Today was the first of my five, yearly visits to the Breast Clinic just to check that all is going well. It follows on from my annual mammogram. The appointment was with Brainy Spice and I was looking forward to seeing her.
However, on arrival, I seriously began to question whether I had got the place, time or date of the appointment wrong. The waiting room I was shown to was in the Oncology Clinic which threw me a little. But it is adjacent to the Breast Unit so that did not seem unreasonable. It was very crowded. Again, nothing unusual about that. But I did begin to wonder if I had inadvertently been sent to a Health Care for the Elderly Clinic. I was easily the youngest in the room by at least twenty years. Until the woman in her thirties showed up. I must have looked ancient to her so I can only shudder at what she thought of the rest of our companions. Of course, there is the possibility that these women were, in fact, all in the their fifties and were attending their last review appointment having spent the past five years on Letrozole.
Which brings me to my consultation. Brainy Spice was as fab as ever. I was as dippy as ever. I had a list of questions I wanted to ask. Unfortunately, it was a mental list. Mistake. Obviously, I got side tracked by demonstrating my tit twitching abilities and promptly forgot all about it. She was impressed though and felt that as a plan to fall back on in hard times, it was not an unreasonable one. Hurrah. The one question I did remember to ask was about Letrozole. Just lately I have been having a lot of trouble with muscle cramps and joint stiffness. I am frequently woken in the night with my calves or feet cramping and I can no longer sit cross legged on the floor without a good deal of pain. Both these problems are getting worse. To establish whether it is the Letrozole causing the problems or just an absence of oestrogen, Brainy Spice has suggested I have a Letrozole holiday. So for six weeks, my little brown pills get metaphorically packed away in a suitcase with arm bands and a bucket and spade. I wonder if they will send a post card?
Following this break, I return to clinic to discuss the findings. Of course by then, I will be sporting my new rack. I wonder if I will still be able to twitch?
Part of preparing for this next lot of lopping and trimming involves buying yet more underwear. Before cancer came to play, I used to thoroughly enjoy any excuse for a spot of lingering in the lingerie department. Not so much since. I am in possession of three mastectomy bras that bizarrely seem to hide my lopsidedness whether or not I wear my prosthesis so despite much research, I generally do not bother with it. I do not understand why my size B cup and size F cup look relatively balanced while wearing them. I think it is the magic of the Mastectomy Fairy. That can be the only reason for having to wear such hideous and ugly garments. I will, of course, have to buy a whole new set of bras in a new size but just at the moment, my brain is fusing at this prospect and it cannot compute that yet. Which is just as well as it is too soon. To begin with, my delightful Asda Soft & Comfy bras will be pressed once more into service. Mm mmm!
So no, it is not bras I am after. My latest venture into underwear consumerism is for big pants. Think Bridget Jones. Think Trinny & Susannah. You see, this latest op involves a spot of hoovering. Surgical Spice is going to connect a Henry Hoover to my stomach, suck out some fat (I have suggested she may like to leave it running longer than is strictly necessary. She seemed less than keen), then use it to fill in the pot holes in my newbie. As techniques go, it maybe one the council should consider as the potholes round our way are dreadful and I bet there are many who would queue up to have their fat hoovered out. Anyway, anyway, anyway. Once this has happened I have to wear compression pants for sometime. That’s shape wear. Control knickers. The sort of thing one dons to look incredibly svelte on a posh night out. No one has told me how long I have to wear them for yet. My record for such garments is about two hours. Usually I last until the first trip to the bathroom. And then I am undone. Literally. Flapping in the breeze if you will. Or alternatively, totally removed and shoved in my handbag. I will have to be more disciplined. Tunnels may result if I am not. And while that sounds curious, I think it is better not to find about them first hand.
I am now in possession of several pairs of the aforementioned constricting garments. All of them come with popper openings to make the bathroom trips less of a struggle. I foresee much wailing and gnashing of teeth as I have never been a girl for restrictions but needs must.
It was odd being back at the hospital today. I was being prepped for surgery on the 9th but still waiting for the results of my mammogram so unsure whether or not it would go ahead. However, despite leaping whenever the post dropped through the door and pouncing on the phone as soon as it has rung, no results have arrived at our house.
So I went through the motions with an extremely nice nurse, ticking boxes, standing on scales, being measured etc. all the while thinking this may not be necessary. Although now I come to think about it, whatever the outcome of my mammogram, some surgical intervention would happen so maybe it was all as well.
As the appointment drew to a close, she handed me reading matter on breast reductions and ward/admission information. Then, as an afterthought, I mentioned my mammogram. Immediately, she looked up the results and there they were. On the screen. In plain sight:
No abnormality detected.
