It’s been another tough week. I seem to be saying that a lot lately, don’t I?!
SHEEZ universe, give a girl a break!
Just when I feel like things are feeling a bit more settled in my mind and I’m getting a firmer hold on the whole cancer bizzo, something else creeps up and trips me over.
…kicks me when I’m down.
Last Tuesday I had a scheduled check up with my breast surgeon. I think I may have mentioned before that my breast surgeon is the absolute ‘bees’ knees’. She is a formidable ally to have in my treatment corner, and someone I am grateful for every single day.
Back in December when I was diagnosed with cancer, she was the first doctor I was referred to by my GP, and she has since become the leader of a multidisciplinary team of specialists who will look after me through treatment and beyond.
From that first day my husband and I stumbled into her consulting rooms, dazed and broken, she has carried us through the physical and emotional upheaval of a cancer diagnosis with openness, expertise and tenderness. She has seen me at my lowest, answered some of the hardest questions imaginable, and fiercely advocated for the highest level of care for me every step of the way. She has got to be one of the hardest working people I have ever known. She’s also as GLAM as they come, so I get a bit awestruck by her general awesomeness.
But she is not the only expert who is working tirelessly to give me my best chance of recovery. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the nature of the rigorous treatment process makes it very much a team effort. In my case, my breast surgeon consulted dozens of cancer experts and discussed my individual case widely before selecting the oncology professionals who would be responsible for my care. Breast cancer, like every cancer, is not a one-treatment-fits-all scenario. No two cancers are the same and treatment schedules reflect this.
In my case, primarily due to my young age and the aggressive nature of my particular cancer, I guess they’re simply throwing everything they can at it! I had surgery (bilateral mastectomy and full axilla clearance) to clear out all macroscopic evidence of cancer, right now I’m in the middle of the chemotherapy phase, which will ‘mop up’ any stray cancer cells left behind or any unidentifiable microscopic metastases in the body, next there’ll be radiotherapy to sterilise the cancerous sites in my breast, chest and neck, and then lengthy periods of targeted therapies and hormone therapy to hopefully prevent recurrence. No wonder people compare it to a battle, it is an unbelievably long, arduous treatment course that makes you feel much, much worse before you are better!
Of course, when cancer is diagnosed earlier, the chance of a less brutal treatment plan is high, and outcomes better, which is why I’m always on about checking your breasts regularly! Go on then…do it now! I’ll wait for you!
Now where was I?
Ah yes…glam surgeon…
So there I was last Tuesday at a routine check-up with my aforementioned super ace breast surgeon. I had almost gone to this appointment solo, thinking it would be a quick 10 minute review of my scar lines and I’d be free to nick down to Gorman on Bridge Road for some retail therapy. (One little plus side of my recent change in lifestyle is that it’s become VERY EASY to rationalise impromptu purchases of the accessorial kind. They may not be necessities, but I bloody deserve them anyway!) However, based on previous experience, I have unfortunately come to realise that it’s not a great idea to go to any cancer appointments on my own. Things always have a nasty way of going awry when I least expect it.
Whilst lying down for my full boob review, my surgeon, who had been chatting away about how good my scars were looking and whether or not my plastic surgeon was going to pump up my mounds of flesh any further, she suddenly stopped talking and frowned.
Now, let me tell you, I am on FULL BLOWN HIGH ALERT these days for sudden bits of bad news, and that frown set me into a bit of a spin. When she subsequently reached for her ultrasound machine, I started to feel really sick. Here we go again, I thought.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“I’ve just found something – a lump in your armpit. It might be a cyst. I just need to have a closer look.”
It wasn’t a cyst.
What started as a routine check-up, ended up as hours in radiology, waiting to undergo more tests to find out if this was in fact another tumour that had somehow grown despite the current treatment. I had to have another ultrasound and three very painful core biopsies that would need to be analysed by pathology before we knew any more. It meant yet again we were forced to confront the unbearable reality of cancer – that sometimes treatment doesn’t work, that despite all my doctors’ best efforts, this disease may linger in my body and pop up again.
I left the hospital feeling utterly deflated. If this was a recurrence, things did not bode well.
Fortunately, I have a wonderful family who rallies behind me at every setback, and friends who cop the full force of my emotional breakdowns, and then pick me up with their love. My beautiful girlfriends took me out for a smashing dinner and comedy show on a night when I wanted to crawl into bed. They helped me smile, laugh and (almost) forget about my shitty day, and while the unknown nasties were still very much there, they felt easier to confront somehow.
Well, I’m glad to report that the news we got the following day was good. As I waited to see my oncologist before my weekly chemo infusion, my surgeon rang my dad who was sitting beside me to tell him the core biopsies came back ALL CLEAR. My dad embraced me with tears in his eyes and all the dread of the last 24 hours flooded out of me.
I cried and cried and cried.
I still have to have this lump monitored. Apparently it’s a stray, swollen lymph node full of fat cells. I have never LOVED the presence of FAT cells more than I did that Wednesday morning!
GLORIOUS, GLORIOUS FAT! THREE CHEERS FOR FAT!
I guess this experience has once again highlighted the scary nature of the journey of a cancer patient. There have been so many challenges for me to face already, and I know there will be many more unforeseen ones I’ll have to confront down the track. Cancer is a nasty, insidious disease that can act unpredictably.
All I can do is continue to put my trust in the team of extraordinary medical specialists looking after me, in the new therapies that are being tested in the clinical trial I’m on right now, and the research that continues to discover more and more about ways to treat cancer.
Oh…AND make sure I continue to take someone along with me to all of my appointments!