I’m delighted to say that our holiday was a perfect 2 weeks of rest and relaxation and just what we both needed before the onset of more challenging treatments. Our rented house was overlooking the bay in Glandore on the South West Coast of Ireland. The view from the house was enough to brighten anyone’s day. When the weather was fine, it was beautiful and when the weather was less so, it was dramatic.
While it did have wi-fi (accessible if I sat at a certain place near the kitchen rammed up against the door) it was not conducive to interacting and/or spending long periods browsing. Consequently social media was to some degree on the back burner. This certainly helped improve my ability to actually get some reading done. Having decided to put all review books on the back burner for the duration of the holiday, I managed to read the grand total of 12 books. Given my recent output that was nothing short of a minor miracle and serves to prove that part of the problem has been less my medical circumstances and more the pressure of reviews and pre-occupation with social media So lessons to be learned I think.
Surgery wise everything was appearing to heal nicely, until a couple of days into the holiday my affected boob started to go all red and mottled underneath. Googling the possible cause was a big mistake, worst case scenario was sepsis, otherwise at best it was an infection that needed antibiotics and a trip to the doctors asap. However common sense prevailed as I figured in either case there would be some other signs, so in the absence of swelling, hardening, pain or fever I figured I’d live another day to see how things panned out. Of course what it turned out to be was a hideous bruise that continued to ‘mature’ over the course of the next week, but who would have expected it to appear 2 weeks after surgery, with no other previous bruising having been seen – not me. I’m beginning to see a pattern emerging with some of this process in that instead of scaring people to death with all the symptoms that might not appear, why can’t someone tell you what is commonly likely to happen. A brief warning of all the strange tweaks, twinges and ‘shocks’ that are normal as the nerves begin to knit would also have been useful. As would the knowledge that it is normal to feel as if your nipple is attached to elastic and some bugger is pulling it from the inside. That and the fact that it seems to have taken on a sensitivity never previously experienced.
Coinciding with sepsis-gate, my armpits decided to take umbrage at the new ‘safe’ deodorant and became exceedingly sore and itchy. So the search was on for an alternative. Thankfully, the health food shop in Ballydehob came up trumps with a Salt of the Earth deodorant spray, it worked, it didn’t sting and is still doing its job without any problems – hurray.
While away, I also acquired some perfect accompaniments to join me on my chemo journey. Some lovely fluffy socks and a fabulous warm cuddly blanket. Who knew that bed socks at 3 pairs for 3 euros would send me into ecstasy – my priorities are definitely changing!
Sadly the two weeks came to an end and I’d like to have it on record that my OH was a star while we were away. I didn’t have to do a thing as he took on all cooking, cleaning (not too much) and washing up duties as well as all the driving. So thank you – I knew those 30 years of training would pay off one day. Of course coming home meant that the results we’d been trying not to think about were only a couple of days away.
Monday arrived and not sure how we got any work done in the morning, but we managed to look occupied even if we were pre-occupied. A reasonably quick drive to the hospital followed by the inevitable but not too long a wait saw us greeted by my Breast Care Nurse ahead of joining my surgeon. I won’t drag this out, I’m delighted to say that the results were the best we could hope for. The margins on the tumour were clear and neither of the 2 lymph nodes that were removed showed any signs of cancer – yippee. So now onto the next stage.
My first appointment with my oncologist was set for Thursday and we set off for The Christie trying to second guess what the Manchester rush hour traffic would be like. As it happens on this occasion better that we anticipated. This was just as well as it transpired before I saw Dr H I was scheduled for blood tests. One of my favourite things – NOT. I was immediately ticked off for not drinking water and being de-hydrated as this makes it harder to find a juicy vein. In my case it transpired it was impossible and so the nurse resorted to using the back of my hand – I’m still sporting the dirty great bruise that resulted. Yet another example I have to say of not being informed about what will happen. No mention of blood tests (or indeed the ECG that also followed) and even if I had been warned, no-one had ever pointed out (what might be obvious to some) the direct correlation between water and veins. I am now drinking water for England ahead of the needlefest that takes place next week.
I have to say my oncologist was very personable and not stuffy, which was a good start. As she proceeded to go through by proposed treatment I could feel myself deflating inside at the prospect. Once again a list of side effects you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy and of course as ever the worst case scenario was heart failure – that’s all good then. So it appears my regime is 3 cycles of Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide followed by 3 cycles of Docetaxel and the start of 18 cycles of Herceptin. As if that wasn’t enough once the chemo has finished the Radiotherapy kicks in – can’t wait! I did have an inner giggle when Dr H asked to look at my breast to check that things were healing OK as my OH was still in the room. I’m well aware of an apparently common male fantasy of girl on girl action and couldn’t help thinking this wouldn’t have been what he had in mind had it been one of his. (I should add I didn’t ask and I don’t particularly want to know).
So with the formalities out-of-the-way, that was it. We were left to ponder the coming months and how we were going to cope with juggling work and treatments (I work with my OH who is self-employed). A visit to the The Christie was also the opportunity to get fixed up with my wig voucher – yes, another thing to look forward to – I will lose my hair. I’ve also been warned that it’s not guaranteed to grow back perfectly and might be patchy. We had broached the subject of a cold cap to try to allay this possibility but I’d ruled out that option several weeks ago. I already suffer from headaches, can get brain freeze from eating ice-cream and a headache from walking in a cold wind. The idea of sitting in a freezing cap for 45 minutes before, during and after treatment was a non starter for me and OH is fully supportive. As he keeps telling me, I am not my hair or my nails (yes they might fall off too), my eyebrows or my eyelashes – where did I find him?
We also took the chance to pop in to the wonderful Maggie’s Centre which offers a little haven of tranquility or chatty support depending on what you need. We were happy to chat to G a volunteer whose partner is at the end of the process I’m just starting. It was good for my OH to hear that it isn’t all doom and gloom, and that life and work still carry on, just not always at 100%. Mind you he did let drop she was a bit of a gym bunny, so that does give her a bit of a head start on my rather more couch potato approach to life of late. I’d love to visit again as they have some great courses and presentations (not to mention free tea and Roses chocolates – yum) – I’ll need to bribe someone to drive me in.
So we’re nearly up to date, this week only involved 2 hospital/doctor visits and I managed to get these both out-of-the-way on the same day and thankfully locally. A quick trip to my local hospital for an Echocardiogram. The Herceptin and chemo can weaken heart muscles so I need monitoring before we start and regularly throughout the treatment. I guess whatever else happens I’ll know everything else is working perfectly by the time I’ve been tested each step of the way. Finally an exceedingly quick jab at my local surgery for the Flu Vaccine and that’s me set up for next week when the fun and games really begin.