Twitter this morning. The first was this tweet from The Sun:

The second was a notification that you yourself, The Sun's Head of PR, had tweeted me:

As a reminder, I just want to  quickly go over the background. In August I wrote an Open Letter to The Sun about why their Page 3 Check 'em Tuesday Campaign upset me. A few weeks later I wrote on my blog again, asking you some questions about The Sun's recent call out for young-ish women to pose topless and talk about checking their breasts (Why can't The Sun raise awareness of breast cancer without Page 3 and topless models?). Needless to say, I didn't get a response.

Anyway, the two tweets above from this morning have prompted me to return to this debate here today.

First of all I just want to respond to what Kris Hallenga wrote about in her article in The Telegraph. Thank you for sending me a link. Kris describes how, at the time of the launch of Check 'em Tuesday, she received vicious comments online from women saying they hoped that she won’t recover from breast cancer and will go to an early grave. "One even accused me of “whacking a glamour magazine on the grave of every woman who has died from breast cancer”."

This is one of those situations where I would hope it goes without saying that I think comments like this are indeed vile and completely out of order. There's no place for hateful, vicious, personal attacks in debates about things like breast cancer awareness. But as you have pointedly tweeted the link to this article to me and asked me to consider it, I want to make sure I'm absolutely explicit in my views. After the attention my open letter got, I did write a quick follow up post because there were a couple of things I wanted to make clear. One was that I was not against awareness raising or Coppafeel, just against the use of Page 3 models for awareness raising about breast cancer.

I will say it again now. I am 33 years old, and I have breast cancer. I absolutely, wholeheartedly think awareness raising about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer is incredibly important - of course I do. And I know that Kris and Coppafeel have done a lot of important work to raise awareness of breast cancer signs and symptoms. That's a fantastic thing! My issue has been specifically with the use of Page 3 and topless models to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. However, while I completely disagree with the approach of the Check 'em Tuesday campaign, I still respect Kris and her motivation, dedication, energy and strength.

Moving on to The Sun's article today "We beat cancer thanks to The Sun"... I still simply don't understand why this whole campaign could not have been done without the use of topless Page 3 models. I've read today's Sun article from top to bottom, and at no point does it mention how sexualised images of women have helped anyone to beat cancer. All of the women's stories featured specify that they became aware that they had cancer as a result of reading about the signs of breast cancer. Some quotes as examples:
  • "Sarah was reading The Sun’s Page 3 self-check guide..."
  • "...noticed a rash on her left breast – and only knew it was a sign of breast cancer thanks to reading about it in The Sun."
  • "Seven weeks after I first read about the signs and breast cancer in The Sun, I was told I had breast cancer"
  • "I never checked my breasts — until I read about the importance of it in The Sun."
  • "...had I not read about checking my breasts in The Sun, I wouldn’t have even known it was there."
  • "wasn’t in the habit of checking her breasts until she read about it in The Sun."
  • " about signs of breast cancer in The Sun".
Dylan, this is why charities like Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Care, Cancer Research UK and MacMillan don't use sexualised images of topless women as part of their own breast cancer awareness information and campaigns. Sexualised images of topless women DO NOTHING TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER! What women need is information about signs and symptoms of breast cancer, alongside information about how to check for these, and what to do if they have any concerns.

So, really, I want to refer back to my original key questions to you, and wonder if you would take the time to write back to me answering them.

What specifically is being gained in terms of raising breast cancer awareness by using topless models?

Is it appropriate to use sexualised images of women (as in Page 3 vs Breast Cancer - Check 'em Tuesday) as part of a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness?

Exactly why won't The Sun try and raise breast cancer awareness without the use of topless models?

I hope to hear back from you soon,

Yours sincerely,
Sarah Perry

Friday, 24 October 2014

If I can beat cancer then I sure as hell can beat the 30 day abs challenge

Earlier this year my friend Amy did the 30 Day Abs Challenge. I told her she was insane. But then somehow I got in to a conversation about it at work, decided to do it myself, and got a lot of colleagues to join in! (Although as far as I know, the Incredible Charlotte was the only one to finish it! BIG CHEER FOR CHARLOTTE!)

It's not easy....

If I remember right, I got to Day 14. Then I was diagnosed with cancer and forgot all about it. Until now!

I've decided to start again. Surely if I can beat cancer, I can beat the 30 day abs challenge?! In reality it is going to take me more than 30 days to complete because of chemo. But I am absolutely determined to complete it this year.

