Cancerversary – Three years on

I’ve not written a post for a while now, the year so far has been rather hectic, to say the least. Sadly, our dear ‘Nana Pats’ departed this world just two weeks into the start of 2018. My hubby’s dearly beloved Nan had been suffering for some time and whilst we were all deeply saddened by losing her, it felt like the kindest thing for her in some ways. Gone but absolutely not forgotten.

After a blissful week off at Christmas, work-wise the year started off at full pelt from the get-go. In amongst working like crazy, a wonderful visit from our dear Canadian family, Mr Moon’s birthday celebrations, a dose of nasty flu and interviews, in February I was super chuffed and excited to land myself a new job!

I’d had a challenging time in my last job, I started it six months after I’d finished treatment. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was still very much broken and weak and working in a demanding and very stressful job took its toll on me.

It’s hard to break away from what can feel safe and comfortable, to stick with what you know and are familiar with. Fear of failure and thinking I’m not good enough are definitely strong themes for me. But I guess one thing I’ve learnt and try to live by, is that if something doesn’t feel right for you, then you need to make a change, or life will often have a habit of forcing you to change.

alliemoon

I’ve written about this need for change before and also recently read an interesting article about stepping outside of your comfort zone. I found these words uplifting and motivating:

“Focusing on growth rather than comfort is empowering. It will give you a more positive outlook as even the worst situations offer opportunities to grow; it gets you focused on the present, as every new situation is a fresh opportunity and your past doesn’t have to determine your future; and it involves taking responsibility for your own experience, creating the life you want with each opportunity that you grasp.

Despite it only being the start of the year and not long since the Christmas break, I’d left my job feeling mentally and physically exhausted. I was lucky to have some breathing space before starting my new job, and as such, took the opportunity to take a nice chilled out holiday with my sister. We spent a week relaxing in the sunshine, laughing so much and enjoying some quality time together. It was just perfect and a great chance to reconnect.

So here I am with three weeks of the new job under my belt. There is so much to take in, but all very interesting stuff and a nice bunch of people to boot which massively helps! There are opportunities to do training courses and to learn and develop myself further which I’m really looking forward to. The office looks out over a lake and we’ve had the pleasure of seeing ducks and lots of little bunnies hopping about outside – delightful!

Tomorrow will be the three-year anniversary of when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Life has certainly fully returned to normal, something so hard to consider possible just two short years ago when I’d finished my active treatment. I have my yearly follow up mammogram appointment on Tuesday. I feel absolutely fine and have no signs of recurrence so I should feel more easy about it than I do.

I guess those feelings are never really going to subside. I’m not so much worried about the mammogram, my tumour didn’t show up on the mammogram when I was referred to the clinic. It only showed its ugly head on the MRI (because of my age/have dense breast tissue) so I personally don’t trust it anyway.

Once I get the results back from the MRI I will feel better, but it’s such a lengthy process waiting for the results. Last year it took the best part of three months from the mammogram appointment to getting MRI results. The severely stretched radiologist team had not examined the results. After numerous phone calls, I eventually got the good news that all was clear. During that wait, you’re just hoping and praying that nothing has shown up on the scan. That your body hasn’t betrayed you once more.

I sincerely hope the wait won’t be so long this year. With lots to keep me busy at the moment, I will try and disengage the anxious, worrying part of me and focus on this now being the third year on and concentrate on all the positive and good stuff happening. I know how fortunate I am to be able to celebrate getting this far with so many others being taken so soon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on reaching certain milestones in your survivorship? Do you face the same demons each time or do they get easier the further down the path you travel?

You may be interested in reading my previous posts on Cancerversary: Two-year survivorship and breast cancer screening and my first Cancerversary.

Image from https://passmeanothercupcake.com/tag/cancerversary/
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Breast cancer photo diary – Diagnosis, treatment, hair loss and beyond

Today is the two-year anniversary of the date that I finished chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

Whilst it’s been a long time in the making, my intention was always to post a photo diary in the hope that it would helps others who have either just been diagnosed, are soon to start chemotherapy, are currently having treatment or those whose hair is starting to grow back.

 

Supporting the fighters, admiring the survivors and honouring those who have been taken too soon.

You might also be interested in my posts about The big countdown…waiting for chemo to start and How I felt losing my hair.

Breast cancer survivor’s thoughts on ticking off the bucket list

I’m a big fan of lists – I love a list! Feeling organised, setting goals, not making the mistake of forgetting something and being in control. Whilst some might call it being slightly anal, you can’t beat the feeling of the positive emotions released when ticking off a completed task, reminder or goal.

Some years ago I watched the 2007 film, The Bucket List. The story of two men – strangers, meeting in a cancer ward, both having been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. They went on to develop a close bond and friendship on their round the world adventures, fulfilling all the dreams on their list.

I suppose I thought a bucket list was one of those things I’d contemplate making later on in life, although I’ve really no idea why. I guess getting older, realising the opportunities to do things are diminishing and wishing to squeeze things into life. This clearly doesn’t make sense! Life is one great big bucket list – goals, ambitions, dreams and desires to be fulfilled. Admittedly, it’s a life ruled mostly by inescapable responsibilities (often the things that give us purpose in life) and undoubtedly sprinkled with tough times – pain, anxiety, fear, worry and grief. Memories we wish we could erase from our lives. But if we aren’t the master of our own lives…who is?

It will be two years ago next month that I finished chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.  As we’ve now entered October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, I think we’d all agree that we’re all very much ‘aware’ of breast cancer. It’s a cure that we need. Jenefer Phoenix  recently tweeted using the #BreastCancerRealityCheck hashtag (cancer patients and survivors telling their truth about what it means to have primary or secondary/metastatic breast cancer):

#BreastCancerRealityCheck is friends expecting you to have a renewed zest for life but instead you have an overwhelming awareness of death.

This is so true. After having had such a close-up encounter with one’s mortality, it’s very difficult not to live in fear. Unbelievably hard not to think the worst – that any ache or pain you have means it’s come back. And for those living with metastatic cancer, it must be hard trying to escape the dark ubiquitous thoughts occupying the mind on a daily basis – very overwhelming indeed.

I’ve had huge lows dealing with and surviving this indiscriminate and cruel disease.  Thankfully these have been uplifted by the many highs I’ve also experienced along the way too. Always cherishing fond memories of spending happy times with family and friends and enjoying all manner of experiences that bring joy and happiness to life.

Now more than ever, I am more thankful for this precious life, knowing how quickly and easily it can be stolen from us.  So, I have started to create my own bucket list! My hubby absolutely detests this phrase. He believes it should be given a much more positive term such as a ‘living list’. He’s probably right.

