Friday, 9 January 2015

A breast cancer diagnosis has certainly stopped me in my tracks!

I had to give up my blog for a couple of months. To say my heart wasn't in it was a bit of an understatement and I had way too many other things on my mind. Our trip to Cape Verde was lovely but it did have a shadow overlying the whole week. The week before leaving I found a lump. A small lump that was hard and not moving in my left breast. A lump that didn't hurt but no matter how much I felt for it, didn't shrink or go away. So I took myself off to the Doctor even though it had been a mere five months since a mammogram and she sent me swiftly off to my local hospital who took a scan, and did a biopsy and told me to enjoy my holiday. Which I did but on my return...

I found that the lump that didn't move and wasn't painful was breast cancer. They assured me it was small and could be removed and I wouldn't need chemo just radiotherapy and tamoxifen as it was highly resistant to oestrogen. But that's when things started to go a bit awry.

They sent me for an mri just to check there was nothing else and a week later I was informed that there were in fact two lumps, the second larger and hidden. How scary is that. If the other smaller lump hadn't made itself known I would probably still be walking around with a cancer growing unknown inside me. They were also worried about four more sites in my other breast which after further tests (which took another three weeks in total) thankfully were nothing to worry about.

I was advised to have a mastectomy as there were two lumps too far apart but as they thought my lymph nodes were clear they would do a further cut to remove the lymph node closest to each lump - but they really weren't expecting anything.

A mastectomy is a horrible, emotional shock. I am a pragmatist by nature but nothing really prepares you for waking up and looking down to a lop-sided chest with a large plaster where your breast once was. Oh and not to mention a tube with a bottle attached poking out from it. Thankfully they pack you so full of painkiller you feel nothing - apart from an overwhelming sense of shock and loss. Thankfully they removed the drain within 48 hours which was a relief - and the bandaging a week later. It was at least a week until I could shower with the light on and I just couldn't bring myself to look at my chest - this I finally did with one of my brilliantly supportive breast cancer nurses. These women keep you sane frankly. They are there for a hug and they TOTALLY get it. These are the women you can discuss your inner fears and anger with - and they give such wonderful advise and support back I cannot describe it. Not that I haven't had huge amounts of love and support from my family and friends - my Facebook is a testament to that - but these women although dealing with this every single day are so very practical and human about it all, it gives you massive amounts of reassurance.

Tuesdays have very quickly become the worst day of the week. They are appointment days so quickly became bad news days. So it was two weeks after my mastectomy and on a Tuesday that I was told that although my wounds were healing brilliantly they had a further fly in the ointment. 2mm of cancer had been found in my the sentinel node - this is the lymph node closest to the tumour. A tiny amount but not too tiny to count as a negative sadly. So exactly four weeks after my mastectomy I was wheeled down to theatre for a second time to have all my lymph nodes removed via an incision running the length of my armpit.

Now no-one really tells you that this is a far worse operation out of the two. No-one tells you in advance about the electric shock-like pain that is constant due to nerve damage in the underside of your arm. Or of the swelling and pain in the armpit. Which lasts weeks. I am writing this four weeks and two days later and am still in pain. Plus my movement is limited and I have to do physio to be able to get my arm above my head in terms of radiotherapy in five months or so time. I was lucky though - all the other lymph nodes were clear so it hasn't spread via that system - again catching it early so fingers crossed.

I am not writing this from a position of 'poor me' - that's not my style. But writing for me is therapy and I can't go on just writing my blog about nice things to try, see and do and pretending as if this absolutely huge thing just hasn't happened because if has. So forgive me if I swing on these pages from beauty launches to what chemo is really like for me - it's my blog after all!

Tuesday brings an oncology meeting and hopefully a plan for starting chemo which I have to have as there were two lumps. It's amazing how things can change from one week to the next - the nurse warned me it would be a roller-coaster and I really understand what she meant now!
But there are some positives. I have a nice new haircut in preparation which everyone tells me has taken years off me. I feel great apart from the pain and arm limitations - I can't drive yet which is not great but my shopping trolley and I are firmer friends than ever. People have come back into my life as if by magic, who I haven't seen for years, but to lend support and keep me going - amazing and really heartening!

I am still going out and living life as normal really - although I do still feel the dark clouds are gathering again and I am mustering up my strength and resilience for round-three of this bloody boxing match.

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