Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Radio Ga Ga

While I try and urge my over-tired brain cells to come up with intelligent conversation, please bare with me. Writing this blog is cathartic, fun, indulgent and even intelligence boosting. I always maintain that I was a lot cleverer before, well, before I don't know what, but I'm not as clever as I used to be. I usually rely on the excuse that since I'm a journalist I use my daily word allowance up quite quickly at my desk, so by evening I am a bumbling moron. I think it might just be that fashion doesn't stimulate my brain like university and coursework and philosophy did (you don't say), so my grey matter isn't getting such a good work out these days. This extra curricular writing is definitely helping on that front, plus it's like a virtual support group, and since I'm not a support group kind of a person, I really appreciate the friendly email opportunities this digital journal presents.

But writing it nearing the end of my treatment - let me say that again, the end of my treatment - is challenging.
I've got two days of radiotherapy left, out of three weeks. My doctor said I would feel exhausted, I should think about not working through it, or having a couple of weeks off at the end. This is me we're talking about, I'm allergic to not working, so I did the sensible thing of going in part time as a happy compromise. I also switched hospitals so I'd be near work, which means travelling there every day anyway, which means it'd be silly not to pop to the office on my days off, since I'm right there...

So yes, I am quite tired. This intelligence boosting trick is not very effective these days, instead I am mildly aware that I'm babbling nonsense. This is a less commonly documented side effect of radio, along with these:

Tattoos. You don't tend to hear about this until they're standing over you with a needle and a biro (I don't think this is the literal technique, but its certainly along those old school prison variety lines), then you get various dots forever tattooed on your body, to perfectly line up the machine every time.
A) why use permanent ink? Fading ink does exist! Its what 16 year olds always plan to get as a token act of semi-rebellion. I have enough scars from this experience without adding three blue freckles to the equation.
B) why use blue? Brown ink does exist. If you're going to mimic a freckle, think human, not smurf...

Route boredom is more irritating than radiotherapy itself. When I was a student at Bristol University I liked the novelty of driving up the M4 for two hours the first couple of times. Then I started to recognise that tree that indicated another 97 miles to go, the service station sign that meant I was not quite half way there yet, until the trip was mind numbingly boring and dangerously sleep-inducing. In much the same way travelling across London for an hour every day to have a 5 minute Xray is so routinely rubbish I try to find novel ways of jazzing it up. So far I have invented 'beat the song', a race to get from bus stop to waiting room before the ipod shuffle song choice finishes.

Association Sadness I like to invent names for new afflictions. This one happens when I feel tired, as is expected of me, but then lump on slightly depressed too, because being tired reminds me I'm having treatment for cancer and makes me feel like a sick person again. Stupid I know, the tiredness is nothing compared to chemo, but I'm impatient for the not feeling tired, and knowing what it feels like to have a good few weeks of solid sprightliness before normal winter flu hits me or something sufficiently less stressful like that.

The good thing is radio is such a walk in the park compared to chemo that these whole three side effects are decidedly more 'meh' than 'ARGH', so I can forget about them long enough to enjoy the rest of my day. Until I try and put on a low cut - by which I mean slightly below collarbone - top, and am confronted by lopsided sunburn and a blue freckle.

Which brings me onto skin. I heard lots of horror stories about how my skin would go scaly/black/rock hard/dinosaur like/agonisingly painful, but unless I develop these symptoms in the next two days, I seem to have escaped relatively unscathed. The redness started creeping up after about a week, but its so mild I genuinely had to ask the radiographers if they were doing it right. I put my faith in their medical prowess that I'm not receiving a placebo, but my sensitive skin is kind of alright.
Uncomfortable, a bit unsightly in a 'Brits Abroad' kind of way, but generally OK. I put it down to the magic of Aloe Vera (as does my radiographer, but only on the sly, since they're not allowed to recommend it; There are no clinical trials that confirm it's good to use, but in their experience, everyone who uses it alongside the approved aqueous cream fares better skin-wise). I slather it on straight after treatment, then moisturise with aqueous after showers and before bed. The purest is best - anything less can cause a worse skin reaction, but this 99.9% stuff is amazing.

Where I failed quite miserably at chemotherapy, radio I pretty much excell at. On my first day my radiographer Beth said I was what they call a 'dream set up'. What this means I have no idea but praise for anything is always very nice. After the initial few sessions of hoiking my body about for ten minutes to line up the freckles, I seem to have got it down where I naturally lie in the right position, and every new day with minimal to no hoiking makes me feel inordinately proud. I find my achievements where I can... Today to add fuel to the smug fire I was told my skin was doing really really well, well done. A+ for me for radiotherapy 101.

