‘When in Rome!’…..or Las Vegas

The air is thick with heat like you’ve just opened an oven door. You walk into your hotel in a reverie, eyes glazing over with sensory overload. Whoops and cheers go up from glittering roulette tables in your peripherals. People are dressed in either denim shorts and souvenir t-shirts or dolled up to the nines. Two girls looking glossy and preened sip cocktails at a bar. It could be 6am or 6pm. The concept of time loses all meaning.

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Food portions the size of your head. Buildings the size of planets. Drinks stronger than steel. Everything here is on steroids. Everything here is utterly unapologetic. The hardest decision you’ve had to make is whether to have a frozen margarita or a frozen pina colada by the pool. The sun so fierce your sweat doesn’t even have time to collect on your face, it’s instantly evaporated into the desert sky, huge, indigo and endless.

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People watching is at it’s prime. Surreal characters enter stage right, flicker before your eyes like an Americana show-reel of bizarre. Strangers strike up conversation with no hesitance, everybody’s friends in the city of endless splurge. Go with it. This isn’t the place for reservations.

On paper Las Vegas is not the kind of holiday destination I thought I’d ever like. The suggestion of a girls holiday (Bruges maybe? We could go for a long weekend!) morphed into Vegas after a few wines. And you know what? I absolutely loved it. Not what I would call a relaxing holiday, more of an endurance test. But bloody brilliant nonetheless. The lights were blinding, the heat beautifully exhausting (and you know how I like my heat), the company spectacular (big up my babez), the laughs endless.

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I wore high heels every day, something I was a little worried about, but limpy leg held out! I got my baps out by the pool (the ‘European’ pool – no kids, lots of tits)! I went horse riding for the first time in 5 years in the vast expanse of the baking desert! I ate ice cream and dim sum for breakfast! I had cocktails before midday! I watched beautiful, beautiful men dance like gods (HIGHLY recommend the Magic Mike show. Less cringe-worthy wangs, more ‘oh dear god find me a man that can dance like that’)! I danced and danced and danced until I almost forgot what the past few months had been like.

At risk of sounding like a massive cheeseball, it really is the moments and the people that make life. Now if only I could remember any of Vegas……I kid, I kid! Like a beautiful fever dream, these memories will stick with me forever. Thank you ladies, and thank you Sin City.

 

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Sand in between my toes, nothing in my brain

Thailand with Mum seems like an age ago. Which it slightly was. Writing has fallen by the wayside over the past couple of months as I’ve pushed through radiotherapy and begun to figure out how to be a functioning human being again (work in progress). I could launch into a lengthy piece akin to the bazillion other travel blog posts out there, but I don’t that’s really my flavour. Thailand is popular and much written about, for good reason. And at risk of sounding like a total pretentious arse (I’m actually only half of one), there’s so much more to the country than what the majority of people visit. Don’t believe me? Go and find out for yourself.

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When some people react to my love of Thailand with ‘isn’t it a bit ruined and over touristy?’ I might start responding with ‘oh god, yes, so gross and ruined and gross and don’t ever go there. Ever’. And thus keep my travel gems and nuggets of paradise all to myself (mwah ha ha haaa). But if you haven’t been before, my advice is to look a little deeper; it only takes 5 minutes to stray of the beaten path.

I think the gist of this post is actually about how blissfully restorative it was to go somewhere a) I loved b) warm c) away from the draining medical carousel of my daily routine. I was privileged and lucky enough to go on holiday with someone I love and put the weeks of poison tinged, anxiety peppered chemo haze behind me for a little while. The most beautiful, tear inducing moment I think was when I was sitting at our resorts rustic chic restaurant in my sarong, still damp from one of my many swims, sipping on a pineapple shake, watching butterflies cavort through the verdant foliage. And it suddenly occurred to me. My brain was silent for the first time in months. Like actually SILENT. No worrying about the past or the future. Just perfectly present.

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The week running up to the holiday I felt like I was dragging myself to the end of 2017, like the severed torso of a zombie carcass.  Psychologically I felt like I was clinging by my fingernails to the pretense of sanity.  An ear infection the week before Christmas added to the rising anxiety, the constant mantra going round in my head; ‘Please let me be ok for Thailand. Please let me be ok for Thailand. Please let me be ok for Thailand.’ So when the fates smiled upon me (or maybe my mantra worked!) and I my eardrum didn’t detonate mid-flight, being in that ‘so thick and warm you could cut it like a cake’ Bangkok air brought me so much joy that even thinking about it now makes me a bit tearful.

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The days passed in a beautiful reverie of stuffing my face (a travel trend for me, culture = food), stuffing my eyeballs with colours and gold temples and textures and nature, refusing to wear shoes (or many clothes for that matter), bobbing around in the sea like a bald manatee, allowing myself to gradually slow the hell down, feeling my aches and pains recede in the face of 30 degree heat, probing markets full of deliciously noxious smells and the sensation of the scorching sun on my skin bringing me back to myself.

