This time last year!

It was about this time last year that I found the lump in my right breast and my cancer journey began.  I mentioned in my first blog post that I found the lump randomly in the shower.  At first I thought I felt something but it took a little feeling around to find it again – skip forward on a couple of weeks and there was no “feeling around” needed, the lump was now solid, obvious and very easy to find.  This was what turned out to be my (as my consultant described it) “nasty” grade 3 tumour which probably hadn’t existed 2 months previously but was aggressive and growing quickly.

I wanted to re-share this powerful picture which has been doing the rounds on social media.  My right breast was lemon number 12.  I dread to think how much longer I might have left it if my symptom was a more subtle one.  I don’t think this picture can be shared enough to highlight the importance of us checking ourselves and not ignoring any differences we find.  Don’t just look for a lump – look for anything that’s different for you.  I recently read another blog “My Wonky Boob” where Mandy Gabriel shares her amazing story, describing how she never had a lump, after the birth of her second child one boob went back to normal size but the other just stayed a bit bigger or a bit “wonky”.

Last Friday I had the honour of hearing the Sea of Change choir performing “This is me”.  When I saw them on Irelands got Talent I felt a little emotional. It was the first time I had really listened to the lyrics in the song and they really resonated with me.   Listening to them I felt a sense of pride – proud to be a woman, proud to be a cancer survivor and just in total admiration of their strength and courage.  When I heard that two members of the choir were AIB colleagues (Claire Phelan and Catherine Flannery) and were talking about their experiences for International Women’s Day, followed by a performance from the choir I knew I had to attend.

Claire Phelan and Catherine Flannery (photo by Maurice Grehan photography)

Claire and Catherine kindly met me for a chat earlier that morning.  The event was great, both bravely shared moving accounts of their stories and the choir gave a fabulous performance afterwards.

Photo by Maurice Grehan photography

Little did I know heading in that morning that I would end up talking at the event myself! I was very honoured (although totally unprepared!) when I was asked to stand up and speak about my own experience and my blog and I felt very privileged to be in the company of such inspirational women.

Photo by Maurice Grehan photography

It was a perfect way to mark International Women’s day.  Please remember to vote for these amazing women in the semi-finals of Irelands got Talent on March 31st!

My energy is still very low and will take a while yet to get back to normal but I’m trying to manage it with early nights, exercise and diet.  I’ve been on my hormone tablets (Tamoxifen) for over 2 months now and luckily all is good so far with little or no side effects (besides some night sweats).  For anyone suffering with hot flushes “A. Vogel Menoforce Sage Tablets” were recommended to me last week by one of the members of the choir.

My eyelashes are continuing to grow (still not what they used to be but I’m hoping they continue to get a little longer before they stop growing!)

A UK Breast Cancer survivor has teamed up with Eylure and created a brand of eyelashes specifically for cancer patients. The lashes are specially designed with a larger, more flexible adhesive band, and a bigger surface area to help them stick to the lid when there are little-to-no natural lashes.  These are available in Boots.

You may also have seen the ads released last year on Boots Cancer Beauty Advisors.  Boots have worked with the Irish Cancer Society to support people affected by cancer.  A number of their stores across the country have beauty advisors specifically trained  and can give you tips on how to recreate your brows and lashes, and how to care for your skin, nails and hair during and after treatment.  More information is available on Boots.ie

My bald patches have filled in but I now have a head of short whispy bits of baby hair.  It’ll be a long while before my hair is back to normal or looking anyway decent but its all progress in the right direction!

I’ve celebrated my birthday since my last post (yes another year older and not a lot wiser!).

Birthday celebrations in Cork

I received so many lovely messages and birthday wishes (thank you to all my wonderful friends!) but one card really made my day and nearly had me in tears with its heartfelt message.  Thank you so much for your kind words Liah, I don’t think you realise how much they meant to me! X

I got this lovely diary from my sister when I finished my Radiotherapy.  In January I started using it as my gratitude journal.  On the 1st page I have a list of things I was grateful for in 2018 (and yes there were plenty).

Every night I write down 4 things I’m grateful for that day and at the back of the diary I have a reminder of my 2019 goals.  They’re nothing major, just small stepping stones to keep me on track towards bigger goals.  I don’t think I’ve made a bad start on them so far:

  • Keep a gratitude journal (tick!)
  • Go to bed early (tick)
  • Watch less TV and read more (tick! my new bedtime routine is looking after this one for me)
  • Finish my Mental Health and Wellbeing Coaching Diploma (tick – all assignments completed, just waiting on results!)
  • Start running again (tick – I’ve officially reached the 5K mark and try to get out for a run every second day)
  • Spend more quality time with family (tick – we’ve kept up our weekend adventures with trips to the beach, the forest, the cinema)

There are plenty more on the list left to tackle but it’s a start.  I’ve also started a clear out of the house, starting with the attic.  So far I’ve cleared out over 45 bin bags of clothes, toys and electrics – and there’s still loads more to do!  I think the clear out is as much a psychological one as a physical one.  It won’t be long before I’m back at work so I think I’m “nesting”.   There’s no baby on the way but I think I’m trying to get everything in order to mentally prepare myself for heading back to work.

A friend of mine sent me a link to a helpful guide the Marie Keating foundation created providing information and advice for both employees and employers about going back to work after cancer.

 https://www.mariekeating.ie/back-to-work-after-cancer/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIv47Fr_X84AIVr7ztCh1N_AVBEAAYAiAAEgLEN_D_BwE

Part of me is dying to go back to work but another part is dreading it. I received such a warm genuine welcome from everyone I met when I was in the office for International Women’s Day, everyone has been so supportive in the last year and I will be forever grateful for that.  I miss all my great colleagues, however, I’m dreading not having the energy to do as good a job as I want to do.  I’m afraid that I’ll struggle with keeping a good balance and that my time with my family will be the first to suffer if I start feeling under pressure.  I know though that I just need to be open and honest with how I am coping with both myself and my colleagues and the support will be there if I need it – I won’t know until I give it a go!  I’m determined to go back with confidence but I know this is a lot easier said than done especially when I’ve missed a year but I’ll give it a shot!

I’m aiming at going back to work in May, a year after I left.  It’s crazy to think a year has passed already, and what a year! I’ve realised what great friends I have, what an amazing family I have and that I am stronger and braver than I thought I was and this is just the start! While I’m about to come full circle on my year of cancer treatment I know that this year will be a defining point in my life.  I truly believe that it has already changed who I am for the better and that it will continue to influence who I am and what I do for a long time and I’m determined that these changes will be positive ones!

My journey will continue for many years with hospital appointments and managing side effects from medication but I think it’s now time to move on from fighting cancer to living the best life I can after cancer.  So  I have decided to create a new Instagram page “Mad’s Lemonade” – because when life gives you lemons…… The Instagram updates will be shorter and snappier than my blog posts so no essays to read!!  I’m hoping to set challenges and goals for myself and use my coaching experience to create a motivational page on living and loving life!!   I will still post the odd update to Beauty and the Cancer Beast if and when I come across any relevant or useful information but most of my updates going forward will be on Instagram.  My 1st mammogram since my diagnosis is scheduled for April 30th so fingers crossed! I’ll post an update on “Mad’s Lemonade” so please follow me!!!

I found this quote online and liked it – I’m usually the first to down play or criticise myself or something I’ve done but f*ck it, I’m not afraid to say I am proud of myself and what I have achieved in the last year – but I couldn’t have done it on my own – so a massive thank you to everyone!! Xx

“I’m braver because I fought a giant and won.

I’m stronger because I had to be.

I’m happier because I’ve learned what matters.

I stand taller because I am a survivor.”

New Year – new me!

2019…..let’s be havin’ you!!!!!

My radiotherapy all went to plan and finished on December 17th as scheduled.  Adrian helped me mark the occasion by arranging for our neighbours to look after the boys for a few hours and we headed out for a bite to eat and celebratory drink.

It was a lovely end to a busy few weeks of Radiotherapy, Christmas shopping, college and 3 school plays in 2 days -where I had a very bad mammy guilt moment and forgot to record Alecs starring line as Joseph “We will call him Jesus” (Oops, sorry honey!!)