I was really inspired by the talk I went to on exercise at the Breast Cancer Care Younger Women Together event in Leeds a few weeks ago. Some people give mixed messages about exercise during chemo, before surgery and after surgery, and what you can and can't do. But the exercise and cancer expert there that day reassured me that I can do the exercise I want to do, whenever I can. I left the event with a cold that turned in to a cough, and so I've done no exercise since. But I think I'm ready for it now! I can't wait to get running again too.

Seeing as this blog is a pretty much full disclosure blog, I'm even going to share my photos with you. So here I am, Day 0. No abs, just the excess weight I've put on since I started chemo! (And while I'd like to blame it on the drugs, we'd all know that's a lie.)

Question is, will anyone else join me in the challenge this time? Or is it just the girl on chemo that's hardcore enough for this? ;-)

I've had a friend sign up already! And I thought in the interests of bigging up those of you that are hard enough to join me, and putting the rest of you to shame, I'd make a list here of my 30 Day Abs Challenge Gang!

Emily J
Dolores C
Helen J
Hannah C
Joanne F
Emma B
Ali B
Dave S

Who else?!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Chemo blues, 'roid rage and anxiety attacks

Reasons to celebrate

Yesterday was Chemo #4. This should have been a day of celebration for at least four reasons:

1. Chemo Day itself is the pits. The four Chemo Days I've had so far make it in to the Top Ten Worst Days of My Life along with the day I was diagnosed, the day my mom died, the day of her funeral, the day of my grandad's funeral... those kinds of days. They really are SHIT. So I should have been celebrating four down and only two to go.

2. I now knew I was having six chemos in total, not eight. This means I am done with the hellish cocktail of chemo poisons known as FEC and was moving on to Tax (Docetaxel). I have really had enough of FEC, and its nausea, destruction of veins, and hair loss. That's not to say Tax is going to be nice. It's likely to be equally shit, but just with different side effects (including bone pains like a bad case of flu and painful finger and toe nails that might even fall off). But you know what they say, a change is as good as a rest and I am more than ready for a change from FEC.

3. You only need to keep the cold cap (Head Freezer) on for a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes on Tax, unlike 3.5 hours on FEC. Can NOT put in to words how much this meant to me.

4. It was a cannula success day. It went in first time, it didn't explode my vein this time, and I didn't faint (bringing my cancer treatment related needle faint rate down to 44%. Yay me!).

"Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, think I'll go and eat worms"

Lots of reasons to be happy, you see? But I got home and found myself in the lowest, bluest mood ever. I felt completely down on myself as a person. I was annoyed at myself for being annoying, and for annoying everyone else. (This despite the fact that everyone has been so nice to me, and it is me that is behind on keeping up with everyone's messages, emails, phone calls, requests to get together etc.) These blues were so powerful that they were completely overwhelming me.

I sent a stress email to a friend about something I was anxious about. I asked "What do you think?". His reply was spot on. "I think you've had a pretty mad couple of days and you should rest. Get over this session, and reassess." My mind had been running as fast as it could along the road of Anxiety, Hypersensitivity and Pointless Self-esteem Attacks. I think this was the moment where I at least managed to stop myself and make my mind stay still for a moment. I realised that, oh yeah, I'd had a pretty full on few days. Monday I was writing my bucket list, convinced that on Tuesday my CT scan results were going to reveal that my cancer had spread and become incurable. Massive low. Tuesday I found out that: my cancer had not spread beyond the one lymph node which was the absolute best news I could have had, my blood levels were fine meaning my chemo would be on time, I would be having six chemos in total meaning no more FEC and finished with chemo by Christmas. Massive high. Wednesday was Chemo Day, and despite the reasons to celebrate, as always it was inevitably a massive low.

'Roid rage

I knew the best thing to do would be to go to bed, and wait and see if tomorrow would be a better day. BUT! I was dosed up on steroids. Sleep wasn't going to be on the cards for a while, even though it's what I really needed. So I headed over to the Younger Breast Cancer Network (YBCN) group on Facebook and announced that I had had my first Tax and was in the lowest, bluest mood ever. Had that ever happened to anyone else? I was blown away by the response, which was a resounding yes! Feeling miserable as hell isn't listed as a common side effect of Tax but it seems to be a common experience. I sparked a big discussion about how people had come away from a Tax blast feeling sad, blue, over sensitive, emotional, anxious and feeling isolated.

