Tickled Pink

Today my mother came home with presents: a new scarf and new ‘statement’ necklace (my collection is growing, Mrs Hawkins). Both were pink.

It’s an inside joke between mother and I, that I need to start wearing more pink. When shopping, if I pick up something that has a slither of pink in it, be assured “oh, you’re picking something pink!” will be heard.

I have never been a ‘girly-girl’ – I still can’t successfully apply eyeliner, and I only started wearing mascara 7 years ago to adhere to the Qantas Runway Guide. As the years have ticked on, I have become more in touch with my feminine side. Thanks to LGFB, I now also own: blush and lipstick (both pink!). Don’t get me wrong, I am not adverse to wearing pink – I own fluorescent pink running shoes. Apart from those items previously mentioned, pink doesn’t usually appear on my colour palate.

So why does mother think I need to start wearing more pink? Because now, I have BC. I know that sounds like a MASSIVE generalisation, but every time we go to an appointment, we are surrounded by pink! From my/our observations, anything related to BC is adorned in pink: uniforms, support groups, support material..etc.. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, just an observation. Breast Cancer affects mainly woman + pink is the feminine colour. There is actually a lot of research as to why pink is associated to girls/woman…but let’s not go down that path today.

I have learnt to embrace a lot of things through this journey – the colour pink is the next on my list.

My Mantra: I WILL EMBRACE PINK

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Scarf Days

‘Excuse me, where did you get the thing on your head?’ asked the old lady at the checkout. ‘It’s just an old scarf,’ I replied. ‘Oh, you’ve just wrapped it around?” ‘Yes.’ Just another day…

the girl with the red face

I had a completely different blog in mind for today. However, today did not go to plan, again. My chemotherapy regime is going to have drastic changes from today onwards. To explain these changes further, here is a run down of how today played out.

My appointment was booked for 9:40 to review my blood test results with my oncologist. There is always a wait, so the oncology coordinators tend to mingle with the patients in the waiting room, asking how we have been, how we are managing with the treatment…etc..etc…

The coordinator I have dealt with the most, Jana was eager to chat to me. She had a few exiting things to tell me. Firstly, I had popped up on her Facebook news feed! Last Sunday, a photo was taken of myself and sister, along with one of her friends dressed up in a Pink Bunny Onesie. My sister is still fundraising for the Walk to End Women’s Cancers that she participated in recently. Donations were offered if her friend walked around Riverlink Shopping Center, for an hour, in the onesie. Strangely enough, Jana’s husband is friends with the guy who snapped the photo (that’s you, Trev, if you’re reading this). Secondly, a lady who was already in receiving treatment this morning, had asked who else was coming back today. “Is the 22-year-old back in today?” she asked. I am the 22-year-old! Bless…nothing like having 10 years knocked off, especially whist receiving treatment.

As usual, on arrival, I weigh myself. The quantity of drugs administered is worked out on your body weight. I hate to admit it, but I have put on 1.9kg’s! Last round I weighed 63.5kg, this round 65.4kg. I could easily pass the blame and say it’s from the chemotherapy and steroids…but let’s be honest…I’ve just been eating too much cake. Story of my life.

The bump-and-grind of chemo day finally started at 10:20 when the doctor called me in. My usual doctor, Dr Niara Olivera was away this week – she’s in Paris for a work conference, doing it tough I’m sure. Today I was greeted with another oncologist from the Mater, Dr Jim Coward. Dr Coward is a big, burly, African man with a posh English accent. I do miss the English accent. We discussed my blood test results from Tuesday. This indicates if I am “healthy” enough to receive treatment today. I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous about the ‘ol WBC’s. Hearing “your white blood cells are high enough for you to commence treatment today,” was music to my ears. The meeting was short and sweet and after 5 minutes, “let’s crack on” was his closing speech. Shakes hand. Bye.

