Monday, 30 November 2015

A day trip to the Cancer Unit

I spend so much time within a square mile radius of my home,  it was easy to forget why my friend and I were driving out of Tunbridge Wells and just enjoy looking out the car window.  I miss the freedom of driving and because the girls and I haven't lived in Kent long, so much of it remains unexplored.
We got to the hospital in Maidstone early and while we sat having a coffee,  I received a call from Guys Hospital with the results of my gene test. No gene mutation. This means I won't need all the preventative surgery first discussed (double mastectomy,  hysterectomy, overy removal) and will hopefully only need the lump removed providing it shrinks enough with chemo.  I'll have annual screenings until I reach fifty. It didn't escape me that we're talking about me making it to fifty -my girls will be in their twenties. Never has a mum relished the idea so much of getting old!
Shortly after I went in to meet my Oncologist who was astounded I had my gene results so quickly.
I have a type of breast cancer  ( there are many different types and each behaves differently and needs different treatment ) which is called triple negative. Hormone treatments aren't an option and chemo,  surgery and radiotherapy are the only ways of dealing with it.  You would expect some one of my age with this type of cancer to have a gene mutation  and the fact I haven't means it's freak bad luck I got ill.
So, chemo begins before Christmas but  no dates as yet. By the way, Richard Fairbrass of Right Said Fred has to be on the calendar....
My toxtail of choice - a winning combination called FEC-T.  Or Feck It as I will refer to it forever more.
I get three rounds of FEC , saucy, and then a further three rounds of T, sophisticated.
Apparently the T is the hard slog but we're talking about living to at least fifty. I'll take it thanks.
Plus, to stave off early menopause I get monthly injections throughout chemo which put my ovaries into hibernation, much like the Blue Peter tortoise.
Then, and here's for me the exciting bit, they should effectively start working again once I'm recovered.  If I had my way I would have my house so full of children, you'd find them all over the place.  A chaotic,  jammy, real love home and while divorce could have made me bitter and cynical, instead I hope that one day there might be a love story for me and at least one more snuggly little baby. It might not happen but what absolute bliss to be able to dream of what could be.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

What shall we do tonight, Pam?

Tomorrow heralds my first oncology appointment and the unveiling of my course of chemotherapy and dates for each cycle. I've begun referring to it as my 'chemo calendar' and I'm still holding out that I'll be handed an actual calendar to put my dates on complete with 12 baldies as motivation.  January- obvs Phil Mitchell because everyone's grumpy after Christmas,  February would have to be Kojak,  March- perhaps Duncan Goodhew,  April -Sinead O'connor as all those tears are good symbolism for April Showers, that referee from the World Cup who looks like an alien would also make the cut.  October - naturally uncle fester....If you have any suggestions for the remaining months I'd love to hear them!
Not going to lie,  the apprehension is making me think about throwing my friend Pam into the mix this evening.  It's the reality of chemo calling and being a bit of a wuss when it comes to feeling peaky at the best of times. In my defence you wouldn't willingly schedule flu into your plans, would you? ! Still, the girls room has been organised and spruced today in anticipation of other grown ups needing to know how and where to find things when I may be testing up. Feeling a tad smug at having a clean and organised house. Is this what being a grown up feels like?!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Happy Saturday

I don't think I've ever enjoyed doing housework quite as much as this morning.  The girls and I were spurred on to make the inside of our house as fabulous as the garden now is and so we cleaned.  One tidied,  one ferried things upstairs while  I scrubbed,  washed, vacuumed, folded and organised us back into civilisation.  My girls are awesome and love a job. Today I relished taking a bit longer to show them how I do things and allowed them an extra cloth or sponge to help out and I didn't moan once. Just one of the many normal, small parts of everyday life which are a gift.
Our efforts were rewarded with a visit from one of my sisters and her family and hours filled with laughter and little cousins adoring each others company.
Don't get me wrong,  while I've accepted The Cancer I'm absolutely bricking the thought of chemo.  I don't feel ill  now but I know that's going to change soon.  Lots of questions in my mind - will I be ridiculously ill, how weak will I get, will I get fat ? (vain in the scheme of things I know) and ultimately  what's it going to be like, and at the same time wanting to never find out.  
I've been collecting screenshots of memes and other funnies people have sent me recently to stop me from being a right grumpy bastard.  With that in mind I'll leave you with this....

