Ladies Night

So much for a day off for Chemo Bloodwork. We have just two chemo sessions to go then we can say goodbye to the noxious clear liquids. There has definitely been some wear and tear on her but, Brenda keeps on keeping on. For an update, if you missed her on the World Service yesterday or BBC Five Live this morning, she’ll be on Newsnight tonight.

L1000201

The BBC Newsnight bullet dodged, we are back in the swing of things at home. Brenda has just finished her eleventh chemo session. A fabulous turn out to the ‘chemo salon’…we’re going to have to get a bigger driveway for the last one in a fortnight’s time.

IMG_6779

 

 

 

Hazy Shade of Winter

Friday afternoon and I am sitting at Heathrow waiting for my driver.  I’m just back from a quick business trip to Zurich and despite the cold, it was really nice to just be out with colleagues pitching business to a client and being normal.  As it’s 9 days since my last chemo, I am feeling really well.  Side-effects were bad just after Round 8 and I had the added pleasure of red sore heals this time round (which has prompted the wearing of some great bling silver and gold trainers) but I seem to continue to be able to bounce back each time, which is great.  I will admit, however, that the snow and cold weather we have had over the past week has been a challenge.  Thank goodness for my Canada Goose parka and hand warmers.  I wouldn’t be able to function without them!

I’ve been connecting a lot lately with my closed Facebook Group – PMP Survivors – and have realised that this really is just a blip and I am dealing with a very slow-growing, low-grade cancer that is not going to affect me in the near term.  Lots of people are kicking around many years after diagnosis or surgery (15+ years) and are stable.  I know that I will be in that group.  I am feeling very positive and upbeat and happy with my life.   My health and fitness are great, other than the side effects of the chemo (which will go away when I finish in mid-April).  It’s been a wonderful experience being part of this group – everyone is so supportive of each other and there are members from all over the world.  It’s a massive endorsement of the positive aspects of social media.

Next week is International Women’s Day, so weather and temperature-permitting I am going to go into work on Thursday with my chemo pump hidden away in  a snazzy cross-shoulder bag.  I missed it last year and I don’t want to miss it again this year.  Nothing more to report this week.  I’m just conscious that I haven’t written in a while and I don’t want anyone to worry.  The main reason is that I’ve been really really busy, which is great.  Thanks again for all of your support and warm wishes.  I’m soaking them all up!

Waterski

Fortified by a week of half term sun.

Suffragette City

fullsizeoutput_95fb

Given that today is the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote in the UK, David Bowie felt appropriate for today’s blogpost song title.

It’s been quite a week.  Last Monday and Wednesday I was quite frustrated and annoyed to have to cancel my plans and stay at home in bed.  However, by Thursday I was back on form and on Friday I was feeling fantastic as I opened the market at the London Stock Exchange and then held a really well-attended 30% Club Investor Group panel discussion. Our campaign to have more women in senior roles and in the pipeline has never had as much momentum as it does now.  We got great press coverage on the event last week and I was able to talk about it with Martha Carney on the World at One on Radio 4 yesterday.  And, while I was waiting for my CT scan yesterday, I did an interview with the Telegraph on Working with Cancer that was in the press today.  All really positive stuff.

But, the icing on the cake was my meeting with my oncologist this afternoon.  We couldn’t believe it when he told us that the chemo is working.  It’s shrunk the fluid in my abdomen and my tumour markers have all come down and are in normal range.  Fan-bloody-tastic!  He thinks I’m tolerating the chemo very well, that I should continue to work and do all the things I’m doing if I feel well enough, but that I need to stay warm to keep the pins & needles at bay.  So bring on the next 6 chemos – let’s get them over with and move on.

Living on a prayer

As David Bon Jovi says, ‘we’re halfway there’. I had chemo round 6 on Wednesday – the first one at home – and it wasn’t too bad. In fact, despite the horrible side-effects, it’s been a good week. It doesn’t get any easier – in fact, it gets a bit harder each time, but I’ve learned how to cope with it and I’ve had some great distractions this week that have really helped.

Firstly, I have to thank all of you who continue to send such wonderful positive messages and thank my visitors who have brought books, magazines, soaps, oils, flowers, lovely warming soup, homemade bread and the ‘bread fairy’ who posted a delicious dark sourdough loaf from the Isle of Wight. After years of not eating many carbs, nice toast has become a staple. I was listening to a meditation app today that talked about feeling cocooned in a warm hug, which is a great way to describe all of the wonderful love and support I’m feeling. It’s incredibly restorative. Keep those big warm hugs coming!

