Friday, 17 June 2011

In the beginning..

A lot of people ask me if I found the cancer or was it discovered on routine mammogram. The short answer to this is neither. It was found only after surgery and the subsequent pathology.

Because I have always (well, almost - especially since children & breast feeding) had lumpy, painful (particularly at ovulation) breasts, I started taking myself off for mammograms from the time I was 40. Just every 2-3 years. From the beginning, the results were always "fibrous tissue seen". Prior to leaving Perth (Dec 2007) I had an ultrasound, with the result "fibrous tissue evident. Suggest mammogram." So, a couple of months after arriving here I had a mammogram. Result..."fibrous tissue seen. Suggest ultrasound." At this point I put it on the backburner! Possibly not the best decision I have ever made!

Fast forward to October 2010 and I organise my bi-annual check. You know, bloods, BP, glucose and of course mammogram, particularly as there had been some change in my breast shape over the previous months. All the results were good except I was recalled for a repeat mammogram (often happens in peri-menopausal years) as there was "fibrous tissue seen. Inconclusive result". So, back I went and had a repeat mammogram, an ultrasound and a needle biopsy (bloody painful!). All these results came back inconclusive! In fact, the needle biopsy actually said "No malignancy seen". I later found out that my breast was so fibrous the needle bent! However, the ultrasonographer was not happy and pushed me to investigate further. So, it was off to the surgeon to have an 'Open Biopsy' (or partial lumpectomy) to find out definitively what was going on. It was at this stage that the cancer cells were identified.

It was three days before Christmas,when I got the results and still I wasn't too worried. I figured if it was that hard to find then it must be well confined so I would just get my breast off (it had served me well) and continue on with my life. Sugery was booked for 13/01/2011 (after the christmas break) which was ages away, so I just got on with enjoying Christmas and the holiday we had planned for Sydney. Of course I told work (as I had to be taken off the roster that was already out) and we planned and had a great night out to farewell my Left Breast.

It was also during this period that my Dad died peacefull in his sleep. So, with Christmas, the funeral and the Sydney trip, the time passed quite quickly. But also very slowly - I had visions of this thing growing in my body! But at least I had to think of other things so it wasn't quite as all consuming as it could have been. I remeber it was a very weird time. I even said to someone that time seemed to take on a very strange feel. Almost surreal in that it went so fast and yet dragged by. Very weird.

After surgery it was just a matter of waiting for the pathology results, although, as the surgeon thought my lymph glands "looked suspicious", he had done a Level 2 clearance (that's about as clear as they go). A very good decision on his part as the pathology results revealed. In the meantime I had told the boys to straighten me up if I started leaning to port (or is it starboard?) which they duly did.

However the pathology was not as positive as we had hoped. As I had suggested the possibility of reconstruction, the Dr had left some breast tissue  inferiorly (the lump was on the supeior aspect) but when path came back there was not a big enough "margin" so I had to go back to surgery for a re-excision. Also, a lot (almost 50%) of lymph nodes contained cancer cells (something we didn't expect, as there was no indication on u/s). So, given that I had to go back to theatre anyway, and the Ca was so well concealed, I decided to have the other breast off at the same time.  I figured I did not want to go through all this treatment just to have it return in the other breast in a couple of years time. So now I am flat chested and just have to decide what size I will be...?A, ?DD or somewhere in between. Andy just never knows who (or what) will greet him at the door! In fact, there was an occasion when he didn't recognise me in the shopping centre! (I was wearing breasts and hair, which I don't often do at home)!

The final pathology results after this subsequent operation were all good. I then  met with the medical oncologist. Initially Andy & I found her rather distant, but since then I have got used to her way and am very happy with her and the treatment regime which includes seeing her before each session of chemo to make sure I am OK with side effects and to work out what she can do to lessen them. Anyway, we worked out a plan of action (or rather she told me what I am doing with my life for the subsequent 6 months).  I had a session one day every 3 weeks for 4 sessions -drugs ussed were Doxorubicon and Cyclophosphamide . This took me to Easter when I rewarded myself, and my family, with a trip to NZ for a couple of weeks.  I then started the next round which is weekly for 12 weeks (Paclitaxel). I am now half way through that lot.