What comes next?…

Where to sit. Unfortunately, I don’t get to choose where I sit, the nurses do. My heart started to race, my palms became sweaty with anticipation. I was getting nervous about WHERE they were going to sit me, more than knowing poisonous drugs were about to be injected into my veins! Mother and I followed the nurse. I felt like I was walking on tiptoes, as if walking silently through the ward would work in my favor and the angels above would pick a different suite for me, anything but SEVEN. Gently, quietly, one foot in front of the other, we continued following the nurse. Today was a full-house, all I could see was a lot of full chairs…all except SEVEN! NOOOO. I explained my plight with the number seven to the nurse and she advised five would be free shortly, if I wanted to move. We decided to give seven one more try to redeem itself. I don’t like to be difficult. The nurse guaranteed me if any issues occurred today, they would never sit me in seven again, ever!

Let’s crack on! Cannula in – first attempt – success. Phew…Pre-meds administered. The Phenergan was given to me first, so I “shouldn’t” have another reaction. Within 5 min’s I was sleepy and slurring.

“What’s your name and D.O.B?,” asked the nurse. This is part of their checks to ensure the correct drugs are administered to the correct patient.

“Roshellllle Vaisanennn, 14 Ougust 1981,” I replied, or tried to reply.

Off I drifted, eyelids fighting against the medicine to try and stay awake. Even though I was sleepy from the Phenergan, it wasn’t enough to hide the symptoms of a reaction. I remember the feeling all too well. I was quick to recognise them again: tight chest, flushed face, and stabbing pains down my spine. How was this happening again! They gave me drugs to stop this happening. Mother was quick to call the nurse over. By then my face was as red as my red skinny jeans. I like to coordinate, but not that much.

So here we go again…counter-drugs, halt IV infusion of Taxotere and recover. This caused a lot of discussion between the nurses and doctor. There was a stop-work-meeting, all about me. I don’t like to be fussed over, but I guess this is an exception.

They decided that I can not, nor should not, receive Taxotere again. My body keeps reacting to it, and they have not been successful in controlling this. The suggestion is to switch me to another drug. The new drug will contain the same properties as Taxotere, however it is administered weekly! I have heard that weekly chemo is actually easier as it is in smaller doses – let’s see. So today I only received half of my prescribed chemo regime – only Cyclophosphamide, the “C” part of TC.

There are other implications that go hand-in-hand with weekly treatment. Needles, needles, and more needles! I am generally ok with needles, but having weekly blood tests and cannualas for the next 2 months is not going to be favourable for the health and well-being of my poor veins.

There are two options given to chemotherapy patients to assist in destroying the veins through treatment: a PICC Line, or Port-a-Cath.

  • A ‘PICC Line’ is a permanent cannula put into your upper arm. It’s not the most practical of options: you have to cover it when showering, and NO swimming. No thanks! Hello, it’s SUMMER.
  • A ‘Port-A-Cath’ is a small port implanted under your skin in your chest. It’s implanted under general anaesthesia – more day surgery *cringe*. The only major downfall is it can be visible under the skin and a small incision scar may remain. I’m actually not too bothered by these details. If it means not having to worry about needles for the rest of treatment, book me in.

As my usual oncologist is away, we need to wait for her to approve the change to my treatment regime. If she does, I should be booked in next week to have the Port implanted, then commence my weekly treatment next Thursday.

As the ward is small, most of the patients catch on pretty quickly to what’s going on with other patients. Two ladies, who had been there during my last treatment – when I also had a reaction – and also went red in the face, expressed their sympathy for my bad luck. “You went a little red in the face, again.”

This is my new nickname at the hospital. The girl with the red face.

Time to keep rollin’ with the punches. Relinquish control, accept the setbacks, and CRACK ON!

Round 2… DING DING

Are you aware that each course of chemotherapy is referred to in ‘cycles’ or ‘rounds’? I tend to use the term ‘round’ more often than not when discussing chemotherapy with others. One round is from when you go to the Oncology Ward and are injected with the nasty-cell-killing drugs, until the next time you repeat this process. It also includes the period of time that is considered your “rest” between each treatment. The rest period and the number of rounds varies from person to person and from cancer to cancer. For me: it’s 4 rounds, every 3 weeks.

