So if you remember my last blog I had just finished my chemo, was feeling pretty good, and was looking forward to getting back to normal. What I didn’t account for is how much the chemo really does affect us, and just how strong this stuff really is. As I write this blog I am about two months post my last chemo, and yesterday one of my finger nails broke off half way down the nail bed. Ouch! Actually no ouch, it didn’t hurt, and now I’ve realised that all my nails have a line about half way up, and above that line they are not attached to my fingers. I’m guessing I could lose a few more, they are dead and turning yellow. Yuk. Very much on the up side though my hair is returning. It’s a least half a centimetre long. I feel blessed. Balance restored, I’ll swap my head scarf for gloves.
Three week after the chemo I had another of those lovely MRIs, not as long as the first one, but just as noisy. And the following week I saw my consultant for the results. This was a little worrying. I had convinced myself that everything was fine it wouldn’t have spread to anywhere else, but somewhere right in the back of my mind a little voice kept shouting out “isn’t this the same feeling you had after the original mammogram when you “knew” there wouldn’t be a problem? That was true, and it made me think that no matter how much I “wanted” to not have bad news, it didn’t necessarily mean I wouldn’t get it. Actually what I got was something I wasn’t expecting at all.
Firstly there seemed to be no further indications of spread. The original tumour was much smaller, and we could go ahead with the operation as planned. Yay. He would make two incisions, (wait a minute, TWO!), yes one under my armpit to remove a couple of lymph nodes. Woah, nobody mentioned any of this to me before!
We all have different amount of lymph nodes, some people have eight, some twelve or more. They do a very important job. They flush toxins and fluids through our lymphatic system to the liver where they are got rid of. They do the same with debris like cells we don’t want, like cancer cells. This is why cancer can often be detected here I believe. But without them we run into problems of fluid retention, and toxins in the body building up. And once they’re gone they’re gone. But I understand we need to know if there is any cancer present because if it’s in my lymphatic system it will be carried all around my body. Also, he promised he would only take two. I agreed to this, but since then have had a letter explained my treatment so far, and in that letter it says the actually took three lymph nodes, so technically he owes me one.
The other incision would be around my nipple. But he would very much try to preserve the nipple for me. Thanks!
Okay so this didn’t sound so bad, a bit scary as I haven’t had an operation before. And quite calmly before I leave “Oh yes one more thing before you go Ali… would you be happy to have it done tomorrow?” wow, this was the unexpected bit.
Um. I agreed, get it over and done with. This meant having dye injected into my nipple so that it had time to go up into the lymph nodes so he could find them. That really bloody hurt like a bee sting. I also went along to the day surgery unit to talk to the staff there. I was expected in at 7am the following day. How long would recovery be? – two weeks! (No way, two days tops). This of course is positive thinking at its best, and although within two days I was up and around, I’m still recovering six weeks later, and I did overdo things in that first week, and then suffered for it later. I’ll explain why in a minute.
When I got to the hospital I was told I was last on the list and wouldn’t be going down to theatre until approx 3pm. Lots of time to read and sleep, read and sleep and worry. By the time it started to happen I was a bag of nerves. I think this was because I didn’t really know what would be missing when I woke up. Not like an appendectomy. When I did wake up I wished I hadn’t. The pain was something else, but nothing a little, well actually quite a lot of morphine couldn’t help with! It took me ages to come round. All the other patients had gone home long before. It was late evening when my consultant popped in to see how I was doing. He told me that when he went in and started to cut around my nipple I had begun to come round and had to be given more anaesthetic, that’s why I took so long to wake up. He must have seen the horror in my face, he quickly blurted out: “your nipple is still there!”. PHEW.
So after a few days I could drive again, but it’s taking much longer for the nerves to heal and I’m still getting some pain from this but not loads. I had two days off work as predicted by me. Initially it looked like I had been in a car accident with extensive bruising, but now looks pretty damn good, and I expect I wont be able to notice any scarring at all by next year. My nipple however is completely numb!
So two weeks later I’m back in the Consultants room with my daughter Rhiannon getting results from the biopsies taken during my op. He examines me, all good. Now I can arrange the radiotherapy which is the third part of my cancer journey. We were then ushered towards the door. Hang on a minute, what about the results from the lymph nodes?! He smiled, “oh I forgot to tell you didn’t I!” – a moment of panic, scales right down – “it’s all clear, there was nothing”. It took a moment to sink in. A moment of “you took away my lymph nodes for nothing” this was before I knew he had stolen one too! Then the penny dropped…..
I’M CANCER FREE!
Balance completely restored. I wish this was the end of it but it’s not. Radiotherapy will start in about four weeks and take three weeks. Then I have to start looking seriously at my life style and what I can do to stop this blasted thing happening to me again. I’m already doing some things, supplements and kefir. But that will be my last blog. The nurse came to my house this week to give me my Herceptin injection which I have every three weeks. I will have this 17 times in total. She mentioned I was having my 7th. I can’t believe it is already been that long, about 21 weeks, nearly six months of treatment. How time flies when were are having fun!
I’m writing this last paragraph just one week before the Radiotherapy starts. So I wanted to give you a complete update of my recovery. I had my last Chemo on the 12th January this year, and my Operation was on the 10th February. It is now the 7th April. Of course everyone will be different, but should you be about to embark on a similar journey yourself, It will give you some ideas of what to expect.
So two months after Chemo I can honestly say that I no longer have any symptoms at all. Of course I still have ridiculously short hair and am still wearing a scarf when out and about. I have stopped wearing it in doors. I quite like the short hair, and I have to tell you I look younger (I think). My skin is better that it has ever been. I have not changed weight at all, up or down. I am not ill in any way, except after the Herceptin injections, then there are a few issues for a couple of days, but nothing to write home about at all. The only problem which I have had is lack of energy, and actually I think I was beginning to suffer from this prior to my original diagnosis. My energy levels are definitely raising up again. I have been decorating, running my business, walking the dogs further and gardening again. All getting completely back to normal.
As for my lumpectomy – well both scars are almost invisible to see already. I have complete movement I my arm and no ongoing pain at all. I do however have a hard lump behind my nipple which I am told will take some time to go. I do have the occasional shooting pains in my nipple also which I am told is the nerves repairing. It isn’t unbearable. And my nipple is still completely numb!
I am now awaiting the Radiotherapy which starts next week. 15 sessions over 15 days, Monday to Friday for three weeks. Everyday driving into Cambridge and back. I have some wonderful friends who have volunteered to come with for some of them, and my lovely clients have been very accommodating so that I can work around them. Once done, I will be finished apart from AI tablets (another blog) which I will be on for five years if I can stomach that long!
All in all, so far I don’t feel all that bad. Glad it is coming to an end. Balance is very stable at the moment and life is good.
“we are born with two lives, and start living the second one the day we realise we only have one”
how very very true, nearly time to start my second one.