Where we were
Here’s where we were. The pathology from my mastectomy in July showed a pretty sizeable tumour left behind despite 18 weeks of what a nurse described, in a wonderful oxymoron, as ‘good chemo’. I was told I’d have to have more chemotherapy, while I was at the hairdressers, celebrating saying goodbye to that chapter in my life. It was to start post radiotherapy.
It was devastating news but I picked myself up, dusted myself down and got ready to do battle with the chemo poison again. After I was first told I had cancer I wrote about the Four Stages of Dealing with Diagnosis. That now rings true for every bit of bad news we get. But like a professional athlete, I’ve now had so much training in dealing with bad news, that I race through those stages arriving at ‘acceptance’ with breakneck speed.
After the latest chemo
Coping with it
When people ask how I cope with it all, I tell them it can never be as bad as getting my first set of pathology results back in May. I was inconsolable after having all my hopes of chemo doing a good job dashed with the news the cancer they’d taken out was bigger that what they’d thought was there in the first place. After that you lower your expectations. That’s not to say I’ve lost all hope. I just keep it a little better protected from blows being rained down from this prize fighter of a cancer.
Being faced with more treatment is hard, especially when all your new buddies who were going through it at the same time are moving on to recovery and getting back on with their lives. But you find a way to justify things with yourself. For me that was telling myself that it was good to have more chemo, really smash this, and that I could deal with anything as long as the cancer was contained and there was still hope of complete recovery.
Then, the day after starting chemo, I chased up the results of a CT Scan I’d had a few weeks before, thinking blithely that all would be fine as they’d call if something showed up right? Wrong. I was told to come in that day to speak to the oncologist. All I could think after coming off the phone was “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go”. I described scanxeity recently as being like Schrodinger’s cat – a scientific concept brought into the mainstream by Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory. To surmise this complicated theory into a sentence – as long as the box remains shut you never know for sure whether the cat is alive or dead. The same with results – until someone tells you something has shown up – then you never know whether it has or hasn’t.
The CT Scan had showed an enlargement of the lymph nodes under the arm on the OPPOSITE side to my original cancer. This is a very unusual place for it to go to (more common is the brain, liver, lungs or bones) but hey, why change the habit of a lifetime. My cancer only does weird and unusual. Technically this means the cancer has metastasized – travelled away from it’s primary site – and that makes me stage 4. Which is bad. Stage 4 is generally classed as incurable. The odds plummet. I won’t go into the stats (mostly as I don’t want to scare myself) but let’s just say they ain’t pretty reading.
Fun with Fred
Living in hope
But hope springs eternal (told you I still had some!) and I felt oddly comforted that it wasn’t showing up in my organs. I’ve said it before but cancer really messes with your sense of what constitutes good news. A bit of googling into this uncommon scenario – medically termed as contralateral axillary metastases – showed some hope that it can be treated curatively, provided the cancer doesn’t rear its ugly mug anywhere else. It would mean another axillary node clearance on that side after finishing chemo and possibly more radiotherapy too. Basically back to square one of treatment. But I no longer fear the treatment part, it’s all doable. So much fun let’s do it twice!! As long as there is hope of getting rid of this, I will do whatever is necessary.
That’s not to say it’s not very, very hard at the moment. I do feel a bit cut off from the ordinary world as my friends go about their lives, having more babies, moving house, going on holidays, even just going shopping without the grim reaper following them around. I long for mundanity. To be able to go on a trip to the supermarket where I don’t end up wondering if I’ll live past the sell by date on the cereal. I still feel joy at others good news, God knows I need something to cheer me up, but I also feel cut off, marooned on cancer island. I worry people are bored of hearing all my bad news – I know I am.
Speaking at a Parliamentary Reception on Radiotherapy last week
Managing the scanxiety
So life is all about managing the anxiety between scans right now. My latest PET-Scan was in part reassuring. But at the same time worrying. A PET involves an injection of a nuclear tracer which can show areas of cancer as it takes up the tracer more quickly and ‘lights up’ on the scan. Other things can light up too though like infections and injuries so while it’s good at showing possible areas of concern it doesn’t tell you exactly what they are. Unfortunately the scan showed an ‘area of uptake’ on my hip bone. Apparently tiny, but requiring a further MRI Scan to precisely discern whether or not the cancer is making its way into my bones.
Add to that a CT Scan to check to the progress of chemo and whether it’s shrinking those nodes under my arm and we are back to high level scanxiety. The treatment plan (as long as it hasn’t got to the hip) is dependent on how well the chemo is working. If it’s working well, they’ll give me 6 cycles of chemo. If not we cut and run (excuse the pun) to surgery after 4. I’m not sure which outcome I prefer.
Back in the saddle
Climb every mountain
I do feel as though I’m under a cloud right now. I’ve checked the details of our mortgage insurance and the ‘death in service’ clause on my pension. And poor Steve is having to field a lot of ‘if I’m still here’ type comments in reference to any plans that go beyond Christmas. But a good scan result could totally turn my mood around. Life goes on and the only antidote to the poison of chemo and cancer is fun. I’ve been horse-riding again for the first time in about 4 years, I’m enjoying work more than ever as a brilliant distraction and dose of normality and every second spent around Freddie becomes all the more joyful and precious (apart from those between bedtime and 5am when death can seem like the better option!)
Please don’t think I’ve stopped fighting. I’ve done nothing wrong and I’ve worked every bit as hard as those who’s cancer has been treated successfully. I’ve just been unfortunate to pick the big scoring card in the top trumps of cancer. It feels like I’ve been thrown back down to the bottom of the mountain of treatment again. But my only option is to keep climbing as I know how beautiful the view is from the top.