In other cancer patients, this treatment plan is considered “lucky” – there is enough time to recover and feel “normal” before the next hit, and 4 rounds is the minimum treatment used. WIN, WIN.

It’s very hard to know what to expect when you start chemo. You may experience all of the side effects, or only a few (nausea, vomiting, body aches and pains, tiredness, mouth ulcers, digestive problems, taste changes…just to name a few). You may feel the effects immediately, or in the later stages. Chemotherapy drugs can have cumulative effects – the first round you still feel healthy, the next you don’t recover as quickly – your energy levels are affected a fraction more, the next is a little worse again, and the next…etc..etc

So if you’re wondering why I am still cycling and running hill sprints – this is why…the first round hasn’t hit me too hard. Although we all know now I need to be more cautious of my physical activity when my WBC’s are low. *smacks hand*.

So, taking all this into account, I can’t help but make a comparison between chemotherapy and boxing. Boxing? YES, boxing…

To ensure I wasn’t going completely bonkers by making this comparison, I spent some time with my trusted old friend, Google. I found this description of boxing that I feel cements my theory.

“In the early rounds of a fight, boxers figure out what their opponent’s strong points and weak points are, and then try to find a winning strategy, taking into account their own strengths and weaknesses as well. As such, boxing is very much a “mental” contest as well as a physical one…”

Ok, maybe I haven’t quite convinced you just yet. Let me continue…

Although I have never been in a boxing match, I have considered it in the past, and trained by some extremely talented boxing trainers. I learnt all the moves: jab, cross, hook, uppercut, duck, slip (is there any moves I have forgotten?), but unfortunately for me, I don’t have a desire to punch someone in the head…and let’s not mention my two left feet.

If, however, I was a boxer…I hope this is how a typical first round would play out…

Round 1 – full of energy and a few nerves, quick on my feet, moving easily, alert to my opponents’ moves – what combos they use, defence is still strong – I react quickly to their attacking 

DING DING

Break – pep talk from my support, a quick rest and re-hydrate

DING DING 

For me, the first round of chemotherapy was much the same. Every day I felt I was alert to what was happening to my body. What moves did my opponent have in store for me, and how would I react.

So what happens next?…

I go into round 2 with the same mindset as would a boxer. I will accept the knocks to my body, but keep mentally strong. It may be harder than the previous round, but with determination I can make it to the next.

Side note: If any of my ex-boxing trainers are reading this, I hope I have done it justice. I may have to get out my gloves and dust them off.

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Pink Socks for NYC Marathon

Today my tougher-than-tough friend, Scott Cameron is running the New York Marathon. It has been his dream for many years to take part in this event. Scott is not only my friend, but also my ex-trainer.

Many years ago, he gave me the nickname “Princess”, due to the fact I wore pink boxing wraps…not because I like pink, they were given to me…can’t knock back freebies, even if they are pink. Today the tables have turned and Scott is donning some PINK – to support my journey, whilst on his.

Go get ‘em, Princess…I mean, Tiger.

Hair loss: the loss of hair from head and/or body

The medical world amazes me. You’re told hair loss usually occurs from day 14 after your first round. Yesterday, was day 14. Yesterday, my hair started falling out. Amazing.

In no way am I worried about my hair falling out. If anything, I’m excited. Why? Because it’s another milestone – going bald brings me one step closer to the end. Also, I have become addicted to running my hand over my shaved head, imagine how nice it’s going to be bald!

There are two more pros associated with the hair loss: I finally get to start wearing my selection of scarves and turbans, and for the next few months, a lot of money will be saved on waxing – and I’m not talking about underarms. *wink wink*

My trusted barber, Man, has come back today to run the clippers over my malting head. We decided to go with ‘no gauge’ this time. The best way to deal with hair loss…have as little hair as possible. Done.

Another package was perfectly timed today – I received a stunning designer scarf!!! Eager to make use of it, I decided to try some tying techniques. Lucky for me, my personal barber doubles as a very talented photographer. And the result…

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