I wasn't alone! It's incredible how much better you can feel just from hearing someone else say "me too" and understanding exactly how you feel and what you're going through - because they are going through it too. This is one of the things that makes YBCN so special. On days like the one I had yesterday, when you feel like you're losing your mind and have turned in to a complete idiot, there's nothing like the reassurance that comes from someone else saying "yes that happened to me, you can blame it on the drugs, and it will pass."

In a way, I was glad of the steroids. Instead of going to sleep unhappy, they kept me awake and online and by the time I was tired enough to sleep, I felt much more like my normal self again.

Anyway, here I am. It's a new day and I feel back to my usual self mood wise. It's my last day of being pumped on steroids so I'm going to make the most of the 'roid rage and get myself and my house ready for the upcoming week where I might be too sore and achey to move far from the sofa (I hope not, but I'm still going with prepare for the worst, hope for the best).

To my friends who have read this: thanks for putting up with me!

To anyone who reads this who is going through chemo: If you have inexplicable meltdowns, it's the drugs, it's not you. And if you are under 45 and in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis, do join the YBCN group on Facebook. On those days where you feel terrible, there's always a big group of superwomen there ready to support you through it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The result of my CT scan

I had a CT scan to find out whether my cancer had spread elsewhere in my body. I knew I had two small tumours (one around 25mm, and another one close by, around 6mm), and they had also biopsied one of my lymph nodes and found cancer there. The CT scan was to check for any more cancer elsewhere.

I got the result today. No more cancer anywhere else! Those 2 tumours, that one lymph node, and that's it!

So now for the first time I know exactly what I am dealing with:

Grade 1 which is the most like normal cells, and slowest growing.

T2. My tumours are total around 3cm which puts them in the second smallest out of 4 categories.

The tumour is "Her2 negative" which means it isn't aggressive. It is estrogen positive which means it is fuelled by estrogen. This is good news because they know what's making it grow and they can control that for me in future, massively reducing risk of recurrence.

Lymph nodes
Only one affected. Which means that lymph node has been doing it's job of catching the cancer and killing the cells before they can go anywhere else. They've not even made it to the next lymph node. :-)

So based on size of tumour, and the fact that only one lymph node is involved, this puts me at Stage 2b.

Almost the same chance as anyone else that I get to live a long life. It'll just be with fake boobs and no ovaries.

Monday, 20 October 2014

My Bucket List

What's the best way to mentally and emotionally prepare for the results of a CT scan which you've had to see whether or not your cancer has spread? (Bear in mind that if your cancer has spread, it isn't curable. Your "treatment" will be focussed on giving you as much time with as little pain as possible).

I don't know. I've gone with trying to not think about it. In theory, my cancer shouldn't have spread. The oncologist wasn't even going to give me a CT scan because of the size and grade of my tumour. But I insisted. I know there's cancer in my lymph nodes, which means it could be elsewhere in my body too. No-one thought I had cancer in the first place. The ultrasound was meant to give me peace of mind. Instead it gave me a cancer diagnosis. So it's hard to feel confident that my CT scan results will be good news.

Anyway, there's a good chance I will get the results of my CT scan tomorrow. There's also a chance that they'll show up something which needs further investigation, before it can be ruled out or confirmed as cancer. This is quite common, especially when it's your first ever scan and there's nothing to compare it to. 

So today I'm finding it hard to not think about the CT scan results, and about having secondary, incurable breast cancer. I figured maybe now's a good time to start putting together my Bucket List. It's a work in progress but this is what I've got so far, in no particular order:

See the Perseids from somewhere with Dark Sky (instead of Leicester city centre).

Go on the rides on Brighton Pier.

See the northern lights.

Go in a hot air balloon at sunrise.

Go on a holiday on my own.

Learn to dance a proper dance.

Skinny dip.

Go on a road trip to somewhere cool in one of those little VW campervans.

Oktoberfest in Munich.

Do something to make the world a better place so that I at least know it's all been worth it.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

To fringe or not to fringe?

Dammit. It seems my eyebrows are reaching the point where they've had enough. They're still there at the minute, but getting patchy.

I am going to buy all the magic stuff, and watch video tutorials, and practise, practise, practise doing eyebrows. At first it'll be filling in the patches, but I guess soon enough it will be faking them entirely. (Excuse me one moment while I go and scream some profanities about chemo................) 

