Medical marijuana vs Endone for pain relief

When people who are about to start chemotherapy ask me what helped me through cancer, I give them a list. Weed is at the top of it.

It’s not something I’ve written about while chronicling my treatment, but with the federal government moving to loosen restrictions on imported medical marijuana, now is a good time to have a rational discussion about its benefits.

There are groups that will cry foul at this and rage about the insidious nature of the drug, that as a nation we are all going to become addicts, but chances are if they saw someone they loved convulsing from the pain, they’d hand over that spliff.

Medical marijuana is not about getting stoned or feeling high. It’s about natural pain relief with minimal side effects.

Modern medicine is wonderful and I thank it for keeping me alive, but everything comes at a price. The Hippocratic oath may be ‘First, do no harm’ but chemotherapy is the exception that proves the rule. It’s a brutal treatment that wreaks havoc on your whole system, breaking your body in order to cure it.

The accepted way to deal with it is to prescribe opioids such as Endone or OxyContin, otherwise known as hillbilly heroin.

My pharmacist was so concerned when I went to fill out my prescription that he sat me down and talked through how to take it. This was the man that had been supplying me with all my chemo meds, but he was more worried about Endone than anything else. Two footballers had just overdosed on Oxycodone and he wanted to make sure the same thing didn’t happen to me.

Endone is prescribed to chemo patients as pain relief because it works. It’s strong enough to stand up to all the other drugs floating through your body. But it comes with nasty side effects, including potential psychotic episodes, difficulty breathing and hypotension. Did I mention the psychotic episodes?

Addiction is easy, because it kicks in almost instantaneously. Like a pillowy bed that you gently sink into, it takes the aches out of your body so that you feel like you’re floating. It’s the medical version of a lullaby, soothing you to sleep. When you wake, often in agony, it’s all too easy to grab another and repeat the process.

I stopped taking Endone when the side effects became too much to bear.

I switched to marijuana because it also offers pain relief, causes drowsiness which is blissful when the steroids I was taking for chemo gave me insomnia and as an added bonus, it stimulated my non-existent appetite.

I talked to all my doctors about it before taking it and there were no contra indications so I went ahead. It gave me all the benefits of Endone without the side effects.

If medical marijuana had been legal, it would have been easier to find, I would have known exactly what I was getting and my oncologist would have had a viable pain-management alternative to offer me.

The biggest arguments against marijuana as pain relief are that it’s illegal and potentially addictive.

If the government approves medical marijuana it will be legal. And, as someone who has taken both forms of pain relief, I can tell you that it is a lot less addictive than legal heroin.


Chemo, a year on

On this day last year, I had my sixth and last chemo session.

There are a few dates I won’t forget, my diagnosis day and this one.

Looking back at my day today, which was all sunshine, long walks, good food, coffee, beer and hanging out with my boys, the dude and the dog, makes me realise how much I have to be thankful for.

Last year I couldn’t have spent the day in the sun, my skin was too sensitive, I wouldn’t have had the energy to walk around Paddington, Double Bay, Darlinghurst and Rushcutter’s Bay, I had no appetite, I couldn’t drink coffee as it dehydrated my mouth and beer was out because all alcohol tasted metallic to me.

Life is so much sweeter now and as well as learning to appreciate the good things in it, I’ve also learnt a few other lessons.

Be kind to yourself
I remember at a checkup a few months after chemo where I was complaining to my oncologist that I wasn’t where I wanted to be physically and mentally. She gently explained that it can take a year to recover from chemo. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, I expected to be back where I was pre cancer and I was frustrated with my progress, but the more I pushed the worse I felt. So I learnt to back off, give myself some slack and let my body heal at its own pace.

Be selfish
If there’s ever a time in your life when you come first, this is it. Made plans when feeling OK but then hit with a bout of nausea an hour before going out? Cancel. Want to spend the day watching back-to-back Law & Order episodes? Do it. Don’t feel guilty. I had planned to catch up on reading in between chemo sessions, but a case of chemo brain fog meant I couldn’t concentrate on anything more than a page. So it was trashy TV all the way and I was cool with that.

Celebrate small milestones
At times it felt like nothing was happening, but then I noticed that little things in my life were changing. I grinned the first time I made it up the hill without having to stop and gasp for breath. I was so proud of myself the first time I got through a whole day without having to nap. I saw myself in a new light when a stranger asked where I got my haircut and I realised I no longer looked like a chemo patient. I didn’t wake up one day and feel amazing, but I realized that these were all markers of my progress, small milestones that meant I was a step further away from the oncology ward.