After finishing active treatment last year, I only realised how little energy I had until I found myself bounding out of bed, pottering in the garden for hours, cleaning and even painting our bedroom and lounge…all things that previously would have tired me out just at the thought.

I knew my husband had been taking on much more of his fair share in keeping up our home and household chores. I’d felt guilty, feeling like I was being lazy, but in hindsight, I can see I just didn’t have the energy. Going back to work full time took everything I had at the time, the thought of going out socialising and doing other things on top was just too much.

bad days will pass

As hard as it is at the time to see into the future without the dreaded C word impacting your life – taking over your thoughts, your worries, your time, your body, your freedom. The saying ‘it soon shall pass’ is very true.

I met a very upbeat and positive lady just before I was about to start chemotherapy treatment. Being able to talk through worries and concerns with someone who had been in my own shoes helped so much. She lent me scarves to wear and showed me different tricks and ways to make them look better. She said ‘In a year’s time, you’ll look back on this part of your life as a blip. Your fears will lessen and it won’t consume you.  Some positive things can come out of this.’ After finishing her treatment she’d gone on to achieve the life-long ambition of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, as well as all sorts of travels to amazing places. She inspired me and I took great courage from her words.

Sadly this is not true for many, many people. The tragic passing of an old friend earlier this year from pancreatic cancer, just a few years older than me, brings home once again the devastation and loss this evil disease rips through lives.  Comprehending the horror of hearing you only have months to live – I cannot begin to imagine how one copes with being dealt that card. A once in a lifetime honeymoon trip followed by a fun, but bittersweet, wedding party. Only for his life to then have been cruelly cut much shorter than anticipated. How incomprehensible for a wedding and funeral to happen in the space of less than a month.

I have such tremendous feelings of deep sadness for his wife, family and dear friends. Also a massive guilt about why I was lucky to survive and he didn’t. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought of how my funeral would be – which songs I’d want and where I’d like my ashes sprinkled. All these fears were played out in reality for such a fun-loving man, taken in the prime of his life.

I’m pleased that life is now allowing me the time and energy to spread my wings again and be much more of a social butterfly. I have ticked off so many fab things already on my ‘living list’. A trip in a beautiful 1960s split screen VW campervan, a family holiday abroad, a night at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club, a trip to Edinburgh and staying with dear friends in Scotland, watching Jools Holland, a weekend in a cosy cottage with a fire and hot tub, being being pampered on girly spa weekends, learning how to make pottery, a trip to beautiful Bath, eating in a Michelin starred restaurant, a trip to Glastonbury, a day out at Wimbledon, watching Gregory Porter live at the stunning Blenheim Palace, dancing the night away to Craig Charles’ Funk & Soul show and laughing my socks off at Micky Flanagan! So, so many wonderful memories.  And as I sit and type now looking out over the crystal clear, sparkling azure of the Balearic Sea in Ibiza, another wish ticked off my list.

Still so, so many things and places to go on my list.  Cuba, the Maldives, Santorini, The Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Hawaii, Croatia, staying in a beach bungalow over the Indian Ocean, The 606 Club, writing a book, learning and studying… I can’t wait to tick even more off my list!

What’s on your bucket list? I’d love to hear what experiences and goals you want to achieve.

You might also be interested to read my posts on New beginnings and Inspiring and motivational poetry.

Image by berry.com.

Cancerversary: Two-year survivorship and breast cancer screening

It’s that time of year again. Just as new life is sprouting all over, the anniversary of when I was diagnosed with breast cancer has come round again and today marks a new milestone – my two year survivorship.

I still cannot believe that it was two years ago now that I received the devastating news that, aged 38 years old, I had breast cancer. So much has happened in that space of time, and thankfully it actually feels much longer than two years now. Much of that is a direct result of me now living a much more ‘normal’ life and being more on track again.

I find it’s mixed feelings when your ‘cancerversary’ comes round. Part of you feels like it’s something to be celebrated (after all survivorship is a lucky place to be in which others are not so lucky). But it’s also very strange. You generally celebrate happy things like birthdays, wedding anniversaries – joyful things – and thoughts always come back of a very dark time which doesn’t seem appropriate to celebrate.

As the whole experience very gladly starts to become more of a distant memory, sometimes random thoughts enter my head and it all seems a little surreal, that I actually had cancer. But of course, it will never really go away, the worries and anxieties about what is really going on inside my body that I don’t know about. The loss of trust in one’s body and the fear of it coming back again.

As the anniversary comes round of my initial diagnosis, so too does the annual mammogram screening appointment. These feelings are magnified even more at this time of year as it’s time for my annual routine check up. Whilst blissfully enjoying life and living it to the full, the crazy thoughts start getting louder in my head about the upcoming scans. This is known as ‘scanxiety’ and those unfortunate to experience this know exactly what this feels like.  Rosemary and Rebecca both describe this feeling perfectly in their recent posts about the stress felt around mammogram time.

I received the letter confirming my appointment a few weeks ago. It dropped on the door mat like every other letter the postie delivers. But letters from the hospital are so unmistakable now.  I recognise the style of envelope, the font type and the franking they use.

The lump I had found two years prior had not shown up on the mammogram, it had only shown up on the MRI. Last year they reassured me that I would continue to have an MRI as well as a mammogram going forward because of the dense breast tissue that women my age have.

It was not apparent from the appointment letter whether this was for a mammogram or MRI. If it is an MRI appointment they usually enclose a detailed leaflet about the MRI scan. Despite them reassuring me last year, I was concerned they would have forgotten about this fact and I wanted to be absolutely certain I was due to have an MRI too.

I rang the number printed on the appointment letter.  I was greeted and spoken to by a lady I did not recognise and who, from the very outset, was completely insensitive to the needs, worries and anxiety of anyone who would be calling. She was abrupt, condescending and very unsympathetic.  Her telephone manner actually reduced me to tears and I asked if I could speak to my breast care nurse instead.

I had never encountered this response before when calling this department. The secretaries and ladies answering the phone had always been courteous, polite and had a gentle sense of empathy about them. Thankfully my breast care nurse called me back shortly afterwards. She confirmed that whilst unfortunately both scans cannot be done on the same day, I would indeed be receiving an MRI appointment as well.

