Monday, April 30, 2007

Countdown to chemo

Well there you go. It's hours until the first chemo and all I feel is.....busy.

Busy getting my house in order. Metaphorically speaking that is.

Busy briefing colleagues on pitches and projects that they may have to babysit for a few days...or longer. Another one came in today. We're tendering for a well known adult learning institution. It's not that I'm not grateful but jesus - they're all coming at once.

As is usual for April / May actually. It's just that I don't usually have breast cancer at this time of year.

So, an online casino, a bingo organisation, an adult learning institution, a facilities managements company, a boiled sweet and a vitamins brand.

I don't have time to think. Which is just as well given what's coming.

Gotta go. R at home awaiting feeding having mended bike and tried to fix doorbell. If only he could find the doorbell I bought to fix it with. I seem to have mislaid it. Oops.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

No Explanation Required

Fabulous...

An uncommon cold


Coughs and sneezes spread diseases...

After all that moaning and paranoia I woke up Saturday feeling quite alright.

I am definitely at the tail end of some cold virus, but it's not taking the form it did with my evil colleagues who gave it to me. They were sniffing and snotting and sneezing all the way through it. I feel about as snotty as if I had just been for a swim and ended up with pool nose.

Strangely, I think it's probably my new found healthy diet that has helped me turn a shitty cold into a minor tiddly sniffle that's barely worth mentioning.

So I phoned R yesterday morning and I made him decide if I was well enough to drive over. That way, he can't blame me if he gets it.

So here I am in sunny Hereford. Yesterday we picked up the cooker and dishwasher for his kitchen. Today we (apparently) no longer have to do a tip trip as some bloke wants his old radiators after all. You see the excitement I swapped my weeked in London for?

And tonight we stop by my parents' place for dinner. With them, my little brothers and my sister and her boyfriend (moving into to my parents' house today as a temporary measure before they go travelling for a year - I think both my sister and her boyfriend and my parents are slightly devastated by the prospect of having to live in close proximity again...).

Tomorrow it's work. And Tuesday it's chemo. What a week to look forward to.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A modern day riddle

Why am I the only one in the office late tonight and yet I am the only one with breast cancer?

Maybe it's because I've had cancer that I've needed to work late to make up for lost time.

Maybe it's because I work late that I've had cancer...

Go home. Now.

Only real illness makes you a hypochondriac


I've got a cold.

I've been sneezing all morning. (Even over the bingo client that came into brief us on a pitch. He must have loved that.)

Yesterday I thought it might be flue. My glands have been up and down a lot over the last 10 days but I've just put that down to not really being totally over the op when I went back to work. Then yesterday morning I woke up with golf balls in my throat. They didn't go down.

I didn't take anything. I don't want to suppress this - I want to get through it and be over it by Tuesday. The BC nurse has told me that if I have a temperature or a chest infection I won't be able to have the portocath operation or have the chemo. Which would delay everything and throw the next 4 mths out of whack. I've even started briefing people I work with to try and fix any important meetings in the third week of my cycles. Which if Chemo I got delayed next week, would suddenly become week 1 of my cycle. Not good.

So it is with relief that I have realised it is merely a cold. I should be through the worst of it by Tuesday. But it does mean I probably won't be off to Hereford this weekend. Boring and annoying but I should be staying at home taking it easy rather than driving miles across the country. R can get a lift to London on Monday instead of coming back with me Sunday. He has keys. And it should mean that he won't catch my cold if we avoid eachother until Monday...

When I was worrying about the possibility of flue I took my temperature on my new digital thermometer and it declared I was 35.4 celsius. Clearly my flat is too draughty - that's really low isn't it?

Then I looked up temperatures and what's normal on the internet and found this marvelous bit of writing from Lena Wong:

"Rectal temperatures are an internal measurement taken in the rectum, which fall at 99.6 °F or 37.6 °C. It is the least time consuming and most accurate type of body temperature measurement, being an internal measurement. But it is definitely, by far, not the most comfortable method to measure the body temperature of an individual."

I've never tried to take my temperature that way before and I'm sure I'm not going to start now. Under the tongue is fine for me. And your oral temp should be 37 degrees apparently. Unless you have a particularly low metabolic rate, in which case it could be lower, or if it's early morning, in which case lack of muscle activity before the day starts will mean your body is at a lower temp.

Well, I got the reading of 35.4 late last night after some frenetic muscle activity tidying my flat so my metabolism must be buggered.

God I've turned into a boring old hypochondriac. I never used to think this much about colds, temperatures, sniffs and sneezes.

In my current BC book I'm reading there is a quote from a woman who said "Once you've had cancer, a spot is never just a spot again". It seems that this new found hypochondria is not a unique experience.

I have spots too, but I think they're from coming off the pill. But more mysteriously, my left eye has had a recurring nerve twitch all week.

What can it all mean? Nothing, I suspect.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best


This is a phrase which keeps coming up in all the breast cancer literature I'm reading.

And it's a good maxim. For me anyway.

When it comes to how others react to me having breast cancer, it's maybe a little confusing for them.

I remember in the early days of diagnosis, and straight after the op, people saying things like "Well, it's been proven that being positive really helps you beat cancer so you must remember never to be negative".

That's easy for them to say.

They are not the ones who have suddenly, with a jolt, realised they are not actually immortal and have been informed they are actually quite seriously ill. They are not the ones who had to drop everything, including their dearly-held dream of running away to Africa, and stay here for treatment. They are not the ones risking a nasty smorgasbord of side effects from hair loss to infertility.

