Grooming

When I started chemo, one of the things I was told by the sister at the cancer centre and by the oncologist, was that my hair would start falling out around day 7 or 10 post first chemo treatment and it would be all gone by the time I arrived for the second one, 21 days later.  I was told it would DEFINITELY happen due to the chemo drugs I was having. A bit harsh to hear I know, but I think it was their way of preparing me for what I’m sure for most women, is such a traumatic and life adjusting event.  No maybe it will, maybe it won’t, rather,  it is going to happen do you need the number for a wig maker? Honesty I appreciated oddly enough.

 

Well, it is day 14 for me post chemo, so I know it IS going to happen any day now.  The oncologist explained that with the chemo plan I am on, I really should only be without hair between 9 and 12 weeks, (wow, ONLY), basically the period of these 1st three treatments.  My cunning plan is to hang onto my hair for as long as possible, so theoretically those non hair weeks will be fewer.

 

So despite ” The Plan”, the oddest thing happened on Sunday, day 10.  Now the following may be considered a bit of an over-share and a bit disturbing, so please activate parental control NOW.

 

Obviously due to the fact I still have limited use of my dominant right arm, I have not been able to “groom” myself as thoroughly as I would like, especially coming out of winter hibernation.  I have not had much chance to “shed as much fur” as I am accustomed to. Poor Pete has already had to do things for me way beyond his husbandly scope of work; I thought I needed to save him a few years of psychological counseling!  

 

So on Sunday evening I decided that this may be the right time to start preparing for summer. Armed with my trusty tweezers I went about pruning my bikini area.  I noticed that the little hairs were coming out rather easily, it took me a while to realise that they were coming out a bit TOO easily.  So naturally, (as you do), I abandoned the tweezers and found I was able to pull them out just with my fingertips!  It was the same for the longer hairs on my thighs (OK, before you judge, remember I have been recovering from surgery!).

 

So now I know the rest is not going to be far “behind” (yes, I’m afraid, those too!).

 

 

You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you. Brian Tracy

If I were to start taking care of my grooming, I would no longer be my own self … so the hell with it … I will continue to be unconcerned about it, which surely has the advantage that I’m left in peace by many a fop who would otherwise come to see me. ” – Albert Einstein

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. Charles Darwin

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor E. Frankl

 

 

 

I’m such a Girl

I have never been a real “girl” when it comes to creepy crawlies.   I have always had this philosophy about live and let live, if you don’t bother them they won’t bother you.  And let’s face it living in South Africa isn’t for sissies especially when it comes to our bugs! 

 

I never thought I would be one of those paranoid people, who become obsessed with avoiding insects!  I have read the emails which claim a spider can lay its eggs in your clothes and then the little baby spiders hatch and eat their way through human flesh and start their own colony in your organs …which is why you should always hang your clothes out in the sun to dry….. not knowing anyone personally living with flesh eating spiders on their person, I have always just taken this with a pinch of salt and a large dollop of Doom.

 

However, since having had lymph nodes removed and being told that any insect bite on my right arm or hand, has the capacity to lead to a major infection (and ultimate head explosions!), my philosophy towards these tiny and not so tiny creatures has changed. I have been advised to carry around things like mosquito repellent, “stingoes”, bactroban etc; and literally send myself off to the nearest casualty facility for ANY spider bite.  

 

Now I see potential incapacitation by insect everywhere!  

 

I have also discovered I am now the pied piper of spiders.  I have never seen so many spiders of every description in our home, they honestly stare at me knowing that my fate rest in their tiny venom sacs!  Now before I totally sound like I’m becoming a little unhinged …  I EVEN HAD ONE LAND ON MY HEAD the other evening as I was innocently watching TV!  Boy if anyone saw the moves I pulled getting it off me, they would never say I had major surgery less than a month and a half ago! Ricky Martin would have signed me as his back up dancer on the spot!

 

I now wear shoes all the time, inside and outside.  I am fine tuning my ninja skills walking silently through the house vigilant of any form of attack from a dusty nook. I even make sure the washing is drying outside in the sun!

 

So despite this disease determined to strip away all of my femininity, it’s actually turning me more into a girl every day!  I certainly scream like one!  

 

 

“I never kill insects.  If I see ants or spiders in the room, I pick them up and take them outside.  Karma is everything.”  Holly Valance 

 

“ The spider is more scared of you than you’re scared of it!  Oh really, did it tell you that!” Unknown

 

“ Seeing a spider is not the problem.  It becomes a problem when it disappears!”.  Unknown

 

“I saw a spider in my bathtub, so I got a piece of tissue and very carefully…..burned the house down”.  Unknown

 

“Why is it when you run into a spider web, you suddenly turn into a ninja”.  Unknown

Our Anniversary

 

Our Wedding day!