On top of this, Teddy released his EP last Monday and it’s getting great reviews – please do go on Spotify, Napster, Deezer, iTunes or whatever streaming service you use – he wrote the title track, ‘Blue Skies’ for me when I was recovering from my surgery.

IMG_0218I started this note on Saturday when I was still flying with steroids and felt invincible. I must admit that when I got up this morning and was getting ready for work, I realised that I actually needed to crawl back into bed. So, with half of my make-up on, I emailed my pa and cancelled all meetings and climbed back into bed until 11am. I’m fine, I was just worn out and feeling a bit off. It was a good wake-up call to remind me that I can’t be Wonder Woman every day and do need to be kind to myself once and a while and slow down. It’s all part of the process, which will allow me to endure another 6 of these horrid cycles which will hopefully make me better in the long run. As Teddy sings ‘It’s only blue skies and sunshine up ahead.’

The only way is up

It’s been an interesting week to reflect on the past year and all of its challenges, particularly as the 4th Jan was the one year anniversary of my big 10-hour op. I can’t believe that it’s been a year already and that having thought we had put it all behind us, we are back to battling the beast again. However, I did enjoy the best part of last year blissfully unaware that I still had cancer, I really enjoyed celebrating my 50th birthday with friends here in the UK and also in Nova Scotia, I managed to do the CWN 10K for charity with Madelaine in July, I had a fantastic summer holiday with the family and saw Tom Petty in concert in New York (thanks to the generosity of Josh and Alex), and I’m really pleased with the progress we have made in the past year for the 30% Club campaign. While the start of 2017 and the first few months were pretty horrendous, on balance I would say that it was a really great year…until November when we got the results of my scan.

Looking ahead to 2018, it will certainly be another roller coaster. My last round of chemo (#4 out of 12) on the 27th December was the toughest yet and it surprised me. I managed the first 3 quite well and thought I had it covered, but the 4th was mentally really hard. I really noticed the bad taste in my mouth and the dulling of my taste buds – even water tastes bad. My throat is incredibly dry and I struggle to stay hydrated. The pins and needles in my fingers and toes gets a bit worse each time and my face and tongue go numb as well. Certain smells really put me off, and any smell that reminds me of hospitals makes me feel queasy. None of this on its own sounds too bad in the grand scheme of things, but all of it combined is hard. This lasts from Wednesday through until about Sunday.

By Monday this week, however, I was feeling strong again with only a few remaining side effects and I was able to get back to exercising and doing all of the things I love. India and I have been cooking together (actually, I’m the sous chef), I’ve done some interviews for 30% Club and on Tuesday night we all went to a venue in Tonbridge Wells to hear Teddy perform his songs. By this Wednesday I will almost be back to normal just in time to face round 5.

I remain determined to get through this with a positive attitude and a smile on my face, but I realise that I have to really focus on filling my resilience tank on the good days (from day 6-14 of each cycle) – lots of fitness, lots of family and friend time, purposeful activity at work and on 30%, and a bit of poetry and mindfulness for balance.

My default during the good days is to go a bit crazy trying to do everything as I am very aware of wanted to maximise my time while I’m feeling well, so I do need to try to keep myself in check (as I’m driving Trend and the kids crazy wanting to do and plan everything). This has always been a challenge for me and I think the steroids I get during chemo amplify it.

I want to thank those of you who have been kind enough to attend my ‘chemo salons’ at Harley Street – it’s made the whole process much more palatable and I really appreciate it. The last one will be this Wednesday and then I will have the rest at home. I know it’s not as convenient to come to Sevenoaks, but I would love to have visitors to help me pass the time. I also want to thank my Saturday walking buddies. I’ve learned that the Saturday after chemo is a real low point for me – I have low energy and I feel down, which is really not like me – and it’s been great to have friends come and drag me out for a short walk. Thanks for all of the positive messages of love and support – it continues to fuel my resilience. I am so lucky to have such wonderful friends and family. I don’t know how I would get through this without all of you. I can’t say thank you enough. #Gratitude

Fs0Nat5iRjyQM02lnlg5XA

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…

IMG_0116

This week I had my ‘Christmas Chemo’ session on Wednesday with a number of visitors and lots of festive spirit. It was the 3rd cycle of 12, so I’m a quarter of the way there. It’s been important to me to try to make it fun with visitors and to try to laugh my way through it. However, if I’m being totally honest, I must admit that having chemo is crap. The neuralgia in my fingers, my toes, my tongue and face from the cold, my inability to drink anything that isn’t warm, the horrid taste in my mouth, the nausea, etc. It’s not nice. As a surgeon said to us on Wednesday evening, ‘we could kill all of the tumours, but we would kill all of the patients.’ It’s a delicate balance between mixing a chemo cocktail strong enough to do the trick, but not so toxic as to do permanent damage.