And then there was my mother, being her lovely, no-nonsense self, virtually scolding me for telling her that bad things might actually happen to me as a result of the treatment. Of course it's unlikely I will get all the side-effects. I'm hoping I barely get any. But my way of coping with the shit that could happen, is to explore and research and understand the worst of what's at stake. So if I'm prepared for the worst, the reality is likely to be a damn-sight easier.

I don't mean to be mean. I know that's it's really hard to know what to say when people share some life-shattering news. Believe me, I've been the perpetrator of many a foot in mouth moment in the past. And it's not that the 'stay positive' people or my mother are actually wrong. They're right to be willing me to stay positive. I'm willing me to stay positive. But it's pretty galling to get that reaction when you are only days on from being diagnosed and you're still processing some of the major news yourself.

The best reactions have just been those where people have listened, and sympathised, but not tried to tell me what to do or pass judgement in any way. I remember the day after diagnosis, losing my temper and getting upset when one of my very closest friends tried to gently make the point that I should consider alternatives and that the medical profession were not always right. Maybe she was right (and it was based on personal experience) but at the time I felt like she was undermining my faith in the medical establishment and what they could do for me. After I'd lost my temper with her I was devastated. I knew she was trying to help but I had suddenly felt under so much pressure and lashed out at one of my best friends. It was horrible.

And listing symptons and side-effects isn't me wallowing in despair - it is the rational side of me trying to understand everything that might happen so that I am ready for it. Just because I'm frank about the possibilities involved in this disease does not mean I'm welcoming it with open arms. I'm positive about beating this, but it's a case of know thy enemy. And on the whole, I am managing to stay positive without really having to try.

But (and there is a but) every now and then I suddenly remember that it wasn't supposed to be like this.

I was meant to be saying final goodbyes to family and friends this weekend and boarding a flight on Sunday night with R for a new life in Uganda. With hippos.

Instead, I'm about to start chemo, facing all sorts of side effects, have several scars on my boobs which were not there four weeks ago, can't yet touch my toes with my right arm again, and will always live in fear of it coming back.

So don't be surprised if every now and again I go a bit quiet, lose my temper a little too fast, swear a little too loudly or have a bit of a blub. Because this was definitely NOT part of the plan.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Developing a hat habit


Here's a shot of today's hat. Well, actually it was the hat I bought yesterday on my way back through Victoria Station, returning from a meeting in the countryside with an animal charity.

(Charities always have the best offices - all the meetings I've ever had with charity organisations take place in beautiful, architect designed modern buildings with lots of light and social spaces, made from expensive but ever so eco-friendly materials.... Evil thought of the day: is that where all our money goes I wonder?).

In the last week, I have bought exactly 4 hats and 10 scarves. It's turning into a habit. I can't pass through a mainline station without browsing Tie Rack and Accessorize.

Pretty soon I'll be able to post shots of me wearing them...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I'm a fork lift truck driver!


The beginning of this week was hijacked by yet another hospital appointment and more cancer developments so I forgot to write up my real news of the week.

I drove a fork lift truck at the weekend.

I was helping R move bits of a kitchen from one place to the next. He'd borrowed a work truck to do the job. Only trouble was, he needed to replace the heavy industrial items (god knows WHAT they were - large black metal things about the size of a small sofa) back on the truck once he was done with it. He needed to use the fork lift to do so.

Last time he drove a fork lift he tipped it off a ramp by mistake. They're quite tricky as they steer from the back wheels, meaning you can spin them on their axis before you realise what you're doing.

So it was with great relief that he got to grips with the machine and managed to load the huge metal things back onto the truck.

Then he let me play on it. It was very easy (how do they manage to stretch out the training for these things?), great fun and was the one thing that woke me up all weekend (I spent most of it sleeping - think the anasthetic is still responsible for my general ennui).

Ha! I'm a fork lift truck driver!

Next on my list of fantasy vehicles - diggers, tractors and combines! Can anyone help?

Monday, April 23, 2007

The true cost of cancer


Went for my ECG this morning which was essentially another ultrasound experience, this time performed by a sweet, elderly man with white hair. Unlike the radiologist at the Breast Clinic when I was being diagnosed, they didn't warm up the gel, so it was a little chilly but otherwise fine.

Essentially this is to check my heart works normally as one of the drugs can affect your heart. Worryingly, they cannot tell from this scan exactly whether or not you will be affected, it just gives them a 'baseline' against which to measure the future performance of your heart post-Chemo.

Amusingly, the sweet elderly man doing the Ultrasound asked me afterwards whether I was in the medical profession myself. Apparently I rattled off the terminology with such professionalism he thought I might be in the industry. Ha! Who needs 5 years at medical school?

After the scan I had to visit the Day Care centre where I had a long chat with my breast care nurse for this stage of events, and let the senior nurse I met last week take my blood. As she prodded and poked me for veins she exclaimed "God - we haven't even started chemo yet and your veins are playing hide and seek!".

That confirmed it for me. Portocath is a definite. I'm now booked in for the surgical procedure (another general anasthaetic but this time only for 15 mins or so) at 2pm on May 1st. Later that day I'll have my first chemo. Stay in overnight, have a leisurely morning of waiting to see if the sickness will hit me and then join a group called 'Looking good, feeling great'.

Apparently they have beauticians training chemo patients in the art of how to apply make up (are they going to get us to paint on 'lego' hair on our heads with face paints?). I'm mainly going for the free beauty stuff they give out. Apparently it's all top brands. Should make a refreshing change to my scummy make up bag!