Friday, 27 November 2015

It's about to get messy

I wasn't expecting to be get an oncology appointment so quickly but the hospital called today and booked  me in for Monday to discuss chemotherapy 'should I wish to proceed.' I didn't realise there was an option to refuse a medically induced hangover from hell but faced with the choice I say bring it on because I have a life to be getting on with.
Fun fact- did you know there's about fifty different types of chemotherapy?  Me neither.  So next week I'll also learn what flavour toxtail I'll be on. It's likely I'll be getting my first round in before Christmas and by my calculations will be able to give up chemo for lent.  I also got to book in some complimentary therapies at the miracle centre today,  so I'll be sampling Indian head massage and reflexology over the coming weeks.  Meanwhile I am just so, so tired!  Apparently this is all part of The Cancer and is going to last for a long time,  getting worse through treatment,  hanging around for a while after. I was inwardly relieved when my littlest fell asleep on the sofa early because I didn't have enough energy for our usual bedtime routine.  Thankfully a friend had made us dinner so I just had to reheat and serve. We also had a huge treat in that my best friend's husband came round and cleared our junk heap in the garden -meaning we now have a garden to enjoy!!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Bloody ridiculously lucky

Spoiler alert: if you read the title of this blog and thought The Cancer was about to be unveiled as a dream sequence,  sadly not.

On the plus side I don't know what I have done to deserve such an amazing,  fantastic,  kind,  warm bunch of people in my life but they're here and I feel so loved and so special.

Thank you for the phone calls, flowers,  food, impromptu visits, emails,  social media messages, linking me with friends or relatives in similar circumstances,  books, gifts....The list goes on.

My hugely talented friend, Sarah also made a video story for the girls and me about us all being princesses and mummy needing her positive pants! It's been such a hit in our house we've temporarily replaced bedtime stories!

Then there's been the surprise messages from old classmates, past boyfriends, old colleagues, friends of friends- these have lifted my spirits so much because I never expect people to remember me, let alone feel driven to get in touch.  Thank you.

My bestest friend in the whole world whose family has adopted me and the girls and are just some of the most awesome people I have ever met,  the ridiculously fantastic community we have landed in who have not only accepted us but made us feel like we have lived here a thousand years. You can never underestimate how comforting it is to know people to say hello to in the street.
Not forgetting my family,  who put up with all the ranting,  drive all this way, clean up, cook, restore order, endure more ranting yet still come back.

Finally,  my beautiful,  intelligent,  witty,  inquisitive,  hilarious, kind and thoughtful girls.  I've never had a talent or been good at any job I've done but in my children I'm bursting with pride.

My third lesson- to count my blessings and remind myself how beautiful life is.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The start of things to come

Today was treatment plan day.

  The atmosphere at home the night before a hospital appointment is like a family holiday,  the house crowded, everyone's routines abandoned,  laughter and making meals out of 'picky bits'. My guess it's because we're all relieved we're one step closer to treatment and last night was no different.

After packing the girls off to pre - school and school, it was time to head off to the fantastic, looks more like an airport, Tunbridge Wells Hospital.

Here's what I know:

I still have breast cancer. (Was counting on a whoops moment )

I know the type of cancer I have can only be treated with surgery,  chemotherapy and possibly radiotherapy.

At the moment,  it looks like it's only the lump and not present anywhere else, including my neighbouring lymph nodes.  All my soft tissue and  bones are clear!!

My treatment will start with chemotherapy and not surgery.  I'll be meeting my oncologist within the fortnight to set out my chemo schedule and it looks like I'll be having six rounds.

On Monday I will get the results of my gene testing and that will determine the extent of surgery I have. So all in all it's about as positive as you could hope for.

The most vitally important piece of information I got while I was there was from one of the Breast Care Nurses. She said: "Just because we gave it a name doesn't mean it's grown legs," which was in response to me asking if it could spread in the next couple of weeks while my chemo plan is put in place. No one knows for certain but they would estimate my tumour has been in existence, from that very first rogue  cell, for about a year. When you look at it in those terms it doesn't cast such a big shadow.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

I dreamed a dream and it has a happy ending

Not a long post today because tomorrow is treatment plan day and I will no doubt have a story to tell.