I'll have a three week break between chemotherapy finishing and radiotherapy starting during which time I am going to Sydney with my sisters to see Mary Poppins live on stage! Another reward! More on that later....

Monday, 13 June 2011

Going it alone

Well this week I had to go to chemotherapy all by myself! Yes, my trusty companions (sisters & brothers) were stranded in Grafton unable to get to me because of the water on the roads due to the continuous rain we have had over the long weekend! So, not only do I have to go it alone at chemo, but I also have to cook dinner tonight! Elizabeth always brings a meal with her on chemo day so I don't have to think about dinner. Tonight I have to not only think, but also prepare! It's all too much! But soldier on I shall!!

Now that I have the sympathy of all I'll tell you the good stuff. They found a functioning vein 1st go and blood results were good. So it was all on for the chemo. Had my Sudoku puzzles from the weekend papers, a crappy magazine I picked up in the waiting room and my phone. Have been playing "Words with Friends" (a kind of scrabble) which Bridie(my neice) put me on to. It is great! Love Scrabble! So I sent a text to Bridie to keep me occupied while I had chemo. She very kindly obliged (I whopped her) even though she was supposed to be at work. So,between Sudoku and Scrabble the time went quite quickly (The magazine was just too crappy!). However, it is much more fun having my sisters there for a chat and a laugh. So the roads had better clear before next Tuesday!

Also, there were no volunteers this week! They must have been flooded out too. Usually there is a volunteer person who gets us drinks (water, tea,coffee) and biscuits (hospital issue, low sugar ones - good for diabetics) with monotonous regularity. However, this week they were absent, and there was noone I could send out to the coffee shop! Made myself a cuppa on the way back from the toilet, but it just wasn't the same! Had a biscuit too, but there just wasn't enough sugar in it!

After chemo we (ie. siblings & I) usually go out to lunch. That's 2 meals I don't have to worry about on chemo day. Today I just came home and found something in the fridge to have for lunch all by myself.

Nope! Just not the same going it alone. But good to know I can do it if I must!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Boys....Ya gotta love 'em! and Hair Stuff!

It was somewhere between surgery and starting other treatment. ie I had lost my breasts but not my hair. All the literature we'd been given I left lying around the place so the boys could pick it up and thumb through it when they felt ready. After a couple of weeks I had observed that nothing had been lifted, thumbed through or in fact even glanced at (to my knowledge) so it was time to take matters into my own hands. Only 2 of the 3 were there at the time (holidays, very hard to get them all together in one place). It went like this...
Me: "So guys, is there anything you want to ask about what will be happening to me in the next few months? With regard the cancer?'
Boys: Both looked at me questionally.  They then looked at each other confusedly. Then both turned to me and, at the same time, said "Well, haven't you had it done already?"
At this point I decided to leave it them to handle in their way! It's probably better than mine anyway!

About 10 days after my first lot of chemotherapy I noticed my hair thinning. The next day lots came out in the shower as I was washing it. After the shower I walked out and, distressed, said to Dan (lying around reading) "My hair is falling out!"
Dan: "Humph. That's OK. So is Dad's and Rob's"
I guess that put it in perspective (at least mine will come back) and destressed me!

We were in New Zealand and it was cold - much colder than I'd experienced here. I woke up one morning and said,
Me: "Boy it's cold! My head was freezing last night!"
Andy: "And you want sympathy from me???"
At this point I figured I was barking up the wrong tree!

One day I swept the kitchen floor and discovered, besides all the crumbs etc, a pile of hair. My hair! At this stage I thought I'd better get my head shaved or else face the O,H&S tribunal!

