Cancer part 4.
It’s coming up to 12 months since I was diagnosed with Cancer.
What a bloody roller coaster it has been. If you had told me 12 months ago that the most normal thing to happen to me would be a tiger documentary... I would have laughed. It's been a crazy few months for all of us!
I had surgery to remove the lump in my left breast and my axilla lymph nodes in November 2019, My surgeon was wonderful, he shared my sense of humour. As he was wheeling me into surgery he had a number of trainee doctors with him. They were looking at my boobs which had pen marks all over them, and he said “I bet you have never had this many people interested in your breasts before. I replied swiftly “that’s where you are wrong Doc, but I’m sure these junior doctors do not want to hear about my bukakke stories.
Here is a flattering photo of me after surgery... I think i'm still high on the pain meds..
I still had to keep up my three weekly cycles of Herceptin. Each time I’m at the chemo ward, I post on my Facebook page for memes to cheer me up. I get sent hundreds and just sit there laughing my face off for an hour, not sure the other chemo residents know what to make of me. The nurses at Macquarie University Hospital are awesome.
Friday 26th June 2020 was cycle 17 of 17..... I've finished!!!!!! WOOO HOOOO
I took in a big pink balloon, with the words CANCER CAN FUCK OFF, a huge thank you to the guys at FIVE STAR PARTYwho gave me the free balloon. I was also sent some gorgeous cancer can fuck off biscuits from CHEEKY BISCUITS.
I now go on the wait and watch pile. Each year I will get scanned to check that it doesn’t come back. I started researching likelihood for reoccurrence and what that means but to be honest it was quite depressing. I’m just going to live in my current bubble of being cancer free for the time being and start enjoying getting fit again. I say that but have yet to actually stop eating, start exercising and cut down on my drinking,
If I could change anything about the process of my cancer journey it would be at the start. Looking back on that first week of diagnostic testing and results was the worst part of this whole journey. I found a lump; I did what I thought I should do and went for a Mammogram. I didn’t bother going to see the DR, as I assumed she would just send me for a mammogram so I would be proactive and organise it myself. That came back all clear so I just assumed my lump was some fatty tissue.
My Dr followed up with me and in a scolding tone asked “Why did you do a mammogram?
“Ah well fark me Doc, if I didn’t think that was the best test to do?? Isn’t that the test you tell us to do to screen for breast cancer? I don’t think I actually used the word fuck in our conversation but I must admit I was surprised when she told me off for doing the test, I assumed she would be congratulating me for being proactive and booking it in.
She went on to explain, that was a screening test not a diagnostic test. I was confused. She said that mammograms are useful to detect changes in cells and tissue but once I had a lump we needed to investigate what it was. ” I don’t understand I said, surely if I have cancer the mammogram would show it? Not necessarily she said. I didn’t understand then, but I do now.
From that first meeting she was very matter of fact, ok so now you need to go and do an ultrasound a 3d mammogram and then a core biopsy. Ok, I said, still naively believing that as the mammogram had come back clear, I was ok but I get she needed to cover her butt and do these tests.
It’s funny, but I didn’t feel like someone who had cancer, there was no obvious symptoms, I have no history of breast cancer in my family. My dad had colon cancer and as such I have been on the offensive since I was aged 35, getting regular colonoscopies even though the medical advice said I didn’t need them until I was 50 so you would think that the minute I found a lump I would be all over this “I have breast cancer” situation. Nope, I used to think I had breast cancer, I always had lumpy boobs. So since the age of 35 I had regular screenings and often at the time of pap smear I would also get the doc to check my boobs. Often they were lumpy and I was just told that was normal.
It all comes down to the false sense of security I had around the mammogram. It still perplexes me that I can look at the film of my mammogram with my surgeon who says with his 30 years of experience he could not spot the tumour on this film. The only give away is the enlarged axillary (armpit) lymph node.
The ultrasound is different. It shows the mass and it shows the blood supply going to and from the mass. My advice for anyone is, if you do have concerns – get a mammogram and ultrasound done.