So next week marks the start of my return to full time work. It's just the Tamoxifen to go now, which has its beauty challenges in itself, but at least I only have to travel to the kitchen for a glass of water to wash down this treatment. I can't wait to get stressed about normal things like a normal person once again and not waste my best outfits on a radiotherapy waiting room. Maybe I need a new back-to-work wardrobe?

Friday, 26 August 2011

In Print...

At risk of being branded a humble bragger* here are little links to my pieces in print, just in case you missed them. Although if you've ever met my dad or he's got hold of your email address, or you live or work in his general vicinity, or Turkey or Israel, I don't know how this could ever be possible.

and a couple more to come too...

*You don't know what that is? Dadjokes tipped me off - a hilarious tweeter who retweets a particular kind of bragging message. Sort of like a backhanded compliment in the first person in tweet form. e.g. 'my eye bags are disgusting from getting up at 5am to go to my booksigning at Selfridges today...' Serial offender @jameelajamil. Have a look you'll get the gist... @humblebrag

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Strong Armed

Following a morning of rigorous and passionate spring cleaning I'm having a mini melt down. I've done it one armed. Not only does this increase the time taken by about 100%, it leaves me with a mental projection of my future self. This lymphoedema rubbish means I'm always having a battle with myself to remember to forget my left arm. Since I'm not allowed to lift anything heavier than 1kg with it (a third of the weight of my littlest cat), I'm having to retrain my brain as a one armed individual.

Did I mention that I love shoes? I think I might have - This love sees me take an extra canvas bag to work every day, (on top of my leather bag du jour), containing my heels, since I can't travel on rush hour buses in them; Camilla Skovgaard boots are not designed for standing room only. This canvas bag then gets filled with a large amount of office tat to be brought home every day, since there is space there to fill. Oh and since I'm carrying spare shoes and tat, I may as well heft home that internet delivery I got sent to the office too. And the M&S shop on the way back too of course. No balancing pack horse act for me anymore, oh no, now I must carry with my right arm only. Every day. Excuse me, but what the f**k is going to happen to my body? On top of the a symmetric tit situation, naturally broad shoulders and super cropped hair I am going to have to add withered, puny, wasted left arm, and bulking, sinewy, body-builder-esque right one to the equation. Oh good lord. As if Dadjokes doesn't have enough of a challenge already...

The excess baggage of the Look beauty team. that's only 3 people...

You may remember me mentioning my current right arm anomaly already too - the baffling extra three cm that the god of unbalanced body parts bestowed upon my right bicep? I really am not comfortable with helping the bastard in its mission to blot out all light and lesser limbs in photo opportunities. I also keep forgetting about the left arm lifting ban, and remember at inopportune moments, such as carrying heavy frying pan contents to plate. This has resulted on frying plan being dropped IMMEDIATELY, twice. Burnt leg, bent pan, no dinner. Or I carry the 'last weeks product launches' bag to the beauty cupboard, then remember and chastise my idiotic self for the next half an hour whilst watching my left arm closely for signs of ballooning. Not conducive to a hard days achieving in the workplace.

Is that even how it works? I'm not sure how, when or why lymphoedema occurs, so I don't know what initial signs I'm looking for, but I know I don't want to see them. Apparently my risk is about 30%, since I had all my lymph nodes out, and I know I'm not allowed to chance an infection in my left arm as this, as well as all the lifting, makes my risk greater. That means no opportunistic cat-scratch cuddling, no blood or blood pressure tests and no blinking armpit shaving, leaving me in yet another awkward beauty quandary. No shaving, no waxing (aside from the risk of ingrown hairs, it bloody hurts too much, plus there is a wound there, ew), and I'm not entirely comfortable about chemical laden hair removal creams these days. So that leaves me with, well, with hairy armpits. So far I'm being very Julia Roberts about it and try not to wince when I assume my radiotherapy position; laid back, arms above head, three or sometimes four medical professionals peering at my body closely. I'm sure they've seen hairier, but its just not in my nature to be comfortable with hirsutism. Oh how I genuinely miss chemotherapy benefits sometimes - yes you heard me, benefits.

So far so good on the lymphoedema avoidance front though, but I can feel the cockiness creeping in. Oh it won't happen to me, I can lift my slightly overweight cat* up nooo problem, since nothing has happened the last few hundred times, and cat-avoidance is more alien to me than hairy armpits. Plus I'm feeling more and more normal every day, and a redundant left arm is just not normal. Its really hard to unlearn how useful it is. I've done enough lifestyle changes, I'd like to hold onto some bodily traditions, thank you very much.

