Friday, September 28, 2007

Filth and depravity

Just been checking up on my sitemeter stats and I'm always interested to see how people find this blog.

Someone even got here by typing 'Anne-Marie' and 'Boob' into Google.

Hands up. Which one of you filthy bastards was it?

A stroke of genius


I've been struggling with several things recently and I think I may have come up with a plan that will be the answer to at least one of them, and simultaneously knock a few of the others into a cocked hat.

I've been thinking about how I could possibly 'give something back' to the world of cancer and the professions and research and support networks that surround it. Merely installing a Macmillan collection box on my work reception desk is not enough. Especially if no fucker sticks any money in it. It's been two days and it's still empty. I'm astounded but there you go. It's not my money so who am I to judge...

Anyway, I digress. My Archimedes-like flash of brilliance came to me earlier today when the machine broke down with me on it. I was stranded on the radiotherapy board for ten minutes or so, trying to remain perfectly still while nurses ran in and out to fix things.

I lay there thinking about how weird it was that I've had fifteeen radiotherapy appointments plus several planning sessions and one of today's nurses was still new to me. I am treated by two nurses a day, and while several familiar faces tend to rotate, it's indicative of how many of them there are that I am still meeting new people. It got me thinking about the huge number of people who have helped me through this whole process, medically speaking, from my GP to the surgeons, to the breast care nurses and reflexologists, oncology nurses and specialists, radiotherapy professionals, Macmillan volunteers, physios and therapists, and even the reception team at Harley Street who know me by name and cover for me when I have to park my bicycle in the hall when I have forgotten my lock keys. There is a long list of help and support I need to make a list of all the people who have helped me and the sheer scale of people involved, that touch the process of diagnosis and treatment that individuals like me have gone through, is quite overwhelming. It deserves recording in some way.

Better still I thought, as the cogs whirred in my brain (but not yet the radiotherapy machine), wouldn't it be great to tell the story of all the people that have helped me through a photographic study. To take portraits of the people involved at every stage, in every role.

What's more, I could take these portraits and create a collection of photos that tells my story, which mirrors the stories of thousands of other women undergoing similar experiences, and take it to a gallery to be exhibited to raise money and awareness for breast cancer causes. To do it in partnership with Macmillan, to raise money for Macmillan. The photos could be sold as prints, could be created into calendars or other merchandisable items for sale, there could be a voluntary donation scheme at the exhibition itself, maybe even a book.

It feels slightly pipe-dreamy but there really should be no reason why it could not work. I have the contacts. Our creative director is well connected in the arts and galleries world and has advised on photography award committees etc etc. He know galleries who may be interested. We know repro houses who could help out on the printing side of things. My main fear is that my photography skills may not be up to carrying the full responsibility of creating the content for the project but we know plenty of photographers who may be willing to help. But there's an emotional bit of me that would love the challenge and significance of taking the photographs myself.

I've tested the idea on a few people today and they have all agreed it's strength. It scares me slightly, because it is a daunting task and I would need to get moving on it straight away. But the prospect also thrills me. Part of the reason I've written this post on the day I've thought of the idea is so that I can't conveniently 'forget' about it, like sort of blackmailing yourself.

But the very fact that my brain works again, can think in this way, and that I can get excited about a project like this and relish the idea of getting stuck in, makes me more convinced that I am getting back to normal than any physical manifestation of well-being.

Well, I'm off for a weekend of plotting and scheming.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

An eventful morning


9.30am:
Meet the counseller at Macmillan and get 'counselled'. There is such a long story to tell (and I don't tend to edit very well) that I talk for a full hour and she only occasionally interjects to ask me about a certain aspect of treatment, or work issues, or other stuff that's bogging me down at the moment. Clearly this is only the beginning. I'm apparently entitled to 9 sessions in total, so I can have as many of those, or as few, as I like.

It's not as scary as I feared, and not as hard. And it's good to talk to someone unadulterated by this whole experience (but vastly experienced in the similar experiences of others). So I aim to book another session with her and take it from there.

The only downside to this hour was that she ended things very abruptly, catching sight of the clock and realising she'd let us run over by 15 mins. I was rushed out of the room and ran down to radiotherapy, feeling slightly odd as I breezily greeted today's assistants when only moments before I'd been talking about my innermost innermosts.

