How come my legs are still hirsute?

Chemotherapy, especially the chemotherapy I’m having is meant to make all your hair fall out.  It’s done a pretty good job in most places over the last 3 weeks. I’ll save a fortune on shampoo, conditioner, mousse, sculpting wax and hairspray.  There’s also a lot less epilation and general pruning to take care of.  It doesn’t take anywhere near as long to get ready in the morning and there’s a lot less daily maintenance to attend to.  I feel sad that my hairdresser will be worse off for a few months but last time I saw her I left her a big tip, to make up for all the six-weekly trims we’ll both miss out on.

So how come my legs are still hirsute?

Why do they insist on sprouting when everything else has well and truly gone into hiding?  Is this one of life’s many mysteries or does it serve to remind me that whilst the rest of my hair is shedding like the Autumn leaves my stubborn legs will continue producing excessive stubble?  And if I’m destined to continue growing leg hair, should I leave it there in the hope it might inspire the rest of my ginger locks to stand proud instead of giving up so soon?  How long does leg hair actually get when you leave it unhindered for months on end?  Is it something like this?

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The human body is a truly remarkable and thoroughly unpredicatable thing – at least mine seems to be that way.  Goodness knows what else is going to happen!

My epitaph will read “she was a pain in the ass…..”

It’s true. My epitaph will read “she was a pain in the ass.” Hopefully it will say some other stuff too but “pain in the ass” will be right up there in bold type.

Mostly, being a pain in the ass isn’t a deliberate thing,  it’s not my mission in life and whenever it happens it’s not without provocation. Mostly it’s a damned good job I have been a pain in the ass because I could’ve wound up dead by now if I’d been more laissez-faire. I’d have had a very poor education. My confidence would have been shot to bits. I’d have been the proverbial shrinking violet shrinking away to nothingness.

I thank my father for his excellent counsel in developing much of my steely resolve.  He showed me the whole overlords and underlings thing is nonsense, it’s all made up. We’re just people. We all come into the world much the same way and we all go out of it in a not dissimilar fashion. What we do in the middle is a choice – we choose to be decent people or toe-rags.  I chose decent with imperfections. Feistiness, swearing, chaotic on occasion. Driven, restless, exacting, a little disorganised. A touch too partial to Chablis and kentucky fried chicken now and then. And a total failure when it comes to following anything that appears to a barked order rather than a respectful request.  Those who know me hopefully love me for my imperfections.

Being a pain in the ass started pretty early on for me. I was 5 years old and it kicked-off because I could read before going to school. My first teacher hated that. She sat me in the corner away from the other kids and told my parents I was disruptive and difficult.  At 5 years old I was hardly in a position to defend myself from this evil toad of a woman.  So my mother intervened.  She took the toad to task and explained that if she insisted on giving me books I could read in two minutes flat, what was I supposed to do with the other 5:58 hours of the day?  She moved me to another school where kids were encouraged to grow at their own pace. Thanks Mum, you were always great and I miss you loads.

Another educational pain in the ass moment came when choosing my ‘O’ level options. The deputy headmaster looked at my choices, looked over his glasses and shook his head in disdain while telling my parents ‘it’s far too academic, far too much work, she won’t cope, she’ll have to change those choices.’  The thing was, I knew what I could cope with, I knew how much work it was and I was happy, no ecstatic, to be taking it on.  Why hold me back?  At 13 I was a little better equipped to handle myself but my father also made clear that he was confident, I was confident and by the way wasn’t the role of a deputy headmaster to support and encourage academic advancement??  Thanks Dad. I owe you.

After school there were a handful of friend related incidents.  My best school friend is a real live wire and she’s a petite but perfectly formed 155 cm tall. One night in a bar some guys decided to pick on her due to lack of stature. I found her crying in the toilets.  There was one of me and four of them but they left.  I hasten to say I didn’t resort to violence (I was outnumbered and they were much, much stronger than me). But a sharp dressing down in front of the other clients sent them packing. On reflection being a pain in the ass with these guys probably wasn’t my best idea ever – personal safety and all that – but my friend was never picked on again by them or anyone else.

I am and always will be a pain in the ass when it comes to customer service.  I have far too many examples to list. I could write a whole series of books on these little lovelies. Needless to say poor customer service = I will be a pain in the ass until the situation is satisfactorily resolved.