After cycle two, I thought that I had it all worked out and that I would be able to continue to function as usual throughout. However, I am starting to realise that just as I think I’m getting into my stride, the next cycle is like the incline and speed on the treadmill being ratcheted up a couple more notches. It really is a marathon rather than a sprint. I now know that I will have a real dip on Friday I get disconnected and the Saturday as well. Yesterday I had to give in to it and have a lie-in and I also had to decline a very nice Christmas Party invitation last night. It was a good decision – I’m feeling much more energetic today. I really hate feeling weak or having to slow down at all so this is very very hard for me, but I know that it’s worth it in the long run. A quiet Friday and Saturday every two weeks shouldn’t be that hard to do.

How am I doing otherwise? I had a call with the amazing Brendan Moran (my surgeon) on Monday and am encouraged to hear that there are some interesting developments with my cancer happening in Australia. I also hear lots of good things about the power of cannabis oil, which I will look into after my chemo finishes.   I’m still feeling positive and hopeful – long may it continue.

Happily, I now have a break from chemo until the 27th December, so we can enjoy Christmas.

Roar

fullsizeoutput_8d77

It’s been a great week and I am still finding this whole cancer thing a bit surreal. Last weekend I was in Nova Scotia having a great time with my mum – we shopped, had lunch with my cousin, coffee with some good friends and did Christmas cards with some champagne while watching a Christmas film. Lovely. I finished the trip with a 30% Club Breakfast event in Halifax on the Monday morning and was back on Tuesday in time to see Teddy in one of the starring roles in the Tonbridge performance of Chess. Wednesday was Chemo round 2 and once again, it was quite a nice relaxing day. Bridget came for a while and my brother Barrie popped in to visit, I had a reflexology session and Trend took me home at suppertime. Thursday and Friday were normal busy days with my chemo pump cleverly hidden under my blouse and I really felt great, although the neuralgia in my fingers was quite bad with the cold.

This weekend has been a bit more slow and subdued and perhaps a bit too much time to think. I needed the extra sleep and quiet time but it made me feel like a ‘sick person’ and I hate being a ‘sick person’. Luckily Madelaine came and got me out for a walk with Bonzo on Saturday and a gentle jog with the dogs in Knole Park this afternoon. Good to get back to our runs!

Overall, I’m still feeling quite positive and upbeat. So far the chemo is only taking me out of action for a day every two weeks and it’s quite a nice day to catch up with friends (95 Harley Street if you fancy popping round). Side effects aren’t too bad yet and I’m still able to do all of the things I want to do. 2 cycles down and 10 to go – if this is what it takes, bring it on!

Feeling Groovy

Thanks so much for all of your texts, calls, emails, etc.  I am feeling really well at the moment, so this cancer thing is all a bit surreal.  Gearing up for chemo round 2 next Wednesday, but in the meantime I’m just enjoying being normal.

From the other half.

Of course being normal for Brenda involves sitting on a plane and to that end she is sitting on one right this minute. A whistle stop visit to Nova Scotia to see her Mommy and wish her a happy birthday and to make a presentation in her home town of Halifax for the 30 Percent Club.

IMG_2498

‘Lovely Day’

 

There are a few precious seconds when I wake up each morning when I forget that I still have cancer.  I then remember and I get my head into focusing on how I will maximise my day and make it positive.

Yesterday, was one of those days and it turned out to be much better than I had expected and as we were driving home last night I said to Trend that I was really feeling quite ‘Zen’ and felt that weirdly, I felt that I had had a nice relaxing day, which brought the Bill Withers song to mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that this is not going to be easy and that I am going to have some very difficult days ahead, but I will deal with those when they come.

So what happened yesterday and how might it play out?  Early yesterday morning Bridget took me in and I had a port-a-cath inserted just under my left clavicle so that getting the chemo in getting blood out will be easier.  It was done under general anaesthetic, so minimal pain.  After she brought me a nice coffee, we sat and enjoyed banter with the staff as they came in and out doing various tests and preparing me for the chemo, we read the papers and did some emails and made plans for Christmas.  Nice.

Trend arrived to relieve Bridget just after lunch and after some pre-hydration fluids they started the first chemo drugs – oxaliplatin and fluorouracil – on a very slow drip.  I will also get Avastin starting in the next round if my blood pressure and protein levels allow it, but I couldn’t have it so close to the port-a-cath surgery.  Once that was underway, I sent Trend off for more nice coffees (Green Tea is great, but only to a point).  Finally, early evening they connected my sporty little chemo pump and presented me with an ordinary bum bag to carry it around.  It’s actually quite easy to cope with – I can move around freely and you can’t really see it.  I can shower with it, I slept with it reasonably well last night and I will go out and about with it.  It’s only on for 46 hours and a nurse will come to the house early Friday evening to disconnect it.