10.45am:
Dance the dance of radiotherapy. 15 minutes late. I'm taking my top off as I walk through the door. Lights dim. Half an inf out. 90.7, moving 10.4 to the right. And that's great cover. Watch the green line bisecting me move from my belly button to my right hand side in the reflective plate. Lights up and the nurses exit. Beam on. Beam off. 'Shaft' is playing on the stereo. This was on last week as well in one of my sessions. How many CDs must they have in order for me to be hearing the same music track for the second time, on treatment 14? Machine whirs in it's trajectory from my left to the right. Beam on. Beam off. One of the nurses bounds back in. Arms down, relax. Step off the board and back into my clothes and out. I am now a consumate professional at this game.

11am:
Linger downstaris as the breast care nurse tries to find out for me if Dr Piggott wants to see me now, or later. She wants to see me for my weekly check up with her but also needs to do some plotting and planning for the booster schedule. This is the final week of radiotherapy where they plan to just zap the area immediately around where the original tumour was located. My concern is that I was meant to meet one of the therapists at Macmillan for my hour long therapy session (massage this time, not therapy of the counselling variety). It was due to start at 10.45 but everything has run late this morning since I got halfway to the station and had to turn back for something I forgot. Eventually the breast care nurse reappears. Go upstairs, have your therapy, she says.

11.30am:
The therapist and I make the most of what's left of my session. This is one of four I am entitled to and I have squandered it by trying to cram everything too close together as usual. Bugger. At least we get the paperwork done and next time I'll go straight into the massage.

11.45am:
I reappear downstairs in radiotherapy and get a nurse to let Dr Piggott know that I am back to see her when she becomes available. She turns up almost immediately and I'm ushered into a room with her and two nurses, and a simulated radiotherapy back board and arm supports. Again, i find myself starting to remove my top before I'm asked. I stop and check that they actually want me to remove my clothes - lets face it, it will be an awkward day when I walk into some medical professional's office and just start stripping for no good reason.

More felt tip is used to draw on me. A photo is taken of my boob and its lumpectomy scar. The neatness of my scars are admired and I am asked 'who did them'. This is not the first time. All nurses and specialists like to know 'who did your port?' or 'who did the lumpectomy?'. Then when you tell them the name of your star surgeon they nod appreciatively. It's what discussions about plastic surgery must be like. Or interior designers. Or chefs. Or wedding suppliers.

"Who did your nose/kitchen/catering/flowers?"

It's the sort of question which implies great snobbery in the trade to which it refers. But then again, I'm grateful for the neatness of my scars, so if we want to treat our star surgeons with such fawning respect then who am I to argue with them? It's rather like half the creative people I've ever worked with in advertising. If someone's a genius in their specialist field, you let them get away with murder and treat them like a god.

Back in the planning room, a woman is placing a transparent piece of film over my right boob and tracing things. I ask questions I've been storing up for my consultant. One is about whether or not I should be getting my port flushed if it's staying in for any length of time. Turns out I do need it flushed. Every five weeks at most. Oops. It's been over six weeks since I last had chemo, when it last would have been flushed. Someone could have told me...

The second question is one about a small mole type thing I have on my right breast. It's a mole that has developed in my adult life. It's skin coloured so is barely noticeable but you can feel it as a small raised bump with slightly scalloped edges. It's not got any bigger and doesn't hurt, but I'm just more aware of it now that I'm rubbing cream on my boob twice a day. And given events over the last six months, I am more likely to take action and see someone about it, rather than shrug it off and assume shit only happens to other people.

We go into another room and a bright light is shone at the culprit. Dr Piggott announces that she isn't a dermatologist but... to her it looks like what is called a rodent ulcer. Nice name. It's also known as basal cell carcinoma. When I hear the carcinoma word I wince. That's what they used to describe the tumour in my breast.

"Is it skin cancer?" I ask, steeling myself, as I instantly imagine a slow slide into metastasis and more invasive treatments ending up in the inevitable deathbed scenarios. All of this happens in a blink of an eye as Dr Piggott is very quick to put my fears at rest. Basal cell carcinomas do not metastasise, they only grow larger and may ulcerate (the surface breaks and bleeds). Treatment is simply whipping them off, or, ironically, radiation to the area. And she's going to refer me to a dermatologist to get it checked out properly.

