Monday 31 December 2012

A hair-raising year!

Dear 2012, what a God awful year you’ve been. I won’t be sorry to see the back of you!

So much has happened in the last twelve months, it’s hard to remember how I felt at the end of 2011. I know I had been to the doctor and been referred for hospital tests but I certainly couldn’t have anticipated just how things would progress.

But now, although my life is different in many ways, it is also (nearly) back to normal. I’m looking forward to 2013 with a renewed sense of optimism. Indeed, Mr P. and I have already got a variety of trips and activities scheduled - well into next summer!

However, I will certainly remember this year. And despite the challenges and the disappointments, I will never forget the support of our friends and loved ones and how it helped to carry us through in the most difficult of times.

I will also never forget some of the more ridiculous moments: Mr P. with surgical socks on his head; being diagnosed with ‘small breasts’; or lifting my wig in a road-rage incident to make the other driver get out of our way! The C-bomb has never been dropped so effectively. ;-)

But that was then and this is now.

So 2012, if you don't mind, I'd quite like you to F*ck Off!

Monday 10 December 2012

Christmas comes but once a year …

And thank, God. I don’t think my liver could cope.

The festive celebrations are now in full swing for me and Mr P, heralded at 1am on Saturday by the birth of Niamh – Mr P’s niece. It’s all very exciting but now I’m busy trying to work out what she might like/need for Christmas.

We’re also preparing for another new arrival. My new cat. We’d popped over to the Mayhew Animal Home to drop off some items that our drama group are lending them for their charity dinner this evening and Mr P. suggested that I might want to look for another feline friend.

I used to have a lovely little cat, called Ellie, who I adopted from the Mayhew in late 2008. After a testy start and some wilful biting (her, not me) we settled into a very nice life together. We became the best of friends and I loved her dearly. Then one day, (Aug. 2011), she just disappeared.

She wasn’t the sort of cat to stay out for more than 24 hours, so obviously I was distraught. An army of friends (including Mr P.) put up posters, knocked on doors and scoured the area for any sign of my “little mate” – but there was none. And there hasn’t been since. She was less than five years old.

Suffice to say, I have often thought of her: the way she would jump onto the seat beside me and lick my hand while I stroked her paw, and the annoyed way she would come into the bathroom and ‘miaow’ when she thought I had been in the bath too long. She was a funny little lady.

But now, with my hospital treatment in its latter stages, I do feel ready for another house guest – and my new lodger (currently called 'Bubbles', but her new name to be decided) will move in after Christmas.

Saturday night was therefore quite a celebration with a new baby, a new cat and a friend’s birthday to toast. It was great fun … what I remember of it. And then on Sunday, Mr P. and I were invited to a ‘fizzy wine tasting’, where my friend (an award nominated wine blogger) educated us in the different types of sparkling wines and how they are produced.

It was a hilariously drunken way to spend a Sunday afternoon! In truth, I was probably just topping up my excessive Prosecco levels from the previous evening, and warming myself up for the Mayhew’s ‘Tinsel and Tails’ fundraiser tonight, but it was a great start to the week.

After all, if you can’t celebrate with ‘Bubbles’ at Christmas, when can you? ;-)

Saturday 1 December 2012

'Tis the season to be jolly

Blimey. It's December already. Doesn't time fly when you've been having fun ...?!

In many respects my life is settling back into the old routine while, in others, I'm still getting a few surprises.

The main 'surprise' is just how crap I still feel. Not physically as my chest muscle is improving, but mentally and emotionally. I'm on the verge of tears quite a lot of the time

It's hard to know how much of this is provoked by the Tamoxifen and how much was there already but, suffice to say that, the insomnia, hot flushes and now high cholesterol are really getting me down.

I've had some body hair fall out too which, after only 2.5 weeks of taking Tamoxifen is a bit concerning. Hair thinning is cited as a risk but I wasn't expecting it so soon. Maybe I shouldn't put the wig up the loft just yet?!

Fortunately, I do have a Counsellor at the 'Marsden and my GP is very supportive. And, of course, I have my lovely Mr P.

Ultimately though, I do have to manage this for myself and come to terms with the residual issues that are bothering me as well as the hormone-related changes that have been induced.

That said, I should also make a point of saying how supportive my company and colleagues have been. The return to work did cause me enormous anxiety but - with special thanks to AW and the HR team - my confidence is slowly coming back.

And I've also got a lot to look forward to this month: assorted shows, gigs, gatherings and parties ... Not to mention a new niece or nephew for Mr. P.

So while I won't be sorry to see the back of 2012, I do plan to enjoy what's left.

Friday 16 November 2012

So far, so good ...

This week I've managed three days in the office, been to see the boob specialist and had a little haircut.

Going into the office was daunting. But Mr P. met me at the station, armed with an enormous cookie and a gingerbread latte, and that made me feel much better.

Everyone at work has been very sweet; welcoming me back but also recognising that it's going to take me some time to readjust.

I'm taking it slow, just working four hours a day, and having catch up meetings with people to get a flavour of what's been going on.

However, Mr P. and I did have some bad news on Wednesday from the fertility clinic about my test results. And I know you can never say never but, post chemo and with an ovarian function level that barely registers on the bottom of their scale, I've probably got more chance of winning the lottery than ever falling pregnant.

Of course, generally for people, IVF might be an option but (a) I'd have to do it before I'm 40 (on the NHS) and (b) I can't have any hormone related treatments because of my cancer risk. Oh, and Tamoxifen causes birth defects anyway ... Ho hum.

I should point out that at no stage prior to this, or even now, was I planning to have a baby. However, what is upsetting is that it seems that I should have been offered some options to preserve my fertility before/and during chemo and I wasn't. So, of course, I do feel pretty cheated and let down.

Anyhoo ... I've got enough to be getting on with, without crying over spilt milk. So, I had a haircut.
Weller: he may have soul
but he's got shit hair
Post chemo my hair has grown through, as it has always been, very thick and bushy. What doesn't curl or kink stands at right angles to my head. Up until now I've just about managed to keep it in check with a little bit of hair putty but, after blow-drying my hair for an early morning start and seeing what looked like Paul Weller staring back at me in the mirror, I decided that I needed a tidy up.

As for my breast reconstruction, it's going well but I've opted not to have any more saline injected as I think further inflation will (i) be uncomfortable, (ii) look odd, and (iii) probably pop a few cardigan buttons.

Instead I'm having a fat graft, from my belly or thigh, which will soften the overall appearance and add another, more natural looking, bit of volume - particularly in the original lumpectomy area. If I do decide to have more saline, I still can, but - assuming I don't - I'm probably looking to get my 'proper' implants from mid/late April - just in time for summer. Nice.

But for now, I'm tired. Really tired. Normal life is exhausting!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Turning the page ...

This week a new chapter of my life begins. Today, I start a five year course of Tamoxifen and, tomorrow, I go back to work.

Tamoxifen is what they call 'maintenance chemotherapy'. It suppresses oestrogen and keeps it away from any potential cancer cells which, given my cancer tested 8 out of 8 on hormone responsiveness, is undoubtedly a good thing.

However, all drugs have their side effects and I'm understandably apprehensive. No woman wants to read that she might get fat and grow facial hair!

But needs must ...

I'm also nervous about going back to work. I'm sure that once I get back into the swing of things it will all be fine but I have had a few sleepless nights.

I was chatting about it this morning with my GP. He reassured me that it was natural to feel low, as I have done, since the mainstay of my treatment ended. When you're in the thick of chemo and operations you become overwhelmed by the process. But, when it does end, you can finally 'exhale' and reflect on what you've been through.

And that's the bit that I've found hard. I think I'm doing alright but can then, quite unexpectedly, suddenly get breathless and start to cry. It's quite odd - like all the residual emotion that I've still got bottled up is trying to release itself.

I know some people might think that it would be better to let it all out in one go but, apart from the fact that I don’t think I could, I do think that would be like trying to open a fizzy bottle of lemonade. This way I just release the pressure slowly and a little bit at a time, instead of making an unholy mess!

