The Next Stage
Background Story – feel free to skip if you already know it!
Most people following my blog will know that in November 2015 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
The discovery may never have happened (and therefore been too late) if I hadn’t of begrudgingly gone to the doctors to have them check an insect-like bite on my left breast. Who wants to pay $50 to go to the doctors for an insect bite right? Anyway, after many fears of enabling that ever-lurking hypochondria, I decided to consult Uncle Google, and he didn’t disappoint - flagging Inflammatory Breast Cancer, which is a rare yet aggressive form of breast cancer difficult to diagnose. Of course I explained all this to my doctor step by step (haha) and she listened without a glint of judgement in her eye (how rare is that??!). After a full breast examination which turned up nothing, we sat there a bit stumped, but she was determined to take me seriously - although it must have been hard at that point given my source! She recommended a mammogram just to be safe, but the mammogram department rejected my referral saying I was “too young”. So she pulled me back into her office and asked if I wanted to pursue the matter. I nearly didn’t. But something (or should I say someone) wouldn’t let me lay it down. So we decided to push back and 2 weeks later I had my first mammogram. Long story short, the mammogram revealed issues in my RIGHT breast, NOT the left, and it was so obvious to the scanners that they booked me in for a biopsy right there and then. Nothing like moving at the speed of light!
One week later (the hardest week ever!) the results came in and it was confirmed I had a malignant lump and DCIS all around my breast, which is basically cancer cells that hadn’t been let loose yet. The prognosis and plan of action was clear – chop it off. Sorry, that’s just my light- hearted way of referring to the agonising and emotionally traumatising process of removing part of my womanhood. It never ceases to amaze me how close I came to not knowing…and probably dying from this thing. If I hadn’t of listened to that small voice, and if we hadn’t of pushed back, then right now I would be sitting here telling you a different story...or not. So I had my mastectomy and the results were two thronged; My margins were clear (which means the cancer had been successfully removed) but my lymph nodes were involved. Which meant the cancer had spread. They didn’t know this until after the first surgery, so a few weeks later I was back under the knife having 22 of my lymph nodes removed (ouch!). Thankfully they all came back clear, as well as the scan on my head, chest, stomach, and heart (I have heart issues).
It was a good day. Until they told me I still had to undergo aggressive treatment in the form of chemotherapy, radiation and probably hormone blockers for 10-20 years just to be on the safe side. We all know cancer is a nasty little bugger and it takes just one little rogue cell to stage a comeback and start a war. So that’s the background.
Now onto the present.
Last Wednesday 9th March – one week after my birthday, I had my first dose of Chemo. I decided to go for the 3 month dose as opposed to the traditional 6 month one. Although much harder on your body, it took care of two primary fears of mine. Firstly, this chemo doesn’t (or isn’t supposed to!) affect your heart, and secondly the light at the end of the tunnel was so much easier to see - and if you’re going through stuff like this its so important to have that focus/anchor/finish point to cling to when the going gets tough. Even though it was going to be harder on my body, it would be shorter. I’ve been quite blunt to friends and family about my feelings regarding chemo. It scares the crap out of me – waaaay worse than going under the knife. So suffice to say I had a lot of work to do on myself before stepping into that arena.
Looking back I think taking the pre-drugs was my most challenging moment and more than a few tears were shed. Willingly putting poison into your body is a real mind-job. Everything in you screams DON’T DO IT! You’re going to kill me! And part of that is true. The purpose of chemo IS to kill your cells – and while the point is to kill the cancer cells, it will kill every other cell in its path. Good and bad. So that morning I sat at the breakfast table looking at these tiny little pills that signalled the beginning of an irreversible journey and I cried. Yes I did. But then I listened to a couple of worship songs (‘It is well’ by Kristene DiMarco is always a goodie) and prayed to my Daddy God, and down the hatch they went. There was no turning back now. The next day my husband and I made the long walk up the hill, and through the doors into the Cancer Centre, ready as we’d ever be for my first dose of poison. I proceeded to make myself comfortable in those giant squishy lazy boy chairs and even managed to make some of the chemo patients laugh when I sat down on them and started swinging around like a giddy child (it’s the small things that often bring me joy!).