After all of this and en route back to the office I popped into John Lewis for a pair of jeans. I came out jeanless, but having gained two pairs of shoes, a new suit, a top and a long linen dress.

I tell myself it's because all I've allowed myself to shop for since the beginning of this year is 'Africa clothes'. Apart from this splurge, my biggest clothing haul this year featured a trip to Millets where I gained a pair of utility shorts, a pair of trekking trousers, a special UV resistant trekking shirt and a pair of safari boots. Given none of these items will get worn in the office and I'm now due to spend at least another year or so doing the London advertising thang, my wardrobe was needing a bit of a refresh.

At least, that's what I tell myself. But I know that in the back of my mind I am secretly justifying all expenditure with the 'I've got breast cancer' defence that works as a catch all for everything at the moment. At this rate, cancer is going to cost me dear.

But at least I'll have some nice shiny shoes.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A little something on the side?


I've been studying my FEC Chemo factsheets and reading up about all the lovely side effects I can expect.

Apparently a small minority of women don't actually feel any different during treatment (apart from maybe a little balding...) but that is only the small minority. Most people experience one or many of the following:

DURING THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE TREATMENT ITSELF:

1. Pain/difficulty around the IV cannula being inserted, or whilst certain drugs are actually being injected as the vein in your hand is so small. I have 'bad veins' as they are known in the trade so this has been worrying me. When I've previously had IVs fitted it's been very painful, and they've not always got it right first time. I've read some horrible accounts of women who are actually terrified of going back for their final two chemos as by treatment no 3 or 4 it has got so painful, their veins have hardened and shrunk, and every nurse wants to be the one who can succeed, so they get repeatedly stuck until they;ve forced a cannula into the bridge of their FOOT or somewhere equally painful and awkward. People with no previous phobia of needles have ended up never being able to face an injection again. Great...
2. Feeling hot and dizzy
3. Itchy nose
4. Metallic tasting mouth
5. Pink pee from the epicrubicin

DURING THE CYCLES OF TREATMENT:

1. Bone Marrow Suppression (reduction in the bone marrow's ability to make new cells)
2. Nausea and vomiting (well controllable with anti sickness drugs for most apparently)
3. Diarrhoea
4. Sore mouth and ulcers (they advise you to get dental treatment done before you start chemo; and I've read reports of women who can only eat 'soft' foods like soup or ice cream during treatment)
5. Fatigue (extreme tiredness that no amount of sleep can cure - many find this lasts for a few months after treatment as well)
6. Aneamia (low count of red blood cells)
7. Lack of ability to concentrate or think clearly
8. Sore, gritty eyes
9. Runny nose
10. Skin complaints (darkening of fingernails and toenails, redness or soreness, darkening of skin, increased photosensitivity etc)
11. Hair loss (FEC causes total hair loss in most people, usually beginning within 2-3 weeks of the first treatment and can apply to all body hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as the hair on your head; hair grows back after treatment so I did read an amusing note by one woman on the BC forum about how she still had a bald patch right in the middle of her pubes two years after finishing chemo; they make you wear an ice helmet during treatment to try and reduce the amount of drugs reaching the follicles during treatment and thereby hope to minimise hair loss - I asked them what it felt like, apparently it is like having an ice cream headache for two hours)
12. Infertility (I have already blethered on about this enough, but am lucky in that my chances of losing fertility are apparently less than 10%)
13. More rarely, some people can develop heart problems so they do an electrocardiogram (ECG) to read your heart and make sure you're not likely to have a problem. Mine's booked for Monday morning.

To control the nausea I will get anti-sickness drugs.
To minimise the hair loss I have cut my hair short and will wear an ice helmet.
To prevent unwanted 'chemo' babies, I've switched from the pill to the coil.
To avoid cannula pain and being stabbed too often I'm having a portocath fitted (a valve opening into a fine tube inserted into a large vein through the chest wall, sitting underneath your skin and allowing them to simply 'stick' you once every time and get it right, first time).
To have the treatment at all we have changed our plans and decided to stay in the UK. For now.

This had better work, that's all I'm saying.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Watching you, watching me


I've just discovered the joys of Site Meter.

Relatively new to this blogging lark, with very few people aware I was writing this, I wasn't sure how many people ever read the blog. I had started writing it privately, with the intention of sharing it with friends and family once we'd moved to Uganda (I'm counting the Feb kick-off, once plans for Uganda were underway, rather than the rubbish I wrote last summer experimenting for work...).

Currently, I've directed a handful of people to the page, and a couple more have found me of their own accord.

I was interested in a nosy, reverse-voyeuristic kind of way, to see how many people actually read it and whether it was attracting anyone else. I had heard whisper of site tracking devices, little pieces of html code you insert into your site layout and they track where the visits come from and how many you get.

So now I know that in the last 24 hours there's been a visit from New Jersey (Hi Marie!), one from Brooklyn (take a bow, Steve n Jude) and one from Lambeth (think that was me accessing it on Firefox from another machine when my laptop decided to self destruct).

But beyond that, it gets intriguing. There are visits from Texas, and Alabama. I don't know anyone who comes from those states so christ knows what brought them here. And one visitor from China. ???

And then one a little closer to home, from Hereford. At first I think that R has discovered my online ramblings. He knows I blog (God, that's the first time I've used it as a verb, this is getting serious) but to my knowledge has never visited. But then I realise it comes from an IP address which relates to a local Art & Design college, and he's spent all day bike 'structoring so it can't be him. Furthermore, they haven't just stumbled across me by searching for 'breast cancer' or 'Hereford' or anything else that might make me pop up in search results. They've searched for me by my name. Which they have amazingly spelt correctly too.

