Cancer treatment plan

There’s nothing like a dose of reality to make a girl feel crushed. But then again, there isn’t much better than a long nap and a drink of ice water to make this girl feel better.

Cancer never felt more real than it did today. Even with a breast removed, the ‘C’ word doesn’t become tangible  until the doctor lets slip those dreaded few words: ‘it’s chemo time, baby.’


So today (past tense) Zsolt, my mother and I go to the oncology outpatients centre.  We are received and shown a room rather quickly (very quickly – last time we waited about 45 minutes, this time it was 10). The nurse asked me to put on the cape; I said ‘no thank you’ and didn’t, because that cape is terrible and cold.

Eventually the surgeon arrives with one of the breast care nurses. This gentleman is not one for flowery words. He gets down to it. Your cancer is a mixture of fast and slow growing cells, it has spread to four lymph nodes. You will, most likely, be recommended a course of chemo therapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.

Zsolt shoots questions from the right corner chair.

Zsolt: What about the margins, are they safe?

My Surgeon: The margins are clear, but small.

Zsolt: And the blood vessels?

My Surgeon: Good question (points for Zsolt). They have tested clear, but we can’t be sure.

Zsolt: Has is spread beyond the lymph nodes?

My Surgeon: Result show no evidence, but because it was present in four lymph nodes, there is a risk of spreading. (minus points for me)

A few more questions from my mom, which for some reason I cannot remember, and then he bowed out and left the room. I tried saying thank you for removing my breast, but he waved it aside. I do not think it was a rude wave, not at all, it was a ‘don’t worry about it, this is my job and I don’t do well with flattery’ sort of wave. It was a respectable wave, but I’ll probably send a card nevertheless.

So crap. Fuck. And yeah, okay I am swearing. . . but come on. Never in my life would I choose to go through such physical bullshit, this black hole of shit (as one friend described), and to swear feels good. Really good. I’d like to spend an entire day doing nothing but swearing because at the moment I am so angry with my body, and so angry with my circumstances, that to open a big can of ‘what the fuck’ and shake it all over town would be really satisfying. I’d like to get a mega phone and turn it to sonic high and just yell, and yell, and yell about how angry I really feel.

The funny thing is, there will always be people who have it worse. Walking through the hospital is a stark reminded of that reality. It’s one reason why I turn my stride to speed-walk as I navigate the long florescent corridors of the general  hospital; they have it much worse, and I don’t want to become one of them. That’s terrible, isn’t it? I know. I really know. But I’m desperate to not become a sick person in the hallway. Even if others look at me and feel the same kind of dread, I don’t want to ‘belong’. Though I am so very sorry that any person needs to be there. Everyone fights their own battle, and I’m finally starting to realize how difficult that can feel.

Anyhow, after meeting with the surgeon we met with the oncologist. He was a nice fellow, a little more sympathetic but still professional. He must deliver difficult news on a daily basis.

The friendly oncologist slowly unwrapped my situation. Essentially, he believes that without any further treatment I hold a rather high risk of reoccurrence. Particularly in young women with breast cancer reoccurrence is a concern. Seems like the cancer gets a kick outta young blood and has a tendency to ride it around the body, sometimes showing up again quite far from the original site.

He also explained that radiation therapy, chemo therapy and hormone therapy will reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence by about 50%.

AHHHH boy. Fifty percent. That’s only half the pizza.

But I need to do everything possible to improve my recovery – and to stop reoccurrence. I did not want chemo, but looking at the pathology it seems that chemo is a reasonable response. Not a happy one – but reasonable.

I know what I want: health, family, love, good things and great results. I know what I want. And just because I’ve been given a more difficult road doesn’t mean my eye is off the prize. It may be the doctor’s job to break tough news, but it’s my job to rebound and fight on.

Gotta keep throwing those bombs, gotta keep fighting back.

The reality of chemo has been difficult today. But people get through, don’t they? Many people get through and go on with their lives. Like I said before, I look forward to normal – my just like always. So long as that’s in my mind, I can fight.

Next come the decisions. Do I stay or go back to Canada? One thing is for sure, I will not leave my husband. Not a chance.

When I started Bumpyboobs I had hoped to write a light blog about breast cancer screening. There is so much out there that scares me to read; I feel a sense of dread while reading the experience of others, and I never wanted this blog to inspire that feeling. But this is cancer, and emotional highs and lows are inevitable.

But I do promise this – I’ll try and write the high as often as I write the low.  I can be angry one moment, sad the next, and then the sky may clear, or I’ll pass a rose bush, or my husband will blow a kiss, and suddenly it’s all highs and smiles once again.