However, please don't think that everything is glum and that I'm not still able to enjoy myself. Mr P. and I have just come back from a fabulous week in San Francisco and Las Vegas: visiting Alcatraz and the Grand Canyon, playing the slots and doing our best to live up to the name of the 'Big Belly Buffet'!

I even got home from the 10 hour flight back and went out to a pyjama-party-themed Hen do. It was a raucous affair but at least when I finally crashed and needed my bed I was dressed and ready for it ...

And so the next stage of our story begins. I'm sure it will still have its unexpected twists and turns but I'm rather hoping that it will be more 'JK Rowling’ than 'Stephen King'.

Mr P and I are hoping that our luck
might be about to change

Wednesday 31 October 2012

A pink night in ... and night out!

As many of you will know, last Friday was 'Wear it Pink Day', the annual event to raise awareness and money for the fight against breast cancer.

As part of that campaign, women across the UK were encouraged to have 'A Big Night In' - so that's exactly what we did! Many thanks to my lovely friend, Wendy, for hosting and to Hannah from Stella & Dot who will be making a donation from October sales to Breakthrough Breast Cancer. So, of course, I did my bit and am now eagerly waiting for my new jewellery to arrive ...

Then, on Saturday, was our ‘Wear it PUNK’ party – also in aid of Breakthrough Breast Cancer. My 'big' indulgences of the previous evening almost threatened to put a dampener on things but I rallied and, with the help of a few left over anti-sickness tablets from chemo(!), was back in action for a bit of ‘skanking’.

Thank you to everyone who attended or made a donation, (additional donations still welcome!), but special thanks must go to Mr P. for his fantastic musical efforts - which had the entire pub dancing by the end - and to Teresa and Thayu at The Viaduct for their generous support (and AMAZING food).

However, today marks the end of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and also my period of extended sick leave. It’s been a tough ten months but the time is now right for me to head back to work.

I’ll be returning to the office, albeit part-time for a few weeks, from Wednesday 14th November. I’m sure it will feel strange (and tiring) but also good for me to get back into a normal routine.

But before that, Mr P. and I are off on holiday – we hope! We’re meant to fly to the US on Saturday but that minx, Hurricane ‘Sandy’, is causing no end of trouble.

So we’re keeping our fingers crossed; not just for ourselves but for all concerned.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

No pain, no gain?

Seriously. My newly inflated boob really hurts. The tissue expander is certainly doing its job.

It’s there because the final implant will go under the pectoral muscle, instead of over the top where the breast tissue once was, and the muscle needs to be stretched to get used to having something there.

The sensation really is distracting at times; at best, tight and sore and at worst, sharp and scratchy. The discomfort will die down, of course, as it did after its first inflation post-mastectomy but I had got used to not feeling uncomfortable and now I’ve got to go through that cycle again. (And for a third time in November). It affects the upper arm muscles too and can make it difficult to sleep.

And, my tit feels enormous! Very round and very firm ... but it doesn’t move and has no feeling, now that the nerve endings have been cut. It’s like having half a grapefruit stuck to my chest.

Fortunately, I have invested in some mastectomy bras (and a bikini for my holiday) that have a pocket for me to insert a gel ‘chicken fillet’ and balance what are now uneven sides. That does seem to work quite well and you’d never know through my clothes.

In fact, people tell me that I’m looking very well - which is nice - even though they also seem convinced that I’ve lost weight. (I haven’t) I think it’s just that, without my voluminous mane of hair, my short crop exaggerates how slight in build I am.

That won’t last though, because my barnet is coming through thick and fast and it won’t be long before I have to blow the dust off the hairdryer and straighteners.

And it also won’t be long before I return to work. I’ve got a meeting on Friday to discuss a phased return in November. Mr P. and I both agree that getting back into a routine will do me good, as I’m getting to be very, very lazy!

But before that happens, we’re going to go on holiday – a week in the US to mark the end of this chapter. We’re off to Las Vegas, baby, and I’m feeling lucky!

Friday 19 October 2012

With our compliments

Yesterday I was back at the 'Marsden for the first time in five weeks. It felt familiar and strange all at the same time.

I’d gone in for two appointments, the first of which was to see my Counsellor. Clearly a lot has happened since I first saw her in August, so it was good to be able to chat openly, and positively, about how things had progressed.

In particular, I was able to talk about how - with a few exceptions - my life is pretty much back to normal. I've healed from the operation and my boob is looking good. My hair has grown back and I've finally been able to get jobs done at home and visit friends and relatives that I've not been able to see during treatment.

Indeed my short, wavy hair is proving quite a talking point. Even complete strangers, with no knowledge of my cancer, are complimenting me on my barnet. It's flattering, if unexpected.

However, being the awkward, embarrassed sort when someone says nice things to me I must learn to resist dropping the 'C' bomb as some sort of mitigation for my hair style. I give you 'The Case of the Friendly Neighbour' ...

There is a gentleman who lives on my road and with whom I have been chatting and exchanging pleasantries for the last four or five years. I don't see him that often, and do specifically try NOT to talk to him when he's running in his Lycra onesie, but he is a lovely guy.

However, the embarrassing fact is that I can't remember his name. Worse still, he always remembers mine and too much time has elapsed for me to ask for a 'reminder'. Anyway, it transpires that we can't have spoken for quite a while as the following embarrassing exchange recently took place:

Neighbour: "Kate! Hi! I've not seen you in ages ... Love the hair!
Me: "Thanks ... I've had chemotherapy."
Neighbour: [stunned silence] Oh. God. I'm so sorry ... "
Me: "Oh. No. Honestly, I'm fine ... and at least I've got some hair now."
Neighbour: [long awkward pause] “Yes*.”
*The man is completely bald.

When I’m not shoving my foot in my mouth though, life is going very well and the reconstruction process is now well underway.

After my counselling and a spot of lunch in the ‘Marsden cafe, where I was pleased to find it was music free – (last time I went they had ‘Never say goodbye’ by Bon Jovi on continuous repeat, which I did think was a bit much in a cancer hospital) – I had an appointment to see my surgical consultant and breast care nurse.

And it was all good news. The mastectomy has healed well and the swelling has gone down, which meant that I was ready to be ‘pumped up’ a bit more to stretch the pectoral muscle to make room for what will be a silicone implant in the new year.

I have to say though, apart from surface skin sensation, I have little to no feeling in my new boob so when she jabbed a needle into the tissue expander and started to inflate it with water it did seem a little surreal.

Part of that strangeness is also the fact that they have to put a magnet to my chest to locate the valve. Not any old magnet, I should add – fridge magnets don’t work (we’ve tried) – but the metal in the implant does mean that I can’t have an MRI while I have it inserted, and that my boob needs its' own ID card to get through airport security.

Anyway, post inflation, I’m now looking lop-sided. I’m also feeling sore again, like I did straight after the operation, as the pectoral muscle is being constantly pulled. On the plus side though, it does appear that I will – in the wider scheme of things - automatically get bigger boobs than the ones I started with as they want to to ‘perk up’ lefty to match the shape of my new righty, so I will get implants in both sides. Ree-sult!

It’s up to me how much bigger I go, (probably not that much), but I do have one more injection scheduled for mid November. After that, I’ve opted to have some fat injected over the tissue-expander to try and make it look a bit more natural before I get the proper implants.

That will require an operation, in early January, but a relative minor one I think. Basically, they put a couple of nicks in the back of my thigh – siphon out a bit of fat – and pop it in my chest. How good is that? A boob job and lipo-suction, all in one!

When I’ll actually get my final matching pair though, I’m not quite sure. It would be nice to have them in time for Mr P’s birthday at the end of March ... I think he deserves them. Failing that, mine at the end of June. That really would be one hell of a 40th birthday present.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Calling all the heroes!

As mentioned in my last post, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month - which not only serves to highlight all the important facts that people should know about breast cancer, but also to celebrate the fantastic achievements of those either fighting or supporting someone in their fight against the disease.