Our Wedding day!

Today, Sunday 27th of October 2013, is our 6th year wedding anniversary.

 

 

 

I remember the day well……We had a very small wedding planned in an outdoor garden setting, very brave for October’s notoriously unpredictable weather.  We watched nervously as every weekend from the beginning of the month turn into a rain fest.  I remember waking up that Saturday morning, nervously opening one eye expecting to see the grey skies and the sound of rain. Luck was totally on our side; it turned into a beautiful, glorious day so much so that some of our guests ended up with sunburn!

 

 

The last 6 years have been a great adventure, we have been fortunate enough to have been able to travel, we bought a home and have two much loved four legged children.  We have had our share of ups and downs, just like everyone else, but we have always been able to keep perspective and our sense of humour.

 

 

For me, the last two months has been a continuous test of our relationship and our marriage; an all consuming emotional rollercoaster, of tests, scans, doctor appointments, hospitals and treatments.

 

I have questioned so many things including some previously steadfast belief systems.  Some have been cemented even more firmly and others have been totally washed away.  What I don’t question is what marriage and relationships really are all about and what they are for.  What actually is left in the end when all the pretty superficial veneer has been removed.

 

 

That person that stood there holding your hand at the altar, making those promises to love and stay with you no matter what.  This is the time when those words are tested.

 

 

Marriage doesn’t start with the planning of that one day where things are pretty, when you feel like the proverbial princess, when you’re easy to love.  It starts when that fairy tale ending is peeled away and you become something unrecognisable.  When you look into the mirror and find a very different reality and very little to love.

 

 

Then it doesn’t matter how little or how much you spent on your wedding, how much you paid for your dress or your cake, which guests arrived and who didn’t.  All that matters is who is there holding your hand when the test results come back and they’re not so good.  Who is helping you shower, eat, dress and face another day.  Who can look beyond the shell and the scars and find something worth loving, even when it has to be for both of you.  That is truly when you need your prince, your knight in shining armour.  That’s when the fairy tale is made real…

 

 

To Pete, my hero and a REAL knight in shining armour, Happy Anniversary…we still have many chapters left in our love story.

 

 

I received a beautiful bouquet of anniversary flowers with this message:

“Truly, Madly, Deeply since 2007…Forever is a long time, but I wouldn’t mind spending it by your side.Thank you for completing me, Happy Anniversary.Love you Pete”

 

Who could not love this man!

 

 

“Marriage is a Mosaic you build with your spouse.Millions of tiny moments that create your love story.Jennifer Smith

 

 

“The best time to love with your whole Heart is always now, in this moment, because no breath beyond the current is promised”.Fawn Weaver

 

 

“Happily ever after is not a Fairy Tale.It’s a choice”.Fawn Weaver

 

 

“Show me a man who is smiling from ear-to-ear and living a beautiful life, and I’ll show you a man who is grateful for what he has and utterly in love with his wife”.Fawn Weaver

New Normal

Yesterday turned out to be an interesting day…

 

I woke up feeling good: no nausea, no headache, no serious pain.  I followed my usual routine: lymph drainage, bio-oil wrestling and my physio exercises.  My right arm seemed a little more rigid than the day before, but there has always been a bit of a two steps forward one step back thing going on with my arm’s recovery, so nothing unusual.  I had noticed that the skin under my arm had been a little red and warm to the touch the night before.  But with the entire area still a bit swollen and still trying to heal, it is hard to determine what is exactly normal and what is not.  I certainly wasn’t concerned about it.  I had already booked a physio appointment for later in the day so I thought I would ask her have a look at it.

 

The physio did just that and promptly referred me straight to the Cancer Centre. 

 

I walked in rather apologetically, expecting them to practically roll their eyes and mutter something about “newbie” paranoia!  But they sweetly took me through to an examining room where a nursing sister was ready to see me. 

 

Quick Chemo fact:  Around day 7 after chemo treatment, is when the body’s immune system is at its lowest.  I was given strict instructions to have a blood test done a week after my treatment and two days before the next one so that my white blood cells could be monitored.  Chemo makes no distinction on its mission to destroy fast dividing cancer cells, it goes for ALL fast dividing cells and this includes those in the bone marrow producing white blood cells and more importantly the body’s natural defense against infections.  Having a less than “chemo normal” white blood cell count means chemotherapy will not be administered until the body’s immune system has recovered sufficiently to cope with the next onslaught.  Ultimately prolonging an already lengthy treatment cycle!

