Skin Care

Because skin and nail cells grow quickly, some chemotherapy drugs can affect them. Your skin might become dry, flaky, red and itchy so it’s best to keep it well moisturised and avoid products with harsh chemicals. I still have a lot to learn about the best skin care products to use but at the moment these are some of the ones I’ve started using – all bar the Skin Essentials products can be found in most chemists (or health food stores for the coconut oil):

Elave shampoo and body lotion
I already had these at home as we use them for the boys but they were also recommended as a brand in the hospital. The Elave products are great for dry sensitive skin.

The Simple brand was also recommended in the hospital and are a nice affordable option. (their shampoo is suitable if you’re using the cold cap).

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
My mum recommended this to me. She used it in the shower as an all over body moisturiser including on her scalp when she lost her hair. I was a little unsure about this at first because I’m not a fan of the coconut smell and thought I’d find it a bit sickening but the smell is actually nice and mild and it is lovely and moisturising.

Aqueous Cream
This was another recommendation by my mum, she used it as her body lotion. There are loads of brands of aqueous cream and you can get a nice big tub of it for a few euro.

Skin Essentials
My sister gave me a present of their skin comfort cream and oil after my operation. She has been using one of their moisturisers for years. They do a range of products that are safe to use during chemotherapy or radiation. I was saving them until I started my treatment so only started using them last week. It’s obviously too soon to see any effects yet but so far I love the texture, it’s so smooth to apply.

The moisturiser has a dispenser pump on it to stop you using too much but this can also be easily removed so you can scoop out the remains of the product when you get to the end of it, so no waste! I will post an update on how I find them working as my treatment progresses but if you’re interested in having a look, Skin Essentials by Mariga is an Irish company based in Wexford with some lovely cancer friendly products which are available online.

The idea behind the oncology safe products is that they are completely free of any actives that the skin would need to process. This keeps the workload minimal on skin that is already dealing with stressors and toxins hitting it from the inside due to medical treatments.

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.

My Cold Cap Experience

The nurse combed conditioner into my hair and tried out the best size for me. It’s important that the cap fits as well as possible to ensure the scalp is fully covered with no gaps to avoid patches of hair loss. The cold cap itself is then covered with a “rugby scrum like cap” to secure it in place as tight as possible.

Once back in the ward it is linked up to a machine and I could feel the cold bubbling into the hat.  I knew the first 10-15 minutes was to be the worst so I warned Adrian if I closed my eyes and went into a zone of my own not to worry about me, it was just my way of getting through the initial dreaded brain freeze.

I was really pleasantly surprised by my experience of the cold cap, don’t get me wrong, it was cold – but more a “sticking your head in a cold bucket of water” cold than the unbearable brain freeze I had expected. I am a real cold creature and I don’t like the cold at all but at no stage (even in the first 10-15minutes) did I feel any pain, it was just cold, but not uncomfortable.

I know everyone’s experience of this is different so all I would say is if it’s something you’re considering, don’t discount it due to the horror stories and fear of the pain.  My advice is to give it a go and see how you get on yourself – if you find it too uncomfortable then stop (don’t put any extra pressure on yourself) but you might just find that it’s not as bad as you thought!

For me, my dilemma over the cold cap was always more about whether it was worth it or not, if I was going to lose a certain amount of my hair anyway, possibly in patches and not able to colour it, wash it much or blowdry it – what was the point?

The good news is they now say you can wash your hair 2-3 times a week which is a lot more manageable. They still recommend that it’s better not to dye your hair but many women do use organic dyes and I’m afraid I’m going to have to be one of these – not dying it really isn’t an option for me so I just need to take the risk!

For me now, it’s a matter of seeing how much I manage to hang on to and how patchy it gets – but fingers crossed it will be manageable.  At the moment I am trying to embrace the hairband look (to tame the frizz) but will definitely be getting a wig as a backup.

My Motivation

My way of coping with my diagnosis is to be as positive and take as many positives from the experience as I can. As hard as it is going to be some days my hope is to remain as upbeat as I can. In this section, I am going to share things that have helped motivate me, in the hope they might motivate someone else.

My Inspiration

This gorgeous woman (my mum) is my true inspiration and motivation through this battle.  She finished her cancer treatment for Cancer of the womb this time last year and if I can maintain even some of the amazing attitude she displayed through her battle I will be doing well.  Mum has always had an amazingly positive attitude to life and she did not let cancer change this or her.  She kept doing the things she loved as best she could and always had a smile on her face. Love you mum!

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

I recently reviewed a book for my college course called “The Monk who sold his Ferrari”.  The book is a fable about fulfilling your dreams and reaching your destiny.  To be honest, I found the way the story was written a little cheesy but that aside there are some really good concepts and habits for anyone interested in incorporating routines and habits that can transform their lives, help them achieve their goals and being truly happy.

The author Robin Sharma is a leadership expert and while the concepts he talks about are not new, he condensed them into a short easy to read book.  Just don’t try and implement them all, pick a couple of habits that will have the most impact on your life and concentrate on those.

Below are just a few quotes from the book which resonated with me and have helped with my attitude towards my situation (so far!):

  • “We can’t control events but we can control our attitude towards these events”
  • “No matter what happens in life you alone have the capacity to choose your response to it”
  • “From struggle comes strength”

My Body

Music is so powerful, from transporting you to another place, lifting your mood or just helping you have a well-needed cry at times. I have to admit I am often drawn more to the melody of a song and don’t always pay much attention to the lyrics but I was listening to a song from my running playlist last week when it struck me how apt the lyrics were:

It’s “My Body” by Young the Giant.
I love the chorus and have decided it is going to be my kicking cancers butt mantra!

