Thursday, 23 June 2011

I'm back !

Hello World ! I'm back after a tough old week in hospital. A place where injections, IV's and blood pressure bands became my unwelcome, yet constant companions. I survived the operation I'm pleased to let you know. Since I'm now half a sternum, some mammary nodes and a piece of lung lighter, you might assume that I should at least look different after enduring such a mammoth experience. But the reality is that unlike a mastectomy, there is no physical difference to be had, not even my weight has changed. Apart from the point of entry - the seven inch scar which runs from the top of my breastbone to the beginning of my stomach. Which is still as I write, concealed under dressings. And of course the complete feeling of shit-have-I-just-been-reversed-over-by-a-ten-tonne-lorry. But apart from that, I look like the same old me. Which I find a bit strange since I currently feel like Methuselah's older sister. But enough of the self-pity. According to my surgeon, the operation went well. I'm healing nicely and all the extracted bits of me will be sent to the lab, fiddled about in petri dishes; the results of which will be available in a few week's time.

It all sounds so simple yet the events leading up to my op had been fraught with problems. First, my insurance company refused to pay all the fee for the surgeon. Apparently (despite being one of the best surgeons in Europe) he charges too much. A few angry letters and terse phone-calls later and they budged, but only slightly. They still wanted me to pick up the remainder of the tab. Then I got back the second opinion from a medical company that my employer subscribes to. An eminent professor of oncology from the US contradicted the decision for me to have surgery. According to him, it's of no benefit when dealing with metastatic breast cancer as the chances of recurrence elsewhere are high. Instead, he recommended either regular scans or radiotherapy or more chemo. Naturally this sent shockwaves through my medical team. I'm sure no surgeon wants to put their patient through an unnecessary four hour operation if they can help it. As for me, I began to wonder whether I really was making the right choice. Suddenly my future wasn't looking so optimistically rosy. US prof didn't seem to be impressed about my limited metastatic spread. To him, metastatic breast cancer was indeed metastatic breast cancer.

When undergoing a treatment as gruelling as chemo, once you reach the last round, you hope that it will be the last time that you'll ever have to go through it.  You don't share the doctors' enthusiasm that should get a recurrence, more chemo will do the trick.  You long for the 'end of treatment' moment that you had when you were diagnosed with primary breast cancer.  So to see it written in plain English that I might well have to go through the roller coaster of chemo once more, filled me with dread. My surgeon spoke to many oncologists, most of whom felt that if there was no liver involvement, resecting the tumour from the sternum would've been a no-brainer. But apparently as the liver mets are an indication that there is possibly occult disease elsewhere (or in layman's terms, there are other cancer cells lurking in my body), taking out my sternum would do very little to influence my future outcome.

But I'm pleased to say, my surgeon took the gung-ho approach. Why sit back and wait for something to happen ?  Better to whip it out now and hopefully buy ourselves more time. From his point of view I'm young, fit and and healthy and most importantly have fairly recently had a baby. I can withstand a major operation and I will also do anything to prolong my life. So, in the week before the op, we fight the nasty insurance company (by changing the description of the op) and win, we do another PET scan which is thankfully clear and I spend the week drinking vegetable juices and eating tons of fruit and when the day of the operation arrives, I feel nervous but ready. I endure the spinal epidural, the lines in my wrist and neck, the one night in intensive care and the immobility and numbness and pain that follows. I'm pleased to now be home. I'm supposed to be taking it easy but as anyone who's ever looked after a 17 month old baby will agree, there's not much possibility of that when you're chasing an ever curious toddler around the house. Still, I'm pleased to be over the last big hurdle (for now, I hope) and am just looking forward to getting better, stronger and fitter. Oh, and not having to sleep on my back every night.

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