Let people help you
People want to help you. Let them. Asking for help is difficult, but for most people having a loved one go through chemo is unchartered territory and they don’t know what to do. My big issue was loneliness. I felt isolated being home sick and realised that if I asked, people would happily drop in for an hour on their lunch break or take a day off to keep me company.

People are awesome
I was overwhelmed with love and support when I was diagnosed. From my girlfriend who flew interstate to see me the weekend after I broke the news to unexpected care packages from acquaintances and protective talismans from colleagues. It was as if the universe was giving me a great big hug and saying ‘You got this.’

And then there are those that aren’t
It took me a long time to realise that when someone doesn’t step up, it’s about them rather than you. Getting a big blank from someone you expected to have your back, whether it’s family or close friends, is devastating but it’s not worth the stress or energy. Some people don’t have the emotional intelligence to deal with mortality, whether it’s yours or theirs, so they ignore it or try to minimise what you’re dealing with. Fuck them, they’re not worth it.

Finishing chemo

After five months and six sessions, I’m done with chemo.
I had my last round three weeks ago and as my body is slowly getting over it, I’m starting to feel more like me.

The steroids are out of my system and that bloated puffiness is gone.
I can walk up a hill without having to stop halfway to catch my breath.
I got through this week without having to nap once.

These things may not sound like much, but to me they are huge achievements. Still working on growing back the hair, brows and lashes but hoping Santa comes good and delivers them by Christmas.

Although my breast surgeon had warned me I might have to do chemo, I was adamant that the surgery was enough and I wouldn’t need to. Turns out that positive thinking doesn’t always do the trick. So of course I cried when the oncologist prescribed what she called the Rolls Royce of chemo. Over the next few weeks I kept saying the word, chemo, to myself and others to get used to the idea.

Just before my first session, the doctor on duty came over and asked me to sign the consent form.
“So if I don’t sign it I don’t have to have it?” I asked, not really joking. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” he said, deadly serious.
I looked at The Boy as I tried to get up.
He put his hand on mine and said “We’re doing this.”
I wanted to scream at him that “we’re” not doing anything. I’m doing it. Not him. Which is unfair because I know that if he could have, he would have taken my pain away in an instant. Instead he came to every chemo session with me, fetching coffees, chocolate brownies and magazines so he could be useful, so he felt that at least he was doing something.

And so I cried again when that first IV went into my veins and I realised it was really happening. I was getting the hard drugs because my cancer was aggressive, I was young and my body could handle it.

And for the most part, it did.

When people asked me how chemo was, my standard answer was “surprisingly bearable.”

Because for the most part it was. My frame of reference was movies and TV shows that showed emaciated patients vomiting into the toilet all day so I was pleasantly surprised that that wasn’t my reality.

But it was far from easy and now that it’s over, I look back on my simplistic answer and think that it was my way of coping. If I told people that I could handle it, I could make myself believe it.

But I’m not spreading positivity platitudes. I hate platitudes. When someone you know is going through something shit, don’t spout some bullshit about how getting through it will make them stronger, just tell them you’re sorry they have to go through it and supply them with chocolates/wine/coffee/magazines/flowers or whatever it is that will make them smile.
Some people want to be left alone, but I liked having visitors. It’s so goddamn boring being sick and I looked forward to lunch and coffee dates as an excuse to get dressed and go out.

On days where it was all too hard and I felt like the pain was never going to stop I resorted to the hard drugs because positive thinking wasn’t going to do shit.
Pain and positivity are not friends.
Much easier to be positive on a good day.

On a good day, after taking my dog for a walk, I was proud of myself. I got out of the house, got dressed and exercised. My body was strong. My body was awesome. My body was handling chemo like a champ. Then I remembered that the reason I had to go through chemo in the first place was that my body betrayed me. And then I would get angry at my body.

Its not as if something happened to me, I wasn’t hit by a car and break a leg,  I didn’t catch an infectious disease that had to be treated. My body turned on itself, causing perfectly good cells to transform into festering, cancerous cells that had to be cut out and then crop dusted with toxic drugs that attack the good cells as well as the bad.

The worst thing about chemo though, is that it’s not a cure.

