Intro

This is a personal blog about becoming a new Mum whilst dealing with my Hodgkin Lymphoma diagnosis. I’ll be documenting the trials and tribulations, the mishaps and the emotions that go hand in hand with becoming a parent, as well as being open about the impact of cancer and how I’m fighting it head on.

 

Stylist, anyone?

Let’s start positively (this is a happier post than the previous moan!)… I’m now halfway through my treatment and have only got 3 cycles left. That means 6 more chemotherapy days until I’m done. I know I can do it because I’ve already done it, so onwards and upwards and let the countdown begin – roll on 13th February. It’s not that far away! Since the last post I definitely feel better; less emotional, less down and much less stressed with the whole thing. I haven’t been doing much other than looking after Ivy, going to appointments and seeing family, and I think taking some time to not rush around has really helped. Saying that, I do feel like I’m neglecting my friends a bit – sorry if you’re one of them – but I’ll make it up to all of you when this is over. Prosecco all round! The whole ‘hibernation’ thing that I’m doing is mostly to stop me picking up colds or bugs and I know they are rife at this time of year. My bloods dropped to an all time low of 0.42 last week which scared me a little – it put me in the neutropenic category which means I basically have no immune system. However, at my clinic review last Wednesday they had risen to an all time high of 1.42 – what a difference a week can make. It’s strange how much they can change in a week and the Doctor couldn’t really offer an explanation as to why it happens like that. It might be a delayed reaction from the chemo, I may have picked up a small infection… who knows! Main thing is that I managed to go on my night out! Literally the only night out I had planned was a Motown Night at Alexandra Theatre on Friday night. Whether I went or not completely depended on my blood results – luckily they were high and I was in a safer position to go. It was such a fun night apart from the gridlock in town – we ended up being 20 mins late for the start and had to abandon our taxi and run. Totally worth it though and it felt good to be out, have a drink, be baby-free and relax.

I’m going to take a slightly different topic for this blog… and this is a serious question to all you Mums out there…

“Is it normal to lose the ability to dress well once you’ve had a baby?”

Some of you are probably thinking, ‘No! I still look great everyday and love all of my clothes’ (good for you – I’m not bitter in the slightest..), but hopefully there are others out there thinking, ‘Oh my God, I totally know what you mean!’ Now, I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few weeks and I’ve decided there are a combination of factors that affect this question:

  • The ‘Mum Tum’. For those of you that don’t know what this is, imagine a jelly band around your middle. It’s never been there before, it’s a different texture to when you’ve just put on a bit of weight, and it might have an animal print pattern from where your baby has stretched the hell out of your skin.
  • The ‘Comfort Clothes’. Let’s face it, the days when you don’t have any playdates, appointments or shopping to do, you’ll have your ‘go-to’ comfy clothes. They might be a wonderful mismatch of pjs, hoodies, slippers, ski socks (and in my case a bobble hat).
  • The ‘Breastfeeding Access Clothes’. I only had this issue for 4 weeks, but talking to my friends, this is a high contributor to the lack of style us Mums might have. How good can you look when you have to be able to give your baby access to your chest? Imagine layers, baggy overtops and dribble/milk stained bras.
  • The ‘9 month transition’. We spend 9 months getting our heads round having a baby and go through lots of body changes – where we’ve been trying to be as skinny as possible our whole lives (either in reality or just moaning that we aren’t as skinny as we’d like), we then have to embrace this huge bump growing out of our belly. And then we have a baby and have to get our heads round the belly that’s left over. If you think about it, it’s like psychological warfare.

Anyway, I can’t seem to feel good in any of my clothes at the moment. Finding something to wear for the Motown Night was awful – the timing of Black Friday was great and I ordered the majority of ASOS, New Look, Dorothy Perkins and Topshop (these shops in particular because they all have a tall section) and I ended up keeping a couple of items, but putting on top after top, dress after dress and hating what I looked like was horrible. Add into the mix I have no hair and without make up my eyes look bald too, it just didn’t go that well. Jeans cut right into the jelly belly leaving me with a lovely double roll, dresses cling to the jelly belly instead of skimming over it, and tops don’t sit right because if they fit over the jelly belly, they’re too big on the top!

Picking comfort over style is also a major contributor. Getting up in the night to feed a baby, having a lie in when the baby is, staying in the house a lot more, and not having to make yourself presentable to go to work all result in ‘slob gear’. Whilst I’m writing this I’m wearing Christmas pj bottoms, fluffy slipper boots, a grey hoody and a multicoloured bobble hat. This is probably what I’m going to stay in all day – we’ve got food in, we have nowhere to be, I’ve got treatment tomorrow so today is a rest and relax day. The thought of putting restrictive jeans on and then finding a top which does not show my jelly belly roll is just too much – that can wait until tomorrow when I actually have to leave the house.

Because I have no shame, here is a picture I sent to my sister of my new oxblood, leather look trousers. I like them, they are very comfy and they have a high waist with elasticated sides so the jelly can be tucked in, but where the hell has my bum gone? It’s nowhere to be seen. It’s never been a perfect peach but I definitely used to have one. It now merges into my thighs and it’s more or less a straight line. If anyone has seen my bum, please send it back to me. Ignore the spilt nail polish on my carpet – just another thing I need to sort.

I have been reassured that it’s early days and the jelly will go – to be fair, it is getting better and I think I’m being a little impatient, but where I was planning to get straight back into exercise and sport, my body is too tired to do it. After I finish treatment, I’m going to get back into Netball and Tennis and hopefully this will help in the removal of the pudding-like roll. It is frustrating that I feel like this – I kick myself and tell myself off for being so bothered by my appearance, but it actually does have a mental  and psychological impact on me. I think this is heightened with the other stuff that’s going on like my hairloss etc. – don’t get me wrong, I like dressing up and going out, and when I leave the house I’m fairly happy with what I look like but it’s the preparation that’s a killer, and the time spent routing through my wardrobe. I have had to re-tidy my wardrobe so many times – I pull out shelves, throw stuff on the bed, try on clothes that I know I can’t fit back into yet (just in case I’ve lost 5 stone overnight) before settling on the old faithful outfits that I’m currently living in.

To help with all of this, I’m following the Slimming World diet again. My official weigh-in day is Wednesday morning and last Wednesday I had lost 5lbs. This was more than I thought I would and I’m certainly not going to be losing this much every week but it’s a good start and has made me feel loads better. I will get into that skirt by Christmas!!

Since the last post, I definitely feel better. I’m starting to get my head around what’s happened and what I need to do to get through the remaining treatments. It’s not that far away and I’ve got a few things in the pipeline to look forward to. Christmas is going to be so much fun, especially with it being Ivy’s first Christmas, and we started this weekend by putting up the Christmas tree and decorations. Andrew and Cameron sorted the lights outside the house, and us girls did the tree. I bought us all Christmas pjs to make it an extra cheesy family day… it’s pictures like this that you look back on and wet yourself laughing at!

Ivy has now been to 2 Rhythm Time classes – Elizabeth is taking her as I’m not allowed – and I think she’s enjoying them. Elizabeth said Ivy seems to be more interested in looking at the other babies rather than what Elizabeth is doing and I’m not sure who enjoys the Conga and the Hokey-Cokey more, Elizabeth or Ivy. We also managed to get a playdate with Hannah and the lovely Stanley – trying to get them both to smile for a photo was too hard so here are 2 pictures of each of them smiling:

I also want to say a big thank you for all of your kind words and messages after my last blog. I know it wasnt a happy post but all the comments and messages I recevied were amazing and have really helped. Writing a blog is strange because you have no idea who’s reading it or what people think unless they tell you, so the feedback is really appreciated.

