‘And now, the end is near…’

Well, the end is kind of near.

I have just started my last dose of steroids, as it’s the day before my last chemo session.  I never thought that I’d be excited to go and sit on the unit, but tomorrow should be THE LAST TIME.  I’m delighted.  I’m off to get my bloods done this morning and, as long as they come back okay, tomorrow I will be saying goodbye to the lovely chemotherapy nurses who have done such a great job.

Though my treatment is far from over, the ‘active’ part almost is.  One more session of chemo using the drug Taxotere (more about the evils of this later), fifteen sessions of radiotherapy and perhaps five boosters to follow it.  That is active treatment DONE. It will hopefully be complete around mid November.  After that it’s ten years of a drug called Tamoxifen, which basically shuts my ovaries down, as my tumours were pretty much the most hormone receptive they could be.  I also have to have Herceptin injections for the next year (I’ve had two so far – the first one gave me sciatica for three days and was not the most fun I’ve ever had) and maybe another drug called Zoladex, which is yet to be decided.

So, even though I still have a way to go, chemo has been the hardest part and I can’t wait to get this round done and recover from it.  Taxotere has been crappy.  The first round was the worst and it took me almost two weeks to recover from it.  Two weeks!  I was exhausted and couldn’t move from the sofa – some days I would wake at eight am and couldn’t move from my bed until midday at least.  That level of exhaustion is just bizarre, especially when you have physically done nothing to achieve it, and it’s as if your body won’t respond to your brain.  Your body isn’t your own at all.  Those two weeks were horrible and included a day in hospital at the infectious diseases unit, as I broke out in a mystery full body rash.  That was a great day out.  It was itchy and red and I looked like I’d rolled in a nettle patch.  I was on so many drugs that the doctors weren’t sure what it was.  I was so dehydrated that it took four attempts to take my blood and in the end they had to take it from the veins in my inner wrist.  Now, I’m not overly squeamish or a fainter, but I had to lie down for that one.  I jokingly asked the doctor if I could bleed to death if he took blood from there…his answer of ‘I hope not’ wasn’t the best.  Eventually I was sent home with some antihistamines and another week of steroids (I bloody hate steroids) which sorted me out.  So far we think I was allergic to the antibiotics I was on for a skin infection, which makes sense, as I was taking twelve tablets a day, a massive dose.  It cleared up and hasn’t made an appearance since thankfully!

As well as the attractive rash, I developed sciatica from my hip to my knee from my first Herceptin, which I’d had at the same time as the Tax.  I spent three days knocking back codeine, pacing around the house and yelping in pain.  That was NOT FUN.  I also developed a tongue like the poorly Triceratops in Jurassic Park and lost my taste buds COMPLETELY.  I tried to eat some sweets and it was like chewing a rubber tyre.  It’s not fun to try and eat when your mouth feels like sandpaper and you can’t taste anything.  Thankfully my taste returned and, though part of it disappeared on the second round, I could still taste some things and it’s back to normal now.  The first parts that tends to go are my salt receptors though, which is horrible.  I love salt.  I had a little cry over a roast chicken at one point and it has definitely confirmed that I really do love food as much as I thought I did.

Tax has also taken its toll on my hair, unfortunately.  I’ve kept up with the cold cap, and still have a good head of hair, though a lot more of it has come out.  It’s really thin on top now and I’m praying that I make it through the next few weeks without looking like a medieval monk!  My eyebrows and lashes are long gone, which is fine, because I can draw them on (make-up is my friend right now) but it’s still strange looking in the mirror to a bald face.  My eyes also weep constantly, or get really dry and sore, as I only have very teeny lashes that do bugger all to protect my eyes.  I still have the stubbly shape of my brows though, which is great as God knows what they’d end up looking like if I had free reign with an eyebrow pencil.  My face has ballooned too, which makes the lack of brows and lashes look even stranger.  They call it ‘Moon Face’ and that lovely side effect is down to the steroids.  I take such a huge dose with every chemo that they blow you up.  I feel like a big, lumpy potato at the moment and have put on weight very quickly over the last six weeks or so.  This is partly down to the steroids making me a crazed hungry person who just wants carbs for a week and partly because I’m too tired and achy to do much of anything.  I can’t wait to get exercising again, or, more accurately, have the energy to exercise again!

