Breast cancer lesson 152: Ten post-treatment ‘firsts’ guaranteed to raise a smile

When I experienced my first proper shower post PICC line removal (no radioactive-looking arm sleeve in sight) and actually tasted my first glass of red since chemo, I started to see just how amazing some of life’s simple pleasures can be when you’ve been deprived of them for a while.

Now I am not saying I will be jumping for the joy at the sight of a shower for the rest of my life – although I do really like a good shower. But, I know that first proper shower is just one of many ‘firsts’ I get to enjoy now that treatment is coming to an end. It may sound strange, but I feel blessed in many ways that have the opportunity to rediscover certain aspects of life that I just assumed I’d take for granted forever.

So here’s my post-cancer list of ten things I cannot wait to experience once more!

The first shampoo: None of this scalp massaging stuff with a bar of hard soap, I am talking a proper lather on proper hair, which needs a lot of washing out! Showers are just too short at the moment and I have nowhere to put my conditioner!

The first brush: When I had hair so long I could sit on it (admittedly only if I leaned my head back), I used to love having other people brush my hair (this was a long time ago). Apparently, 100 strokes make it lovely and glossy (and maybe a bit greasy from all that brushing). There is nothing quite like the feeling of a brush gliding through your hair (or not if your hair is in knots). I love it and I miss it. In fact, the only thing I don’t miss is having to carry one around. Rumour has it my hair may grow back thicker. I am certainly hoping not as it ressembled rope before it fell out.

The first haircut: Ok, bear with me, these aren’t all hair related. Oh, how wonderful it will be to sink into the hairdresser’s chair and ask for someone to actually style my fluff! I will take a lifetime of ‘bed hair’ moments just to be able to look in the mirror and have a say in what is going on up top! It seems my ‘bob’ cut of the last four years is out if your emails and messages are anything to go by!

The first swim: This won’t just be any swim. When I get the all clear from my radio treatment (they suggest about six weeks from the last blast to make sure your skin doesn’t have a reaction to the chemicals in the pool), I will be dipping a toe into the Olympic pool. I think my days in open water might be numbered, but I can’t wait to feel my arms move through the water. It will be another tick on the Brighter Life List too!

The first period: Not something I thought would ever make it onto a list of things I actually want to see, but when you haven’t had one since March and, having one means you are not condemned to an eternal menopause (trust me, you wouldn’t want that), it will actually be a great day ‘if’ or ‘when’ it arrives. Sadly, this is the only thing I know may never return. I’d like to think I’d be more prepared for this first period than the last (was very young and walking round Avebury with my family so not great timing). But, I guess it will be as unexpected.

The first appointment-free month: Having spent the best part of the last month in hospital, I must confess, I am a little over appointments. I have three check-ups scheduled for October (including a trip to the hip surgeon and a discussion about nipples, which should be interesting), so am thinking November could be my month. My diary will look empty for once!

The first day you no longer look like a cancer patient: While I do find the ‘leaving the house’ routine easy at the moment, it would be wonderful to sit on a train and not see pity/sympathy/empathy/sadness/[insert appropriate emotion here] in the eyes of fellow passengers. Even in London, I don’t feel I have as many opportunities to blend in to the background at will. I’m happy, but that isn’t something you can announce to passengers daily, so they smile along rather than assuming my life is falling apart. Also, cancer is cruel in that you often look worse when the treatment is over – just at the time everyone just wants things to get back to normal. I’d like to look in the mirror to apply cream, not have a reminder of the last nine months.

The first mascara-wearing day: Now, I am not a great wearer of make-up as readers of this blog will no doubt know. But, I love mascara. Midnight blue is my favourite and I do often feel a bit naked without it (of course, that was before I discovered how naked you feel without eyelashes). I don’t change it as often as they say, but I might just treat myself to a new one when the lashes start to come back. Here’s hoping that isn’t too long!

The first proper lie-in: those menopausal symptoms are persistent. So much so that the hot flushes (combined with peripheral neuropathy from Tax) still mean bed is not something to be treasured just yet. The more I sleep, the worse the neuropathy is. Providing Tamoxifen doesn’t keep those menopausal symptoms going for the next decade (and providing my nerve endings start to play ball once more) I’d like to think might get a lie-in sometime before Christmas!

The first drug-free day: Given I am still on Clonidine and will be by the time the Tamoxifen starts, this day is a long way off. I will be 42 (at the earliest if we take a baby break in five years or so), so that is a good ten years of pill popping to go. But, what a day that will be! I won’t be wishing my life away just yet, but I will be happy giving my body a break from all things toxic. Maybe though it will be like dying your hair. It will be so long since my body has experienced a life without pills, it won’t know what normal really is any more. Here’s hoping coming off it doesn’t mean I go straight into a natural menopause!

Yes, the future may be filled with uncertainty. Yes, it will take me a long time to trust my body again – although I still believe it wanted me to find that lump on Christmas Eve before it was too late. But, whatever big things await me, I can be certain of one thing – there are plenty of little things that will keep me from thinking about it.

Now, the question is, what ‘first’ will come first? I am betting on the shampoo!