The actual event (the yuck going through my veins) wasn’t that momentous. That morning I had read a scripture (John 10:10 ) The thief does not come except to steal kill and destroy. I (Christ) have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
What a challenging thought, especially right at that moment. But I embraced it. Just before the drip started I said softly “thank you for abundant life” and then we were away on the next league of our journey. It didn’t do much to me except make me uncomfortably aware that it had reached my heart, and my heart really didn’t like it. But after that, I was fine. Three hours later I was walking out the door into the sunshine again and I honestly didn’t feel much different. That night I started to go down hill a bit, but it was manageable. Even the next morning I was ok and even went shopping with my daughter. But by that afternoon I was curled up on my bed feeling like I’d been hit by a steam roller. The next two days were like that. I wrote a monologue of what was going on in my brain which I may share later. Its simple and there are few words but it pretty much sums it up.
On Friday night, three days after chemo, I was taken to the Emergency Department with a bright red chest – or more specifically redness around my reconstruction sight. Prior to chemo there was nothing wrong with this site so it was all a bit of a mystery. I nearly didn’t go – the old hypochondria started to whisper mixed messages to me again. So I messaged my good friend who had been through this journey and asked if I should take it seriously. She replied immediately saying she was on her way to pick me up and take me in. Lucky she did.
E.D was a hideous experience. Not because I was in any pain or had to wait to be admitted like so many others. When your on chemo you get admitted straight away because the risk of infection is massive. Quite simply - It can kill you (did I already mention that??!). I didn’t feel pain because I don’t feel anything in that area, and if it wasn’t for me catching sight of the redness under my arm I would never have known it was there. No, the experience was hideous because it was heart-breaking. I sat in that ED bed for 6 hours listening to the wails of babies, the gasping sounds of struggling children, and the coughing spasms of everyone else that sounded like thunder going off in a small room. At least I didn’t hear the gagging of drunk people. That would have probably pushed me over the edge (I’m allergic to that sound thanks to two very difficult pregnancies).
How on earth did I get here.
5 days later I’m still here and am actually writing this from my hospital bed. It has been a very trying time, not for all the usual reasons, but because I just don’t feel like I should be here. I’m feeling chemo effects to be sure, but nothing that should warrant me being stuck in a hospital bed. Not like the people around me who are so sick they can’t even walk. I am faced with their reality every day and its quite heartbreaking. I've spent a lot of time praying for these poor people...not because I'm a saint....but because there is nothing else to be done.
My infection cleared up two days ago but they are being extra cautious because apparently, getting an infection like this 3 days post chemo is absolutely unheard of. My surgeon said that this sort of thing has been known to happen 2 months post chemo when the immune system is really struggling, but even then it is quite rare. It is actually the first time I’ve seen him vaguely rattled. He is usually so calm and assuring. So I sit here obediently - al be it filled with frustration as I consider the pressure and strain I am putting on my family at home. Because that is what really gets me as a mother and a wife; feeling so completely helpless. I have had a couple of tearful sessions behind closed curtains - which have only served to drive me even more insane, but I know it is only for a time, and I hold on to the promises of God and the wise words of friends who remind me of such truth. Something my amazing cancer nurse said to me yesterday when she came to visit which really stuck with me is “You girls always get through this. Always”. Bless her little cotton socks - its exactly what I needed to hear.
Right well I’ve got to go.
You want to hear the good news? I just got the all clear.
I’m going home!!! YAY!!
On to the next blog
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The pre drugs I had to take before chemo. They are steroids and are supposed to keep me from having an allergic reaction to the chemo. But what they really did was turn me into a big fat pig and kept me awake for 3 days!
The Bay of Plenty Cancer Centre where I began my chemo journey. Its quite a nice place really, and my nurse Fiona is lovely. We have good hearty laughs which I'm sure is just as good for her as it is for me.
My stubborn hand strikes again. I did try and tell them my hand has a mind of its own and doesn't like injections but we fought on anyway and got it in after a few tries (ouch). I am scheduled now to get a Pic line in which stay in my arm for 3 months and means I won't have to deal with these pesky painful lines anymore.
This is the chemo room (or part of it). When I first got there it was packed full of older people (I was officially the youngest one there by far!). By the time I had finished my dose it was like a ghost town. Lucky I had my ever-humorous husband to keep me smiling.
This is me in the Emergency Department feeling like all the germs floating around me were going to get me. I was doing my best to hide under the blankets ;-)
Check this bad boy out. The nurses couldn't find a vein (of course they couldn't - this is me we're talking about), so under the wrist bone they went. OUCH!! This is what I've had to live with for the past 5 days.
My 5 star hospital bed view. It could be much worse. This is beautiful. Kia ora Mauao (Mount Maunganui, Tauranga, New Zealand).
My companion over the week. No not my laptop, the beautiful little old lady peeping just over it.