Sunday, 28 August 2011

Question Time...

While I'm in catch-up mode, I thought it was about time I kept you up to speed with what's happening in my currently not-so-fast-moving medical world. After my recent 'exploration' (where my surgeon no doubt prodded and poked about inside me with his scalpel), I am now the proud owner of a newer, neater looking scar. The wound still contains stitches or 'sutures' as they're more commonly known as, which I look at in semi-horror every time I need to change the dressings (which is currently every four days). Seeing live stitches still in my body does nothing but serve to remind me that someone out there has really has taken a needle and thread to my flesh and left behind the evidence for all to see. And as much as I hold anyone in high esteem who can cut open a human being, have a good old rummage around and remove a substantial part of their body without at some point keeling over out of sheer nervousness, stitches on skin only makes me think of one thing - Bride of Frankenstein.

So, at the moment it's thankfully all covered up and out of sight and I'm just relieved that I'll never have to leave the house wearing a colostomy bag stuck to my chest ever again. There are only so many smock tops that you can choose from which conceal this minor detail - believe me.

The other day though, I took a well deserved break from my usual routine of clearing up after Baby A's tornado-like movements through the house to pay a visit to yet another consultant who runs a private practice in Harley Street. I'd first met her all those years ago when I was being treated on the NHS. Back in those days time was always at a premium. I'd wait for a couple of hours to see her, only to get a ten minute chat, a quick feel of my reconstructed breast and I'd then be turfed out again, back into the real world. I remember how tough those check-ups used to be and how I'd dread having to relive all the gory details of my diagnosis. Even though it's been ten months since this recurrence, I still find myself welling up sometimes when I'm having to recount all the facts and figures. Since I'm now 'Appled up' as my partner likes to put it, and by this he means that with the acquisition of my I-Pad I now have the hat-trick of Apple products starting with my I-phone and ending with my laptop, I took my brand new purchase along to show her not only the second report that I'd sent to my other doctors, but also a long list of questions about my prognosis in general - most of which had been swiped from 'abstracts' on the net.

For those of you who aren't familiar with abstracts.... these are the nuggets of information that cyber-obsessed 'e-patients' like me scan through on a regular basis. What are we hoping to find ? God only knows - hopefully some eminent professor stating that a cure for metastatic breast cancer is just around the corner and if we could only hang on and stay alive for a few years longer, then we'll all be saved and able to wear the pink 'survivor' t-shirts like the primary girls do. But even though I often don't understand half of the text, I would say that it's probably an understatement to say that I'm addicted. Along with the encyclopaedia of the human body, it is fast becoming my evening reading matter of choice. This is not a revelation that I can admit to being proud of, but I guess you could argue that it beats reading Heat magazine any day.

So a few days ago, I casually strolled along Harley Street marvelling at the size and grandeur of the buildings and wondering how on earth I could ever find a way (short of winning the lottery) of residing at a W1 postcode. I found the waiting room a little disappointing in its blandness since I was almost expecting to be served tea and sandwiches in quaint ye olde english crockery, but was soon signed in and waiting to see the consultant. I'd been referred to her to see if there was a way in which I might need radiotherapy. I figured the answer might well be no since I'd had such extensive surgery and the chemo had worked really well. But since I don't like to leave anything uncovered, my oncologist had agreed to refer me, probably more to put my mind at rest than anything else.

Isn't it amazing how much more relaxed consultants look when they're in their private rooms away from the frenzy of the full-to-the-brim waiting rooms and the stressed-out looking NHS nurses ? And so it was for this consultant. She remembered me from before, asked me to recount my recurrence and everything that had gone on since then and then promptly told me that she didn't think I'd need radiotherapy. Agreed, perhaps this could have been a quickie phone-call received in the comfort of my own home instead of a traipse into town during midday, but since I was there, I seized the opportunity to cross-examine her about my condition, just in case there might be any difference in opinion to the one given to me by my usual onc. I showed her the second opinion report from the eminent US prof and she smiled when she read it and said that she thought I'd made the right decision having the op - despite him saying that it would only have limited benefit. Her reasoning ? I'm unusual (as usual) in that I shouldn't really have had a recurrence - statistically speaking. And because of this there aren't really any statistics for someone like me who was probably always HER2 positive from the outset but only had a recurrence seven years later. I've also got oligometastatic disease (low burden disease) which is another unusual thing and the chemo blew the tumour on my sternum clean away - which is also unusual. All in all, this combination should be a good thing but as I told her in between my 'Question Time' style cross-examining, I sometimes found it hard to be optimistic. One look at baby A was all it took to fast forward myself into the future where I sometimes found it even harder to see myself there too. She was sympathetic and said all the right things but I guess at the end of the day (to use a much-loved, over-used football-manager's cliche) no doctor can ever give you that 'all-clear' that we all hope for one day. Still, I made the most of my day in town, although it was strange how I went shopping for some pre-holiday dresses and came back with only a potty.

Strange how motherhood creeps up on you, ain't it ??

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