The Breast Cancer Campaign are therefore urging people to recognise their 'Superhero'; someone who has inspired you and/or changed your life for the better.

So, of course, I've nominated my lovely Mr P. He's been such a fantastic support to me over the last year - I really don't know what I would have done without him.

But there are lots of equally wonderful people and heart-warming stories, so I would urge you to take a look and maybe nominate someone that you know/love too.

I've said before, that it's the indiscriminate nature of cancer that makes us all equal but - through experiencing and sharing that adversity - I really do believe that it can often be a catalyst to bring out the very best in people. No experience is ever wasted.

And, talking of good people doing good things! The lovely people at Stella & Dot are donating all the net proceeds from sales made in October to Breakthrough Breast Cancer. They have some really beautiful items and it's not too early to be thinking about Christmas presents!

The more the merrier!
However, if handbags/jewellery aren't your thing but having a drink/dance is (and you can get over to west London) ... then Mr P. and I, with assistance from our good friend Russell, will be hosting a little fundraiser on Saturday 27th October. Full details are on the events page and via Facebook.

It would be great to see some of you there but, if you can't make it and would still like to make a donation, you can do so via our Just Giving page.

Monday 1 October 2012

Do your bit!

October is ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’. So cop a feel of yourselves, or someone close to you (do ask permission first!) and help more people to understand, and treat, what is now the UK’s most commonly diagnosed cancer.
One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime, with over 48,000 women (UK) diagnosed with breast cancer each year. (And it’s not just the girls - around 350 men are diagnosed annually too.)
But, while sadly over 1,000 women still die each month, the good news is that more patients than ever are surviving thanks to better awareness, screening and treatments. 
The main thing is to catch it early and that means checking regularly. It’s not always easy and sometimes you’re not sure what is suspicious and what isn’t – for example, my tumour was very high on my breast bone – so, when in doubt, get yourself to the doctor.

1 in 8 women (UK) will be
diagnosed with breast cancer
during their lifetime
Breakthrough have some great guidance on their website and are encouraging all women, regardless of age, to give themselves a little ‘TLC’ ...
  • TOUCH your breasts. Can you feel anything unusual?
  • LOOK for changes. Is there any change in shape or texture?
  • CHECK anything unusual with your doctor.
Of course, there are other brilliant charities and web resources out there: Breast Cancer Care, Macmillan and Cancer Research, to name but a few.

Suffice to say, all these services need money and, this month, lots of well-known brands are lending their support with many products - everything from hair-straighteners to zumba-wear - offering limited edition 'pink ribbon' versions and making a donation from sales.

The other way to raise money is to hold an event. All through October people are being encouraged to 'think pink', with Friday 26th October designated as 'Wear it Pink' day.

Mr P. and I shall be doing our bit too. Knowing what a bunch of fancy-dress-loving exhibitionists our friends are, we plan to hold a pink-themed Wear it PUNK Halloween party to raise some funds and 'scare the shit' out of cancer.

Mr P's very excited and already working on his DJ set. It's going to be one 'hell' of a night!

Sunday 16 September 2012

Boobie's Big Night Out

Me and my new tit went out to party last night and, my God, we did it in style!

Elaine and I show off our nice
new post-cancer surgery boobs
It was the 50th anniversary of our theatre group, the Beaufort Players. I know I talk about the BPs a lot on this blog but they have been such a support to both me and Mr P during the course of my treatment.

Of course, we have many other friends and supporters too - love to you all! - but not least my twin sister, Clare, and Mr P's parents who also came along to celebrate the 'BP Jubilee'.

My sister was even roped into playing me in a comedy sketch, reminiscing about the history of the group and remembering so many of the colourful characters that have made it what it is.

Habeas Corpus by Alan Bennett
(April 2008)
Mr P. and I first got to know each other in Spring 2008, when we played opposite each other in a farce called Habeas Corpus; he played a vicar called Canon Throbbing and I was a flat-chested spinster called Connie. The Canon wanted Connie, while Connie wanted new breasts ... It's funny how life comes to imitate art!
It was such good fun to get out last night because for the last few days, and probably more than during any part of my treatment, I have been feeling very tearful.

I know why, of course. It's the emotional release in knowing that I don't have to keep on 'keeping on' anymore. It's been a long time coming after trudging relentlessly for nine months along a gruelling and uncertain path.

I had been warned that it's after the treatment ends that the enormity of everything you've been through starts to hit home. That's very definitely true. I'm still recovering from my operation (and I know I still have further reconstructive procedures) but I do feel that I can finally 'let go'.
I feel I can finally relax and say: "God, that was shit. Thank f*ck that's over!"

But, of course, I wouldn't.

What kind of 'potty-mouth' do you think I am? ;-)

Thursday 13 September 2012

So long, sucker!

Yes, indeedy – it seems that cancer has finally f*cked off! If I didn’t still have stitches, I would attempt a little cartwheel.

Mr P. and I went and got the results of my mastectomy this afternoon. In short, while there were further cancerous cells present in the breast tissue removed, they weren’t yet the invasive sort that could have spread to my lymph nodes. (Meaning all the dangerous invasive cells had been removed during my earlier lumpectomy)

Consequently, I don’t need to have radiotherapy. Woohoo!

In essence then, my treatment for cancer has ended. Of course, I do still need to complete the reconstruction process and decide if/when I start taking Tamoxifen (the drug to keep my hormone levels down), but the intensive slog of hospital appointments does seem to be slowing right down. I do have a couple of counselling sessions booked, and an ultra-sound scan, but I don’t need to see another consultant for a month.

Which means I can now just concentrate on resting, healing and getting my strength back post surgery. To say that Mr P. and I are relieved, would be an understatement.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

"Hanging on the telephone ..."

Just when I thought that I might not have much more to do with hospitals, people have started phoning my home thinking that it is one!

It first happened a few weeks ago, when a very croaky man phoned up. I started chatting, thinking that was it was Mr P:

Me: “Hello”
Caller: (croaky) “Urgh ...”
Me: (laughing) “Oh, hello”
Caller: “Urgh ... hello”
Me: (still laughing) “What’s the matter with you?”
Caller: (indignant) “I’ve got a sore throat ... *cough, cough* [long pause] ... Is that the hospital?”
Me: “Er. No.”

But it’s happened again and I arrived home last night after my extended stay at Mr P’s to a number of answer phone messages. You’d think that hearing a casual “Hi, this is Kate ...” might alert them to the fact that I’m not Barnet Hospital, but apparently not.

Anyway, after two more calls today, I’ve looked into it and my home phone number is only one digit different from the hospital’s day surgery. Fair enough, easy mistake to make. But ... the reason why this has rattled me so much is that I have had EXACTLY the same problem with my mobile phone number!

That has only one digit different to the out-of-hours number for a Homecare facility in south London. As you can imagine, Christmas and Bank Holidays are a particular joy: old ladies asking when someone is coming round with their milk; old guys asking me to change their dressings ... I do seem to have extraordinarily bad luck!

But, yes, it is also quite funny. (Although, not sure I thought that as I nearly bust a stitch to get to the phone this morning!) I have now got those hospital and care numbers on standby, should distressed callers contact me again for medical assistance.

And as for me, I’m doing OK. I’m still popping the painkillers but am up and about and trying to get back to normal. My torso muscles are, obviously, very bruised and strained and that limits my arm strength and movement, but every day it is improving.

I’ll be back at the hospital on Thursday to see my surgeon but judging from the immediate reactions last week post-surgery, they did seem pretty happy with the way it had gone. The main thing now is to find out if I’ll need radiotherapy and that depends on the histology report - that is, the analysis of the breast tissue that they removed.

Whatever the outcome, I still have lots to feel positive about. My boob is looking good and, while I have yet to see it ‘sans nipple’, the shape under my clothes – after what is just the first stage of reconstruction - has come as a pleasant surprise.

I’ve also got my sister coming to stay. She’s coming down for the weekend and, together with many wonderful friends, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the theatre group to which Mr P and I belong - The Beaufort Players.

