Our bodies are wonderful things. My body is amazing because it keeps on recovering. I feel better now than I have felt for nearly three years, confirming to me that this cancer was brewing long before it was discovered.
Long term readers of my blog (a discerning and dedicated group) will know that I was ill for more than a year before I found Terry the Tumour lurking at the top of my chest. I had a whole series of lurgies including a drug-resistant superbug, glandular fever, bronchitis, flu and chronic fatigue. My white blood count was in my boots meaning that my body’s natural defence system was seriously compromised. White blood cells play an important role in hoofing out atypical cells so it makes total sense to me that this period of impaired immunity allowed cancer to develop.
Getting the docs to admit this is another matter. It varies….possibly…..maybe. Docs tend to focus on particular issues and aren’t always great at seeing us as a complex system where everything is interrelated. I had so many blood tests in that first year but no one checked my tumour markers. These can indicate cancer somewhere in the body. Like mammograms, they are unreliable but, also like mammograms, they are better than nothing!
Speaking of mammograms, my pre-mastectomy mammogram showed nothing to give concern in my remaining breast. All normal and huge sighs of relief all round. When I returned to hospital in February after the mastectomy for my biopsy results I expected a nice chat with my lovely surgeon and a few jokes about the size of breast (2 kg) and how it would provide enough material for a whole cohort of medical students etc etc ha ha ha. I expected to be discharged from her clinic meaning that I only had the regular oncologist appointments to deal with. However, I was greeted at the door with the words:
“You were right to get rid of that breast. You made the right decision.”
This I was not expecting.
It turns out that the breast was brewing something nasty; it had widespread atypical ductal and lobular hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). Not all hyperplasia leads to cancer but given my history it would almost definitely have gone that way…..and this would have been how the cancer started on the right. She said that she would be recommending a double mastectomy if I had any boobs left.
So my ‘healthy’ breast that had a clear mammogram was not healthy. Given a few years the whole cancer circus would have come to town again.
And the procedure that I had to push for….the surgery described by the hospital as ‘cosmetic’ and ‘for symmetry’ turned out to be prophylactic.
I always knew that my remaining breast would try to kill me. I was right. I didn’t want to be right but I was right.
I wasn’t expecting this news and had to fetch excellent big sister from the waiting room. Our different temperaments meant that I had been expecting an all-clear and she had been expecting bad news. Neither of us had considered a middle-ground.
Lovely surgeon was upbeat as always and readily admitted that I was right to have insisted on the second mastectomy. This result means extra monitoring and follow-up is required and she won’t discharge me from her clinic for the time being, even though I am also having three-monthly follow up appointments with the oncologist. All the usual stuff was reiterated – checking for lumps, bumps, new pain, rashes and skin changes, coughs etc etc. And the great thing is that I’ve got no breasts trying to kill me. Lucky flat-chested me!
But I was sitting there having kittens! And I spent the next few days having a really wobbly wobbly. Because….
- How could my recovering wonderful body betray me by starting some new problem in this way?
- After all that awful AWFUL devastating chemotherapy, how did my cells dare to start being atypical and dividing too quickly?
- I only finished one year’s course of Herceptin injections in September. Herceptin is the wonder drug that has dramatically improved the prognosis for people like me with aggressive and invasive protein cancers. Herceptin is supposed to guard against recurrence. So WHY was I growing a new cancer in the other breast?
- And if I was growing a new cancer in the left breast how do I know I’m not growing one somewhere else in my body? HOW DO I STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS?
Anyone who has had cancer will understand that we live with the fear of recurrence. Breast cancer is the gift that keeps on giving with high recurrence rates, sometimes decades after the primary cancer is dealt with. This is why breast cancer patients don’t go into remission; the best we get is No Evidence of Disease at this time. Some cancers can be dealt with tidily and people can trot off into their future, confident that that is it for them – been there, done that, got the t-shirt. ALL CANCERS ARE NOT THE SAME!
After a few days I got bored with this. I wrote down the questions to ask Prof when I see him this Wednesday at UHCW’s Arden Cancer Centre and got on with my life. It’s hard to be down when you feel well.
Getting on with my life means improving my fitness by doing my physio three times a day, swimming, walking, eating healthily, losing weight to help with the lymphedema and to ease residual joint pain. It means starting to think about returning to work. A few months ago I couldn’t imagine this but now I want to get out there and earn my own pennies again. I’m going to have to pace myself because I still need to rest or sleep in the afternoons, and I still have to deal with pain, stiffness and lymphedema in my right chest, shoulder and arm from the axillary clearance last March. (Second mastectomy has been very straightforward and two months on I have no pain on the left, just a little tightness.) I’m itching for some mental stimulation, some challenge beyond surviving and taking my pills at the right time.
I smile so much these days. I keep catching myself smiling.
Needle count: 180. Is this the first time that the count hasn’t gone up between blogs? Yay!
Polyanna Moment: I’m glad, glad, glad that Spring is here. I’m glad that Storm Doris only took the roof off the shed, not the house. I’m glad that I’m taking my gorgeous Things away next weekend. I’m glad that I have been able to go out and do stuff and be sociable with my lovely friends and family. I’m glad that I just celebrated my 51st birthday in a very normal, understated way. (Much better than my 50th in hospital!) I’m glad that I’m driving again. I’m glad that I found the memory stick with my CV on it in my knicker drawer. God is good!