Thursday, 17 November 2011
Even before my adventures into Cancerland, I've been a fan of hospital dramas. Perhaps this has more to do with the fact that my parents always wanted me to be a doctor (which has nothing to do with whether I was good or not at science, my parents just happen to be classic immigrants for whom the following chosen careers, doctor and lawyer, are the parental equivalent to winning the lottery). While watching Holby, or Casualty or Grey's Anatomy, I've often wondered whether it's better to hear the good or bad news first (that's assuming that there is always a silver lining after hearing the delivery of some terrible, life-threatening diagnosis).
And so it was that yesterday found me tense and sometimes on the verge of tears as I patiently waited in the chemo lounge for my doctor to arrive. I made a point just as I had done the day before when I was receiving my scan, of looking intently at the familiar faces of the nurses to see if they knew something that I didn't. I noted how the dietician, a girl that I'd never met before, came to ask me how my appetite was - a question that I don't think I've heard since I finished having chemo back in April. I immediately repeated this observation back to my partner who looked at me as if he thought that perhaps the cannula in which the herceptin was being adminstered had perhaps found a fast track vein to my brain, resulting in my current state of paranoia and delusion.
When my doctor turned up, it took a great deal of willpower and self-discipline to not immediately jump on her, wrestle her to the ground and demand that she tell me the good news first. You see, in the hospital dramas, they often don't have time to ask for the good, all the poor patient often hears is the bad and before you know it, they've been carted off to a remote part of the set, never to be seen again. So I waited and breathed deeply and tried to meditate on the questions that I wanted to ask her before or after she delivered what I began to convince myself was surely the reason for her changing my appointment so quickly and rushing from one practice to another to tell me this. Something that perhaps I now wish she had kept to herself for perhaps just one more day, or week or even month.
Because you see, by the time I got ushered into her office and sat down and tried to demand that she tell me the good news first, I found that I couldn't actually speak. Nope, not one clever word would make its way from my brain to my lips. I could only nod as she cut to the chase to tell me that the cancer had indeed returned. Six months after finishing chemo. Five months after my extensive sternectomy operation. This time in my spine. Naturally after this, I began to understand why no-one in the movies asks for the good news, because maybe, let's face it dear reader, perhaps often there is none.
But, despite the absolute devastation of this diagnosis, my onc thinks that things could indeed be worse. She's still optimistic, she still has hope. There are still many treatments, two of which I'll start soon and they'll include an oral chemotherapy tablet, another tablet whose name escapes me, and cyberknife radiotherapy - which is radiotherapy that is concentrated to one specific area only. The Good News (actually there really is in this case), is that it is only in one spot, which is a good thing. It really is. But the bad news is, I'm getting absolutely tired of these little, yes little, stubborn motherf***kers which are stopping me from getting on with my life. And to be too tired to battle on any longer is not such a good thing when you have cancer.
I'm so over chemo, and yes I know that it's the second syllable of the title of this blog but do you know what ? I was absolutely in the process of almost changing this title, since I really and sincerely began to believe that I had said sayonara to the damn toxic drugs for a very long time, if not forever. But, there's more good news, I won't lose my hair this time so no new searches on the net for afro wigs just yet, but this does puts paid to a few plans of getting back to normality, getting my stamina back again and re-presenting myself to the world once more. Ironically, you are (apart from my partner and family members of course) one of the first to know. Because now, you see, I'm wondering how much to tell other people, and how much mileage I have left as a cancer patient before folk get bored of hearing about my drugs and side-effects and decide to leg it out of my life forever. So today, while I take a bit of time to process things, I have decided that the trip that is booked for next week, to a photo-festival in Tuscany, Italy, will still go ahead. Because I refuse to make my life all about my cancer. I will still take all the drugs and the juices and the turmeric powder mixed with olive oil and the vitamin D supplements and the acupuncture and the green tea. I will do all those things because I have a child who is not yet two years old who really, really needs me. So it's definitely not over yet. In fact, I'm already thinking, that despite the tiredness, despite the bad news, the fight to reclaim my body back has only just begun.
