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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Dell

Who is that in the mirror.......

Cancer changes you. And now I'm sat looking at a blank page and a blinking cursor.


Cancer changes you - well that's a fairly obvious statement, it changes you mentally and it changes you physically - and if you read "cancer blogs" online they try and prepare you for the obvious, the big ones, hair loss, sore skin etc. The hair loss, for me, was easier to deal with than the subtle changes that snuck up on me without me really realising or thinking.


I covered the loss of my hair in an earlier blog post, but it goes beyond your hair falling out and needing to ask a loved one to "shave it off" - when it falls out there is nothing you can do about it. I liked it to becoming Chewbacca in the shower when it finally, let go, with it streaming over my shoulders and down the plug hole - it's shocking, yes, but with certain types of treatment, it's inevitable.


So what happens next is that you your legs are bald, your armpits are bald - everywhere is bald - which isn't so bad as it saves on the the razors, but it doesn't just stop there it keeps on going.


Eyebrows follow suit - now I was very lucky - I was more worried about losing my eyebrows than i was about anything else, and guess what, they were so "heavy" to begin with that when they did fall out they just looked like perfectly pampered brows !!!!.....


Then one morning I woke up with my eyes stuck together - interesting, not something I had been expecting, but stuck, itchy eyes - ah that will the the lack of eyelashes then - again, I was luckier than some, and i kept little stumpies so never had to suffer the constant streaming eyes that I know some people have to endure.


So that's the physical - then comes the mental - you look in the mirror and for the first time see someone else. Someone that looks recognisable but is different. Someone that looks like they have cancer.


That person that we have all seen walking round the supermarket that is bald, but a different kind of bald, ah yes Cancer Bald, and that we all think "there but for the grace of god" and then it's you. Everyone has different ways of dealing with it and there is plenty of incredible advice on offer, either online or via various cancer charities and hospital groups. Wigs, scarves, hats, or au naturel .... for me a wore a selection of hats but mostly went au naturel.


So by now you have got used to looking at yourself in the mirror, when you brush your teeth, obviously not when you brush your hair or apply your mascara LOL, but then everyone else needs to "see you" ... I used to forget that people hadn't seen me for a while, some didn't even know what was going on at all, like when I terrified our poor neighbour when he kindly bought the wheely bin back - shiny pate in all it's glory and me shortly post a chemo session - stunning !!!! and learning that others find it as shocking a change as you do.


What happened next was subtle, and remember, everyone reacts differently to chemo and the drugs involved, and this is my story.


I started knitting - as something to take my mind away from how crappy I felt - I would sit for hours and knit, not that i'm very good, but everyone got a beanie hat for Christmas - one day I finished a hat - haha, I thought, I'll just take a selfie and send it through to mum and she can see what i've been up to. I hate selfies at the best of times but duly took the picture, clicked it back to send and had to choke back the horror of what I saw. A bright red, beetroot faced, stranger with a hugely swollen face and puggy eyes in a beanie !!!! Now I'm sure that others didn't see me quite like that, after all, I had been facetiming some friends and my family, and Andrew was seeing me everyday - but that particular day the bloating and puffiness caused by fluid retention from the chemo was at it's greatest, and for the first time I didn't recognise me anymore. And then you can't help it. Then you have to look in the mirror, then a different mirror with different light and then ask Andrew again, how terribly red my faced looked and and and and ......... and nothing can prepare you for that, nothing and no-one, and no-one can make it go away and no one can make you feel any better and once again you are faced with the mental challenge of change.


I took a break from Chemo after session 4 and had my operation, and by then my fluff was starting to grow back, the bloating was subsiding and I started to look, I suppose, like the person I will be, i'm not sure I will ever look like the person I was before, but I can see me again. I often say about puppies that now and then you chance a look and see the grown up mature dog they will become, before they move and revert to the puppy again (whilst i'm typing this Andrew is just reminding me that I need to tell everyone I now look like Beaker - WHO IS BEAKER...... those of a certain age will know and if you don't google !!) and I suppose it's the same for me, a glance in a mirror and it's yet another person looking back only this time, not quite so scary.


I ummed and ah'd about sharing some pictures of the changes, and decided that I would. If for no other reason than to reassure someone else going through the same thing that it does get better, that it does subside and you will see yourself again. After all, this blog is all about helping just one other person with their own challenges. The last image was taken a week or so ago.


It's been part of the journey that Cancer takes you on, another brain twister, another chapter that once read needs to be filed away with the one before.


For now, the hair is still growing a pace, the eyebrows are back, the legs are still bald, and the chemo is over. There are still some mini hills to climb but the mountain is behind us and now I need to find my way back to some kind of normal.




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