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x x x

Cycle 3 blues

I’m sat here not really knowing where to start. When I was first told that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I dreamt about being given the all clear and thought it would be the happiest time in my life, with me running through the streets screaming and shouting in ecstasy. It definitely was an AMAZING thing to be told (I restrained myself from running through the streets) and I was beside myself with joy and relief that the treatment had worked, but I can honestly say that the past couple of weeks has probably been the hardest. I’m going to try to explain my thoughts and feelings and need you to know that I’m giving myself a hard time for feeling like this because I know a lot of people would kill for the news I’ve had.

The only way I can explain it is that I’m struggling to process the last 4 months. There has been some major things going on in my life and it’s not until now that I feel like they are getting on top of me. I was diagnosed with hodgkins lymphoma and induced for labour on the same day, I had an assisted delivery which has left me with ongoing postnatal appointments (had my last one on Tuesday thank God), I had to stop breastfeeding at 4 weeks so I could start Chemotherapy, I’ve had MILLIONS of hospital appointments to get my bloods checked, treatment, clinic review, scans…. and have almost completed 3 cycles of chemotherapy resulting in numerous side effects with the main one being losing my hair and having to wear wigs/hats.

Now I’ve been told I’m in remission.

How has this all happened in such a short space of time? Until now I’ve got my head down and ploughed on because that’s what I needed to do – the main focus being to get better. There was a purpose, a goal, something to achieve… but being told that I’m now in remission and I still have 3 cycles of treatment left has just messed with my head. I know why it’s necessary and I know it’s to make sure every last bit has been eradicated from my body, and I’m trying to dig deep and find the strength and motivation to get through the next lot of treatment but it is bloody hard. It’s almost got to the point of me spitting my dummy out and screaming “I want it all to stop”. I’m tired, I’m emotional and I just want it to be over.

The psychological impact is a funny one. I’ve never minded needles or injections, and in fact when I had my wrist op to repair cartilage after a netball injury, I watched the whole thing! The curtain fell down in between me and my open wrist and I told the surgeon and  nurse to leave it down. It’s never bothered me and I’m not a squeamish person. Now, I’m slowly developing anxiety before each needle, whether it’s for my fortnightly  blood test or my chemo. I can feel my body become rigid and my heart beat that little bit faster – I try to act normal and look away or chat to whoever is stabbing me, but it’s difficult. The apprehension of what’s to come seems to be winning at the moment, and I’m desperately trying to combat it. I’ve made the joke to a few nurses now, “you’d think this would get easier” followed by me trying to laugh it off, and every nurse has said the same…. “unfortunately it doesn’t but you just have to carry on”. They know. They know that everyone going through these experiences are struggling whether they admit it or not.

When we were first told that I had Lymphoma at 39 weeks pregnant, we didn’t know which type of lymphoma, the prognosis, the treatment or anything. We heard “cancer” and our worlds started to fall apart. We’d booked to look round a nursery (loads of people had told me that I needed to get on a waiting list or I’d miss out on a place!). This was crazy to me, I hadn’t even given birth and I was already having to choose a nursery to put Baby Aldridge in for when I went back to work. Anyway, we decided to keep the appointment even though we weren’t particularly in the mood to go (funnily enough we drove straight from the nursery to the Women’s Hospital to have a consultation about my pregnancy and the lymphoma) – surreal doesn’t quite cut it. Visiting the nursery was probably the toughest thing I had to do and I didn’t really talk to Andrew or anyone else about it. Looking round a lovely nursery, with children and babies in their appropriately aged rooms, was heartbreaking. Every room had a designated age group, and I couldn’t help but think “will I still be here when the baby is 2, 3, 4??” The thought of not being part of my baby’s life, or leaving Andrew to be a widower and a single parent was almost too much for me to cope with, so I put these fears into a box in my head, locked them away and didn’t open it again. Sitting here now, knowing that I’m going to be ok, has made me think about that poignant visit. It’s unbelievable how life changing these things are, and as I said previously, I’m one of the lucky ones. My heart goes out to families who haven’t had the same results as me and are coping on a daily basis with the knowledge the outcome may be bleak. I’ve been one of those – a daughter who knew her Dad was going to be taken away by cancer. At the time, I had absolutely no idea what was going on in Dad’s head because he just whacked a smile on and got on with things – I’ve always thought of him as a hero, but being on the other side of it now and knowing some of the thoughts and fears he must have been feeling, he truly was an absolute legend. My Dad dealt with a terminal diagnosis from the beginning – my short-lived fear of losing this fight was nothing compared to what Dad went though. I take my hat off to him and to everyone who is having to deal with such a terrible prognosis.

Wow, this is a pretty dreary blog. Apologies if you wanted some light reading. I told Andrew and Mum that I’d started writing this blog and it was depressing and sad, and I was going to go back and re-write it but they both told me not to. The whole point of doing this was to be open and honest, and I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said everything’s been great since I got my scan results. Truth is, I’m trying to process everything and it’s going to take some time.

In other news, Macmillan released 4 short videos on how to deal with hair loss. They are brilliant. I sat and watched them and picked up some tips. There’s one on how to tie a head scarf – I’m sorry but it’s just not for me. I have tried the scarf look but it’s not a winner – I’m opting for winter beanies and wigs. Another one showed a make up artist helping a lady re-apply eyebrows and create the illusion of lashes, and this is the video I wanted. Whilst I still have both, they are definitely thinning and I want to be prepared in case I lose the lot. In hindsight, I should have had micro-blading done before I started my treatment, but it’s too late now and I’m not allowed to have it done until I’ve finished. It’s been an ongoing joke between Andrew and I that he’s not allowed to touch my eyebrows because he’ll rub them off my face (we tend to play fight a bit and with me wearing hats he sometimes pulls them down over my face and then I’ll start screaming “Stop it! Think of the eyebrows!”) Is it weird that we playfight? Anyway, I went out and invested in some pencils to help with the thinning eyebrows and eyelashes… I bought an eyebrow sculpting pencil which is slightly more waxy than a normal eyebrow pencil. It works really well on its own or with powder over the top to give a more dramatic look and the angled edge gives a more precise finish. I also replaced my dried out liquid eyeliner and bought a brown eye pencil. Usually I’d always wear black, but brown gives a slightly softer feel so if I’m having a pale day, it doesn’t look as harsh. This is Macmillan’s YouTube channel and it has loads of videos that people may find helpful!

I also bought a new wig – I like to call her Anya 2. I didn’t want to wear Anya 1 every time I went out as it wouldn’t last that long, so I went for a shorter style. The shorter the wig, the longer it lasts as it doesn’t gather friction from clothes. When I first got told I’d be losing my hair, someone recommended Amazon for wigs…. I read the message and started laughing, “As if I’d buy a wig from Amazon!” More fool me! This was a bargain at £14.99 and I love it. It’s an easy ‘throw-on’ wig that actually looks almost as good as Anya.

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Short hair, don’t care!