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
And while I'm still in the blogosphere, I forgot to mention that due to a mixture of my virtual disappearance around the time of Pinktober or more accurately, breast cancer awareness week and setting the yardstick perhaps a touch too high, Save The Tatas' great, gorgeous giveaway for October is still up for grabs. I would love to see it go to a good home, so now that we're firmly into November, I'll waive the challenge that I once set. The very first person to follow or comment on this blog (any post will do) will find themselves the proud owner of this very natty tee. Fingers on the keyboards now please...
Apologies for my absence of late, but I've been a bit busy trying to juggle a well-needed break in the Canary Islands with baby A's new sleep patterns (which involve him waking me up in the early hours of the morn by banging his head against the cot in a worrying fashion - and then laughing when he realises that his trick has worked !).
I know, I know. I have plenty to write, plenty to catch up with. Plenty to tell you.
But first of all, let's start with my own situation. I'm currently experiencing another bout of scanxiety. And this time it's warranted. Just after my return from gloriously sunny Lanzarote, I had a CT/Pet scan done at Harley Street hospital. I always get a big jittery before scans but this time, and for reasons unknown, I was feeling very scared. Symptomically speaking, apart from a few aches and pains which I've put down to the trauma of the year's chemo and surgery marathon, I feel ok. I make sure I walk regularly and I eat very, very well. But the tightness and tenderness in my mastectomy side of my body is still around which has always bothered me.
So, while I'm lying in the room after having had a cannula put in and given a dosage of the radioactive stuff, I'm listening to some chill out music and I'm trying hard to chill out but mind starts to play the 'what if ?' game. We're all familiar with this anxiety-ridden pastime which usually occurs when there's something that we're uncomfortable with or more accurately, scares the living daylights out of us. And that's when our mind takes over the rest of our body and really starts to go out of control. 'What if it's back ? What if it's widespread ? What if it doesn't respond to treatment ? What if it kills me before I really get the chance to start living again ?' The 'it' dear reader, surely needs no introduction. And as much as I hate to brood on things that are out of my control, this neurotic way of thinking has a way of sweeping me up at times.
So by the time I reach the scan room, my stomach is in knots. I look for clues in the speed in which my body moves through the chamber. This time it seems uncharacteristically slow. I look for clues in the way that the technician asks me when I'm due to see my doctor. I scan her face for expressions of sympathy or concern, but I find just an unreadable smile. So, the next day when I've calmed down a little and am thinking of the herceptin dose that I need to be given tomorrow (which is in fact today), I decide to call my doctor's secretary to see if she's had the scan results back as yet. I leave a message on her answerphone and I get a pretty damn quick and urgent call back. Her sec tells me that she needs to see me tomorrow night. I tell her that I'm due to have herceptin in the morning and will have to wait around in the hospital all day. I ask her if there's anything wrong. I call my doctor but she's not picking up. I leave a message asking her to call me. She doesn't. Her sec calls back. She's spoken to her and my herceptin has been rearranged for the afternoon. She'll try to come in as soon as she's finished her NHS clinic. I ask her again, if there's anything wrong. All she tells me is that there is something that is 'not quite right' with the scan. I wonder if she realises how long I'll hold these three words in my mind, circulating them around my head like marbles. I call my partner and tell him verbatim what has been said. He comes home straight away. I call my sister and ask if she can babysit the following day. But the words cannot come out. They won't come out. So instead I dissolve into tears. I tell my partner that I can't go through this again, so soon. I've barely recovered from the op. My fingertips are still tingling from the taxotere. My hair is still well, barely there. He hugs me. They are both so positive. They talk about false positives, inflammation and scar tissue. Maybe it's nothing at all. I reply that I know my doctor well enough by now. I know that she wouldn't give me reason to worry unnecessarily unless she had to. I also know how much she hates to be the bearer of bad news. It would be unethical to give me such bad news over the phone.
So there you have it. I'd love to tell you all about my hols and how we almost didn't make it due to me leaving the passports on the train (chemo brain strikes again...!), I'd also love to tell you about the current state of my hair and how interesting I'm finding it when I'm sometimes mistaken for a young black man, but... everything's on pause until I sort this mess out. Please think of me, or better still pray, chant or do a rain dance for me. It could be something, I hope it's nothing. But I'll keep you posted. For sure.