At my last oncologist appointment I asked if that was it, if I was done.
Yes I was done, but they can’t guarantee that they’ve gotten it all, that there’s no rogue cell floating around my body waiting to pop up again. But it’s the best treatment they’ve got and for now that has to be enough.

How to fake eyelashes during chemo

You don’t realise how much definition eyelashes give your face until you’re lash-less.

Mine were never very long, but they were thick and dark enough that I could go without mascara when I was feeling lazy. Now I have just a few strands desperately hanging in there and when I look in the mirror I feel like my face has been rubbed out.

I had always put false lashes in the too-hard basket, but there’s nothing like not recognising your face to motivate you to experiment with make-up.

I was happy to discover it’s not so hard. It’s a little fiddly and I don’t do it everyday, but on the days when I want to head out with wig, heels, a fab frock and pretend I don’t have cancer this is a great confidence boost.

And because there are no real eyelashes getting in the way, falsies were a lot easier to apply than I first thought.

My current lash situation
My current lash situation

Go for a reusable half-strip for the most natural look, you don’t need a full-on glamour set. The key to getting it right is lining the lid first, otherwise there’s too much contrast between the bare lashline and the falsies.

A half strip of lashes
A half strip of lashes without liner looks too fake as the line abruptly stops

I prefer liquid liner, but you can use gel or smudge a pencil along the lash line.

Liner along the upper lash line
Liner along the upper lash line

Go quite thick with the line, this gives you room to play with when applying the lashes. There are special tools you can use, but because there are hardly any real lashes to get in the way it’s easy enough to pick up the strip, shape it over the curve of your lid and stick it down.

Eyeliner + false lashes
Eyeliner + false lashes

The final touch is colouring in the upper inner lash line with a pencil. If you look closely at the above pic, you can see that there’s a two-tone effect, a strip of flesh between the eyeball and lash. This would normally be hidden by real lashes.

Eyeliner + lashes + upper inner waterline
Eyeliner + lashes + upper inner waterline

When you colour in the waterline, the liner, false lashes and waterline all blend together, giving you a more natural result

Caring for your body during chemo

Before you start chemo, they present you with a very long list of potential side effects. Most of them contradictory. As well as losing your hair, you could get diarrhea, become constipated, get dry eyes, develop watery eyes, break out, get dry skin, have hot flushes, lose your nails, develop mouth ulcers, swollen fingers and toes and lots more.

I wrote a story about how to care for your body during chemo, covering skincare, nails, hair and oral health for The Daily Telegraph. But I was restricted by a word count, so here’s a – very long – post that combines the story plus  are a few other things that have helped or are currently helping me.

Feel free to comment on what works for you.


Hands and nails

Sally Hansen nail expert, Alison Bowhill-Hayes says side effects can include lines or ridges, brittleness, discoloration, frayed cuticles and even nail loss. Skin openings in frayed cuticles are also prone to infection.

“Keep nails short and don’t use scissors or clippers, just a disposable emery board or file,” Alison says.

“Wear gloves when doing chores and invest in really good hand creams and cuticle oils, moisturizers are the best protection. Avoid professional manicures, pedicures and definitely no acrylic nails.”

If they fall off, nails usually starts to grow back a few weeks after the final chemotherapy session and take about six months to reach full length.

While you can’t prevent nail loss, Alison recommends wearing black nail polish.

“It is great at protecting the nail from UV light, reducing the risk of infection. Also as nails can become discolored you may feel more comfortable covering them up,” she says.

I’ve just had my second round of docetaxel and the side effects ramp up with each session, my fingers are swelling, my hands are a lot more sensitive, my fingertips have started to crack and my dry skin is peeling. I keep hand cream in every room of the house, plus various handbags, so I apply whenever I remember.

I also apply cuticle oil several times a day to prevent them from splitting.

I’m using dark nail polish as well, to protect them from UV light.

During docetaxel, they give you ice gloves to wear. This helps numb the nerve endings in your fingers and help save your nails. I found it’s a lot easier if you keep one hand in for two minutes and then swap. Much easier than chilling both at once.


I’m getting the same swelling and sensitivity as my hands, so using moisturiser with peppermint to help cool them.

Avoid long walks on hot days, I took Scoo for a two hour walk on a 30C day and couldn’t walk the next day. Once the swelling went down, I counted 11 blisters.