R and I talk in the evening and I tell him of my findings. One of his good friends works at the college so maybe it's her.

Is it you Jo?!

If so, welcome to my humble blog. And maybe see you later at your party tonight...

I'd feel super-sleuth like if we got that right. Identifying people via their IP addresses makes me feel like Chloe on 24, if only for a moment.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

No use crying over split ends


This is me with my new short hair.

It's not a great photo as the light at my desk is crap, but you get the idea of what it looks like.

And I like it. I really, really like it.

I think I will always want to go back to long hair eventually because that's more me. I've always loved having a 'mane'. But for now, I really like this cut. Just hope I get to enjoy it longer than the next four weeks!

Everybody at the office has been lovely. Ranging from the jokes ("Can I help you?") to the genuine reactions ("My god - I thought you must be Anne-Marie's sister!").

(For the record my sister has even longer hair than I had, so those that thought that have clearly never met her.)

So I'm happy that at least one by-product of this whole process is making me smile.

The other, having been forced off the contraceptive pill and having had a coil inserted on Monday night (the most painful experience I've had in a long time) has resulted in me having much much heavier period pains than normal.

You see, cancer brings both joy and..cramps. Wonderful.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pre-emptive Strike & Getting back on the bike

I'm booked in for a haircut tomorrow. Going to be embracing shortness, which might take a few people by surprise but they need to get used to it if it may all be gone by this time next month.

I think I need to go heavy on the eye make up from now on. Or people might think I'm a boy.

But I'm looking forward to riding a bike for the first time with short hair. I know I'll still get helmet hair but it won't be nearly as hot.

That's if I can get my bike started. Jumped on it ready to go on Monday morning, 45 mins before I was due at the hospital for the latest appointment with Prof Mokbel. Unfortunately whilst I was ready to go, the bike was not. And it showed no vital signs.

I paddled with both feet as I sat astride the bike, desperately trying to get it going fast enough before letting the clutch out in 3rd gear and trying to bump start it. I was knackered within minutes. It's pretty tiring but because of the op I have not even exceeded a slow walk over the last three weeks, and what's more, I was sporting full bike gear on a day where the temperatures rose to hit the mid-20s. (In April. If I didn't have more interesting and self indulgent tripe to write about I'd definitely be banging on about our strange but lovely weather...)

Anyway, suffice to say I got incredibly hot and sweaty in a short space of time. And the bike consistently failed to start. When I had wasted a good 15 minutes I gave up and put the dead bike away and whizzed upstairs again to get changed from now sweaty bike gear to a proper summer office outfit, mopped my brow, admitted defeat and went to the train station to buy another weekly travel card.

I will have to teach myself how to remove the battery and put it on charge.

And quickly. The two chav girls on the train this morning thought they could bitch about how my heavy laptop bag swung into one of their arms momentarily without me hearing because I had my ipod in. In the silence between tracks I felt like shoving their little pikey troll faces into the closing doors. This is public transport. At 8am. There is no room and you will get jostled. And if I didn't manage to control my heavy bag it's probably because I was carrying it with my left arm. The one that isn't still sore and swollen from my operation, but that wouldn't even cross their tiny stupid minds.

Not that I'm touchy or anything, but I need to get back on the bike...

Hats and baubles


A friend and I met yesterday for a glass of wine and a catch up. She bought me a lovely hat. A black straw cowboy hat with a shoelace and some pretty buttons/jewels tied around the brim. And what's more, even on my large lump of a head, it fitted!

Then on the way into work this morning I stopped by Accesorize in Waterloo station and spent £35 on two scarves. One red silk one and a black and white geometric print one.

I had to buy some overly large gold hoops to go with the red silk scarf. Pirate style.

And then some big chunky gold bangles to finish it off.

Lets face it, if I'm going to do this, I want to do this in style.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fecking Fec Fec



At the risk of sounding like Father Jack off Father Ted, I've just found out that I will be undergoing a course of FEC.

That is the name of my chemo cocktail. Or Fluorouracil Epirubicin Cyclophosphamide by its full name.

But I shall call it FEC. With a certain Irish emphasis...

My first treatment is taking place on the 1st May.

The visit to meet my oncologist and see the centre today was strangely scary and reassuring all the same time.

Reassuring because they seem to be lovely people and its nice surroundings. And they give you massages and reflexology while you are being treated. Don't you just love private medicine?

Scary because it was full of patients coming in for treatment and I could see tangible evidence of what I could look like in a few weeks time. And I found myself looking at patients who'd suffered hair loss with more than the sympathy I used to view them with before I had BC. BC BC if you like.

Now I look at them with a mixture of sympathy and another emotion. I think it's probably best described as respect.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Say no to menopause!


Had another appointment with the professor this morning. The tumour is neither responsive to hormones nor proteins, so hormone treatments and herceptin are out the window as options.

While herceptin is being touted as the new wonder drug, and has little side effects, I am generally over joyed by this news because I was dreading the alternative - hormone treatment.

While it's just a little pill, taken daily, and the immediate side effects are just hot flushes and night sweats, it essentially meant I would have been undergoing a 5 year long premature menopause. While the effects reverse when they stop the treatment (and you go back to your pre menopausal state) I would be 39 and a half, and less likely to have happy working ovaries left to return to.

It's not that I definitely want kids. It's just that I don't want the choice taken from me.

