It’s been just over a week now since my last chemo session. In that time I have been utterly amazed to be honest at how well I have done. As usual the first few days following chemo were pretty horrendous: nausea, fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches and this strange feeling like all your molecules are shaking and moving around in ways you are pretty sure they have no business doing, ruled the roost. But then… on Thursday it was as if a thunder cloud lifted and suddenly I could think a bit more clearly, I could hold myself upright and I was off! I’m not sure if it was the blood transfusion I also had last Monday (which I had been desperately needing for a number of weeks but the infection risk of actually having one was preventing my team from allowing me to have one) or the sheer relief that this was the last time, hopefully for a long time, that I had to go through it – but I am feeling well. Really well. Better than I have felt since November! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not running any marathons just yet but yesterday I stood and properly baked for the first time in months (using my new super duper Kitchenaid cake mixer that my beautiful partner and family bought me for my birthday last month and is now my pride and joy!) which in itself is a massive thing for me. As you would guess from the title of my blog I am an avid baker and one of the things that I have found most difficult this year is that I have been for the vast majority of the time been stripped of a lot of the things that kept me well mentally for the years that came before my cancer diagnosis. And then today the momentous occasion came… I went out for the first time since December to actual real life shops! Not a quick pop into a pharmacy to pick up yet another prescription or dragging myself to the hospital or the GP. Nope, real shops with actual items to purchase! And purchase I did… eek! What feels like my new body is taking me a bit of getting used to. Whilst those around me assure me I don’t look that different, I feel very different. Both physically and mentally I am changed.
Physically the good bit is I have lost a bit of weight and this is most welcome I have to say, not necesssily the diet I would recommend if I’m completely honest but you know, you’ve got to take the wins where you can haven’t you. But the other, more cruel it sometimes feels like, side is that as I have been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and all that other loveliness (not!) I have also been going through the menopause and so to me it feels like my body has changed a lot physically. It’s just not as pert as it was shall we say. I’ve never been a woman with a love of having her body out but this year in a lot of ways that has really been put to the test; watching your body change in ways that, as a woman, you always knew were inevitable but didn’t think you’d have to consider before the age of 30 has been a bit of a toughie. I don’t mean to come across vain – anyone that knows me I’m pretty sure would vouch for the fact that I am not. But for anyone, watching your boobs shrink and your cellulite multiply faster than it felt like those pesky cancer cells were, is sometimes going to be just a bit much; yet another strange reminder of what has been going on and the perceived lack of control it feels like you have over your own body.
But, one of the massive advantages of having “the cancer” (as my lovely, if a little too forthright sometimes, window cleaner calls it) is that it forces you to face yourself at your very worst. Unless you are going to cover every mirror in sight are you are going to see yourself looking at your very very worst, and not only that but you are going to go out looking like that too! I remember before my hair fell out for the second time more recently being utterly obsessed with trying to figure out what I was going to do about my eyebrows. I felt okay about my hair going, after all I’d already faced that unexpectantly earlier in the year – going from long-ish thick curly hair to nothing within a matter of days – but the idea of not having eyebrows was mortifying. I so wish I could go back and tell myself that I really wouldn’t care, that by the time they fell out my focus would be on simply holding my head up and getting through; that it really wouldn’t matter and that it certainly wouldn’t matter to those around me who love me. Don’t get me wrong, for some people it remains a very big deal and there are all sorts of things you can do to help, but for me if I’m honest I just felt so poorly that I really didn’t have it in me to get a shower most days never mind faffing around with makeup of any description! And so the good thing about going through all that is that you realise actually you weren’t that bad at the start. And with that comes a new sense of confidence that I for one am actually quite pleased with. If I can go out looking how I did when I was really poorly, then I sure can go out now with a smile on my face and a spring (albeit maybe a teeny spring at the moment still) in my step. I can’t help but think back to the last day I went out before I got put on house arrest – I literally had to stop every 2 or 3 steps to take a breath because I couldn’t breathe and walk at the same time, I looked like a yellow ghost and had a funny waxy texture to my skin that I have to admit was rather disconcerting. People were staring at me with concerned faces as I forced my way around Sainsburys. It was probably one of the single most mortifying moments of my life; the moment I realised that actually I really was quite poorly and perhaps the doctors were right that maybe I needed to just lie down for a few weeks and let myself be ill.
But now, today, I have put makeup on for the first time in months, and strangely instinctively I put sooo much less on than I ever would have done before (and did have a slight moment of horror thinking I looked orange when I first applied it!). I was one of those women before who wouldn’t even pop to the corner shop without at least some makeup on. Today I didn’t feel I needed it. I wanted to put it on, I wanted that bit of me back, and what a wonderful, liberating feeling that was. Don’t get me wrong, my hair has only just starting growing back (although I do have freakish hair that the medics can’t quite fathom that literally springs back the moment I stop taking the drugs and seems to grow at a rate of knots) and I’m still looking far from my best but compared to those awful days I look positively great! No complaints here! So off I went out, rocking my newly growing hair. No hiding under a hat here, I am proud of my head and of all that it represents now. I have worked bloody hard to keep this head and I bought the pinafore dress I’ve long longed for but didn’t think I could pull off before – so what if I can’t, I want to wear it. And you know what, at the risk of sounding evangelical (which is my number one fear writing these blog posts I’ll be honest!), that is what we should all be doing. Embracing ourselves for who we are; all that we are. Whatever that means to you. Do it! Live like no-one is judging and we can’t really go wrong can we.