Dr. Spiller skincare expert, Sue Dann, says chemotherapy can result in a range of skin issues, including dehydration, discoloration, bruising, infection, itchiness, dryness, peeling and acne.

Skincare should extend to the whole body, including the scalp.

“It is important to switch to a good moisturizing body cream, one preferably with shea butter, because it sits on the skin and acts as a protective shield. In case of extreme dryness a body oil is beneficial,” she says.


Registered nurse and co-founder of skincare specialists, The Clinic, Kaye Scott recommends preparing the skin before chemotherapy with lots of hydration and antioxidants.

Swap your regular moisturiser for a paraben and preservative free formula that contains calming ingredients such as sea buckthorn, chamomile, Vitamin E and aloe vera such as Cosmedix Rescue+ and Aspect Dr Redless oil.

“Avoid harsh products and active ingredients such as Vitamin A as skin is compromised, with a high tendency towards dryness and irritation,” she says.

To add insult to injury, corticosteroid drugs such as dexamethasone which are prescribed to combat nausea, can cause breakouts.

“You must be very careful to avoid alpha hydroxy acids and salicylic acid which are found in acne treatments as the skin is fragile. If you experience a large amount of breakouts, speak with your oncologist,” Kaye says.

My once oily skin is now dry, irritated and tight so I’ve had to switch my skincare regime.

I use a thick, creamy cleanser in the mornings, layer anti-redness and hydrating serums and a thick layer of skin balm rather than regular moisturiser.

Sunscreen is also important, your skin is more likely to burn during chemo.

At night, I use a cleansing oil to get rid of sunscreen and make-up. It’s thick, soothing and doesn’t strip my skin.

Then I started breaking out, lots of little red pimples that wouldn’t come to a head so it looked like a red rash across my cheeks and forehead.I thought it was because I was over-moisturising, but it was the steroids. Not much you can do about it. My skin was too sensitive to exfoliate or use acne treatments, so I just had to roll with it.


My complexion has two settings at the moment, red or yellow.

Redness is best covered with a mineral powder foundation that you buff into the skin. I haven’t found anything else that works as well. You could do a two-step system where you use a green colour corrector under foundation, but that’s a lot more work.

For powder foundations, be careful that your skin isn’t dry or flaky as it gets stuck in broken skin. Not a good look.

I’ve lost my olive skin, it’s been replaced but a somewhat jaundiced yellow hue so I have been using highlighters and luminizers to bring my skin back to life. It needs glow.

When it comes to make-up, keep your layering consistent for the best finish. If you are using a liquid base, go a liquid or cream blush, bronzer and illuminizer so you’re applying like on like.

I like Revlon Skinlights, it’s cheap, comes in a few shades and is easy to blend on its own or just mix into your moisturiser for an all over glow.

Powderwise, I Bobbi Brown’s Shimmer Bricks and I’ve heard good things about Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder, but haven’t tried it.


Special needs dentist, Dr Sharon Liberali from the Australian Dental Association says the tissues of the mouth and saliva can be affected.

“With less saliva, your mouth may feel dry and uncomfortable, making it difficult to eat dry, spicy or acidic foods” she says.

“Some chemotherapy drugs affect white blood cells which fight infection, increasing the risk of bacterial and fungal infections and ulcers.”

Sharon recommends a mouthwash that contains chlorhexidine, such as Curasept, which is alcohol free and is antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal. Difflam oral rinse contains benzydamine which helps with inflammation and pain, while Biotene is alcohol free and help dry mouths. Salt water and baking soda rinses are also great.

“Salt is a natural antiseptic while bicarbonate is alkaline and effervescent. Dry mouths are often acidic so neutralising the mouth’s acidity will decrease the risk of bacterial overgrowth and thrush organisms. Flat soda water is also effervescent and the bubbles give comfort while removing food stuck on teeth,” she says.

I’m thankful that so far I haven’t lost my sense of taste. I love eating and the idea that I could lose that pleasure was just too much.

But I’m not out of the woods.

I survived FEC ok but my mouth is super-sensitive the week after docetaxel.

I can’t drink coffee, it just dehydrates my mouth.

All alcohol tastes metallic, so drinking is out.

Acids and chilli also irritate.

For the first week I’m all about soft bread, pasta and creamy butter, foods that soothe and calm my mouth. Chocolate is also good, it’s all about a rich, creamy, fatty coating on my tongue and the roof of my mouth.

