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Back to the Future…

It’s been ages since I last posted and that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be – sorry.  I got started on my chemotherapy on 30th May, lost my hair shortly after (15 days) and was prompted to blog with my hair loss poem and since then, it’s been an effort to stay positive and cling on to my sanity and I guess that’s what I’ve been doing.

On Tuesday 12th September, I had my sixth and final session of chemo – what a moment and how good it feels that despite the fact that it is now dragging me down into that awful nauseous, achy place once more, I know now that this is the last time and for that I am so thankful.

I went back into the hospital on Wednesday where I was less than graciously ‘tattooed’ with small dots in readiness to be zapped with radiotherapy commencing at the start of October – I often wonder how people who like to hang on to their dignity manage in such situations when you’re asked to flop your breasts out and lay on a cold table in front of all and sundry…

I’ve only really succumbed to one period of serious depression during the course of this summer, although I’ve cried more tears in the last five months than in the last 40 years, but mostly in my ‘down’ times when I’ve been alone contending with the many millions of ‘what ifs’ that have flooded my lonely mind.  I am planning nice things now – going to see Dr Hook (for my sins!) and Shalamar, with their soundtrack to my lifetime.  I’ve got Annie booked for my pre-Christmas musical treat and even a holiday to break up the autumn term – a chance for rest and recuperation and some special time with my husband.  I have always been a positive person and have tried to see some good in every awful encounter that has come my way and boy, there have been more than an average person’s fair share in my lifetime!  I’ve started my Level 3 Counselling Skills course and I intend to go on and qualify as a counsellor this time round after putting it off a couple of years ago.  Funny that cancer makes you look at what you really want from life and to try and do what you can to go out there and get it, but it does.  The saying ‘you only live once’ never meant as much to me as it does now and my motto has always been that you shouldn’t live to regret the things that you wanted to do, but didn’t.

This is my ‘looking forward’ photo hoping that 2018 might be the year that I wanted 2017 to be.

Happy days everyone x

Hair today, gone tomorrow

I thought I wouldn’t miss it much
I thought I wouldn’t care
I’d always worn it short, you see
‘Til chemo took my hair

I’m trying to accept it
I know it has to be
But the bald woman in the mirror
Just really isn’t me

My hair was cropped before all this
A salt and pepper hue
More boy than girl and that’s a fact
They should have named me ‘Sue’

‘You have the right shaped head’
They said,’ it’ll suit you Han, it will’
I’m sorry but I don’t agree
And the baldness irks me still

I promise when it grows again
Right from the very start
I’ll never cut it – ever!
On that I cross my heart

To all you hairy buggers
With your curls and length and fringes
Be glad you’ve got your mop up there
Bed hair? Just stop those whinges!

Knowing which way to go

Now that the surgery is over and the scars are nicely healed, the next part of the treatment for the demon cancer has to be decided upon.  I have spoken to many people in the last few weeks who have either been through it themselves or know someone close to them who has and the options seem to boil down to two: – chemotherapy and radiotherapy or just the latter, and they both come with a decade’s worth of anti oestrogen tablets as backup.

My seemingly long awaited (although in reality it was only a fortnight…) appointment with the oncologist took place last Thursday, 11 May, and I saw the registrar and not the named consultant herself.  She was a pleasant enough woman and proceeded to go through the results of my investigations with me, bringing each docket up on the screen in front of her as she did.  Half an hour later and with a 10% increase of my chances of not getting the cancer back or having it spread, I opted for the double dose of chemo and radiotherapy.  Not really much of a choice is it?  Sort of like being asked as a West Ham fan which team you wanted to win this year’s premier league out of Chelsea and Spurs, or what venereal disease you would prefer to have…

When I look around me at all of the people who have been through this awful dilemma, I am full of admiration at the way they have dealt with such a dreadful prospect.  As tough as I may seem, it is a frightening thought that in less than two weeks, despite my feeling almost 100% at the moment (still can’t manage any weightlifting with that stricken right arm yet) I am going to be made ill.  Yes, technically I may have hidden sickness lurking around in my body, but I don’t feel unwell and yet, that’s what chemo does – all but kills you off and then just as you’re recovering, you go through it all again!

There are two positive aspects of this experience that I am clinging on to – firstly, I might (just might) have a rogue positive lymph node lingering about in my body waiting to pounce and debilitate me and the plan is that the chemo will hunt it down and obliterate it and secondly, everyone I know who has braved it has come through the other side and is still here!

‘We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ve got to go through it!’

 

On A Good Day…

I’m now one week and two days post second surgery having had all of my lymph nodes removed from my right armpit.  Sound yukky?  That’s exactly what it was / is and it’s also painful in a twitching, burning kind of way…

When cancer first touched my life back in 2008 – my lovely mum was diagnosed with lung cancer in mid-September and passed away 11 weeks later on 10th December – it seemed that everywhere I looked the big ‘C’ word was rearing it’s ugly head.  Had it always surrounded me with such vigour and because no relative of mine was involved, I’d somehow been oblivious to it?  Maybe, but sadly, once your life is invaded by this nasty critter, you can’t seem to avoid it.

Now, 9 years on, it is back – plopped itself into my unsuspecting right breast – and I’m fighting it with all I’ve got.  I found my lump on 20th Jan, had it confirmed as cancer on 27th Feb, had the lump and a few nodes (little guardians that catch it if it dares to leak out…) removed 14th March and then a big ‘mass’ of nodes removed 8th April as the guardians when questioned revealed that the cancer had tried to get past them!