Big phew.


SOMEONE ELSE'S BASAL CELL CARCINOMA

After a trip upstairs to revist chemo day care and get my port flushed I head back to the office, reflecting on two things.

I remember reading somewhere shortly after being diagnosed that once you've had cancer, you can never look at a spot and just see a spot. They were right.

I also felt sick twice during the course of this morning. Once when I was in the chemo day care centre and felt that familiar anticiatory nausea wash over me with the smell of the equipment and antiseptic. The other time was when I was nowhere near the chemo day care unit, but downstairs in radiotherapy hanging around for appointments. I happened to be near the lift, where a porter was taking someone's lunch up to them on a tray. It was the sort of lunch that I was served in the chemo unit - the one where Rich would take the sandwiches because I would feel too sick. Seeing this plateful of food brought back memories of the day when I had to send him over to the other side of the room because the smell of the sandwiches was just making me ill. These sandwiches today were wrapped in clingfilm, so I couldn't smell them. But the sight brought back the memory of the smell, and the chemo, and left me retching in the corridor.

Seems like chemo-related nausea triggered by sense memories take a while to wear off. If ever.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Boobwatch

I'm "pinking up" as they say in the trade.

My right nipple is slightly darker, and much more sensitive. The skin around it and beyond the boob is definitely turning pink, with a noticeable line at the edges of where the radiation beam hits me. I will, however, spare you any photos.

The tenderness is getting worse. I struggle with speed bumps and potholes on my various two wheeled vehicles. The car is not so bad (better suspension?) but the other day I was on a bus which went through a massive pothole. The whole bus lurched in an unforgiving way and I screamed 'shit' in a very unladylike way, and clutched my right boob for comfort and support. Thankfully this is London so everyone pretended not to notice.

I'm back to my post-lumpectomy days, where there are certain colleagues and acquaintances that I feel comfortable sharing the back of a cab with where I have to hold onto my boob to support it over the holes in London's roads. And there are others who would be made uncomfortable by it so I spare their blushes and bite my lip when the pain comes.

But I am halfway through my main doses of radiation (before the last five days of booster beams kicks in anyway) and according to the nurses I'm doing alright. Some people who get burned skin are in a much worse state than I am by this stage.

And above all, I just need to compare radiotherapy's side-effects with those I endured throughout chemo, and they instantly pale into insignificance.

It's weird to think that in a month's time, this will all be over, treatment-wise.

I wonder what I will do with all the time.

Blogging the blogger


I've been blogged about. Whilst having a browse of my sitemeter reports (the ones that show me how many of you there are, where you come from, and how you got here) I noticed something. More and more people had got to my blog by searching my full name, spelt correctly.

I'm used to the odd person finding me that way, but they need to know who I am first, before they type my name into google.

Plus my traffic had shot up. Since the second week of September it's been averaging much higher than ever before.

Turns out, a couple of weeks ago, a woman called Jacki Donaldson wrote about me and my blog on another blog, The Cancer Blog. I've stumbled across her before - on the blog she started when she found she had breast cancer several years ago - and subsequently had tracked her to where she writes on The Cancer Blog.

But today, I was surprised to find a piece about me, with my blogger profile photo attached to it. See here for the full experience.

So welcome to my humble blog, newbies.

It's a bittersweet experience for me, because I'm happy to have new readers but if you're here because you've found me through The Cancer Blog (now sadly retired but still online) then my guess is that you, or someone very close to you, has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Life sucks sometimes doesn't it?

I can't say it always gets better. I have been lucky enough that it is starting to get better for me, and hope it does for you too. But I'm painfully aware that there are people out there for whom it only gets worse.

However, if reading what I've written helps you understand or deal with this any better than you might otherwise have done, then I'd be very happy indeed. As I emerge from this process, I feel a stronger and stronger urge to give something back. From picking up a Macmillan collection box to put on our reception desk, to feeling a strange sort of desire to think about something much bigger and more long term that I can somehow contribute to making cancer easier, or supporting those that do.

