So I thought I’d post again to update you on everything I didn’t manage to fit into Monday’s post (which is quite a lot!).
Firstly then, an update on how I am feeling – not too bad thanks. The radiotherapy certainly seems to have had a positive impact on the brain situation – I’ve not really had any head aches or pressure since the treatment. I have reduced my steroids to half the original dose, and stopped taking codeine about a week ago (leaving me just taking paracetamol in terms of pain relief for my back). Cutting down on the steroids has had a positive impact in terms of reducing my appetite (back down from six meals a day to a paltry three!), and reduced considerably the profuse sweating (a bonus for everyone who has to come near me). The plan is I gradually keep reducing the dose until, hopefully, I can come off them entirely.
Unfortunately I still have the excess weight gained during my rabid, non-stop eating phase while on the higher dose. I have generally put on weight, but another effect of the steroids is that it tends to collect in certain areas – for example round the cheeks and neck, which means I now have an almost perfectly spherical face. I have also developed a ‘hump’ on the back of the neck. This is all part of ‘Cushing’s syndrome’, which occurs as a result of prolonged excessive exposure to the hormone cortisol (i.e. the steroids). I didn’t realise I had a hump, until reading aloud the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome from Wikipedia – at which point Sally confirmed that, yes, indeed I did have a little camel hump. Only unlike for a camel it serves no useful purpose for me, not even as a small makeshift pillow for hospital waiting rooms.
In addition to my round face, I have lost my hair due to the radiotherapy. They said it might fall out, or thin, or do nothing (covering all bases there then). It started to fall out Tuesday last week – thinking it might just thin a bit, I tried to just get all the loose hair out in the shower. Putting wax in it after my shower resulted in very hairy palms. Wednesday I did the same, and tried again on Thursday – only that time there wasn’t an end to the loose hair, it didn’t stop coming out. As we were off to the Marsden I had to make the best of what was left – but I did look a bit mangy, complete with bald patches that merged with other bald patches throughout the day. So Friday morning we went at it with clippers and a razor, and took the lot off.
I am quite enjoying my new look – partly due to novelty value (probably not something I would have tried otherwise), and partly because I now have more reason to make use of a fine and varied collection of hats (not so much to hide it, more to protect my newly exposed scalp from the newly exposed sun). I do still find myself slapping shampoo on my head in the shower, before remembering that it’s no longer necessary.
The shaved head in conjunction with the round face does mean I now bear a striking likeness to the full moon. For a small fee I am currently available for any lunar-themed kids parties or events.
The vision situation hasn’t improved, and I managed (with some effort!) to get the doctors to admit that it probably now won’t. They said the steroids might help it – but once I pointed out that I have been on high dose steroids for the best part of a month, with no improvement, they admitted it was unlikely to return. Which isn’t great, but in truth if I get out of this with slightly impaired vision, I’d take that in an instant. I’m starting to learn to compensate for it and so it has been bothering me less of late.
The radiotherapy did take it out of me a bit last week – although not to the degree of ‘withering wreck’ (hopefully I am safe from having to eat those words). I didn’t feel too bad, but there was an underlying level of tiredness. This week my energy levels seem closer to normal, which is reassuring. The doctors also seemed sure that any reduced energy was due to the treatment, rather than anything more sinister.
And finally my back seems to be fairly stable at the moment, perhaps having even improved recently. I still can’t stand still in one place for a prolonged period without getting pains down the legs, but in terms of mobility I have been fairly active over the last few days, and it has given me very little grief.
So that’s enough about my physical state – what have I been up to over the last couple of weeks instead of blogging?
Well Monday last week I finally managed to get round to arranging the photography lesson (or to be more specific, ‘processing photos on Adobe Lightroom’ lesson) that I was forced to cancel on that fateful day when my head nearly exploded. A big thank you to John at White Light Photography (the same guys who did our beach photo shoot) who came round and spent two hours with me showing me how to organise and process my photos.
Armed with my newly acquired knowledge, I have been taking time to sift through my photos from the last year or so, and pick out and work on my favourites. Rather than just leave them on the computer for no-one to see, I’ve decided to set up a page to host them on Smugmug – if you want to have a look, I have added a link into the sidebar to the right of the blog, or click here > seebensphotos.smugmug.com
It has been great to finally take some time to make something of these photos. They’ve been taken over the last year since I bought the camera, but they have just been sitting on the computer doing nothing, with me never having the time to play with them or try and make the most of them. I still consider myself very much a beginner photography wise, but I am enjoying the experience of learning.
We were also able to arrange for my Dad to visit last week – which was very enjoyable. We managed to coordinate it so he could come along and see Saskia swimming – she was on good swimming form too, less focused on drinking the pool water this time, more focused on being good at swimming.
On the subject of Saskia, she has finally cracked the art of crawling – first managing it a couple of weeks ago. She’s not been off everywhere as we perhaps expected – but she is now able to deliberately move around when she wants to. She will purposefully move across her play mat when she decides she wants to get to something over the other side for example (sounds like there is some kind of ‘why did Saskia cross the play mat’ joke in there somewhere – I’ll work on that for my next post). Unfortunately for Pickle this means that placing himself just beyond her reach is no longer sufficient to avoid clumps of his hair being tugged – he now has to learn to use altitude to his advantage if he wants to sleep without keeping one eye open.
And the news I know you have all been waiting for – Saskia’s sunglasses have arrived! Given the rubbish weather, today is the first real opportunity we have had to try them outdoors – and as predicted it might take a bit of getting used to before she stops trying to take them off. But here is a picture from yesterday of her doing ‘a Bono’ and inappropriately sporting sunglasses indoors – I think you will all agree she looks pretty cool (far cooler than Bono anyway).
