Twang Arm, Toenails and tight tight curls

Enough of the emotional and mental side of cancer.  it is time for me to offload, I mean update about the physical side.

Twang Arm

Twang Arm has not had a lot of attention here these past weeks, so I thought I should make amends for this neglect.  Last week has also marked 10 months since my last Taxotere chemo, and it is interesting to see how my body is recovering and what signs remain of the Chemo Club.

On one hand (or should that be arm), the lack of rant about Twang Arm must reflect the fact that its role in my life is reduced and it is causing less hassle.  However, if I have to be honest I think that it also goes to show that we have entered a phase of “comfortable cohabitation”, similar to a political coalition of forces who share no love for each other and would in fact be keen to eliminate the opposition.  I have, simply put, become used to the limited movement and discomfort and it is more subconscious than uppermost in my thoughts these days.  However, when I try to remember what Twang Arm felt like I am sure that it hurts less.  I am stronger when I swim (and faster – though let’s not get too excited about my Olympic prospects).  It is not painful unless I stretch it beyond its range of motion.  That is definite progress.

However, as Dr W said at my check last month, “it is not good enough”.  My range of motion is still significantly restricted.  I have to stand on my tip toes to turn the light on if I use Twang Arm.  When I lift my arm beyond a certain position, the Twangy bits just don’t let me move it any further, even though I think there is a very gradual, continued improvement.

So it is time to enter a new phase of confrontation with Twang Arm.  I am not going to settle for this limited use but am going to continue to push those boundaries.  Very slowly and gradually.  But shhhhhh, don’t tell Twang Arm as I need to keep the advantage!

Nails

Taxotere really hammered my fingers and toes.  I had neuropathy (numbness) for a long time afterwards and in fact still have the slightest residual numbness in my fingertips and a sensation of my toes being too big for my feet.  It is improving happily, even although it is a slow business.  But my nails have really suffered. My fingernails still break if I bump them and I keep them very short to try and prevent this.  My toenails have been somewhat more gross.   I developed a blackened big toe nail not long after chemo finished and that is slowly growing out.  As well as being discoloured though, it is also very ridged and rough in the same area.  one of my other toenails, the middle toe of my other foot, decided at this incredibly late stage to jump ship just over a week ago.  It had started growing very irregularly and roughly and seemed to be loose.  Inevitably, most of it fell off a few days ago and the remaining bit of nail is particularly ugly.

I have to put this in perspective though.  If the fast growing cells in my finger and toe nails have  had had such a hammering, then it must show the kind of damage that all fast growing cells must have taken thanks to both chemo regimes.  I have to focus on the fact that any sneaky cancer cells will have had the same battering and, I hope, the same destruction.  For the effects of Taxotere to be so evident in my extremities, it must demonstrate that the chemo has reached every micro cell in my whole body.  My discoloured and disappearing toenails are hopefully a sign of the destructive nature of the treatment on its target – the cancer beast.  The nails are by-casualties of the treatment.

Curly Locks

I can’t avoid a discussion on the side effects of chemo, without giving the subject of hair loss its due attention.  This is something I still find difficult.  My hair is growing.  It is in the region of 2 – 3 inches now, very approximately.  But I still look very different to how I did at the start of this cancer encounter.  It has come back in a mouse-grey like colour and although it is darker than it was when it first came in looking like cotton wool, it has that “grey look”.  And I would be lying if I said that I didn’t mind it being grey.  I do mind.  I don’t want grey hair.  I want my brown-with-a-hint-of-chestnut-if-I-want-to-wallow-in-fantasy hair back. I had the question of hair dying on my list when I saw Dr W2 last month, but with all of the fuss and discussion about my badly behaved port, I forgot to ask him.  And I am not sure if there is a hairdresser here who would have the experience of dying foreign (non jet black) hair which has had chemo.    However, much as I am unhappy about the colour, I am intrigued with the texture.  My flat as pancake pre-chemo hair has also disappeared and in its place curls are continuing to develop.  This has meant that although my hair is getting longer, it does not really look long, especially at the front.  It is a bit wild and crazy at the back and sides, but still points skywards and means that my forehead is still rather bare.  This means that when I look in the mirror, I still see chemo hair.  I know that is rather contrary but that is the way it is!  I love my curls and am fascinated to see how much more they will grow before my hair remembers it is meant to be straight and flat.  And I am loathe to cut off these precious curls.

