Breast cancer lesson number 89: A chemo day can be a good day

Believe it or not, today was a good day. I should qualify this by saying that most good days do not come with a helping of toxic drugs on the side. But as days on active treatment go, it was a complete success.

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I passed my blood test (yay!). My levels are good for someone on chemo (could be seen as a compliment). I had a lovely lunch with my lovely mum (that I could taste) and a walk along the river (in the sunshine). I met a friendly nurse who furnished me with a whole rucksack full of pills, mouthwashes and eye drops (including the mighty Emend/Aprepitant for vomiting). I got the chemo drugs (yay-ish because it wasn’t delayed) and actually waved goodbye to Epirubicin as the last red syringe was drained into my PICC line. I now know the name of the lovely lady who does my PICC line flushing every week (she doesn’t wear a name badge and after a few sessions, I felt it would be wrong to ask). I have sorted out my appointments for the next round (chemo is moving to a Friday). And, most importantly, the chemo unit LOVED the ginger cookies (although you could question whether or not a unit of patients with questionable taste buds is a robust test).

I also discovered a few new things (and we all know how much I love learning things)! One, there is such a thing as a menopause clinic, because I’ve been referred to it in an attempt to help me get a convincing night of sleep! (watch this space). Two, baked goods (with ingredients listed) are welcome on the unit (I did wonder whether health and safety would get in the way). Three (not the best revelation), the next set of chemo cycles requires me to have around 24 injections to help keep my white blood cell count at a good level (nothing like a few sub-cut injections to remind me of those fertility days). And last but not least, according to my stats, somebody discovered my blog by searching ‘extraordinary boobs’. Whoever found my blog by searching for this, all I can say is: great search terms (I wimped out after Googling it and sizing up the main subject matter) and I am sorry that I really don’t have extraordinary boobs. They are certainly not ordinary, but I am not sure that is what you were after!

Here’s a piccie of me in the unit ‘copping a feel’ (albeit not exactly going for a full grab) to show my support for the wonderful charity Coppafeel (click here), which was set up by a wonderful women called Kris, who was diagnosed with Stage four (advanced breast cancer) at the age of 23. Her mission is to make sure young women are more aware of their boobs, completing those regular checks that could just save their lives. It’s a simple and powerful message, and one I am going to help her spread over the coming months and years.

I may be nibbling my ginger cookies at a rapid rate to tackle the nausea inside me, but I think, as days go, it was a goodie. Let’s just hope I don’t have to make friends with my old washing-up bowl again tonight!

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I hope you’ve all had a good day!

 

Breast cancer lesson number 79: In search of the ultimate chemo-friendly ginger cookie

Anyone who knows me well will know that there’s nothing like a 250g slab of butter, a plastic spatula and a kitchen lightly dusted with icing sugar to make me smile. From grannie’s special shortbread and melted stilton and ham rolls to chocolate orange cake and even the odd hand-rolled fondant rose, if it involves a lot of measuring, plenty of bowl licking (oh, raw sponge how I love you) and a little bit of icing, I’m there.

As you might have guessed, I love to bake. The emphasis is usually on taste not presentation (although Duncan was stunned when I once produced a cake that actually ressembled Thomas the Tank Engine for my lovely godson), and there have been more than a few disasters (the less said about the collapsed Quiche Lorraine, the broken brandy baskets and the misshapen macaroons the better), but for me, there is no better smell than the smell of freshly baked goodies!

The trouble is, I love to bake with a purpose. And, when you’re tucked at home with a surgically-flattened stomach and no desire to enlarge it, that purpose is not so easy to find. I will certainly be doing another of my annual charity bake sales in the not-to-distant future, but for now, I am just keen to get creative while filling someone else’s tummy as well as my own. Plus, I have also started to notice that my new right breast is taking a rather larger shape than my left. With tummy fat all over the place (including in the new boob), I have more than just a bulging belly to worry about.

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Last night, however, I went to bed with a dream and I woke up with that purpose. Yes, after discovering that opening the bedroom door can do wonders for night sweats, I had a comfortable night. It also reminded me that I am stronger than the chemotherapy drugs dancing away inside me and now is the time to start fighting back. With chemotherapy cycle three just 12 days away, I am determined to triumph over every single side effect thrown in my direction. That means Difflam on tap (mouthwash for mouth ulcers), ice lollies and frozen grapes (yes, still focusing on the mouth) and a lot of ginger (for the sickness).