Aarons Christmas play
Our Joseph

After a lovely Christmas and New Year with family (Thurles for Christmas and Ballymena to ring in the New Year) it’s that time of year again where we all set out our best intentions for the coming year – this is the year I’m going to do x, y and z.   The last 9 months have given me a greater determination than ever to stick to my goals this year so here’s hoping!

Self-development is one which is important to me and with that in mind I’ll be keeping this post short and sweet as I have college assignments and a fast approaching deadline lurking over me for my Mental Health and Wellbeing Coaching diploma.   I’m really enjoying this course, as with the Leadership and Executive coaching course the content is so interesting and relevant and it’s great to be doing some practical coaching again.

My main focus for this year though, unsurprisingly is around my health and wellbeing.  While I tried to keep up a certain level of exercise throughout my treatment my fitness level has definitely been affected and my body is slower.  Although I was doing plenty of walking with hills and steps, it had been a long time since I’d been out for a run so I decided to start from scratch with the couch to 5k.  I reckoned it would be better motivation to start slowly and build up to the 5K again than feeling demoralised by attempting 5k and not managing 1k!!!! I had thought I’d end up skipping the first few runs because they were too easy but oh no – I definitely needed to start from scratch again!!! I’m using the “5K Runner” app which I’ve used before and found good.  I’m 3 weeks in and only half way there but it’s going well so far!

I’ve been trying to “run” every second day with a short kettle bells ab work out and on alternative days I’ve been doing “Yoga Burn” DVDs (a series of 45 minute workouts with fast passed yoga poses to increase metabolism).

I’ve never really been an unhealthy eater but there was definitely room for improvement! The last few weeks I’ve been trying out some new recipes (most from Roz Purcells “Half Hour Hero” book), increasing my intake of fish and vegetables and generally just trying to eat a little healthier.

My final goal for now is to get on top of my sleep issues.  I was taking Xanax throughout my treatment, it never really worked for me but I was still afraid to stop taking it in case I was even worse without it.  I started on my hormone tablets (Tamoxifen) at the start of January so on my first night taking these I stopped taking the Xanax and started a new routine of going to bed earlier and reading for an hour or so before trying to sleep. I got a lovely new Kindle for Christmas which has been great (thanks Maria!)

I was a little worried about how this would work as the Tamoxifen can affect your sleep but while I’m still a long way off being a good sleeper, I have noticed an improvement (if only Alec would stop waking me in the middle of the night!!!).  I had always talked about going to bed earlier but never really managed it, I always used the excuse that once the boys were in bed this was the only time I had to sit and relax.  When I thought about it more though,– Adrian and myself would generally just end up flicking through stations, trying to find something to watch, regularly watching something just for the sake of it.  We were both often on our laptops or phones at the same time so it wasn’t quality time.  Now that I’m getting to bed earlier I find I’m more relaxed when it comes to trying to get to sleep.

This has come with an added bonus – watching TV is when I am worst for eating junk food – it’s pure habit but even if I know I can’t be hungry as soon as I sit in front of the tv I have to have some snacks.  Now that I’m going to bed instead, I’m no longer eating junk – so win win! (during the week anyway – we all deserve to go a little wild and stay up past 10.00 at the weekend, lol).

I had an appointment with my Radiotherapist this week and he is happy with how my skin has heeled (it gets pretty irritated and itchy in the final two weeks of treatment and for a week or so after treatment but mine was fine after that) and said he doesn’t need to see me again.  While my energy levels probably won’t be back to normal for a year or so he told me the worst of the fatigue should have passed in 2-3 months but for now my new bedtime routine is helping me manage the fatigue.

Now I just need to focus on turning my new routines into sustainable habits that make it past January!!

So, the final stage of my treatment is the hormone therapy.  I started on Tamoxifen after meeting with my Oncologist on January 3rd.  My breast cancer was oestrogen receptor positive (ER-Positive) which means my cancer was relying on oestrogen to grow.  Tamoxifen is a hormonal therapy drug that blocks the oestrogen from reaching the cancer cells.  This means if my cancer was to return while I’m on Tamoxifen, it would cause it to grow more slowly or stop growing altogether.

As with most medications Tamoxifen comes with a lovely long list of possible side effects, most common being hot flushes, leg cramps, discharge, itching, hair thinning, weight gain and the list goes on and on.  These side effects vary so much from one person to the next that really it was just a matter of seeing how my body reacted.  The tablets basically bring on symptoms of menopause but you can still get periods and it is still possible to get pregnant (which is advised against as the tablets will harm the developing baby).  So – periods, risk of pregnancy and menopause all in one – yay – what more would a girl want!!!

In all seriousness though, if these little tablets help prevent the return of my cancer then I’m more than happy to take them. I was told that there are many different brands of the drug so it could be a matter of trial and error in finding the one that suited me best.  For anyone who is dreading starting on these tablets like I was they are all only “possible” side effects – I know it’s only been 3 weeks but thankfully so far I’m doing well with hardly any side effects.  So the lesson for me is – stop worrying about what “might” happen!

Another side effect of Tamoxifen is it can increase the risk of Cancer of the womb which is what mum had.  Because of this I will receive an annual pelvic scan as well as my annual mammogram.  This is a great reassurance as I know I’m on their radar just incase!

Have I mentioned before that I have the best sister in the world? Well I do!!! She made up a fab hamper for me to mark the end of my Radiotherapy with Prosecco (and a cooler that doesn’t need ice), false tan, chocolate, false eye lashes, a journal (which I’m using as a gratitude journal at the moment), a “Cancer…been there, beat that” keyring and a framed photo of me on Killiney hill with the inspirational quote:

Remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”.  Thanks sis, love you!!

The eyelashes in Marias hamper were lovely ones from Benefit but if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative I really like “i.Envy Au Naturale 01” by Kiss (from Pennys) – at only €3.50 a pop they’re really good value and I found the style and length really natural on.

My used eyelashes so a bit worse for wear!

I used “Duo” eyelash glue, which I also got in Pennys and which really impressed me by keeping my eyelashes in place until the following morning when I was too “tired” after a recent night out with a friend to take my makeup off going to bed (yes Claire, I’m talking about you and your bad influence, lol!!). Great night, crap following day!

The good news on the eye lash front is that mine are now growing back, Yay! Three weeks ago, I had 2-3 stragglers on each eye but now I have a full line of lashes (with a little gap on the lower right lash line).  They’re still very short and stumpy but making good progress.  I’m continuing to apply my homemade serum (castor oil, aloe vera and vitamin E).  I have no idea if it is speeding the growth of the lashes or not but I reckon it can’t be doing them any harm!

One thing I’ve realised in the last year is the importance of making the most of time with family and friends.  Part of my “new me” includes making the most of the weekends with my boys and getting out and about for some family adventure (or even just a coffee and bun treat).  At the age they’re at it doesn’t take a lot for them to have “the best day ever” but the memories last a life time! So far we’ve done the Giants Causeway, Glendalough, Killiney Hill and Powercourt Waterfall.

Fun in Glendalough

#Making it count! xx

My Radiotherapy Countdown

While everyone else is opening their advent calendars and counting down to December 25th I have another countdown.  December 17th will be my last Radiotherapy session and will see the end of my Cancer treatment for this year! I’m just thinking I should have done my own Advent calendar – I think I’ll write a big “17” on the fridge door and open it on my last day to find a nice cold bottle of bubbly waiting for me!!

With less than two weeks to Christmas day this will probably be my last post before the holidays. Christmas started a little earlier than usual for us this year.  We went to see Santa at the end of November (basically because I left it too late to book our Santa tickets!) and our decorations also went up before December for the 1st time ever! This year we went to Christmas Island in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow to see Santa.

It was our first year there and the boys loved it.  They got to see Santa again at the start of December at AIBs Santa day so they have him well versed in what they’re looking for – all they need to do now is make sure they stay off the naughty list!!!

AIBs Santa day

Uncle Mikey and Auntie Leanne gave the boys homemade Advent Calendars to help with their Christmas countdown (I think Auntie Leanne might have to get most of the credit for these though!).  They are so excited coming home from school/crèche each day to open a new number and see what’s inside – Adrian and I were particularly happy with the toy whistles (thanks Leanne lol!!!)