I’m now in ‘waiting’ mode…and of course, with the aid of Dr Google, have investigated every possible scenario that there might be round the treatment corner for me.  I went through a little vain stage thinking ‘no, no, don’t take my lovely breasts off!’ but am over that now and can honestly say that I’m prepared to lose any part of my anatomy for the extra years it will give me.

So bring it on, my little ‘C’ friend, bring it on.  Ready and waiting…

Why not me?

To say 2016 was a stressful year would be a definite understatement, so as it came to an end and 2017 was within touching distance, I promised myself that this would be ‘my year’.  I was going to join the gym close to work and make sure that at least three times per week I swam at least 20 lengths before the working day began.  I went to the gym on Saturday 28th December, not realising that it was closing early at 1pm and then had to do everything I could to more or less force the young man working there to enrol me that very day… I’m slightly ashamed to say that I even used the fact that I’d worked in Newham for over 20 years as leverage to make him sign me up – shame on me!  But, I’d gone there with a plan and couldn’t leave until I was a fully fledged ‘Gym Member’ – tah dah!

January in a school environment is always fairly difficult, nothing much to look forward to for staff or pupils and the huge anti-climax of another Christmas fading into the distance.  However, I had my 50th birthday to look forward to and having married someone in my school year, who I shared a winter birthday with, a double 50th was in the offing and we planned it for 18th February, after his and before mine.

So there I was on 13th January, getting fit ‘TICK’, big birthday bash planned ‘TICK’ and the godawful stress of 2016 put firmly behind me ‘TICK, TICK, TICK’.  Sitting at work talking to my Head of School about where I should take my other half the following evening for a nice meal as his ‘actual’ birthday (you know, the official one) was on 16th Jan, but even with a joint party afoot, I couldn’t let the nearest Saturday night go unnoticed could I?  I was looking at our local Harvester, perhaps take our kids along and their partners… ‘Oh no!’ cried the Head of School, ‘absolutely not! Try the Boisdale Club or whatever it’s called at Canary Wharf, it’ll be much nicer!’  It was, as it turned out, much more expensive too, but we went – just the two of us – and enjoyed a lovely meal and some stomping live music to boot, it was wonderful.

The following Friday after an exhausting week at work, I was undressing into my ‘comfy clothes’ (something that is compulsory for professionals at the end of a hard day after the age of 45) when I brushed against my right breast and felt something ever so slightly sticking out.  I touched it and felt what I described later as a sort of ‘limpet’ on my breast, right at the top and sort of stuck to my chest wall.  Once I’d put the dinner on, I did what any self respecting inquisitive person does nowadays when they want to find out more about something – turned on my iPad and googled it.  Saying nothing to anyone at this point, I learned that hard lumps that don’t move can be problematic, but as I was due on and still having regular periods, I left it for a couple of days before phoning for a GP appointment, just in case it was imaginary.  31st January came and I popped into the doctors on my way to work – not unduly worried – and he did a proper breast examination and said ‘I’m referring you to the Breast Care Centre’ – which the kind lady out on the reception explained to me in more detail.

Work was good over the next week or so, and the party preparations were in full swing.  Lots of people said they were coming – don’t they always? – and we decided that if there were just a few people there, we’d foot the bar bill but if all the buggers we’d invited came they’d have to pay for their own drinks!  On Friday 10th February I received a phone call from the Breast Care Centre (BCC) asking me to go in for the various tests on Friday 17th Feb.  I explained that I was having a bash on the Saturday and if possible, could I please defer my breast exploratory day to the 20th, which they agreed to.

The party was amazing – around 160 friends and family came – and we had the very best time.  Our friends and family get on like a house on fire with each other, never mind us, and I was very good and did as my 18-year-old daughter said and didn’t get drunk.  That way I can still remember it all now, which as you’ll see, is a huge bonus.

The BCC is a one-stop-shop where you fill in some forms, meet with ‘your’ consultant and then go off for some tests before coming back to your consultant at the end of them all.  As it happened, while examining my breasts, the consultant said he felt that I had another lump on my left breast that concerned him, so my woes doubled within my first hour there.  The mammogram was first on the list and this was far less intrusive and painful than I had expected.  My mum used to call it a ‘tit mangle’ but in fairness, it was fine and the nice lady talked to me about my birthday celebrations all the way through it.

Ten minutes in the waiting room again and then into the radiographer for an ultrasound of my breasts and this was when things took a slightly sinister turn.  ‘I’m interested in this one,’ said the doctor, as she pointed to my lump that I’d found, rather than the one the consultant had felt an hour before.  ‘I’m going to do a biopsy on this one,’ she said and I foolishly imagined a needle going in and coming out, but she meant a ‘core biopsy’ and this involved an anaesthetic followed by a sort of mechanical tweezer going into the lump and pinching a small piece of it out, which she went on to do five times.

When I returned to the consulting room some hours later, I just knew that it was bad news.  ‘It looks suspicious,’ said my consultant and then proceeded to start at least 3 sentences with ‘If it is breast cancer…’ before introducing me to the breast cancer specialist nurse and asking if I had any questions.  One obvious one I could think of was ‘Well do I have it or not?’ but it seemed out of place to pull the elephant that was wandering around the room right up on to my lap, so I asked if I could just have a quick cry before rejoining my husband, who had gone out of the room at my request while the second lump on my other breast had some biopsy tissue removed at the request of the concerned consultant who just wanted to ‘rule it out’ even though it hadn’t shown up as ‘suspicious’ on the other tests.

‘We’ll see you in two weeks with the results,’ said the quietly spoken breast cancer nurse and off home we went.