“My body tells me no
But I won’t quit
Cause I want more
Cause I want more”

My Cold Cap Dilemma

When I met with my consultant she asked if I wanted to use the “Cold Cap”.  I had heard about it but didn’t know a lot about it.  She explained that she didn’t offer it to everyone as it wasn’t suitable for all hair types but it would work well for my hair.

It’s not on offer in all hospitals and has a waiting list on some so the hospital I would choose to have my treatment in would influence this.  Based on the information she gave me I decided why not give it a try – what had I to lose only my hair which was going to go anyway.  It can be painful but I knew I had the option to quit if I wanted to.

That was until I went to look at wigs and was told I can’t dye my hair until 6 months after the chemotherapy.  I had already read that I would only be able to give my hair one gentle wash a week (with baby shampoo) and could not blow dry or straighten it in order to try and protect the hair.

For those who don’t already know – here comes my first bare all truth….. I am not a natural brunette (well not any longer anyway!) Yep genes are a great thing and although my mums side of the family hung on to their natural hair colours until well into their 60s (and my siblings don’t have a grey hair between them) I was blessed with my fathers genes in this regard and have a nice little badger streak 2 weeks after getting my hair done!

So, the thoughts of not being able to dye it for 10 months was massive! Also, I’ve already mentioned my close relationship with my hairdryer and our backpacking adventure, I don’t just blow dry my hair when I wash it – I use my hairdryer every day to re-style my hair.  So, if my hair was going to be grey, greasy or a frizzy mess – what was the point in keeping it? I would need to cover it up anyway so would I not be better just getting rid of it?

I spent a lot of time toing and froing with this decision.  I finally decided I would get rid of my hair.  Until – four days before starting my chemotherapy I was told by the hospital that I could dye my hair and many women did! This threw a spanner in the works! So, back to square one!  In the end (and because I had to let the hospital know if I was going to use the cold cap) I decided yet again to give it a go and see what happens! I’ll give an update on my experience once I give it a try but below is some of the info provided by the company who provides them (Paxman).

Some facts about the cold cap:

Why does chemotherapy make your hair fall out?

Chemotherapy works by targeting all rapidly dividing cells in the body.   Hair is the second fastest dividing cell in the body and this is the reason why many chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss.  The hair follicles in the growth phase are attacked resulting in hair loss approximately two weeks after the commencement of chemotherapy.

How does the cold cap work?

The damage the chemotherapy causes to the hair follicle can be alleviated by scalp cooling. It works by reducing the temperature of the scalp by a few degrees immediately before, during and after the admission of chemotherapy. This, in turn, reduces the blood flow to the hair follicles which may prevent or minimise the hair loss.

How effective is it?

Successful scalp cooling depends on many factors such as type and stage of cancer, age, hair type, hair condition and general health.  Hair loss does vary from one person to the next.  Generally speaking hair loss of 30%-50% is expected while using the cold cap.

What to expect /Is it painful?

Tolerance of the cold feeling experienced whilst having the scalp cooling treatment varies widely from one patient to the next.  In the first 10-15 minutes, patients often experience an intense feeling of discomfort or pain but this tends to die down as you acclimatise to the cold.  Patients are advised to dress warmly to keep warm.

The lead up to my first chemo session.

I found out on Monday July 9th that I was going to start my chemotherapy on Friday July 13th.  I felt like I had been waiting such a long time to get started and now the time was finally here.  I had made plans for my mum and sister to come up on the Saturday to help me pick my wig and was looking forward to a final girls day/night and now I was thinking – will I be feeling ok? Will I able to wash my hair? I knew I couldn’t blow dry it  (see cold cap blog) so that was going to be some sight!

Suddenly, after my long wait it felt so real and I felt so unprepared.  I went down home to Tipp to get my hair done one last time.  On my drive back up to Dublin I had so many thoughts going through my mind and all of a sudden it all seemed so real! Because I had no symptoms before I found my lump and felt healthy and well up to this point it was hard to think of what I was about to put my body through and the nerves started kicking in.

Two days before I started I went into St Vincents for an education session where I was told all about my treatment and possible side effects.  I got a prescription for a nice long list of drugs to start me off but I felt better after the session. I had to trust I was in the care of professionals who knew what they were doing and would be there to help me along my journey.

The day before chemo

I was glad to have a coaching session and college work to keep me busy and distracted the day before I started. It dawned on me as I got ready that morning that this was the last time I would be able to blow dry my hair for a few months – I could no longer use any heat/styling appliances on my hair when using the cold cap in an attempt to keep my hair.  This might not matter to a lot of people but this is a girl who packed a professional sized hairdryer in her backpack when traveling around Thailand and Australia – this was going to be a challenge for me!

I did my tan the night before my first session (just so it would be done in case they told me I couldn’t put it on after, a girl has to have her priorities right!)

June 21st – More results

Adrian and myself met with the Oncologist on the morning of June 21st.  I first met a doctor who went through my medical history and that of my family.  I was thinking – just tell me the results! The test assigns a number between 0 -100.  A Recurrence score greater than or equal to 31 is considered high and would result in chemotherapy.  My results showed a score of 43 and I would need 6 rounds of Taxotere Cyclo (TC) chemotherapy over an 18 week period (1 every 3 weeks).  I would definitely loose my hair but I had the option of the cold cap (see post on Cold Cap dilemma) depending on where I was to receive my treatment.  So I finally knew.

I had made an appointment to look at wigs for later that morning (just in case).  I have some very embarrassing photos which I might share on a separate blog about my wig search.  We had another very important event in our house that afternoon, our oldest son Alec had his graduation and was playing a very important role in his crèche play.  He was playing the Chocolate Cake in a performance of  “The greedy little caterpillar”.  A very proud moment! Then it was home and off to college.

It would be another 3 week wait before I got my start date – Friday 13th (what a great date to start! Lucky for some?!)