On November 13th, two weeks after my last chemo session, I had my planning appointment for my radiotherapy.  This involved meeting with the consultant, having a CT scan to determine the exact area needing treatment, getting my treatment dates and some “tattoos”. Unlike my husband who has had to tell the boys that the marks on his arms and legs are because “some bold boys drew on me”, I have never had a tattoo (thankfully I never went through with the dolphin one I wanted many years ago!) Now, however I technically have 3 (one to the side of each breast and the 3rd in the center).  These are 3 drops of blue ink placed on the skin with a needle, the marks are permanent but luckily each one is only the size of a freckle so hardly qualifying me for tattooed lady status!  These marks are used during treatment to help line up the radiation equipment accurately.   My treatment plan is for 20 Radiotherapy sessions (each day, Monday to Friday) for 4 weeks.

The weekend before I started Radium, one of my best friends, Kathy, came down from Belfast to visit me with Alex, her handsome (and very well behaved) one year old. We had a lovely catch up and even managed a “few” glasses of bubbles when Alex went down to bed.  We’re all grown up and sensible now (winking emoji!!!) so there was no dancing around the sitting room at 3am this time round! I’m sure we still have a few more of those nights in us yet but for now it was the perfect catch up with an amazing friend! (love you honey!!)

I started my Radiotherapy, on November 20th, exactly 3 weeks after my final chemotherapy session.  The sessions themselves are quick and easy (thanks to the Radiation therapists who are all lovely and amazing).  This is my very unscientific description of what is involved!  As one patient is receiving treatment another is called and is given a gown and individual changing room (keeping the whole process running like clockwork).  As it’s my breast area being treated I just need to strip off to my waist and wear the gown open to the front.  Once the room is free I’m called and brought in.

I lie on a table with my arms placed over my head resting in stirrup like supports.  The radiation therapists then make tiny adjustments to my position (arm up a little, bum down a little, boob over a little – you get the picture!)  to ensure I am in the exact position for my treatment.  Once I’m ready to go the therapists then leave the room to administer the treatment.  This is when I always seem to get an itch or tickle somewhere on my face, just knowing I can’t move a millimeter!  I wasn’t sure what to expect during the treatment – I thought I might see a “laser beam” to the area being treated but the only indication the treatment is taking place is a loud buzzing sound.  It only takes a few minutes and is totally painless (you don’t feel anything).

I need to be really careful about what I’m putting on my skin in the area being treated at the moment and there are only a few products they recommend.  I’ve continued to use the Elave shower gel and Aqueous cream as my moisturiser.  I can’t use my normal deodorant so Crystal Rock deodorant was recommended to me and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it and am finding it better than I expected.

I also can’t shave under my right arm (thankfully the hair hasn’t really grown back here yet so I’m not rocking Julia Roberts’ 1999 red carpet look!!).  I’ve continued to use my tan but avoiding the treatment area for the few weeks.  I started to develop a slight rash under my right breast in the second week of the treatment, it has now intensified and is spreading up closer to my collarbone.  It’s not painful, but it is red, itchy and irritating with a slight burning sensation at times.  This should ease off in a few weeks so in the meantime I just need to keep applying the aqueous cream (I can’t put anything else on it) and no low or sleeveless tops for me over Christmas! Just as well I returned the sparkly boob tube (lol).

The toughest part of the last few weeks has been the continued lack of sleep.  I’m wrecked – but what’s new, I feel like a broken record at this stage, I’m nearly embarrassed saying I’m tired when anyone asks!!  I really don’t know whether the tiredness I feel is a result of the treatment or just my boys – I’m presuming it’s a mix of both.   I’m actually getting to sleep a bit easier but haven’t had a chance to test out the staying asleep part because Aaron is still coughing through the night.  Last week saw us into our 7th week of sleepless nights and with Adrian in a new job it’s been a bit of a nightmare so I finally brought him back to the doctor and thankfully came away with an inhaler which he’s been using for about 6 days now.  He’s still coughing but we have noticed an improvement so I’m keeping fingers and toes crossed that it works and we manage to catch up on some sleep before Christmas.

I had my graduation for my Leadership and Executive Coaching Diploma two and a half weeks after my last chemo session.  It was a great night and a lovely catch up with some of the college gang with lots of well-deserved bubbles and laughs.

I started a new course last weekend, a diploma in “Mental Health and Well-Being Coaching”, again with Kingstown College.  So more reading and assignments ahead to keep me out of trouble but the topic is so interesting that I’m looking forward to getting stuck into some of the books (not so much with the assignments!). I made some great friends throughout my last course and I seem to have been blessed with another amazing group for this one and I am really looking forward to getting to know everyone, learning more about resilience and well-being, putting some of it into practice for myself and then using what I’ve learned to help others.

Some Christmas reading!!

I’ve managed to catch up with my work colleagues a few times over the last few weeks through different events which has been lovely – some more academic and work related events e.g. the EMCC Coaching Conference, others not so academic e.g. our team Christmas lunch which was great fun with a few cocktails and loads of giggles!  They’re a fab bunch and have been a great support to me and really helped me feel like I’m still part of the team while I’ve been off.

Work Xmas drinks / Christine’s work Hen!

Alec turned 5 this week – scary!!! We had his party at the weekend (I’m just about recovering!). This is the first year he’s had a party in Dublin.  Given the time of year (and the size of our house) a party at home wasn’t a realistic option so we used a local hall and had a bouncy castle, music, football, pizza, popcorn, sweets and cake.  The kids had great fun and left all hyped up on sugar (sorry mums and dads!!).  Both boys loved it – Aaron was delighted to finally be invited to one of the parties and was chuffed with himself when we told him he was the special guest! We ended the day, all tired and happy watching Home Alone in front of the fire.

It’s been another busy few weeks and I feel like I’ve been on the go constantly.   Before getting my treatment dates I had hoped that I’d have a few weeks off in December and start my treatment in January but now that I’m nearing the end of the Radium I’m glad to have it over and done with.  I’m back in with my Consultant on January 3rd to get me started on the hormone tablets but besides that January will be a month of getting myself back on track – building up my fitness levels, focusing on my college assignments and starting the new year as I mean to go on – creating new habits that allow me to work smarter rather than harder while prioritising my well-being and a healthy work life balance (a bit of practicing what I preach really!)

While one part of me wants to kiss (or kick) 2018 goodbye, another part is grateful for it.  It’s not the year I thought I’d have, it hasn’t been easy but there are still plenty of reasons to say it was a good year.  Like many people, I’ve always been very critical of myself and my inner critic was always loudest in a work context. While I still have a long way to go, 2018 has shown me what I’m capable of and given me a strength and dare I say “confidence” I could not have envisioned at the start of the year.  I’m hoping I can use this to hush my inner critic and to be a braver, more assertive, resilient version of myself.  More than anything though, this year has taught me to be grateful for what I have, not to sweat the little things, to make the most of out of life, celebrate the little moments and just have fun and enjoy it!

Happy Christmas and New Year! xxx

Bye Bye Chemo!

At over a week and a half since my last chemo treatment I’m later than usual with this update.  To be honest it’s been a challenging couple of weeks and I just haven’t had the energy or brain power to write anything.  We’ve had a busy few weeks – Adrian had a lot of job interviews and we’ve been awake a lot with the boys – we’ve had a week of dodgy stomachs followed by a week of bed wetting accidents and we’re now into our 2nd week of Aaron coughing through the night.  And somewhere in the middle of all that I finished my last round of chemo last Tuesday! Yay!!!!!

It’s great knowing the chemo is done but lack of sleep and tiredness can be so draining and mood altering that at a time I feel I should be celebrating I’m consumed with mixed feelings.  I’ve found myself on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster the last week or so, more so than at any other stage of my treatment and I’ve found that tough.  The good news is, while I’m still totally knackered, I’m starting to feel more like myself again.

I’m so relieved and feel so blessed to have gotten through my chemo journey with only minor complaints.  It didn’t consume my life like I had initially feared.  Thankfully, while the boys know I’ve been in and out to the doctor and getting medicine to make me better, they haven’t had to tiptoe around me because I’m sick – their daily routine has stayed the same and life has been able to continue fairly normally which has been great.

Now that my chemo is over I’ve found myself thinking more about the next steps – 20 rounds of Radium is next and I find out next week whether they will be before or after Christmas.  I know these will really zap my energy and the after effects will leave me feeling fatigued for months after treatment but I’m prepared for that and ok with it.  The part I’ve been dreading from the outset has been what will follow that.

