As I haven’t posted an update for the past six weeks, I’m a bit stuck on how to start this… In some ways, there’s nothing to tell (my last post was celebrating the end of chemo, and since then I’ve had no treatment). But in other ways, heaps has happened (my immune system recovered, meaning I could finally get on a plane – woo hoo! – and my itinerary in the past six weeks has been pretty packed!) So I’ll try and do a quick recap, then explain what happens next… (this could be good, everyone knows I can’t do a ‘quick recap’!)
The end of chemo
Although I finished chemo on 27th March, the drugs still had to do their work inside me, so for the first couple of weeks it was the usual cycle – a few days feeling fine, then a few days feeling crap, before my body started to recover and I picked up again. By mid-April, my blood levels were on the up and my immune system was well enough for me to travel.
This was a big deal for me… Before finding out I had cancer, I used to travel all the time – I’d fly off to see friends at the weekends, went to at least five F1 races each year, and often just got on a plane at a moment’s notice! I was like a fly in a jam jar – going to events, exploring new places, seeing my friends and family, and making the most of every day! So not being able to do this for five months was really tough, but I knew that after chemo, once my bloods recovered, I’d be able to do this again, I just need to be patient (unfortunately, I’m a very impatient patient!)
The Stockholm wobble
But about three weeks into my recovery, I had a bit of a wobble… I felt the lump again. I was convinced that I hadn’t been able to feel it at some point during chemo, so my immediate reaction was “oh my god, it’s growing back”. In reality, the MRI at the end of chemo showed that the lump hadn’t gone completely; it was still there, but was significantly smaller than it had been. But because I’d thought it was gone, being able to feel it again made me panic.
Looking back, I think I was just over-complicating things. The idea of having chemo in cycles is that you hit it hard, then give yourself time to recover, but not enough time for the cancer to recover too. For the past five months, I’ve had medics regularly checking my blood levels, feeling my boobs, and pumping me full of chemicals. So suddenly not having all that going on, I was worried that the cancer was getting up to no good inside me, and I found myself almost wanting chemo… a bit like Stockholm syndrome, if that makes sense?
Either way, I preferred to let the doctors know, so they could decide if we needed to move surgery forward. So I called the hospital and asked to see the surgeon again, mentally preparing myself for canceling my holiday and heading for surgery the next day! Luckily, my friend Em was in Amsterdam that week, and came with me to see the surgeon, and afterwards, she told me she’s never seen such a look of relief in anyone’s face, as she saw on mine when Dr Donkervoort said “in my opinion, it hasn’t grown”! Clearly, surgeons don’t expect to be asked to clarify! So when Little Miss Paranoid here asked “so you’re happy for us to stick with 10th May for surgery?” her response was simply “Rebecca, go and enjoy your holiday!”
So that’s what I did! I went to London, caught up with my friends and family, met my seven-week old cousin for the first time, then flew out to Barbados for ten days in the sun!
Time for the boob job!
So now back In Amsterdam, I’m preparing for the next stage of treatment: surgery.
The operation itself is a lumpectomy (removing a lump) rather than a mastectomy (removing a boob). My surgeon proudly told me this is a straightforward procedure for her, and on average takes her 62 minutes (I like her precision!) However, if the the tumour is larger than we see on the scans, she’ll need to take more than planned. Her view is that she’ll take as much tissue as she feels necessary, to maximize her chances of getting it all. I guess this is obvious, but still felt reassuring to hear! She also suggested she could keep the scar pretty discreet, as it’s around the edge of the areola (the larger circular area around the nipple) – nice to know, but not something I’m frightened of – scars make us who we are and every one has a story to tell, right?!
There’s also a second part to the surgery, which is to remove any naughty lymph nodes. In the axilla (armpit), most people have around 20 nodes, and on my scans, four of them looked up to no good. However, the biopsy found no cancerous cells. So based on experience and what they saw on the scans, they think four of my nodes are naughty, but until they get one under a microscope, they can’t be sure. Rather than just wip them all out, they’d rather leave them alone if they can (as these things do have a job!) So the plan is to take one, send it off for analysis, then if it proves nasty, I’ll have a second operation to go back and take out the other three.
About a week after surgery, we’ll have the results show, when I’ll find out if I’ll need a second operation to take out the other naughty lymph nodes. I’ll also find out what treatment I’ll need after that – just radio, or a combination of radio and more chemo. The best scenario is that I don’t need a second operation or extra chemo. I’m mentally prepared for both, but for now I’m just thinking about getting through the next week or two – the surgery tomorrow and recovery afterwards.
To help me, I have Nurse Kari Immelda Gertrude Allen – she arrived today and has so far bought one new blouse, cooked enough pasta to feed an army, had my parents in hysterics on FaceTime, and played a vital role in helping me hang five pictures “up a bit” “left a bit” “more coffee?” “can’t you just whack in a nail?” “y’know, coffee makes a great skin scrub”… She’s expecting a casting in the next series of Grey’s Anatomy, and while I’m recovering from the anaesthetic, I am completely expecting her to take silly photos of me, dressed in delightful hospital gown, with precariously positioned post-it notes, and shameless selfies to keep you posted via Instagram! Watch this space!