Had the tumour been receptive to hormones, I would have had to choose between an extra 5% chance of beating the cancer versus a really high percentage chance (80%? I'm guessing) of losing all fertility. Plus that would have given me the added quandary of whether or not I put my hands in my non existent pockets to pay for egg harvesting and freezing. Which would have cost £10k I don't have. And would have meant waiting for my coming off the pill to kick in and for my body to start producing healthy eggs. Which would have delayed chemo by several months.

So the downside is, I have a 90% cure rate rather than a potential 95% cure rate. But the upside is, I get to not have to make horrible decisions about how much my fertility is worth when I'm not sure I'm going to need it. Hooray for that.

So, I am left with a definite course of chemo followed by radiotherapy and am booked in to see my appointed oncologist, a Doctor Alison Jones, tomorrow in the hallowed walls of Harley street.

After seeing my GP this afternoon to have an alternative method of contraception fitted.

After having left the hospital at 11am this morning.

I haven't spent this much time with the medical establishment since I got drunk at a University ball at a table full of student doctors.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Superstitious, moi?

Despite the rational part of me trying to talk me out of it, I keep finding myself making sense of this whole thing with theories and hypotheses which are based on nothing more than gut feelings or superstitions.

I feel foolish wanting to hold on to these theories but some of them seem to make some sense, within my basic grasp of human biology. Others are downright laughable gypsy voodoo but let me hold onto them. For an atheist, they give me some semblance of control and understanding.


Theory no 1:

On Monday the Professor tells me that this tumour has probably only been in existence for six months or so.

The same day, the boy gets an email from a friend where she tells him that while it all sounds like hippy dippy nonsense, there is scientific evidence to suggest that breast cancer can often be linked to conflict with another (close) female. I laughed outright at this idea initially and then suddenly realised it made some sense.

Oestregen encourages tumours to grow and take hold. Excess oestregen makes you more likely to develop breast cancer. Maybe, in some sort of battle of the alpha females, clashing with another woman makes you produce more oestregen? I'm sure when men clash, testosterone is produced so why should it not be the same for women? If I had more time, I'd be googling it to prove my point.

But how does that relate to me? What clashes have I had? I mainly work with men, so it's nothing there. And everything in my personal life with other women is going alright... Then I realised. Six months ago I still had a lodger. A lodger who used to be a friend and basically started to take the piss, and reacted all pious and perfect when this pissed me off. It got to the stage where it was so bad I used to hang out late at the office instead of going home. To my own home, which I owned, and she sat in like the Queen of Sheba.

She had been due to move out into her own place since August and kept with-holding rent under all sorts of pretences when it was quite clear she did not want to pay me for each month upfront, when she thought she'd be leaving halfway through. It was only when we turned the halfway point in each month that she'd finally cough up. I never held a deposit from her so quite what she was afraid of I'm not sure. Maybe she thought I wouldn't return it because of unpaid bills or the scratches on the kitchen table (brand new when we moved in) that her horrible cat made. But I had assured her several times over that I would return any money owed for rent immediately when she moved out - and that we'd sort bills seperately.

But when she finally left, more than a week into December without having paid rent, she left no forwarding address and no instruction about what she was planning to do about the unpaid rent and more than £100 of unpaid bills (that she had owed me since July). I called and texted her mobile to no avail. I called her work number which said she was off until the following week. I emailed her. It bounced back. I checked with her work reception. She'd changed her email address the week before.

I was being taken for a ride. In a really sly and horrible way. In the end I emailed a legal threat to her work address and her hotmail account, and stuck hard copies in the post to her parents home address and her work postal address. It was now five days since she'd left my flat and 13 days since rent was due.

Lo and behold, where friendliness had not worked before, this succeeded in drawing her fire. "How dare you accuse me of intentionally not paying rent! I lost my phone, I did not check my email for a week" (yeah yeah, this is a girl who could not go 24 hrs without checking email when she lived with me) "and you respond with threats and accusations". She claimed to have sent the cheque to me on Sunday 10 December. It arrived, with a first class stamp on it on Friday 15th Dec. It was postmarked Wednesday 13th Dec at 5.10pm. Three hours after our little email exchange of "Threats and accusations".

I am proud to say that I did not for a moment feel any guilt. But in the preceding months I had felt horrible about how uncomfortable I had become in my own home and cowardly for not tackling the problem sooner. Once we both knew she was due to be off, despite it taking months, I would find myself bottling up my rage at the pointed petty little things she would do to score points - all because I thought it would be nice to leave on good terms and we could maybe find our way back to the friendship we once had. I then felt particularly stupid in the episode of her absconding without paying rent and trying to casually, spitefully avoid paying it altogether.

I joked with the boy about how I could maybe sue her, for giving me breast cancer, never for a moment taking it seriously.

Then I went home and thought more seriously about it, and maybe, just maybe, the situation between us was in some way responsible for this canker growing in my breast.

I won't be sueing her. Just like I won't be getting in touch with her about the few quid she owes me for bills in the final months of her stay, or the half bottle of rum and moth-eaten coats she left behind. I'm sure she realises where they are, and misses them, but like me, she probably also realises it would just be far too much pain and anger to make contact once again.

But it has taught me that next time someone makes you miserable, don't pussy foot around - just get on with getting them out of your life.

Theory no 2:

This is the slightly crackpot gypsy voodoo one.

When I was young I had a horse. A lovely horse called Domino. He was great but he tragically died underneath me at the end of a hunter trial. He turned out to have had a weak heart. It was horrible.

It was the 29th April and in a macabre way, this date is branded in my mind and it seems to come up again and again. It's not always bad, it can merely be 'significant'.

