It’s been quite a month!
Since the initial discovery of a lump in my right armpit, and subsequent query at the GP in early December, here is the list of tests, scans and surgeries I’ve undergone. Check it out. I think it’s pretty impressive!
* Mammogram – basically a squashed boob sandwiched between cold metal plates!
* Breast Ultrasounds – just very gooey
* Blood tests – PFFT! To think these used to bother me!
* Core biopsies – yeah…not that pleasant. Chunks of tumour removed through the skin. Think mini apple corer.
* Sentinel Node biopsies – same as above but in your armpit.
* Sentinel Node Drainage – I think this was by far the worst. Radioactive dye injected into my nipple (felt like acid) to see which lymph nodes sucked it up first.
* MRI – sounded like a jack-hammer in my ears for 15 minutes, but painless
* CT Scan – totally weird. More radioactive dye that made my body flush hot, a metallic taste appear in my mouth and made me feel as though I’d peed myself. (I promise I hadn’t!)
* Bone Scan – more radioactive dye (By this stage I was surprised I wasn’t glowing green!) and I was inserted into a tubular machine that spun around me slowly
* Bilateral Mastectomy – 8 hour surgery! Asleep throughout, so mostly okay, but it’s taken away my soft, normal boobs and replaced them with hard, flat, nipple-less mounds. Not exactly ideal. But took away all macroscopic evidence of cancer, so – YAY!
* Full Axilla Clearance – removal of all the lymph nodes in my armpit. Again, I was asleep, so quite fine. Armpit is tight and sore now, and more prone to infection and something called Lymphodema (JOY!)
* Breast Reconstruction with tissue expanders – done by a plastic surgeon during my mastectomy surgery. Basically some round, balloon-type things inserted where my boobs once were. To be expanded slowly and help retain a pocket for implants later on.
* Tissue Expansion – expanders are filled with saline via a big-arse needle. Doesn’t hurt though, because I can’t feel my boobs post-surgery.
* ECHO heart test – ultrasound of heart, checking blood flow through ventricles
* ECG – total non-event. Took about 10 seconds
* Arm port insertion surgery – surgical insertion of a vascular access port under the skin in my upper arm. Will be used to deliver chemo drugs into my body, without the need for constant cannulas. Under local anaesthetic, so wasn’t too bad, but now feels like my arm’s been punched about 100 times.
Prior to this list, I’d only had the odd blood test here and there, and my three experiences of hospital were giving birth to my beautiful babies. Hospital therefore, was always a positive, happy place. The idea of suffering and sickness had basically eluded me. Now that I find myself on the other side, and each trip to the Epworth is for cancer-related procedures and treatment, I’ve become acutely aware of the many people in our community facing adversity; the ashen faces, the pained expressions, the anxiety in the eyes of their loved ones.
My journey so far has been fairly ok. Sure, the injections and cannulas have left me feeling a bit like a human pincushion at times, bruised and a little overwhelmed, mostly I am continually reminded how incredible modern medicine is. I’m in awe of the fact that each one of the tests or scans has given my team of doctors more detailed information about my cancer: where it was growing, at what rate, what it was receptive to and how far it had spread. While scary to go through, and often very uncomfortable, at least now the unknowns are minimal.
It has, however, made me develop a severe case of scan-phobia! The fear that with each new scan, something sinister is lurking just around the corner. Yesterday, while having an ECHO heart scan to check the ventricles of my heart were in tip-top shape prior to chemo, the radiographer suddenly mentioned he needed to get his supervisor to check things. My heart sank. Surely my body wasn’t failing me again! In the end, it was just that he couldn’t get clear enough pictures on his own, and needed the experience of his supervisor to do so. My heart is beating just fine. Phew!
I think scan-phobia will probably hang around me for quite a while yet. After all the treatments I will have this year (and next) are finished, I will be closely monitored for the next decade of my life. This will mean regular tests and scans of my body to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned or metastasised elsewhere.
But hey, at least there are the technologies around today, to enable things like cancer to be detected and treated quite quickly. I feel so lucky to be living in a country with a great health system and dedicated, caring health care professionals.
If you are reading this and are, right now, happy and healthy…what a wonderful thing! I felt that way too for most of my life and fully believed it would stay that way. And while I wish nothing more than continued health and happiness for all of you, I ask you to be actively grateful for it, and aware of those in your life who are currently struggling.
For now, I’m putting my health in the hands of my amazing team of specialists: my breast surgeon (who incidentally is not only incredibly hardworking, but also a bit of a glamazon), my medical oncologist, my radiation oncologist, breast care nurses and oncology nurses. I have no doubts I am getting the best possible treatment and care, and my fingers and toes are crossed that I will come out the other end stronger, and more thankful for good health!