In the meantime, while I work that out and now that the blog is being blogged about, maybe I'll just sit here and wait for the book to be published, the film rights to be snapped up, and the casting director to call me to see who I want to play my part.

Mmmm. Go with fantasy and pick Angelina Jolie? Or stick with reality and send the script round to Kirstie Alley's house with a bagful of donuts?



It's clearly only a matter of time until I'm sipping cool champagne whilst overlooking my own private beach somewhere glamourously hot.

Ha. I should be so lucky.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Up, down, turn around, please don't let me hit the ground

Well, after a day of appointments and not getting much done workwise because I was so down in the dumps, Friday evening saw me to drive to Hereford.

When I left London I felt listless and numb with all the bloody crying and black moods of the previous few days. When I got to Hereford I felt sheer relief, like I'd shed the black mood like a skin behind me. I still felt a little fragile, but after a few hours curled up on the sofa and a good night's sleep, I woke up on Saturday and felt normal again.

I'm not sure how much credit I can lay at R's feet for this. Certainly he plays a massive role in keeping me feeling happy and positive. He just seems to be able to do it without doing anything much identifiable exactly. If I had to pinpoint what he actively did, I'd find it very hard. It's clearly all done with sleight of hand and bad puns. But I am grateful.

Saturday saw us visit friends - one of whom was diagnosed with metatastic melanoma last autumn and is having a very hard time of it. Since then he has had one operation on his leg to remove a 9x2cm tumour, three operations on his brain (one to remove the tumour that had settled in up there and two to go back in and pour hydrogen peroxide in there to rid him of some infection they'd left in there...), a further massive tumour removed from his upper right arm which also meat removing a piece of a nerve which means he has lost control of his right hand, and most recently, a massive operation to remove 7 or so tumours across his stomach. His skin is made up increasingly of long scars, he has lost his hair through the radiotherapy he's received on his skull, he can no longer use his right hand for anything, nooone can tell him how long he has got left, and he's currently on chemo 3 of 6. We talked a lot, and it was with heavy hearts we left. He's a lovely guy with a lovely family and deserves to have a hell of a lot longer than he's probably got.

Whenever I meet others who have been affected by cancer, firstly their cases uses make mine pale into insignificance, and secondly, I always leave, blown away by the sheer magnitude and scale of cancer and how it dramatically impacts so many people's lives.

The scale of the unfairness and shittiness of this situation always upsets me. None of these people seem to have done anything to deserve it, neither from the point of view of living the wrong sort of lifestyle nor from the more buddhist stance of deserving some of divine justice for crimes and misdemeanours previously committed.

It's just simply not fair, and I guess that's where a lot of the anger comes from.

But trite and shallow as it might be, our moods were soon lifted by the evening's entertainment. We'd got tickets to see a band we like - one we originally saw at one of the summer festivals. Called The Redlands Palomino Company they play great country rock - they are from somewhere round the Forest of Dean/South Wales/Gloucestershire area, but sing and play like they're in a spit and sawdust bar in some hick town in the Southern States. Last night's gig was at a tiny, beautifully restored theatre in Monmouth. When we arrived there were about two people there and we feared for how the evening would develop. However, halfway through the support act's set, about 30 fans (or possibly just drinking buddies) of the band walked in. All of them wore brightly coloured caps, lumberjack style flannel shirts and stuck on black goatie beards in homage to the male vocalist from RPC, Alex.



The evening turned into a surreal mix between great music and surreal comedy, as the real Alex scorned and mocked the fake Alex's, and vice versa, culminating in getting all the fake Alex's up on stage for the final encore. They swarmed the stage and the real Alex went to hide behind the drummer, playing his guitar in the relative safety of the shadow of the drums.



R and I drove home and agreed we had never been to a funnier music gig...

Friday, September 21, 2007

The come-down kid

Okay. The high I was feeling coming off chemo was going to have to result in some sort of an emotional come-down.

Since earlier this week I've been feeling increasingly emotional and angry at life, and all the feelings that I thought were dealt with from my initial diagnosis, or at least parked out of the way for a bit, have been bubbling up again. Plus a few new ones have emerged to add to the pot.