 

As it was only one day before my first blood test was due it was decided to do the test early so they could check infection levels in my blood before they got one of the Oncologists to see me.  Well, I was rather surprised – I mean did this really warrant an Oncologist’s opinion? After all I was actually feeling so much more normal and so much better than I had in 5 days! 

 

But with the opportunity of not having to return the next day for a blood test, I rolled up my sleeve!  I have never been squeamish about having my blood taken; I have been a blood donor for many years and have good veins. Now that may sound a little conceited but like I mean I have EMBARRASSINGLY good veins!  The vein in the crook of my left arm, sticks out so much that it’s almost a party trick!   I used to have the trainee staff at the blood bank taking blood from me as it was THAT easy!  No pumping up the vein with squeezy balls for me, no digging around searching for a good spot, it was just there!  So I was totally perplexed when she said she could not find my vein.  I could not believe it!  My beautiful vein – after one chemo session had completely disappeared.  We had been told that veins tend to “shrink” during chemo – totally understandable after 6 months of treatment, but after just ONE?!

 

The shocks kept coming. She managed to find a vein and sent the bloods off for analysis.  The results came back and I found myself in the Oncologists office.  He observed that the skin was not only a bit red, but there was some “spongy” swelling in the area which indicated that I had cellulitis.   Well, I thought to myself, if he thought THAT was cellulitis, he obviously hadn’t seen my thighs and bum!

 

He explained that either due to the skin being stretched in the area from the expanders or through the scar area itself, infection had gotten in to the skin.  Not having the lymph nodes to help filter the infection it would just continue to spread. The positive was that my white blood cell count looked good, so good that he would not have to hospitalize me to sort out the infection!  WHAT?!

 

I am now on antibiotics and anti inflammatories for 5 days. 

 

The enormity of this entire situation really hit me hard as I thought I was starting to understand all these new parameters. But now I feel as though I am living in a complete alien world where nothing is familiar, nothing is normal and I still don’t quite understand the rules.

 

THIS is now my new reality, my new normal…..oncologists, white blood cell counts, infection control, lymphoedema, cellulitis, disappearing veins…..

 

“It is normal to give away a little of one’s life in order not to lose it all” Albert Camus

 

“I didn’t want normal until I didn’t have it anymore”.  Maggie Stiefvater

 

 

 

 

 

My Scars

This morning I woke up in a philosophical and pensive mood.  The chemo queasiness ever present, but not all consuming.  So with my stomach more settled and in my current frame of mind, I decided I would like to speak about my scars.

The plastic surgeon, the oncologist, the physio and Pete say the wounds have healed really well.  I personally cannot comment as up until about 3 weeks ago I had been unable to look at them.  Have I been a coward, have I been in denial?  Yes definitely, both of those and then some!

Going to physio changed my ostrich syndrome.  I suddenly had to be more in tune with my body, exercising my arm, checking for abnormal swelling and being responsible for daily manual lymph drainage.  My crutch was that the wounds were still taped with a thin, but very visible layer of hypafix, a type of light breathable plaster, which Pete changed every 2 days.

My visit to the plastic surgeon last week took away that crutch.  I was told to leave the plaster off for a few hours at a time and apply tissue oils etc to the scars.  So there I was, in front of the bathroom mirror with all my lotions and potions and all I could think of was: this mirror had NEVER been his big before!  Luck was on my side, being figuratively and quite literally short sighted I could see my scars but only in a slight fuzzy, ethereal light.  It was good enough to do the job I had to do…

Now let me just qualify something, my lovely lady lumps, have never been particularly been made for the stage, and they certainly would never have been invited to the Playboy Mansion or anything.  But they were mine.  I knew every visible imperfection, every stretch mark, and at 40 – gravity could have been a little kinder.  But we had been together a long time and had gone through a lot.

So this morning, I decided that if I was going to speak about my scars and give them the honesty they deserve, I was to look at them in a new perspective and with new eyes or rather with the new eyes given to me by Spec Savers!

To see the two dark lines running across my chest in full HD was rather shocking.   The scars are not completely healed as yet, there is still a bit of scabbing and quite a bit of swelling.  The right one is particularly scary, a longer cut heading towards my armpit where the lymph nodes were removed and a little more savagely cut where the 3 tumors were located. 

All I could think was that surely in this age of medical advancement when they can pull out a 3kg baby from a smaller wound area, and practically remove all your internal organs from your belly button, you would think they could remove cancer with a little more finesse.  The priority I guess, is to give you more years to live a life and not to leave a neat and tidy package in which to do it in. So there they are, no use crying over spilt lymph.