Back in the summer before The Cancer, which by the way I say in a mockney accent,  I called my sister and was in full swing moan.  Life as a single parent is tough even with the girls having arguably the best dad in the world. We don't see eye to eye a lot but man, I wouldn't have picked anyone else to have my children with.  But if you're reading this Nick,  you smell :)

Anyway,  single parent tough stuff -no help around the house,  no shared worries,  a blink away from bankruptcy,  empty cupboards and the breakdown of the worst relationship I have ever been in (the one I got in after divorce) led to my poor sister getting an earful. "Jesus Marianne,  it's  not quite Les Mis yet though is it?" She remarked,  pressing the point that it could be worse and a whole lot easier if I quit the whining.

Yet you  can't escape the irony of these months later,  deciding on having my hair cut in preparation of the chemo and sporting a resemblance to Fantine.

See for yourselves....

Monday, 23 November 2015

Miracles and my friend Pam

I feel a bit of a fraud. Not only because accepting one compliment is impossible for me, nigh on the raft that have come my way since I first posted  (thank you) but because there are times when I haven't been so brave or positive or gutsy since I went from finding a lump to waiting for a biopsy result to calling it cancer.
The time between diagnosis and waiting for my first appointment - gene testing - was the worst.  A newbie in the cancer circuit I assumed I would be whisked off straight away for surgery and treatment as though every second counted but for me it didn't work that way.  Tests need to be carried out to determine if the cancer is present anywhere else and NICE guidelines state hospitals have three months from diagnosis to begin treatment without there being an effect on the overall prognosis.  It wasn't until I called my breast care nurse, whimpering, she explained how quickly it is being handled. She suggested I go along to a local cancer drop -in centre but the last thing I wanted was to visit something akin to an old people's home full of sick bald people hunched in high backed chairs.  I limped on for a couple of days between spells of laughter and normality and plunging into full on panic attacks and sobs. It was at these moments I would call my GP. Cue my friend,  Pam. Or Diazepam, which is there for those times my head becomes overwhelmed or when I am too scared to sleep.  When my first prescription of Pam ran out I had to go into the Doctors Surgery to collect the next. My doctor has been amazing with last minute  phone appointments but on this occasion there was no space for me to talk to someone.  He had also suggested the same drop-in centre.  Armed with my prescription, I walked off down the road,resigning myself for what I was about to see.  A bunch of cloudy eyed souls....
I am not being overly dramatic when I tell you I rang the doorbell sobbing and feebly asked  "Can I come in" when a concerned looking woman opened the door.
Let me tell you,  here was lesson two. Don't count cancer sufferers out of the running yet. Grey walled? Try bright pink. Not a sinister looking baldy anywhere. And the best bit?  Well, there's actually a few best bits -
1) you can't tell the difference between the dropper -inners and volunteers as  no one looks ill
2) Complimentary therapies ranging from yoga, reiki,  massage, nutrition advice, counselling and more (all free!)
3) Tea,  coffee,  all important biscuits
4) No medical talk, you can just be normal
5) laughter and support
And for me the absolute clincher,  it's run by an absolute salt of the earth, guardian angel who had survived cancer. Twice
Thanks to a career in journalism /misery mongering,  I didn't in my wildest dreams expect to meet a survivor.  If you read the papers, everyone dies of cancer, right?  Right ? Wrong!
"I think I'm dying and I can't because I have the two best little girls and I can't do it to them, " I blurted out.
After being filled to the brim with cups of tea (it's the irish in me) the absolute gems who volunteer gave me hours of their time,  telling me stories and empowering me with hope.  I left the centre that day looking forward to making use of all the treatments,  with a strategy of how to involve the girls  (nurses outfits! ) and with a refuge from 'The Cancer'.
So now, quite often if friends and family call me to find out why I'm not home,  I'll tell them I'm hanging out with my cancer mates!
Pickering Centre? More like Miracle Centre, staffed by angels.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

What would Tay Tay do?

It just so happened that at the time of my diagnosis,  my eldest daughter who is only seven, was reading a book in which the central character dies from cancer.  It's an actual children's book too. I couldn't believe the timing of it
When I was diagnosed I was offered a children's book aimed at explaining breast cancer to little people. The problem is it talks about Daddy doing everything around the house while Mummy is poorly.  It's a nice idea  but not what would be happening in our home so I knew I would have to approach the subject in a way which was appropriate and didn't leave my girls with more questions than reassurance.
They  both knew I have had a poorly arm for a while and knew I was going to the hospital for it to be looked at  The conversation went a little like this.

