Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Returning to (a new) normal?

Early last August, shortly after diagnosis but before treatment had started, I took this photo of myself.
I'd wanted a new profile picture for my Twitter and Facebook because all the photos I had of myself were of me grinning. I wasn't in that mood. I wanted a non-grinny photo. I didn't know it when I took it, but it's turned in to a very important photo to me. It's the photo which marks the start of my cancer whirlwind. Also, I often look at this photo and admire my eyebrows, eyelashes and hair. (Sad, I know!)
In October, I wrote what turned in to a very cheesy letter to my body. At that point I was only half-way through chemo. I knew the worst was yet to come and I was right. Since then my body has taken much more of a hammering through chemo and surgery.
The visible damage

This is me immediately after surgery. I guess this is me at my worst (physically, anyway.)
Thanks to chemo I ended up losing most of my hair. In the end my eyebrows and eyelashes disappeared entirely too, along with the rest of the hair on my body.
My fingernails went thin, and a combination of red, yellow and white. The worst of it has almost grown out now although they're still not good....
I lost both my little toenails (twice so far) and my other toenails have suffered too, especially the big ones... 
The veins in my arms were very seriously damaged by chemo. I'm not sure if they'll ever recover. My "bad" arm is my left arm. Held straight it almost looks normal...
But if I twist it, this happens.....
My "good" arm is not so good either. It doesn't have the track marks, but my veins still collapsed four times during surgery. And five weeks after surgery, part of one has randomly decided to come up to the surface looking rather green and unhappy...

I have cording (scar tissue) going down my left arm. It's painful and restricts my movement...
I have a scar under my arm from my lymph node clearance and that whole area is still numb...

And a scar on my back as a result of the latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction part of my surgery...

(While I'm happy to show any of my friends who want to see, I'm not sticking a topless photo of me on the internet! So my main surgery scar will have to remain a mystery to most of you.)

The less visible damage

I get hot flushes throughout the day and night as a result of my estrogen levels plummeting - chemo fried my ovaries. (I'm not complaining though because my cancer was feeding off estrogen - so good riddance).

I believe my immune system will be a bit low for a while. But I plan to combat that with things like broccoli.

And then of course, there's all the internal rearrangements of muscle, blood vessels etc and the damage to nerves and tendons which need to heal.


Anyway... I've spent much of the last 5 weeks since surgery sleeping. I never knew it was possible for one person to sleep so much. But people keep telling me that's because my body needs the rest to heal - from both chemo and surgery. And I'm starting to feel like my body really is healing.

My hair is growing back, quite quickly, and nice and thick. I'll get a proper pixie cut soon, for when I'm able to start running, but most of the time I think I'll keep wearing my wig until I have a bob again! Or at least  until I can colour it, which is technically not for another four months. (I have so many greys!)

My eyebrows and eyelashes have been growing like mad the last few weeks. I reckon a couple more weeks and they'll be back to normal. (Same goes for the rest of the hair on my body. Never mind...!)

My nails are growing, which means the skanky bits are growing out.

My scars are healing well, and I'm quickly becoming stronger and more mobile after surgery. My surgeon says it will take 4-5 months to get back to normal strength and mobility, but I can feel everything improving gradually so I'm happy. And the stretching exercises I'm doing seem to be helping with the cording - I can now lift my arm up high enough to get a t-shirt on!

The hot flushes are less frequent and less intense, and the horrible, nasty chills seem to have almost entirely stopped.

Whether my veins will ever recover I've no idea, but I don't think anyone will be attacking them with a needle or cannula for a little while now so I'm not concerned.

Return to normal?

I'm now preparing to return to work. For me, being able to return to work in the office, to return to the routine of Monday-to-Friday-Nine-to-Five, represents the beginning of my return journey to normality. There'll be some limitations at first, probably some strange requests from me ("Please can I have a window, and a radiator, and a desk fan, and a heater?" and "Is it ok for me to bring in a pillow, v pillow, chillow pillow and heart cushion?") and some strange behaviour (frantically adding and removing layers of clothing to deal with hot flushes, spending too much time in the toilets throughout the day while I rub cream into my radiated skin and healing balm in to my scars etc).

But I guess this is a part of what people mean when they say when you get back to normal after cancer, it will be a "new normal".



  1. Hi there, after just finishing chemo I did a search online for pictures of damaged veins after chemo and yours came up... Both me arms are wrecked and agony and very much resemble the photo above of yours... I'm wondering if it will improve/get better or if there is anything can do to help them? How are your arms now? I do hope over a year on they are looking and feeling at least a little better? Hope you have settled into your 'new normal' too x

    1. Hi! Thanks for your message and well done on getting through chemo! It's a long while since I looked at this post or a picture of my arm like that and it almost shocked me to remember how bad they were!
      I'm now 18 months past the end of chemo and there is just one small part of my arm where it goes in / dents. Otherwise you would never know to look at my arms that I had chemo.
      I can now have blood tests taken successfully without the horrors of searching for veins. Last time I had blood taken it positively gushed out - after chemo it was always a struggle to get any at all.
      I did knock my hand A few months ago and a vein burst internally - swelling, bruising, healed. That's the only issue I've had.
      So- sorry for rambling but yes- much improvement. Probably 80% better?
      I didn't do anything to help this, I guess they just need a bit of time.
      And yes - new normal is amazing. I'm almost at 2 years post diagnosis, I have a bob, and I'm very happy! It just takes a little while to recover from treatment but keep plodding on - it does get better

    2. Thanks so much for your response and I'm glad to hear all is going well. Also pleased to hear of the improvement to your arm... There is hope then!! Mine look terribly ugly so really do hope they settle down a bit soon.. It has been a nightmare with getting blood and canulas... 18 attempts a couple of weeks ago in ankles, feet, under arm.... Good to hear that will improve with time to heal too! (Yikes to the vein in your hand tho... Sounds horrible!). Anyway, thanks again and here's to a healthy future! X

    3. No problem! Hope yours heal soon as possible :-) xx