When I had my routine screening this time last year, the results of the mammogram came back clear. This means absolutely nothing to me now given that my tumour did not show up on this before. I had the MRI scan a couple of weeks later.  I had to wait an extended period to receive my results. I was thinking that no news is good news. After all, they’d call me back straight away if something wasn’t as they’d expected right? Wrong. After about 3-4 weeks’ waiting (and a number of calls I’d made chasing the status) I received a phone call saying they’d seen something on the MRI and I needed to go back in for an ultrasound.

fingers crossedMy heart sank when I received this call. Luckily the appointment was the following day so no more antagonising wait. My hubby came with me to the hospital and came into the consultation room with me. They explained that they’d seen something on the MRI and needed to do an ultrasound to investigate further. Once more, I undressed and laid on the bed ready for inspection with both fingers crossed. At 39 years old, why did I think this gesture would still have an impact on the result?!

After the doctor scanned the area, he said that from what they had seen they wanted to take a biopsy. This was agonising. Not again. Surely I wouldn’t be sucked back into the whirlwind of cancer land once more.

core needle biopsyAs I started to weep, my husband came and held my hand whilst they did the core needle biopsy. I couldn’t believe I was lying here again, one year later going through the same traumatic experience. When it was complete, I got dressed and once again, left the hospital in a state of shock and sheer fright.

Where possible, I’ve tried to shield my family from the distress of this not knowing and worry. My parents and sister were just about to go on holiday when I was called back for the ultrasound last year. My thinking was that I wanted them to enjoy themselves on holiday, it doesn’t happen often so why have them worry when it could be nothing? Upon her return and finding this out, my sister gently reprimanded me saying they would have wanted to know. There is always a very fine line between protecting your loved ones and involving them.

I am normally a very positive person, but cancer does horrid things to you. It had been bad news before so in my head I was preparing for the worst.  I went to a really dark place and was mentally preparing myself for having a mastectomy, losing my hair all over again and thinking morbid thoughts about how I’d want my funeral to be, even down to the songs I would want to be played.  To someone not living in cancer land, this will all sound absurd, insane and very extreme. But these were valid and at times all consuming thoughts.

This uncertainty and a question mark over what my immediate future held, meant I started to put decisions on hold until we knew what the result was. Even little things like going out for friend’s birthdays – I didn’t want to be wasting money that would be precious to us if we were to hear bad news.  All of this was also going on amongst the backdrop of being told at work that our jobs were being made redundant.

Thankfully, this was a false alarm and the results came back that there was nothing cancerous. I’m glad I didn’t spoil my family’s holiday as it turned out to be nothing to worry about.

My fear of scans has been intensified even more by finding a lump in my neck at the end of last year. I was up against a deadline at work, feeling really stressed and had an odd feeling in my neck.  At first I thought it was a vein, but after more prodding, I discovered a small lump above my collarbone.

I’d had a cold a couple of weeks beforehand and so it could have been related to that, but I also knew this was one of the signs of recurrence and is common for it to spread to the lymph nodes in this area. I immediately starting googling symptoms and what to look out for. After pondering for a while I decided it would be better to get it checked out rather than worry about it, so made an appointment with the breast clinic.

Once more the terror returned. How long had it been there and I hadn’t noticed it? If it was in my lymphatic system it could be travelling to other parts of my body too.

At the clinic they examined me and did an ultrasound on the lump. They said they didn’t think it was anything suspicious but they wanted to be absolutely sure so sent me for a CT scan of the neck/chest area.  I felt relieved that they didn’t think it was sinister and reassured that they were so cautious about investigating further. Of course the worry wouldn’t stop, not until the results were back.

I wanted to get this over and done with before Christmas, but when calling the scanning department they said they didn’t have any appointments free until January. Then a few days before Christmas I received a call to say they’d had a cancellation and was I free to go in. I was on annual leave for Christmas so was available to commit to the appointment there and then.

This was on the run up to Christmas and I’d spent quite a lot of money on presents for family and friends. I then started worrying that I’d have to return them all to the shops (a habit I’m normally very familiar with!) because we’d need every penny we have to survive going through all that again.

Once more, I didn’t want to worry my parents with another scare just before Christmas and chose not to tell them about the recent discovery at that stage. We had a lovely Christmas break with our families and friends and awaited the results that would follow in the New Year.  More waiting. There is always waiting.  And whilst you wait, there is uncertainty.

Upon going back to the hospital to receive my results, I was delighted to be told that once again, I had nothing to worry about and that the lump was completely benign and was likely just a swollen lymph gland.

she stood in the stormThankfully what they found in my breast last year wasn’t sinister. Equally the lump in my neck also turned out not to be anything nasty. But the rollercoaster journey you are taken on results in the same amount of stress, fear and worry.

Just at the time that new life is sprouting all over, I have such vivid recollections of this time two years ago. Spring time, busy at home working on the house, getting back in the garden after the winter period.  As I wrote in my previous post, it’s hard to escape the memories that evoke at certain times.

Whilst I await my mammogram, MRI scan and endure the all too familiar wait, I will remain grateful that I am still here enjoying life. I will still superstitiously be crossing my fingers hoping with all my heart that I get another clear result.

Please click here for more information on how to check yourself and the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

 cancerversary

£3,325 raised for Breast Cancer Care to support people affected by breast cancer

On 14thOctober, I organised a Big Pink Friday event at my work (Nviro in Portsmouth) for Breast Cancer Care – the only UK-wide specialist breast cancer support charity.

bccbigpink1-alliemoonjourney-copyWe were delighted to be able to raise over £325 from our dress down, cake sale and raffle prize draw. My colleagues really got into the spirit of the day by baking cakes and paying  money to dress in pink – adorning themselves with sparkly crowns, deely boppers, wigs and cowboy hats. There was also an award for the ‘Best Dressed in Pink’ which went to our regional director with his fetching pink golf trousers, shirt and tie combo!

I know that a lot of cancer patients and survivors absolutely detest the pink season of breast cancer awareness month. Greedy companies getting on the band wagon making money out of pink branded products. Downplaying the subject and not really raising awareness. I do completely understand how these people feel about the ‘fluffy pink brigade’. However, having been through my own cancer experience, Breast Cancer Care were a massive support to me through a very distressing period of my life and I was very keen to fundraise for them and be able to give something back to this amazing charity.

Breast Cancer Care were there for me in so many ways and I cannot thank them enough. Through the many calls I made to their supportive helpline (0808 800 6000), the myriad of useful and easy to digest information booklets and their forum that enabled me to connect with, and gain support from, other cancer patients at all times of the day and night. Their Someone Like Me service put in touch with two vey kind volunteers – people who had been given a similar diagnosis and treatment plan – who let me talk through my fears and worries and who completely understood my personal concerns. I also used their Ask the Nurse service which is useful if you’d rather not speak to someone on the phone. You can email questions to their specialist nurses and quickly receive information back in writing.

