Update from the mountain

Last year this time, I was in the midst of chemo.

Last year this time, I was still sore from surgery.

Last year this time, I was still ‘looking forward’ to radiation. TakeBreaks

Well, it’s not last year this time. The time is now, and I’m declaring myself healthy and (in the charming cancer vernacular) ‘NED’, no evidence of disease.

So….I’m off the cancer merry-go-round, folks, and unless I have something to report, I’m so outta here!

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Scanxiety

Scanxiety:

the anxiety and worry that accompanies the period of time before undergoing medical exams and then receiving the results

The scan date on your calendar is slowly approaching. You mostly think that, surely, there is nothing wrong with you, you’re fine. Then another day you think death is imminent. It’s those wee small hours of the night that are the worst. Those times when anything that liza-bernstein-6-638can be worried about, will be worried about.

So then you have the scans. And you wait for the results. In some particularly unlucky cases, you wait a long time. Even if the results are ready, you won’t know the score until you see the doctor.

I had my first post-treatment scans on Thursday – mammogram, breast, thorax, abdominal and pelvic ultrasounds, the lot. (Many doctors post-breast cancer don’t do scans at all, other than a yearly mammogram, but my doctor doesn’t feel comfortable with that. He also wants to avoid subjecting your poor mistreated body to yet more radiation, so he schedules non-radiation type tests, and if there is anything suspicious, he will then order CT or MRI scans. That seemed a reasonable approach to me, so we went with it.)

My doctor’s appointment isn’t until 15 December, so I was assuming I had to wait until then for the results. Almost a month! I wondered how I was going to manage that. But miracle of miracles, they were ready in one hour! And I could pick them up and take them away with me!

You really, really cannot imagine my relief when I read them – they were all perfectly fine.

So, what’s my recipe for avoiding scanxiety? Get the results immediately. I know this isn’t always be possible, but it avoids so much mental and emotional torture that I wish medical institutions would try harder to do it.

 

One year on

There is no set time to start counting your ‘cancer anniversary’, from what I’ve read. Some start the count from diagnosis, some from surgery, some from other significant points. I’m counting it as my ‘anniversary’ today, as one year ago, on 22 Sept 2014, was my very first doctor appointment for a suspicious lump.

I count mine from when we first saw the look on the gyn’s face as he did the breast exam. I think that’s a cyst, says I. Hm, he said. I’ll send you for a mammogram.

The mammogram didn’t show anything – how could it, as with such dense breast tissue, it looked like a field of snow? (even when we knew exactly where the tumour was, the surgeon couldn’t make it out on the mammogram)

The doc then sent me for an ultrasound – which showed nothing. This, I believe, was a potentially deadly mistake, a rush job by the doctor doing the ultrasound.

The gyn and I were puzzled. How about if you come back in 6 months and we do another mammogram, he asks. Although sensible, given the test results, this made me nervous. But I have pain here, said I, is that normal?

He stops. He thinks. He looks at me. He sends me for one last test, a breast MRI, which shows…without a doubt…cancer.

Believe it or not, I read the MRI results a year ago with relief. Relief that finally we knew and could get on with a solution.

4 months post chemo

4 months post chemo

So, a year on, I want to say “thanks, Dr Cano”, for listening to what I said, and believing in your own physical exam, instead of relying on initial test results. You just might have saved my life!

All cancers are not the same

That might seem like an obvious statement! One thing I’ve found, though, is that once people find out you have cancer, they always know someone who has/had:

  • the same cancer as yours, with possibly good (or bad) results
  • a different cancer to yours, but they are sure the story must be the same
  • the same cancer as yours, but different treatment
  • the same cancer as yours, the same treatment, too

Whatever the choice, take this to the bank:

Your cancer and treatment, and your reaction to it all is 100% unique to you!

You’ll see on the forums or Facebook groups that when someone gets a new diagnosis, the first thing they ask is

what is chemo/surgery/radiation like?

They will receive a variety of answers, mostly trying to be helpful. But none of them mean a thing, as someone else’s reaction will not be the same as yours! You can rely on none of these helpful people for a prediction as to how your treatment will go!

This came as a shock to me. After reading various forums and articles, there I was, ready to start some of the worst chemo around for breast cancer, and I was ready for a rough ride. In the end, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. The next drug, which supposedly had fewer side effects, I found more annoying, as there were no known drugs around to counter the side effects (which plague me to this day).

So when a friend was diagnosed, what did I do? Did I keep schtum, with my new knowledge that any info I passed on was useless? No, I did not. Trying to be helpful, I gave her the benefit of my experiences. Note the use of the word “my”.

As I should  have known, her experiences have been totally different to mine, rendering my advice useless.

So sorry about that, maybe I’ll be smarter next time, but I don’t think we can count on that.

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!

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.

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!