Thursday, 26 April 2012

Scanxiety II - Getting Back Into The Game

The other day, on the eve of going into hospital to get the results of my long-awaited scan, I watched a programme about cancer. This might suggest that when most of you are spreadeagled on the sofa watching a re-run of Britain's Got Talent, I am desperately channel surfing in search of anything I might have missed about the big C.  Well, it's true. I had missed the original programme, and buoyed by the glowing reviews which talked about the leaps and strides being made in cancer research, I decided to investigate further. And the programme wasn't bad. It was upbeat, and positive and showed patients who had originally felt they'd had no hope but to get their affairs in order being given new treatments that did indeed seem to be working. Selfishly speaking though, I was disappointed to find out that most of the developments they chose to herald as 'breakthough', like Cyberknife (high dose radiotherapy dished out by a sci-fi looking robotic arm), I had already partaken of.  I also had no idea that little 'ole me was at the forefront of cancer research and that the pink pills that I swallow so religiously each day are seen as on the cutting edge of cancer technology. Wow, who knew eh ? Next time, maybe I might even volunteer my own toxin filled body for the benefit of increased TV ratings...

But I digress. Despite the overly simplistic 'I was sick and now I'm cured' tone, the good thing about the programme was the attitude of the patients at the Marsden Hospital. Some looked so relaxed that you'd have thought they were waiting for cough mixture. Even though everyone talked about how nerve-racking it was to await scan results, most of them seem to accept their condition with grace. None of them looked like me. They didn't have the anxious, drained, paranoid expression that seems to accompany me before, during and after each Pet/CT scan. They didn't look as if they experienced the nightmare 'what if' scenarios that assemble in my mind in the early hours of the morn when most of you are still sleeping. Instead of making me feel inadequate, I felt inspired by their dignity and vowed that on the day when I arrived at the hospital to hear news of my fate, that I too would have the courage to keep my composure.

But hey, this is real life and this is me that we're talking about. Unfortunately, I don't do dignified. Unfortunately, I just don't have the patience. As soon as I saw one of my team of doctors appear after only 5 minutes of me waiting (why did she appear so quickly ?) after the very brief how do you do's, I began to cross-examine her. 'Had she received my results ? what were they like ?  why not ?' I have to admit that I barely gave the woman time to return to her consulting room before I began firing questions at her like a prosecutor in court. She actually had no idea and went off to investigate further. Returning with a piece of paper, we went through the results. As she read out the findings to me, I realised that she may as well have been speaking a foreign language. There were lots of references to uptakes and FDAs ??? and non-Fdas and suchlike. So much so, that by the end, I was no wiser. Had my cancer returned ? was there no change or had my body improved ? She told me that it was a good result. My own consultant had just confirmed this, she said. I guess I was expecting to see a piece of paper with just four words written in the middle:  'NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE'.

But, she reassured me that the scan was good. And while I sat outside waiting for a blood test, I was relieved to see my consultant walking down the corridor who also confirmed that the results were indeed good. There had been no significant changes, and as she was grinning from ear to ear while she said this which I can only take to interpret that to mean that it must be good news. So it seems as though  once again I live to fight another day. To be honest, I'm still not sure whether there is cancer in my body or not after reading those results, but if they're good enough for my doc, then they're good enough for me too. As I left the hospital, both smiling and shaken at the same time, I thought about a quote that I'd seen in a newspaper article about metastatic breast cancer. One woman described her primary diagnosis as a 'sprint' and her secondaries as a 'marathon'. But I disagree. To me, it's like hurdles. You jump over one, freestyle your way through life again and no sooner do things get back into rhythm, there's another hurdle waiting for you once more. But on that day - the day of my scan results, I made a toast to Life in all its weird, wonderful, worrisome, scary and surprising guises. I bought some red wine, coffee and teacakes to celebrate (bang goes my caffeine-free, sugar-free, alcohol-free diet again...) my leaping over another hurdle in my never-ending race to stay ahead of the game.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Ten Bad Foods That Are Good For You...

As is so often the case with bouts of inspiration, the frequency of my posts at the moment can be compared to waiting for a bus. You wait for ages for one to turn up, and when it finally appears, you get all three at the same time. I'm able to go for weeks without finding a reason to blog, and then when I finally drag my arse onto a chair and decide to start writing, I find that I can't stop. Nothing wrong with this I hear you say, I just wish inspiration came to me more like the slow, steady drip of a tap rather than the staccato gush of a shower that's been blocked up for months. Anyway, what's most important is not that I seem to be afflicted with occasional bouts of verbal diarrohea, but the fact that I'm trying to keep this blog up-to-date.

So while I have the energy, enthusiasm and good intention, how about another easy-on-the-brain top ten ?

Since I've spent the last couple of posts harping on about the virtues of a fat-free, sugar-less spartan diet, I think a list of bad foods that are actually good for you is a good place to start. I'm not sure I've got enough material for a full-blown top ten, but here goes...

1. Red Wine 
Where would we breast cancer ladies (and men) be without this holy grail of alcoholic drinks to fall back on when times get tough ? The great thing about reading about the abundance of antioxidants in red wine is that no-one ever really tells you how much is enough. One glass or two ? Or maybe half a bottle will do ? It seems as though we have a group of chemicals - namely polyphenols to thank for this guilt-free drinking. 'Moderate' drinking of the red stuff seems to guard against heart disease, cancer and a host of other chronic illnesses. Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be the grape of choice, but let's face it ladies, when you're at home suffering from your latest scanxiety attack, forget about the small print, any old bottle of red will do.

