There has been much debate about whether to vaccinate or not, go for breast cancer screening or not, PSA test or not, chemotherapy/radiotherapy or not. I strongly believe that it is a personal choice, dependent on many factors, all of which are specific for each individual, their circumstances, their medical history etc etc etc. At the end of the day, it is down to us whether we undergo a particular treatment or not. I always say, look at the risks. And then life goes on.
When I opted for radiotherapy in November 2015, I did so with full knowledge of the risks. Or so I thought. But several things happened to me physically that was not in the fine print. One of the most severe changes that still hangs around two years on is the oversensitivity of my skin. I had hives for the first time in my life, which set me off in absolute panic, thinking that it was herpes (yes, we doctors are the most paranoid). I remember kissing someone on the lips who had cold sores and I was convinced that I caught the herpes virus, though it was just a fleeting goodbye (or was it hello) kiss and I did not come into contact at any point with the sores. But I was tormented by that, and I refused to kiss my partner, which was just as well, because I had a horrible taste in my mouth when I was undergoing my treatment. The horrible taste is now gone for good, but my skin still flares up. Even my hypoallergenic make-up causes a reaction. I hardly wear eyeliner these days because in less than an hour, my eyes would start streaming.
One evening a few months ago, as I was sitting down for a dinner with my partner, he gave me peculiar looks throughout. I have seen that look before: it was the sort of look I myself have on my face when I was trying to diagnose a patient by appearance, searching for signs with my eagle eye. Now, he was giving me that same sort of look.
Finally, he blurted out, “Jac, did you have a cosmetic procedure done to your lips today?” I ran to the mirror. My God, my lips were swollen! I ate curry (which wasn’t that spicy anyway) and my lips grew to porn proportions. My partner grinned and said, “Mmmm, when are we having curry again? I hope this effect doesn’t go off too soon.” But arrgh, it was my new lipgloss.
Of course I hit him, because it was yet another testament that my body has changed after radiotherapy. I have lost my sense of smell. Instead, I have a heightened sense of taste, which means that I could no longer eat strongly flavoured food without gagging. I seem to be thirsty a lot, though my partner thinks this is more psychological than physiological. But I am thankful to be alive. Really.
Photo: lips back to normal size and a new tattoo that didn’t quite work out (my skin just went blistery). But hey, life is good!
I wrote this article because a couple of days ago, a brave young mother (only 27-years-old) took the decision to pose for photos with her stoma bag.
After undergoing radiotherapy for cervical cancer, Natalie Wicks suffered complications to her bladder, which caused severe weight loss and depression. She ended up with a stoma bag (never sexy) and felt bad about herself physically, especially as she is single and hoping to find Mr Right. You can read Natalie’s story here.
What I want to say to Natalie is your Mr Right would not be put off by your stoma bag, anymore than my Mr Right was put off by my adult diapers, bald patches, scabby skin, sick on the floor and depression. In fact, all these trials and tribulations are a good way of sorting out Mr Right from Mr Wrong, because Mr Wrong would be off at the first whiff of sick or shit, or the moment you stop being useful to him. So good luck, Natalie, I wish you all the best. I hope you don’t end up with trout lips like mine each time you eat spicy food/wear lipgloss, and may you find someone with a good heart and a sense of humour 😀 And you are beautiful, by the way. Truly!