Please do tell me if I'm being an idiot and must be stricter than Posh Spice in a chocolate factory about this, I'm not feeling so relaxed about the relaxing. Every time I put my own body weight on it to push myself out of bed for a wee (how am I supposed to remember in the middle of the night?), I have nightmarish visions of waking up with a semi-permanently swollen arm and wonder how I'll hide it for Katie's wedding, not to mention fit it in the bridesmaid dress.

Although if it did happen, it would be great to stop swelling at 3 cm to catch up with mutant right arm. Then at least I would achieve a bit of balance in my life. Disproportionate body building balance maybe, but I do like  bit of symmetry. Every cloud and all that...

*apparently I am  feeder. I can't resist it when he asks me. Bad mother...

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Feel Better...Look Normal

I thought I was doing OK on the looks front. It has been my own personal challenge to beat the chemo appearance issue into submission. Which I was pretty confident I had done, based on many compliments, a vigorous interest in getting dressed, and a fearless attitude when it came to looking down the barrel of a point and shoot.

Why then am I getting a lot of this nowadays? 'Oh, now you look good', 'You look SO much better!' and other variations on the same comparative theme. It started the day of my surgery results. It is true that the week between amputation (dramatic, I know) and consultation was stupendously scary. I thought I would feel instant relief, like a weight had been lifted on top of the measly few grams my little boob had once added to my grand total. Ain't so. Instead I took a pew and watched the frankly mental turn my own brain took, after too many months of suppressed negativity. Even though I knew breast cancer is the most treatable, they'd taken mine out, and there wasn't a morbid secret kind that somehow never goes away, I was still convinced that the doctor was going to give me bad news results. As in, yes, we took it out, but your cancer was of the secret kind that never goes away. Sorry.

This level of mental is clearly apparent in the eyes, because as soon as I got my good news results, my breast care nurse Helen told me I looked different now, especially in the eyes. We went out for our celebratory lunch and my dad used a large proportion of the chat to tell me I was looking great! Because the rest of the entire time I had looked sad and grey - it was all in the eyes apparently.

After 8 months of blogging, I'm feeling like something of a beauty expert fraud. There was me thinking it was the missing hair letting my reflection down, but no, apparently it was the eyeballs.

I must say, I can see it in Dadjokes. He always looks good (unbiased, ask my friends), but there was one morning when he sat next to me on the bed, distinctly more Brad Pitt, 2011 model  (i.e. still good, but not fulfilling his true potential), than the original DadJokes who signed our tenancy agreement. To see a bit too much beard growth, more than his eye-baggage allowance and a past-it's-best haircut would have been ok, but his not caring about it was the clue that suggested he could do with a little feeling better himself. It wasn't screamingly obvious, and lecture over, haircut done, I thought he was looking his old self. But it's only getting back to normality that he really is, and yes, it is something about the eyes. And the eye bags, lets not kid ourselves people. It is easier to sleep when cancer has been evicted.

So since we're getting a bit more sparkly-eyed every day (with some wobbles still, the mental hasn't quite left the building),  it is with great pleasure that I finally welcome the full glorious return of my eyelashes. Like beautiful fringe curtains complimenting newly Windolened windows, their timing is perfect. I won't lie, I was worried. Everything else was making a come back as welcomely received as Take That, but like Robbie Williams, the eyelashes resolutely refused. They're the most important part I might add - this analogy is more apt with every sentence - and when they eventually did rejoin, all the material I had to work with was suddenly vastly improved.

Its amazing what the lightest smattering of eyelashes does after a very long absence. In the old days I would rather eat prawns than pop to the shops mascara-less, but my comeback lashes make such a huge comparative difference to my whole face, I feel like I've done my makeup already. Eyes are prettier with eyelashes, I am confident that is a fact. And now that they're leading the rest of my face in a two fingered salute to the last of the chemo effects, I'm helping them even more with Rapidlash. I've loved it before, but I think using the stuff on virgin lashes makes it even more effective. Mine will be eyebrow skimming in no time. Well, maybe in some time, once they find their correct path in life and stop growing outwards, downwards, backwards, or any other waywards than up.

The moral of the eye story is (I think) this: No amount of eye drops, Creme De La Mer concealer or cleverly applied eyeliner can convince your dad/nurse/boyfriend that you're sparkly-fine, but that is not our main objective dear reader. No, it is to make yourself feel better, and betterness comes in degrees. I didn't realise it was quite so apparent until it was all over, but like my friend Claire said a few days after the good news results, 'I didn't realise how stressed I was until I wasn't stressed anymore'.  In retrospect, who knew eyeliner worked so much better with a positive outlook?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Help

My hair at least, seems to be something of a medical marvel. I'm not sure how it happened but after the early reappearance it's been a hot source of hairy intrigue for more than a few people. Not many more mind...

