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' ... :-)

Monday 11 June 2012

The home straight

So we’re nearly there. Tomorrow I visit my Oncologist for the last time and start the drugs for what, we sincerely hope, will be my final chemotherapy session.

You’d think that I’d be feeling chipper about this. And of course, to some degree, I am. However it’s been a tough couple of months and the thought of returning to treatment after an extended break is proving much harder than I thought.

Even though we’re so near the end, this has definitely been one of the worst cycles. Not physically, although the nausea did last into the third week, but mentally and emotionally.

I feel a bit like a London marathon runner who’s floundered at 23 miles. You know, the bit under Tower Bridge where they’re all limping with a teary but determined look in their eye.

I really just want it all to be over. To have my hair and eyelashes, to have a normal routine and to just have my self-confidence back.

In truth though, I know that some things will never be as they were and that the long-term effects of this treatment do mean that some doors - like having children - could well be firmly closed to me.

That’s not definite, I will need to ask for various tests, but I suspect from the way my body is now behaving that my options could be very limited. So it’s been an introspective few days.

Fortunately, however, I do have lovely, lovely friends who have been on a mission to cheer me up. In the last two days alone, I have been out to the pub, to a baby shower (brilliant fun) and to TWO West End shows!

And tonight, it’s England’s opening match against France in Euro 2012. Mr P and I are very excited and will be watching the game, like
Howard and Hilda, in our new (and matching) England shirts.

I hope Roy Hodgson and the boys don’t let us down.

Me and Mr P. in front of the telly ... ;-)