2. Chocolate 
Despite the fact that I spent my early formative years living opposite a sweet shop run by a woman so generous in girth that we affectionately nicknamed her 'fatso', I never really acquired a taste for the sweet stuff. On a good day, I'll always choose a savoury pasty over a sweet pastry. But since my journey into Cancerland, I've had time to reconsider. Dark chocolate (over 70% cocoa) is Mother Nature's way of giving us cancer patients a choco fix without having a guilty conscience afterwards. A medley of cancer-fighting antioxidants is the reasoning behind this. So a few squares a day can really keep the doctor away.

3. A Takeaway Curry from your local Indian Restaurant
O.k. I know I'm stretching it a bit on this one. Current research suggests that having a spoonful of not-so-tasty turmeric (the stuff that gives curries their characteristic yellow/orange colour) every day could halt the spread of breast cancer cells. Turmeric is poorly absorbed by the body so needs the presence of olive oil and black pepper to help things along. Here's where your favourite friday night takeaway comes in. Forget about the fat-laden ghee, the even fattier coconut milk, curry contains turmeric. Turmeric fights cancer. End of story. Now pass the Vindaloo.

4. Semen
Sorry, wishful thinking. Next !

5. Burger and Chips
Here's where I get creative. Don't think about that quarter pounder big mac with fries and mayo. Think of the wholesome veggie bean burger that you normally only chow down on at a hippie music festival or when there's no other choice around. Now add some leafy greens, a generous spoonful of hummus, a slice of tomato and a bit of avocado. Substitute the nasty ole regenerated potato chips for roasted sweet potato wedges... and congratulations ! You've just completed your five-a-day portions of fruit and veg. You still get to feast on a burger bun only you won't feel half as stuffed and soporific once you've finished eating and your body will be singing your praises until well, the next lot of sweet potato fries.

So there you go. Not the top ten that I'd originally hoped for but hey, it's Easter and I'm mentally on holiday. If you can think of any others, feel free to add to the list. And Happy Easter folks!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

28 Days Later...

Yikes. Has it really been almost a month since I last dropped by?  In my new triple-layered journey of a life which passes through the 9-5, Todderville and Cancerland, I seem to have used up another batch of 28 days. Oh well.

So much for my last virtuous post in which I informed you all of my abstinence from all things rich, fatty and full of taste. It seems as though returning to work has not only revived my bank balance - it has also ignited my taste for all things sweet. Despite my good intentions, I have to confess, that since I last spoke to you, I have managed to partake of a bag of Liquorice Allsorts, a burger and chips, questionable amounts of red wine and cake. Yes, you heard me. Cake ! And I have no excuse. My birthday is well and truly long gone.  I've not even been eating the wholesome and clean-living carrot kind of cake but fat, greasy, trans-fat slabs of victoria sponge and chocolate brownie. It seems as though when surrounded by my friends at work, I momentarily forget about those oestrogen-loving cancer cells. I pretend that they're currently away on holiday and living it up in Lanzarote or somewhere and that they won't really notice if I pop a mouthful of butter-laden, sugar-loaded icing cream into my mouth. So, despite the rhetoric, I have to concede that when it comes to barely there cancer-free diets, I am a novice. No, strike that. I'm not even a novice. I'm a non-starter. If there's a way that I can do this malarky part-time while still enjoying some of life's vice-filled pleasures, then I'm down with it. But there's only so much vegetable juice that you can down before you start to indeed feel like one yourself. So for now, I've realised that if I can't be a 24-7 virtuous, vice-free chick all of the time, then some of the time is just going to have to do fine. For now anyway.

But what of life ?  Well, to borrow the title of a much-loved Mike Leigh movie, Life is Sweet. It is indeed, well sweet. I'm happy and feel blessed to be surrounded by people who I love and who love me. But as I write this, I'm well aware that I'm once again at that crossroads of a junction - the period in between having had a scan and awaiting the results. Since this is my third bout of scanxiety, you'd think I'd be a pro at the experience by now. But the waiting still freaks me out, so much so that I'm beyond feeling scared. Can you remember what it was like to get caught at school doing something that you really shouldn't be doing and being so scared of what the consequences might be when you're folks found out that... you kind of just stopped worrying ? I mean, it wasn't like you were no longer scared, you were beyond scared. You were too worried to worry. Completely zoned out in a zoneless zone. It might sound like some kind of zen-like blissful state but the real emotion here is numbness. I've realised that I've worried myself into an emotionless corner. I guess it beats trying to second guess the experts by taking a sneak preview at my scan (don't worry, I won't be going down that road again...) but my lack of focus and feelings about my imminent appointment with my onc feels a bit like I've overdosed on anti-depressants and am now having a hard time seeing the sunshine for the clouds.

But no matter, since this is fast becoming my new normal, I guess I should start getting used to it. What I don't understand is why no-one's ever written a book about this subject ? Forget the 'I-ran-a-marathon-after-my-lumpectomy-and-loved-it' confessional; that post-chemo, post-mastectomy state of nirvana that so many publishers seem to be drawn to like bees to honey has got nothing on the this-scan-could-well-be-my-last drama of the metastatic cancer patient. Maybe there's a Hollywood blockbuster in there somewhere. Now all I need to do is try to convince Mr Spielberg that this idea truly has legs. Well, it certainly has breasts. So by Hollywood standards, I guess I'm already half way there.