It's not just April either. It seems to be the 29th which is also significant in other months.

Yes, it's crackpot voodoo stuff but last night I realised that I had, possibly slightly foolishly, scheduled our Ugandan flights for the 29th April. And it was the 29th March I was diagnosed.

I know, I know. I'm just looking for patterns and coincidences. It's human nature and there is great stuff written about our search for coincidences in life by various psychologists. Which essentially just boils down to us seeing what we want to see.

But next time I'm planning to leave the country, I shan't book flights for the 29th of any month. You can't make me so there.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lympathic freak

The lympathic freak in question is not this lovely man. This lovely man is my breast surgeon, Professor Mokbel.


Saw the Professor Monday evening. It feels odd saying "I saw the Professor". Like I'm back at University and this is a degree course. But that's how everyone seems to refer to him.

He was his normal chirpy self. As he examined my breast a slow satisfied smile spread over his face. It was weird. I'd never had anyone smile at my boob like that before.

He was clearly pleased with his own handiwork as he'd had to rebuild the area where he'd removed the lump and frankly he's done a brilliant job. I've looked at it from every angle and other than the scar itself, you cannot tell. And the scar will be hidden to all but an intimate few as I'm not in the habit of going topless, so I have little to worry about there.

The armpit is another thing. It was swollen and still felt like I was carrying a newspaper under one arm. So he 'aspirated' it for me quickly. Which means he stuck me with another needle and drew back on a big syringe. drawing out a massive half a litre or so of clear, yellowish liquid. All the stuff my lymph nodes usually drain away. Thankfully I still have some lymph nodes left there and they should start compensating for the ones which have been removed so I won't have to be 'aspirated' on a regular basis. But it was pretty disgusting.

Anyway, to the point.

The good news? The lab results show that the tumour was 15 mm across, rather than the clinical prognosis of 21-25 mm, which means I definitely discovered this early on. He reckoned it's only been 'developing' for the last six months or so. Plus the margin of tissue was clear all the way round so they definitely got it all out. And the lymph nodes were all confirmed (for the third and now 100% accurate time) as clear of cancer so it ain't got anywhere else in my body either. The blood tests and chest/lung x-rays also back this up.

Incidentally, once he'd 'opened me up', he was apparently concerned that my lymph nodes might still be a problem so this is really good news. Apparently, not only do I have around 40-50 lymph nodes in my armpit area (where most people have around 20) but 5-6 of them looked, in his experience, like they might be a bit dodgy on the cancer front. Hence chopping out so many.

"Well, at least if I have 40-50 to start with, losing 6 doesn't matter as much" I responded to this news.

He then explained that lymph nodes can clump together and be quite deceptive, and that one node can often turn out to be five or six clumped together. When the lab tested my nodes, they discovered he'd actually removed 17 in total. So no wonder things have been a bit swollen.

Mind you, it's only now that I realise that if he estimated 40-50 lymph nodes on sighting my armpit, but actually counted 17 when he thought he'd removed 6, then maybe I actually have 100+ and not 40-50 at all! Which would make me truly freakish.

Here's a picture of a boob showing you where to find the lymph nodes. My tumour was actually centrally below the nipple. Maybe that gave me a headstart on catching it before the cancer mestatised to the lymph nodes? Who knows...


And the bad news? It's grade 3 on a scale of 1 to 3 where 1 is less agressive and 3 is more agressive. But they had me expecting this as, for 'one so young' (I love being referred to in this way), it would have to be pretty agressive to take hold in the first place anyway. This grading result means I definitely need chemo. Despite the fact that it should not have left behind any cancerous cells, in my breast or elsewhere, they reckon chemo followed by radiotherapy will give me an extra 5-6% chance of it never returning.

Plus, hormone and protein receptor tests not back until my appointment next week so won't know until then whether I will get the joys of either hormone treatment or herceptin in addition to chemo as well. I had previously thought it was either chemo or hormone or herceptin. It seems it is definitely chemo, plus either hormones, or herceptin, or nothing.

Please sir, can I have nothing?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

T minus 2 hours

Due at the hospital for my tumour grading results and treatment recommendations in two hours time.

Feel strangely calm after the up and downiness of recent days. The sort of calm you get moments before a pitch starts, or just as the rollercoaster crests the initial peak, or when you see an accident unfold in front of you and everything goes slow motion. You know it's going to happen and you are powerless to prevent it.



Diet so far today:

Breakfast:
Glass of Innocents Superfoods smoothie
Blueberries and natural yoghurt
One slice wholemeal toast with olive spread

Mid-morning:
Satsuma and small handful red grapes

Lunch:
Bowl of tomato and basil soup
Two slices wholemeal toast with flora
More red grapes
I evil biscuit (come on! they were left over from a box of posh biccies a girl gave me after I sorted her some work experience out)

Gosh I'm good and wholesome, apart from the last item.

Not sure it will make any difference to my treatment options in the short term though.

A close friend has offered to accompany me to the appointment today in the absence of Rich who is driving a lorry somewhere to make up some much needed lost income over the last fortnight. Not sure if I want her there or not. Feeling quite positive and strong so I think I will stand her down and fly solo today. But I was really touched she offered.

Just knowing she could be there will probably be enough.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Don't speak too soon

That post yesterday was a little premature it seems.

Self-pity doesn't really go away. It just sits there waiting for you to get a little tired, or for something small to not go your way, and then it pounces again.

I hate being miserable and feeling sorry for myself. It's pathetic and fills me with lots of healthy self-loathing. But I call up the boy when it happens and he takes the piss in a gentle sort of way, or makes a stupid joke, and it goes away again. At least for a bit.