As I’ve written about in a previous post, I also attended a free two-day Younger Women Together event in Bristol which is aimed specifically at women aged 20-45 who have been diagnosed with primary breast cancer. I learnt a lot from the sessions they hosted and benefited from connecting with other women of my age who had similar experiences. Because I lived more than two hours away from the venue, Breast Cancer Care also kindly covered the cost of my hotel stay for the night before the event and the following night.

I also attended their Moving Forward course as I was approaching the end of my treatment. This free four-week programme covered topics such as healthy eating, exercise, managing menopausal symptoms, lymphoedema, cancer fatigue, intimacy and relationships and adjusting and adapting after a diagnosis of breast cancer. It was also good to connect with other ladies and relate to all the side effects and issues we faced.

Back in January time, the BBC journalist, Victoria Derbyshire, was undergoing chemotherapy treatment and through her diaries she detailed her account of losing her hair. A couple of months prior to this I had signed up to be a Media Volunteer for Breast Cancer Care and was approached through them by the Daily Mirror. In support of Victoria’s diaries, they were running a piece on ladies who had lost their hair from breast cancer treatment and asked if I would be interested in sharing my own experience about losing my hair.

At this point in time I was just reaching the end of radiotherapy and my active treatment and combined with starting my Zolodex injections, I was emotionally all over the place and it was a very distressing point for me. In hindsight, I’m not sure I would have agreed to do it had I have been in a better frame of mind. I felt hesitant at first, but really wanted to be able to help other women who were going through a similar situation and also help promote the charity, so I agreed to be interviewed.

Other than my hubby and my best mate, I didn’t tell anyone about the article, after all I clearly wasn’t doing it for fame purposes and I don’t really like the photos of myself in it with little or no hair. As it turned out the Daily Mail ran the article too and a few people from work then contacted me to say that they’d read the article and congratulated me on doing it as well as passing on their well wishes. Whilst this was clearly going in a national newspaper, for some reason I didn’t really consider that people I knew might see it (yes, I know how silly that sounds now!).

Now, as I have finished my more active treatment and life has returned to ‘normal’, I use Breast Cancer Care’s services much less. I do now receive their free regular Vita magazine which I’d recommend to other breast cancer patients/survivors to subscribe to.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Unfortunately it is a disease that has touched many of our lives in some way, whether it’s through a friend or loved one being diagnosed, or through our own personal encounter. As October is now coming to a close and breast cancer awareness month ends for another year, despite all the pink fan fare, ultimately every penny raised through events like this will help Breast Cancer Care and other charities to continue to support anyone affected by breast cancer.

Fiona West, Fundraising Officer at Breast Cancer Care, added: “We’re so grateful to Nviro for holding a Big Pink event in aid of Breast Cancer Care. With the help of supporters like Nviro we can provide care, support and information to anyone affected by breast cancer. An estimated 691,000 people in the UK are currently living with a breast cancer diagnosis so there has never been such an urgent need for our support services.”

bccbigpink2-alliemoonjourney-copy

I was very touched by some of the kind donations I received for our raffle and would like to personally thank everyone who bought tickets and to the following supporters for their generosity and great prizes: Lucy Alderton (Cable-Talk UK), Deborah Queen (Estee Lauder), Jeff Whiley (JM2 Support Services), Kirsten Lewry (K’s Wooden Crafts), Karen Font-Garcia (Golden Light Reiki School), Jacqueline Snow (Love Snowberry), Monica Kelleway and Elanor Clarke. Also huge thanks goes to my very dear friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) for the very generous and kind donation to this charity helping us raise a whopping total of over £3,325.

It’s not too late to make a donation! Click here to donate online, or alternatively you can text  ‘BIGP95’ and the amount you wish to donate to 70070 (e.g. ‘BIGP95 £95).

Click here to find out more about Breast Cancer Care and the care, support and information they provide.

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A kinky tale | Chemo curls after breast cancer treatment

After finding out I was being made redundant back in April, it felt like life was conspiring to push me out of my comfort zone. Rather than go against it, I decided to go with it, to embrace it and get amongst it!

comfort-zone-alliemoonjourney

Step into the fire of your fear. Or, as one book title says, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” You don’t need to be free of fear to make a bold move out of your comfort zone. You just need to step right through it. – lifehack.org

First off I ditched my wig. What had been a terrifying prospect to get used to wearing out in public, had ended up serving as an enormous comfort blanket for a period of over 7 months. Ironically, it felt weird and rather frightening to be going out without it.

butterfly4_alliemoonjourneyAfter being on garden leave for a period of time during the redundancy process, the day I went back into the office I decided was the perfect opportunity to go in without my wig on. It felt daunting, people had got used to seeing this new version of me. I had to go through that vulnerability all over again but in reverse. Despite this fear, I actually found it really rather liberating. I felt like I was saying sod you to those who were doing this to me, whilst also taking a bit of control back. I walked with my head held high and thought to myself ‘You’re not knocking me down!’

For the vast majority of my 20s and 30s, I’ve had long, straight, blonde hair. I’m a creature of comfort when it comes to hairstyles and had never had the balls to do anything drastic to my hair (apart from those days, way back, when my hair was permed and I resembled a poodle on heat!).

Now, after having chemotherapy last year, I’m sporting the complete opposite of my previous locks – it’s dark, it’s thick and it’s very curly. The curl didn’t really show in my hair straight away because it was so short, but oh yes, it is growing in a way that I never imagined it could from my own head! Very mad indeed.

Friends and family have been complimentary about my hair and a lot of people have said they prefer me with darker hair and that I also suit having it shorter. Of course, they could just be being polite and kind. If I had a pound every time someone said “You must be really pleased with it,” I’d be, well no, I wouldn’t quite be rich, but I’d have a fair few squid in my purse!

I know that when people say this they’re just trying to say something nice, something positive, something to make me feel better about myself. Something I’d likely say myself if I were stood in their shoes, no doubt trying to conjure up some feel good factor words. I’m too polite to say that actually, I’d rather not have one-inch thick curly hair. I’d desperately like to have my longer, more feminine hair again. To experience the feel of soft hair around my face and neck again.

shorthair-alliemoonjourneyI often feel very boyish with short hair. I once had all my hair cut off when I was about 11, a stick-thin, prepubescent teenager and I looked like a boy – I vowed never to have my hair cut short again. Now, even if I’m wearing a dress, I sometimes feel when I look in the mirror that a man wearing a dress is staring back at me.