I saw a dentist before I started chemo who put me on a strict oral hygiene regime, which included a sensitive electric toothbrush, fluoride toothpaste, tooth mousse and piksters rather than floss.

I rinse my mouth with warm water and salt or bi-carb after each meal, or if I’m out I have a small bottle of Biotene, a moisturising mouth wash.

Moisturising mouth strips also help.

I couldn’t find Curasept in a local pharmacy, so have ordered it online. The key ingredient, chlorhexidine, can stain your teeth and although you can find it in other brands, Curasept contains an anti-staining agent.

I read about oil pulling, an ancient ayurvedic treatment where you swish coconut oil around your mouth for 20 minutes first thing in the morning to remove toxic build-up. I ran it by my dentist who said it couldn’t hurt. Rather than ridding your body of toxins it’s moisturising your mouth first thing in the morning, when it’s driest, which helps protects your mouth, teeth and gums. It’s not the most pleasant experience at first, but you slowly get used to it .


Losing your hair is one of the most traumatic parts of chemotherapy and getting a wig can bring some normality to your look. A lot of hospitals have wig libraries, where you can borrow a style for the duration of your treatment but options are limited.

Wigs are made from synthetic strands or human hair. The former are cheaper, but you can’t style them with hot tools and while the latter look a lot more natural, they can cost in the thousands.

Whatever type you choose, stylist Anthony Nader recommends going lighter than your natural shade and, to make it look as real as possible, getting it cut to suit you.

“Your complexion fades during chemo, so you need to adapt your hair colour,” he says.

“Wigs are hard to manicure, so find someone who has experience working with them. The key is combining jagged, textured edges, blending every line and tailoring it to make it look natural.”

I was fixated on the idea of a wig before starting chemo, it was my security blanket, but I found I haven’t worn it as much as I expected.

In an Australian summer it’s just too hot. Plus, as you get used to being bald, it becomes less of a thing.

I prefer a faux fringe + headscarf combo.

Saying that, I’m glad I had it for the first few weeks and that my hairdresser cut it to fit so that it helped me feel more like me.


On the first 30C+ weekend in Sydney I broke out with red welts all over my legs and thought I had been bitten by something at the beach. Then I saw the same welts on my waist and inner arms.

Turns out it was heat rash, something I didn’t think about because I’d never had it before.

Your core body temperature rises, so keep cool in natural, breathable fibres such as cotton and linen. Polyester is not your friend.

And swap your regular body moisturiser for a body oil. Your skin will just soak it all up.

Brows and lashes

Just because your lose your hair doesn’t mean you’ll lose all your brows.

If they’ve thinned, Amy Jean Eye Couture’s founder and brow expert Amy Jean Linnehan recommends drawing them in with a brow powder, which gives the brows volume. If there’s no hair, an extremely sharp pencil applied in feathery strokes gives definition.

“There are stencils on the market that you can simply hold over the skin and colour in the shape,” she says.

Lashes can also thin and fall out.

“There are newer false lash strips available with an invisible line to adhere to the skin, so you don’t need lash hairs. They are lightweight and can be reapplied by peeling off the old glue,” she says.

“I’ve seen some incredible results with lash growth serums and many post chemo clients regrow their brows between 50-75 per cent of their natural capacity. For sparse brows, we can etch micro hair strokes into the skin using our feather touch tattoo technique and results last up to two years.”

Losing my lashes and brows has been one of the hardest parts of chemo because my face used to be 90 per cent brow. That’s what you get from being Italian.

Now, I look into the mirror and don’t recognise myself.

They stuck around during FEC but docetaxel is taking them away. Yet my hair is growing back. Go figure.

At the moment, there’s not much I can do apart from drawing them in. I’m avoiding mascara, I find I lose too many lashes when I remove it, but smudgy eyeliner helps disguise the lack of hairs.

You’ll also need to keep tissues handy, a lack of lashes means watery eyes. Who knew they actually had an evolutionary purpose?

Tissues are also good for runny noses. A lovely side effect of losing nose hairs.

I’ve had two personal recommendations for lash serums, Revitalash and Priori Lash Recovery serum. I’ll give one a go, and cross my fingers, three weeks after my last chemo session.

