Wednesday 30 September 2015

And That's The Last Of The Chemo (For Now)

Since last Friday I have had the joy of being back on chemo. Although this does tire me out slightly, dry my skin up and weaken my stomach for a few days I was happy to put up with that knowing it would be my last dose.

So, as of yesterday I have officially finished my initial plan of treatment. This has comprised of 30 sessions of radiotherapy, 30 days of chemotherapy and spanned a total of 33 weeks. Reflecting on this time as a whole I can draw a few conclusions about these methods of treating cancer (at least related to my own personal experience):
  • Radiotherapy is worse than chemo - Based on everything I had heard in the media etc I always assumed that chemotherapy was horrendous, whereas I had heard little said about the effects of radiotherapy so naturally assumed it was less noteworthy. In reality I found that I would be up almost every night following radiotherapy being sick and, as I've mentioned countless times, my hair fell out at the site of treatment. Chemotherapy however has had minimal impact on my general wellbeing and has been kind enough to allow me to keep my newly regrown hair.
  • You get a good rest - Both methods of treatment are spread out periodically (at least in my case) which allows you to attempt to lead a normal life in your "off weeks". Further to this the oncologists are not strict with the timetable for treatment which allows you to move treatment around to allow you to fit in even more normality. I have personally managed to travel abroad or do something at home almost every month by planning my events to be at the furthest possible point from treatment.
  • You will be tired - It is unavoidable really. Both methods of treatment will make you tire easily. I noticed that during treatment even a half hour gym session was making me tired enough that I'd be tempted to go for a nap. To make things worse your appetite reducing means you have to make a concerted effort to take in enough food to fuel your day, especially if you plan on training at all.
  • Tastebuds turn on you - I've always been a fussy eater, but there are a few staples that I have always been able to rely on. Chief amongst these are chicken and chocolate (not together though, I'm not that weird). Unfortunately the combination of a change in my tastebuds and the increased sensitivity of my stomach means that for much of the last 6 months I haven't been able to smell chicken without retching and eating chocolate provokes a similar response.
For those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning you may remember I declared that I would attempt to train through my treatment in order to claim the title of Most Shredded Cancer Patient (admittedly to be awarded to myself, by myself). For anyone that is interested, and actually for those who are not even remotely interested, here is the comparison between the day before I started treatment and the day after I finished. There is a grand total of 33 weeks between the first and second photos during which time I have gone bald and regrown my hair, lost ten kilos and regained two and, much to my dismay, lost a fair bit of abdominal definition.

A photo posted by Jamie MacDonald (@thejamiemac) on
Now that my treatment is over I will finally be having my first scan since my diagnosis in January. This will be in six weeks and won't be able to tell us an awful lot about how successful the treatment has been, but it will start to form an ongoing picture as it is combined with future scans.

I am under no illusions that this has been my final treatment but am hopeful that it has had some positive impact on the tumour. Should the tumour continue to be problematic and not halt it's growth my oncologist will be looking towards clinical trials and more chemotherapy as a course of treatment. Personally if the last eight months of treatment haven't proved to be successful I will be investigating alternate measures that could compliment and medically prescribed options.

But before all of this I feel that I need a large alcoholic beverage as soon as possible to celebrate the end of this batch of treatment. Cheers!

Friday 4 September 2015

Scalp Wars V: The Follicles Strike Back

From a cancer perspective there hasn't been much to report over the last few weeks, which I'm taking as a positive. I've been continuing with my monthly doses of chemo and only have one left now (scheduled for late September). Following this I'll have a 6 week gap before I have my first scan since my initial scans at the start of the year. 

This scan won't be able to tell us much however, apparently it's quite likely that it will look bad due to the ongoing effects of the chemoradiation, it will be used more as a starting point to allow a bigger picture to be created through combining it with future scans. 

As for the treatment itself I'm now pretty used to the effects of the chemo and as long as I rest up over the course of the 5 days of tablets I'm good to train or whatever I want within a day or two of finishing the course. 

On one extremely positive note I have today had my first trip to the hairdressers since January that hasn't involved shaving my head. Thankfully my hair is growing back all over now and without any noticeable changes in colour or thickness. I'm aware that there is potential for the chemotherapy to make it fall out again but I'm choosing to optimistically stay "scalp half full" and just believe that it will continue to grow from here. 

People tend to underestimate the benefits of being able to feel confident in your appearance when ill and the how much not looking like a cancer patient can in many ways help you to not feel like one either. I suppose this is one of the reasons I've been forcing myself to keep on training (the other being pure, unashamed vanity I suppose).