They really are a fantastic bunch and Mr P and I are so enormously grateful for all the love and support that we’ve received over the last eight months. It really is like having a big extended family.

And as with all good family gatherings, I’m looking forward to a nice piece of cake, a few drinks and a bit of embarrassing dancing. They’re even letting me DJ and play some 80s tunes. I’ve already picked my first (Blondie) song ...

“Call me!”  ;-)

Friday 7 September 2012

The great escape

Mr P. went out this morning and left me home alone. So I made a break for it ...

I hadn't intended to go out but my surgical drain was ready to be removed and when I phoned my GPs they said the only time the nurse could see me was 9.30am. So I hoofed it up there in a cab, with the plastic tubing and beaker tucked in a tote bag under my t-shirt.

In theory, the drain removal should be straightforward - if uncomfortable. However, after several sturdy yanks on the pipe it became clear that the nurse was not going to be able to get it out of my chest. She wasn't sure if it was kinked or caught, but it wasn't budging.

My options were to get another cab home or a cab to the 'Marsden. So I went to the hospital, where I sat nervously waiting in the clinical assessment unit petrified that I was facing another painful procedure.

Anyway, thankfully I wasn't. It did hurt a little bit but apparently the vacuum seal had not been fully released and that was why it wouldn't come out. So after a cup of tea and a biscuit, to steady my frayed nerves, I set off back home ... on public transport.

Yes, I know that was a bit naughty. But it was so nice to be out and about in the sunshine. I'm still very sore but am so much more mobile without a metre of plastic pipe sticking out of my ribs. It's nice to feel like myself again.

I've also managed to get a bra on and, even allowing for swelling and the need for further inflation, there is already a pretty good balance between the sides with my clothes on.

So all in all, I've got every reason to feel chipper - and Mr P. and I will be receiving visitors from this evening. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone. :-)

Thursday 6 September 2012

Home sweet home

Well, Mr P's home anyway. I was so ill at the hospital yesterday afternoon, that I decided to get myself discharged!

I know that seems a strange move but hospital wards, with their 24- hour 'comings and goings', are just not conducive to any kind of rest. I was completely and utterly exhausted and clearly suffering from the DTs post anaesthetic. Physical shakes, fainting and vomiting all left me feeling absolutely dreadful, when all I wanted was some peace and quiet and a little uninterrupted sleep.

I could tell the nurses weren't sure about me leaving because my blood pressure kept falling but, after giving me an ECG and making me promise to drink loads of water, they did let me go at about 7pm.

I was so shattered that I could barely keep my eyes open in the cab and, the minute we got in, I lay down and fell fast asleep for several hours.

Mr P. was so relieved. It has been very hard for him to watch me in so much pain and distress but today I am feeling MUCH better. I'm still very sore but am alert and mobile and have managed to eat some breakfast. Things are looking positive.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Well, I guess that's that ...

After a prompt entry to theatre at 8.30 yesterday morning, I am now recovering on the Ellis Ward at The Royal Marsden.

And very nice it is too! Beautifully decorated with feature walls, individual digital TVs suspended over each bed - it's not like any NHS ward that I've ever visited before. And don't get me started on the food; roast beef, rhubarb crumble ... I'm going to go home twice the size! (Mr P. has already serenaded me with a chorus of 'My girl muffin-top')

As for me, I'm very sore and bruised - both around the wound site and in the surrounding stomach and back muscles. They obviously had me contorted into some very 'challenging' positions during surgery.

I've also got a surgical drain attached, so am constantly carrying a little beaker of blood around with me. (Not nice). That will stay attached for up to five days, or until I lose less than 50ml a day, so it looks like I will need to go home with it.

I was asked if I wanted to leave this morning but I said that I'd rather wait until I was feeling a bit more comfortable and able to get up and about - which, in fairness, I now am - so I will go home with Mr P. tomorrow.

Much of my caution was due to a rather bad episode that I had last night. I'd had a lovely evening with some friends who came to visit but, on trying to use the bathroom before bed, had the most excruciating bout of stabbing pains in my chest and back. I've never experienced anything like it. Fortunately Mr P. was with me and was able to call a nurse, who gave me some morphine.

I am on regular painkillers too and antibiotics to prevent infection around the implant and drain. So, fingers crossed, we can keep anything too nasty or painful at bay.

It will be nice to get home and get some sleep without the incessant drone of air conditioning units or the bleep of blood pressure gauges. Last night, at around midnight, I managed to lower my bed and inadvertently pull my emergency call lead out of the wall: cue pulsating klaxon and red flashing ceiling light! I was so embarrassed. Then at 2am, I woke up to see a dark figure looming over me and gave a little shriek. Turned out it was a nurse trying to take my blood pressure but I still felt a bit of a plum ...

Anyway, today I am feeling much more confident in my movement and about the operation generally. While my chest is far from balanced, I'm certainly not flat. Some of that is swelling but it won't be too long before I am fully 'inflated'. It's the first stage of a much longer process but at least we're underway.

Monday 3 September 2012

Second time, lucky

This time tomorrow and I’m hoping to have (finally) seen the back of what is left of my tumour.

It’s a morning operation with pretty much the same preparation as my lumpectomy, eight weeks ago; no food after midnight, no water after 6 am and arrival at the hospital by 7.30 am. Unlike the lumpectomy however, I will be staying in – at least for one night but maybe for up to three.

Consequently, I’ve had a busy day: cooking and cleaning my flat because I know I won’t be able to do much post surgery and packing my bag(s) for my hospital stay and subsequent recovery at Mr. P’s.

In fact, I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. Since coming back from Italy two weeks ago, I’ve had so many hospital appointments that I’ve really lost track of what tests I’ve had where but, suffice to say, that I know I’ve had blood taken and surgical swabs up stuck up my nose at nearly every hospital in west London.

Last week, I also had to have an ECG – the first one I’ve had since before my chemotherapy started back in February. (ECG’s are a strange thing; a bit like being wired up with jump leads). But apart from having low-ish blood pressure and a mild skin infection (now treated) – they’ve declared me fit for surgery.

It does feel weird, as I look down at my chest, to think that my boob (including nipple) will soon be gone. But, as Mr P. and others remind me, it’s just the ‘filling’ they’re taking away – and with it cancer too.

However, I will still shed a tear for my errant boob even though it’s caused me nothing but trouble for the last eight months.

So, so long ‘righty’. It’s been emotional ...

Wednesday 29 August 2012

A year in the life

Believe it or not, Mr P. and I have been going out together a year today.

A lot has happened in the last twelve months. We’d been friends for a couple of years and he’d supported me through some difficult times but neither of us could have begun to imagine where 2012 was going to take us.

We’d only been together for three months when he told me he thought I had a lump on my chest. (He’d actually spotted it a few weeks earlier but wasn’t sure how to tell me). Anyway, being my usual pre-occupied self – I nodded, said I’d phone the doctor, and then promptly forgot about it.

Fortunately, some weeks later and just before Christmas, he mentioned it again – more forcibly. I genuinely had completely forgotten. It wasn’t an avoidance tactic on my part, I really hadn't been that worried. But, to keep him happy, I did phone and make an appointment.

And thank God, I did. If he hadn’t prompted me to go, I really have no idea how long it would have been before (a) I noticed, and (b) I actually did something about it ... it’s a very scary thought!

But, the fact is, he did notice. And I am getting treatment. And here we are, twelve months later, having survived probably one of the most tumultuous first years to a relationship that you could throw at anyone.

Don't get me wrong, it has been bloody hairy at times as we've veered from one emotional watershed to another. It's put a strain on both of us in so many ways.

He genuinely has seen me ‘warts and all’: at my most distressed and vulnerable and – unsurprisingly to anyone who knows me well – my most cantankerous. We’ve laughed together, cried together and absolutely everything in-between. He’s a very special person.

So, Happy Anniversary, Mr P. Here's looking forward to another twelve months: may they be healthier, happier and much less eventful.

Friday 24 August 2012

That was the week that was ...