I've read a lot about people who emerge from a course of treatment as extreme as something like chemo, only to find they start to feel depressed because they lose the routine of the appointments and the drugs, and the attention of the medical professionals.

I don't feel like I miss the routine or attention that chemo gave me. I don't miss that in the slightest. I never want to have to walk into that day care unit again as long as I live. My body physically rebels at the thought of it.

I think it's more that having gone through the liberation of myself from the draining, energy-sucking, drudgery of chemotherapy, I now have the time and the energy to think about the bigger picture once more. It's as if feeling physically better all of a sudden has removed the distraction of just struggling to get through the days and left me with a space to fill. Chemo, or certainly the last few treatments of chemo, was all about just getting through each day, waiting for the cycle to be over. Simply dealing with being that sick was enough to occupy every waking moment.

Now I see an end in sight, I feel so much better, and suddenly I get hijacked by emotions that have been waiting pa tiently for this opportunity.

I've been crying a lot, over-reacting to little things, indulging myself in sentimental flights of fancy, struggling with my feelings about work (I'm back in the land of fresh perspective and 'I have/had a big disease.... what on earth does a silly little small thing like a job matter?), picking fights with drivers who cut me up on my daily bicycle rides to Harley street, and generally feeling really miserable.

R is in Hereford this week and when this black mood first came upon me, I feared that maybe every time he's not there to distract me from this the same thing might happen. But I think it's just coincidence. Up until now I've had chemo, or a manic work schedule to distract me. But this week, with little on my plate in the office, and noone at home to make bad jokes and watch Family Guy with, suddenly the realisation that there is still a long way to go, at least emotionally, is upon me.

After considering all of this, and hijacking an evening out with a friend last night who happens to have a background as a trained pyschologist, I'm going to bite the bullet and take Macmillan up on their offer of a counselling service. I've been sceptical of my needs of this before but if nothing else, it would be a chance for me to offload some of this shit on someone who is trained and paid to listen. Not one of my poor friends or R or colleagues or anyone else who's heard it a million times before.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Regrowth and rebirth

The recovery from chemo is fantastic. I'd recommend it to anyone if it wasn't for the nasty stuff that comes before.

My hair is growing. Not as fast as I would like but it's really starting to look dark again on my head, and give it some shape and definition, rather than the total absence of hair creating an impression of a big over-inflated flesh coloured beach ball.

The first regrowth is a few milimetres long (and a month old now from when it started to push through just as I entered my last chemo) and underneath it I can see new shoots pushing their way through. Up close, when you look for regrowth, the best news is if your head just looks grimy. The sort of griminess you get on your hands when you've been messing with engines and the oil pinpoints every pore. That's how it looks when you can see the roots just beneath the skin.

As for how it feels - I've been compared to fuzzy felt, baby chicks and babie's hair. It's super soft, but as it's all so short and relatively uniform in length it does have a fuzziness to it. But the softest fuzziness you can imagine. Touching it is rather enjoyable so I'm back to stroking my head absent mindedly in a slightly disturbing self-adoration way.

And the colour? Well, it's not ginger. There's a fair bit of grey emerging - but no more than expected. On the whole, it's dark - pretty much the shade it was before I think.

I'll have to wait until it's a bit longer to check out the curl situation...

As for rebirth, well, on the whole I feel decidedly perky. All my mental energy is returning and cycling to the hospital every day for rads is helping to get me back to normal physically.

This means that not only do I feel capable of living life again but I also keep coming up with new things to do with all this energy. Last night I baked two cakes and a tray of muffins. They're all really stodgy and have not risen properly but it was fun and they do taste yummy.

It seems so weird to think that only a few weeks ago life was a real struggle and I was plain exhausted.

The novelty of returning to normal has taken over and all that seems like a distant memory.

Thank goodness for that...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sugar and spice and all things nice


My hair has started to grow back, I'm starting to feel human again, but my worst fear from when the whole baldness thing started was realised on Friday afternoon when the sweetest looking six year old girl looked up at me with curiousity, all decked out in her brand new school uniform, smiled sweetly and said "Are you a boy or a girl?".