And I breathed a little deeper and a little easier for the first time in over a week. Until the hacking cough got me that is. The Captain has been very ill. With proper flu. It appears he has been generous with his germs. I am thinking of daubing a cross on the front door in red paint for we are a house of sickness. Bugger.
What better way to kick off my second year of breast cancer survival than with a mammogram? Perhaps a large gin? But no. For me, a trip to the All Singing All Dancing Breast Unit was in order. And to be fair, for this I was very grateful.
As previously mentioned, I have a date with Surgical Spice in March that I am keen to keep. But I can only do this providing there is no evidence of a new breast cancer lurking within my, hopefully soon to be considerably reduced, right boob. I do feel it would be particularly mean for a new cancer to pop up but given that I have done this once already, I am sadly at greater risk. Sigh. So annual mammograms it is.
The delightful Brainy Spice rejigged appointments for me so that I would have all sorted in time for my date with Surgical Spice and today was the appointed hour. It was odd. I have never found it a distressing or painful experience. Undignified, yes. Uncomfortable, even. But these things are acceptable. However, it has taken on a new significance. Since beginning the whole screening malarkey back with smears in my twenties, I have always been able to put them out of mind once done. Somehow, I do not think I will be doing that this time. I only had to have the one boob irradiated. Does that equal half the discomfort and half the indignity? Possibly not. It certainly does not make for half the worry.
The radiographer assured me I would hear through the post in the usual way. I also have a date with Brainy Spice in two weeks time. But from past experience, I know I may receive a phone call. So for the next fortnight I shall be leaping out of my skin whenever the post arrives or whenever the phone rings.
Maybe it is time for that gin, after all.
Me: Do you know what today is?
Me: It’s exactly one year since you took me to me to get pissed in a gin bar in Birmingham.
One year ago today I received my breast cancer diagnosis. I thought my world had ended. One year on it is a very different place but it is still a world filled with joy and love. Cancer may have replaced my magnificent bosom with a strangely twitching half boobsicle (for now) but it has not dimmed the brilliance with which my world shines. So I enter my second post cancer year, one and half boobs to the fore, and stride on confidently, knowing that exciting things await me in 2017.
You will be pleased to know I have been very diligent in the back exercise department. Very diligent indeed. I still cannot pick things up from floor easily but I am moving with far less discomfort and am no longer confined to the house. Hurrah!
My first trip out was, of course, to the hospital. It has been an age since last I was there. This time, it was to yet another department. I was in search of the Infusion Suite, for I had a date with Zolendronic Acid. You are jealous. I can tell. I have concluded that this is the worst signposted hospital in the history of badly signposted hospitals. As yet again, I had to resort to asking for help. I did get there and it was eerily like being in the chemo unit: comfy chairs, pillows to support arms, lots of drip stands, lots of IV pumps, lots of off colour people sitting around. But it was ok.
My biggest concern was my veins. Blood needed to be taken as well as a cannula sited and it became a two stage procedure as while my veins will put out, they are stingy and delicate in the extreme. However, a cannula was sited in the crook of my elbow and provided I barely breathed, it worked. Two hours later, I was good to go. When I saw Bones at the Osteoporosis Clinic on my last visit, she had warned me that I could expect up to a week of ‘flu like symptoms. I have experienced nothing as severe as this. So far, I have been a bit achey and a bit muzzy headed but that is all. And the joy of not having awful stomach pains related to taking bisphosphonates means I will take this anytime.
I already have my next annual appointment, 12th February 2018 – nothing like being prepared 🙂
I have been bad. And less than diligent in the exercise department. And now I am suffering. It will be sometime before I consider bending over backwards. Or forwards. Or any which way. Yesterday my bulging discs decided to bulge a little more and send my muscles in to spasm again. I am less than pleased with this development. Actually, I am extremely pissed off with it.
You see, I had plans. Yesterday evening was to be the first time I had made it to my book group since about June. I had woken with a migraine but with drugs and naps had managed to see that off. I did not feel brilliant but I was very determined. Then while bending to remove dinner from the grill, the now all too familiar pain exploded once more. I am so tired of having plans spoiled. Of having to rearrange my life. Of letting others down. Of being the flaky unreliable one. I just want to return to normal. Not a new normal. My old normal will do fine. I had felt like that was beginning to happen. I made my first batches of jam since March on Wednesday. I have been getting fitter and healthier and generally feeling more like my old self.
Instead of continuing this trajectory, the rug has been pulled well and truly from under me and I am back to doing hourly exercises. Pacing around because sitting is too painful. Lying on the floor when that becomes too much. And being far too tearful for the skin on my face to cope with. It all feels just a bit too much.