As part of ‘operation build my confidence’, I am starting slimming world again. This jelly band around my middle doesn’t seem to be shifting. I’m back on the slimming world bandwagon as I know it works for me, and I’m buying a 6 week countdown to kickstart me before Christmas – first weigh in on Tuesday. Whilst I can’t exercise how I want to, food has to be my main focus. Back to counting syns and curbing the fatty (but delicious) foods! I ordered a lovely short skirt that I wanted to wear last weekend and it was way too tight. Instead of sending it back, it’s hanging in my wardrobe as motivation! On maternity pay, I can’t justify any wastage so I WILL be getting into that skirt for Christmas!!

Hopefully the next post will be cheerier – I’ll get thinking up some jokes 🙂 In the meantime, you can find me chilling in my onesie with my girls xx

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Catherine = 1; Cancer = 0

Since my last post it’s been a cocktail of various hospital appointments – where I was moaning of hospital fatigue before, it’s definitely turned up a notch now! Between blood tests and clinic reviews, interim PET scan and results, postnatal appointment at the exotically named endoanal clinic (too much information?) and dermatology consultation for a suspected basal cell carcinoma on my head (much easier to see now without any hair), I can honestly say hospitals are like a second home to me. Not the cosy and relaxing type of home, but the familiar ‘know where everything is’ type of home.

A lot has happened since the last post, and I can’t possibly fit it all in, so I’m going to focus on the most important bit – scan results.

I’ll put it out there quickly – I’ve officially been told I’m in metabolic remission. This means that any lymphomas I had, have now been zapped and no longer exist! I am technically cancer free. Can you believe it? This happened on Monday and I still don’t think I’ve got my head around it yet. This outcome is only after 2 cycles of chemo and whilst I have always been told that the prognosis is good, I never imagined this amazing news so early on.

The whole thing around my interim scan was nerve-wracking. Going back to the PET centre at QE Hospital brought back the horrible feeling I had when I initially visited – the radioactive injection, the claustrophobic scanning machine, and then the results telling me I had various sites of lymphoma. All of these memories aren’t exactly great so I’m sure you can appreciate my apprehension. Whilst I knew that the lump in my neck had reduced, I couldn’t let myself believe it had gone. I was saying to people ‘I can’t feel it but it might be more in the back of my throat’… Self preservation again! When the scan was initially booked, I knew I was seeing Paneesha on Monday 6th November – Mum’s bday! The earliest scan they could give me was Friday 3rd November and there wasn’t any guarantee they’d get the results for the Monday. I annoyed everyone at the PET centre by stressing how important it was for me to get the results by Monday due to me starting cycle 3 on Tuesday 7th November. If the scan result showed improvement, Paneesha had promised the ‘B’ drug would be dropped which is toxic to the lungs and heart. I really wanted this to happen. All they said they could do was mark it as urgent and hope that the consultant at the QE would send the report over to Paneesha asap. Monday morning came around and I rang Heartlands to ask if my results had come in – there was no point in us going if they hadn’t. The receptionist told me that there was nothing on the system so she would email Paneesha to see if he still wanted to see us. I was really disappointed. Whilst it’s not the worst thing in the world to have cycle 3 with the ‘B’ drug, I don’t want to be having unecessary treatment if I can help it. Also, I really wanted to know the results. The receptionist rang back within 5 minutes to tell me that Paneesha still wanted to see us at 10am. Mum, Andy, Ivy and Me strolled into Ward 19 to wait for my appointment. Paneesha appeared at 10.30ish with his warming grin and strong handshake and told us he was chasing the results and could we get a coffee whilst he made a few phone calls. I know I go on about Paneesha, but he really is a diamond. He didn’t have to spend his morning getting my results but I know that each and every one of his patients is important to him, and that comes across in everything he does and says. We came back up to Ward 19 and at 11.20 we were welcomed into Paneesha’s office where he explained he didn’t have the PET scan picture but he did have the report…. ‘Excellent news, there is no trace of lymphoma in your body, you are in metabolic remission.’ Those words meant everything. I couldn’t look at Andy or Mum, I was just staring at Paneesha. Then the tears came and relief flooded through me. This was it, this was what we were all hoping for – I’m going to be ok.

The next steps will be to carry on with the remaining 4 cycles (which is annoying) but only with 3 drugs. Then I’ll have a scan 6 weeks after my last treatment (which is 13th Feb) so by April I’ll have completed my treatment and hopefully have a clear scan. Following that, I’ll have check ups every 3 months in the first year, every 4 months in the second year etc… They can’t actually say I’m cured until I’ve passed the 5 year mark but remission is a bloody good start.

I don’t have my interim PET scan image but this picture was from my 1st scan which shows the lymphomas… and now they’re not there!!

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Unfortunately, after treatment on Tuesday, I’ve actually felt the worst so far. I think I need to take some responsibility for it though… I’ve let my hair down (like the pun?) a bit and been out a lot. The biggest issue has been the nausea – I haven’t felt sick like this before and it’s lasted a few days. The only way I can describe it is like morning sickness, which actually improves when I eat. I’ve also felt exhausted and been in bed a lot – again, I think a lot of it is down to a busy few days. On the plus side, my blood count has risen from 0.92 to 1.32 which is great. Normal range is 1.5 – 8 so i’m not that far below!

We celebrated bonfire night at my sister’s on Saturday night then took Mum out for the day on Sunday – both involved drinking. Sunday was fun – we started with brunch at my sister’s and then went to the Electric Cinema in Birmingham to watch Murder on the Orient Express. It was quite good, an easy watch, and even better to have waiter service to your sofa. The day started like this….

It was a good day and we ended up having a lovely roast at 1000 Trades in the Jewellery Quarter – I’d definitely recommend it. Really nice, chilled out atmosphere with soft jazz playing in the background, and the food was amazing!

 

Even though I blame myself for feeling pretty rubbish this week, it’s nice to just be normal for a few days. I really wanted to enjoy Mum’s birthday and have a few drinks, and while I’ve definitely paid for it, times like these are too important. Part of me gets resentful at how my life has had to change, but then I feel guilty when I’m coming out the other side and many people don’t. So, back to being sensible and not drinking, going to bed early and having rest days it is. It was fun while it lasted though.

Going back to the good news we got, I can’t help but feel really strange about the whole thing. It’s almost like it hasn’t even happened. To be diagnosed, treated and be in remission within 4 months is crazy. It’s an amazing outcome and I’m over the moon, but it’s so strange that I’m having trouble processing it. Also, as I’m still having treatment until Feb, it’s not like everything goes back to normal from now. I’m still losing hair – eyebrows and eyelashes are thinning by the day – I’m still suffering with side effects from the chemo, and I’m still at risk of infection. Normality will not resume for quite a long time, so it’s a weird situation to be in. Hearing stories from other patients in the day unit, I know how lucky I am. I just hope that everything continues this well until February and I can stop being stabbed with needles and injected with chemicals. I’ve never had a problem with needles until now. You’d think that you would get used to them, however I’m finding the opposite… my aversion is getting worse and it feels like they hurt a little more every time. This is probably psychological but I can’t help it. It didn’t help when the nurse who was treating me on Tuesday put the needle too far into the vein and it popped out the other side – the pain was horrible. My arm still aches today! It’s all these little things that add to the overall frustration of the whole process. Anyway, how can I possibly moan? I’m cancer-free and I’m bloody lucky.

