The last few weeks have been something of a Groundhog day. Things have been moving so fast I’ve had to wait for the dust to settle before updating this blog. My mastectomy and recovery were straightforward. I’ve found I’m not as devastated about not having an immediate reconstruction as I thought I’d be. It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to these things. With a prosthesis in clothing, you could never tell, and I frequently forget myself if I glance down at my chest through the day.
But the plain sailing ended there. Results days have not been good days for us so far and this latest appointment for the mastectomy pathology very much reverted to type. Fresh from the shock of discovering there was more cancer in my right breast which had necessitated my mastectomy, the pathology results knocked me for six again. What had been lurking undiscovered was a bigger, badder tumour in another area of the breast. All of it had been removed by my surgeon but an extra elipse of skin he’d taken from underneath showed another close margin. My scar had literally just healed from the mastectomy – already my second operation – so to be told it was back to the operating table for the third time was frustrating to say the least. I was told surgery number three, what’s described as a ‘re-excision’, would be straightforward and so it was. A quick 30 minute procedure to take another centimetre or so of skin and tissue to try and get the desired 2mm margin. I was home from hospital by lunchtime and driving the next day (don’t tell the nurses that though – it’s not really in the post-op guidelines!!)
Big bad tumour
More problematic than the surgery was the fact this big, aggressive, pernicious tumour had lain undiscovered for so long. Merrily dividing and multiplying at will. There is some small part of me that is secretly impressed at my body’s ability to grow such a hard b******d of a cancer. Seemingly resistant to the supposedly aggressive chemo I’ve endured. But mostly I’m gutted about it. I so would have loved to have shared better news with you all that the chemo had done its job and we were cruising to the finish line. Writing this blog has been such a wonderful distraction and means I’ve received amazing support from so many of you that have read it. I know it’s ridiculous but I feel a bit like I’ve let everyone down. You’ve all been cheering me to the finish line only for me to veer off course and get lost somewhere along the way (I’ve always had a TERRIBLE sense of direction). But I’m just going to have to reset the sat-nav and get us to our destination via a diversionary route.
You see, there is disagreement amongst the two sides of my medical team about what has happened here. One side thinks this second tumour had always been there in some form but had just been hidden on scans by my dense breast tissue. The other side suggests it grew, Usain Bolt style, between my first and second surgeries. My inclination is that it’s the former. But we’ll never know for sure as I didn’t get MRI scans through chemo. My advice to any ladies newly diagnosed who have dense breast tissue is to push for MRI’s if your hospital has a scanner.
BUT despite their differing theories on when it grew, they were in agreement about one thing. More chemo. My oncologist called me to tell me this while I was sat in the hairdresser’s chair with a head-full of foils getting the highlights and blow dry I’d been waiting 8 months for. The irony is almost worthy of an Alanis Morissette lyric isn’t it?! Another 18 weeks of an all-out ban on germs and hair-straighteners. I’m told the two new drugs I’ll be given shouldn’t cause too much hairloss, possibly just a bit of thinning. I’m hoping to cold cap again as even though I’m told most people don’t bother on the drug I’m having by infusion, even if it means avoiding a 5% loss I’d rather do it. I’m not prepared to give up another hair on my head to this poxy disease.
Pretty damn happy about my hair, soon to be spoiled by a call from the Onc.
But the threat of more chemo can't take away the joy of your first colour and blow dry in 8 months!!
My medics are all very sympathetic to my plight. I keep hearing my case is “unusual”. It’s never good to be unusual in cancer terms. You want to be boring, run of the mill, seen it all before. I’m still taking heart from the fact all scans so far have been clear elsewhere in my body. And I’m told, going forward, I can have all the scans I want. More scanxiety to come but also, hopefully, more reassurance.
The new plan
So, here’s the new plan. I’ve been fast-tracked onto my radiotherapy, luckily my scar played ball and healed up in less than 2 weeks like a champ. I’m already 2 sessions down into 15. It’s a lot quicker and easier than chemo. I entertain myself, whilst trying to lay as still as possible, by imagining Dr Evil’s voice asking the radiographers to “Set the frickin’ lasers”. It’s all fun here. (I’ll give you a full rundown of my radiotherapy experience in my next blog.)
Then I get a three week break before another 18 weeks of chemo in the form of six, three weekly cycles. After some ‘initial resistance’ (i.e. wailing and crying and shouting “why me?!?!”) I’ve now steeled myself for it. It feels like it’s being given as a belt and braces measure and if there are any stray cells floating around my body I want them blasted sooner rather than later. It means my 40th in January will be spent on the chemo suite rather than on the slopes of the Alps as I’d planned. But it just means I’ll have to plan an even bigger and better party on the piste for when I’m done in March.
On the upside, despite our budget busting trip to St Tropez earlier this month, I’ve managed to wangle another weekend in the sun out of Steve before I am cast into chemo lockdown and not allowed within 100 feet of an aeroplane!
The finish line may be changing but our resolve to get there is not.