My first trip to the hairdressers felt quite odd. I’d not been for 10 months and my hair was getting quite unruly. I’m told I need to wait for the top part (fringe etc) to grow out and to keep having the rest trimmed and eventually it will be the same length. Each time I have it cut I feel like I’m taking a step backwards as it’s shorter again. I don’t realise how much it has grown until I look back to photos taken earlier on this year and I can see that it has (hair diary post to come!).

With each bit of growth, a newer, slightly different way of styling is needed. I’ve never had so many styling products on my dressing table! I used to be able to get out of bed and my hair would pretty much resemble how it looked when I had got in it the night before. Now, I wake up looking like Elvis after a weekend-long bender in Vegas!

But this is the way it is to be for now. I have been forced into having a new look and, whilst it wasn’t through choice, I’m trying to embrace the many changing faces (or hairstyles) of the new Allie Moon.

A couple of recent events have brought it to the fore once again just how short life is and to enjoy and make the most of it every way we can whilst we’re able to. My new found liberation after ditching the wig has also led me into trying other new things. I’ve started trying to eat differently and choose a variety of foods that I wouldn’t normally. To say ‘sod it’ more and try something new, you never know where it might lead you. In the words of Brian Mayne “Find the thing that makes your heart sing.”

I’m now contemplating joining a singing group following a recent guitar class. In my lesson, my teacher introduced singing along whilst playing on the guitar (something I’ve not managed to master to date!). It was such an uplifting session, I felt so elated and I sang all the way home in my car like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music!

Interviewing for a new job was also quite stressful and terrifying but as the people I was meeting were all new, they had no idea that I looked completely different to how I used to. The fear of interviewing quickly changed to positivity and satisfaction as I gained encouragement after each meeting I had.

“Stepping outside your comfort zone is supposed to feel uncomfortable because we’re in new and unfamiliar territory. Being uncomfortable is a sign of success, NOT of failure! So if we are uncomfortably outside our comfort zones, then than means we are growing!!! And THAT is cause for celebration!” – Roz Savage

I’ve also volunteered to help the Breast Cancer Haven in a local event that they’re hosting. This wonderful charity has helped and supported me tremendously over the last year with counselling, reflexology sessions and their younger women support group. This will be a great opportunity to be give something back and do some fundraising for them.

Has your hair gone crazy after chemo? How long has it lasted for and do you have any tips on styling and looking after your hair that you can share?

You might also be interested in my posts about New beginnings and Canciversary.

Images by smartandrelentless.com and magnificatmealmovement.com.

Incidental finding following breast cancer screening

Whilst going through the process of being diagnosed last year, I had an MRI scan of my breast area (the lump I found did not show up on the mammogram). At the subsequent follow-up meeting with the consultant, he had told me about the ‘incidental finding‘ they had found.

Incidental findings are defined as a ‘chance discovery in a patient which may warrant further investigation.’ I was told at the time that they didn’t believe that what they had found  was sinister looking and they recommended parking any further investigation until I’d completed my active breast cancer treatment.

In March this year I went to visit the chest surgeon to follow this up and discuss further. He started the conversation off with “So we’ve had a letter about a spot of bother on your lung.” This immediately made me feel anxious as they’d never mentioned anything about my lung before. He said there is a bump where the lung is, away from the chest wall, and that this is not usual and it shouldn’t be there. He said it was slightly in contact with the big artery coming out of the heart, but that the scan he had in front of him wasn’t detailed enough to be able to make a judgement on it and so he requested I have a further CT scan with dye contrast.  This scan with contrast would allow him to see all the arteries, any relationship to them and if there was any blood supply going into it.

He said if it’s something that the report indicates is initially benign – usually, round  smooth things are not as sinister as things that have spikey bits sticking out. Cancer is the Latin word for crab (most likely applied to the disease because of the crab-like legs projecting from a tumour). He said that’s why people think if things are nice and smooth it’s less likely to be cancerous which is what they think this was likely to be. This appeased my anxiety a little, but doctors have to caveat their statements and can never say that they are 100% sure what something is. He went on to say that some things can grow in that location and cause problems, not necessarily by spreading around the body, but just from them growing locally and causing problems. He said it was right for me to be referred to them to ask an opinion on whether it is something that can be left or if it needs to be taken out.

The resulting CT scan showed that the cyst had not grown in size and was roughly the size of a grape. I was then presented with two options – I could either have it removed, or we could take a ‘wait and watch’ approach where I would continue to have regular scans to see if it changed in size etc. Given the events of last year, and the fact that it was something that wasn’t meant to be there and could potentially cause issues later on in my life, I knew I absolutely wanted to have it removed. I would then not have it hanging over my head and be worrying about what it might be.

Because the surgery was non-urgent, the consultant said they could pretty much fit it in around my schedule and work. By this time it was April and I knew if I agreed to have it done then, good old sod’s law would be at play and it would probably be scheduled for my birthday in May. As we’d already had to cancel our holiday last year due to my surgeries and this was a special birthday, I wanted to make sure we got away as planned so I suggested that June would be a convenient time.

lifeschallenges_alliemoon

As is the way of life, nothing seems to run smoothly and there is always a curve ball or challenge thrown into the mix to keep you on your feet. I had a couple of challenging episodes (one for another post!) in the lead up to my proposed surgery date so I had to request that it be rescheduled. Luckily the hospital staff were very understanding and enabled me to have my op on another date.

One of the reasons I had asked to re-arrange my surgery was because I was at second stage interview with one particular company. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to drive for four weeks after the op and I didn’t want it to ruin my chances of getting the job. I’d hoped to be able to secure a job before I had my op so I could rest and recoup without the worry of having to job hunt. Luckily the afternoon before I was due to go into hospital, I received a phone call from the company I’d been for an interview with on the previous Friday to tell me I’d been successful and that they wanted to offer me the job. Yaaaaaayyyy! Apparently, I’d come out scoring on top out of all the interviewees for both the written test and the interview. Thank you, a bit of luck at last!

It was my lovely friend Katherine’s birthday that evening and ideally I wanted to be tucked up in bed nice and early ready for the super early start at the hospital the following morning. But it was a special birthday and I didn’t want to not be there for her. Due to the fact that I was driving that night and with my op in the morning I didn’t really get a chance to raise a glass and celebrate my new job offer. One for another time!

