Chemotherapy pre-assessment

Well tomorrow it all begins. My appointment is at 12 pm and I’ll be sitting in the number 5 green chair of the chemo treatment room. It’s an easy chair – lazy boy ‘esque’ – and beside it is a low square table and a seat for a guest.  The room itself is square and the chairs are all around, people can easily turn to their neighbours, there is no hiding.

On Tuesday I had a tour of the facilities, which is why the details are running through my mind so much. The chair, the room, the smell, the people. It was all introduced to me last Tuesday.

So here’s how it is going to work: Go in the day before, get weighed, measured and blood drawn. If all seems well (my white blood cell count is sufficient) come in the next day for another treatment of chemo. Ideally the treatment will last less than an two hours. So in out and home again. Ideally.

Easy breezy. Except for the decisions.

First decision: I had to decide whether or not to use a cold cap. A cold cap is this red helmet they can place on your head to stop the blood flowing so much to the scalp. It’s about minus five degrees, and circulates a very cold liquid – this cools your head to about 27 degrees (so that’s like an almost 10 degree drop?). Cold cap treatments require the patient to wear the cap thirty minutes before chemo, during chemo, and two hours after. My choice: no thanks. While loving my new hair cut, and dreading the look of a muted head without any hair, the idea of staying in that chair a second longer than required is repulsive. Repulsive. I want to get out-out-out, not stay in.

Second decision: Would I like to be part of a study? Initially I had ruled this out as a category no, thinking they’d be trying a new drug or something, however I’ve only been offered a questionnaire with blood sampling. Needles! More needles . . . Reviewing the study I decided to do it, except I’m not giving blood. Understandably this must be disappointing for the researcher, but needles and I do not dance well together . . . so forget about that. My body, my decision.

Third decision, explained to me today and the choice must be made by tomorrow: Fertility protection, again. Man! I am so freaking tired of having to make these large guilt-weighted choices. Do I protect my ovaries or not? Is there even a point? So far, having spoken with two doctors on the subject, neither are convinced that Zoladex makes any difference in regards to fertility. They say – maybe it might, possibly but could but not sure, help. The evidence is not incredible. I don’t know too much about Zoladex, though hopefully will by tonight, but it puts the ovaries to sleep with the idea that this will protect the eggs. They’ll need to inject something into my stomach every month, which will throw me into menopause and stop ovulation.

I fucking hate needles. And lately my PMS has been so bad, that I’m afraid I’ll become a permanent stressed out monster as I wade through menopause at 28 years old. Plus, how many drugs are too many drugs? I take a drug for this, and a drug for that, and then a handful more for good measure.

Up until my encounter with mighty mighty morphine, I had never had a stronger drug than aspirin. I haven’t even smoked a joint (and I’m  from Canada, where weed is more available than fresh water) . . .  but, if the side effects become difficult and I don’t like the pain killers we’ll see what happens.  Where would I even get marijuana in England? I have no idea. In Canada it’d be a lot more straight forward. But maybe the hospital prescribes it? I don’t know.

SO I sound like my head is twisted on backwards. But it’s not always like this. Actually, Tuesday was incredibly good. I walked into the chemo centre and wasn’t scared, wasn’t nervous, wasn’t intimidated. The visualizations, writing exercises and treatments were working. Last Tuesday I was in the zone.

Today not quite so much. Zsolt, my mom and I arrived at the check-in desk and I handed the secretary my appointment letter. She says ‘go take a number and sit down. You need to be weighed’. And I say, ‘I’ve already been weighed. Last Tuesday, the nurses told me to go to their room when I arrived before sitting down.’  To which she replied: ‘Everyone is weighed every time they arrive. Get a number and take a seat, we’ll call you.’

I think people generally assume they’re in the right, otherwise we couldn’t walk down a street without questioning our footsteps. Today, I was in the right and Mademoiselle secretary felt exactly the same.

Taking a number I walked over to the nurses’ room (a slight compromise . . .) to let them know I had arrived. Unfortunately they were occupied with patients, so I waited in the hallway. And of course, after about forty seconds, the secretary came over to repeat our conversation.

‘You need to take a number and sit down’

‘I have a number, but last time I was here the nurses said to come over to their room and let them know I’m here.’