This blog is not just about breast cancer. It’s about the good and the bad and the fight inside.

Keep an eye on the prize. These down moods can’t last forever; there are better things to come.

Mastectomy Prep 101

Right! It’s been a few days since I’ve written a substantial post, but I have been trying to give myself a break from constantly thinking about breast cancer, and happily it has been working (on and off).

Tomorrow is my operation. So, in preparation for my mastectomy I’ve been doing all sorts of things (and not doing all sorts of things) which I’ll summarize in a list for anyone who is interested. Here it comes, my “getting ready for a –bleep– ing mastectomy” list.

One: Have the talk.

Mmmmhum. This one-to-one pep talk was conducted while Zsolt worked some overtime on his recent paper submission. I whipped off my shirt and bra, sat down in front of my Ikea mirrors (mirrors because we were too cheap to buy a full length… instead we have several squares lined up vertically on the wall), and just looked in the mirror for a while. And yes, there is a physical difference between my two breasts; the right nipple (cancer boob) has started to turn in, and a bit of red spotting has appeared on the skin. I looked up close, I leaned far back, I covered my right side and tried to image it was a patch of scarred blankness.

And finally, I had the talk. Basically it went along the lines of, “Catherine, you have cancer and losing the breast is the best step to being rid of it all.” Which I found hard to believe. “I have cancer? Me?” “Yes, you have cancer.” [Fun Fact: people may tell you that cancer is inside your body, but it is incredibly difficult to believe them. I can go to the screening, see pictures of the lumps, have my breast removed, be told I’ll need chemo . . . and all the while I’ll still be saying: “who, me?”] “Yes, you.” This is what I kept telling myself. And then, moving on, “You can’t be scared because this operation is a good thing. It’s a good day, and a freaking miracle – and they know what they’re doing – so just let go of your control issues, at least on Thursday.”

Anyhow. No more details on that. It was a discussion to remember, but I’m glad I had it. My mom suggested talking in the mirror, and I’m very thankful she did.

Two:  Get on with life.

Which, sorry Mom and Dad, is the reason I haven’t written any posts. There were things to do, people to see, and places to go. Saturday was a night out with friends, Monday turned into drinks and a £4 brownie down at Tragos, and Tuesday was my writing group, followed by a discussion on flirting and online dating. Also there was work, and acupuncture (or acupressure, which I tend to prefer), and going to the beach with my man. All the while my surgery rose and fell in my mind, but thank God for good company – they have all been so wonderful and supportive. Overall, it’s been a very good week.

Three: Pre assessment.

Zsolt and I arrived at the hospital 9.00 am sharp. The waiting room was totally empty, so we sat and hummed and watched the nurses and doctors arrive.  About 9.10 am we were called into a side room. Here the nurse took my blood pressure, weight, height and asked me to go back into the waiting room.  She was quite nice. Then, around 9.20 am a second nurse called me into a second side room. Here we discussed my medical history, she gave me some disinfectant to shower with, and I had to swab my nose and leg/stomach crease. It felt formal, quite quick. She was less personable, but not bad.

Also, I had a bit of Thursday explained to me. Apparently I would arrive at 12, say goodbye to Zsolt and then wait for my surgery (which could happen any time between 12 and 7pm). I would then be taken to my room to sleep off the anaesthetic.  It was likely I’d be able to see Zsolt, though she wasn’t definite on that.

Eh? What? Are you kidding me? To sit alone for an entire afternoon waiting for an operation while twiddling my fingers and quietly freaking out does not sound like fun. No sir. Not for me.

So today I called one of my Breast Care Nurses (incredible team of women!) who managed to calm me down. She said Zsolt would be allowed to take me into the Day Surgery Room, and we could possibly get away with having him there for a short while. Apparently the area can get crowded, so the nurses like to keep it clear. But at least he can walk me in.  Then I’ll see a round of doctors and someone will come round to give me some giant socks to stop blood clotting.  She also said I probably won’t have to wait all afternoon. Thank goodness for great people skills, because she calmed me down quite a bit.

Anyhow, there’s a picture of what I’ve done this week, and what I may be doing tomorrow. Which leave the last step. . .

Four: show up.

And then the rest is up to them. So breath – in, and out, and in – and let go of the control . . . in and out and in . . .

Thanks to everyone for all your support and encouragement. It means an incredible amount to me. If you can, please spare a thought tomorrow at some point between noon and seven. That’s when I’ll need it most.

See you on the other side. Tomorrow this cancer is OUTTA HERE.  Whew!