So I guess right now it’s all too new and raw to look at them and be anything but sad.  But I hope they become a reminder of where I had been, how far I had come and what I overcame.  I hope these scars will leave no room for me to forget what actually defines my life, having people around  that care, that bring  a meal, flowers, a card, a smile, strength.  A reminder that life isn’t always pretty but that I am always going to strive to be tougher than the wounds it may inflict.   I hope they will always reinforce the promises I made in my marriage vows :sickness and health, the good times and the bad. 

They will certainly be the first thing I see every morning and the last thing I see every night for the rest of my life.  I hope I never forget that they gave me that… a rest of a life.  I hope that in the future I will not have to speak about my scars but that they will speak for me.

 

“Never be ashamed of a scar.  It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you”. Unknown

“…and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”  Chris Cleave, Little Bee

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” Rose Kennedy

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.” Cormac McCarthy

“Some people see scars, and it is wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact that there is healing.”  Linda Hogan

“Scars show us where we have been, they do not dictate where we are going.”  David Rossi

 
 

 

 

 

 

My Super She-roes

Lee-Anne, Anita and Wendy

Lee-Anne, Anita and Wendy

October 20th, 2013

It’s Sunday evening, 3 days post treatment and I still feel the effects of my chemo hangover! But today I don’t want to chat about treatments or surgery, today I would like to acknowledge some amazing Super She-roes! Not those super human beings with unearthly super powers but real humans who have gone beyond the limits of their own comfort to support me and others just like me.

 

Today my friends Wendy, Anita, Gerry and Lee-Anne completed the Long walk, 37km from Nottingham Road to Howick, all in aid of Breast cancer.  These are ordinary people who have busy lives, children to look after, lessons to prep, households to run. Not ultra marathon types with times to beat or an event to qualify for, just friends taking time away from their own families, doing something they never ever envisioned simply for a cause close to their hearts.

 

For my sister, who also cut her hair short last week so I wouldn’t feel alone (we had secretly been having a hair growing competition!) when mine had to come off.  She made arrangements for our hair to be donated to CANSA to hopefully benefit other women going through this frightening disease.

Shal (right) and my hair ready to be donated to CANSA

Shal (right) and my hair ready to be donated to CANSA

 

Not typical super heroes by world standards, but certainly by mine. You should all be so proud of yourselves, cos I sure am!

 

“Those who say we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look”. Ronald Reagan

 

“How important is it for us to recognise and celebrate our heroes and she-roes. Maya Angelou

 

“The world knows little about its greatest heroes”. Dan Zadra

 

The day after the night before

Well there I was at home after my first chemo, feeling pretty good and proud of myself for feeling so good – with the next 6 months not looking as daunting as before.  I took full advantage of the cool, rainy weather and certainly not one to pass up the opportunity to be told to throw on her PJ’s and head back to bed!  I posted my bog, watched some TV, read (ok, so maybe played some “Candy Crush, which I am now totally hooked on, thanks to Isabella, my little grade 4 friend!).  Wendy popped in for tea; I was feeling a little tired, but all good until a bit later in the afternoon… 

 

 I suddenly developed what I can only describe as the worst hangover in the history of hangovers (not talking from my own misspent youth or anything).  My head started to feel fuzzy, my eyes felt as though they were popping out of my head, I had a pounding headache and the most debilitating nausea.  So I popped my meds, drank water by the gallon,  ok so maybe it was only a few sips, but it felt like a whole lot more going down!  And lay on my soft and usually soothing percale sheets willing myself to feeling better…it never happened. 

 

Somewhere in between drawing up my will and bequeathing all my earthly possessions (Pete will tell you that I become a trifle dramatic when I’m ill!), I fell asleep.  I wouldn’t quite describe it as the most restful sleep I have ever had, but it allowed me some respite from my aching body and exhausted spirit.

 

This morning I feel like I may have more time before I need to hand over my possessions. I took my anti-nausea meds the minute I opened my eyes, managed a slice of toast and tea. So things are looking decidedly better as I face the day and am relieved that  I have 3 weeks for my body and mind to recover until my next treatment. 

 

 Today will be a good day!

 

“Illness is the doctor to whom we pay most heed; to kindness, to knowledge we make promise only; pain we obey.” Marcel Proust

 

“If you treat a sick child like an adult and an adult like a sick child, everything usually works out pretty well”. Ruth Carlisle

 

“Get well cards have become so humorous that if you are not getting sick you’re missing half the fun”. Flip Wilson