As my Cancer was hormone receptor positive (meaning Oestrogen was helping the cancer grow) very soon I will start 5 years of hormone tablets to block my Oestrogen levels, amongst other side effects this will bring about menopausal symptoms.  I hate that at a time when I am supposedly “better” and finished my treatment these tablets are likely to cause weight gain, acne, hot flushes (which have already started – I’ve needed to change my top during the night every night this week), increased facial hair (I have enough already thanks!!!), lower my energy levels and top of my fear list – affect my mood! Adrian can’t wait (lol), we joke about me being a fat, hairy, spotty, sweaty, moody, still slightly bald mess!! (for better or worse!!!)

But on a more serious note, I have experienced my change in mood the first few days after each chemo session when I’ve felt more irritable than usual and I hate the thought of not being in control of my emotions.  I know it’s so silly worrying about “what might be” but it’s hard not to let these thoughts creep in and egged on by my lack of sleep this is the direction my mind was wandering in last week.

The boys haven’t helped with my sleep but they’re not totally to blame – I’m still really struggling with it myself and lying awake when everyone else is sleeping.  You know you’ve hit a low when you send your son to school wearing two pairs of underpants because, in a fatigue induced fog, you put one pair on over another (Sorry Alec – that’s what you get for not dressing yourself though!!!).

I finally gave in last week and asked for sleeping tablets.  I was told to start off with a half one 1st to see how I got on, however the tablets were so small I found it hard to break one in half so I ended up taking a full one and went to bed expecting to drift into a blissful night of unconscious oblivion! Instead, however, I tossed and turned lying awake most of the night – arrrgggghhhhhh!!!!! I couldn’t believe I still didn’t manage to sleep and it really played with my head for a few days.  I had my first couch day since I started my treatment where I just lay around for the day and I hated the feeling so I decided to pick myself up, dust myself down and get myself going again.

Firstly – I decided to stop worrying about what “might happen” and focus on the present, I’ll deal with the rest if and when I need to.  Next, I decided now was the time to create new habits / routines for myself. Adrian started a new job this week (the boys and myself are very proud of him!).  It’s going to be a fun few weeks settling into a new routine but it’s a perfect time to create some new habits.  Getting into a new more structured routine could be exactly what I need and could end up being the best thing for a good night’s sleep so fingers crossed!

Exhausted or not we’ve still managed to fit a lot of fun into the last few weeks (especially the boys) thanks to my AMAZING friends and family! I am so grateful to everyone who has helped with the boys over the last few months.  Little breaks to recharge the batteries have been worth their weight in gold (for both myself and Adrian).

It seems so long ago now but the weekend after my 5th session the boys headed down to Tipp where Granny and Auntie Mia were on entertainment duty for the weekend! With a day of lashing rain on the Saturday this was no mean feat but they did an excellent job!!

Baking “Monster Cupcakes”

This allowed Mammy and daddy to have a much needed rest, a night at the cinema, a few nice walks and I even fit in a swim in the sea (after not being in the sea all summer, I wait until October to have a dip!!!)

Brrrrr

The following weekend we all headed up north for Grandad Martins birthday party. Adrian and myself were shattered and with four of us in the one room neither of us managed much sleep but we had a nice forest walk on Saturday afternoon to blow the cobwebs away before the birthday celebrations.  We all went out for a lovely meal and had a great night.

McGarrys minus cousin Molly.
My two party animals had striped down to their vests by the time this was taken!

Weekend number 3 was the bank holiday and the last weekend before my final chemo session.  We had tickets for the Counting Crows and the boys headed back to down to Tipp to Granny and Grandads.  This meant Adrian and I had a night out without a 6am wakeup call and the boys had another fun filled weekend.

 

Mum and my fabulous cousin Mary brought the boys to the cinema and Marys gorgeous and talented daughter Katie kept them entertained for hours making loads of gorgeous arts and crafts.

The day after my last chemo session was Halloween, the boys were all “paparazzied” out after a weekend with their Grandad so I didn’t manage to get any decent photos but we had a fun night with a little trick or treating, fireworks and bonfire.

Thanks Katie Palmer for making my mask!!! xx

I’ve given up on clipping the front of my hair back to cover my bald patches.  With a little extra “shedding” each week I got to the stage about three weeks ago that I just didn’t feel comfortable my “comb over” was doing the trick so I ended up buying a hair piece (which was thankfully covered by my health insurance).  Rather than a full wig, this clips on to the crown of my head (like clip in hair extensions) and gives me the coverage I need.

I still feel strange wearing it and feel that it looks obvious and fake but it does the job and has definitely helped me feel more comfortable when out and about. Hopefully I will get more confident in it with time because I’ll be wearing it for a good while yet while my “new hair” grows in – it is great for covering the greys though!!!!

Wearing my new hair piece. Excuse the selfie posing!!

I still haven’t lost all my eyelashes but they have thinned a lot and the ones on my right eye are looking particularly patchy and hanging quiet low (like individual false lashes on their last legs).  I could still lose them even though I’ve finished my treatment so just playing a waiting game at the moment to see whether they hang in there or not.  I’ve stopped wearing mascara to try give them a break and have started using a recommended homemade remedy to help with re-growth (equal measures of aloe vera, vitamin E oil and castor oil) which I’ve been rubbing on the roots of my lashes.

People had said that the lack of lashes isn’t really noticeable once you wear eyeliner.  Now that I’m not wearing mascara you can’t really see my eyelashes but the eyeliner does create an illusion of lashes.  At the moment I’m using Maybelline Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner in black for just over my lash line.  I’ve also started using a black soft kohl pencil just below the lash line –you need to pull the lid up a little to fill this line in and it’s not for anyone squeamish about their eyes but I find it makes a big difference for filling in any gaps. I use a black or dark eyeshadow for the waterline on my lower lashes.

As part of my “taking back control of what I can” I’ve decided to set myself some challenges.  Number one on the list is to tackle my fear of heights.  I worked at 40,000 Ft for over 5 years and have jumped out of a plane but I actually have a really bad fear of heights.  It seems like such an irrational fear (ok not the jumping out of the plane piece) but I used to get freaked out on the stairs up to the attic.  I hate that my mind can have this control over me.  So, I decided I wanted to take back the control and face my fear head on.  My first challenge was the Pyramid steps on Killiney Hill.

View from the top of the Pyramid steps

For those who know the monument (picture at the top of the post) it’s not high at all, but my first time trying to stand on the top step was a shaky one with knees slightly bent and needing help up and down!! My fear kicks in when I have nothing to hold on to and with such a small circumference on the top it had me totally out of my comfort zone.  I’m glad to say I have now progressed to being able to go up and down unaided, doing 360 degree turns on the top and even standing on one foot (on a very windy day).  This would be a piece of cake to most people but to me it’s a little triumph and I’m now looking for my next challenge.  I’m planning on working my way up some abseiling and a zip line course (next year!).

So all in all it’s been a tiring couple of weeks but I’ve survived my chemo battle fairly unscathed and I’m now ready for my next battle.  Then it’s on to getting fitter and stronger and creating more challenges for myself!  For anyone who watched Britain’s “Stand up to Cancer” programme last week, it was a tough watch and it just made me realise how lucky I am.  I’m going to finish up with Liam Gallagher’s “eloquent” piece from the night:

“Screw you Cancer

Take your pain, take your suffering and do one!

This isn’t just some charity love in, it’s a fight

You’re fighting for your mum, your dad, your brothers, your sisters, your sons, your daughters, even your mates

You’re fighting for all of us

You don’t win a fight without throwing a few punches

This is the start

It’s payback time for all the pain so at one point soon we’ll look back and say we gave cancer a good kicking!”

The Final Countdown

As I now only have one chemo session left I think it’s time for another song – this time I’m humming the chorus to Europe’s “The Final Countdown”!!

“It’s the final countdown, do-do do doo, do-do do dooo, do-do doo the final countdown…….”

We played this song on our wedding day just before I walked down the aisle – it was the song to warn Adrian I had arrived and if he wanted to leg it this was his last chance (lol)!!  I wasn’t to know at the time that a year and a half later it would have a completely different meaning for me, but yet again it’s marking a good milestone, my next chemo session will be my last one (hopefully for good).

