Thursday, 15 December 2016

The one where cancer tries to ruin Christmas

The last seven days have been the most sobering reminder yet of just how much can change in a week.

Since my last update I'm pleased to report that I've been recovering really well (aside from the norovirus) and continue to be astounded by the results of my surgery. With this in mind I went along to my follow-up appointment with Prof. Malata so that he could take a look at the scars and tell me off again for doing too much moving around.

The appointment went really well and as he cleaned-up I made the fateful mistake of commenting on the wonderful end this has been to my cancer journey..... as soon as I saw him exchange worried looks with the nurse and sit down my heart went into my mouth. I heard him say "we found some more cancer" and remember nothing else. I went into a wild panic and just wanted to just wake up from this nightmare, how the hell can it be back? I've done everything I can to keep it at bay, it's Christmas, what am I going to tell Nathan, Erica, my family?

He explained that he'd opened-up my ribcage to locate the blood vessels for the reconstruction and noticed a swollen lymph node which he removed and sent for testing - the results of which came back as cancerous. He then explained that I'd need a scan to identify whether or not the cancer is spreading to the rest of my body and to allow the team to agree a treatment plan.

As many of you know, metastatic breast cancer has a poor survival rate and I spent the entire journey home wondering how I was going to start a new job in the midst of cancer treatment with no idea how I was going to contribute to the mortgage. Weirdly enough, the prospect of dying didn't really phase me that much, the prospect of leaving Nathan and Erica in limbo was terrifying.

When I got home I broke the news to Nathan and only then did I give myself the opportunity to cry (wailing banshee is probably a better description), that evening was Erica's nativity performance in Ely Cathedral and we prayed our hearts out throughout. The next morning I talked to my oncologist and we agreed the arrangements for the scan.

By Tuesday the following week, Mum and I made our way to Cromwell hospital in London for the PET CT scan - it's an incredible piece of medical wizardry - they starve you for 12 hours then inject you with glucose and radioactive isotopes, because cancer cells feed on the glucose first, they are the ones that show up on the scan, the whole process takes around 90 minutes and I didn't stop praying throughout!

Anybody who has been through cancer will tell you that the next bit is the absolute worst..... the waiting. The thing I find hardest is the knowledge that someone has seen your result and the longer it goes the more you convince yourself that it's a much bigger treatment plan. To take my mind off it I went for dinner the following day with my awesome Mummy friends and our sprogs after the Cathedral carol service (filled with more praying). They did such a good job of distracting me that I forgot about the results..... until I checked my phone...... six missed calls, five from Nathan and one from my oncologist...... another heart in mouth moment. I found a quiet corner and phoned Nathan, as soon as he started to reprimand me for ignoring the phone I knew that it was good news, he'd stalked Dr Russell all day and had tracked him down late in the evening to receive the news that the scan showed NO EVIDENCE OF DISEASE!!!!!!

The rest is a blur as my friends and I ordered wine and didn't stop drinking! I am sitting at the breakfast table with a very sore head and a refreshed perspective on life. What if Prof. Malata hadn't spotted that rogue lymph? What if I hadn't stopped drinking? None of this can be fate, can it? Is anyone really ever this lucky?

What I know for sure is that I'm going to celebrate Christmas like I never have before and can't wait to spend it with my amazing family and friends who have lived this with me everyday and never left my side.

Please go and give your loved-ones a massive hug, life is precious.


Sunday, 4 December 2016

The fourth (and final) operation

It's been twelve days since I went under the knife and I'm happy to report that all appears to be well. We arrived at the hospital for our 7am intake and, judging by the heaving waiting rooms, expected to spend the next couple of hours making polite conversation but was told "lucky you, you're first in"...... cue pang of dread followed by inevitable exchange of looks with Nathan where we silently agreed "let's get this done".

Within minutes I was lying in theatre being prepped by the team, I was astounded to see just how many people were involved in the procedure (I counted at least twelve) and was told that one team would be working on my stomach while another worked on the breast, I felt a flicker of guilt as I considered how much this must be costing our NHS but remembered that cancer chose me, not the other way around and this is the final step towards normality. Unfortunately, due to my relentless treatment, it took six attempts to find a healthy vein - a process that was mimicked by the quickening blood-pressure monitor but eventually we were ready to rock & roll. I remember some debate about Percy Pigs as the mask was placed over my mouth and then was out.

Eight hours later I was fighting with the recovery team to remove the layers of blankets and bring me a sick bowl... the morphine (as always) had made me wretchedly ill and the recovery process required a constant body temperature so I was burning up and felt awful. Thankfully the brilliant recovery team were able to calm me down and took me up to the ward where a room full of Doctors were waiting.... less to see how I was.... more to see my new body! Their reaction immediately made me feel better, Professor Malata is a legend throughout the British medical establishment and it turns out that people are always keen to see his work!

Although I was lucky enough to be allocated my own room, I quickly came to realise why.... the room had to be maintained at a constant 38.5 degrees (100 to my American friends) so that the blood circulation can be optimised underneath a stifling cotton wool wrap, binder and blankets. I honestly can't remember the last time I've felt that uncomfortable and the addition of four drains and a catheter on top of menopausal hot flashes added to the ordeal.

Thankfully I had a care team that figured me out very quickly, they realised that I needed targets and immediately negotiated them with me..... catheter out on day two, drains day three and home on day four as long as I promise not to argue with the physiotherapist. The beauty of this approach was that it gave me something to look forward to every day and although each milestone was full of pain and tears, the achievement of each brought me closer and closer to the end of this ordeal.

By Friday I was on my way home with instructions to wear a victorian-grade binder for the next three months in order to keep everything in place. I've had one visit back to the dressings clinic for the change and had my first view of the results which are impossible to do justice with words (and I'm not posting photos just yet!) all that remains to say is that I've been left with a beautifully flat stomach and a breast that is no longer square or full of pain. Despite being fresh out of surgery, my chest is less painful than it was before I went under the knife (unfortunately the same can't be said for my tummy, it feels like someone has stitched the top and bottom halves together and is pulling the strings constantly). Take it from me, tummy tucks are NOT fun!

None of the recovery would be possible without the incredible support of family and friends, Mum has been here to take Erica to school, nourish us all and relieve my cabin fever, Nathan has put up with my constant moaning and so many of you have brought gifts, cooked meals, sent flowers and cards.... such thoughtfulness that makes the end of this journey even sweeter.

Thank you for all of your support, it's been epic