I was going in to have Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS) to remove the cyst from my left mediastinal area. The operation would take 45 minutes to an hour and would involve the surgeon making three incisions down my left side in the chest wall near the ribs. This would allow the insertion of video/camera equipment and surgical instruments. He would use the existing scar I had from surgery last year to save making an extra new incision. My lung would then be collapsed and a thoracoscope placed into the chest. The thoracoscope allows the surgeon to see inside the chest. After successful removal of the cyst, a chest drainage tube is inserted and the lung is re-expanded.

vats SURGERY

Whilst I just wanted to have this thing that was inside me out, I was really quite nervous about the operation. I’d have to stay in overnight – I’d never stayed in a hospital overnight before, not even with the ops I’d had last year. They were going to collapse my lung which did frighten me somewhat. What if it doesn’t inflate again? What if they find something unexpected? What if they have to convert to open surgery?

Once again the amazing NHS staff were all extremely friendly and made the whole experience more bearable and less nerve wracking. I did have a rather long wait, having arrived at the hospital at 7.30am I didn’t go down for my op until 12:30 –  I was missing my morning cuppa!

The anaesthetists seemed to have great difficulty this time in locating a good vein, so after a few attempts I had a smaller one put in my wrist area and they said they’d put a larger one in once I was under. “It will still be as effective won’t it?” I asked worryingly. “Yes it will, don’t worry you won’t know anything about it,” he said reassuringly.

The next thing I knew I had awoken in the recovery room with a nurse sat next to me and I had things on both of my ankles inflating and then releasing periodically. I vaguely remember my surgeon coming round and tapping me on various points on my legs and asking me whether I could feel him tapping those points.

After a period of time, I was then wheeled up to the women’s thoracic ward and was monitored every 15 minutes by a nurse. I had an oxygen tube going into my nose and I felt tired and a little away with the fairies.

Thankfully Pats came in to visit me later that afternoon and after we had made jokes about the very fetching thigh-high white embolism stockings I was sporting, he presented me with a little goody bag. It had a cute get well card in it, my little fluffy bunny that my sister had brought me a few years back and some treats to eat. It was too painful to be able to shift myself to sit upright so I drank water from a straw and, having not eaten for over 20 hours, managed to scoff down a cheese sandwich. Pats had bought me in some baby bells (got to have a cheese fix!) and a nice healthy green smoothie.

embolism stockings_alliemoon bunny

Pats set up the TV for me and as he left I began to start watching the Andy Murray/Tsonga tennis match at Wimbledon. There were five other women on the ward and there was an older lady down the end to my left who I had heard whilst Pats had been there. As the evening progressed this lady progressively got more and more vocal. She was demanding things left right and centre from the nursing staff without so much as a please or thank you. I had to take my hat off to the nurses that night, they all had the patience of saints and continued to come to her calmly and professionally each time to take care of her every need.

By this point, I was in a lot of pain and even the shots of morphine weren’t easing it. It was a bit of a surreal moment really, I was laying in this really strange place in agony – I literally felt like I had multiple stab wounds in my chest and was desperately clutching my little bunny for comfort .. I felt like a child who wanted her Mummy!

In the morning a nurse came and tried to take my bloods but after two attempts she couldn’t get a good enough vein. I was still in a lot of pain and so continued on the morphine shots. I was feeling decidedly sorry for myself – I consider myself to have a pretty high pain threshold but this had brought me to tears. I laid there feeling really rather silly trying to hide my visible display of emotions from the other ladies on the ward.

Another two nurses arrived and said they would be removing the drain from my side. Oh, joy! I had to roll onto my right side, which was even more painful, and take a deep breath in. As I gradually breathed out they whipped the pipe out. Man, this sucked!

Another nurse came round to give me a wash in bed, a slightly odd experience, but it did make me feel slightly better. Afterwards, she suggested that I try and get out of bed and sit up in the chair. She helped me over to the chair and for a while, I sat quite happily drinking a cup of tea and munching on a digestive biscuit. I was feeling pleased with myself that I was making good progress. All of a sudden I came over feeling really odd, light-headed, sweaty and I thought I was going to be sick. The nurse said my blood pressure had dropped so helped me back into bed. Bugger, not so fast then!

By this point, Darren had come back into see me and my surgeon came round to discuss the op. He said they had removed a ‘nerve cyst’ and it was more tricky to get out due to it being attached to nerve endings.This was why he was tapping various points on me as he was concerned it may have affected my sensations in various areas (luckily it hadn’t). Whilst the MRI had shown the size of the cyst to be roughly the size of a grape, the consultant indicated with his fingers it was much bigger (approx 5cm). The cyst had been sent off for analysis and I would get the results in 10 days’ time. We discussed my funny turn on getting out of bed, and he said I should try again a bit later. It’s better for your lungs and chest to be upright and mobile as this prevents getting a chest infection or pneumonia.

A couple of hours later I tried once more to get out of bed and sit in the chair and luckily I was okay. I could see other ladies getting themselves up out of bed and going off to have a shower. This seemed completely unachievable to me at that point. Pats walked me to the toilet – oh the joyous things my poor beloved husband has had to do for/with me!

Once I knew I was going to be okay whilst sat out of bed I just wanted to get out of there and be at home. I was finally discharged at around 5pm the following day and given a bag of painkillers to take home with me. I was really sore on the journey home in the car as the pain relief I’d been given in the hospital was starting to wear off. I got home and when I looked at the paracetamol and ibruprofen in the bag I realised that was not going to cut the mustard. I rang the hospital medication number and the lady was surprised I hadn’t been given anything stronger to take home with me after what I’d been having in the hospital. Luckily Pats had some co-codamol in the cupboard so I took those and that started to ease the pain.

Shoulder pain is really common after lung surgery and I had awful pains in my left shoulder. It hurt so much to cough, blow my nose and even take breaths at times. That evening we started watching an episode of One Foot in the Grave on the TV, but it was making me laugh and cry with pain at the same time so we had to turn it over!

Pats looked after me so well that weekend bless his heart. He’d brought me a funny card and two lovely plants that he put in our bedroom so I could enjoy looking at the flowers. He’d made a scrummy dinner that night and helped me in dressing and getting in and out of bed etc.

Over that weekend my best friend Tara came over with a lovely bunch of sunflowers and my sister and her boyfriend sent a lovely bouquet of flowers and popped in to see how I was doing. I was also lucky and very appreciative to have received some very beautiful flowers delivered from my friends Lou and Debs and Jon and some thoughtful get well cards.

Andy-Murray-Wimbledon_alliemoon

I spent the majority of that weekend watching Wimbledon (well done Murray!). Pats had been to buy me some juices so I could have mocktails whilst watching the tennis so I didn’t feel left out. He is such a thoughtful babe!