I’m not done yet, my cancer battle is nowhere near over but I’ve been so blessed with how the last few months have gone. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of days that it’s been a struggle and it’s been so tempting to stay snuggled up in bed, especially the first week after treatment when everything takes a little extra effort but I have to say (I don’t want to jinx myself before the last session) but I really haven’t found it as bad as I expected.  I’ve been so lucky that all my side effects have been minor complaints, I know not everyone is as lucky and there are so many brave women and men out there fighting a much tougher battle every day and I respect them so much.  I nearly feel like a fraud who doesn’t deserve all the amazing support and praise I have received.

Trying to keep myself busy and getting out of the house has really helped me.  I love meeting friends for coffee (or Prosecco!!) and catching up with the gossip, I’m just a nightmare at making plans but when someone else gives me the nudge I’m always glad.  We had a lovely time with friends last weekend  where 6 kids played happily together, I got cuddles from a gorgeous 4 month old and 6 adults had a lovely relaxing evening catching up (thanks Brian for the yummy dinner!)

Mum was up for a night for my “slow weekend” (the 1st one after chemo) again this time round.  We managed a bite to eat and the cinema on Sat evening and met with my brother and his partner for brunch on Sunday, followed by an obligatory walk on the pier and Teddies Ice-cream (I’ve never eaten so much ice-cream in my life!).

I’m torn at the moment between on one hand trying to enjoy and make the most of the little moments and treat myself when I’m feeling well on the other hand trying to be healthy and eat well.  The weekends mum is up definitely don’t bode well for the healthy option – mum is a believer in enjoying life and that definitely includes eating plenty of chocolate!!! She is a feeder – picture Fr Teds Mrs Doyle pushing chocolate and deserts instead of cups of tea – “go on, go on, go on”.  And there’s not a pick on her! My sister and myself used to think we were safe because it was in the genes, then realised, no, she’s just a crazy woman who never stops and is always on the go and we love her for it.  If I have her zest for life in another 30 years I’ll be a happy woman!!!!

It’s been a busy time for parties, unfortunately Alec has been the one doing the partying not us! He had 4 invites for one weekend two weeks ago! As there’s only a year and a half between Aaron and himself it’s a tough one trying to explain to Aaron why Alec is going to all these parties but he isn’t going to any so Aaron any myself have started going on dates together while Alec heads to the parties with daddy.

We still get the initial tears but thankfully they’ve changed to laughter and we’ve had some great fun together.  It’s actually been lovely to spend some one on one time together and I’m looking forward to some dates with Alec when Aaron starts hitting the party scene!

 

We finished off the weekend with some baking on Sunday nothing too exciting – as I’m trying to be someway good so we made some protein balls I saw on Instagram @rejuenatinghealthwithnicole. I also tried a couple of recipes from Roz Purcell’s book “Half Hour Hero” (with 450g of chocolate in one of the recipes I don’t think it can pass as one of my healthy choices even if the chocolate was dark chocolate and had an Avocado in it!) The boys had some good fun making them and sampling the ingredients though!

To anyone struggling through this my biggest piece of advice is to exercise – that doesn’t mean hit the gym for a workout or run 10K, it means just do whatever little you can manage.  Getting out of the house can sometimes be the hardest part.  For me it’s about knowing the difference between challenging myself in a healthy way without over doing it and trying not to use my treatment as an excuse to sit about on days I’m just feeling a little sluggish and lazy. I always feel so much better after getting out for a walk and fresh air (even if it’s a slow, short walk) and never regret getting out of the house once I’ve made the effort.

I had my first experience of Acupuncture two weeks ago.  For someone who is not a fan of needles I was surprisingly excited about the session and hadn’t even considered the fact that I was now voluntarily about to have a number of needles stuck in me for relaxation! The needles are obviously a lot thinner than the ones I’ve become accustomed to recently – more like pins really. I did feel the needles going in (as you would expect!) but it was more a pin prick than anything else and there was no pain once inserted.

My main aim for the session was to help with my sleep (or lack of). I had two needles inserted in my ankles, two just below the knees and two in each wrist.  Again I hadn’t considered the logistics of the needle placement – all my jeans are skinny jeans but luckily I was wearing an ever so slightly looser pair so just about managed to yank them up to my knees (with a little difficulty) – I was a bit paranoid how the blood circulation (or lack of) around the knees might affect the session, lol!  After the needles were in place I was left to relax to some soothing music for about half an hour or so.

I’m still struggling with my sleep, it had improved a bit but the last few nights haven’t been great again – I’m putting this down to the pre and post treatment steroids and two little boys awake with dodgy stomachs for now.  I was told one session wouldn’t be enough so I’ve scheduled another session for next week, I’ve also gotten a bit better with my Mindspace App and will hopefully continue to see improvement.  Magnesium is good for sleep and some good natural sources I would have in my diet are avocado, spinach, dark chocolate and almonds.  I also just bought a Magnesium supplement for an extra boost of it for now.

I’m due back in for my 2nd emBrowdery session next week.  My eyebrows have faded as expected but so far are lasting better than I thought they would after the 1st session.  At the moment they look a lot more natural when I have no makeup on but I need to top them up when I have my makeup on so I’ll be interested to see the difference after the 2nd session.  This is where I need to be a bit more certain about the colour and shape I want.  The picture below shows the comparison with one eyebrow untouched and the other filled in a bit.

I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since I have dyed my hair so at the moment between my bald patches and all the grey I am all set for a great Halloween look!!!! I’ve mentioned some of the root touch up products in previous posts but have included some photos in an updated post in the beauty section Battle of the Greys: Root Touch ups.

I came across a quote from C.S. Lewis last week that I love.  It really encapsulates how I like to at least try and view life and deal with what it throws at me. It also echoes a lot of the positive psychology I studied in my college course.

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

I know it’s easier said than done and is not for everyone, in particular when dealing with something like cancer because unfortunately not everyone is fortunate to have the control to change the ending. But I do believe that for those things that are beyond our control the one thing we can decide is the attitude with how we deal with them. For me this is more how I like to lead my life in general, for all the other crap life throws at you, because unfortunately cancer doesn’t make you immune from day to day challenges and obviously there are plenty of people facing daily challenges and struggles without a cancer diagnosis. For me it’s about trying to accept what is beyond my control and focus my energy on the things I can control or influence and searching for the positive, opportunity or lesson in every circumstance.

Our mind has a vast potential to be high performing, happy and kind, even in stressful situations.  My physical health is largely in the hands of doctors, however I have control over how much I exercise, what I eat and my emotional, mental and spiritual health. I’m reading more on the benefits of Mindfulness at the moment and trying to incorporate it into my day as much as I can.  I’ve written a bit more about it with a simple exercise I like to use in a Mindfulness blog in the Health and Wellbeing Category.  I like to remind myself of the ancient proverb “’Mind your thoughts, as they become words; Mind your words, as they become actions, Mind your actions, as they become habits; Mind your habits, as they shape your life”

Or as the very wise bear, Winnie the Pooh said:

“When life throws you a rainy day, play in the puddles”

“There is something you must always remember.  You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and stronger than you think.”

Four down, two to go!

I’m now 3 days post my 4th chemo session.  My consultant has warned me that these next few sessions might hit me a little harder so I might need to take it easy.  As after my other sessions I am feeling lethargic and dehydrated with a constant hungry but slight queasy feeling at the moment (dangerous junk food territory!).  Everything takes a little extra effort but beside that it’s all good so far and I’m taking each day as it comes and continuing as normal as possible.  The few weeks since my last session have flown by. The bone pain and bad nausea stayed away again which was great, so really trying to get rid of a head cold was my biggest complaint.   It feels like it’s been a busy few weeks and luckily I’ve been feeling well enough to keep active and do the things I want to do although I haven’t been planning any big party nights out!!

Alec’s first day of school went really well.  I had a little nausea on the morning and wasn’t feeling 100% but it was nothing that effected the excitement of the morning so I was delighted that both Adrian and myself were able to bring him to school and collect him.  We all did really well and there were no tears (Adrian and myself were very proud of ourselves!) My little boy seems to have grown up so much in just a week (he told me when I picked him up from school that he was a big boy now and didn’t need to hold my hand anymore!!) Emmmm, excuse me Mr! It is way too soon for that carry on!!! So I told him he still had to hold my hand because Mammy still needs him to mind her!! He thankfully obliged – for now!

