August 8 will forever be known as the day I officially finished chemo.
Unlike most other milestones on this cancer journey, this day comes with no medical-related strings attached. No needles, no toxic cocktail being pumped into my veins, no boob job. Just me at the end of a three-week cycle NOT sitting in a chemo chair. That makes it pretty special.
How did I celebrate this momentous occasion you ask? I went to the hospital of course! This time, however, it was for an arm measurement as part of the Lymphoedema clinical trial and the last of my wonderful aromatherapy treatments courtesy of Dimbleby Cancer Care. I baked some flapjack because I was visiting the Cancer Day Unit for my massage. But, that is where the similarities end.
As the end of a three-week cycle, you could be forgiven for thinking that I might now be symptom free. Sadly, the cumulative effect of chemo means that bits are still falling off – and may continue to do so for quite some time. It feels a little cruel that at the time you’re recovering, you can actually start to look a little worse. But then, I don’t think chemo likes playing by the rules – hence the fact we all have a different experience going through it.
With a break in the cycles at last, I thought it would be fitting to take stock and look at the aftermath. Basically, what’s left and what’s a little bit wonky. Here’s the damage (so far):
- Head: arguably still bald, but now sprouting what I call ‘chicken fluff’. It’s soft like baby hair (another reason why I liken chemo to being reborn). Not sure on the colour yet, but I’m hoping it isn’t grey. These pictures hopefully give you a glimpse of the fluff – although I do appreciate the lighting makes me look a little like an alien!
- Eyebrows and eyelashes: clinging on for dear life still, but fading fast I fear. People do say the eyebrows are the last to go and it looks like that may be the case. I do feel lucky though because the combination of lighter hair and glasses does make it hard to tell if they are there or not. I am sad I can’t wear mascara (my one or two lashes would look a little weird if I highlighted them)!
- Other hair: why is it that the leg hair is the first to reappear? As if anyone wants that back! I have heard that if you wax it early on, it may forget to grow back. If you can vouch for this do let me know before I rush off to get them waxed! The arm hair, on the other hand, is now falling off (having thinned throughout). Everything else is still pretty much absent (oh, nose hair, my runny nose misses you). I am watching my big toes carefully as I have heard they can become a bit Frodo-like in the post-chemo days.
- Nails: Sore nails are really not pleasant. If you tap them on a hard surface (I did this once and now try to avoid at all costs) if feels as if they are coming off. They remain painted in blue and pink, but the last time I reapplied the colour, there was a lot of discolouration and my big toes were black. Thank you nail varnish is all I can say. At least this is something that can be masked.
- Hands and feet: I have separated this out from nails because the key side effect I have been left to enjoy is peripheral neuropathy. This means I get a tingling in my hands and feet and the numbness/reduced sensation in both is very odd indeed. I can live with it, but I really hope I don’t have to.
- Weight: A 2kg increase over seven months is a result in my book. Now just got to get rid of the steroid hamster cheeks and lovingly protect my flat-but-bulging-a-bit stomach.
- Tastebuds: back in the game and currently devouring some homemade bread. Bread has such a subtle flavour, it really isn’t worth eating when the tastebuds disappear. I am certainly making up for it now (although ever mindful of the point before).
- Mouth: ulcer free and no white tongue. Whoop!
- Liver: survived! Thank you liver. I need you.
- Hot flushes: controlled slightly by the Clonidine (I can increase the dosage, but am not at the moment), but still a pain at night. I do love the sunshine and the summer, but think the autumn weather may help.
- Skin: silky smooth and slightly tanned (for the first time in about a decade). It does feel as if I have been regenerated. Still on the factor 50 and think I may be for the rest of my days.
- Fatigue: I am not sure whether this is due to the drugs or the general lack of sleep caused by the Zoladex.
- Brain: in tact, just. I have been known to put the plates in the fridge (along with the cereal). But, I think I may have done that in the pre-chemo days, so I don’t really have any excuses.
- Positivity level: still smiling!
Everything else is still in tact (or yet to be investigated)! I certainly won’t be scratching the surface to find out.
Am I happy to have survived four months of toxic drugs without being hopsitalised and spending even one day in bed. Absolutely! Would I go through it again? Not this month – and hopefully never again! I was reading only the other day that scientists are predicting that chemo will be obsolete within 20 years (due to a project looking at the genes responsible for cancer). To think that people may one day be cured without these drugs is a wonderful thought.
When things stop falling off me, I will be uploading my cancer kit list (along with my top tips and reflections on chemo) to help all those facing sessions in the chemo chair. One thing I will say now though is that chemotherapy doesn’t come with a textbook. If it did, we’d all be reading it. There are things we can all do to prepare, but it is far better to wake up each day and meet each challenge head on than worry about the challenges you may never have to face. Easier said than done, but it can be done!
There’s no mortarboard, gown and certificate waiting for this graduate – just the satisfaction of knowing I am out the other side (and I have good skin)!
I got there – and so will you.