Last week the Captain and I abandoned the dull cold and drizzly weather of January in the UK for the sunnier climes of nine days in Tenerife. And it was just a little bit fabulous. To lounge around in shorts and tee shirts under blue skies and warm sunshine really was delightful. We read books, walked walks, ate masses of fish and even drank a soupçon of gin. Perfect.
We got back on Wednesday to a letter from Surgical Spice. Apparently they anticipate a bed being available for me on the 9th of March for the next phase of my reconstruction. Oo er! I know she said March last time we met, but somehow I had sort of consigned it to the realms of Sometime Never so it came as something of a surprise. I am a bit dim like that. However, I am not sorry. I had a total meltdown on holiday over my unbalanced state. My last minute packing had meant I could not find my mastectomy swimming costume so there was no point in taking my prosthesis. I did pack other costumes but when push came to shove, I could not face the pool. It is one thing to go about unbalanced in a bra, fully clothed, when quite frankly, it is pretty much impossible to tell (for reasons I do not understand but there we have it), but it is an entirely different matter to do so in a swimming costume. And I just could not do it. So the lopping and trimming of my right boob and the plumping and adjusting of my left is coming at the perfect time.
There is, however, the small matter of having a clear mammogram first. Since cancer came to play, I get to have mammograms on an annual basis for five years and I am due one very soon. So, February is going to bring a whole host of appointments as I gear up for yet more surgery. Fun fun fun!
Following my diagnosis of osteoporosis back in October, I started taking oral Bisphosphonates immediately. This was a jolly good thing. For two reasons: good for my bones; good for secondary cancer prevention. Unfortunately it turned out to be a disaster for my gut. I could not tolerate it at all. First dose led to me crying ‘Huey’ and ‘Ralph’ into the giant white telephone for a fair part of the day. Subsequent doses were not quite so catastrophic but pretty nasty gut rot followed so this line of administration was declared A Failure. I had similar problems with the administration of Vitamin D and Calcium for I am indeed a Delicate Little Flower. However, there at least, my GP has come up with a combo that works. I take an effervescent calcium twice daily and some vitamin D once a month. Marvellous.
Back to the Bisphosphonates. I need them. So in a bid to find an alternative way of administration, I was referred to the Osteoporosis Clinic where I found myself today. It was actually a small miracle that I found myself there at all as the appointment letter failed to specify where the clinic was being held. Funnily enough, I did not consider the Maternity Block a likely venue so it was last on my search list. But we all know I am over efficient in the being early department, therefore I had time to scour the entire hospital and there it was. I liked my consultant. We shall call her Bones. She did not look much like her Star Trek counterpart but wearing that uniform might have made her feel a little silly.
Bones has decided I am to have annual transfusions of Zoledronic acid which is the IV version of bisphosphonates. It involves being hospital for a few hours and then the likelihood of a few days of flu like symptoms. But once a year. I can live with that. Before I left I had to have blood taken to check my vitamin D levels are high enough, if not, extra treatment will be given. When I waved my chemo burned veins at the child-phlebotomist (I swear she was not out of primary school), her eyes nearly filled with tears which did not make me feel hugely confident. However, there was extremely good news on that front. Whether it was a fluke, a one off, extreme skill or signs of recovery, blood was let at the first attempt with no difficulty whatsoever. I rather wished I had had a lollipop in my handbag or a gold star with which to reward my young friend, who was giddy with her triumph.
All that remains is to wait for a transfusion date to arrive through the post.
It was quite a year. And one that I am not alone in being glad to see the back of. So 2017 dawns, grey and rainy, and I greet it full of snot and with a hacking cough. My plans for the new uber fit me are temporarily on hold. But I shall return to them.
My efforts to date have seen me shed all of my chemo weight – hurrah! The Captain has given me a fitbit for Christmas so my new obsession is going to be increasing my steps and activity levels. I still have a fair way to go before I reach my health BMI range but I will get there. This stupid cold is not helping. My crappy immune system means I am picking up pretty much everything going. I only got rid of my last cold the week before Christmas. But at least I did not succumb while going through treatment which would have been far worse.
Christmas itself was delightful. I pretty much grinned the whole time. To be fit and well enough to be with family and celebrate was so special. The Captain and I have even begun to plan our boating itinerary for this year. And more to the point, I am even beginning to believe it may actually happen!
Thank you to everyone who made 2016 bearable. It is never going down as my favourite year, but it is definitely the year when I realised how loved I was. And that is a precious gift, my friends. Thank you x