Adrian took the boys up north for the weekend to Grandad Martins so they headed off for their boys weekend in the afternoon after Alec finished his 1st day in school.  It was a bit hectic getting them all sorted and out the door and I was wrecked after the excitement of the morning so part of me was glad to see them go so I could sit down and relax for a little but I also knew I was going to miss the little blighters – mammy time is always so bitter sweet and tinged with a little guilt!!  Mum came up to keep me company for the weekend just incase I got too lonely.

We had a lovely relaxing weekend and it was just what the doctor ordered! The weather was on our sides and we did lots of reading in the garden and a couple of walks.  I was glad that I was feeling well enough to go out for a bite to eat on Saturday evening (followed by Teddies Ice-cream and walk on Dun Laoghaire Pier afterwards).  We managed Fish and Chips and more Ice-cream on the Pier the following day before mum headed home. Thanks Mum!

My brother had his birthday 2 weeks ago (I’d slag him over his age only he’s a year and a half younger than me, so he’s still only a young one, lol).  We all headed down home to Thurles for it.  We just stayed in and had a lovely meal and a few drinks.  It was the first time in a while that we had all been home together so it was lovely but I did feel tired after it.

I hit a bit of a brick wall last Friday.  Adrian and I had been shopping getting some clothes for the boys.  We grabbed a sandwich in a cafe for lunch and Adrian asked if I was ok because I seemed tired.  I felt fine and thought he was over reacting – all I had done was sit back and relax in my seat.  As we sat there though I did start to feel a little off (a slight queasiness and tired).  This took me by surprise because week 3 is supposed to be my good week when I’m feeling back to normal but in hindsight I might have overdone it a bit in an attempt to fit as much in as I could in while I was feeling well.

I had been due to attend my friends Hen party at the weekend.  I had been really hopeful that I’d be able to make it when I realised the date fell at the end of my 3rd week and I knew I should be feeling fine but after the few quiet drinks at home the previous week for my brothers birthday I knew that even if I was sensible and took it easy it would still take it out of me.  On a weekend when I was due to be hydrating before my next session a hen party probably wasn’t the most sensible option (especially with that mad party crowd!!).  I hated missing the fun and not being there to help Jo celebrate, especially when I won’t make the big day because of how my treatment dates fall but I’m sure we’ll use it as an excuse to get together to celebrate again soon!!  It helped a little to know I had made the right decision when the tiredness kicked in on Friday evening but it’s still crap knowing I missed a great weekend!

The tiredness on Friday probably wasn’t helped by the fact that Aaron (our youngest) had an unsettled few nights last week.  Adrian was up with him but I’m such a light sleeper, so that coupled by my own sleep issues meant my sleep was very broken.  Probably spurred on by the lack of sleep but last week was one of those testing ones all parents experience from time to time!  Let’s just say we might need to replace the bottom step on our stairs soon if it continues to get this much use! By Saturday morning, if I wasn’t trying to be so careful to hang onto my hair I definitely would have been pulling a few more out and I’d say Adrian gained a few more grey hairs – it was lining up to be one of those days where you wonder if it would be totally unacceptable to open a bottle of wine at 10am!!! (We didn’t of course!!!)

So it was perfect timing for my brother and his partner to offer to take the boys for a night!  The boys had a fun packed 24 hours with their Uncle and Auntie,  Mammy and Daddy managed a wild night out (Early bird, 2 drinks and tucked up on the couch by 8pm!!!).

The next day, feeling slightly more refreshed, we were ready to pick up our “angels” and enjoy hugs and kisses after missing the little monsters!!The picture below shows them having great fun having a formula one race courtesy of YouTube POV (Point of View) and some very creative props!! Thank you Uncle Mikey and Auntie Leanne!!!!

Exercise is really important to me at the moment, especially when the first two weeks after treatment feel like that hungry stage of coming around from a hangover when all you want is to stuff your face with comfort and junk food!!!! I’ve managed to keep up my walks.  The running has unfortunately taken a back seat for now but I think that’s more in my head as I had let it slip before my diagnosis and haven’t been able to motivate myself to get back into it properly at the moment.  In the meantime I’ve been doing loads of hills and steps to get the heart rate going! I’ve also started Yoga and Pilates in my local gym and really enjoying both.

My sleep still isn’t great, it has generally improved a little, although last night was one of my worst nights in a while.  I bought a new herbal tea which was recommended by one of the Oncology nurses “Niks Tea, Irish Brew: Bedtime Kiss”, drank that, put the phone away, went to bed early, read for a while and did my Headspace sleep mindfulness but I could just feel the restlessness brewing and knew it wasn’t going to be a good night.

Being honest though I haven’t been great at keeping up my Headspace sleep mindfulness practice but have set it as one of my goals for the next few weeks to try and dedicate some time to it.  I had another App recommendation to me “Insight Timer”.  Unlike Headspace which has a monthly fee, Insight Timer has no charge and is the number 1 free meditation with 10,000 meditations from top British meditation teachers.  I haven’t used it yet but think it’s definitely worth a try.   I am also planning on giving acupuncture a try and have scheduled an appointment through Purple House Cancer support centre in Bray for a few weeks’ time.  Fingers crossed for some more zzzzzs.

I have already said I want to take any positives I can from this experience – one very superficial one for me is that I have finally treated myself to a new set of eyebrows!!! Due to over plucking over the years my eyebrows are a far cry from the bushy brows I sported when I was 15 so I’ve wanted to get Microblading (a form of semi-permanent tattooing) done for a good while to save 10- 15mins every time I do my makeup but with crèche fees and a mortgage it was a luxury I couldn’t really justify.  So, once I was diagnosed and found out I would need Chemotherapy I decided sod it -I deserved it and was going to get it done.

I’ve mentioned in one of my earlier posts how besides a couple of tears after my biopsy I really haven’t gotten upset over my diagnosis.  I did however ball my eyes out when I found out I had left it too late to get Microblading done on my eyebrows.  Tell me I have cancer – no problem (well not quite, but I was prepared for and accepted my diagnosis), tell me I can’t get my eyebrows done – I have an emotional meltdown!!, it just hadn’t dawned on me that it wouldn’t be an option.  As it turns out Microblading breaks the skin and cannot be done if you are about to start treatment in the following 5 weeks due to a slower ability to heal & an increased risk of infection.

I did however recently find out about emBrowdery which is a less invasive option which does not break the skin and can be done during treatment (with a letter from your consultant) – so light at the end of the tunnel, I now have an option which will help me maintain the illusion of my eyebrows when I lose them due to the chemotherapy.  The following link is to a blog with more information on both and my experience with my first emBrowdery session: “Microblading and emBrowdery“.

I’m missing a lot in work at the moment so have been trying to do what I can to keep myself challenged while I’m off, so in the last week I have attended a my 3rd day on an Emotional Intelligence course, a Masterclass on Resilience and I have been able to link into a Leadership Masterclass in work via live streaming. I got my college results & was delighted with them so am now a qualified Personal, Leadership and Executive coach (if anyone would like some coaching!!).

I have decided to delve a bit deeper into the wellbeing side of things and am planning on doing a Diploma in Mental Health and Wellbeing Coaching while I am off.  I’ve just finished reading an inspirational book by Andrea Hayes http://www.andreahayes.ie/ about her battle with chronic pain and her wellness and daily management of her illness.  I am about start another book of hers “My life Goals Journal” which is filled with practical wellness strategies to help you identify your goals from journaling, diet, exercise, mindfulness and sleep.  The book provides space for monthly journaling and helpful exercises and some great inspirational quotes to help keep you motivated along the way! Some good ones for anyone who is struggling or having a crap day:

“I don’t have to take this day all at once, one breath at a time, one moment at a time, one minute at a time”

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” (Martin Luther King, Jr)

“A problem shared is a problem halved”

“Turn your wounds into wisdom.  You don’t become what you want, you become what you believe” (Oprah)

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it” (Muhammad Ali)

Round 3 – Half way there!

As a Bon Jovi fan I couldn’t let this milestone pass without a bit of “Living on a Prayer” so here it goes, feel free to sing along!!