For the record, same goes for eyelashes. Mine are still clinging on just now but I know it's only a matter of time before I wake up one morning and find them all scattered across my face. And yes, I will make a wish on each one of them, and yes, every wish will be for my eyelashes and eyebrows to grow back immediately. No wait, I will wish for my cancer to piss off and never return - yeah, that's obviously a better use of wishes.

Anyway. I'm lazy, and I'm about as far from "make-up artist" as a girl can get. So I'm considering getting a big fat fringe to cover my forehead and the spaces where my eyebrows should be, for days when I can't be arsed to create my own. (And days where I attempt to create my own and end up looking like I have two slugs crawling across my face).

When I was a kid, I absolutely rocked a fringe, if I do say myself. Look!


Looks bloody ace, right?!

However, I also had a fringe for a time while I was a teenager. Not so good. Fortunately, having searched through boxes of old photos, there are only a few of me as a teenager with a fringe in existence. Those that I did find I'm in fancy dress so look even more uncool, but as I have no pride or dignity left, and in the interest of making my point, I will share a couple with you:


Anyway, point is, if I get a fringe, it will need to be of the big, thick, no turning back variety. Like what I had as a kid, as opposed to the thin stringy mess of my teenage years. The good news is, unlike when I was a teenager, I won't have to (be able to!) grow the fringe out and go through this phase:

Phew. But getting a fringe cut is going to be risky. If it looks shit, I will have ruined a wig which I spent a small fortune on.

So I have tried experimenting with some hair grips and my wig, to get an idea of what a fringe might look like on me now. (Excuse the face I'm pulling in the first photo haha!)

What do you think? Shall I get a fringe cut in to the wig or not? Honest opinions please.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Police officers show their support for Playboy

I love it when my phone pings and I have a message from my friend Emily. It's usually something funny enough to make me "LOL". Not today. I heard the "Ping!" but this was the message:

"What the actual fuck... Bunnies against breast cancer at Paddington Station. Basically a girl dressed up as a bunny girl holding a collection bucket and having her photo taken with men..."

No LOLs. Just grumpy muttering and swearing to myself as I started looking online to find out exactly what was going on in Paddington Station today. 

I'm 33 years old and I have breast cancer so I feel like I should be unreservedly championing Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October. But to be honest it's been doing my head in. I just don't see how making everything pink and saying it's for "breast cancer awareness" actually helps anyone. And, call me cynical, but I'm pretty sure all those companies selling pink versions of their products and donating "a portion" of the profits to breast cancer charities are making more money for themselves than they are for the charities. Please, don't bother buying that pink spatula because it's marketed as being for "breast cancer awareness". If you want to help, just donate some money directly to a breast cancer charity instead.

Anyway, on a scale of 1 (Minor Irritation) to 10 (Blood Boiling Fury), pink spatulas, pink colanders and pink frying pans register somewhere around a 2.

Police officers posing for photos in Paddington Station with women dressed as Playboy bunnies as part of Playboy Club London's #BunniesInPink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month on the other hand.... this registers much further up on my Scale of Annoyance.

(Images taken from the @PlayboyClubLDN Twitter feed)

I believe these men are British Transport Police. But if I'm wrong and the Metropolitan Police or any other police force would like to claim them as their own, please let me know and I will, of course, make a correction here.

These photos raise a couple of questions for me.

1. What's the real motive behind #BunniesInPink? Is it to raise awareness of breast cancer, raise money for the charity Against Breast Cancer, or promote Playboy Club London?

Although Playboy Club London are saying this is for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I can't find any awareness raising of anything useful about breast cancer (like signs or symptoms) in amongst all the Bunnies In Pink stuff I've found, so it's not that.

The information on the Playboy Club London website starts by saying "the club will be raising funds for the essential charity Against Breast Cancer." So I guess I should shut up now, because anything that raises money for a breast cancer charity is a good thing, right? Wrong. I am firmly against the objectification of women, under all circumstances, because:

"It is long established that the overwhelming portrayal of women as sex objects in society plays a role in maintaining inequality between women and men. This has been recognised at the international level by the United Nations Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which calls on States to take decisive action to tackle objectification – which it links to stereotypes and prejudices based on gender." - Object.

Of course I want charities to have the funding they need to do the important work they do. But I just don't believe that raising money for a charity justifies any activity that objectifies women. There are plenty of ways to fundraise without portraying women as nothing more than sex objects in the process.