Blimey. It was all a bit hectic but we've started to make progress on a number of fronts.

In particular, I had an assessment with a clinical psychologist at the 'Marsden with a view to securing some ongoing support post-mastectomy. It was certainly very useful and did help me to realise that there are still a lot of residual issues that I wouldn't necessarily address in the course of conversation with my friends - as brilliant and as supportive as you all are! So I have got a second appointment booked for mid. September.

I also went to Queen Charlotte & Chelsea Hospital to talk about what long term damage chemo treatment may or may not have been done to my fertility, and what my options might be. I've got to have a number of tests but, again, at least things are moving forward.

And on that note, can I just have a little rant about the ridiculous naming conventions of London hospitals and why they're never based where you think they will be. Charing Cross Hospital? Yep, not central London - Hammersmith! Hammersmith Hospital? Acton. Queen Charlotte & Chelsea. Also Acton (right next to Hammersmith Hospital). Completely daft.

One of the few places that is where you'd expect, but not a hospital where I have (yet!) received cancer treatment, is West Middlesex Hospital in Isleworth. However it is the home of the Mulberry Centre where I attended a mastectomy underwear workshop. It was very useful to see what was available on the market and get myself properly measured, and talk to a few ladies who had been through the mastectomy process.

All of which stood me in good stead for meeting with my breast cancer nurse to look at some post-op pictures and to see/feel some implants. Mr P. seemed particularly keen on this aspect of the meeting and was caught fondling the implants very attentively while I discussed the finer details of the reconstructive process ...

And now, looking forward to the Bank Holiday, we're taking full advantage of the BMI hospitality lounge at Heathrow and waiting for our flight to Edinburgh. Eleven of us are off to the Festival to celebrate our good friend June's 40th birthday. I think it could get messy.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

The countdown begins ... again!

Two weeks today and I will be having my second, and hopefully last, operation. The mastectomy reconstruction will take several procedures over the next few months but, in surgical terms, this is the ‘big’ one.

I’m much more comfortable with the whole idea now, having had a few weeks for the news to sink in. I’ll see my breast care nurse tomorrow to discuss the process a bit more fully and I’m off to a workshop today at the Mulberry Centre to speak to a company specialising in mastectomy underwear. It will be useful to get an understanding of what I might need and what is available.

My renewed positivity and practical frame of mind is due, in no small part, to having just come back from a week in Italy. Mr P. and I had a wonderful time staying with his friends in Locorotondo – so special love and thanks to Joe and Pamy (and the rest of the extended Maggi and Sanders families) for making me feel so very welcome.

I’ve also finally stopped wearing my wig and scarves. It’s been very liberating and the first time my scalp has been ‘al fresco’ since early March. My hair still needs to thicken up a little bit but I am now sporting a ‘grade 4’ crop reminiscent of Annie Lennox circa 1983. My eyelashes and eyebrows are coming back too, so it’s all good.

In addition, I’m being pre-assessed this week for counselling at the Royal Marsden. It’s a bit of an odd one because, right at the moment, I feel fine. However I have no idea how I’m going to feel after my operation so want to stay in the system and get some support ready, should I need it. After all, as with all things on the NHS, there will be a waiting list.

Lastly, also this week, I am finally going to speak to someone about the fertility tests/options that I should have had back in February. Post-chemo, it may well be a case of ‘shutting the stable door’ but it would be good to get some clarity either way.

So all in all, it’s going to be a busy few days.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Next steps

OK, it’s actually happening. I will have a mastectomy of my right breast on Tuesday 4 September during which I will also undergo the first stage of an implant reconstruction.

I had hoped that my surgeon might go for a one-stage process but this isn’t the case. Instead, because of my slim build (grrr!) I will need to have several procedures over the course of another three to six months.

After removing the breast tissue, my surgeon has decided to insert a tissue-expander which will be partially injected with saline and topped up over the course of 6 weeks. This will stretch the pectoral muscle and prepare it for the insertion of a full implant.

The expander will stay in place for about three months and then either it will have some fat injected into the skin around it and left for another few months or have the implant inserted.

Now you might be wondering how a tissue-expander is, well, expanded? It has a valve. Seriously. Not on the outside, thank God – I won’t look like a lilo – but on the inside, under the skin, that they inject the saline into. The expander is like a little plastic bag that they slowly inflate. (And it can pucker and wrinkle like a plastic bag too!)

Consequently it does seem that I will have some months of lop-sided boobs to look forward to but this does seem to be the best way to ensure a good long-term result. Ultimately, I will also need some implant surgery on my other breast - or ‘lefty’ as Mr P. likes to call it - to match the raised effect of the reconstruction.

It is a somewhat drawn out process but I’ve come to expect that now. The important thing is to take the time to get the balance right. On the plus-side, the surgeons seem doubtful that I’ll need to have radiotherapy after the mastectomy – but I’m not counting my chickens just yet!

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Plan B

I worked out today that it's 28 weeks since I was first diagnosed. Sadly cancer still hasn't f*cked off but at least we do have the secondary option of mastectomy.

I'm certainly now feeling much more 'practical' about it all and that things are finally moving forward again. That wasn't the case a few weeks ago. In fact, I was very frustrated. Knowing that I had a big decision to make but not having any access to the information or people that could help me make that choice was very distressing.

In particular, I was very disappointed with my breast care nurses not picking up the phone or returning calls. This was not the support that I had been led to expect. I was left feeling very let down and cast adrift at what is a very uncertain and upsetting time.

Basically, I was told on 20th July that there were two main mastectomy options: a DIEP flap, that is, one using your own tissue (usually from your stomach, like a tummy tuck); or an implant (of which there are various sorts).

However trying to find out more detail about both, while not knowing if I was even eligible for the DIEP or when someone would tell me, was excruciating.

Anyway, I eventually got to see a plastic surgeon to discuss a DIEP on 1 August. I say eventually because I had to chase for the appointment and then the surgeon was an hour late despite our appointment being the first of the morning!

And then, not a sniff of an apology ...

Well, Mr P. wasn't having that! He'd already collared the breast care nurse about her poor response and wasn't going to let a tardy Harley Street specialist off scott free. The bloke looked visibly shocked to be asked so directly 'So, what was the hold up?' and, coupled with a firm handshake and a hard stare from an imposing Mr P., was left so unsettled and shaken that he had to leave the room to compose himself. Awkward!

But also quite right too. There hadn't been any appointments before ours but instead of being there at 9am at the start of the clinic, as we were, he turned up at 10am. We know, because we heard the receptionist say so. And I know these things happen but to not even apologise or acknowledge the fact that he was an hour late arriving at clinic was pretty outrageous.

Anyway, ticking off over - the meeting was quite productive. I've decided, on the plastic surgeon's recommendation, to have an implant - which may, or may not be permanent.

He thinks that I might just have enough tissue on my stomach to do a tissue reconstruction but - given that I may yet need radiotherapy and radiotherapy can shrink the new breast tissue - they think it best to save my tummy for now, given that I don't have 'surplus'!

However, I can still have the tissue reconstruction at a later date, should I want one. It could even be years from now (as implants do need to be replaced). Obviously both types of reconstruction have benefits and risks - and a failure rate of about 1%. But at least I have some flexibility should I need it.

So, I won't be seeing the plastic surgeon again - which I think he's probably quite relieved about! Instead my implant will be done by my original breast surgeon Mr Gui who is, apparently, an expert in this type of reconstruction.

And we shall see him tomorrow to discuss the next steps which should, hopefully, include an operation date. My appointment is a 10.45am but I think I might take the precaution of packing some sandwiches ... ;-)

Thursday 26 July 2012

Scream if you want to go faster

I was woken up yesterday by Simon Le Bon trilling in my ear: "I'm on a ride and I want to get off. But they won't slow down the roundabout." You're not wrong, mate.

I hate fairgrounds at the best of times but this last seven months has felt like being on one long roller coaster.

