Sunday, 15 April 2012

Ready, set, GO!

Once my third biopsy had taken place each day was a long struggle to remain positive and pass time until results. I tried my hardest to feel ‘ready for action’ but I felt as if I had come under attack and before I could catch my next breath I would feel a new punch. I was frozen in time just waiting…

I prepared a long list of what I would need for chemotherapy. From what I had been reading there is so much, wigs and scarves are not where it ends. Ginger and ice lollies to keep you from being sick/losing taste buds and dark nail polish to prevent your nails dropping off are just a few of the recommendations. The list was as long as my arm. I saw it as a challenge to have the least side effects. I would be so organised that nothing would surprise me!

I decided to have my hair chopped off to a bob so that when I needed chemo it wouldn’t come as a shock and I wouldn’t have to deal with cutting my hair shorter in the same week as my inevitable operation. I had been growing my hair since 2007 and it was still not as long as I desired so my trip to the hairdressers resulted in quite a shock for my hairdressers! I shut my eyes whilst they cut my hair until they’d swept away my long locks and I faked a massive smile for how ‘great’ my new bob looked. I still hate it.

The only way I could deal with all that I had to confront in the coming weeks was by handling one mini nervous breakdown at a time. I allowed myself time to be hysterical about one new issue every other day!

The first serious mini breakdown was about my fears of what effect chemo would have on my fertility. As far as I knew there is always a risk that your fertility will be permanently affected by chemotherapy.

As much as I tried to research this I could not find any information on what would happen to someone my age. It’s not just chemo I was worried about but also the drugs I would have to take called ‘Tamoxifen’ would be a part of my life for FIVE years… in which time you are not allowed to get pregnant.

Funnily enough I had not been planning to have a baby any time soon – and I am not even with anybody for that to happen. But as you can imagine you don’t want to be told that you are not allowed at all! Such a long indefinite period waiting to find out if you will be ok in the end seemed unbearable.

One night whilst I was in this waiting period for results, I rather suddenly declared to my mum that I would not be accepting ANY treatment if they cannot assure me that I’ll be able to have children at the end of it. I would rather die.

Yes I know it sounds melodramatic in the grand scheme of things but I was rather adamant that a life with no children is no life worth living so I would be good as dead and may as well go quickly! I couldn’t listen to my mum begging me to remember that I am her child and how much this would hurt her. As far as I was concerned all the people telling me my life was more important were just talking nonsense and rubbing salt into the wound. My friend who was trying to calm me down over the phone and my mum were facing deaf ears. I switched off my phone, went to bed exhausted from crying, shut my eyes and ignored my mums tears and pleading.

The next morning when I woke up to a load of distraught texts from my friend and remembered what I’d been saying to my mum I felt guilty. The night before had gotten my emotions out of my system on that subject and I no longer felt as dramatic. Whatever will be, will be. I must simply carry on and live to the best I can with whatever I am given in life. There is much I want to do still.

One of the breast cancer forums I had joined and was explaining my fears on brought me a private message with research and statistics showing that at 25 it would be highly unlikely that I would be affected at all. This was enough to put aside my fears for that time.

No ‘mini-breakdown’ was quite as bad for me after this point and that was the most serious issue to contend with in my eyes.  Fears of recurrence and spreading and life after cancer treatment, I dealt with by researching one at a time. One evening was spent worrying about each and then I left them to the back of my mind. I didn’t dwell on these for too long.

Finally the day arrived in which I would find out whether my second ‘lump’ was cancerous and whether an operation would be going ahead as the team had planned. I sat patiently in the waiting room for over 2.5 hours and when I was finally seen, like a TV audience suffering the drum roll for that bit too long to care I didn’t have any anticipation left! 

Thankfully as soon as my consultant walked through the door he was pleased to tell me it was NOT cancer. This was the first good news I had, having been resigned to the fact that any bad news was bound to be mine.

The next day, a Wednesday, the medical team would discuss who should be having operations first out of me and other women diagnosed with cancer depending on their prognosis and circumstances. It was confirmed that I would be having my operation on the Monday following.

This would consist of a wide local excision to remove the tumour from my breast along with a margin of tissue surrounding it plus a separate excision of my ‘sentinel’ lymph nodes from my armpit. These are the lymph nodes that would be the main route of any cancer that would have spread from the tumour.  If these tested positive I would need a second operation to remove all of the lymph nodes.