Being mobile, moving about and walking  is key to recovering from VATS. Movement helps shift the phlegm that sits on your chest. When I left the hospital I was (agonisingly) coughing up brown bits (sorry, too much information!) which gradually faded to green, yellow and white. I walked around the house and garden and up and down the stairs trying to keep myself active.

As each day passed I improved and by the Monday I was able to walk to the local shops. Thankfully I was able to ditch the lovely white stockings after a week as they were really annoying!

I’m pleased to say that I’m recovering very well, and apart from hurting when I sneeze and a little tenderness (mainly in the night and morning) I’m not in any pain anymore.  I have also now had the results back from the analysis of the cyst and it was completely benign and nothing to worry about. What a relief. The human body absolutely amazes me in its ability to heal itself. Once again, thanks to the amazing NHS and to all the doctors, anaesthetists and nursing staff at Southampton University Hospital for taking such good care of me.

 

Images by genomesunzipped.orgsearchquotes.com, lwjuan.com, diapers.com and nanonews.org.

 

Breast friends – our first threesome!

Well, who would have thought it? Publicly blogging about our first threesome?! Okay, well you’ll pleased to know it wasn’t actually that sort of threesome! Through the powers of this blog I have had the pleasure of connecting with many amazing women from all corners of this world. But somehow last year (and I can’t even place exactly when it happened) I connected with two very inspiring ladies – Rosemary  and Dee – who were also blogging about their own experience of having breast cancer.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Rosemary in the summer time last year when I was going through chemo. She is such a kind, gentle and caring person. Within minutes of meeting her, she had presented me with a basket of the most thoughtfully and carefully selected presents, all individually and beautifully wrapped to be opened at various times throughout my treatment when I needed a little bit of help – a bit of oomph to keep me going through the tough times, a bit of loving care.

In the new year, Dee had made a proactive and very welcome suggestion for the three of us to get together. We’d all been diagnosed around a similar time, and uncannily we had pretty much all received the same diagnosis. We gleefully set a date to all meet up at the beginning of May. (We would have met much earlier on this year had it not been for my random and somewhat crazy diary movements.)

In the meantime, and to my delight, I found out that my dear family from Canada were making the trek across the pond to come and pay us a visit. They were due here on the same weekend that I’d agreed to meet up with Rosemary and Dee. I desperately didn’t want to let them down, but having not seen my family for a few years, I obviously couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend some quality time with them, so my friends gladly re-arranged our plans.

And so, after many months of reading each other’s blogs, listening to each other’s similar experiences, messaging and supporting each other – this weekend we finally all came together as a threesome.

sisterhood

I had been looking forward with so much anticipation to our weekend together. Having been in such close contact with one another over the last year, I was excited for our virtual friendships to transform into face-to-face reality.

After initially greeting Rosemary, her lovely husband Steve (and their very friendly neighbours) Dee arrived and we all gave each other a hug. It was like meeting good friends who you hadn’t seen in a long time. There was no awkwardness, no embarrassment, we just enjoyed being in one another’s company.

Rosemary and her husband were superb hosts and they gave us the most warmest and loving welcome into their beautiful home. We were completely spoilt with delicious and tantalising food and wine and we spent the weekend eating, drinking, nattering and laughing together… the hours just literally vanished!

We talked passionately about our love of writing and blogging, what ultimately brought us together, and how much it had helped each of us throughout the whole experience of having cancer. It was very comforting to be able to talk openly about our experiences, warts and all, and to gain support and strength from each other.

support

We were also lucky enough to meet Rosemary and Steve’s charming young son, his lovely partner and their gorgeous new little baby boy – what a sweetheart!

There are many fond and humorous memories I shall take away with me from this weekend, not least the legendary magic roundabout, banana tea and the FILTHY oven (not Rosemary’s I might add!) and we are already eagerly anticipating our next meet up.

I thank all of my nearest and dearest who have so tenderly and lovingly held my hand and walked this path with me since last year. And I thank you Rosemary and Dee, despite the shitty circumstances in which we came to meet, I am truly blessed and honoured to have two such amazing ladies in my life who I can genuinely call my friends.

Click the links below to read both of their brilliant blogs:

breast friends

Mixed emotions after finishing breast cancer treatment

I did it, I’m done, I’m through, I’m finished! I’ve not posted here for a while because I really wanted to write something positive and upbeat about finally reaching the end of my treatment (well, kind of). I know loved ones would like to hear this and are eager to help celebrate my victory over cancer….but I just don’t feel like partying.

Quite surprisingly to me I actually feel the opposite to how I think I should right now. I thought I’d be overjoyed at this point, relieved that the treatment is over – hands punching in the air, lots of high fives and feeling fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased I’m still here and alive, obviously, but I really hadn’t anticipated feeling this way at all.

I’m having difficulty sleeping, my head is a whirlwind of worries hurtling round my mind and I wake up feeling stressed and anxious with my heart pounding. I feel pretty flat and waves of tears just appear out of nowhere. How can there possibly be any more bloody tears left in me? There are times when I can’t stop crying, uncontrollably, and in the most inappropriate places – it’s really quite embarrassing. My fabulously supportive friends are wanting to see me, which is so lovely, but I feel overwhelmed by it all and just want to hide away from the world. And then I feel guilty for feeling this way. My poor hubby probably wonders where his wife gone.

Oh I wish had more energy, more motivation and more life in me… I so desperately wish I could go back to being the old me. But of course I can’t. I will never be the same person I was before, I need to readjust and adapt to this ‘new normal’, this brave new world. I must be patient, my body (and my mind) needs time to heal. I’ve heard from others that it takes as long as the total duration of treatment to feel fully physically and emotionally well. There is a continual and constant fear playing in the back of my mind. I wonder whether the treatment was successful, I’m frightened by every ache and pain and I worry if the big C will reappear its ugly head again in the future. I’m sure at this point anxiety is at its highest for all cancer survivors and it will undoubtedly lessen over time.

As soon as you’ve finished treatment, I think there can be an expectation to just pick up and get back to ‘normal’. I’ve been told by nurses, health professionals and other people who have been through the same experience that the way I’m feeling is perfectly normal – and is actually more the typical behaviour displayed by someone rather than the jumping for joy feeling. I’ve been in contact with others who have transitioned through the end of their treatment phase and back into ‘normal’ life again. I’ve heard how people have struggled at this point and also felt similar emotions so at least I know I’m not alone and it is common to feel this way. After months of hospital visits, surgeries, nasty chemical infusions, being nuked and poked, prodded and punctured with needles my body and mind has taken a battering. It’s hardly surprising that, as much as I’d like to, I’m not quite ready to bounce back into life as it was before.