First off the shape of my head is a gift apparently. It's a funny compliment that isn't quite up there with a bum one or a shoe one even, but, 'You're lucky, you've got a lovely shaped head' has been offered up more regularly than Gillian McKeith's bowel movements. Although an infinitely nicer compliment than those, I can't really take any credit.

There usually follows a feel to determine that yes, the tactile reality does match up to visual expectation, and then another compliment in close succession; it's so soft! Apparently this isn't so common with post chemo regrowth. Now all my hairstylist friends are coming out of the woodwork with relieved confessions that they were expecting it to be patchy, wiry, grey, sporadic or all of the above. In fact it is well, really nice, if a little mousy for my liking. I think super short will look better a little darker so I'm investigating vegetable hair dyes - nothing chemical at this stage - and nothing too dark or red or anything statement, the 'do itself is enough of one of those!

Then there's the rate of acceleration. My hair is the McLaren of the oncology world according to Val from Look Good...Feel Better, who told me she'd never seen such fast and thick regrowth. Now this I think I can take credit for, or at least bestow it onto Nioxin, the hair boosting system I blogged about a couple of months ago. Maybe my hair would have grown like this had I used the Johnson's Baby Shampoo I started out with, but I feel like I'm treating it to a Berocca-esque boost every time I use it, so even if its just sheer will making it sprout at a faster rate, Nioxin works on a mental level at least, so I'll stick at it.

Saying that, I'm not shampoo-conditioning my legs, but they seem to be getting the same benefits annoyingly. I'm so used to ignoring that side of my beauty routine that I keep finding myself on the way to something fun, in a skirt or city shorts, noticing too late my neglected fluffy knees. I'm pretty sure they weren't that hairy to begin with, maybe the Nioxin is infusing my knees in foamy globs en route from my head to shower drain. Whatever the reason, I've cracked out the trusty epilator and am back to square one of the lifelong pain V's smooth battle. And very happily so!

The self consciousness of the super short hair is still there, but its more because it's such a drastic change that EVERYONE comments, and I've never been good at accepting attention at the best of times. If I'm not awkwardly tugging at the sides or saying 'I don't like it' as a reflex (I secretly do), I'm re-introducing myself to people I've known or worked with for years who aren't expecting this much edgier version of my former girly self sitting at my desk. Yes post man, I am Sophie Beresiner. It's quite funny to see the recognition seep back in, mixed with their toe curling cringe and/or nervous over explanation of how I look so different. erm, I know.

I'm a bit sad to discard the wigs - I still prefer how they look with certain outfits and they're just more 'me' - but I don't think I thought it through properly. Now that I've presented my normal self back to the world, I'd feel really weird in long hair every so often, like I'm cheating. So my maxi skirts and high necked shirts will be relegated to the sidelines until I coax a bit more length out of my hair.

Last week, at the height of my side-tugging habit, lovely hairstylist Louis sat me down mid shoot and gave me a TRIM! Yes people, I necessitated a hair cut. It felt weird to let someone go at my strenuously acquired measly length with scissors, but it looked so so much better. I highly recommend this approach, it takes you from fluffy post-cancer person to ooh, I've been styled this way, and suddenly all my outfits don't look so middle aged anymore, such is the power of about 3 millimetres of hair.

And the proof is in the wolf whistling. I haven't quite got that far, but after a lovely lady chased me off the RV1 to tell me short hair really suited me I started to believe it. When a lovely man passed me outside my house and told me I looked very 1930's and lovely I walked (OK, skipped) straight back in to, in the nicest way possible, rub it in Dadjokes' face. Yes, you must muster up some jealousy at once, I am officially attractive to other men. Although he was really happy for me, which didn't happen so much in the old days. Thank you man in the street, for a milestone compliment. I'm taken though...

Radiotherapy starts tomorrow, just to remind me that yes, I am still a cancer patient and hospitals are my way of life, so I'm stocking up on aqueous cream and choosing a suitable 'gown' to wear from changing room to X-ray machine. Always about the fashion and beauty, me...

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Back To Work

Although I didn't  allocate my 6 solid weeks off work to pure convalescence, there was quite a bit of it what with surgery to recover from and all that. Sofa surfing aside (I still hate doing it if enforced) I was quite proactive; I learnt to type one fingered,
I got drunk about twice, (once in France where I fulfilled my wine tasting promise, the other with Dadjokes at a restaurant in Surrey, so it was completely wasted, as was I).
I went to a workshop, became a broadsheet journalist (for a day), popped in the office, tested my new bravery theory with a trip to the dentist, and generally tried to avoid the sofa at all costs.