Back at my parents after escaping to Hereford. I managed to drive myself in my mother's tiny Malaysian car which cost her nothing, does 50 mpg and feels like you're driving a dodgem. It was weird to drive but had power steering so the arm/boob felt ok. My knackered old Peugeot with its stiff, very non-power steering would have been quite different!

This afternoon it's a coach ride back to London and hopefully my Waitrose shopping will turn up on time (Ocado due to deliver between 10-11pm) so I will have a fresh load of red things and healthy food for the week ahead. I tell you what, cancer is proving very useful for giving me that kick up the arse I needed on eating better. Life always felt too short before to pay too much attention to eating like a rabbit and not indulging when you feel like indulging. Now however, the fact that life feels just that little bit shorter means I am truly motivated to seek out lots of high fibre, plenty of antioxidants, aiming to hit that 9 a day rather than the paltry 3 a day I probably managed before.

I will swiftly become very dull. But at least I may lose some weight out of this. I've never been vain enough to do so before just for aesthetic reasons and your health always seems so easy to hold onto when you have it.

But there are downsides to the new diet... Lets hope the coach has a loo.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Our green and pleasant land


I'm in Hereford, at the boy's house. He drove us down to my parents house yesterday, near the Forest of Dean on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border and England is all shiny and new, greens and yellows battling in the spring sunshine as if to persuade me that it's not so bad, a summer in England will be quite pleasant after all.

I've spent the afternoon lying outside in the sun (skin cancer risk? just you even try it!) and feel like I've got a more healthy glow than my recent sick-bed tear-ridden pallor. We've even started planning what summer festivals we can now go to that Uganda is definitely off.

The week after initial diagnosis has passed, and it's now a week after the op. Time has moved on and my self-pity has exhausted itself.

On Tuesday I rang my sister, just to give her an update. When I dialled her number I was fine. In the next few seconds while it rang thoughts flashed into my head. What if this ruins me and Rich? Puts too much pressure on the relationship? What if I have to face the chemo alone? Unable to stop the wave of self pity the emotion rose up and came out in an animal like cry just as my sister answered. I scared her silly and had to spend the rest of the call reassuring her that most of the time I was fine, and it was just that split second where I had suddenly given in to dark nightmares about stuff that isn't even confirmed yet.

I've always had a penchant for melodrama. When I was little I used to imagine that my parents had died and I had been left to fend for myself in the woods. But even this last week has been enough for me and I now find myself picking up my dignity and just getting on with it.

Reassuring my hold on my job was a huge part of it. Much as it frustrates me on occasion, it is a job I know how to do, and do well. I can look forward to it distracting me when I need some distraction, and to it not being so hard that I can't cope when I need to focus on more important things.

Realising we had to say no to Uganda was the hardest. And the knock-on effect was that because every tom, dick and harry out there knew we were about to leave the country, plus most of them were due to come to a party at my flat in a week's time, we had to tell everyone we knew. Immediately.

While I naturally share rather than conceal information with friends, strangers and colleagues, even this was tricky for me. In the end, I told as many as I could by phone and then had to email everyone on the party invite list to drop the bombshell and cancel the party in the same breath. Which meant a flurry of communication and messages - all of which lovely, but exhausting. Which made me feel like a bitch when I found myself moaning to a close friend about how tired I was of "all the endless calls". I should count myself lucky and stop being so bloody selfish.

And now I sit here typing, my armpit still sore from the biopsy and my boob feeling pretty alright. The scar on the underside of my tit is healing nicely and feels almost normal. But the armpit wound feels rock hard and still has some swelling around it. The blue of my nipple has faded as the bruising has come up, so it's now a sort of sickly yellowy green.

Very Spring indeed.

As for my head? As I said, the self-pity has been exhausting and is finally exhausted as I wait in this space before the appointment on Tuesday when I find out what treatment I'll be getting.

I never thought I'd be in a situation where I'd be crossing my fingers for the chemo option, but mentally I am prepared for that. The alternatives are herceptin (which I am crossing my fingers and toes for - no side effects - hurrah!) or hormone treatment. Or just radiotherapy but that's only a 1 in 10 chance so we're not even going to let ourselves believe in the chances of that.

Hormone treatment would throw me into an early, and five year long menopause. They should be able to protect my ovaries during the process apparently, but when they turn them back on I'll be nearly 39. At which point they'd be perfectly entitled to give up the ghost, fertility-wise. Frankly, I'd rather take my chances with chemo. I'd rather take 4 mths of feeling like shit and losing my hair over 5 years of menopause before my time.

Bring it on.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

My armpit smells of metal

My armpit smells of metal and has done ever since they performed the lumpectomy and node biopsy on Saturday.

It may be the smell of wounded flesh. Blood tastes of metal doesn't it, so maybe it's that.

It may be the smell of the dressings.

It may be my own body odour, masked for years by deodorant use.

Or, and this just struck me, it may be that they left something behind. An instrument or blade of some sort?

Creepy.

No really, don't give up the day job


Once recovered from the shock of diagnosis and the prosaic realisation that 'I'm not going to die, I'm just going to have a really shitty year' my thoughts turned to practical matters.

To be diagnosed with breast cancer whilst in gainful employment is one thing. But I'd handed in my notice over six weeks ago and was due to be leaving my job in three weeks time. My boss was teetering on the edge of offering my job to someone else, someone who he was reportedly really happy to have found.