 

Time flies when you’re having chemo

Time flies when you’re having fun… Ok, it’s not fun but I’m glad it’s going fast! I’ve now had 2 cycles of ABVD out of 6, or 4 treatments out of 12. Whichever way you look at it I’m one third of the way through. I can’t say the end is in sight yet, and the more time I spend in Ward 19 the more it bothers me, but it’s all heading in the right direction. 

Firstly, I had an overwhelming response from the last post about my hair loss. Every message was full of support and love and I wanted to thank everyone for their well wishes. It means a lot that people have taken time to read my blog let alone comment or send a message. Whilst I don’t regard myself as inspirational or brave (I’m just telling you all how it is and trying to be as honest as possible), it is humbling that so many of you are reading and following my story, so thank you for that. I would definitely recommend writing things down as a form of therapy or self-help – keeping this blog up has really helped me get my head round things and almost take feelings and thoughts out of my head and put them somewhere else. If nobody read my blogs or commented, I’d still be doing it because it makes me feel like I’ve downloaded things that I perhaps wouldn’t talk about. Let’s face it, I don’t want to constantly talk about what’s happening with my cancer, let alone expect other people to want to listen to me drone on every time they speak to me. That’s another good thing – I can meet up with people and because they already know what’s happening, there’s no need to go over the details. A quick, ‘how you feeling?’ is enough. I’m writing this now thinking, ‘I hope I don’t drone on about it, that would be a very depressing conversation for my poor friends and family’…. if I am, someone tell me to sort it out! 

Talking about therapy or self-help, mental and emotional health is equally as important as physical health. Writing the blog was one tool that has helped, but I’ve tried a few other things too… Jigsaws, Colouring in, Music and singing (don’t laugh) and relaxation. I bought a Wasjig (a backwards jigsaw) and set it up on the kitchen table. Every now and again I’d sit at the table with Ivy next to me in her chair, put a random Spotify playlist on and crack on with the jigsaw. I’ve loved it! Happy to be a jigsaw geek!


What made me laugh the other day was receiving a jigsaw in the post without a card saying who it was from! I had to text people to ask if they had sent me a surprise jigsaw… I got a few funny responses back. It turned out that it was Hannah, but she’d forgotten to tell me! I’d told her that Mia, Cameron and Andrew had finished the other puzzle whilst I was outside she thought she’d get me a new one! It was a lovely surprise and I’m planning on getting it started this week.

The colouring started because my friend Marie, aka Ward buddy, bought me a mindfulness colouring book and pencils; very thoughtful and something I would probably never have thought to buy myself! I’ve started it and it’s actually very therapeutic, and I’m not too bad at staying within the lines. Never did I think that at 34 years old I’d be sitting on my bed, listening to George Michael, colouring in pretty patterns with a 9 week old baby in a milk-induced sleep. #lifegoals

Cycle 2 time! Auntie Elizabeth was on Ivy duty for the day and Andrew and I were planning on having a nice meal afterwards as it was an earlier appointment than the previous ones. My appointment was 11.50am and I didn’t actually get into my recliner until 1.45pm.  Apparently the pharmacy at Heartlands Hospital had  an issue with a filter (no idea what this filter does) so all chemo drugs were delayed and nobody could start their treatment. However, this did mean I was sat in the waiting room with Andrew for a while and I saw the man who’s having the same treatment as me. It gave me the opportunity to have a proper chat and find out how his treatment is going. For the purpose of the blog I’ll call him Bob (I actually forgot to ask his name – I think I felt a bit awkward asking questions but I really wanted to know how he was finding everything so I talked at 100mph and forgot to ask the basics). Bob told me he was on holiday in Cyprus and over the course of the week he had developed orange-sized lumps under both his arms, so big he couldn’t swim in the pool. By the time Bob got home to the UK, he had another 3 lumps in his neck. He was quickly diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and sent for a PET scan. Paneesha (Bob loves him too) diagnosed him at Stage 4b – this meant Bob had lymphomas on both sides of his body in his neck, chest, armpits, groin. I couldn’t believe how quickly it had happened to him, but then the reason this type of cancer is so treatable is because it’s so aggressive. Bob hasn’t suffered any side effects from the treatment so far and has still got the majority of his hair, he’s now starting cycle 3 and waiting for results from his interim PET scan. Hearing his story and seeing how well he was made me feel happy for him and happy for me. I feel like I have a ‘chemo mate’ and listening to how he knows the lumps have either gone or reduced in size reinforces that this treatment works. 

Auntie Alyson looked after Ivy on the second treatment of cycle 2, and initially I had asked her to have Ivy overnight… This came about because it’s half term and The Freemans wanted to spend time with her and it would be a perfect opportunity. Basically I chickened out. I was fine when Mum looked after Ivy overnight before but that was because we were actually out – this time I’d be at home with no real reason to be without her! I had to text Alyson to say my overprotective maternal side had won. This was new to me – I felt bad for letting Alyson down because I know they were looking forward to it, but i don’t think I could sit at home without Ivy! Andrew and I made the most of the babysitters by going to the cinema. We watched Thor and as usual, he was amazing. It’s been an ongoing joke since the first film that I have an unhealthy obsession with him – Chris Hemsworth cheers me up no end, especially when he starts throwing his big hammer around. Pun intended. 

When we picked Ivy up, Lee got more than he bargained for and became Anya for a few minutes…. gotta say he pulls it off. I’d like to say that he was itching to get it on but there may have been some gentle persuasion involved! I feel ok about letting my family see me with a shaved head and being honest about my wig-wearing. Being open about it makes it easier for me to deal with. What made me laugh was little Ruby asking me to ‘take my hair off again’ before I left Alyson’s, it was hilarious. While I’m sharing a picture of Lee looking like the bearded lady, I might as well give you a glimpse of my new look (filters work wonders!)

Taking ‘twinning’ to the next level

A little bit creepy but managing to pull it off

 

The 2 treatments in cycle 2 were straightforward, similar to the previous ones. There is an issue towards the end of the session though – the last drug (the ‘D’ drug) is known to cause vein pain, and to try and combat this, the drug is put through an IV alongside Glucose. This minimises the vein pain. The last 2 treatments have finished with horrible pain through my IV – when I flagged this up with the nurse the first time, she told me there wasn’t any swelling and the canular was in the right place so offered me a heat pad. Being completely honest, it didn’t help. The only way I can describe it is a burning sensation. Anyway, the drip finished and the IV was removed and the pain instantly stopped. The second time, I had already told the nurse what had happened previously and she explained about the vein pain side effect – she said she’d keep an eye on the pump to make sure the Glucose drip didn’t run out before the chemo. This time around, the pain came when the last flush was put on. I called the nurse over instantly and she turned the rate of flow down and the pain eased. Apparently the chemo was still in the tube and was being pushed through by the flush, so in effect, was entering my vein on it’s own without the Glucose, therefore causing pain. It’s uncomfortable and painful at the time, but the nurses do quickly rectify it, and I suppose if that’s the only concern, I shouldn’t really moan.