Saturday morning, decided it was time to have my head shaved. So, wig in hand, I went down to do the deed - walked in a brunette with lighter stripes, 15 minutes later walked out a ranga (well, 'burgundy') with spikes! At home Dan and his friends (which included a couple of girls) wandered in from the beach. Dan asked what I'd been doing all morning (so observant, boys) so I told Him I'd been to the hirdresser for a "cut & colour".
"Looks great" says 16 year old girl.
"Isn't it a wig?" says 16 year old Dan.
"DAN!! That's awful" says 16 year old girls.
"Oh!" says Dan, Sheepishly, "Well isn't it?"
"Does it look like a wig?" says me.
"NOooo" scream 16 year old girls (as only girls can) " It looks fantastic"
"OK then" says me.
Take that Dan!

Watching a show on TV that had a segment about the "Look Good, Feel Great" workshops. A number of women were expressing their distress at hair loss and body image issues etc. Jimmi turns to me and says, "Were you that upset when you lost your hair?"
Me: "No, I don't think so. I knew it was going to happen and I went and had my head shaved. Only thing is, it happened a bit sooner than I thought. Why? Did it upset you?"
Jimmi: "No. Not as much as your eyebrows."
Interesting, I now draw eyebrows on most days!

So, no hair on my head, no eyebrows, no eylashes, sporting a Brazilian (for the first time in my life) and STILL I have to shave my legs! And STILL the hairs on my arm get ripped out every week as they take out the IV canula! GO FIGURE!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

New treatment

So, Back from NZ, back to work and ready to start the next 12 weeks of treatment! Amazing how quickly holidays are forgotten!

A week after getting back I started on the next regime which is only one drug, but I am to have it weekly for 12weeks - and then I will reward myself with another little treat! So far the sessions have been fine. In fact, after the first lot I couldn't believe how well I felt. I actually had some energy for the first time in months. In fact, I had so much energy I mopped the kitchen floor! Now that I've written that I realise how sad it really is! Especially as I was so thrilled, at the time, to have identified the need AND had the energy to act on it! You'd think I could have found something a bit more exciting to have done with this new-found energy.

Downside of this treatment is that it, apparently, has a cumulative effect. I guess that means that in 9-10 weeks time I might not feel so well (and the kitchen floor might not be so clean). However, I'll just take each day as it comes. The other downside is that I have to have bloods and IV line weekly, and my veins aren't what they used to be. The last couple of weeks they have needed multiple attempts to find a reasonable vein, and as I can only use one arm, I'm not holding a lot of hope that it will last. However, as I have said before, "I'll just take each day as it comes". Really not much else I can do. Worst case scenario is that I will need a PICC line (Google it), which is much better than a Porta Cath (Google it), I think.

Last week Katrina, a friend from Perth, came over for a visit. It was great to have her here. She came to the treatment session with me, met my Dr and offered all kinds of support and humour as they had multiple attempts at finding a vein and then dripping the stuff into it. We then went out to a well deserved lunch. Actually, we had a number of well deserved lunches... and breakfasts... and wine too now I come to think of it! Particularly enjoyed the wine as I haven't been enjoying it over the past months. See, I told you this new drug is much better!

As well as eating amd drinking, we also had a couple of tourist ventures. We really lucked in with the weather and had a day going to Bellingen and Dorrigo - up in the hills. We had lots of exercise walking native tracks through rainforest, saw some great waterfalls and had a good nosy around the quaint shops. Great day. Great company. Katrina was particularly impressed when we went to the Yacht club for lunch as she had to become a temporary member! Quite delighted at being a member of a yacht club, if only for 2 hours! These city people are so easy to impress!

Wednesday now (Happy Winter) and things are going well after my 4th lot of this regime. 1/3 of the way through already - it certainly makes things go fast this weekly business! This week they got the IV line in 1st go and it stayed good for the duration! We decided to try without the anti emetic, Kytril, which has side effects of its own (namely diarrhoea - too much information?) and a reduced dose of the dexamethasone which causes insomnia and floor mopping. So far it's been good. A little bit of nausea 1st night (but nothing a stemitil didn't fix), and a late night (as I was up chatting to Bridie, my neice) so I slept when I went to bed. All is good.

No photos this post as Katrina has lost her camera card! Do you believe it?? When she finds it and sends me the copies I will do my bit! Great being able to blame someone else for stuff!