Then I developed a post-surgery saroma (uncomfortable swelling, which had to be drained, gnr), as a probably result of sofa avoidance, so I tried to add a bit more of that into my schedule.

I also grew a significant amount of new hair, to the point where I decided to take a very deep breath and venture into the office. sans. wig.

Dadjokes had started to be more and more complimentary about the bird fluff 'do, so I suppose I believed him enough to stop sweating under my hot hair hats and venture out into the working world without. First there were dry runs.

Step 1, A trip to Broadway Market, where I was nervous because it's uber trendy to the point of ridiculousness, and anxious because I looked like I was trying to be acceptably edgy. In normal town micro short hair is an indication of recovery, in Broadway Market town it is an only just sufficiently kooky style choice. So not me, and the point here is, I want to be me again.

Step 2, A spontaneous pub outing, where I arrived alone, resplendent in head fluff, unplanned so no chance to revert to the wig, and with a 'who gives a crap?' mentality that I almost convinced myself was genuine. I have this terrible case of Blurt Mouth. I know it would be more chic and sophisticated and confident to sashay in and accept hair compliments with a demure smile and thanks. Instead I flap my hands around my head, tug at tufts and say 'I look like a middle aged mum/lesbian/man'. Chic? Sophisticated? er, no. It's the same affliction that has me blurt the exact price I paid, plus RRP (there is always a significant difference, I am a bargain hunting queen) for any item of clothing when I get a compliment on it. There is no mystery surrounding me whatsoever.

Step 3. The long awaited return to work. Now this is the real showcase. I should point out I get anxious when I come back to the office after holiday even, since I know about 30 people will welcome me back and ask me how it was. I don't know why, I'm just not a centre of attention type person. So my reemergence from the cancer cocoon is obviously going to be a sticking point. I had outfit planned, I had makeup sorted (play up the eyes, play up the eyes), then the weather interfered and I had to relinquish my leather leggings and Parisian boxy T for floaty skirt and white top. As soon as I got on the bus I was keening for my wig. Actual audible whimpering.

Let me explain, as I did to the LGFB workshop when they asked me why I wear wigs. I am into fashion. If I put on an outfit and think my watch doesn't go with it, I won't wear the watch. Some outfits look better with hair. Floaty skirt and fluff 'do look, as Dadjokes pointed out, like a Romanian heather-seller, or a middle aged hippy. Again, just not very me.

Katie came to meet me in the lobby and escort me up - she knows my nerves and needs - and I arrived to a a neon welcome sign, literally, that made me remember exactly why I love my job (and it's not for the presents). The people I work with are as amazing as Broadway Market is ridiculous. There was office commentary on what other team members would look like in my position (a tennis ball and a marine apparently), but my desk made me forget how different I felt and basically treated me as distinctly un-special till I got some actual work done.

That's not to say I haven't obsessively planned my outfit for tomorrow - I'm sure the air con will sort out leather-leg sweats...

The Acceptance Plan

The key to pulling off super short hair is non-floaty wear, and clever but feminine makeup. This I know to be true even though my reflection doesn't always convince me - sometimes I have beauty dysmorphia - I shall seek help.

Think 60's. Twiggy and Edie Sedgewick worked their crops to perfection, much like Emma Watson does now, and its because, without fail, they always rock a beautifully made up eye. My own lashes are growing back happily and healthily. They stayed in hiding for a bit too long, but now they're back, they're making up for lost time. This is probably because of all the Rapidlash I really should have shares in. My eyebrows are also pretty much back to normal, but the super short 'do requires lots of feature definition, so I still fill them in with brow pencil.

The pretty comes from mascara, elongating eyeliner and a lot of kohl pencil. In my long hair days this would be overkill, but this is the bonus of boyish hair. Clinique Brush On Cream Liner in Smoke Grey, drawn on and flicked out with an angled brush is dark enough to look smouldery, but gentle enough to be pretty and understated. Defining the inner corners and lower eyelid with grey kohl pencil (I use Mac eye kohl in Phone Number) makes my eye colour look lighter, whites whiter and emphasises the almond shape.

Still sticking by my dewy blush guns for all the glowing power it holds, and I'm switching to bubblegum pink lipstick, since red looks a little too severe with this hair. I don't know why, it might be my dysmorphic reflection telling me so, but who doesn't love pink? Especially 4 year olds, and it is the youthful antidote I'm going for here. 

My friends Jonny's little girl asked me why I wear long hair today, having seen me both ways, and I told her it just looks more like me. Only a few more years till I'll get the real me back again, but in the mean time, oh the fun to be had with the alternate versions.