Monday, 30 May 2011

Chemotherapy: A Beginners Guide

Since I'm done with my 8 cycles of chemo (did I mention that already?), and am now a qualified graduate, I thought I'd let you know what I've learnt with the benefit of happy, happy hindsight. Mostly because I wish someone had told me so I had that to reference, instead of My Sisters Keeper, which I've said before, is not healthy viewing. Whereas the movies would have you believe its all puking and rolling around and dark under eye circles, I beg to differ of course.

I've been able to think quite a lot about it actually, since I am still feeling a bit cr*p nearly two whole weeks after my last dose, so there's been extra duvet gazing - which is a convalescents alternative to navel. Like a Carbonara connoisseur (that's what I was in my dairy-accommodating days) especially savouring the very last forkful, my body would like to hang on to the effects of this final one for as long as possible it seems. Which is nice of it after the care and attention I lavished on it over the last 6 months.

1. Don't eat anything you like on chemo day. Even if you feel fine and hungry and are craving some Spaghetti Bolognese and reckon you deserve whatever you want since you've just very very bravely been pumped full of poison, don't. I now have associated sickness when I even consider Turkish food, rye bread, or, and this one is so bad I even gag when I type it, pearl barley. (But most people probably would anyway). I wonder if I'll ever be able to eat them again. The Turkish food I mourn on a regular basis.

2. This is not a beauty lecture, but since it is sage advice from a beauty editor, it should be adhered to like law of course. Treat your skin like you've seen the future you, and it isn't pretty. Yes you can't be bothered to put shoes on, let alone add an extra step to your skincare routine, but chemo is so drying (for 'drying' read !!!AGEING!!!) and the last thing you want when your hair finally grows back and you can go out again without drawing on your facial features, is to look 7 years older than when you started.

I was saved by Creme De La Mer. I realise I'm lucky and have access to this most luxurious of stuff, but I promise I tried a lot and The Concentrate (which was sent to me by a PR because she knows it's effective during and after chemo) is just miraculous. To the point where I sit at my desk and stroke my own face for comfort because it's just so so soft. So now I have better skin than before, which I'm sure is worth £250 odd quid. OK OK, I know I can talk. So alternatively I recommend Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair. Either way, after washing, before moisturising (with Ren no. 1 Purity Cleansing Balm and Elemis Pro Collagen Marine Cream respectively) these form my skincare trial and error chemo conclusion, and secure me loads of compliments, which is what its all about at the end of the day if I'm honest. Moving swiftly on...

3. Fybogel. Yes, well.  I don't really want to go into too much detail on this subject, but lets just say, a week to two weeks after chemo I can sympathise with a chicken, whose job in life is to give birth to a whole egg every day. The poor uncomfortable, sleep deprived, visions of Elvis dying on the toilet chicken... Fybogel is the answer. After extensive and investigative research. And sh!t loads of water.

4. Which leads me to...Water. This is boring advice and nothing new, but its hard to stick to and so  commonly trotted out that I think its hard to believe too. But when you've done a comparative test (not recommended, I just couldn't be bothered to keep lifting glass to mouth one week), it makes a whoppingly huge difference to how you feel, how quickly you recover, and not least to point no. 3.

5. Find a hobby. Lying around staring at duvets does not count. When I couldn't work as much as I wanted to, I decided instead to invest in my future. Yes, my cooking skills are now such that I have significantly increased my value in the current wife market. I am a hot commodity and the one who has me will be making a sound investment. I am also very adept at laundry and cleaning kitchens, but I draw the line at ironing.

6. I'm not going to bang on about eating right, but I'm sure it has helped me recover from each treatment better. And it's pretty logical too since chemo is bombarding your body with serious toxins. On my last go, there was an older man in with his family, who brought McDonald's for him to eat while he was being chemo'd. I sound hideously judgemental, but I feel that's like shutting a hypothermia patient in a walk in freezer, its not really helping matters is it?..

7. Plan Nice Things is not as easy as it should be when your body is traitorous and unpredictable. So this point is a two-parter, along with Keep A Diary. Write how you feel on each day so you'll get to a point where you know that on day 6 of your cycle you'll be able to stay awake past 19.30 and on day 3 eat spag bog safely without ruining it yourself for the next 5 years. Or ask your mum how you're going to feel on day 3 because after a couple of cycles you couldn't be bothered to keep a diary, so she knows better. I sheepishly still think its good advice though.

8. Don't be lazy. If there was ever an excuse for laziness, this is it, but I found that laziness and boredom are quite happy together, so if you do work on one it slightly alleviates the other. Also, it helps keep your body healthier than not. Also Jane Tomlinson ran a bloody half marathon 10 days after finishing chemo, so a little bit of pilates in front of the TV is not too much to ask is it? I chose pilates because it makes you breathe properly - something that surprisingly goes out the window when you've got things to worry/stress/be shocked about. Also it's a bit harder than yoga, but not as hard as 'proper' exercise so I feel good about myself without having to sweat. Always love an easier option.

9. This may be a bit obvious, but it's not as bad as you think it's going to be. I was told this by a patient having her final treatment when I was having my first. She said she thought it was going to be 10/10 bad, but it was only 5/10. Now that I'm in her position, I'd say it got up to about 7/10 for me, but she was still a lot more right than My Sisters Keeper, so I hope its nice to hear it from me too.

So, once my chemo connoisseur body has decided to finally let go of this delectable experience, I can start getting ready for the next bit, where I start all over again a 100% nervous novice. Any advice gratefully received...


  1. Fantastic post and so well written. You've come such a long way and I really admire how you've handled things all the way through.
    Congrats on finishing the 8 rounds of chemo.
    Big hugs.

  2. Congratulations on finishing chemo. I'm sure your words are putting a smile on many peoples' faces that wouldn't find a reason to otherwise. I wish that advice like this was more readily available for people. Hope you feel much better soon, and back to Carbonara!