Apologies, as this has quickly turned into a rant against chemo, but hopefully you can see how glad I am that I only have to do this one more time.  I’m looking forward to a bit of a break before radiotherapy and also get to see my surgeon again in a couple of weeks, to determine any more surgery.

I feel like it’s nearly over and that really is an unbelievable feeling.

 

Home, healthy and healing.

Hello!

First of all, let me say a huge THANK YOU!  The amount of support and good wishes I’ve had over the last few weeks has been amazing, and all the positivity has certainly helped me through the last ten days, so, thank you.

It has been nine days since I went in for surgery and the time has flown by.  The morning of the surgery itself was pretty scary, but I was more worried for the people around me than for myself, if that makes sense.  After all, I was about to spend eight hours in an induced sleep and wouldn’t have a clue what was going on.  Everyone else, however, had to wait.

My (beautiful, wonderful) husband left me at the theatre doors.  Looking at his face as I was taken in, I was so close to telling the nurse I couldn’t do it. After all, I didn’t really want to do it.  I haven’t chosen this path for myself and I’ve never had major treatment for anything.  In short, I was terrified.

I spent a lot of the time during my pre-op trying not to cry, mainly because I knew if I started, I wouldn’t stop.  I’ve found that the waiting around has been the worst bit.  As soon as a health professional enters the room and I can ask my questions, or be talked through the next step, then I’m fine.  I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m one of those patients who wants to know everything.  I know not everyone wants the details, but I found it has really helped to be prepared.

Anyway, once I was taken through the double doors, I was given a gown and asked to change, turn my phone off and put my things in a locker.  I locked myself in the little changing room and text my mum and husband, telling them I loved them.  My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t wake up from the surgery and I would leave them behind.  How I didn’t cry then I have no idea, because I’m sniffling just writing this!  I’m forever grateful that it all went well.

Once I was changed, I saw the team that would be operating on me.  They were wonderful, and once I made the anaesthetist promise that he would keep me asleep until it was over, and then wake me up, I was ready to go.  Due to my op being so long, I had to go straight into theatre.  That was scary, but when I saw the amount of people who would be working together, I felt better about it all.  There was no going back now.  A cannula was inserted on my hand and I was given something to make me feel spacey.  I got settled on the bed I was on and that was it…

I woke up at around 5:30pm.  I had been dreaming (about what I sadly don’t remember, as I bet with all the drugs in my system it would’ve made a great book) and remember being annoyed I was waking up, until I remembered what I was waking up from.  I think I smiled from that second on for the rest of the evening.  Once I’d come round, I was wheeled to the ward, where my mum and hubby were waiting for me.  They’ve both said since they couldn’t believe how with it I was!  Apart from being a little sick, I was fine, and they both got to stay with me until visiting hours were over.  I was genuinely just happy to be alive!

My first couple of days are a bit of a blur now, especially the first night.  I was exhausted, covered in a special blanket that was heated to twenty eight degrees and attached to a heart monitor, a drip, four drains full of absolute ick coming from various areas of my body, and the worst, a catheter.  My stomach wound and new breast had to be checked regularly – in fact, for the first twelve hours, my breast was checked every 30 minutes.  They used a little ultrasound wand called a Doppler, and I soon learnt to listen for a whooshing sound.  That noise meant that the blood vessels that had been stitched together during microsurgery were working properly – if that sound wasn’t there, then the blood wasn’t flowing well and I might have to rush back to surgery.  I did NOT want that to happen!  The nursing staff who looked after me for those first, critical 48 hours were nothing short of amazing.  I never once felt worried or in pain and I was able to chat to them whilst they were checking my blood pressure and whatever – that made such a difference to my stay.  The next few days I was up and about, shuffling down to the shower room and sitting in my chair instead of the bed.  My hubby visited every day and by Sunday, just five days after a major surgery, I was allowed to go home!

Our house has never looked so beautiful, let me tell you.  Home really is where the heart is. Since I’ve been back, I’ve improved every day.  I’m almost standing up straight (because a chunk of skin was removed from my stomach and I was stitched back together, it has to slowly stretch itself out to cover the area, so I’ve been really hunched over) and I can potter around the house.  I’ve read a book, watched movies and rubbish TV, eaten lots of chocolate and generally feel pretty good.  In fact, I’ve only taken two paracetamol so far today!