I'd forgotten all about this - but when I first shaved my head I was really self conscious whenever I first encountered friends' children, thinking they would be confused by my baldness and unfettered by the chains of social niceties, they would ask me awkward or embarrassing questions. Thankfully my friends' children were either really well briefed, or genuinely didn't see anyone different from the Aunty Anne-Marie they know and love.

(Noone actually calls me Aunty Anne-Marie - that would be uber-twee).

Anyway, I'm glad that when the case of confused gender perception finally happened, it happened at a point in the process where it didn't bother me.

So I smiled back sweetly and explained that I WAS a girl, I just didn't have very much hair at the moment.

I was also wearing biker boots, jeans and my bike jacket - so I guess she could be forgiven.

Kids. Don't they just say the funniest things?

Little bastards.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

An oasis of calm in a busy day

Today at my radiotherapy appointment I found myself relaxing into the routine. Into the room, shirt off, bra off, shoes off, sit on the board and swivel my legs up and recline into the cup that supports your head. Arms up and back, finding their resting position in the supports above my head. They dim the lights so they can read the machine's projections on my body.

I close my eyes and feel work draining away as I give myself over to their low voices with talk of numbers in their strange language.

"I've got half an inf". "I've got 96.2 and that's good cover".

"Moon Safari" by Air plays in the background at an almost indiscernible volume level.

If I kid myself, I could almost be in a spa environment, relaxing on a massage table, waiting for someone to come and attend to me.

Sadly, they turn the lights back on fairly swiftly and then the peace is shattered by the alarm sounding as the machine has its wicked way with me.

But the five minutes they spend in the semi-darkness lining me up with the cross-hairs of the machine is my moment of calm.

I treasure it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Four Pitches and a Postponement

God it's a busy week this week.

Pitch on Tuesday, Pitch on Wednesday, Jumped up credentials meeting on Thursday and a Pitch on Friday. It's getting so confusing that half the time I don't know whether I'm doing something on airlines, consumer electronics, pet food or meat. The latter is for human consumption only and not to be mistaken for the pet food - but at times this week has got pretty confusing. And it's only Wednesday afternoon.

Thank god the meeting with a big film company that was due to happen in two hours time was postponed.

But I get to meet someone vaguely famous in Thursday's meeting. The public face of the brand we're meeting is a reality TV star. Not the Big Brother variety. More serious fly on the wall stuff TV. Hard to explain without compromising confidentiality. But it will make the meeting a frisson more exciting than one with your average business suits round the table.

Time to go. It's a quarter to 1 and my rads is at 1.15. Last night Rich drove my bicycle to work in the car so I can take that instead of the motorbike. Yesterday was ridiculous - had to circle Harley Street for 25 mins before I found a bike bay with a free spot in it.

And even then the free spot was no bigger than a postage stamp and I had to sweettalk a warden into promising not to give me a ticket the moment I walked off.

Removing the helmet to show chemo hair and talking about being late for radiotherapy treatments works wonders in these situations I find.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My first time

Got zapped properly for the first time yesterday. It was little different to the dummy run. The key difference being the radiotherapists run out the room for the actual zapping and you lie there, listening to cheesy music being piped in, knowing they are running things from a remote camera.

The lights on the wall flick from innocent yellow to the lit up bright red 'Beam On' signs with a nasty industrial sounding continuous alarm droning to alert you to it's presence.

The zapping is meant to just focus the beams on a localised, highly specific area of my body which is carefully demarcated by tattoos and laser beams. It seems strangely over-cautious that they go to such lengths to avoid the room and warn people the beam is on. Then again, they do 20 of these a day, I only do one.

First the machine beams from the left hand side. Then it moves around you on it's trajectory, settles into position and beams from the right. All the while, the cheesy music is not letting up.

The soundtrack to yesterday's zapping?

"Move Closer" by Phyllis Nelson.



Takes me right back to 1985: the launch of EastEnders; watching videos of Bob Geldof swinging his arms around at Live Aid; and swooning over the strangely eyebrowed Becker winning Wimbledon.

Afterwards I popped into John Lewis, bought some stretchy cropped top bras from Sloggi. The black lace goes back in the drawer for the next eight weeks. I need to be kind to my skin. While I'm there I pop into the haberdashery department to buy some wool to knit a friend a scraf with.