I guess you use all of your strength and courage keeping it together to get yourself through all of the treatment and then when the finish line appears you’re left thinking ‘what the feck just happened?’ You go from feeling relatively strong, positive and ‘brave’ to this person whose confidence is on the floor, who has difficulty keeping it together at times and has these debilitating melt downs. I was recently told that your brain purposely shuts down excess feelings until you’re ready to handle them which makes good sense.

These feelings are also being magnified by the start of my Zolodex injections. Women usually approach the menopause much more naturally with their oestrogen levels dropping off at a gradual and natural rate. Mine however have been pretty much been switched off overnight, chemically, and very unnaturally so I guess the feelings/side effects are more severe. I am told that this will level out over approximately 3 months as my body gets used to the Zolodex.

I am starting back at work at the beginning of February and am dreading having one of these melt downs in the office. My employers have been absolutely fantastic and my colleagues and friends at work so supportive, I know they will look after me when I return. I’m still petrified and worried if I’ll be able to keep up with everything. Fortunately I’m doing a gradual phased return which will help me back into working life gently. I’m also worried about seeing people in my wig who I haven’t seen since I was diagnosed. It feels like going out in my wig for the first time all over again.

My treatment isn’t technically finished as I’ll continue to have my 3-weekly Herceptin injections until November as well as my monthly Zolodex injections. As my cancer was oestrogen receptor positive I will also go onto long-term medication – either Tamoxifen (for up to 10 years) or Letrozole. I’ll continue to be in contact with my oncologist and healthcare professionals for a little longer which does provide a safety net of some sort.

I’ve been having some counselling sessions at the Haven to help me process everything and provide me with some coping strategies and I’ve also started a ‘Moving Forward’ course run by Breast Cancer Care.

I have also discovered Dr Peter Harvey, a psychologist who has specialised in supporting cancer patients and he has written an in-depth article (After the Treatment Finishes – Then What?) which accurately describes and completely makes sense of the way I’m feeling.

Just when you think you’ve come to the end of one road, it feels like another has started. I’m absolutely sure things will get better and that each day that passes life will get easier as I get stronger and my body and mind have time to recover. My apologies to my darling husband, friends and family if you’re wondering why I’m miserable or withdrawn – I promise I’ll be back soon!

Image by Power of Positivity (powerofpositivity.com).

Final chemo, CT and heart scan

I had so many mixed feelings from my appointments at the hospital last week. I was feeling so, so relieved that the final chemotherapy infusion was going in. I sure was glad to be climbing that last hurdle of a very long and tiring race. When I started my chemo back at the beginning of August, this time in November seemed like such a long time away and actually the latter part of my treatment did seem to go by much more quickly.

chemo
At last, the final chemo!

I also had my first radiotherapy appointment where I had a CT scan and was measured for my forthcoming treatments. Pats and I both went into the scanning room and the radiologist explained to us everything that was going to happen. There was a male student in the room as well and she asked if I would mind him being part of the planning session or to just observe. To be honest I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with him being there, but I didn’t want to hamper his learning opportunity either so very shyly agreed for him to be present. Pats then left the room and I went into the cubicle to get undressed.

I knew the scan wasn’t going to be painful but I began to get upset standing there with my blue bit of paper covering my modesty (not a large piece I might add!).  I climbed onto the bed and they placed both my arms in stirrups either side of me. This in itself was a strange experience and I felt like I was about to be tortured. As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t stop the tears from rolling and both the nurses could see I was upset so went and got Pats who was waiting for me outside. He came and held my hand whilst they took their measurements of me. I felt rather silly crying, but I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has. It just brings such an enormity to the whole thing and magnifies and intensifies everything that’s going on.

After the radiographers and Pats left the room, I lay there on my own splayed out on the bed as it began to move in and out of the big ‘polo mint’ machine. It’s over pretty quickly and I was desperately trying to take my mind off the whole experience by thinking of all the good times I’ve had in my life.

CTplanner

After a few minutes I was rejoined by both nurses and Pats and then had small permanent tattoo ink markers placed on three places – one in the middle of my chest and another one on each side. It was done with a small needle and wasn’t too painful at all and they are actually smaller than I thought they would be.

We left the radio department and went straight to the chemo day unit for my very last treatment. I was given the choice of being in the open area or in a separate room. I figured it would be nice to have a separate room, a) to compose myself after the previous appointment and b) well, just because we could!

The final part of the day was to have my Picc line removed. As I hadn’t had any infections or stints in hospital with the chemo, my oncologist said I would be okay to have it out after the last treatment. Wow – getting my arm back at last! They’d said that I wouldn’t feel it coming out but naturally I was apprehensive about them tugging a plastic tube out of my vein! I felt a slight tugging sensation and was amazed to see the line coming out, but had to look away as it was actually quite gross to see. Then it stopped and wouldn’t come out any further. The muscle in my arm had gone into spasm so was effectively clenching onto the line so it wouldn’t come out. The nurse put a heat pad on for 15 minutes and luckily this relaxed the muscle and the rest of it came out. Yey, a little bit of me back. I had to to wear a plaster on it for the following two days but have now had the pleasure of standing under a shower instead of having daily baths waving my hand in the air trying not get it wet! Oh it’s the little things in life : )

Our third and final trip to the hospital that week was to have my echocardiogram (heart scan). Because I am HER2+ I need to have Herceptin® (trastuzumab), an adjuvent targeted therapy which will reduce the risk of the cancer coming back and will comprise of three-weekly injections for a period of a year.

Because there is a low risk that Herceptin can cause heart damage they take a scan to check how well the heart is functioning. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to take detailed pictures of the heart as it pumps blood. I didn’t feel anything and no radiation is involved for this test. I layed on my side whilst the nurse moved a device over my chest, ribs and neck. She said that everything looked normal which was good to hear! They will continue to take regular scans of my heart throughout the treatment to detect any sign of heart damage.

My first Herceptin injection and radiotherapy appointment is on 8th December. I need to have 19 radio sessions all together, 15 to the whole breast area and four booster ones to the tumour/scar site. I do get Christmas Day off and a couple of days afterwards so a breather from going back and forwards to the hospital. It’s not quite the Christmas I had imagined, but hey ho I will make the best of it!

I’ve heard mixed stories from ladies who have had radiotherapy, some have not felt many side effects, some have been severely fatigued and also suffered bad burning.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about being nuked, but I sincerely hope it will be as kind to me as possible.