In the same way that I think The Sun newspaper used "Page 3 vs Breast Cancer: Check 'em Tuesday" as a pathetic attempt to justify Page 3, I think that Playboy Club London is using a show of #BunniesInPink fundraising in order to promote their own club.

"...our Bunnies will be proudly supporting the fundamental work that Against Breast Cancer do by wearing pink attire for the whole of October. Have your picture taken with our Bunnies and show support for this cause by sharing your photograph with your friends on social media sites."

Seriously, putting a photo of yourself on Facebook with a Playboy Bunny isn't showing support for Against Breast Cancer. It's promoting Playboy.

2. Was it ok for these police officers to pose for photos with women dressed provocatively as pink Playboy bunnies?

Hmmm... no. I'm going to assume that as all three of these police officers are in uniform, they were on duty when these photos were taken. I will assume that they made a donation to Against Breast Cancer in order to have the photos taken, but that doesn't make it ok. They are police officers on duty in Paddington Station, and this isn't how they should be spending their time. They should be focused on what's going on around them, and be accessible and approachable to any members of the public that need help.

Now, to help make my point, let me think of an example of what they could have been doing in Paddington Station other than posing for photos with Playboy bunnies..... hmmmmm.... I know! How about patrolling the station to prevent sexual offences in line with the aims of Project Guardian. I learned this fact from the British Transport Police's own website.

According to the TfL safety and security survey, around 15% of females have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour on the network, with around 90% not reporting it to police.

This is awful, and why Project Guardian is so important. It "focuses on increasing awareness and confidence amongst the public to report unwanted sexual behaviour to the police or members of staff, particularly those offences which are often unreported, such as sexual touching, exposure, outraging public decency, lewd comments, leering and harassment."

I don't know for sure that these are British Transport Police officers - they might be Metropolitan Police - but either way, and regardless of the existence of Project Guardian, it makes no difference. They are police officers. And looking at the photos above actually raises a third question for me.

3. If I had been in Paddington Station today, and was the victim of sexual harassment, and the first police officers I found were these ones busy having their photos taken with Playboy bunnies, would I have felt like I could report it to them and be taken seriously?

No, I don't think so.

And now I realise that as well as annoying me, those photos have left me feeling pretty sad.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

A letter to my body

A couple of weeks ago I went to a fantastic two day event organised by Breast Cancer Care for young women with breast cancer. Something that came up was the A letter to my body campaign. I decided to write my own. It's ended up embarrassingly cheesy and cringeworthy but I'll share it here anyway now I've written it. Maybe just have a sick bucket to hand....

Dear body

If I was writing to you a couple of months ago, this would have been a very different letter. I'd be giving you a massive bollocking for letting me down so horrendously. I'd barely noticed you, or acknowledged you until July 18th this year, but everything changed on that day. On July 18th, you made me mad. I was furious. How dare you fail me so completely. How dare you fill me with fear. How dare you ruin my life. I deserved better than you.

Over the last 12 weeks my feelings towards you have changed. You've amazed me. I do notice you now, and I want to acknowledge everything you do for me, and say thank you.

You're being injected with a cocktail of poisons every three weeks. It's targetting the cancer, but at the same time, it is viciously attacking the rest of you. Potential side effects of chemo range from nausea to, well, death. I didn't have any faith in you whatsoever. I wrote off a full 18 weeks of my life, assuming I'd be unable to do anything more than lie around watching mindless crap on the TV while you suffered through the assault of chemo.

I totally underestimated you! It's 7 weeks since that first blast of chemo and you've been continuously repairing any damage caused in such a speedy, no-nonsense way, that there are times I've not been sure that this isn't all just a bad dream. I am so incredibly proud of you. I know when you're having to work hard to do this, and I'm trying to be good at those times and rest so you can get on with it as quickly as possible. Because when you're well, I get to go out and enjoy my life, and appreciate you at your best. Like when you give me that warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart, or that tingly, excited feeling in my stomach, or when my legs ache from a run or my face aches from laughing. I love those feelings, and I wouldn't get them without you.

I know we've got some tough times ahead. But we are tough, and we'll just fight like mad with everything we've got. I know you'll be scarred at the end of this. But it will just be a reminder of a battle that we won. We are a team. We'll get rid of this bullshit cancer, and then have the best life ever.