I’m not leaving the port, the port’s leaving me!

Cancer patients think in terms of milestones – or at least I did! Some are good milestones, some aren’t.

For example, finding out you have cancer is certainly a big milestone, but not a good one! Finishing one chemo regime? A good one. Starting another? Not a good one, but it is progress. Finishing treatment – great. The first clear scans will be great (that’s one that is still to come, so at least I still have something to worry about!).

Today’s milestone? I’m finally getting my port-a-cath out. It was put in the day before I started chemo (ouch!), and during treatment, I’ve been grateful to have it. It has spared my tender arms the ravages of chemo, which often trashes the veins. It’s not pretty, it’s not always comfortable, but it has been worthwhile.

What a port likes like on an x-ray

What a port likes like on an x-ray

Today, it comes out. I know the doctor would prefer to leave it in (probably forever!!), just “to be on the safe side”. I know what he means by that – in case the cancer comes back, it’s ready to go.

But I can’t and won’t live my life like that. I have to believe the treatment has worked, and that I have a long and healthy life ahead of me. That may not be true, and if that’s the case, I’ll deal with it. But for now, the new me says “no” to the port! Out ya’ come, baby!

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Welcome to letrozole

My last blog was really, really telling you the truth – I am done with active treatment! But as every cancer patient will tell you, the end is never the end.

Hair! And new baby granddaughter Ella!

Hair! And new baby granddaughter Ella!

My tumour was very strongly estrogen receptive (90%) and very strongly progesterone receptive (70%). They don’t yet know much about how progesterone affects everything, but generally, it’s considered a Good Thing to have, because it might prevent the undesirable effects of estrogen on cancer cells.

So as result of these findings, I’m on a hormone blocker for 5 years. The majority of breast cancer tumours are ‘estrogen receptive’, as they say, and the goal post-treatment is to prevent the estrogen in your body stimulating growth in any nasty cancer cells still lingering, to prevent a recurrence.

Of course, there should be no nasty cells, as I’ve had the strongest chemo and radiation possible – but then, you never know, so just in case…let’s get rid of that estrogen! Even after menopause, the body produces some estrogen. I didn’t know that, but now I do! It’s produced in body fat, and the fatter you are, the more estrogen is produced. (yet another good reason to watch your weight)

There are three types of hormone blocker drugs generally prescribed for ladies of a certain age, and I’ve been prescribed letrozole (aka Femara). It’s the type that cuts out the most estrogen production (about 99%). This is a Good Thing, but also a Bad Thing – we know that estrogen affects lady-type things like hair, skin, bones and even moods.

So Kenton is nervously anticipating a cranky new me – or will he notice the difference?

Radiation — complete!

Another step in my cancer journey has been completed! Radiation therapy, aka death ray treatment, is over and done with. Thank goodness it’s over, as by the end of the last, very targeted boost treatments, my skin was definitely beginning to suffer.

They treat you with just enough radiation to come in just below the point where skin breaks down — sounds lovely, doesn’t it? And you just know they found that point by trial and error, so pity the poor patients that were part of that trial group!

i had been feeling pretty smug about how well I was doing, but, of course, I eventually came undone by my own smugness! They had decided to also zap the lymph nodes in the chest, under the arm, and above and below the collarbone — the next places cancer cells would usually travel to, in other words. I was fine with that approach!

Ouch!

Ouch!

The skin around my collarbone reacted almost right away, I guess because the skin is thin, and there is very little fat. Anyway, after radiation was over, it just seemed to get worse and worse, and rashier, and more and more itchy! Yikes.

A week later, and after many applications of the lovely Sativa-mtex specialist cream, the skin is improving. Take a look at the photo, this was taken this morning, when the skin looked its best! Until all my skin has recovered, no sun for me, no easy feat in an Andalusian summer!

he terminado

…and to put it another way, in another language, that’s it, I’m done, no more!

Yup. (image from feedwire.com)

Yup. (image from feedwire.com)

Today was the last day of my ‘radiation therapy’, aka death ray delivery. I had an extra 3 days tagged on at the last minute, to deliver a last shot of the ol’ rays to the tumour area, so hopefully all those nasty cells are dead and buried.

My chemo finished about 6 weeks ago, and so finally, at long last, I feel I’m ready to get back to my life. It’s a life different to what went before, in so many ways. Never again can you take your body and health for granted, never again will you ignore symptoms in the hope they will just go away. Never again (probably) will your body work exactly as it did before, given the possibly life-long effects wreaked on it by chemo.

But hey, I’m still here, as I always say! I view this as a bit of a wake-up call: don’t get too smug with your life, don’t be afraid to tackle new challenges, figure out what is really important to you (you’ll be amazed at how few things really are that important).

I plan on hitting the ground running, alongside the warnings from doctor and husband about letting my body recover!

Prognosis? Well, I’ve looked at the stats. But as my husband has said, statistics are just compiled data, and really have nothing to do with you. If stats show you have a 0% or a 100% chance of survival, it makes no difference unless you are that 0% or 100% affected.