Anyway, we jump on again next Wednesday when I see the Plastic Surgeon. He/she will take me through the different mastectomy options, and their respective pros and cons, and then I need to decide what I want to do.

In the meantime, people have been keeping me distracted - inviting me out or popping round - I really am so lucky to have so many brilliant and supportive friends.

Mr P. and I even went to see the Olympic torch on Tuesday as it came through Ealing. I'm glad I went and survived the inevitable ill-tempered scrum to take photos, but part of me still feels a bit 'bah humbug' about it all.

However we, or rather Mr P., do have tickets to the quarter and semi finals of the men's football at Wembley. I will go to one match with him and Mrs P. (his Mum, not a secret wife!) will go to the other.

Maybe I'll finally have caught Olympic fever by then ... So let the games begin!


Tuesday 24 July 2012

It's good to talk

After the drama of Saturday evening, things have been subdued.

On the plus side, Mr P. is still speaking to me but it has highlighted that we both need some kind of external emotional outlet that meets our different expectations.

For his part, I know he needs to feel that things will at some point improve. It’s emotionally draining for him to shoulder the burden of supporting me while also being crushed time after time with bad news. He has his own personal challenges and disappointments to face, quite aside from my issues.

Consequently he gets frustrated with me mithering on about my lack of hair and the ongoing side-effects and treatments because, to him, a lot of this is transitory.

But for me, it isn’t. Even when treatment is finished, I know that this experience will be far from over. I will have to live with the physical and emotional effects for the rest of my life. Not to mention the spectre of cancer coming back.

So, yes, I do moan about my cosmetic appearance and want my hair and eyelashes to come back, because I am impatient and I at least want to feel myself on the outside – even if I can’t on the inside.

But I also understand that by me constantly fixating on these superficial things, Mr P. thinks I’m being pessimistic and negative. It’s wearing for him, not to mention relentlessly depressing.

Of course, these things are just window dressing and what I really want to be able to say freely is “I’m scared. I might die. I’m only 39 and yet, I’m bald, barren (probably) and soon to be boobless ... so please don’t tell me my glass is always half-empty. I don’t even feel like I’ve got a glass. And when I do, someone comes along and knocks it out of my hand.”

In many ways, it’s like I'm back to square one - I just feel so frustrated by the situation. My lymph nodes seem clear, so had I had a mastectomy in February then I might not have needed chemo. Or at the very least we would have had time to explore the fertility options beforehand. I feel cheated and let down.

So in essence, what I’m feeling is grief – for what I’ve already lost, and what I am still yet to lose.

And that being the case, I’ve decided to seek some counselling. After phoning Macmillan Cancer Support yesterday, they gave me the details of the Mulberry Centre in Isleworth which I have visited today. Like Maggie’s Centre in Hammersmith they have a range of support services for those living with cancer (and their carers) and I have registered to get on the waiting list for someone to talk to. Hopefully I will able to see someone before the end of August.

In the meantime, I will also try to make use of some of their other group activities and talk to other people in the same position. I think it will do me good - and hopefully, in turn, Mr P. too.

Sunday 22 July 2012

What Katie did next

The strain of putting a brave face on things finally broke me yesterday, in quite spectacular fashion.

Mr P. is very upset with me. He's a proud man and my very public and volatile meltdown was almost entirely directed at him. I was out of order.

But the fact is I am completely and utterly terrified. It only really dawned on me last night when someone asked: "So, what do they do if they still find cancerous cells after the mastectomy?" Er. I don't know. I'm not sure there is anything else.

Having emotive conversations like that when you've had a few drinks is never a good idea. Cancer has become my sword of Damocles, constantly hanging over me but not always fully acknowledged.

And that was the nub of it yesterday. I just don't feel I've been able to fully express how scared I now am, for fear of upsetting the people closest to me, particularly when they don't want to accept that - even if they get rid of all the cells - cancer, and its effects, will now always be part of my life.

I'm not a negative person but I am realistic. While I will always try to make the best of things and continue to live my life as fully as I can, I can't hold up a pretence of blithe optimism just to keep other people happy. That's not fair on me.

The fact is that certain changes to my body caused by the chemotherapy cannot be reversed. And worse, for the time being at least, I've still got cancer.

So let's be honest: that sucks.

Saturday 21 July 2012

The race isn't over yet

Just when it looked like we were winning, it turns out that the final hurdle is much higher than we thought.

Sadly cancerous cells were found in the 'margins' of the tissues that were removed last week and, after some discussion with the surgical team, I will now need to prepare for a mastectomy (and reconstruction).

This definitely seems the most sensible option, as a further lumpectomy and partial reconstruction are just not feasible.

Obviously I'm gutted. I'm still recovering from the lumpectomy and coming to terms with a wide assortment of other long term chemo related issues, and now I need to prepare for what will be major, and life changing, surgery.

I spent most of yesterday feeling pretty shellshocked. It's not that I couldn't take it in - I had prepared myself for the worst - but I just really didn't want to have to think, or talk, about it until I have all the facts available to me.

And that probably won't happen for another week or so, as I need appointments to see both the Breast Cancer Nurse and the Plastic Surgeon, as well as my Consultant. There's a lot to consider.

For example, will they use fat from my own body or an implant? The first is more natural but will leave other major scars - and might not even be possible, given my slim frame.

In order for them to judge this, I had to have some photos taken. That was surreal. I don't really know what I was expecting but going down to the hospital basement and having my boobs and bum photographed by a man with a digital camera, was quite odd.

Obviously, Mr P. was with me. Indeed, I think he took the news of my impending surgery almost harder than me. He had been so looking forward to, and needing, a "win" that he just wasn't prepared for the alternative. It was a very difficult day for both of us.

In normal circumstances then, we would probably have stayed in last night. But, no!, Mr P. is only appearing in a play this weekend and so I wanted to support him.

I'm glad I did too as it was a great show. It certainly did me good to get out and, I know I'm biased, but I thought Mr P. was excellent. I'm very proud of him. In so many ways.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

On the mend

A week on from the operation and the bruising and swelling is going down. I’m still looking pretty battered but I have been able to remove the protective dressings.

I’ve got steri-strip over the two wounds though, so I haven’t seen the extent of things, but I’m absolutely staggered that they both look so small.

My tumour was very high on my breast, almost over the bone, so I’d fully expected a prominent and visible scar. However, that isn’t the case! They’re very discreet about these things these days and, instead, they actually cut round the nipple and go in under the skin. It all looks very neat and tidy.

I have another incision at the side under my arm. This was where they did the biopsy to test my lymph node. Because of its position, this one is actually far more uncomfortable than the lumpectomy and has made my armpit and the underside of my upper arm really hurt. I’ve got painkillers though, and stretches to do, so I’m hoping this improves soon.

In the meantime, I also need to wear (and sleep in) really comfortable bras. And by comfortable, yes, I do mean soft, padded and not that attractive. I didn’t actually own any non-underwired bras so, before the operation, Mr P. had to go out and buy me some. Bless him, it’s the first time he’s bought me underwear and I’m not sure it’s what either of us would have had in mind ...

And so now I’m just killing time until Friday, when I’ll find out if they think they got everything. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Goodbye and good riddance!

Yesterday, I finally saw the back of my tumour – at least, what was left of it!