“Wo-oo, we’re half way there

Wo-oo, livin’ on a prayer

Take my hand and we’ll make it I swear

Wo-oo, livin’ on a prayer”

So, the run up to round 3 was pretty good.  The bone pain didn’t intensify to the same extent after round 2 as the 1st round and I didn’t need to take my anti-nausea tablets.  I didn’t get away scot free though, I did end up needing that medication for the…ahem “blockage” spotted in the scan. Realising 3 days in I had accidently been taking triple the dose of said medication resulted in an interesting few days!!! I also got a tickly cough this time round, which really kicked off at night and kept me awake which wasn’t fun but it thankfully eased off after a week.  I’m a very light sleeper, I suffered badly from insomnia with both my pregnancies and could count on both hands the number of nights my 3 and 4 year olds have both slept through the night so I am no stranger to a bad night’s sleep and feeling tired but I’m really struggling with it at the moment.  I’ve downloaded the “Mindspace” app which was recommended by my consultant.  I’m hoping practicing some mindfulness to help me get into a better headspace and starting a better bedtime routine will help ease me into a better sleeping pattern.

I felt like I had more energy this time round which I was very grateful for because we had 3 lots of visitors from Ballymena, Thurles and Manchester.  It only took the Ballymena and Thurles gangs 9 years to come visit us (the things you have to do to get visitors eh?!) but I’ve slagged them enough about that already so will just say how lovely it was to see them! Our Manchester visitors also stayed with us last year so they are off the hook. Their visit coincided with Adrian’s birthday so we headed out for pizza with all the kids and back home for a few drinks and lovely catch up.  It’s such a simple thing (and one I would have previously taken for granted) but it was great to feel well enough to enjoy fun times with special friends, no matter how simple they are (the moments not the friends! lol!)

I had an eventful day last Friday.  I was due in to have bloods taken (which needs to be done before each session) but was also scheduled for a full body bone scan (to check up on a “probably benign” pelvic abnormality spotted in my previous CT scan).  This scan was a Radionuclide Imagining (RNI) scan which involved being injected with a radioactive “tracer” which travels to part of the body requiring examination so this required inserting a catheter into my arm to administer the injection.  My veins decided not to co-operate on the day and it took the nursing staff 8 attempts inserting the catheter before they found a vein they were happy with (I have some lovely bruises along my arm, wrist and hand to prove it) but to my mortification, while they were doing this I ended up fainting!! Even though I’m still not a fan, I’m well used to being prodded and poked with needles at this stage so for that reason I’m blaming the fainting on tiredness (nothing to do with the fact that Adrian was away on a work night the night before so I was home alone with the boys!!) and dehydration and absolutely nothing to do with me wussing out!!!

To avoid exposing the boys to unnecessary radiation I was advised to stay a meter away from them for 24 hours.  I had an RNI in May before my lumpectomy so should have expected this but because that injection was more localised to my right side, at the time I was just advised not to sit too close to them and no cuddles on the right hand side.  It hadn’t dawned on me that as this scan was a full body scan I would need to keep more of a distance (it might have helped if I had read the leaflet they gave me properly!)  Unfortunately the west wing of our house is currently being renovated (!!!!) so avoiding the boys in the house wasn’t really an option.  I am lucky though to have my aunt (my fairy godmother) living close by so I made the most of the situation and stayed with her for the night where we had a lovely evening and enjoyed a takeaway, some wine and a lie in (every cloud!!)

“Comb-over!”

While I’ve continued to lose my hair, the rate and extent of the loss has slowed down.  However, I am getting closer to the stage where I will no longer get away without a wig or hat.  For now I am still getting away with my version of a comb-over (clipping the front of my hair back to give me a little more coverage at the back of my head) but I am very conscious of it especially on windy days.  I discovered on my 3rd session on Monday that the reason for my balding at the back is because there is a bulge with the fit of the cold cap – I am using the small size but unfortunately there is even more bulging with the extra small cap so all we could do this time round to try and avoid further loss was try and tighten the small cap as much possible. This is just the luck of the draw, I’ve seen many women in there who have had more sessions than me and still have a full head of hair so the cold cap is definitely still worth a try for anyone who has the option.  For me, I’ve had extra time with a “full-ish” head of hair and I can still stick on my baseball cap and no one is any the wiser so I’m grateful for that.

Reality

The irony hasn’t been lost on me that I’m desperately trying to hang on to some of my hair while willing and even rejoicing the loss of hair elsewhere on the body or the fact that I’m a far cry from lounging by the pool in my bikini the one time no pre-holiday waxing would be required!

I went to a “Look good feel better” workshop last week which was run in the hospital. It’s a free course, facilitated by experienced beauty advisers.  The course gives hints and tips on makeup during treatment and we were also shown some wigs, hair pieces and hat/scarf options. This is a fantastic resource to help women feel a bit more like themselves as they deal with the changes the treatment is having on their skin/hair and general appearance.  Being totally honest, if you are into makeup you might not learn a lot you didn’t already know but coming from a training background I know that the greatest benefit participants often gain from courses is the opportunity to hear about and learn from the experiences of the others in the room.  This definitely made the workshop worthwhile for me, it was so lovely to meet some other women going through similar experiences and sharing hints and tips with each other.  We were also given a lovely gift bag of goodies (below) which was a great bonus.  The Look Good Feel Better website provides more information about the workshops and a list of hospitals where they are run across the country.

I’m currently three days post my 3rd chemo session, and the cough has returned stronger and as annoying, accompanied this time round by a lovely head cold.  It’s a big week in our household with Alec starting school tomorrow so for now I’m just keeping an eye on my temperature and hoping I’m feeling fit and well enough to be able to enjoy being a proud mammy (and an emotional mess on the day!!)

Ding Ding, Round 2!

I started to feel back to myself my 3rd week after my 1st chemo session, my energy levels were up, my appetite was back to normal (after seesawing from no real appetite to wanting to eat everything in sight) and I even managed a run (just one but hoping to do more this time round).  So I was back on track just in time to start all over again – and so the merry-go-round begins.

The night before my 2nd Chemo session I had my last night of college which involved a practical exam, coaching someone and giving feedback on camera – a very successful way to distract me from the following day!

My 2nd session was pretty uneventful.  The nurses were amazing again and the morning went smoothly.  I brought along a bag of products to see which were suitable when using the cold cap and have details of the ones that got the seal of approval in a new “Cold Cap – suitable products” blog in the beauty section.

I’m still waiting to see how successful the cold cap is for me.  Without it I would have lost all my hair at this stage which hasn’t happened but I have had a lot of thinning in the last week.  It’s hard when your hair starts coming out in chunks, I always said if I was losing it I would shave it but with the cold cap I don’t know how much I’m going to continue to lose so for now I’m hanging in there.

At the moment my hair is very thin and straggly and in the last 3 days a lovely bald patch is starting to appear on the crown of my head (still covered by some strands of hair for now but if I continue to lose it at the same rate I have been they won’t last long).    The picture above show’s one day’s hair loss.

I’m really starting to hate combing my hair, spending at least 5 minutes afterwards trying to pick all the hairs off my shoulders and back, not to mention the floor, sink etc.  But I know I’m one of the lucky ones who has been given the option of the cold cap and for now anyway I can still go out without a hat, scarf or wig (just about).  Worst case scenario it won’t be successful but I’ll have gained an extra couple of weeks with my hair or I might get away with still having enough to go wig-less and wear a baseball cap for day to day (I have my wig on standby just in case).

Adrian gave me the injection for my white blood cells this time round – he did well in fairness to him but letting me know “It’s OK, I know what I’m doing, I’ve seen Pulp Fiction” as he held the needle in his hand probably wasn’t his best comedic timing -Funny man!! (OK I did laugh a little)

I was a bit more floored the day after my session this time round but I think it was more down to a very bad night’s sleep the night before.  I was better on day 2 and went to a friends for a lovely BBQ (the boys were well entertained which meant a lovely relaxing evening for mammy!).  I feel like I’m nesting at the moment and yesterday I tackled the boy’s clothes – how can you get rid of over 5 bin bags of clothes and still have no room to put stuff?! It was a job I’ve been putting off for a while and felt very therapeutic to get it done – now for the rest of the house, but not this week!

My symptoms so far have been pretty similar to the last session, the grogginess has set in and I can feel the bone pain creeping in right on cue but the added benefit this time round is I know what to do once the pain intensifies.  Just to ensure I don’t get too cocky about knowing it all after only one session I’ve had an extra side effect thrown at me this time round.