In terms of side effects, everyone is different, so I don’t know which ones I will experience.  The one that kicked in straight away has to do with the cold.  I’ve been warned on the first 3-4 days after the treatment not to drink cold drinks, to be careful about breathing in really cold air and to wear a scarf if it’s cold, as it can result in frightening throat spasms.  They aren’t dangerous and the answer is to remain calm and take deep breaths, but it’s apparently quite terrifying to experience.  So, no ski trips this winter – it’s all about the sun!  The cold also affects my fingers and toes giving me pins and needles (which I am experiencing as I type this now).  As an example, I turned the door handle on the bathroom last night and walked onto the marble floor and instantly both my fingers and toes were tingling.  I then compounded it without thinking by washing my hands with slightly cold water.  Even the metal handles on the cupboards in the kitchen set my fingers off.  So, my lovely spotty leather gloves are all coming out as are all of those cosy cashmere socks I received last year (Ann – I had my red ones on to come home from hospital yesterday).

I may experience nausea but I have medicine for that.  I will likely get mouth ulcers and have been told to gargle after every meal to try to minimise them.  I’m much more prone to infections and need to keep my distance from sick people where possible but I have emergency antibiotics if I do get ill.

For those of you who know me well, you know that I love to get a nice new notebook for a new project or adventure and this is no different.  I need to weigh myself, take my temperature and blood pressure daily, so I was able to start a fresh notebook yesterday – it’s purple and has Animal (University nickname) from the Muppets on the cover – brilliant.

Pam, my lovely Irish lead GI Cancer Nurse said that they key will be to really listen to my body and let that be my guide.  The typical nadir is 7-10 days in and if I feel tired, I need to stop and sit on the soft all day as that will speed my recovery – toughing it out and pushing through will not.  She encouraged me to be active and keep my fitness up and she said that for some people, the chemo actually makes them feel better (I’m not kidding – I wrote it down in my new notebook).

So many of you are sending such loving and supportive messages and asking, ‘what can I do’, ‘how can I help’?  First of all, thank you so much.  I can’t begin to tell you how important all of that love and encouragement is in helping me to fuel my resistance tank.  You, my family and friends are what give me, the strength to go on fighting and the bounce to get back up quickly when I’m down.  So keep it coming, please!

The other thing that really helps with my resilience is keeping busy and having a strong sense of purpose.  Looking after my family is number one, and after that, I need to keep working and I need to keep up with my 30% Club speaking engagements, interviews, etc. as best I can.  As we were driving back from Basingstoke a week and a half ago digesting the news, I said to Trend, I’m due at Royal Bank of Canada tomorrow morning at 8:30 to do an ‘in conversation’ presentation on the ‘30% Club, Agile Working and Resilience’ – I won’t be able to do it, I need to cancel.  We talked a bit more and both of us realised that it was exactly what I needed to do.  When I arrived at 8:30, Harry Samuels, the European Chair greeted me and told me that in honour of my presentation, they would like to donate £1500 to the charity of my choice.  I automatically said The Pelican Cancer Foundation, which is dedicated to curing and improving the quality of life for patients with pelvic and secondary area cancer and where my amazing surgeon Mr. Moran is a trustee.  I knew that I had made the right decision and I thought that I had managed to deliver the talk without any problems.  The next morning I had an email from a colleague in Australia forwarding on a note with some ‘nice words from Harry’ – ‘By the way, Brenda wasn’t just great, she was incredible.  The power of her messages combined with her articulate delivery left a significant impression with the audience.’  Harry had no idea that I had almost cancelled and was worried I wouldn’t be able to do it because for the time I was in front of the audience I wasn’t thinking about my new diagnosis or what was to come, I was fully focussed on some of my real passions and I was committed to trying to make a difference.   It was a good lesson for me.

So I am keeping everything in the diary and am planning to forge ahead and if I have a bad day and need to spend a quite day on the sofa recharging with a good book or Netflix, I will ask someone to stand in for me and accept that even Wonder Woman needs a day off every now and then.

SlzzW0PrTkGGroVSB4g0Xg

Big thanks to Bridget (aka Bid) yesterday for her support and following her instructions to the letter. When asked by Brenda to draw something funny on the whiteboard for her to see when she came back from theatre, Bridget duly obliged. She was mid-way through drawing her depiction of Brenda’s surgical undies when the ward nurse put her head round the door. A hurried explanation, followed by an ‘I’ll get me coat’ type sideways exit was halted by the nurse…’May I have my marker back please?’