I am definitely suffering from hospital fatigue – each treatment gets slightly more annoying and I’m finding myself more fidgety and eager to leave the day unit. Patience is wearing thin, especially when it takes ages to get hooked up. Emotions got the better of me during this last treatment and I got a bit upset; it’s been building for the past week and I’ve been a bit of a grump which makes Andrew a bit of a grump. Talking about it today, I need to tell him when things are getting on top of me, but I don’t like feeling as if I’m moaning. Who wants to live with a moaner?! Physically I feel ok, emotionally I’ve felt a bit vulnerable. Slapping a smile on my face does wonders and stops me succumbing to feeling down, but sometimes the frustration gets the better of me. I’ve got a right to be frustrated and angry but I don’t want it to become an issue for me mentally, hence the jigsaws and colouring 😊.

I’ve got my interim PET scan booked for Friday 3rd November and an appointment with Paneesha to discuss results on Monday 6th November. I can’t see how this is going to be bad news. The dreaded lump in my neck which initially alerted me to this issue has more or less gone. I can’t actually feel it anymore. However, I’m well aware that just because I can’t feel it doesn’t actually mean it’s gone, it may have just decreased in size and the remainder is in a part of my neck that I can’t feel. It must be good though, mustn’t it? We’ll have to wait and see! Like the first scan, I can’t be around Ivy for 8 hours. This time around though I’m not breastfeeding so it’ll be a little easier.

Ivy is now 10 weeks old and had her 8 week injections on 11th October. Auntie Alyson had to come with us because one of the immunisations is taken orally and therefore there’s an airborne risk – with my immunity so low, it’s too risky and I needed Alyson to take Ivy in for me. The 3 of us went into the initial postnatal check. From the initial questions and look of concern on the Doctor’s face, it’s safe to say she was expecting me to be in poor mental and physical health after reading my notes. I answered her questions and said that everything was going well, she was happy with Ivy’s development and also happy with how I was coping. Ivy had her physical checks – she routinely will put weight through her legs and wobble with me holding her, but as soon as the doctor was lifting her up and down, Ivy kept pulling her knees up to her chest on the downward motion. I did the cringe Mum thing and said, ‘Ivy does put weight through her legs at home, I don’t know why she won’t do it.’ I don’t even know if the test was to see if she put her legs down but this weird urge to tell the doctor what she does at home came out of nowhere – I think you just want the doctor to say things like, ‘Oh wow, she’s so advanced’, or, ‘an 8 week old baby has never done that before!’ Is it my competitive nature? God help me on school sports day! Anyway, we left the doctor and sat and waited to be called in by the nurse – injection time! Watching Alyson and Ivy walk off into the room left me feeling helpless, I wanted to be in there and comfort Ivy when the inevitable happened. After a few minutes I heard it – Ivy’s scream. This is rare. As I’ve said before, I think some higher power is looking after us as Ivy is so well behaved, hardly cries and pretty much sleeps through the night, so to hear her screaming made me want to run into the room, scoop her up and smother her with love. Poor little thing, she got through 3 injections and an oral dose. The screaming didn’t last too long and soon they were out and she seemed a lot calmer. Alyson stayed with me for the day as I’d been told not to change nappies or even cuddle. There has to be a realistic approach to this situation – as long as I’m really strict with hygiene i.e. washing hands thoroughly after changing nappies or if there’s someone else around, get them to do it, I don’t think I can actually be unable to cuddle my own daughter. Maybe not smother her in kisses like I sometimes do, but other than that, I just need to be sensible.

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Before the injections – poor thing didn’t know what was coming.

I was talking to my sister the other day about feeling tired, and that sometimes I berate myself and think I’m lazy because some days the thought of leaving the house drains me – time Ivy’s feed right, change her, probably change her again, into the car seat, pram in the boot, car seat in the car…. car seat out the car, carry Ivy or set the pram up, negotiate pushing a trolley or carrying a basket… I needed to drop 3 parcels into the post office, what an easy task! However, I literally could not summon the energy to do all of the above so I didn’t. It’s difficult to say whether it’s chemo related or just having a 10 week old, and it’s easy to feel lazy, but I’m getting better at being ok having downtime. Why not make the most of it?! 

Bye Hair, Hello Anya

This is by far the toughest post I’ve written. I can’t explain it. My mindset on this specific side effect of chemo changes daily, even hourly. I go from the pragmatic approach of, ‘It’s only hair, it doesn’t change me as a person and it’s a sign the chemo is working’, to the more emotional aspect of, ‘It’s my hair and I like my hair! When I’m feeling like s*** on the inside, I at least want to look good on the outside!’ I also give myself a hard time thinking that I’m vain, obsessed with how I look and worried about what people might think of me rather than focussing on kicking cancer. Stupid eh?!

The only way I can describe it, is that I feel it makes me vulnerable and exposed. Like I’m walking around with a sign saying ‘I’ve got cancer, feel sorry for me, I’m ill.’ I know this is in my head, and people probably wouldn’t care less about my lack of hair, but I just can’t shift these thoughts. People deal with this everyday who have alopecia, premature hair loss, cancer etc, and there are a whole host of celebrities selling their hair extensions, half wigs, full wigs and ponytails, so why do I find it so difficult? Simple answer is, it’s because I’m ill and have no control over it. I am losing my hair and I’m losing it because I’m ill, therefore I need to deal with it, whether that’s by buying scarves, hats or wigs, I’ve got to accept it and embrace it.

Hair History

Over the years I have had some interesting hair cuts. I thought I’d jot some down to indulge myself a little:

1. The ‘mum cuts my hair’ do, consisting of a fringe cut halfway up my forehead. Think this was around 12/13 yrs old.

2. The ‘Rachel from Friends’ do which turned out to be a Tina Turner-esque mullet (years later I found out pretty much the whole year group questioned my sexuality; piecing together my love of sport, choice of clothing and my new do – even my mum got in on the action)

3. The ‘just been dumped’ do. Going from brunette to gingery blonde in one sitting resulting in a Toyah Wilcox look that is probably my worst hairdo, ever. It lasted about 4 months and got me through Glastonbury Festival. The bleach completely ruined my hair and I had to have it all cut off!

4. Colour and fringe variety…

 

Bye Hair

I had to make some decisions about how I’d approach this whole hair loss issue. Various options had been mentioned to me, but I hadn’t been ready to even think about the practicalities of it when I couldn’t accept that it was actually going to happen. I constantly googled about hair loss during chemotherapy, hoping there would be women saying they had managed to keep their hair, but it was very few and far between. I’m following another blog by a young lady who is currently on cycle 5 of her chemotherapy for Hodgkins, and she is still getting away with her own hair. I knew mine would go – I’d been told that if my hair grows fast, it would come out quite quickly, usually within 3-4 weeks of starting chemo. My hair does grow fast, and it started to come out around week 3.

Washing my hair and having clumps in my hands was horrific. I got myself into a right state. There seemed to be loads and because it was wet it looked even worse. Walking into the bedroom, I just started crying and telling Andrew what had happened. The reality had started and I wasn’t ready to accept it. The amount of hair that was coming out was ridiculous – it was everywhere. Drying my hair, more was hanging out from the bottom and it was covering my bedroom floor. The amount of hair that came out, I was half expecting to have bald patches. It’s amazing how much hair we actually have! I felt like I’d lost the bulk of my hair but it wasn’t actually noticeable to others. To me, it was just a bit thinner. Over the following week it was coming out thick and fast; all over my clothes, floor, bed, bathroom, kitchen… basically anywhere I went I was leaving trails of hair. Gross. Even Ivy got in on the action by grabbing clumps in her chubby little hands. However, the more it happened, the more I got used to it, and rather than upsetting me it was becoming more of an annoyance. It was happening and I couldn’t do anything about it. The last day I wore it down was Gina’s wedding. Andrew was on hair watch and was constantly grabbing hair from the back of my jacket. The final straw was sitting at the table and removing hairs from my serviette and table-cloth – they were even more noticeable against the white backdrop! I managed to eat the starter then excused myself and tied my hair up in the bathroom. Once I’d done that, I felt a lot more at ease and less paranoid!

