Reoccurrence reassurance

So I guess the general rule for this blog is that when I say, ‘I’ll write about this tomorrow’, it really means, ‘I’ll write about this in a day or two or three’ because things get busy. Yesterday morning I woke up with the intention of doing three things: Washing the dishes. Making Lunch. Writing  a post about my trip to the hospital.

Two out of three isn’t bad. And here we are today – somehow more dishes have sprung up overnight and lunch will need making again. However, they had their chance yesterday. Today is for the writing.

On Monday I went to my GP and asked her to refer me to the hospital. Apparently this was an unnecessary step – I could have contacted a breast care nurse at the hospital directly, but it was good to catch up with Dr Kind (plus I needed to refill my prescription).

Tuesday morning I had a call from the hospital, “Hello Mrs Brunelle, we’ve got a space for you tomorrow morning. Can you make it?”

Yes.  I could make it. This call came just as I was entering my acupuncturist’s office, but not even she could help me relax after that point. There was something she did with my eyebrows that was divine and always knocks me out, but five minutes later I was thinking about that breast exam and getting wound up again.

[Zsolt is sitting here on the bed as I write this post, eating some yogurt. Every twenty seconds he asks a question: are you a biolife? Are you a chumbawumba? Are you a konyec? But I have no clue what a konyec is, apparently it means ‘the end’.]

Anyhow! It was nerve racking. My body revolted against me later in the day and served up a killer stomach ache, which was subsequently blamed on a leftover Valentine’s day dish of cabbage and pork, but was likely also due to stress.

Wednesday I went to the hospital. They sent me to the clinic that contains all things cancer – this is where the oncologists, surgeons and radiation doctors meet and mingle. Passing us in the waiting area was my surgeon who nodded to Zsolt (I was absorbed by my magazine), and as we were shown into a consultation room my oncologist passed by and waved hello too.

Again the nurse asked me to remove my top and put on the cape. You do not have to put on that terrible cape. Maybe if it takes five minutes to remove your clothing, do what they ask, but so long as you can whip off your shirt – why bother with an ugly, cold, and awkward cape?

Generally we wait about 30 to 45 minutes in those consultation rooms, but this time things were quick. In walked a doctor, a student (baby doctor) and – ugh!the same breast care nurse who was in the room when I was first given my diagnosis. Panic threatened to set in, but then I thought to myself, ‘why would they bring a baby doctor along if they had bad news?’ which was logical. It turned out they couldn’t have given me bad news, because they literally had no idea why I was there. A file had landed on their desk (with most of the contents missing because my original file was lost) and they knew I was worried about lumps. But that was all.

After retelling my breast cancer story, showing off the tidy scar, and having my breast checked by yet another doctor, I was assured this was probably nothing, ‘but we’ll send you for a scan anyhow.’

The breast care nurse was very generous in telling me that my fear was normal. ‘If you didn’t feel this way, then we’d be worried.’ I suspect that isn’t true, but it was kind of her to say.

And one hour later I had my ultrasound.

Fast, no?

Again they shot cold gel onto my chest. Again some slippery rubbery thing glided around my breast. Again it probed the lumps. ‘I can feel what you mean,’ said the doctor, ‘but everything looks normal.’

Whew. This was a relief. One – I hadn’t imagined the problem. Two – it wasn’t cancer.


And now I can finally enjoy how much better my body feels. Wednesday afternoon I ran up the stairs at work, and only realized half way through that I was RUNNING. My face has regained colour (blood), and my energy is picking up. True, my finger nails are still dying, but significant progress has been made in all areas.

There’s so much to look forward to now; the next six months will be wonderful. Hard in some ways because we’ll leave our home, but amazing in others (travelling, spa-going, resting, hanging with husband, graduation, Zsolt turns THIRTY).  I’m finally free to enjoy, boob bumps and all.

So there you have it! I admire women who get past the fear of reoccurrence. It’s something that I need to learn. But at least until my next scan I have this release. It feels really good, amazingly good, and I’m thankful.

Radiotherapy in a nutshell

No joking around, I am t-i-r-e-d. They say that radiotherapy can cause exhaustion, and while the majority is due to radiation, at least some of it has got to be due to routine. And speaking of which, here is my Radiotherapy Routine, which I’m guessing is similar to others undergoing treatment.

Every morning I take a shower and scrub down. Why not in the evening, you might ask? Because revealing two sweaty armpits while a group of people lean into your chest is embarrassing. My first radiotherapy session, I go in and take off the three layers of shirts (undershirt, t-shirt, jumper) and was most definitely sweating with nerves. Getting on the table, the nurse asks me to raise my arms above my head and – whew!—in that shaming moment the lesson was learnt. No more night-time showers, it’s every morning from now on. Nothing like complete strangers having to inhale your body odours to drive a lesson home.