I am very lucky because a lot of hospitals currently do not perform this operation and so many women would have all of their lymph nodes removed for testing unnecessarily even if there has been no spreading. As our lymph nodes are very important for the functioning of our immune system this would be quite an extreme measure to take in the case of someone who has not been affected in that area.

I did my best to prepare for my operation buying comfy tops that button up and hoodies glad to getting on with things now. At my pre-op appointment one lady around my mother’s age started to complain as I went through the door to see the nurse that had called me in. “Why are you seeing her first?! I am a mother – I have three children! My blood pressure is low! I can’t take this waiting here!” she had been delayed in her appointment as she was waiting for a translator that she had not requested in advance (although clearly she knew enough English to complain about me being seen first!)

I had been given a fitness pack of exercises I was supposed to learn for after my operation to build my strength up. I had asked one woman I knew how she’d found the exercises after her operation and she told me she found them too difficult for the first 2 months. It was only the night before my operation that I decided to have a look at the routines. They involved lifting my arm up and down… This would be too difficult for me? Worrying for someone that likes to keep fit! However, no backing out or other option to hand so I would have to train my arm to go up and down again! Too bad

Early on the morning of my operation I waited patiently in my gown whilst I was still allowed to keep my sister and mum beside me. There was not enough room in the ward for them to wait for me so they would have to leave and I would have to wait by myself.

The first stage was having dye injected into my breast which would show the route to the sentinel lymph nodes. These were found with a machine that scanned my body and x marked the spot with a marker pen on my body. I was a big doodle board! I asked if they could show me what the lymph nodes looked like on the scan (they must have thought I was a bit strange in hospital that day!) they were happy to comply and seeing what my innards looked like and the exact location in the image was very interesting!

Then I was through to the ward again to await my name being called for my operation. I was sat beside the lady who complained about me being seen first at my pre-op appointment…  Whilst I read a magazine and tried to chat cheerfully with the nurses to keep myself occupied. She sobbed continuously and kept calling for the nurses to check where her possessions were. I can only say that the way you allow yourself to react to situations when they are no longer in your hands determines how you will feel and how well you will recover from negative situations. Sometimes you have to let go and give up caring. Crying would no longer do anything other than to make you a nervous wreck!

My name was called first again (mwa-ha-ha-ha!) so off I walked down the corridor following the nurse in my rather fetching green gown. When I got into the room and saw my surgeon and the team in their ‘PJs’ I tried not to listen to my nervous feeling and propped myself up in the bed preparing to soon drift off.

I had previously had a procedure under general anaesthetic  to have four teeth removed before, you can count to three and you’re asleep. So I didn’t expect to notice too much for long. They went ahead and tried to attach cannula to my hand. This wasn’t working. In fact it hurt a little as my hand was too small for the cannula and it was dragging my skin off. The vein was hiding! I would need to be put under with gas instead.

Not my kind of thing at all! I like the idea of it being done quickly without you knowing. Having to hold the mask over my own face felt like I was putting myself to sleep… I didn’t trust it. Would I wake up? I wanted to ask the surgeon but I didn’t want to look like a big wimp and drag the situation out so I just breathed in as much as I could and squished my eyes closed hoping that would do the job…

Obviously, they know what they are doing! I woke up hours later in another room with the mask on my face and slowly realised where I was. At which point I rather embarrassingly started to cry for my mum! I knew that they had made my mum and sister leave the ward and would call her when I was brought back to the ward so I thought in my drugged up state I believed that the more I whined the more likely they’d be to make the effort to call her immediately and have her ready for me as soon as I wheeled back up to the ward. I didn’t want to wait in that confused state.

Now, as a result of my lymph nodes being removed I am not supposed to put pressure on my left arm, or to risk infection for life. So things like blood pressure tests and injections have to be taken from my right arm. That is a permanent state of affairs that will never change. Yet I can say that I had keep offering my right arm, even though I was out of it, as my operated arm was being lifted each time! Not safe and also painful.

As I was wheeled back into the ward in the bed past the crying lady who was still waiting for her operation I decided to give an encouraging big thumbs up (with my good arm) and a knowing head nod… in my hilarious drugged up state I was one wise gal!

I knew mine was a day case only so I would need to ‘recover’ sufficiently before going home for the night. Now all I wanted to get out! I asked when I would be allowed to go as. I made myself sit up and they told me that once I had eaten something and shown I could get up and about I would be allowed to go. So I had a biscuit and a tuna sandwich which I declared to be the best tuna sandwich in the world… Seriously drugged up. Half an hour after I told them I was ready to go. They gave me my painkillers which were to last for 3 days and off I went on my way.

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