I hadn’t actually considered the practicality of my hair coming out – I don’t know where I thought it would go and it was never anything I had thought about. Obviously it had to go somewhere and maybe I thought it would just come out without me noticing.

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Taken on Thursday 12th October – exactly 1 month since I started my treatment

Throughout my life I’ve always had a certain degree of confidence – I know if I make an effort I can look ok and make-up and hair work wonders. My weight has fluctuated and there has definitely been times when I’ve felt better than others, but on the whole I’ve never really had body confidence issues. Over the last couple of months, I feel like I’ve taken a bit of a bashing in confidence – main contributors:

  • Being pregnant for 9 months and trying to dress a ‘bump’ without looking like a whale
  • Dealing with my postnatal body – jelly belly comes to mind
  • Not being able to go back to netball after Ivy’s birth which I was sooooooo looking forward to
  • Feeling generally unfit but being unable to exercise like I used to
  • Losing my hair

So obviously the last point, losing my hair, is another aspect that has dealt me a bit of a blow. Going back to my earlier point though, it’s only hair.

There is a bonus to all of this though, I have got an amazing wig that I’m quite excited to start wearing. It’s been a bumpy ride to find something that I actually feel comfortable in, and has definitely been emotional, but i think i’m finally there and as an added bonus, i won’t have to wash, dry or style my hair for the next 6 months! Imagine the savings on hair products!

I decided to have one last hair cut and went to my cousin’s fiancée (congratulations, recent engagement!!!) Sarah at The Hair Factory, Redditch. I’m really glad I did this. Not only was it better that my hair was shorter, but I wanted a smoother transition into a wig and as I knew the wigs I’d looked at were better with a side or full fringe, that’s what I asked Sarah for. The cut was fab and I had a couple of weeks with a new haircut, something that I’ll be missing over the next few months.

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Last hair cut!

Hello Anya

So, this is the emotional bit. Finding a wig. Like i said, the nurse and doctors had advised where I could get one from, and some family and friends had suggested a few places. I did some of my own research and decided to start with House of Fraser and Trendco. I’d called House of Fraser and they said to come in and have a chat, no appointment needed. I took Andrew and Ivy with me and I felt absolutely fine about going in and seeing what they would recommend. We passed Trendco on the way and popped in to see what they could offer but I needed an appointment. They were quite strict about privacy and said I’d need an hours appointment to discuss properly, so I re-booked and left to go to House of Fraser. Now I don’t want to slate House of Fraser, because actually the lady in there was lovely, but what I will say, she didn’t really help me to understand what I was looking for. We walked into a room and there were wigs everywhere – I’d already decided I wanted a Human Hair wig. Why would I scrimp on a synthetic wig if it doesn’t make me feel comfortable? I’d rather pay for an expensive wig and at least feel ok wearing it. As a guide, synthetic wigs range between £100-£500, whereas human hair wigs start around £700 and can go up to £1500. Unbelievable! The lovely lady said they only had one human hair wig in stock so she went and got it and then put it on my head. I just started crying. It was horrendous. Not only the cut and colour, but because I still had all my own hair, it was sitting too high and looked like a bouffant! I turned and looked at Andrew with tears coming down my face, and he started to get emotional too. It wasn’t the right time and we left fairly quickly. In the lift, we both said it was a lot more overwhelming than either of us thought it would be. It had shocked me that Andrew had got upset too – sometimes it’s easy to forget about the impact this has on other people. It is my hair, but it’s also hard for my loved ones to see me go through it.

After that day, I put the wig conversation into a little box and ignored it. I’d booked the appointment at Trendco so I decided I wasn’t going to think about it again until that day came. By that appointment, Andrew had gone back to work so my Mum came with me. I prewarned her that she might find it difficult, and I was telling myself that it can’t be as bad as the other experience. Thankfully, the appointment was completely different. I was in a private room with a very experienced lady called Julie, and she asked me lots of questions about what I thought I wanted and then suggested a few styles and cuts. Lot of advice about Human Hair vs Synthetic and the consideration around maintenance and styling. The wigs I tried on that day weren’t horrendous, and I actually put one aside to come back for. In the middle of the appointment, Ivy decided to wee on my Mum (it must have been coming out of the side of her nappy) and it was going everywhere. Mum then opened her up to change and the phrase ‘She’s in a right state’ with a panicked tone was being shouted across the room. Wee and poo everywhere – Ivy knows how to steal the show. I sorted her out and then we left, and I felt so much more positive than I had done before.

Knowing I had a wig that I liked took the pressure off. The nurse in Ward 19 had already mentioned about their wig lady, Tanya, and Mum persuaded me to book an appointment with her just to see what she could offer. The way the nurse described her to me was, ‘She’s ever so good, she comes in with 2 suitcases and she’s got so many to choose from.’ Instantly I had an image in my head of a lady with 2 fancy dress suitcases, bowling into Ward 19 waiting room, dishing out wigs for everyone to try on! I wasn’t convinced I’d find something I liked, but I went to see her anyway. Again, I was pleasantly surprised and actually Tanya was colour matching my hair and giving me lots of advice on styles. I tried a few on – some good, some not so good, and she offered to order some in for the following week in the hair colour I wanted – no obligation to buy them at all. The following week I found the new hair in my life – she’s called Anya. It’s a synthetic wig, Rich Coffee Bean in colour, and a fairly straightforward style, similar to how I’ve had my hair in the past. It has a lace-front wig cap which means it’s see-through and gives the illusion of hair coming out of your head, rather than looking totally fake. It also has a flexible parting so i can wear it in different styles. Perfect.

Here’s my wig journey (don’t judge my facial expressions – at the time I didn’t know I’d be sharing these images with you lot)…

The end result was Anya… I can wear it down, grip it back and happy that it looks natural and I feel good in it!

(Check out Mum’s cheeky face in the background, that really makes me laugh!)

Last night, Saturday 14th October, Andrew shaved my head. I could only scrape it back into grips and a bobble without it looking thin and when I’ve got a nice wig, why aren’t I getting on and using it? I sat in the kitchen as Andrew cut the majority of it with scissors and then he did a lovely number one buzzcut. Luckily, my head is an ok shape – there’s no horrible lumps or bumps that have been unveiled, and part of me felt liberated. I look a bit like Sinead O’Connor and now Ivy and I have the same haircut! Not quite ready to share the shaved pic but I’m sure you’ll see it at some point!

Today, 15th October, I took Anya out for the first time and celebrated with a glass of prosecco. It felt weird and I was paranoid it was going to pop off my head but nobody laughed and pointed and my friends and Andrew reassured me that it looked really good and nobody would even know. I now have a sense of achievement – the one thing that was really getting me down has been done.