So legally speaking, he was under no obligation to give me back my job as I'd already handed in notice. On a practical level, he would only be human to pause and question question how fantastic I would be at my job whilst undergoing chemo and bald as a coot.

I can just imagine new business meetings with potential prospects. "Hello, I'm from this ad agency and am here to tell you about how great we are. Oh yes, my slaphead... did I mention my cancer?"

From an emotional or psychological point of view, I have found myself keen to cling to normality. If having this and needing it treated means changing all our plans, then at least I can continue life as I know it now. Obviously I am making relevant changes - taking it easy more often, eating more healthily, drinking less etc... But as far as work and routine is concerned the thought of choosing to, or being forced to enter a job search situation, having to declare my new found tumour to potential employers, having to deal with this disease in a new work environment where I don't know anyone... It doesn't bear thinking about.

So today, I dragged my still woozy body into the office for a few hours. A trial run before next week where I hope to get back to full time. And a face to face chat with my boss about what I want, and what he wants, out of the new reality.

I thought in my paranoid state that he may pull the rug out from under my feet (paranoia is now my natural state... I was paranoid about the lump I found and I was proved right on that one, so now everything is worst-case scenario as far as my fantasising is concerned) and threaten to not accept me withdrawing my notice.

But I forgot that he's not only my boss. He's a good guy (most of the time) and someone I've known as a colleague and a friend for years now. Cumulatively I have spent seven years at this company and it's been more than a decade since my first day here back in 1997.

So he talked of treating it as if I'd never handed in my notice. Of supporting me. Of restructuring workloads to give me more help and take some of the client facing stuff away from me (this will help deal with the baldness issue, if and when that arises). Of course, he's reassured by the fact that Uganda is out of the picture for us, if not forever, then at least for a year or two at the minimum. As I said, he's only human. He doesn't want to nurse me through chemo and then lose me the moment I'm through treatment. Which is fair enough.

I'm just relieved that in a week of uncertainties and changes, one thing at least will remain constant and we can start planning the other things around this. And it is great to be reminded that I work for a lovely company, run by some really good people.

Plus this means I can start nagging our FD for my expenses again. Nearly £4k. That should clear the credit card and overdraft. And maybe pay for a little week in the sun to chill out, sometime soon.

I think both me and the boy deserve it.

But I might have to change the title of this blog. Again.

Started it as a work themed thing, relaunched it as a 'running away to Uganda' thing, and now it's going to be a self-indulgent breast cancer blog.

I've become a cliche by mistake!!!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Everything changes in an instant

It's strange how quickly everything can change. I've spent the last six weeks adapting to the new reality of moving to Uganda, getting stressed about everything we need to do before we go, running out of time and money, trying to see as much of friends and family as possible. And then suddenly it has no bearing any more.

Last Sunday night I felt a lump in my breast. After the weekend I had, I thought 'Just my luck'. So much stuff had gone wrong that weekend, from the smallest decorating jobs to my mum falling off her horse and breaking her ankle, that I was lying there groping my tit in the dark thinking 'To get breast cancer now would just finish this weekend off nicely'.

I was being flippant. I didn't think for a moment I'd have it.

Until I saw the screen during my ultrasound on Thursday afternoon and could not escape the big black hole in the centre of the scan. Before I was called in to the consultant's office to get my results I knew it would be bad news. That moment between knowing and actually being told was the most terrifying one I've ever had. And I spent it, feeling not very brave at all, blubbing down the phone at the boy who was still trying to persuade me gamely that I was probably just being paranoid.

Since then it's been a whirlwind of absorbing information and the implications of what this means. I had the chance to go through my own series of realisations. I have breast cancer. I need to have an operation to get it cut out of me. I might need to have chemo. I might lose my fertility. I will certainly lose my hair. We won't be able to go to Uganda.

Fuck. We won't be able to go to Uganda. That hurt more than all the others as it's more real and immediate.

Then, if we don't go to Uganda, what do I do here in the meantime? Has my job already been offered to, and taken, by somebody else? Could I get it back?

I phoned Rich, and listened to hin go through the same slow dawning of implications. I'm not the only one who's handed in their notice - he has too. I phoned my Dad, who was bravely optimistic for me. And then, third on my list, I phoned my boss, asking him whether it would be at all possible to consider staying in my role as everything has changed. He tells me he was due to make my replacement an offer in the morning but will sit on it for a few days while I work my head out. He's also flabbergasted. So am I, but the need to focus on making decisions starts to pull me out of the state I'm in.

We phoned Uganda on Friday night. Debbie, the boss to be, was brilliant. Genuinely in awe of my problem (when she of all people has had to go through so much more when her husband was killed a couple of years ago) she urged us to focus on my health and not on what she was going to do (altho, what is she going to do? she has been waiting for us for two months and while she does not blame us in the slightest, this really leaves her in the ****). What's more, she seems open to the possibility of us aiming to come out and join her to take up our jobs after all, in a year or so once I've got through all this shit and have a clean bill of health once again.

And on Saturday I was admitted to Princess Grace hospital for a lumpectomy courtesy of my work's private healthcare scheme (very very luxurious to the point of having a wine list,,. not that I indulged). Rich wrote This one thanks' above my right tit and two hours later I'm back in my hospital bed with a groggy head, a sore boob, and a blue nipple from the die they use for the sentinel node biopsy.

The good news is that my lymph nodes are clear. It has not spread. But because I am so young the chances of the tumour being agressive are so much higher that I will most probably still need chemo.

So here we are, the Monday after the Thursday i got breast cancer. It's been a busy four days. More later...