Now this is where I really start to challenge my reasoning around doing a blog, I have said from the outset that I will be as open and honest as possible in my blog but when it comes to certain things it’s hard to know what is helpful and what is just down right embarrassing!!!

But hey, no one said cancer was pretty and neither are its side effects (and I know I’m only at the start of learning how true that is) so you’ll be glad to read that I have decided to compromise and keep this very high level …. Some lovely side effects associated with chemo are diarrhea and constipation, the later in my case.  The good news is the amazing staff in St Vincent’s Private spotted this in a scan long before I had symptoms so I was well prepared with yet more drugs to take when I needed them.

After my 1st chemo session the boys went on their holidays to Cork to my brother and sister in Laws.  This time round a nice evening walk or relaxing on the couch has been replaced by refereeing very competitive hurling matches, trying to console a 3 year old having a melt down because he can’t go to his “work party” at 8.30 on a Sunday night and trying to avoid sneezes and snotty noses (after a good run they’ve typically both come down with colds this week!) I invested in a Moo Goo hand sanitizer today which is alcohol free so gentle on little hands!

As I sit here typing this my two boys are sitting on the floor playing a football board game (one in his Tipp jersey, the other supporting Antrim) and listening to their banter is all the motivation I need (until the fighting starts!!!).

I’m now on day 25 of my chemo journey.  I’m pumping my body with what seems like an endless list of drugs to help combat the effects of the treatment.  It’s a pain but I’m very grateful for those drugs.   A quote I have to admit stealing from “First Dates” but love comes to mind “Any day you can get out of bed and pull up your own knickers is a good day”

So today was a good day!

Post Chemo – my first 10 days

Day 1 Girls day out

I had arranged a girls day with mum and Maria (my sister) before I knew my chemo start date, it was supposed to be an excuse to get dolled up and drink lots of prosecco before I started my treatment. As with the best made plans it didn’t work out that way – after weeks of waiting my 1st chemo session ended up being the day before our day out. Chemo session or not I still wanted my girl’s day so we went ahead with our plans.

This was my first test without my hairdryer and surprisingly it actually wasn’t too bad! (Don’t worry, my trusty hairdryer hasn’t been totally abandoned – I still use it to give my clothes a quick “iron” – I hate ironing!) I have to admit I cheated a little and put a little bit of leave in conditioner into the ends to try and tame the frizz. The conditioner I used was from the Moo Goo, an Australian company who pride themselves on their natural products.

I haven’t used it since as I want to check with the nurses on my next visit to ensure using it isn’t putting extra pressure on the roots of my hair so will do a blog on it once I find out – (I just saw on their website they also do a gradual tanning cream which I am really interested in checking out!)

We had a lovely day shopping, some lunch in the sunshine (I had my factor 50 and sun hat on), we looked at a wig I was thinking of getting (more on that in my wig blog coming soon) and my sister and myself went for dinner and a cocktail later – so it is fair to say that day 1 post chemo was a good one.

Day 2 – Injection time

Day 2 started with an injection. This is self-administered within 48 hours of each chemo session to increase the white blood cells. A nurse normally contacts you to arrange a time to call to your home to show you what to do the 1st time round but you’re on your own from there. I didn’t hear from the nurse but luckily my mum was there (she used be a nurse) so stepped in.

I’m not a fan of needles and was expecting an epipen type needle (i.e. no needle in sight) so when I took the lid off and saw a nice long needle it took me off guard and I had a bit of an “oh sh*t” moment! The injection itself was fine, I just don’t like the idea of them. Adrian has said he’ll do it next time so I’m hoping he’s not going to take advantage of the opportunity to use it as revenge for any times I’ve been a moody cow (very very rare occurrence!)

The injection can cause bone pain so the nurses told me to take Nuerofen plus an hour beforehand and for a few days after to help with the pain.

My brother and sister in law took the two boys down to Cork for a little holiday for the week which was a godsend in the first week. They had a ball and we had some time to just see how I’d get on without those few “mad hours” in the evening from dinner to bedtime!

Day 3 – “I’m fine”

Monday started well, I went for a lovely walk up around Killiney Hill for nearly 2 hours. I just love it up there and find it a great place for a bit of exercise and also for some head space, just relaxing enjoying the view. Later that evening I started to feel really irritable and tired. I really hated that feeling. I was disappointed that I was feeling tired already – I thought I’d be fine for another few days, in hindsight I probably over did it a bit in the first few days.

Adrian wanted to do what he could to be there for me and help me, but when you’re feeling tired having to reassure someone you are “fine” every few minutes can be exhausting. It’s so important to remember that this is hard on those around us aswell, they can feel so helpless. This was a learning curve for both of us. We agreed that Adrian didn’t need to check on me every minute but I would be honest with him and let him know when I wasn’t feeling well.

Day 5 – Them bones, them bones

Up until Wednesday night I had felt fine bar feeling tired and drained with a few pains and aches (more like a stiffness). On Wednesday night I started getting stronger pains in my lower back. When I got into bed these really started to feel like a gripping pulsing pain. It was a strange sensation – the pain was concentrated in my lower back but pulsing through my body. It gave me a flash back to labour pains.

The pains surprised me – I was expecting bone pain on Sunday and Monday after the injection so by Wednesday I thought I had gotten away with it. Adrian rang the hospital just to double check this was normal and expected which put me more at ease. I had taken neurofen plus and was told to take paracetamol with it. The painkillers did the job and the pain died down after 15minutes. I took them twice on Thursday (morning and night) but haven’t needed them since.

Day 6 “Hello Nausea”

On the morning of day 6 I went for a lovely walk and felt good but as the day went on I started to feel tired and in the evening nausea set in for the first time. I had been given tablets in the hospital to take if I needed so I took one and waited for relief which didn’t come. Instead of getting ready for college I ended up on the bathroom floor, head over the toilet bowl cursing the nursing staff (sorry I take it back!!).

Now this is a position I have been familiar with in the past (from the days I had a social life and both my pregnancies) but they had promised me in the hospital that I wouldn’t end up here. I managed to get myself to college and felt ok for the rest of the night. I have since learned that the anti-nausea tablets work best when taken to prevent the nauseous feeling rather than to stop it after it’s kicked in so I have been taking 1-2 a day since with no nausea.

From day 7 onwards the bone pain and nausea were gone and I have felt fine except for the fatigue. All in all I have to say it went better than I expected. I know a lot worse has yet to come and each round will be tougher as my body and immune system are already weaker but I have also already learned things that will help me next time and I’m sure I will continue to figure it out and muddle through!

One down, five to go!!!

My First Chemo Session

On the morning of Friday, July 13th I arrived at St Vincents Hospital over an hour early for my 9am appointment.  I had no idea what to expect but I didn’t feel as nervous as I thought I would.  There was nothing I could really do to prepare myself, I just had to trust I was in good hands.  I didn’t see the point in worrying about how it as going to go or what it might be like.

I just wanted to get on with it, it was happening either way and I would deal with it as best I could. My bloods had been taken two days beforehand so once I was weighed and measured I was ready to get fitted for my cold cap (see my post on my cold cap experience).

As it turned out there really wasn’t anything to stress about.  Besides being prodded a bit with needles (and I hate needles) and trying to keep warm there was nothing unpleasant about the experience.  I didn’t know how I would feel when receiving the chemo but I didn’t notice anything.  The nurses were amazing.

They explained everything as we went along and started me off with an anti-nausea drug administered through the drip.  They were so attentive and continued to check how I was getting on. My first chemo drug was Taxotere, this normally takes an hour but some people can have a reaction to it so they slowed down the administration of it for my first session until they knew I was getting on fine with it.

After that, I had my second chemo drug Cyclo which takes just half an hour. I got a prescription for a list of drugs/mouthwashes to help me with possible symptoms afterwards and was reassured the days of vomiting over a toilet bowl were over.  I was told not to suffer in silence, there was plenty more they could do for different side effects so if I was feeling unwell I was just to pick up the phone and call them and they would look after me.

Adrian mentioned on the way home that he actually had a nice day (easy for him to say!).  That shows how badly we’re overdue a few date nights – that a day chatting in a chemo ward is considered a nice date!  But we did have a nice day, I wasn’t in any pain throughout the day, there was nothing particularly unpleasant about it and we had some good laughs (mainly at the state of me in my “scrum cap”).  One down, now to wait for the real fun to start as the lovely side effects kick in.