I did ask my doctor about prognosis, and he just smiled and said “bueno” — I think I’ll be happy with that.

That old friend called the blues

I was supposed to feel really cheerful today, with only one more radiation therapy session to go. That is, until we received the news on Wednesday that no, not true, I’d need a further three treatments, given as a boost dose.

Booosts are very common in radiotherapy, but when I had asked about needing a boost, I’d been told no, I didn’t need one. So imagine my shock and disappointment to hear three sessions before the end, that I would need a boost.

Now, I know things like recommendations and treatments can change. But the change had apparently been known since just after the tumour committee met some weeks ago, but due to a total department cock-up, no one told me about it.

Angry? You bet. And you can bet that I ripped the medical director and head of radiology a new one. But I’m sensible enough to know that my anger doesn’t justify ignoring their medical advice, so the boost will go ahead.

Sigh.

I’m hoping one day I will actually finish with treatment!

Half way through!

So pleased to announce that as of today, we are halfway through the radiation ‘therapy’ !! Happy days. It’s a bit of a bind to drive an hour there, have 15 minutes of treatment, then drive back, but nothing can be done about that, and it is supposed to make a big difference to survival, so complete the treatment I will!

photo courtesy of quotessays.com

photo courtesy of quotessays.com

I’m also happy to report that so far, my bits and pieces are holding up 🙂 pretty well. I get quite an achy and sore breast, chest and shoulder, and the skin above my collar bone is quite pink, but I seem to be avoiding the nastier skin effects – so far, at least!

To some readers, this may count as ‘too much information’, but here are the nuts and bolts. In addition to the breast area itself, all of the lymph nodes in the nearby area are being hit by the ole (sic) death rays. That includes the nodes under the arm, the nodes in the chest wall, and the ones above the collar bone. This is a reassuringly complete hit, as I had 2 out of 5 of the sentinel nodes positive for cancer – so better safe than sorry. Hence the rather achy chest!

I’m glad I’m having this done before the weather gets too hot, as getting a bit hot and sweaty isn’t that fun at the best of times, right? And I can’t get into the pool for weeks afterward, but hopefully that will leave me August to enjoy it.

The good news? I have hair on my head, about an inch long now! I’m still saying it’s coming in platinum blonde. The bad news? I also have hair on my legs now – would not have minded at all to have those stay away permanently! Soon, I’m hoping to have hair on my arms again, as well as eyebrows and eyelashes – the complete woman again, one might say!

Radiation therapy begins soon

I like that term, “radiation therapy”. I like to think of it as “the treatment formerly known as a death ray machine”! It seems odd to me, this breast cancer treatment. It is so barbaric, to my mind – chemo so deadly that it must be calculated to your weight every week, followed by radiation given right up to (but hopefully not exceeding) the amount that will cause permanent breakdown of your skin.

Death Ray machine, not really the machine used on me! (photo from comicvine.com)

Death Ray machine, not really the machine used on me! (photo from comicvine.com)

Sound nice? Well it’s not, but it is what we have at the moment, so it will just have to do. I continually read of cancer research that is “almost there”, or “promising”, but I tend to think that it will benefit the next generation, not mine. Sigh.

Anyhoo, I had my planning CT the other day, as my “therapy” is due to start next week. A lovely young man came out to the waiting room to fetch me, then took me into the CT room to disrobe.

So there’s me, putting on one of those lovely paper gowns, then dramatically pulling open the cubicle curtain. Tada!

“Nooooo”, he says, “you can’t wear a gown, your top half has to be bare.”

Well, I knew that, I just kinda thought I’d be allowed to walk across the room in that bloody gown, maintaining some sort of dignity! 🙂 But no, this is Spain, where the stereotypical Anglo Saxon sense of embarrassment is just not understood!

OK, I can do this. I walk with (imagined) dignity across to the table, with the nice young man looking on approvingly – at my compliance, no doubt, not on the state of my naked body! 🙂

I lay down on the (cold) table, and put my knees over the leg rest. Nice Young Man then puts my arms in a kind of stirrup-like arrangement, and tells me to grip the hand grips above them. He moves me around a bit until he’s happy with the position.

Are you comfortable?

he asks kindly.

This is the position you will be in for each treatment, so it’s important that you are comfortable.

Note to radiologists: if it’s important to be comfortable, design a comfortable table! I found the question hilarious, but the technician is too serious to share my joke.

He then marks my skin with a pen, and gives me 4 small dot tattoos. I guess this is to get the positioning of the machine correct, so the death rays can hit the target. I’d like to ask for tiny little dolphin tattoos, but I suggest that my serious chap won’t find that funny, so I remain schtum.

There,

says Nice Young Man

I will now clean your breasts

OK then! Finally something nice. However, unlike the warm wash with a cloth that I had imagined, I receive a cold wipe with an antiseptic solution. Sigh.

Next up is the back-and-forth bit through the CT machine. I don’t like this part, as I don’t like small spaces, but if I close my eyes, it’s ok.

Roll on, “radiation therapy”, I’m ready for you!