Stop press………………..

After writing this on Saturday, I decided to get my hair cut after all, on Sunday.  Boy, am I glad I took the plunge!  As well as having a delicious hour long shampoo massage,  for the first time in my life I think, I walked out of the hairdresser’s with a smile on my face.  My chemo hair had been transformed into a proper hairstyle.  It looked like a hairdo and not as if I am forcing re-growth.  It has been a long time coming.  I lost the last of my hair in November 2009 and I have resented my reflection in the mirror since then.  But I don’t want to delete the previous paragraph as it shows so clearly how much of a difference this has made.

It’s still curly too  🙂

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A trip to the spa?

An interesting realisation dawned the other day. 

I know my hair is growing, and I can feel kinks, especially at the back.   There is not much to see in the mirror though, and it is still horribly short and shouts “cancer” (at least to me)  from the front.  I have been frustrated that I am the only one who doesn’t actually know what the new wavy hair looks like.  And then I realised – I could take a photo of the back of my head and actually see what is happening.

I stood with the camera poised slightly above and behind my head (obviously my right arm as Twang Arm was having none of that) and clicked away merrily.  Unfortunately the result was not too enlightening (and I missed my head altogether a couple of times).  My creative skills were working fully though, and I had the presence of mind to ask hubby J to take a picture of the back of my head.  What a brainwave!  And indeed, there are wavy, curly locks. 

They are still the wrong colour, but that can be addressed.  I am still very reluctant to even trim my hair as I am intrigued as to how the waves will turn out, and how long they will last. 

I am also happy to report some progress on the nail front.  I still have the fascinating lines and the two tone nails from the Taxotere days.  I have 4 lines – one for each Taxotere treatment, and the darker colour for those times.  As the lines are moving up towards my finger tips though, they crack and split along the lines.  Not pretty.

Similarly to the hair, I feel reluctant to do much about them until they have grown more and the funny lines and splitting are no longer there.  If that coincides with the right timing for repair of the hair colour, then I reckon it will be time for a long awaited trip to the spa for a real pampering!

Image

I seem to be developing a new look! 

Dr Evil is fading and being replaced by Annie Lennox!  I confess there is a mighty dose of wishful thinking there, almost certainly influenced by the fact that I am a huge fan of Annie Lennox.  But if you can imagine Annie Lennox with shorter hair, less platinum blonde, more platinum grey then I am nearly there.  Oh, and a totally different face!  The Jack Nicholson hairline is still a feature of my hairdo, but that seems to be hidden a bit by the mouse coloured stubble.  Before my “trim” in Scotland, I had a dreadful mad professor look – pure cotton wool white tufts sticking out to the sides, bald patches on top, a dreadful receding hairline, and a white-ish Mohawk where the hair was slightly longer.  Not good for the self esteem.

I am now at the stage when I occasionally go “topless”, as it is often jokingly referred to in the Breast Cancer Forums.  Unsurprising this means going out in public without scarf, hat, wig or other baldness disguise, and is nothing to do with clothes!  Oddly, I generally feel less uncomfortable being “topless” in the company of people who did not know me when I had hair or who I don’t know at all.  I am not quite at the stage when I can go out without some sort of emotional prop for the head.

My “sun-bed” look is not so attractive.  My radiation tanned skin is peeling beautifully, very rough and sandpapery and bringing a very interesting patchy look.

My fingernails are really fascinating.  As well as having an intriguing pattern of white lines which could be highly desirable (if somewhat hard to design) in a nail studio, the top half is still a strange orange-red colour from the Taxotere cycles.  The pale lower half clearly shows the growth since the Taxotere stopped. 

 I could patent the design although I would probably not include the element of the nail lifting off the nail bed.  I am not going to talk about toenails as they are just horrible.

So things will never be the same, I am sure, but they do seem to be changing when it comes to appearance.