Extra stuff

  • I started chemo in July and didn’t realise how much warmth your hair holds until I didn’t have any. My head was cold and the cashmere beanies from were a godsend. Super soft, they had no seams so didn’t irritate my scalp and kept my head warm. I bought two, a double layer for daytime and a single layered beanie to sleep in.
  • The selection of wireless bras here was also great. I had my lymph nodes removed, which  ups my risk of lymphoedema and meant that post-surgery I had to throw out all my underwire bras. Finding pretty, supportive lingerie without underwire in anything bigger than a C cup isn’t easy but these fit the bill.
  • This was part of my post-surgery kit. It’s not the most attractive bra, but it ticked all the boxes for post surgery; no underwire, cotton, strong compression so that your breasts don’t move and irritate scars, thick straps, supportive plus front and back clasps so it was easy to get on and off. The compression is so good, we’re talking no bounce, that I still use it as a sports bra.
  • These stretch lace, soft cup bras aren’t the most supportive but they made me feel pretty and feminine after having my chest hacked.

Chemo is kicking my ass this week

I suppose I should be grateful that it took four sessions for chemo’s full-force to hit.

All those pointless positivity cards would tell me to look on the bright side, that at least I made it through halfway relatively unscathed.

But it is hard to find any gratitude when you’re in so much pain.

For the first three chemo cycles I was on FEC and I dealt with it better than I could have hoped. The steroids and copious amounts of ginger tea, did I mention I don’t like ginger?, kept nausea to a minimum, regular cat naps meant I could stay awake most of the day and I knew that I had to crawl to a snail’s pace when walking up hills if I stood any chance of making it to the top.

So far, so bearable.

Before starting chemo I had a few people tell me it wouldn’t be as bad as I was expecting it to be. Of course, they had to be lying. A little white lie to allay some of the terror of what was ahead.

But then waddayaknow, it turns out it was bearable. Not pleasant, but bearable. There was no throwing up in a bucket, collapsing at the supermarket or weeping mouth ulcers. I would cross my fingers when someone asked me how I was doing and reply, “surprisingly ok.” Just in case I ran out of luck.

I felt guilty, like I had cheated chemo. If all these side effects hit others so hard, then how did I escape them?

Then on Friday I switched to Docetaxel and my luck ran out.

I knew about the potential bone and joint pain, but the side effect I was most scared of was losing my nails. Right now though, I would gladly give up all my nailbeds to get my body back.

I feel like an old woman.

On Monday I could barely make it from the bed to the couch, on Tuesday I physically couldn’t get out of bed.

It felt as if my limbs were leaden and I was attempting to drag them through thick, gloopy honey. I knew what I had to do to make them move, but going through with it was just too hard. The trek from the couch to the bed was so arduous I slept for an hour to get over it.

My biggest achievement yesterday was summoning the strength to shower at 3pm. Even then, I had to sit down halfway through.

I was so sore, so heavy that I was genuinely surprised to look down and see that my skin was still smooth and white. I expected to discover big, blotchy bruises all over. How could my insides be screaming at me while my outsides were just fine?

Today I’ve managed to stand in the shower and I’ve even left the house, my legs wobbling down the stairs as if this was a new activity they were doing it for the first time.

And I have The Boy to thank for that. My painkillers weren’t touching the sides, so he suggested I call the chemo nurse, who faxed a prescription for Endone to my pharmacist.

Genius. If only I had thought about that yesterday. Guess I can add chemo brain to my new list of side effects.

Being bald is not too bad

One of my biggest fears going into chemo was losing my hair.

I’ve written about it before, so not going to go into too much detail, but now that it’s happened I can see why I was so scared, it’s the big signifier that you’re sick.

Nobody bats an eyelid at a bald guy, but a bald girl? You get a lot of looks, all fleeting but you can see them go through the various stages of curiosity, pity and then embarrassment when you catch them staring.

I can’t blame them, I’d probably do the same. Humans are curious creatures and our first instinct when we see something out of the norm is to have a squizz.

I thought I would be very self conscious about it and for the first few days I was. I had a wig plus faux fringe, which is like a headband, to wear under hats and scarves. The ends peek out so it’s more of a look rather than the more obvious cancer scarf.

But then we had that first hot weekend a few weeks ago and I couldn’t bear the thought of a wig, so I whipped it off at my in-laws’ place. Up until then, only The Boy and my hairdresser had seen me in all my bald glory. It was a huge relief, the new wig felt suffocating and I could only wear it an hour at a time then, so once I got rid of it my sweaty scalp picked up the breeze and cooled me down. Although I did have to be reminded to apply sunscreen, it’s virgin skin up there and ripe for burning. The last thing I need right now is to encourage melanoma.