Right. So I take a shower and put on fresh clothes.  Makeup, deodorant, perfume etc are not allowed.

Next Zsolt drives me to the hospital. This is generally pleasant until we reach the hospital parking lot. The radiotherapy ward shares a teeny tiny parking lot with eye care emergencies . . . and I don’t know how many people are sticking objects into their eyes per day, but this parking lot is always full. So, per routine, I get out of the car and check to see whether any places are available. If not, we wait at the parking lot entrance until someone finishes their business with the hospital and leaves. Today while waiting, cars behind us somehow assumed we were broken down and started driving into the parking lot, totally gong-ho on finding a spot, only to reverse their metallic butts back into line once they realized there were no places, duh (expect for one line cutter, but she got a honking).

Anyhow, at this point, with or without Zsolt, who may or may not still be waiting for a spot, I head into the radiotherapy department.  It’s essentially a large hallway with padded chairs and magazines. The ceiling is high, the lighting is bright and there is a garden area that is currently seal off due to poor weather.  I scan my bar code – there is no receptionist – and wait to be called.

The longest I’ve waited to be called is about ten minutes. These people are fast.

“Catherine Brunelle” and I go in.

During my first appointment they took several measurements – by the time I was allowed to move again my arm had gone numb. However, since then it’s been much faster.

They escort you into a large room, center of which is a scanning-type machine with a long, hard bed/table  covered in paper. The table has a rest for your butt to be pushed against, a board to anchor your feet on, and some holders for the arms. It’s like the dentist chair taken to a higher, harder level of discomfort. And it’s flatter.

In the background music plays. You take off your clothes (whatever may be necessary) and get onto the table.

At which point they ask you to look up at the ceiling, totally relax your body, and let them move you around. As this happens the nurses have a very strange discussion: “A little emph here” “9.8 emph” “Lined up here” “A bit emph to the right” “13” “9.7” “10” “Emph?”

Okay, so if aliens were to abduct me tonight and lay me on their hard lab table, maybe they would use a similar language to these nurses. I have no idea what they’re talking about, and they have no time to explain. It’s all very quick.

But this isn’t an abduction. On the ceiling there is a picture of a tree with blossoms.

They move me very slightly here and there – I’m not quite sure what the point is because despite doing my best ‘rag doll’ impression, I’m bound to be moving a milimeter here and there, plus when the table rises or falls those vibrations shake me around.

Anyhow, they move me into position and the nurse put this rubbery/gel-ish ‘blanket’ across the area to be shot. Apparently this fools the machine into thinking it’s treating the area, and the skin ends up with more radiation. This is a good thing? Anyhow, they tape the blanket to my chest and then boot it outta there.

It’s just me and the machine.

The sounds start – machine sounds, a lot of quiet whirling, and then the radiation . . .

Firstly, it doesn’t hurt to be shot with radiation. Apparently the reaction comes later. Secondly, the beam is invisible. But there is a sound. An ugly sound. The loud static buzz of bees. Ugh.

And then the machine does it’s thing on one side, then the other, and then it’s done. Presto. The entire treatment take about six or seven minutes.

After which I throw my clothes back on, say goodbye to the nurses, Zsolt validates the parking and we go home.

Three days down. Twelve more to go. As of yet there is no reaction, but it’s still early days. Fingers crossed for some good progress!

Radiotherapy is about to start

Tomorrow is radiotherapy.

From the experience of others, I’ve heard it’s not a difficult process: Go in. Lay down. Get Radiated. Leave. And that was a relief to hear, but not entirely relieving. Tomorrow is radiotherapy, which means tomorrow I’ll start another bout of hospital visits and another therapy that could possibly give me more cancer in fifteen to twenty years time. Okay, so it is a small possibility, but nevertheless . . . (wouldn’t it be nice if there was a medical therapy that wouldn’t possibly give me cancer in fifteen, twenty, thirty years time? Yes. It would be nice.)

And this will help kill any lingering cancer cells in the right chest area.

It is my great and ardent hope that at this moment there are no cancer cells remaining. All the cancer cells have vacated the body, with my recovering immune system accompanying them to the door. Good bye and good riddance. But, if there are some lingering little buggers who think they’ve escaped – I have a message for you:


And leave me alone.

I’ve never wished death on any person, nor would I – and I certainly don’t wish it upon myself. But sometimes we need to be tough; we need to survive (think animal kingdom and our omnivore roots). And cancer isn’t a person, it’s a disease. Besides, I’m feeling a bit shitty about having to do radiotherapy – so funnelling that frustration into some anger bullets for cancer-hunting is constructive.

BANG! goes the cancer.

At least, that’s what I’m aiming for.

Frig. I’m still freaking nervous.  Frig. Frig. Frig.