Over the last few weeks I have met up with quite a few people who I haven’t seen for quite some time. For no particular reason, life got in the way and our paths just stopped crossing. I always love meeting up with old friends and colleagues and reminiscing is one of my very favourite things to do. Naturally, at the moment trying to summarise my recent history it’s impossible to avoid a cancer summary. Every time I talk through the first diagnosis, the surgery, the radiotherapy, the secondary diagnosis, the testing phase hell, the radiotherapy again, the bones, the liver, the treatment blah blah blah I find myself shocked all over again.
All this reminiscing reminded me that last year I wrote some other words that I haven’t thought to share here. You may have seen them previously if we are Facebook friends. So for this blog we are going back in time and I will post below the three “micro blogs” or “bloglets” if you will, that I wrote during 2017, when, amongst other things, I thought I could and would kick cancer in the head, and ultimately thought I had. It’s strange how wrong you can be.
Mid March 2017 ~ The Diagnosis
I have been given a reason not to rant about Trump or fret about Brexit, for that I am grateful, for the rest, I am not.
Before Christmas I found a lump in my breast. Christmas was busy, so was January, it was the last day of January that I had an appointment with my GP. Almost certainly nothing to worry about was the verdict, but better be safe so he got me an appointment 10 days later at the breast clinic. I took myself to the clinic that morning concerned that I was missing something important at work. 3 hours later having been poked, mammogramed, ultra-sounded, and biopsied I was told it would be a week before the results. I had already been assigned a Macmillan nurse and told to prepare myself.
7 weeks ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Grade 2 invasive ductal cancer, to be precise. 5 weeks ago I had surgery to remove the lump and 3 lymph nodes removed. 4 weeks ago I was told the surgery had completely removed all cancerous cells and that the lymph nodes were tumour free. I now know that my tumour (20.7mm) was oestrogen receptive so I will have hormone therapy indefinitely and radio therapy any time now. Despite 4 different tests on the biopsies and the tumour itself it is resolutely “borderline”, so there is still uncertainty about whether it was protein receptive. This determines whether I will have chemo therapy prior to Herceptin treatment. My tumour is currently being analysed in California at genomic level as a final stage of trying to predict how to stop this happening again.
It’s very scary being told you have cancer. I never wanted to have to make that call to my parents. I am not thrilled that I now regularly have conversations with my Dad about bras and why my boob is still blue. My right boob will always be known as “the naughty boob”, thanks to my sister. I don’t have the words to thank my Ma for changing my dressings post-surgery without making me cry.
So whilst I wait for therapy, and before I become a FEEL YOUR BOOBS vigilante, here is all you need to know. As long as you have friends and family that tell you they love you and support you and take you to the pub frequently, it’s OK. I’m OK. I will be absolutely fine and am well on the way to being recovered. I have the best family and friends that have been by my side morning, noon and night. And this is all that matters.
62,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year. More than eight out of 10 survive breast cancer beyond 5 years. I will be one of them.
End of May 2017 ~ The Waiting
If such a thing were possible, I think I nearly forgot I had cancer.
I have been appalled whilst accepting of the reality that one of my very own body parts has gone off plan and caused such a trail of destruction. I have learnt to live with the fact that a very bad thing happened right under nose. Literally, right there below my chin. Quietly misbehaving whilst slowly but surely becoming the Naughty Boob.
The guidelines are that radiotherapy should start within 30 days of surgery. I am now in week 13 post surgery. My resolutely borderline tumour meant it took 9 weeks before they would rule out chemo. Just when I should have been good to go and get radiated, the Naughty Boob scar decided it was time to revolt. Oncologist No 2 refused to let me start therapy until this had healed again. But now, finally, I am on the eve of my first treatment or “fraction” as these things are apparently called. I will have 20 sessions over 4 weeks.
I have been told to expect to be tired and that Naughty Boob will get angry. Probably not half as angry as me, but red, sore, burnt. Livid.
So it was all the waiting that allowed me to make like everything was normal and the forgetting almost happened. During this post surgical blur I have been well and truly looked after. To every single person that sent me flowers, cards, turned up with tea and biscuits, cake, came walking with me, bought me wine and wiped my tears before they diluted my beer – I can’t thank you enough. I love you a lot.
As I start this month of treatment I know there will be more poking, zapping, reassuring smiles, concerned frowns and hospital gowns. This is not going to be the fun bit. I also know this is the home straight. After this it’s drugs and I’m done.
See you on the finishing line. Mine’s a dry white.
Mid August 2017 ~ 6 months, 5 minutes and about a million years
Six months ago this week I received the dreaded diagnosis. If you had told me at the beginning of the year what was about to happen I would have told you that I don’t have the strength, capacity or ability to cope with the concept of having cancer.
But guess what. You don’t get a choice.
A few years ago I was given a small plaque (thank you Louise) which hangs above my kettle and I look at it every morning. It’s an Eleanor Roosevelt quote and reads “A woman is like a teabag… you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water”. Since the early days of the diagnosis I have instructed myself to be positive, I never doubted the outcome, I only knew I had to put my trust in the people looking after me and get through the process. Let’s not pretend I found that easy but again, I didn’t get a choice. Being strong or otherwise wasn’t a choice it was a question of getting to the other side.
Six months feels like a good time to take stock, draw lines and move on. Six months that feels like about 5 minutes, and also about a million years.
The 20 days that I had radiotherapy, and the weeks that followed, were the low point. Quite apart from not being allowed to feel the sun, shave, use hairspray, use any scented soap, deodorant; the boob was livid. I was burnt and blistered and exhausted. Having to be in the same place every day at the same time forced me to slow down and give some consideration to what I was going through. I think it took this long for the reality of the diagnosis to hit me and when it did, it wasn’t great.
It’s taking me a while to recover emotionally and physically from the radiotherapy. But I have reached a few milestones in the last month. I MADE IT to Croatia for the wedding. I survived 3 days at a festival (might not be in the prescribed recovery plan). I went to a work conference and saw my team for the first time in 6 months.
I keep reading that the recovery only starts once the therapy, endless appointments and multiple pokings & prodings are over. So I am concentrating on looking after myself and very much looking forward to getting back to something approaching normal.
I am lucky to have so many people that have looked after me in so many ways to whom I am eternally grateful. If you reached out to me, please know that it mattered. I would have been very, very lost without you. The worst is over & I am on the up.
What have I learnt? I’m not sure I am ready to reflect yet, but in the meantime, for starters:
You must be kind to yourself and you ABSOLUTELY MUST feel your boobs (or someone else’s).
It is not easy for me to reflect on my writing last year. It feels a bit like an out of body experience and that girl is not quite who I am now. I like that I was so positive, so determined that I would beat it. So utterly convinced that fighting off a primary tumour was all I had to do. So utterly naive to the fact that the worst was not, in fact, over and that the battle had really only just begun.
These days I prefer to look forward and at the beginning of this year that became a really hard and scary thing to do. As the seasons change at this end of the year I can’t help but look forward to Spring. Winter is not really my kinda thing. Autumn is pretty good though, and I have loved some recent orangy walks.
Big Love, AG xx
My soul slides away
But don’t look back in anger
Don’t look back in anger
I heard you say
At least not today