I left the shop with a bag of knitting wool and some very dull bras. How did life ever come to this?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Dummy Run

Had my plan verififcation session at the radiotherapy department on Thursday morning. Essentially a dummy run with the radiotherapists in the room making sure the machine is lining up with the right points on my body, but with no actual zapping happening.

Two petitie ladies in white with cold clammy hands manhandle me into position on the back board. A paper sheet has been lain down, for hygiene reasons I suspect, but it keeps most of my back from being in direct contact with the ice cold metal.

One of the therapists has a pen ready.

"Do you get to doodle on me again?", I ask.

"You get drawn on every time we do this" one explains, "It helps us tell the difference between the tattoos and what are simply freckles".

"Unless we can still see the marks from the day before" the other one adds.

As she starts drawing little lines on my boobs, I lie there thinking about what they must think when they get a patient who is still covered in yesterday's pen marks. I guess they get to learn all about people's washing habits. How unpleasant.

The machine has green lights and is different from the CT scanner. It has a large circular dome that starts off above my torso. I can see my belly reflected in the glass and the green laser line bisects me exactly, going through the centre of my belly button.

The dome moves around me on a pre-programmed trajectory. It circles my right side successfully, as the therapists stand there comparing notes.

"I have 96.2, which is good cover"

"I have 85.8, which makes good cover"

It's all greek to me.

As the machine starts to move on it's trajectory to my left hand side, the lead therapist tells me "It may come into contact with your left arm but if it does, please do not try and move yourself. Let us move you instead."

That was slightly worrying, but when the machine did come close to my elbow, the therapist on my left side just inched my arm over slightly. Whether they adjust the trajectory to avoid this happening to me on Monday, when the real sessions starts and the therapists won't be in the room with me, I don't know. I must remember to ask.

Afterwards, when you stand up, it feels weird to be talking to two women as you're half-naked, getting dressed again. Lying down naked feels okay with medical professionals. Standing up chatting about stuff with your boobs out feels plain wrong.

I clearly could never be a naturist...

Got my mojo back


This week, whilst it has been horrendously busy, feels like a turning point.

Tuesday was the three week point after my last chemo. That's normally the day I'd be getting the next one. Instead, this time, it's the first time in over four months that I haven't had any poison floating around my body. By Thursday I felt the difference and coupled with a physical recovery from last week's infections and temperatures, it meant I felt like I was on fire. Work just flowed. I took charge in meetings and moved us all on from point to point, ticking off things on my list as we got them done. My brain was sharp, I could talk articulately and confidently for the first time in ages, and I was simply motoring.

Friday brought a bit of a crash where it became clear that just because I suddenly feel I have some energy back, does not mean I should rush around at a hundred miles an hour. But just knowing that it's coming back is so exciting.

I still cannot walk up stairs without resting or panting like a dog once I get to the top. But I do feel like I can take on life again, mentally and emotionally. I'd forgotten what that felt like.

It's absolutely marvellous.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Deadly and aggressive

Every so often I indulge in an idle google browse of the internet around search terms to do with breast cancer. I like to keep myself vaguely up to date.

A CBS News headline from someone's newsfeed blog caught my eye because it referred to the type of breast cancer I have, which is termed triple negative. This means the tumour is not responsive to hormones, proteins, and one other 'negative' which I cannot recall.

I clicked through and read this:

'Nicole Sudler was a 28-year-old single mother when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I was shocked," she said. "And I was very, very afraid."
Sudler had one of the deadliest and most aggressive forms of breast cancer. Some researchers are calling it "triple negative."
"It kind of made me feel like 'Oh, God, my life is going to be over.' You know, dating, it's not going to happen anymore. Getting married? Probably not," Sudler said.
This kind of cancer is a triple threat because it strikes early; it's resistant to standard drug treatments; and more likely to kill. Its primary targets are young African-American women. Black women under the age of 50 are 77 percent more likely to die from the disease than white women of all ages.
Patients like Sudler compel Dr. Funmi Olopade of the University of Chicago to figure out what is going on.'

So, here I am, on a Sunday morning, wondering whether this is scaremongering or if what I had is so deadly and aggressive.