I’ve shaved my head and now wear a wig, and I’m ok with it.

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1 down, 5 to go

Current position: sat in the lounge with my iPad on my lap, wearing a mismatch of pj’s and activewear, hair scraped back and face bare (just used one of Ivy’s wipes to ‘cleanse’), watching The Wire (just finishing episode 3 and I’ve been reliably informed that it takes at least 4 episodes to get into…) with Ivy in her bouncy chair (who also seems to be watching The Wire = bad Mum), and trying to think of how to sum up the past week and put it into words.

After my treatment last week, I was expecting similar side effects to the previous one. Not to disappoint, my mouth started to hurt on day 3 and lasted for the same amount of time as before. Now I know this is a pattern, it makes it slightly easier to cope with. It is horrendous though, and makes me really grumpy – even drinking water is uncomfortable. Learning from last time, I started to use a straw earlier and also rinsed my mouth with mouthwash more regularly. The most annoying thing is the first few bites of food actually hurts, but if I persevere, the feeling eases off and I can actually finish a meal. I’m so glad this only happens for a few days, I think it might push me over the edge if it was constant!

The tiredness has also got to me this week. I had a busy weekend (supporting my netball team, friends birthday, sisterly Sunday brunch) and I definitely paid for it. The problem is that at the time I’m actually doings things, I feel ok! It is more of an effort than before but it’s fine, and I’d rather carry on doing things I enjoy than staying in and resting. The term ‘resting’ makes me feel like an invalid and I’m not quite ready to think of myself as that just yet. However, Monday came along and I felt like I’d been hit by a lorry. I popped round to my Mum’s and couldn’t keep my eyes open so had a nap on her sofa. I’m really aware of how other people may look at me now, especially if I show that I’m not 100% myself. It’s not like I put on a front for people, but I don’t necessarily go into detail. It’s trying to make the right decisions about what I can and can’t do: this has influenced decisions like opting to join friends just for a drink rather than staying out the whole evening, making sure I’m not in an environment where there are loads of people so therefore limiting contact with colds etc, and just playing things by ear and being honest with friends about it – over the past few years I have become more non-committal with plans (probably my old age haha) so I’m just continuing this ethos!

I had my first clinic review yesterday – aside from having ‘clinic review’ written on an appointment card I had no idea what it entailed. We walked into Ward 19 and it was jam packed – every chair was taken, people were standing around the edge of the room, and it felt really claustrophobic. Also, it makes you feel like there are germs everywhere and with the constant ‘DON’T PICK UP GERMS’ chant going round my head, it put me on edge a bit. There were also patients wearing masks over their nose and mouth, obviously to minimise the risk… I’m not sure that’s something I would feel comfortable doing, but I suppose it’s the sensible approach! I took a blood test ticket and waited my turn – I got called through to be weighed which is never good when you’re wearing probably the heaviest clothes in your wardrobe! This has to be done to make sure the dosage of chemo is still ok for my body mass as apparently some people do tend to lose weight due to loss of appetite etc… I haven’t had that problem. As a side note, when I was pregnant with Ivy, I made a pact with myself that as soon as I could, I’d be working out getting superfit and look like Wonder Woman. This has been put on hold for the foreseeable so the thought of being weighed is not exactly thrilling. The nurse didn’t even let me take my high-tops off! However, she did write (boots) next to my weight which made me feel slightly better. Next was my blood test and then back to the waiting room to wait for the consultant meeting. Paneesha, my consultant, had walked past a few times and waved a hello at me, Ivy and Mum, and I was looking forward to seeing him and catching up on how cycle 1 had gone.

Disappointingly, when I was called through, my review was with a different doctor. Where was Paneesha?? Whilst this new female doctor was nice enough, she definitely lacked the enthusiasm and positivity Paneesha oozed. Very matter of factly, she told me that my neutrophils (white blood cells or WBC’s) were lower than normal (normal is 1 or higher and mine were at 0.92) so she had prescribed me to have injections for 3 days following my next treatment. These injections boost the growth of WBC’s in the bone marrow and I’ve read that this can give an achy feeling throughout the body, not ideal. I was then asked ‘any other questions?’ We chatted about a couple of things but I felt the conversation was very clinical and stilted. After the conversation dried up, the doctor said that she’d see if Paneesha wanted to pop in and say hello, and knocked on an adjoining door. Paneesha appeared and immediately started smiling and shook our hands saying it was great to see us again. I instantly felt more at ease and was really glad that he had popped by. The doctor gave Paneesha a run down of what she’d said, and his reaction to the prescription of injections was quite funny… ‘Look at her, she’s fit, young and healthy, she doesn’t need these injections!’ Thank God! The other doctor was obviously put out at being undermined but I was so glad that I’d escaped those injections for now! What became apparent was the doctor was going by the numbers and textbook responses, whereas Paneesha looked past that and made a decision on me as a person and went with his gut. This suited me down to the ground.

One thing to look forward to this week was one of my good friend’s wedding! I couldn’t wait. Gina made an absolutely stunning bride and we had an amazing day – drank, ate and danced the day away, and I felt brilliant. Andrew was being my little conscience throughout the day… ‘Are you ok?’, ‘Drink some water’, ‘Don’t spend too much time on the dance floor’… My usual response was ‘I’m fine!’ but it’s good to know that I’ve got someone looking after me, even when I don’t think I need it! The prosecco and red wine was flowing and it was an unexpected treat when I didnt get a hangover! Ivy had her first sleepover at my Mum’s house and was very well behaved. This definitely means we can book her into Nana Jen’s hotel again. Leaving her wasn’t hard at all – I know some parents may struggle but I didn’t… Does that sound bad? I looked forward to picking her up the next day but I can honestly say I wasn’t worried or nervous about leaving her, and feeling like that meant Andrew and I could concentrate on the day and relax.

Next week I’m due to take Ivy to get her 8 week immunisations, and the doctor advised that I shouldn’t kiss or cuddle her for a couple of days after. I’ve called in reinforcements in the shape of Andrews sister, Alyson! I think this is a good call, not only so I’m not around anything that could give me an infection, but I’m also not sure that I’d be able to see the doctor injecting poor Ivy! She’s too little! It’s annoying how all these little things are being impacted by my treatment, but it’s just one of those things that I’ve got to be extra cautious about. I’m glad Alyson is coming over and I’m looking forward to having a fun day.

Cycle 2 starts Tuesday 10th October. Can’t believe one cycle has already come and gone, time is flying by. I’m feeling good, positive and looking forward to finishing cycle 2! xx

The new ‘I.V.’ in my life

Cycle number 1: 12th and 26th September 2017

Is it weird to say that I was quite excited to start my treatment? I didn’t feel nervous, scared or upset; instead I was excited to get it going – my best mate Laura summed it up perfectly, ‘this is the first step towards your recovery’. I’ve used this phrase a lot – it’s so accurate.  Gone are the investigations, lack of answers, research and tests, now it’s all about action!

First consideration was where was Ivy going to go? As I’ve said previously, we’ve been so lucky with offers from family and friends and I know that finding a babysitter will never be an issue. Location and availability meant that Mum (aka Nana Jen) was the perfect babysitter – Mum has told me over and over again that she is at our beck and call and will be available 24/7 during my whole treatment… Something I could easily take advantage of haha. Just before we left the house, I breastfed Ivy for the last time. Breastfeeding has been hard but once I got into the routine and over the pain (oh God, the pain), it was a real bonding experience and I’m so glad I got the chance to do it. It was sad that I had to stop, and I found it harder than I thought I would, but hey ho, can’t do much about it.

