I’m there

It’s nearly 6 months since I finished chemo.

Yesterday I felt that I’m back. I’ve arrived. This is it. My energy levels are back to normal. In fact, better than that because I’m 70lbs lighter than what I remember as ‘normal’, pre-diagnosis.

I got up at 6.00am, made the daughter’s packed lunch, did two loads of washing, got the dehydrator whizzing along with two sorts of crackers, made bread. Then, ‘speed-walked’ with the dog 4 miles round Berry Head. (I don’t mean to speed-walk – it’s just that I can’t control the dog.) Popped into the allotment and picked herbs for dinner. After a cup of tea (green, natch) I prepared a stupidly complicated dinner which required 2 hours of standing in the kitchen. A year ago I couldn’t even stand up for 10 minutes, and needed painkillers every 4 hours.

I ironed the linen and made the bed. I washed up, and FINALLY sat down in my super sleepy old person’s motorised chair at 8.00pm, and DIDN’T doze off! Amazing!

I had a slight backache off and on during the day,  but that’s going to be ongoing because the cancer is in my spine and has caused ‘instability’, but nothing worth worrying about. In fact, I haven’t taken a single painkiller in 2013. Isn’t that wonderful?

I’m never going to be in the clear waters of NED (No Evidence of Disease), but I wonder how long I can stay in this blessed space? I believe the chemo and radiation restored me to a state of health where I could be empowered to improve my own health, and I’m going to carry on with that. I’m still munching through mountains of fruit and vegetables, raw when possible. I’m increasing my exercise every day, swimming and walking further and further. I’m still keeping insanely clean with my daily ‘Dettol’ bath. I’ve also added a daily ‘core temperature raising’ sauna whenever possible. The body raises its own temperature when fighting disease, right? So perhaps raising my core temperature for a few minutes a day can help those jolly old Natural Killer Cells charge around and tackle stray cancer cells? Just an idea of mine, and very pleasant to carry out, so worth a try (and, yes, the incidence of cancer is slightly less in Scandinavian countries where saunas are popular.)

Well, must dash. I’ve got to have a juice (carrot, apple and ginger) before I dash off to the spa for a swim and a sauna, then dog-walking around the beautiful Devon Coast this afternoon. Life couldn’t be sweeter!

Outside and inside my head

I’ve got no idea what’s happening round the back of my head. We don’t have the right set up of mirrors in my house to see round the back. This morning I decided to take a photo to see how fetching my hair regrowth is, and what colour it is.

Regrowth of hair after chemo

Hmm. Not too bad. I’m hoping I can be hatless on Christmas day without scaring everybody.

Inside my head is an entirely different matter. Treatment has now finished, and I’ve entered a plateau of wilderness. I don’t know if it’s worked, and I don’t know what will happen if it hasn’t.

Reading fellow bloggers’ words I see that we all go through similar emotions; disbelief, fear and anger at first, followed by a burgeoning of hope as we start treatment, then this empty plateau.

In common with so many others, I’m entirely fed up with the way cancer has hijacked my head. There’s not many minutes of the day when dealing with it isn’t in my thoughts. There’s a few minutes on waking where it’s forgotten, possibly, if I haven’t managed to dream about it. Where’s the rest of my personality gone? Where’s the creativity? The big thoughts?

Strange

I’ve made contact with people all over the world in the same boat as me. The internet is an absolutely wonderful way to gain the support of a group of people going through similar experiences – what a wonderful world we live in.

I’ve noticed something strange. Many of us hit ‘down’ patches together. All over the world. How does that work? When I’m feeling worried, and negative, I go to the web for comfort, and often find that several of my co-sufferers are going through the same emotions at the same time. It’s probably just coincidence, but it does feel slightly more than you would expect from chance alone. We all seem to come off the rails at the same time, even on different continents.

Likewise, upbeat times. I did a lot of walking yesterday, and felt good and free of pain. On the internet last night, I find several people who have been in a lot of pain recently report they have had a pain free day.

Isn’t it odd?

Anybody else noticed this?

Finished chemo! The DLL plan…

I’ve had my last chemo session, and have been pretty good throughout.

I’ve had to wait until now to share my tips of handling chemo side effects, because it seemed like tempting fate to do it earlier; the minute I put it down in blog form I would doubtless get hit with the full works of side effects.

I’m also aware that I’ve had a good ride because I’m lucky enough to be retired, and therefore can live a life without deadlines and duties. It must be so much harder fitting this illness and treatment around family and job commitments. Also, I’m sure there are more vicious chemo combinations than the FEC that I’ve been through.

So, here are my tips for handling chemo side effects… the Vic ‘DLL Plan‘!

The acronym stands for Dettol, Linseed and Liver:

Dettol. This is a disinfectant that can be used for both odd jobs around the house, and personal hygiene. (It’s not available worldwide, but perhaps ‘Lysol’ is an equivalent in the US?). I’ve had a bath every night with a couple of cap fulls of Dettol added. I’ve had a good old soak, making sure I wash my nostrils and breathing in the lovely, disinfectanty fumes, generally making sure that I cleanse away all the lurking germs of the day. I use ‘Simple’ soap products, and apply a body lotion.

I haven’t limited my socialising particularly. I still run my art group, have been on flights and in hotels, and bumped into some pretty germy folk without succumbing to the dreaded ‘neutropenic sepsis’, and I credit the ‘Dettol bath’ with being responsible for this.

Linseed (Flaxseed elsewhere in the world). I’ve been trying to include a couple of tablespoons full a day. It’s quite easy to incorporate it by grinding it up a bit with some pumpkin/sunflower seeds and using it as a sprinkle on fruit and yoghourt, soups and salads. There are also lots of marvellous cracker and biscuit recipes that include it on the Rawmazing web site.

Linseed may possibly help deter estrogen-sensitive tumours, but its really big plus factor is… erm… keeping the bowels regular. And that can be a REAL problem for the few days following the chemo infusion.

YOU MUST DRINK LOADS OF WATER WITH IT! I soaked some seeds for a Rawmazing cracker recipe, and was surprised when I went to drain it that it had turned to a gel, and I couldn’t get any fluid out of it! This is obviously how it works in our digestive system, absorbing lots of water and keeping stools soft and bulky. Great stuff!

Liver. Any old liver will do, but I do enjoy pig’s liver and it does have the highest concentration of iron out of the available types. I make sure I have a good meal of it a couple of days before blood work, and haven’t needed a blood transfusion. In fact, my blood results were commented on as ‘very good’ for my last chemo! I try to have it at every opportunity, perhaps choosing the liver pate as a starter if we go out for a meal, and opting for calves’ liver in posh restaurants! (our new hobby!)

Apart from the liver fixation, my diet is mainly plant-based, aiming at 10 fruits and veg a day, as little salt and sugar as possible, no alcohol and lots of green tea and water. I limit myself to a couple of cups of fairly weak coffee in the morning. I don’t want to give it up because I find it certainly helps with the old ‘digestive transit’ issues which can really make life a misery.

The great thing about forcing all these fruit and veg, linseed, green tea and liver into your diet is that you simply can’t fit anything naughty in! I’ve lost 56lbs in 8 months, and – apart from the twinging bad back caused by the cancer itself – feel better than I have for years. I sleep well, my skin is healthy and smooth, and I haven’t had any infections.

I hope this helps any fellow chemo sufferers out there. It doesn’t have to be that bad.