My wig is as good as they come. And her name is Wigley – maiden name of my oldest friend and duet partner (yes we were synchronised swimmers 🤩). I asked Gracie’s permission and her family are proud to have such a namesake. I figured that Gracie (and the Wigleys) have had a lot of fun over the years.
So, Wigley has attended several conference calls, a workshop and even joined me in a video interview – to be shown to all Siemens employees. It still feels like I am in an 80s soap opera; and I feel I should finish each scene with a quizzical look. Several of the amazing ladies who’ve been through chemo only wore their wig home from the wig shop – and were even brave enough not to wear scarves… I think my bald head looks too harsh and just not me. So, for work, Wigley is a massive help. At home I now have the Imelda Marcos scarf equivalent (including a Hermes bandana – if not now then when?).
So, still with the thought that losing your hair is shit, it becomes part of your normal pretty quickly. And there is something to be said about being able to ‘do your do’ well in advance!
75% through the first course
For the third (of four) of the ‘stomach puncher’ chemo treatments (thanks to Anna for the description), I told my Dr that I needed to be able to recover as quickly as possible – if possible. There was a big project at work that I wanted to be able to be in good shape as possible. I know everyone could say “don’t worry, leave it to others…” etc, etc, but that isn’t me. On October 1, I got a new boss who starts as a board member for Siemens for the first time. I thought he deserved my support – along with the team… Plus, I do believe having a purpose beyond getting well is helping me.
Number three comes and I discover that I probably could have had an easier time for 1 and 2… I had thought the anti-sickness medication was only for if I would vomit… Actually, it is for nausea too. So, the evening after treatment, I am happy that I manage to stay awake a bit longer and take an antiemetic pill and it works – hoorah! Thursday is like the previous two Thursdays after treatment. You just feel like you are all made of lead and just rubbish.
I rested for much of the day and then we drove down to the lake for the magic of a refreshing dip. It did the trick, so I was able to get back online for a few hours from 4-6:30pm. I had a mild steroid prescribed for three days after the treatment to give me a lift against the nausea and fatigue. Friday I managed to get all the work I wanted done. I still felt tired and nauseous, but it was manageable.
Overnight on Friday, I woke up shaking like a leaf. I had a slight fever and needed extra layers, something on my head and a blanket to stop the chills. In the morning my app told me I had to call for medical advice. The Dr said that because my bloods had been so good just three days ago he wasn’t worried, but to call again if I felt bad or had a fever… I rested on the Saturday. Chose a really stupid film (Stepmom) about a mother who dies of cancer to watch while the children had football matches. I styled Wigley ready for Monday… And really took it easy apart from a bit of preparation for a workshop on the Monday. I was determined to be able to get through a busy work week.
Monday morning came and I felt ok. Maybe 85% of my full force. I was ten minutes away from the office when I got visual disturbance – the sign of a migraine. I arrived at the office, a colleague gave me a migraine tablet and I went to our medical room to lie down in the dark for 15 minutes. I put Wigley on my stomach and kept my eyes tight shut hoping I would be ok for our 9am workshop… Incredibly, it worked. The alarm went at 8.57am and I felt well enough to get on with the day. Normally, I can keep on working for 14 hours during a peak time, but by 5:30pm after a workshop and recordings I felt like it was the end of the week…
Anyway, the team and I got through all we needed to do and I was proud of them and my new boss as he did a great job on his first day in presentations to all employees… By the Thursday, I was under strict instructions that I needed to take a step back or all my devices would be confiscated. But it wasn’t an order I needed. I know that I need to conserve my energy for the last ‘stomach puncher’…
In between all the chemo fun, work video calls and holding on to the joy of the moments of feeling ok, we also had to contemplate the elevated risk of a genetic mutation associated with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. We met a really fantastic genetic expert, Dr Sarasin, who explained the process and the risks. We felt better that, even if the worst came to pass and I have a mutation, we shouldn’t test the children until they are adults. So then the concern is for my Mum, brother, cousins, aunt, uncle… Anyway, having focused on the fact that a 25% risk means a 75% chance that it wasn’t me, I hadn’t known how petrified I was until I got the news that there is no genetic link. So not BRCA 1 or 2, nor PALB 2. This is fantastic news. If there was a link, the advice can be for a double mastectomy and to remove ovaries… This is one thing that I don’t face – and nor do we have to share bad news with family members.
Enjoying the good days
Now, I am enjoying the few days where the symptoms have almost gone… I just feel that my energy isn’t back to full this time. So, I am getting plenty of rest and walking to try to be as ready as possible for the last of the four nasty chemos… The Autumn weather is being kind, so we’ve enjoyed more refreshing dips, cycle trips and walks.
I feel very, very fortunate that I have been able to continue almost as normal, but it’s a bit like swimming through treacle. You need to dig deep to keep moving knowing that it is better than giving into the fatigue. You are told at the beginning that the effects are cumulative: it is very clear the steps down each round. On the one hand I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but then this is just getting to the end of the second leg… After the final round of this chemo, there’s 9 or 12 rounds of a lighter type and then five weeks of five days a week of radiotherapy… Ommmmmmmm