The last feed 😢

 

I did express like a cow before I had to stop, thinking I’d be able to keep Ivy going on breast milk for ages… I got that wrong. I think I managed to get enough extra to offer her another week, tops! Credit to all those Mums out there who breastfeed and express, it’s bloody hard work! I remember my best mate Hannah explaining this just before my hen do to Amsterdam a year and a half ago (she was exclusively breastfeeding at the time and was expressing to cover Flynn’s feeds over the long weekend), and I never quite understood how hard that was until I had to do it myself! Hats off to you Han, that was some going!!

We dropped Ivy off with the car seat and base, pushchair, bouncy chair and changing bag – don’t know who was more excited, Ivy or ‘Nana Jen’. Mum picks Isobel up from school on a Tuesday too (Isobel is my 10 year old niece) and she absolutely loves her new cousin (so much so, she touches her head at every opportunity, even when casually walking past the bouncy chair 💕). It gives them some nice time together for cuddles and playtime.

Andrew and I headed off to Ward 19 leaving Mum cooing over Ivy. The hospital offer a pass for patients who are having ongoing treatment which helps with parking – £10 for either 20 visits or 3 months worth, whichever one comes first. We all know parking at the hospital is expensive so this makes it slightly more bearable. Arriving at Ward 19 I told the nurses in the day unit we were there and we sat outside until we were called through. Expectations were to see a room filled with medical stations, where other chemo patients sat in lines, hooked up to whatever combos or drugs they needed. Ward 19 didn’t disappoint! My only other experience of chemotherapy was with my Dad – I’d sit with him whilst he charmed the nurses, giving them treats and his cheeky eyed glint, and I’d watch them change his I.V. and look after him. This was slightly different though…. Dad was treated in private luxury at The Priory in Edgbaston, whereas I was going public in Heartlands. However, the only difference was the surroundings. The treatment and hospitality in Ward 19 was, and is fab, and I couldn’t ask to be treated any better. There are hot drinks on tap and even a choice of biscuits (if I was being really picky, maybe a slightly more comfortable reclining chair and a sheepskin rug to snuggle into would top it off nicely…)  I may joke about adding extra comforts but I’d like to stress again how incredible the NHS has been… from first discovering a lump to starting treatment, it’s only been 46 days. 46 DAYS! How lucky are we to have such an amazing, life-saving service? Absolutely fantastic.

Sat in my semi-comfortable recliner, the nurse looking after me instantly made me feel at ease. She was lively, happy and really welcoming and chattered away to us while she prepped coloured bags, syringes and bags of tablets. Everything was explained: 4 drugs given in ABVD order with flushes in between, first one given intravenously, next two pushed through a large plastic syringe by a nurse, and the last given through I.V. for an hour. Easy peasy.

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All hooked up 💉

What I wasn’t expecting was a bag of tablets to take home! It was like a whole pharmacy in a bag. As the nurse was chatting through what each of them was for and how to take them, in my head I was already on amazon ordering a pill box (baby brain is a real thing guys, I’m now incapable of remembering anything!) Some tablets had to be taken once a day before breakfast, others once a day with food, others twice a day on Mondays, Wednesday’s and Friday’s, another one to be taken an hour before each chemo treatment, mouth rinse 4 times a day and anti-sickness tablets to be taken if needed. What a minefield! A nice multicoloured pill box was promptly ordered there and then (Andrew loves an Amazon order) and this is the result….

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Some positive news from my first treatment – there was a guy who was in Ward 19 having the same treatment as me, he was sat on the other side of the room laughing his head off with another patient. The nurse told me that he’d had lumps in his neck and armpit when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma; after his first treatment the lump in his neck had halved and after his second cycle he couldn’t feel any lumps at all! He hadn’t had any side effects and still had all of his hair. We had a little wave at each other in acknowledgement – the nurse had told him it was my first time – I definitely want to have a proper chat with him at some point to compare stories but he left before I had the chance. Hearing positive outcomes like this really helps me believe that little bit more that this is going to work!!

All done,  we left and headed back to pick Ivy up (and to a surprise dinner from Mum). I felt good, glad that the first one was done so I now knew what to expect at every treatment. I spent the next two weeks waiting for the side effects to kick in… I seemed to get off lightly! Amazing! The only slight complaint was a sore mouth on days 3-5 which made it difficult to drink the copious amounts of water everyone was telling me to. A straw made this so much easier and the mouth rinse from the hospital and non-alcohol mouth wash really helped. I did call Andrew at work on the Saturday (day 5) and told him I was getting really annoyed with my body hurting… Funnily enough not all from the chemo! My mouth, yes that was from the chemo, but my boobs were killing me from having to stop breast feeding, as well as still coping with the after effects of Ivy’s birth (I won’t go into any more detail at risk of losing readers 😂). Thankfully I can report these have all improved and I no longer want to trade my body in! The only other complaint was around day 10 when I just felt exhausted. I had had a busy week, and I met my work mates for a leaving lunch. I actually felt fine over lunch, just a bit tired, and it was lovely to see everyone, especially to wish Sam good luck in her new venture! RBC has lost a good one 😢. I ended up getting home at 4:30ish and got straight into bed with Ivy. The tiredness had hit me like a tonne of bricks. I spent the whole night in bed and stayed there until 8am the following day. Andrew came in from work and took Ivy off my hands and gave me strict instructions to stay in bed. It was exactly what I needed and the next day I felt like a different person. I do think it’s probably a combination of having a newborn, being out and about a lot, and the effects of the chemo and when I feel like that, I’ll just need to rest. The tiredness generally seems to kick in early evening and some days I feel it more than others. I just need to listen to my body and be sensible.

Next treatment in cycle 1 was 26th September. Andrew came with me again and we dropped Ivy off with Nana Jen. This time I had to take an anti sickness tablet an hour before my treatment so the nurses could get me going as soon as I arrived. All the nurses were different to the previous treatment, but still pleasant and efficient. We got prime position by the TV so had the joy of watching Bargain Hunt, Tipping Point (the most frustrating quiz show on TV) and The Chase. The nurse chose a different vein in the back of my hand this time which was fine for the most part, but towards the end it started to ache and they had to give me a heat pad to try and help. It eased a bit but remained uncomfortable until the end of the flush. I had also started to feel a bit nauseous which hadn’t happened before, but I think part of this was that I’d taken the anti sickness tablet at 2pm, knowing my appointment was 3pm, but I wasn’t actually hooked up and ready till 3:45. I’ll probably take it slightly later next time to see if that makes a difference.

Throughout the treatment, mum was sending picture updates of Ivy which was amusing us – She’s really smiling now and Mum was getting lots of laughs and giggles. Seeing this while I’m hooked up to a drip makes me feel better. Going through all this crap is totally worth it to make sure I’m there for Ivy, to see her grow up and become an amazing person. When I don’t feel great, or get frustrated with the number of appointments and visits to Ward 19, a cuddle, a laugh, even a s****y nappy can make me feel so much better. Being there for her and making sure she’s ok is an amazing feeling. I can’t imagine my life without her now!