At the time of finding out it was a triple negative tumour I was happy - mainly because I wouldn't have to be on treatment that forced me into a five year menopause before my time. Or protein treatment where I'd be forced to stay in the UK for at least another 12 months after the end of radiotherapy.

Maybe I should have been careful what I wished for.

And the black thing? That's a surprise. Maybe I should do one of those blood tests they made lots of racist middle England types do on TV when they were showing how we all have African American genese in our DNA. The looks on these peoples' faces when they realised they were a lot more closely related to the people they are deeply bigoted against. Very amusing television.

So where can I get me one of those blood tests, girlfriend?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Questioning my loyalty


I'm not even going to go into detail on yesterday's debacle of a day (I went in, against my better judgement).

Lets just say that after this week, I feel three things in equal quantity:

1. DISAPPOINTED IN MYSELF.

It's about failing to do something, not being able to see anything through, not being able to “cope”. I know I’m not, but sometimes it’s hard not to feel like you’ve failed.

I was genuinely confident at the beginning of this process that the whole chemo thing should not affect life too much. And in the first three treatments it didn't really. But the last three have just escalated in terms of the challenges they have thrown my way. They said it would be cumulative but I didn't realise it would accumulate on such a scale. I'd say the last two treatment cycles have been at least ten times as hard as the first one.

I remember being so confident that I could get through this and do my job. Maybe a few days off every three weeks but no more than that.

Partly I think I can blame the specialist for installing this myth in me so strongly. They breezily said things like 'Many of my patients don't even notice the difference' and 'Most people find they can work normally 90% of the time'. I now feel slightly angry that I wasn't really sat down and told the honest truth, but then I guess noone wants to be the bearer of more bad news at a time like that.

It might have made things turn out very differently. I could have quit all work, rented my flat and moved to Hereford and taken the treatment there without the pressures of daily work and new business meetings and bosses that look disappointed when you've dragged your arse in late for the third time that week and feeling like an old woman before her time. But I didn't. I clung to my normal life and pleaded for my job back and stayed in London. Was that the right choice? Who knows.

2. GUILTY ABOUT LETTING OTHERS DOWN.

Guilty when I have to call into work and say I'll be late or not there at all. Guilty when I make arrangements to see friends who I then have to let down again because I don't feel up to it.

Most friends seem to understand and take it in their stride. Most colleagues do too. But lately I've sensed one person's growing impatience with the whole situation. I think, or rather I hope, it's simply because they're trying to juggle workloads and they never know if I will be there or not. But sometimes I fear that it's more than that. I suspect they think I'm taking the piss, that I'm actually not really that ill. Or even worse, that I lied in April about how I believed I could work through this. I genuinely thought at the time I could. Noone is more disappointed than me that it's not working out as planned.

3. ANGRY AND RESENTFUL THAT SOME PEOPLE REALLY DON'T GET IT.

They seem genuinely not to understand that I am at risk from infections in a way that normal people aren't, and that getting a chest infection when you do not have the tools to fight it with is not a light-hearted matter. And I hate having to go into detail for people that don't understand. It makes me sound like a hypochondriac every time. I don't expect people to go 'ooh and aah' when you fill them in on your health situation but a little respect and understanding is all I need. When you tell someone you may need to be admitted to hospital, you certainly have to go for all sorts of tests, you have had a dangerously high temperature for four days and you keep waking up in the middle of the night because you're shivering so violently, and because of all of this you're pretty sure you should not be in the office, you expect more than "Ok. Well I'll see you at work."

Are they deaf? Do they think I'm joking? Or making it up?

I'm pissed off. Really, really pissed off. I don't know whether this treatment of me is purposefully heartless, or if it's due to some major lack of understanding or ignorance, but I am really upset.

The weird situation in which I got my job back has made me hostage to this whole situation. It has made me go in on many a day when I did not feel well enough. But this week I really needed to stay at home. But I still didn't expect such a total lack of humanity when it came to crunch point.

Strange thing is, a few weeks ago when R suggested that after my rads were complete we could move to Hereford, for a healthier (if less wealthier) lifestyle. Back then I responded saying it was a lovely idea but right now I felt a strong loyalty to see my job through here for a good while longer.

However, right now, only a matter of days later, that loyalty is being tested severely.