It was an early start at the hospital but it was good to know that I was second in theatre and so wouldn’t be kept hanging around. By 8.30am, I had already seen the anaesthetist, the surgical team, signed my consent form and had things written and drawn on me in felt-tip pen. (See pic. below)
I then got sent for an ultrasound scan and a ‘localisation wire’. I had thought that this would be like the marker that had been inserted previously but, no, it really was a piece of wire.  A long piece inserted in my chest and left dangling in a 6 inch coil in front of my tit. I have no idea why it had to be so long and hang externally but there you go ...
They also had a little scribble on me in felt-tip pen and sent me for a mammogram. Now, mammograms aren’t that comfortable at the best of times but imagine having one with a piece of blood-covered wire sticking out your chest. It was an experience.
In the thick of all this, was Mr P. He watched as they inserted the wire, vociferously corrected them when they called him my ‘husband’(!) and then – bizarrely – helped the mammogram operator work the machine. He came away very pleased with himself.
By the time I got back to the ward and got my gown on, they had called me to theatre. This was the point when I started to shake.
Mr P. came down with me and wanted to stay as they put me to sleep but this wasn’t allowed. So as I lay on the trolley, I could feel my legs trembling. The anaesthetist was very nice though and after I explained (and he saw) how damaged my veins have been from the chemotherapy he inserted a small children’s cannula instead of the usual size. And that’s one of the last things I remember ...  
About 2.5 hours later, I woke up in recovery. I lay there for about an hour and then got wheeled back up to the ward where Mr P. and my lunch were waiting for me. I have never been so grateful for a ham sandwich and a cup of tea! In fact, I think I knocked back about four cups before being escorted, with wobbly anaesthetic legs, to the bathroom.
At this point, I still wasn’t sure the extent of the surgery. I knew that they were doing a biopsy of my lymph node but I had no idea if anything had been found and if they had taken more than one node. However, the ward nurses were able to confirm that it was good news: the lymph node tested contained no cancer. Either it had never spread or the chemo had seen it off.
This was such good news that Mr P. and I did get a bit emotional. Obviously, I can’t be sure that I’m out of the woods until next Friday (20th) when I’ll hear whether the ‘margins’ around the tissue taken were clear, but we’re remaining hopeful.
I have to say, that all the medical staff at the ‘Marsden were lovely. It’s obviously a really well-resourced hospital which I know isn’t the case for all NHS facilities. I knew I was in good hands.
And, as always, I’m really grateful to Mr P. for supporting me at every stage.  Even though he does get up to ridiculous mischief – like putting surgical socks on his head – it really does help to lighten the mood.
So for now, I’m back at his house where he’s taking very good care of me.  My chest is obviously very sore and swollen but not nearly as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. I’ve got exercises to do too, which I have started, and a substantial supply of painkillers.
It’s really just a case of resting and being patient. I’ll know the full picture soon enough, but it’s looking positive.
Not entirely sure why this was necessary ... ?!

Monday 9 July 2012

Get ready, get set ...

Blimey. Can't believe we're nearly there. Tomorrow I'll finally have my operation.

I'm really very nervous. I've never had an operation before but the hospital has provided a lot of information to prepare me.

On Friday, Mr P. and I went for a 'pre-surgery assessment'. I had some blood taken, had my weight and height measured and met with the physiotherapist who gave me lots of information and exercises to get the strength back in my pectoral and shoulder muscle post op.

We also saw the 'day ward' where I'll be for much of tomorrow. That is, before and after having a 'marker' put in my chest - yes, another one! - and being sent off for surgery. And, of course, while we waited for the nurse, Mr P. was up to his old tricks; rummaging under the bed for latex gloves and performing a Marcel Marceau mime routine behind the curtain ...

Then today, we were back for the dye injection. It's not really dye at all but a clear radioactive fluid that they inject into the lymphatic system to allow them to x-ray and see which lymph nodes they want to test. So, apart from a sharp needle in the nipple and having to lie still for 15 minutes, it was quite straightforward. I've had so many painful procedures and scans that it felt pretty routine.

From there, my boob and I were free to go. Free to have its last supper (by 12 midnight) and its last drink (by 6.30am). We've got to be at the hospital at 7.30am, so it's an early start. It's a day procedure so I'll be prepped and chipped by 10am and hopefully operated on by lunchtime.

Because it's general anaesthetic though, I'm not allowed to leave on my own and must be supervised for 24 hours by a 'responsible' adult ... I'm not sure I know many of those, so Mr P. please step forward! ;-)

Thursday 5 July 2012

The write stuff

Got a letter today from the ‘Marsden. It’s a copy of one that they’ve sent to my GP, which I requested as part of the (innovatively named) ‘Copying Letters to Patients’ initiative.

It’s always weird seeing the hospital letters; reading what someone else has said about you to another third party. The medical parlance can also be a bit confusing.

The one from Charing Cross last week though was pretty positive and said that my tumour reduction from chemotherapy represented ‘an excellent clinical response’.

The ‘Marsden letter was a follow on from that. It said that I had ‘responded well to primary chemotherapy’ and that there is no lump ‘where the tumour site was originally’. However, there are some ‘residual abnormal areas’, so these are the bits that will be chopped out and tested. (Along with any node tests/surgery that needs to be done)

It did unsettle me a bit seeing it all in writing; reading detailed information about ‘sentinel node biopsy’ and ‘axillary dissection’ and knowing that it was all about what they were going to do to me. I found myself getting a bit teary.

However, more upsetting was when I read the letter to Mr P. and happened to spot the summation of my case at the start of the letter:

Feb. 2012
3.3cm mass upper inner right breast (diagnosed at Ealing Hospital), small breast

Small breast?  SMALL BREAST? Seriously, did that really need to part of my official clinical diagnosis?! Talk about adding insult to injury.

Anyway, my ‘small breast’ and I are going to the hospital tomorrow for its pre-op assessment – blood test, ECG etc and to find out more about what happens next week.

I’m also going to give some extra blood – I’m nice like that – for a clinical research trial that they’re currently undertaking. It won’t necessarily benefit me and won’t affect my treatment but if the results do show up any significant genetic factors, then I think I will get told.

Either way, I think I should help out if I can.  It’s vital for them to keep investigating and testing, so that new and even better treatments can be found.

Which is why events like 'Race for Life' are so important - that I know many of you have completed, or are currently training to take part in. All that fundraising will help Cancer Research and others to develop clinical tests and trials like this one.

So well done, all of you. And good luck!

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Not long now!

A week today and I’ll (hopefully) have had my operation.

It’s been a long time coming and, much as I’m desperate for it to actually happen, I’ve realised that I’m starting to get quite apprehensive.

Weirdly, I’ve also lost a bit of hair. I thought all that had finished but woke up two days ago to find quite a lot of ‘chemo’ hair on my pillow.

You can always tell when it’s chemo-related hair loss because the ends of the strand (i.e. from the follicles) look black and burnt. My finger nails have been quite damaged too but, like the hair, they seem to be recovering and will grow back in due course.

Because ... as of today, chemo is officially FINISHED! *Whoop!* So it was good to be able to mark the occasion, as well as my birthday, on Saturday.

My twin sister came down from Hereford to join the celebrations, as did many of our friends and relatives from across London and much further afield. It was a really great night.

Special thanks, as always, must go to Mr. P. I felt thoroughly spoilt all day: presents, cooked breakfast, nice restaurant lunch, champagne in the garden ...  And then, of course, there were all the fabulous gifts, flowers and baking from my friends! I really was very touched.

So thank you, everyone. You made me, and my sister, feel very special. x

Wonderful friends and wonderful cakes* ... provided by Neil, Diana and Angela (Starlight Cake Design).
*Not forgetting Craig's delicious muffins. Not pictured. ;-)

Me and my lovely Mr P.

Thursday 28 June 2012

What the world doesn't see ...

I'd like to think that, generally speaking, I'm a quite positive person. More of a realist than an optimist but I do try to make the best of things.

But I also have my down days; my introspective, tear-filled, sad days. Fortunately they’re not very often but they’re there all the same.

Normally though, it’s just Mr P. that sees me like that. And that’s deliberate. I don’t want people to feel bad for me, or sorry for me, because I’m really not unique in what I’m experiencing.

However, that doesn’t make it less difficult. As a woman, it’s very hard to have every aspect of your femininity, and how you view yourself, taken away. Everything from your short-term cosmetic appearance - your hair, eyebrows and eyelashes – through to the possible permanent loss of your breast(s) and fertility.

I’ve deliberately only taken one photo of me without my hair and that was before I lost my eyebrows and lashes. I know I’ll never forget how I look but I don’t need or want a photographic reminder. In fact, apart from Mr P., only my Mum has seen me in a full state of unadorned baldness.

