3 days of “normal-ish” …

A new text popped up on my phone a short while ago … it was a not so welcome update from the hospital advising that the paperwork had been submitted to the health insurance company for the approval of my next chemo session. I say “not so welcome” because I am still recovering from the last session and don’t really want reminding that the next one is only two days away!!

My new weekly routine goes something like this … chemo on a Wednesday, an okay Thursday (thanks to all the premeds), man down on Friday, emerging from the chemo fog on Saturday and exhausted on Sunday. On Monday you wake up feeling a bit stronger, on Tuesday you are definitely almost human and may even manage a full day in the office and then BAM, its Wednesday again.

No matter  how many assurances the oncologist gives you the side-effects  of chemo are horrible and it would appear that, in the space of a year, I have very quickly forgotten how rotten I actually felt. For the last four days, I have experienced nausea, bone pain, fatigue, cold sweats and, my personal favourite, diarrhoea. Probably too much information but hey, sharing is caring as far as I am concerned.

Whilst these side-effects are unpleasant, with the exception of fatigue, they generally subside after a few days and a sense of normalcy begins to return, even if only for two or three days. There are however those side-effects that linger for the entire duration of the chemo and then some. The worst of these for me is probably the strange effect that chemo has on some of your senses.

Chemo dulls your tastebuds and leaves you with a permanent metallic taste in your mouth,  it also heightens your sense of smell which can make things quite challenging. Your favourite things either taste completely different (usually in a bad way) or the smell makes you feel ill … my morning latte is now a thing of the past and I can’t really come within 50 paces of a papaya or a smoked salmon, or the two gentleman in the lift morning who smelt so strongly of curry leaves and spices (I kid you not) that I had to escape the lift for some fresh air half way up … it was either that or throw up in my handbag!!

Eating definitely becomes a challenge and for somebody like me who loves their food, it is simply no fun at all. To add insult to injury, there is very little reward for having to pass on all the food you love as, thanks to all the premeds and steroids, you have no chance of emerging from treatment to  with a svelte new figure, in fact, it would appear to be completely the opposite!!!

Chemo is so the gift that keeps on giving but, despite all of the above, I am truly grateful that I have bot the access to and the means to afford the best treatment that money can buy thereby giving myself the best change of beating this.

Whether I still feel the same when I start losing my hair remains to be seen …

Reality strikes …

The last two days have been spent preparing for my first chemo session tomorrow. This comes only 7 weeks to the day after finishing the treatment for my initial diagnosis.

Yesterday, I saw my oncologist who confirmed which delightful chemo cocktail she had concocted for me; I filled numerous vials of blood to check my tumour marker, white blood count and liver function; had a chest x-ray to provide a baseline for treatment; and had an echocardiogram to check whether my heart is healthy enough to withstand the treatments prescribed.

Today, I saw my wonderful breast surgeon for a breast exam of my healthy breast and the breast radiologist who mapped all of the infected lymph nodes that can be seen on an ultrasound so that, in a couple of weeks time, she can look at them again to see if the chemo is working.

You’d think that after having been there and done all of that numerous times before I’d be cool, calm and collected.

Not a chance!!

The first time round I had absolutely no idea what to expect and just rolled with the punches. This time round, things are a little different as I know exactly what’s coming and I think the reality of the whole situation has just hit home. I will admit to having had a few wobblies over the past two days.

For those of you who are interested, my treatment protocol is going to consist three cycles of two drugs, Abraxane (chemotherapy)  and a targeted therapy drug called Avastin. Each cycle is four weeks. I have the Abraxane once a week for three weeks and the Avastin on the first and third week of each cycle. I have the fourth week is a week off. Whoop, whoop!! After three cycles I will have another PET-CT scan and if the drugs are working, we will continue for another five cycles. If the drugs are not being effective, the oncologist will change them and we’ll start again.

Side effects include nausea, fatigue, palpitations, neuropathy, mouth ulcers and blood noses to name but a few and, just because chemo is the gift that keeps on giving, I am likely lose my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows again and quite possibly my toenails (which have only just grown back). Such a joyful thought!!

But, despite all the side effects, I know that this is what I have to do to beat this beast and, tomorrow, I will put on my big girls panties, head off to City Hospital and have my first chemo cocktail. I also know that after tomorrow, things will likely be a little easier and I will then adopt the same one-day-at-a-time approach that got me through the last treatment.

See you all on the other side xx

Chapter 2 …

On the 1st of June 2016 I was celebrating my last Herceptin treatment and the fact that, after 540 difficult days, I was finally finished my treatment.

I was so looking forward to having my trusty port-o-cath removed, only having to see the oncologist once every two months and finally starting to recover from the fatigue that has been with me since I started chemo way back in January 2016.

At my regular check-up with my oncologist on the 8th of June I mentioned that I was feeling a little short of breath and had developed an irritating cough. I put it down to allergies and she agreed but suggested that we do a  CT-scan. “just to be on the safe side”. My last scan on the 15th of February was crystal clear and as my tumour markers had also been stable for months, she said she wasn’t expecting to find anything untoward but just wanted to “be on the safe side”.

Clearly, we were both wrong as the CT showed some nodules in my chest and some very enlarged and unhappy lymph nodes in my sternum. The lymph nodes are the cause of my breathlessness and cough as they constricting the airways from lungs so they are not able to function at full capacity.

Stunned, pretty much sums up how I felt as the oncologist explained what would come next, a PET CT-scan, biopsies of the nodules and lymph nodes and then, a treatment plan.

I had the PET CT on the 3rd of July and the biopsies on the 5th and they both confirmed that the beast, not content with the havoc it had wreaked before, was back and, only 35 days after finishing my initial treatment, I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in my chest and lymph nodes.

To say that I am pissed off that I am right back where I started is an understatement but, I have beaten it once, and am determined to beat it again.

Chemo is due to start on Wednesday, the 20th, but more about that later …

Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come, remember everything you have faced, remember all the battles you have won and all the fears you have overcome.