‘We know you are here, but there are people before you waiting.’

‘I don’t need to be weighed, I’m just meeting the doctor.’

And we would have kept going in a circle of assertions if not for the head nurse jumping in to break it up.  IN this case I was right, I didn’t need to be weighed or whatever, and I did need to let them know I was in clinic . . . but who cares, because by the time this was settled, I was unsettled. My day tipped in the wrong direction and ever since I’ve felt a little bit cranky.

Therefore I need to go back to work (and write out my crank in this blog). Gotta get back to the zone – gotta re-establish my protective bubble.

And in light of that sentiment, here’s a moment that has nothing to do with cancer or decisions or contradicting opinions:

Remember that cemetery by the hospital, the one with the horses? Zsolt and I go there fairly often, and lately we’ve been taking my mom along too. It’s a lovely cemetery with a very nice memorial to WW1 soldiers who were lost at sea, there are even some Canadian graves.  And in this neat, well kept part of the cemetery, there is a large white cross made from stone, and on either side of the monument are beds of lavender.

Walking up to the cross and looking down over the flowers, we saw the most incredible amount of bumble bees. So imagine the purple flowers swaying on their thin green steams, and these tiny dark bees gently hovering and landing and searching and flying. It was amazing. The thought of swarming with killer stings did flick through my mind, but it was just too incredible for fear. And quiet – you would never have expected the silence, nothing but the sound of a lush flowerbed mixed with breeze. The bees were too busy to buzz.

It was a bit of natural beauty that was just mmm, mmm good. One day, when I have a garden of my own, maybe I’ll plant a corner of lavender – just in case the bees want to stop by for a quiet drink of nectar.

Ah, good. That was very good. I feel much better now. 🙂 I love a beautiful moment.

Chemo wig and pretty scarves

I bought a wig. Now, maybe a girl shouldn’t admit to using tricks –  but a wig is a wig is a wig, and if you know me, or you read this blog, or if you look really close – there is no hiding that fact.

It’s golden blond, not too light and cropped to fall and few inches below my chin. Putting it on feels similar to putting on a hat. Except that unlike a hat, I need to spend about fifteen minutes patting and playing and rearranging the scattered synthetic hairs into place. And also unlike a hat, it looks ridiculous when messy.

Another thing, with this wig my head has gained at least an inch of height. Oh the incredible volume. All my life I’ve battled (when I could be bothered) against my fine hair. I’d tried curling, blow drying, spraying . . . all to have the style flatten within an hour. But stick on this wig and I’m ‘news anchor ready’. I feel, with hair this large, that I ought to host a morning show where me and my charming male co-host (Zsolt, of course) review the latest books and drink from large mugs of fresh brewed, fair trade coffee.

Going into the wig shop was an uncomfortable experience, made more uncomfortable by the completely apathetic sales girls who were on the floor ‘helping’ customers. If alone I would have booted it outta there,  but my mom was behind me with a prodding stick, saying – we just need to find the right one, Catherine.

I guess she was right, we did find one. The next day I took Zsolt to the shop and he gave his stamp of approval. No doubt this look is different, but at least it is a look.

So it’s an option, and I’m very glad to have it. On a more adventurous note  – I’ve totally hooked myself up with several colourful scarves and under scarves. There is this girl on youtube who explains ways to tie scarves and what pins are best, etc. She’s striking, so knows her style, and easy to follow – and while I don’t exactly copy her methods (e.g.  I don’t need to cover my neck), it’s a great source of inspiration.

And that means I have another option. A funky option.

Finally, next Tuesday I’m getting my hair chopped off. It seems that there is a better chance of keeping my hair during treatment if it’s short.

But no matter what I’ll be ready with the accessories, and will try to be daring. The last time I cut my hair extremely short was in grade seven, and some child jackass followed me around saying “are you a boy or a girl?” It’s funny the sort of crap that kids accept, amazing really. But bullying is another topic, and thankfully I didn’t have too much of it.

Anyhow – yes. I bought a wig this past weekend. I also bought some lovely scarves. And finally, to be written about later – I went to a gorgeous hotel and had an incredible Sunday night retreat.

Pretty productive, if I do say so myself.

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.