A colleague asked for a post-shave pic and even though I wasn’t comfortable going public at that point, I happily sent her a text. It was a little patchy then, as not all the hair had fallen out, and her comment that I looked like a hot, butch lesbian made me laugh.

It helps that even though I’m halfway through I still have my brows and lashes *knock on wood, I have nine weeks to go*. My thick, dark, unruly wog brows which were once the bane of my existence have thinned but they’re still there, stubbornly hanging on and for that I’m grateful because I realised that’s what’s helping me. It’s not the baldness that makes you look sick, it’s the lack of brow.

Then the weather turned, winter made a comeback and I reverted back to beanies.

As it slowly got warmer, this week not withstanding, I’d get hot on our morning walks and would take off my beanie. Yes people look, but I don’t give a shit anymore.

My friends and family have seen me bald, they’ve even given it a rub for good luck but that’s been about it.

And then today I posted a bald selfie. It’s #brightpinklipstick day, an initiative from Pink Hope to encourage women to talk about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Seeing as I have a faulty BRCA2 gene, it’s something that I want to get behind.


A bit of make-up, natural light and the right Instagram filter bolstered my confidence and I have had a lot of lovely messages from friends and strangers on social media. I guess no one wants to be a dick to a cancer patient, unless they’re hiding under a pseudonym.

Another reason was that when I was diagnosed and frantically Googling cancer blogs for first-person experiences, I found ‘Hair is Overrated’ by Vicki Connerty on Debrief Daily and it really helped me.

So, for anyone out there that’s terrified of starting chemo and losing your locks, and you will be, take comfort in the fact that it’s ok. It means the drugs are working.

The chemo crop

“I need you to cut it all off,” I told my hairdresser.
For a second, he grinned like a child being told they can have all the toys in the store, rather than just the one. Hairdressers relish clients who want a dramatic change instead of the usual trim.

But his smile didn’t last long.

Like all great hairdressers, he’s perceptive and picked up that I said need rather than want and that I wasn’t smiling when I said it.

His hands on my shoulders, with both of us looking into the mirror, I told him why it had to go.

One of the hardest things about chemo is losing your hair.

For most women, it’s such an important part of our identity, that knowing it’s going to be taken from you without your permission is devastating.

I’ve always been a long-hair girl, aside from a short bob while living in London in my early 20’s I’ve worn it in long layers which trailed down my back.
I’ve left it out, put it up, braided it, curled it, bleached it, straightened it and coloured it.

It’s an accessory I’ve taken for granted, assuming it would always be there.

Last year I graduated to the lob, a long bob, which swished just above my shoulders but still long enough that I could play with it.

The first chop was just after the surgery. My breast care nurse was surprised that I was doing it so soon, a month out from my first chemo session, but I was adamant that it had to go.
It was about attempting to wrestle back some semblance of control over a situation where I am completely powerless.

The first chop
The first chop

So much about chemo is unknown. I don’t know how I’ll react to the medications, what my side effects will be or how well I’ll recover.

What I do know is that I’ll lose my hair, as much as I don’t want to, so the least I can do is decide when it goes.

I’m grateful my hairdresser took control of the situation. Rather than go all out with a pixie, we went shorter back and sides with long layers on top which I could still curl, style and play with.

It gave me a chance to get used to it my new reflection while still recognising it. I even grew to like having short hair, it took a bit of styling after the first wash, then I didn’t have to do anything to it, apart from some dry shampoo and finger combing, for the next few days.

Playing with it while I still can. I quite like the pink.
Playing with it while I still can. I quite like the pink.

Hair usually falls out 16 days after the first round of chemo. My first strands came out seven days later. And that was the moment it hit me, shit’s about to get real.

As strange as it sounds, I’d forgotten about the pain of the surgery and the devastation at being diagnosed. It had happened and I’d recovered. I also had minimal side effects after chemo, which lulled me into a false sense of security and helped me hang onto the delusion that I might be spared this.
Even though I knew it was going to happen, I freaked out when it did.

So I booked in for my second chemo crop the next day.

The second chop
The second chop

I was, and still am, terrified of washing my hair and finding clumps come away from my scalp. At least this way, there’s less hair to lose.

I still don’t know how I’m going to feel when it happens. I’ve got five days until it does.