So thanks to my incredible Mother and to Thailand for making me feel like I can start piecing myself back together. Again, work in progress.

In the future when all’s well….

Well. Had my last chemo this week. Not entirely sure how I feel; if there’s one thing this journey is teaching me it’s that sometimes human emotion can’t be fully articulated or redacted for public consumption. So for now I shall say I feel ‘happy but crappy’.

But what has been playing on my brainbox is the notion of moving forward. Everyone around me is thrilled that this poisonous chapter is over (as am I; once recovered I shall celebrate with a seafood platter. For breakfast. Every day). They say ‘now you can get back to normal’ or ‘now you can get on with life’, which I know is coming from a place of love and is just because they want me to be back to my mad, ‘lust for life’ self. But normal has not been part of my life for a while, what with my bad leg being a constant reminder of my previous bone cancer. And normal will most definitely not feature in the months to come with radiotherapy and the years of hormone treatment. Fear not friends, my joke cracking personality has not done a 360 and morphed into a likeness of Morrissey on a bad day. But life will never be the same again (and again after ‘leg-gate’); I am changed, those around me are changed. So saying ‘back to normal’ can sting a little.

That said, most of the change in me has been positive (‘there she is!’ you shout with glee). I’m still in the dark as to what my long-term plans are (daren’t plan too much in case my body tries to kill me again – lol/not lol) but a few things are shiny and clear; family and friends give me all the love and emotional nourishment I have ever needed and I will strive to keep spending as much time as I can with them. The gradual acceptance of my body’s ‘imperfections’ which pale into insignificance against its mind boggling resilience. That there is beauty and joy to be found even the biggest, most foul smelling, foetid pile of life-dung. A gradual (and albeit difficult) understanding of the maddening intricacies of my mind. That I will never compromise who I am and what I love for someone or something that detracts from my own wellbeing (getting right into it now readers!).

How then do I move forward with the proverbial monkey of long-term illness on my back? How do I let my ambition and excitement for what’s to come not be hindered by the constant reminders of what’s gone before (tit squishing mammograms ahoy). I thank whatever fortuitous smooshing of circumstance and cells that created my positive mental attitude; I’d be nowhere without it. But nobody should have to take their own mortality into consideration twice by the time their 30.

So as the year begins its carb/booze/meat/cheese filled crawl towards the next, I’m thankful for all the brilliant things in store for me; Christmas with my beautifully bonkers family, Thailand with my wonderwoman Mother, much over excited holiday planning with my babe-alicious pals (V E G A S).

But quite frankly, the future is also scary as shit.

 

Hair today, gone tomorrow

One of the main focuses of cancer, in particular for women, is hair loss. Which is no surprise if you think about how much a woman’s hair is integral to her identity and her power as a female. I could easily bang on about the importance of female head hair being an ingrained belief perpetuated by a patriarchal society obsessed with body image, but at the end of the day, going bald due to something completely out of your control is fucking shit. It can utterly strip away a woman’s sense of self, a sense that is already being poisonously eroded by the superabundance of other side effects. Treatment that is saving our lives is greeting us with a human ballbag when we look in the mirror. A small price to pay some may say, but those ‘some’ often still have all their follicles in tact.

I had no idea how I would react to becoming a baldy mc balderson. I’ve been a hirsute chameleon over the years; short, long, red, purple, massive emo fringe, bleached bits. But when it came to the ultimate chop (very kindly done by lovely hairdresser friend in the comfort of my own home) my only thought was ‘bloody hell my head’s cold’. It felt freeing, not only from a daily routine perspective, but in a psychological way. Perhaps helping in my precarious journey to ‘self discovery’ (something applicable to most thirty-somethings)? Maybe that was what Britney was attempting circa 2007? (Utmost respect to Britney, she is a shining sequin queen). I try to think about this aspect on days when I’m staring into the potato faced abyss. And I’m grateful that my twisty brain decided to see things from this point of view, because I know it can shatter some women.

When you are preparing for treatment you are indeed given options such as the cold cap, a science fiction-esque contraption that squats upon your dome during your chemotherapy session and freezes your hair follicles so the drugs don’t affect them as much. But it seemed an added (and non guaranteed, some hair loss is still inevitable) pain in the bumhole. And to anyone who knows me, you will understand what reaction I had to the word ‘freezes’. I had visions of being wrapped in fifty layers of scarves, mewling like pathetic cat left out in the rain. I did see a woman at my last session carrying off the process with style and aplomb, but when it comes to the cold, I am severely aplomb-less to say the least.