Child 1- What did the doctors say about your arm?
Me- well, mummy has a lump in my booby which is making me a bit poorly so I need to have some medicine which may make my hair fall off for a bit.
Child 1- I don't want my friends to not like how you look
Me- ok, well I can wear something on my head.  What do you think I should have?
Child 1- A Taylor Swift wig.
Me- ok, sorted.
Child 2- mummy, can we keep the little baby lump in a cage?
Me- no, it's disgusting
Child 2- it's not disgusting,  I will look after it
Me- I might also need my boobies  cut off
(Cue guffawing laughter for a LONG time because this is hilarious when you are 7 and 4).
Child 1- Mummy? Can you get Taylor Swift boobies too?

So she is going to be absolutely miffed when she realises despite her best efforts to gradually morph me, piece by piece into Swifty,  I'm still going to be the same old,  slow coach tea drinking, scatty brained Mummy. But seeing as she recently said I remind her of Joy from Inside Out because o'm happy even on rainy days, I think she might just forgive me. I told her the word for what's up with me because I didn't want her hearing from older kids at school that mummy has cancer and piecing it together with Gangster Gran's fate ( the book she was reading ) and be sent into meltdown.  As a very good friend of mine says,  it's only a word, not a sentence.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Not just a star sign

Wow Cancer, you threw a right curve ball there, didn't you?  There I was, putting my tiredness down to stress, the usual fatigue of life as a single parent and the worries that come with it and then there you were.  Or still are, if I am to be exact.  All 2cm of you occupying a lumpy zone in my previously unlumpy left breast. It's down to Facebook I caught up with you .  Nope, you didn't come up as a suggested friend,  rather Breast Cancer Awareness Month was popping up in my news feed and at 32 I thought I had better carry out my first check.  The lump was so prominent and hard I thought it was bone and checked the right side.  Nothing similar.  After keeping an eye/ hand on it for a couple of days I mentioned it to a friend who straight away groped me and sent me on my way to my GP who referred me to my local Breast Clinic.
The Registrar felt the lump and marked it up with a X so it could be found easily for the ultrasound. My request for a smiley face was turned down. An ultrasound led to a mammogram, which led to a biopsy, which led to waiting to speak to the registrar. Even though 1 in 100 of those referred will have cancer, I thought something wasn't going in my favour while I waited to meet the registrar who was hanging around the nurses station at the other end of the corridor. He was clearly waiting for someone and in the fullness of time the person he was waiting for made herself known.  A breast care nurse. A Macmillan breast care nurse.
"We've taken a biopsy from your growth and we are waiting to find out if it is cancerous or not but we recommend you bring someone with you for your results. Your appointment letter is already in the post and we want to see you next week. "
Typically, fiercely independent me arrived the following week the same way as I had for my previous appointment.  Alone.  No one needed to tell me I had Cancer for the simple fact the very same breast care nurse arrived in the waiting room to call me through. It's not like you see diagnosis on the telly. At least that's not how it was for me.   Yes, I was told I had breast cancer but that was quickly followed up with information of how we were going to make it so I no longer have breast cancer. Lots of talk of almost 90% survival rates, surgery,  chemotherapy,  radiotherapy,  gene testing,  possible preventative surgery in the future and the likelihood of hair loss,  menopause and infertility.  Dating just got tougher!
My response to this news?
"Think of the fortune I'll save on my hair!"
"Thank god I already have my children"
"Double Mastectomy?  I get a boob job!"
For nearly a week I cracked more cringey jokes than you get from a holiday camp entertainer.  The situation was so mental, so absurd and yet so typical of my luck I had to laugh.  So I did for all those days until I found the Internet and began to absorb all the pseudo - science available.  I put the fear of God in myself,  convinced myself I was a goner and resigned myself to the worst.  Until I spoke to my care team and learned my first lesson - only listen to what your nurse/ doctor tells you.  Be guided only by them and not the unsubstantiated myths online or the tales of a well meaning friend's aunties, sisters neighbours cousin.  Your care team are not in the business of killing people.  They want you to get better.  You want you to get better. Trust them and only them on what they are doing because they have done this before.