More recently I’ve been a medical pain in the ass.  If I hadn’t, then there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here to slog away at my current fight. But I’ve no intention of letting my full epitaph get published at 43, 53, 63 or even 73.  So to all my amazing, dear and patient medics, please forgive my constant questioning, my tireless researching (I do the work & it helps you stay up to date on your reading so it’s not all bad), my inability to blindly accept conflicting information and my intuitive knowledge about my malfunctioning body, what’s normal or abnormal for it.  I have to live in here guys, I know when something’s not quite right.  I also know to check my meds dosages very carefully, but that protects you as much as it protects me because some mistakes can’t be rectified later on.

So it’s true. My epitaph will definitely say “she was a pain in the ass.”



The subtle repercussions of unnecessary stress

This is a breast cancer specific post so may not appeal to everyone, but as so many people get touched by this disease it’s probably worth five minutes of your time.  Even if you’re not directly affected, your near or dear ones may be. It’s an indiscriminate condition so it affects girls in their teens as well ladies over 70 and any one in between. (It also affects men).

Recent research suggests stress induces breast cancer metastasis (spread) to the bones; this is more often the cause of breast cancer deaths than the initial tumour itself.  ( Studies  conducted in mice indicate activation of the ‘flight or fight’ response makes bones vulnerable to breast cancer mets.  By looking at the outcomes of women who suffered stress or depression following treatment, researchers identified they also had shorter survival times – stress and depression activate the sympathetic nervous system.  The emerging good news is that it seems beta-blockers, cheap drugs used to treat blood pressure problems, can help prevent bone mets. Let’s hope this proves to be true in human studies as well as the mice models.

The researchers suggest efforts to reduce stress and depression in patients with cancer may have unacknowledged benefits for metastasis prevention.  So until the positive effects of beta-blockers are proven, here’s the thing.  When people are faced with a cancer diagnosis it’s an extremely stressful situation, one of the most stressful anyone is ever likely to face.  Once you get over the initial shock there’s a whole plethora of further investigations, surgeries or therapies to contend with. It’s a lot to take onboard and for a while it turns your whole life (and the lives of anyone close to you) upside down.

During cancer diagnosis, treatment and follow-up, anything that can remain constant – college, relationships, work, family – helps reduce stress, offering the individual some stability in a world where they’ll face a great deal of uncertainty for a protracted period of time.   So I find it sad to report that in many instances, these constants are also swept away and often for no good reason.  In talking with friends who’ve been on this journey, I’ve been surprised and dismayed to hear how many of them have been abandoned by people they considered good friends, prevented from continuing their studies or disadvantaged by their employers. Some have even been made to feel a nuisance or burden by their own family members, finding themselves cast aside in their hour of greatest need. Every one of these situations causes extra stress. Every one of them could be avoided.

We can speculate about the causes of this bizarre behaviour (it’s the 21st Century, we are supposed to be civilised) but it would appear it stems from the same roots as the majority of bizarre human behaviour.

  • False assumptions about cancer:  similar to the false assumptions that sometimes get made about black people. Many of my best friends are black and get misjudged solely on their appearance – it never ceases to amaze me.
  • False assumptions about how a person with cancer might change: similar to the doubting comments that sometimes get made about pregnant women – are they committed to anything other than the child?  Still happens.
  • False assumptions about what a person surviving cancer will want or be capable of:  like suggestions that sometimes get made about older people – can they cope, are they up to it. Still happens too.
  • False assumptions that cancer is the persons fault so they’re using it as an excuse: similar to the way parents sometimes think children make excuses to stay off school or avoid their homework. Most people don’t make excuses about cancer, it’s not their fault, they aren’t being lazy or burdensome.

So many of these stereotypical assumptions lead to prejudice and persecution.  But it  strikes me that by 2012 we really ought to have a handle on this.  We ought to be able to appreciate each others differences whether its skin colour, age, physical state, cancer or any other attribute that differentiates one group of people from another.  It’s kind of sad that we still need laws to protect some groups from others and whilst the law in Europe and many other parts of the world is meant to prevent disadvantage – in education, when accessing services or at work –  it seems some people are still willing to flout it. And if bonds of blood aren’t strong enough to prevent family members neglecting a brother, sister, wife or child with cancer then what hope can the law possibly offer?    We’ve seen claims for asbestos exposure, corporate manslaughter, disability discrimination and PTSD. Recently a grandmother was sued by her family for falling downstairs while carrying her baby granddaughter who was left severely disabled…. will we see respondeat superior or vicarious liability claims for stress induced breast cancer mets at some point in future too?  Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.  But law isn’t really the answer. If only common sense weren’t so uncommon, if a little bit of compassion, dare I say it standing in the other (often disadvantaged) persons shoes for a while could be offered, then these situations need never arise.  Sadly it seems some people still have a lot of work to do when it comes to developing these most simple, yet fundamental, human traits.