So, right now, I’m looking forward to getting back to myself and having a bit of a break.  I had my dressings changed on Tuesday and got to see my wounds – they’re pretty big but not too bad.  The one on my stomach is hip to hip, but neat enough, and once I’m all stretched out it should be hidden pretty well.  I have also got the flattest stomach I’ve ever, ever had, and cant stop looking at it!  As vain as it may sound, I can’t wait to go shopping when I’m well enough!  Poor Tallulah took a bit of a battering – her legs were chopped off and she’s much further down my body, so  I’m planning a cover up as we speak.  My breast looks pretty amazing too.  It’s a little bigger than planned, and a bit bruised and swollen, but it looks like me.  All my skin is still there, apart from the nipple, which looks a bit strange, as my very pale stomach skin is there instead.  I still have a couple of procedures to go, way down the line, to make them match, but all in all, I’m delighted with the results.

The cancer has GONE, I’m healing well and I am happy.

 

Love yourself!

This last week has been a pretty good one as, after a bit of a scare, I got the all clear on my left breast. All those prayers and positive thoughts are clearly working, so keep them coming please!  So, sorry to disappoint, but no rants this week.

Well…not many 😉

I started the week meeting my surgeon at The Christie in Manchester. I’ve said this before, but the fact that I have such outstanding, world-class cancer care on my doorstep is amazing. I thank my lucky stars for it every day. My surgery is now booked in for mid April and even though I’m mildly terrified about being cut open for eight hours, the things they can do are amazing! I’m having a procedure called a DIEP flap, where the excess fat from my stomach will be cut out and used to rebuild my breast…as a result I’m under doctor’s orders not to lose any weight, so Easter weekend couldn’t have come at a better time! If you see me around over the next couple of weeks, I will probably have a piece of cake in my hand.

This procedure has really got me thinking about my body. As a woman (well, I think as anyone who is inundated with media’s obsession with perfection) I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my body for as long as I can remember. I like my eyes but I hate my nose. I have slim arms that tone up fairly quickly but a stomach I generally hide. I have cellulite on my thighs, broken veins on my left foot…I could go on. Over the last year and a half I started running, mainly because I never could and I felt like setting myself a personal challenge. The process was fairly slow but by this January I could run five miles, which I was bloody delighted with! The result was that I became prouder of my body than I had ever been. I could see how strong it could be and, even though I still had those bits I really didn’t like, for the first time I went on holiday in a bikini and was comfortable. When I look back at that holiday I am insanely grateful, as the next time I do it I will bear the scars of my surgery.

The scars don’t really bother me that much. The one on my stomach will be pretty huge, but should be hidden below my bikini line. If it isn’t, I’m already looking at tattoos that will cover it beautifully. Any excuse for some new ink! In the process of the operation though, I will lose my first tattoo. I got it when I was seventeen, young and silly, and not much thought went into it. It’s absolutely crap in all honesty, but I love it. She’s a fairy, called Tallulah, and after surgery she’ll be gone. I won’t go into more detail for those of you who are queasy (like my lovely hubby, who pales at the mention of the DIEP procedure) but if you’re curious, google it…it’s amazing!  The loss of my tattoo may seem insignificant compared to losing my breast, but as I’m opting for an immediate reconstruction, it won’t be as obvious. My stomach, though it will now be flatter than it has ever been naturally, will be bare, and the tiny fairy that has decorated it for the last fifteen years will be in a surgical bin somewhere. And strangely, I find that really, really sad. 

I think I’m rambling now, but here’s the point-love your body. Look after it. If you’re not happy with it look at why. Some things you can change through diet and exercise, IF YOU WANT TO, (though I urge you not to jump on faddy bandwagons but do it all healthily) others you can’t. Try to love them anyway. Stop looking at Beyonce’s abs or Kim K’s arse, those women work out as a full time job. Your body is a magical, wonderful thing that you have been blessed with. I can’t help looking in the mirror at the moment, wondering what I’ll look like in a few months time. I will be scarred, one nipple will be gone the same way as Tallulah and I may even be bald. But you know what? I’ll be alive. My scars will be testament to the fact that I beat cancer, I will be a tiger who has earned her stripes.

And come summer, I’ll be flashing that newly flat stomach to anyone who wants to see it, scars and all ☺️