I had the mammogram, the 3d mammogram, the ultrasound and the core biopsy and then the Dr called me to say the results were in. I turned up and she explained that yes it was malignant and that I would need an appointment with the Westmead Breast Clinic. She wrote me a referral and said they would be in touch within a week and then gave me the report. I remember saying in a confused tone “so I have to wait until they call me?” and she said yes. I don’t remember much else from that meeting, I was numb. I remember walking out of the medical centre reading my report. What I read was: lobulated hypoechoic structure 25 x 18 x 23 mm onclusion lesion within left breast in keeping with a neoplastic process. Left sided axillary lymphadenopathy in keeping with local metastatic disease
The ONLY word I read in that whole sentence was METASTATIC. I then searched Google .What is metastatic breast cancer? Big Mistake. Huge.
I thought I was fucked.
In hindsight, I should have gone to that appointment with my husband or a support person, even though, I still think the Dr had a role to play in giving me a bit more information than: "I’ve faxed your report to the Breast clinic and you will need to wait for them to call, they are pretty busy it may take up to a week.”
A week when you are hanging in limbo is a bloody long time.
Once I did attend a specialist appointment at Westmead ( a week later). It was soo reassuring and I felt 100 times better after the meeting than I did when I went in. They provided all the information needed with all the treatment options and gave me a realistic and hopeful prognosis. If Only I had had that information a week earlier.
My advice to anyone who is dealing with a new diagnosis. PLEASE DON'T rely on GOOGLE, be proactive and ensure you get into see a specialist ASAP.
Looking back on my journey, I also couldn’t get used to the lovely well-wishers that kept saying to me “I don’t know how you do it?” “you are taking this so well” “Chemo must be so tough, yet here you re all smiles and making jokes”..
Chemo is tough but you know what is tougher?
Dying and leaving the ones you love. I didn’t think I was doing well at all, I just didn’t allow myself to feel any pity in public because I had a prognosis that was good, for all the info that was given to me, I chose to concentrate on just one sentence the oncologist said at the beginning. It will be a 12 month journey but you have a future that is bright.
That didn’t mean I didn’t have a pity party for myself at home in the sanctity of my home. I didn’t want to worry the kids but Ben knew every bloody doubt in my head, he supported me when I couldn’t support myself. As someone who has gone through the treatment of cancer, I actually think it is so much harder for the Carer. they do not get any sympathy or assistance yet they have to keep up their regular jobs, look after the kids, look after me and field all the calls for information. Even at the chemo ward, they do not get anything, no comfortable chair no food no nothing. That said Ben did admit to me that he would prefer the carer role to the cancer role.
NO matter what happens from here, I was lucky enough not to get that death sentence last year.
So many people live with that death sentence day in and day out, they are the heroes, not me. Yes, it can come back at any time, but that’s no different from you… I hate to break this to you but as humans we all have the capacity to grow cancerous cells and our lifestyle as well as our genes contribute to this risk. This is an area of health I am truly interested in learning more about so watch this space.
My heroes are people like Samuel and Constance Johnson, who founded Love your sister.orgor Jane McGrath. My heart also goes out to the Instagram account called @thejanous5. Brandon recently lost the love of his life Rachel, mum to three beautiful kids. His posts have been so raw yet so beautiful that he has me in tears every time I check in.
As you all know inappropriate humour is my coping mechanism, so imagine my surprise when I discovered @thecancerpatient – a satirical meme filled account of life as a cancer patient. Some days those memes were so on the money! A special shout out to @itsnotkatestime who was my Instagram buddy and is fighting metastatic cancer. A shout out also to Cancer Chicks Australia - a facebook group supporting aussie girls going through this journey.
That’s the end of my blog for now. Thanks for reading and for everyone’s support along each step of my journey. Feel free to reach out to me if you are going through a similar journey and need any support. I was so lucky with all the support given to me, I'd love to pay it forward.
Love Lori x