Even though I am so far unperturbed by my sphinx cat appearance, I did partake in the buying of a wig, because hey, when else can I fantasise about being a male drag artist? Cancer patients can pay a 60 odd quid prescription fee and get a wig worth double; I went to the incredibly helpful folks at Trendco in Hove and was sold on the first one the woman suggested. True trade mastery at it’s finest. And now I have a fetching brunette bob to accompany my emerald coloured velvet dress for the office Christmas do! Maybe I shall create a whole new persona on the night; say bonjour to Angélique, the 1920s French poet with a penchant for assassination. Maybe? Non?

NB: for those who want the nitty gritties, my leg hair, eyebrows and eyelashes are holding in there so far. Pits and bits as bare as a freshly sanded floorboard. You’re welcome.

‘Treat yo’self!’ Thoughts on self care and self kindness

Yesterday I explained to my Mum how I sometimes felt as though I wasn’t deserving of the kindness that comes with being unwell; gifts, rest, relaxation, sympathy. A form of imposter syndrome, fuelled by thoughts such as ‘I’m young and strong so the side effects aren’t as bad’. This feeling was present at a fabulous beauty and skin care charity event for women going through cancer*. Its purpose essentially is to help women feel pampered during a time when one can often feel like a withered upright cadaver, stripped of all sense of self. Looking around at the women in the room, varied in age and background, my ever helpful brain tells me I should feel bad for being here because look, my skin is fine! I don’t need these beautiful freebies because I’m not suffering like some others are! Out damn phony, you sham of an ill person!

My brain is exhausting sometimes.

Why do many of us veer towards treating ourselves so unkindly? Our internal monologue speaks to us in ways we would never dream of speaking to others. Perhaps a fear of not wanting to be perceived as ungrateful? And then there’s the terror of being branded weak! Heaven forbid a human going through terrible things admit to weakness!

When I got this diagnosis I decided to at least try to be gentler with myself. To not mentally berate myself and thus create an anxiety piloted state of fear. My fight or flight instincts have had a battering the past few years, my body is locked in a readiness for catastrophe. And fair enough, shitty things seem to keep happening! But enough. No more hard edges. Let’s try to correct unhelpful habits of a lifetime.

If it’s an oil scented bubble bath (with candles!) every night of the week, do it. Or voicing worries as soon as you feel them, no matter how ridiculous your tricksy brain tries to convince you they are, speak out. Having the right balance of being blissfully alone (pottering around in my pants listening to Stevie Nicks is a personal fave) and spending time with the babe-alicious people in your life. Get enough sleep when you can. My god when good sleep does happen it makes you feel as though you can begin to claw back your sense of self, your va va voom. Do nice things for your brain that don’t involve work or Netflix (not badmouthing Netflix, she is a very close personal friend of mine), which could be learning something new, reading for 10 minutes, sorting through old photos, chaotically attempting some culinary wizardry. I made baked goods twice in the space of a month and did not set fire to myself/the kitchen and did not poison anyone (to the best of my knowledge). Getting out and about in nature is a biggie; the combination of moving my bits about, breathing verdant, woody smells, hearing birdy chirps and gurgling streams really helps me pull my head out of whatever existential orifice it happens to be dwelling in. Doing anything that moves you around a bit is magic. I froze my gym membership as it’s a bit of hotbed of germs and potential infection, so I attempt workouts at home, flinging a few weights about and grunting my way through planks. Drumming up the motivation is challenging, but once I’ve sweated and wheezed my way through I feel more whole, a step closer to ridding myself of the ever present feelings of disconnect.

These things might not be up your street, but taking teeny wee baby steps towards looking after your insides, your outsides and your gooey centre is something everyone should probably have a go at, regardless if you’re feeling under the weather or not. It’s taken me the best part of 30 years to realise that making yourself the most important person in your life does not equate selfishness.

*event was by Look Good Feel Better ‘the only international cancer support charity that helps women and teenagers manage the visible side effects of cancer treatment. Our aim is to greatly increase people’s confidence and self-esteem at a very difficult time in their lives.’  It was a right giggle and the volunteers running it were fab. Would definitely recommend to ladies going through the cancer wringer.

Bleurgh

I’ve been putting off writing about chemotherapy because that would make it ever so real wouldn’t it? I would have to actually engage with the reality of the situation instead of stoically soldiering on with my funny quips and anecdotes (you can take my hair but you can never take my quips!) So here we are, shortly after my second round of toxic goodness (oxymoron much?) and things are feeling a little more material, a little less bizarre and out-of-body experience-esque.

