Writing to Heal

You don't have to be Bob Dylan to benefit from expressive writing

You don’t have to be Bob Dylan to benefit from expressive writing

I am a writer by trade. When I was going through chemotherapy my friends urged me to write a blog. Write a blog? I thought, No way! – because A: it’s work, and B: who on earth would want to read a blog about somebody having cancer? Not me.

One day, en-route to the hospital and bedecked with headscarf, chandelier earrings, red lipstick and dark glasses, I stepped into my friend Jamie’s car to be greeted with his remark, ‘You’re really working the chemo chic look today girl.’ And that was it – a blog was born: Chemo Chic – A Guide to Surviving Cancer With Style. And then a book: The Elegant Art of Falling Apart. And then this website: The Chemo Chic Project.

All the way through my illness I wrote and wrote. On occasions it was difficult to describe the ghastliness of the chemo, the tediousness of the radiotherapy and the fear and desolation that I sometimes experienced. Other times it was pure joy to write about the silliness of encounters with my doctors, the kindness of the nurses and the love that landed on me in unexpected ways from all of my friends. No matter what I wrote about, after writing I always felt better.

My instinct was, and is, that writing is good for you but there is more to this than just my fancy. Continue reading

Things I wish I’d known before #3 – How to evaluate complementary therapies

Angelina Jolie - anyone can be affected by breast cancer

Angelina Jolie – anyone can be affected by breast cancer

Debate rages on the internet following Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she has had a preventative double-mastectomy. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion. But where does this leave the person who really matters – the patient?

When serious illness strikes, we search for cures. It’s a perfectly sane reaction to a life-threatening situation. In fact, it may feel almost irresponsible not to do so. Unfortunately there are some people ready and willing to exploit our fear and desperation, whether it be for profit or personal aggrandisement. Others have more philanthropic motives but may be strongly influenced by their own personal belief system. Continue reading

Good Glamour

PINK is bustin’ out all o-o-ver. If you’ve been anywhere near a department store in the last couple of weeks you will not have failed to notice that it is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

To celebrate, I’ve been down to the hospital and had a bunch of scans and mammograms and they’re all clear!

Breast cancer awareness month is obviously a not-to-be-missed opportunity for celebrities to flaunt their caring credentials. But what about your friend who is actually going through breast cancer? Is she out at some cosmetics-industry sponsored party, drinking pink champagne, snacking on smoked salmon and strawberry cupcakes and being photographed for Heat magazine? Hell no! Continue reading

Coping With New Chemotherapy Research

A human fibroblast cell

In the past month research has been published that suggests that chemotherapy may cause cancers to return. The news is all over the internet, of course, and is presented differently by various groups according to their interests.

For several days I refused to read any of the articles. I don’t want to know about that, I thought. But this is important information, you have to read about it. Well, let me just say this: nobody HAS to read about anything if they don’t want to and no-one can make you. But this research Continue reading

The Comfort of Calendula

Last week I had a follow-up appointment with my wonderful oncologist, Dr Suzy Cleator, at the LOC. After three years my reaction to these appointments has gone from being semi-paralysed with anxiety to being laid back to the point of blasé. I hardly even mention them to my friends anymore.

‘Let’s have a look at you’, said Suzy. I ripped off my dress with the carefree nonchalance Continue reading

Gaby We Miss You

My beautiful cousin Gaby succumbed to cancer on the 17th of October 2008. She was a wonderful artist, funny, kind, clever and brave. Above all she was humane. I miss her every day.

This tribute to Gaby was composed and performed by the very talented Rory Lankester. I still cry every time I see it.

If you would like to pay tribute to someone you love, please get in touch.

Making Sense of Sunscreen

Jan writes: “Hello, I’m looking for an invisible, lightweight, non-greasy, non-toxic/organic facial sunscreen that can be worn under makeup.”

Aaaaargh, sunscreen!

This is one of the gnarliest subjects in beauty. Before I make a recommendation, there are a few things to know, briefly:  Continue reading

Things I Wish I’d Known Before #2 – How to Break Bad News

I found that telling my friends and family that I had cancer was way harder than receiving the news myself. I was so concerned about upsetting them – or crying myself – that I often ended up putting a jokey spin on things or being utterly deadpan.

There is no easy way to do this…

How not to break bad news: “Guess what?” “Ummm, you’ve won the lottery?” “No! Guess again…”

Don’t beat around the bush: “You know I had an appointment at the hospital?” “Yeeees” “Well I went there it was such a hassle to park and then I couldn’t find the place and then I waited for ages and when I finally went in to see the doctor he sent me upstairs and I had to wear one of those hideous gowns, you would have laughed, then I had a mammogram, it’s not nearly as painful as I thought it would be, then I went for an ultrasound scan and anyway it turns out I’ve got breast cancer. Tah-dah!”

Give it to them straight: “I’m afraid I have bad news to tell you. (Resist the temptation to pause dramatically here, just get on with it) I’ve been diagnosed with cancer.” That’s it. Now just stop and listen, even if there is nothing to listen to.

Don’t bombard them with information, just to fill in the silence.  Continue reading

Things I Wish I’d Known Before #1 – Essential Chemo Handbag Kit

May as well face this head on: having chemotherapy can lead to some horrendously embarrassing beauty mishaps. When I was going through the worst of it not only was I bald; my nose ran all the time and also bled a little; my eyes leaked tears for want of eyelashes; my nails flaked; I turned lobster red with hot flushes; my digestive system was in turmoil; my lips and skin were dry and, on account of having no eyebrows, I looked like a space-baby from Mars. Keeping up appearances became a full time job and inevitably, when my painstakingly constructed mask of normality slipped it was always at the bus stop, in the supermarket or some other glaringly public place.

So, for your comfort and safety, I have devised the Chemo Chic essential handbag kit. Don’t leave home without it!  Continue reading

Cleansers From Heaven

By Jessica Jones

Who doesn’t love Eve Lom cleanser? The rich green oily goop. The heavenly menthol smell. The clinical, white packaging with just that touch of glamorous gold. The cute muslin cloth. The luxury price tag (£55). Vogue went so far as to call it the “best cleanser in the world” Ok well maybe that is pushing it. After all, there can’t actually be a “world’s best cleanser,” can there?  Continue reading