However, that stage is passing. I do now have hair growing on my head and I’m really hoping that it won’t be long before I can go wig and scarf free. And not before time! The chemo-induced hot flushes are doing me in.

Honestly, I would kill for a good night’s sleep right now. Every night I sleep in one hour bursts, alternately waking up in sweats or chills as I throw off the duvet or pull it back up in some kind of cruel nocturnal Hokey-Cokey.

But through it all, I have never once thought ‘Why me?’

After all, ‘Why not me?’ If 1 in 8 UK women are going to get hit with breast cancer, then sadly some of us will need to bite that bullet. And all that it brings ...

Tuesday 26 June 2012

A week of two halves

The end of last week felt a bit crap: inconclusive meeting with my surgeon, dreadful joint and muscle pain, and don’t get me started on the England football team ...

Today though, I’m feeling good. Much perkier.

I’m finally starting to remember what it feels like to feel normal. To know that I don’t have any more chemo and actually have the physical and mental energy to get jobs done.

So I’ve been a busy bunny: getting things sorted at home, meeting up with friends and – shocker! – doing some exercise.

Mr P. and I also had a lovely little weekend break, which I’d booked months ago to mark the end of chemo. (I do LOVE a Groupon!) It was nice to get away, albeit just overnight.

In fact, it was a very English weekend: nice dinner and stay in a village coaching inn, full cooked brekkie followed by a little walk in the countryside. (I know anyone that knows Mr P. will find that hard to believe!)

We even clambered up a very steep hill to look at windmill. (Seriously) But not just any windmill. Oh no. Only the windmill from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. Impressed? I thought so. ;-)

From there we set off to a local vineyard and brewery where we got to sample what is allegedly Prince Philip’s favourite tipple, Old Luxtors Gold Ale. Apparently the old goat likes to drink a bottle every day ... although I don't think that's how he ended up in hospital!

So lastly, after getting tipsy on real ale and damson vodka, we finished in Windsor for roast beef sandwiches at The Alma, the lovely little pub owned by Mr P’s friends. (Actually, that wasn’t the end of the day – we watched the England v. Italy game. But less said ... )

In short, normality is returning. I’m not in discomfort anymore, my hair is growing back and I’ve got lots of things to look forward to in the next two weeks before my operation, including lots of nice meals and watching some very talented friends perform on stage.

Most notable though, is my birthday / ‘Cancer can f*ck off’ drinks on Saturday. I’m very excited about this. It’s not a ‘big’ birthday (not yet!) but it does provide an opportunity to get everyone together that has supported me thus far on this journey. And that’s a lot of people!

We're going to a have a proper good English ‘knees-up’.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

And we’re off!

Well, almost. Saw my surgeon at The Royal Marsden today and it’s been confirmed that I will have a lumpectomy and lymph node biopsy on Tuesday 10 July.

In the meantime, I’ll need to have a pre-surgery assessment (bloods, ECG etc.) on 6th July and a radioactive dye injected on the 9th.

However ... the surgeon was also keen for me to understand that there is still a 10% (ish) chance that I might need a second operation (i.e. a mastectomy).

Basically, the problem with having chemo before surgery is that, while it can shrink the tumour and show which drugs are effective, any dispersal of the tumour can be uneven and patchy and make it difficult to see - and therefore completely remove. 

So I won’t know until Friday 20 July, when I get the results of the pathology report (i.e. the assessment of the cells removed), whether or not I’ll have to go back and have my entire breast removed. I can see that being an agonising 10 day wait ...

I really don’t know how I feel about all this. I had rather hoped that the operation would bring me some sense of completion or closure but now I realise that it might just be a holding position for something far more drastic. It’s all very daunting. I feel like I’m in limbo (again!)

Added to which, I’m also still very uncomfortable from last week’s chemo. My Mum has lent me a walking stick but I’m finding it very, very difficult to get around and that, coupled with the increasingly frequent hot flushes that I’m getting, resulted in more than a few tears as I limped to and from South Kensington today!

Fortunately, the long-suffering Mr P. was with me. Holding my handbag as I tottered unsteadily along and giving me cuddles each time I started to cry. (Most notably in Outpatients when, after limping for twenty minutes to get there, I was told that I’d been in the right place to start with!)

Anyway, we are where we are. And I’m now at home resting my legs and Mr P. has gone to Royal Ascot.  I’m glad he still managed to make it, despite our protracted hospital visit, and I fully expect him to feel very unwell tomorrow! 

I even asked him to put on a few little bets for me, including one on the ironically named ‘Rebellious Guest’.  Appropriately, however in hindsight, it didn't win ...  J

Sunday 17 June 2012

Thank you!

In spite of everything that I’ve been through during the last few months, I really do feel so incredibly lucky.

I have been truly overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received. Both from friends and family, as well as people that I barely know – or have never met!  It’s been amazing.

Leading the charge though has always been Mr P. and this weekend he surpassed himself, rallying a full-on ‘Ground Force’ style team to come and blitz my overgrown garden.

Armed with strimmers, pick-axes and saws they came; digging out concrete, chopping down trees and generally weeding for England ... while I just looked on in awe, proffering tea and biscuits. It was a truly fantastic effort.

So please can I say an ENORMOUS thank you to everyone who so generously gave up their time to help: to Barry, Neil, Roger, Diana, Rachel and Craig ... but mostly to my wonderful Martin (Mr P.) who I have NEVER seen work so hard!

Thursday 14 June 2012

Where's it gone?!

My tumour is now so small that they can't even find it with a scanner!

We visited The Royal Marsden's 'Rapid Diagnostic Unit' today. It's very posh, like the rest of the hospital, and not all like any other NHS facility I've visited.

They looked at my chest and armpit with an ultrasound and, despite finding the 'marker' and what looked like scar tissue, there was no clear tumour to be seen. Hurrah!

Obviously this is brilliant news, especially as the final chemo won't even have taken effect yet. So we'll speak to the surgeon next week and get the plan of action, but it all seems to be boding very well.

In fact, I was so overwhelmed, I went back to the changing room and burst into tears. But good ones for a change. :-)

Wednesday 13 June 2012

So that’s that. Next!

Today was my sixth and final chemotherapy session. Although, instead of being a high point it did feel like a bit of an anti-climax.

Don’t get me wrong, the chemo ward nurses and particularly the receptionist Stephen are all very nice. Apart from one bad experience on my second visit, when the nurse botched the cannula, it’s all been pretty straightforward.

Interestingly, it was the nurse from our second visit that administered my treatment today. Mr P. wasn’t happy about that but, in contrast to our last encounter, she was sweetness and light and even laughed at his jokes - so I think she was forgiven.

And they all wished me luck as I left (and gave them a box of chocolates in appreciation of their efforts) but I didn’t really feel any sense of completion or closure. I guess because I know there’s still more, albeit different and less gruelling, treatments to come.

It was a shame too, that I didn’t get to see my regular (the senior) Oncologist yesterday. Instead we saw one of the Registrars who, if I’m honest, we didn’t really like. Apart from being quite arrogant, he obviously didn’t know me or my case, talked over me a lot when I was trying to ask questions, and then didn’t want to measure my tumour because I’m being scanned at the ‘Marsden tomorrow.

Nevertheless, I did insist: ‘I’d like a measurement anyway, please!’ And then discovered that the real reason was probably because he had to go and get a nurse to watch him do it. Not sure why. Then he couldn’t find the tumour anyway!

However, this is probably a good thing. If, even in his less experienced hands, it’s not obvious where the tumour boundaries are then it must have shrunk a bit more. I’m hoping to under 1cm which, with one treatment still to take effect, does bode well for ‘breast conservation’ – i.e. a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy. It had been considered borderline before.

So it is good news, of sorts. I’ll be off to the ‘Marsden tomorrow for an ultra-sound scan, so hopefully things will be a bit more conclusive.

Which means that my treatment at Charing Cross is now at an end. As we waved farewell, I did take a moment to compose myself and then skipped out merrily to what I sincerely hope will be my last ever 'Chemo Conga' ... :-)