So far, and I say so far because who knows what lies ahead, I really do believe I haven’t had things too bad. And for that I am hugely grateful. But there’s a fair bit to be utterly fed up about too. I present to you my ‘what in gods name is going on with my body today?!! list:

  • Ohhhh taste buds. How I miss thee. You made food taste like… well, food. The week or so after chemo is a sea of beige. Everything tastes beige. Top tip; slather everything in chilli sauce. Or lemon juice. Or garlic. Unless you have mouth ulcers/fuzz mouth. In which case I’ve been told liquidising everything helps. Mmmm appetising. And before you say ‘well that doesn’t sound that bad, there’s a lot worse side effects’ – yes, there are. But being stripped of sensory enjoyment alongside all of those other side effects is a huge kick in the goolies.
  • Gurgling guts. Without being too graphic my insides take a week to decide if they are coming or going. Or both.
  • Where is my mind? Honestly. Has anyone seen it? I feel like a fog is shrouding my very being like a third cardigan (currently always wearing two, old lady style). Words escape me. The long string of word things no come from my face opening proper.
  • My old friend Insomnia! Sweaty, anxiety driven bouts of disturbed ‘sleep’ interrupted by panic filled, chemical galvanised awakenings.
  • Muscular aches and pains with no particular pattern. Which at first I decided to ignore (my pain threshold is so high blah blah). Sigh. I’ll learn eventually.
  • Tinnitus. Yes readers, a bizarre one I know. I have very mild tinnitus anyway from idiotic youthful bouts of speaker stack hugging at concerts and the like. But right after a dose of my chemo – SQUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. For at least a week.
  • Just generally feeling like you’ve been stripped of you va va voom (as Thierry Henry so titillatingly put it), your life essence. Finding yourself staring at the wall with no brain flow for a good 20 minutes. Feeling utterly husk-like.
  • And yes, the hair loss (will talk about this more in another post). So far this hasn’t traumatised me at all (unlike my poor mother who goes all wobbly bottom lip when I willy nilly pull tufts out). But, this could be due to the whole dissociation as a coping mechanism thing. Let’s see how I feel when I’m presented with a small Buddhist monk when I look in the mirror.

By week 3 of my cycle most of these have gone or faded (just in time to do it all over again!) But when they do fade, it makes every mouthful of food, every burst of energy, every glass of wine, every stretch, every push up, every step, every breath seem utterly blissful. Almost as though I never realised or appreciated how beautiful all these little things could be. So well done little body, you are a constant source of amazement. *

*and well done to all the staff at the Brighton Cancer Centre. How the hell they manage to stay so warm mannered, smiling and supportive all day is beyond me. I’m still utterly grossed out by sick people. And I am one.

 

 

I am full of love. I am full of sadness. I am full of fire. I am full of sangria.

Ibiza was exactly what I needed. And to those who think it is a place swarming with ‘lads lads lads’ and neon glow-stick Daily Mail monstrosities, there’s a rather beautiful side to the island as well. Full of the little things that remind me of why I adore travel. Preferably to warm places. In fact only really to warm places. I maintain heat = less aches and pains, both psychologically and physically. So here is a round-up list (mmmm, lists) of all those ‘little things’ on holiday that truly made my current woes and worries melt into the background:

  • That warm night air smell full of floral scents wafting past, in particular Jasmine, which makes me do a one eye closed paroxysm of nasal joy face.
  • The sound of crickets and cicadas which brings up deep-seated childhood feelings of utter contentment. NB; cicadas up close do not bring up such feelings. Google them if you dare.
  •  That slightly blinding feeling of strong sunlight on your closed eyelids that makes your whole face glow with heat.
  • Going for dinner, then cocktails. Then another dinner because why not, there’s tapas everywhere. Then more cocktails. Followed by a before bed snack. Of pizza.
  • Pretending to be a mermaid as per my childhood dreams, doing dolphin dives and underwater handstands, bikini coming ungracefully akimbo. Then simply lying on my back in the sea letting the water cleanse me in some neo-hippy baptism type way.
  • Doing that cliché ‘moving your hand up and down through the wind outside the car window thing like they do in the movies’. Heaven.
  • Laughing hysterically with one of your best friends, until you potentially do a bit of wee.
  • Bickering and chatting and being in comfortable silence with that friend like a mad old couple.
  • Sweaty, sweaty, caution to the wind, therapeutically sweaty dancing.
  • Being by the pool at a very upscale resort, watching perma-tanned, hair extensioned, twig like types walk by, whilst I’m merrily sat stuffing my face with no make up on, crumbs in my belly rolls, cocktail in hand.
  • A blanket of ridonkulously bright stars plastered across the sky each night.
  • Not wearing proper shoes! Free the feetsies!! Feel the sand!! (Sandy bumcrack not so much though….)
  • Killer sunsets.sunset ibiza

So thank you to my beautiful friend for letting me visit and helping me feel the most like ‘me’ I’ve felt in a long time. Just goes to show it’s the simple things, like being outdoors, being in the sun, being with loved ones, that can make you feel the most whole.

I am full of love. I am full of sadness. I am full of fire. I am full of sangria.