For FEC chemo cycle one, having discovered the medicinal benefits of ginger, my beautiful and thoughtful mum arrived on the doorstep with not one, but three bags of homemade ginger biscuits (plus a box of tasty cookies from a friend). I dutifully polished of the lot (with a little help, but not much) and the experience has got me thinking. What is the tastiest, most nausea-relieving and chemo-friendly ginger cookie in the world? Does it exist? Does someone have the recipe lurking in their family history? Is gingerbread better than a ginger cookie? And, could I make some to deliver to my chemo unit to help other chemo patients (and inspire others to do the same)? Why simply take on my nausea, when I can try to help everyone else too?

Of course, I am not ruling out bought ginger biscuits (or ginger bread for that matter). But, there is something about a lovingly-prepared homemade bake that I think might just have the edge. I have heard great things about the Fortnum and Mason stem ginger biscuits and do love a good Ginger Nut. Question is, do they have what it takes to banish waves of nausea from the chemo suite?

So here’s where you come in. Can you help me find the perfect ginger-flavoured treat? In return, I promise to bake every recipe and share my favourites with chemo patients (and maybe a few friends, family members and neighbours too) J. Plus I thought the whole exercise might be quite useful to my wonderful and kind sister-in-law-to-be, who just so happens to have a ‘slight’ addiction to biscuits of a gingery kind! Please post here or send me an email via the ‘Get in touch’ page and I will get cracking.

Spatulas at the ready, it’s time to turn on the oven and turn off those chemo side effects!

Breast cancer lesson number seven: Cake is good for the soul and great for the boob!

Ok, so this isn’t an official medical recommendation. But, for someone who has a rather unhealthy obsession with hundreds and thousands and Green and Black’s vanilla white chocolate, it’s nice to know that the sweet stuff does have its uses!

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As you’ve probably guessed, I did pass the ‘fat’ test. But, in the words of my plastic surgeon, it is ‘tight’. That means, a week on Friday, I will be having a mastectomy (right boob off), axillary clearance (lymph nodes out) and immediate reconstruction (boob job) with, you guessed it, my tummy fat (a DIEP flap). I have always wanted to know what a flat stomach would look like. Now, for six weeks at least (post-op), I’ll know.

Today was an odd day to say the least. I did, however, learn two interesting things. Firstly, wear good knickers at all times because you never know when you are going to be asked to flash them. Secondly, don’t let anyone book your appointments the wrong way round – even if they say it won’t matter.

I started the day with the cancer surgeon, who revealed that the second biopsy confirmed the presence of even more cancer. At first he said: ‘I think it’s benign.’ Then he checked the notes and said: ‘ah, actually it’s more cancer.’ Interesting fact though, it doesn’t matter how many tumours you have in your boob, the treatment is based on attacking the largest one! So, no change then – just more cancer (nice).

The trouble is, because I hadn’t yet had the results of the ‘fat’ test, it was very hard to discuss the planned surgery. So, a completely hypothetical ‘what-happens-if-I-am-not-fat-enough-this-afternoon?’ discussion followed. One implant-measuring session and one consent form later and talk turned to surgery dates. ‘If we can’t use your fat, we can squeeze you in this week,’ the surgeon added. I am ashamed to admit, my immediate panic was more due to the fact I have conference calls, meetings, presentations and dinners planned for next week – not the fact I’d be starting to kick those cancer cells even earlier!

Thankfully, after spending lunch counting all the people that would be affected by this date change, I was relieved to discover that my commitment to cake eating had paid off. The most amusing part of all of this is that apparently tummy fat never forgets its origins. So, if I don’t cut back on the white chocolate and Cadbury’s Heroes after surgery, my right boob will make a rather ‘large’ statement. Almost worth trying just to see if it’s true.

Nothing if not obedient, I now have exactly 10 days to bake like Mary Berry before I am sentenced to six weeks of no exercise. I can’t even lift a supermarket shopping bag (he was quite specific, so that must mean other shopping is just fine). Every cloud… If only there was a way of bypassing the thighs and just channelling those calories into the abdomen.

One small aside before I finish. I have a first contender for Cancer Room 101 – people who moan in waiting rooms. There should be a big sign that says: ‘rejoice when there are long queues. It means the people caring for you are taking time to look after you and other people.’ Loud huffing and audible sighing is not cool. Next time, when you’re waiting and that clock is ticking, smile and say thank you for the dedication of the care team working tirelessly to fix you.

So let’s all raise a glass to flour, water, sugar and butter (preferably mixed and baked). It’s only taken a decade in the kitchen to realise just how important a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon are when your life is on the line!