Cooler than Bono (and actually better at writing songs)
The other big focus of the last week or so has been researching and working on our all round, integrative treatment approach. Obviously the hospitals and doctors take care of the ‘conventional’ treatment (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, pain relief, etc) – but that is just one aspect of our approach to tackling this. We have been working toward an all round plan for some time, but it’s been slow progress given hospital appointments and just trying to stay on top of every day life given all that’s going on (I never realised how much admin having cancer can actually involve!).
But we seem to have finally made a breakthrough – both in terms of research avenues bearing fruit, and actually making the changes to our lifestyle. As mentioned in my last post, the news last week has also given us the kick up the arse we needed to actually take the difficult decisions that we need to.
You might have noticed that I am saying ‘we’ and not just ‘I’. That’s because Sally is being amazing and joining me in making many of these lifestyle changes, recognising that (particularly where diet is concerned) there’s no chance of me eating a bunch of cold salad if she is sat in front of me with lovely sausages and mash.
So what are we doing? I won’t go into all the details, but here’s the general idea…
Every day now after breakfast I am doing two brisk laps of the recreation ground behind our house, which according to my phone is 2.5km / 1.6m – usually taking me half an hour. The morning is non-negotiable – but if I get time (depending on whatever else we are doing) I am aiming to do the same in the afternoon. So far I’ve managed both mornings and afternoons the last few days. After a period of inactivity given the brain situation it’s nice to get off the sofa and get some exercise. It really does make me feel better – obviously it’s good for me physically, but also mentally in the sense that I still feel I can get up and walk three odd miles in a day, without being hindered by my back, the disease, treatments, etc. That feeling helps contribute to the whole ‘keeping positive’ thought processes.
So we are making some big changes to our diet – but sensible changes (we’re not going down the route of living on nothing but wheatgrass!). Sally has been incredible, throwing herself into online research and books about cancer and nutrition (after my CT scan Thursday she busied herself in the nutrition and food section of Waterstones, while I had a forty-five minute nap in one of their comfy armchairs – I did fully expect to get ejected from the store, given that I looked like a moon-faced hobo with half a head of hair who had just gone in for a sleep, but I was left alone). She has identified foods for us to try and reduce or eliminate, and foods for us to try and increase our intake of. Again, I’m not going to go into massive detail (because it’s probably really quite dull for the rest of you) – but essentially what we’re doing is this;
- Dramatically increase intake of fruit and particularly veg, to eight portions a day minimum (especially raw stuff – salads, etc).
- Incorporate juicing into our diet – by this I don’t mean fruit juices from Tesco, I mean buying a juicer and juicing raw fruit and veg as a way of getting concentrated nutrients into our diet.
- Reduce red meat (now only allowed as a treat when eating out).
- Reduce animal proteins in general (but not eliminate entirely – like I said, sensible approach!).
- Dramatically reducing sugary treats and snacks (chocolate, biscuits, ice cream. etc).
- No alcohol – this one I am doing alone. I haven’t drunk for about two months, and at a time like this I just don’t feel like it. So watching Sally have the odd glass of wine is no problem for me.
Basically this involves reducing stress and trying to incorporate relaxation techniques and times into our daily routine. So we’re being careful about over committing ourselves, simplifying things like how we managing our finances, and have started to incorporate meditation daily.
It has to be said, meditation is far harder than I thought it might be – I always thought it was easy to switch my brain off (generally if I sit still for more than ten minutes I fall asleep). But it has been proving far harder to empty my brain of thoughts than I expected. Even so, I think it is still beneficial to just stop for a period each day, and take some time to just do nothing – and as we get better at it the benefits should only increase.
This section also includes positive thinking, visualisation, and some other areas we haven’t yet explored – such as hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, and music therapy. Of those three I’m not sure if hypnotherapy is for me. Psychotherapy possibly – it has been offered, but so far this blog has pretty much been my psychotherapy, so I haven’t gone for it. That’s not to say at some point in the future I won’t. Music therapy I think I could definitely go for, being a big music fan. I used to listen to music in the car, but now I can’t drive that’s not happening anymore. For the first time in a long time I am listening to music as I type this – Guns n’ Roses. Right now I am thinking that Guns n’ Roses should definitely form a much larger part of my treatment program going forward (old Guns n’ Roses, not so much new Guns n’ Roses).
Herbs / Supplements
So there are a number of substances that have shown possible promise in fighting melanoma – sometimes in human trials, other times with lab grown cancer cells or animal trials – and many of these are available as nutritional supplements. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t expect any of these to be a sudden miracle cure, and one could spend a fortune if one wanted to on everything that had at some point been rumoured to have a benefit. But some well placed and targeted research has thrown up a few things of interest.
An important question is whether or not to take these while undergoing the conventional medical treatments, should they cause any interactions or interfere with the action of the chemotherapy or radiotherapy. So I haven’t been taking anything so far – but now I am in a period of no conventional treatment, this avenue does become an option.
So there we go – that’s an insight into our integrative approach. It is going to entail some difficult choices – personally the diet aspect is going to be the hardest for me. I have asked numerous doctors about diet, and the answer I generally get is that I should go home, and eat what I want (although with an emphasis towards a balanced diet). Which always leaves me wondering whether I really should eat that Easter egg, or leave it well alone. On the one hand you have the doctors telling you diet won’t make a difference, on the other hand there seems to be plenty of credible evidence that diet can help in your fight.
So who to believe? I’d like to believe the doctors, and just eat pizza every night followed by Easter eggs for dessert – but when the stakes are this high, I think it makes sense to hedge your bets on the eating healthily side. Let’s face it, as long as we are sensible and don’t go on any mad ‘fad’ diets, it’s not going to do me any harm – and if it does help will have been well worth it.
Right, that’s about it for today I think – thanks for reading.