Cancerversary

I received the letter last week for my mammogram screening appointment. The one-year anniversary, or “cancerversary”, is approaching since I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

April has always been quite a significant month in terms of anniversaries for my hubby and I. It was the month that we first met each other, when we got engaged, when we first moved in together and when we arrived back home from travelling around the world together. Now the month holds a much less joyful anniversary and brings back disturbing memories from a traumatic period in my life.

The 24mm sized lump in my left breast did not show up on the mammogram I had last year. This is because breast tissue is dense in younger women so I had to have an additional MRI scan in order for it to be visible. At my last oncology appointment I requested to have an MRI as I was already feeling anxious about whether I would only have a mammogram. As soon as the letter arrived, a horrible feeling arrived in the pit of my stomach and my eyes filled with tears. I immediately rang the hospital to check whether the appointment I’d received was for an MRI. The nurse said the appointment is for a mammogram and explained that they always do a mammogram first and that I was also scheduled to have an MRI too.

I’m not sure if the terror and fear of the cancer coming back will ever leave me, but I know that at that hospital appointment I’m going to be transported back to the scary place from last year. The innocent and somewhat naïve approach I took to attending that screening appointment with my dear friend. The day that unfolded into having an ultrasound, laying on that hospital bed in tears having a needle biopsy and the ensuing trauma from the worrying look on the doctor’s face who sat and told me that “we are concerned”. The day my life and the plans I had for it changed, the days of being care-free ended.

Luckily my breast care nurse happened to call me this week to see how I was getting on. I told her about the mammogram and I asked how long it would take to get the results. She said I could ring her if I hadn’t heard within 7 days and she would then follow up and get them for me.

I’ve also just started my Tamoxifen medication. I had been waiting for my oncologist to let me know whether I’d be taking Tamoxifen or an aromotese inhibitor, Letrozole. He was conferring with his colleagues as to which I should take. In the meantime I’d been doing my own research and had used Breast Cancer Care’s Ask the Nurse service. This was particularly helpful as they sent me information on results from trials that have been carried out on both drugs.

I’d come to my own conclusion that as I was pre menopausal at the end of chemo and was having ovarian suppression, that an aromotese inhibitor proved slightly more effective than Tamoxifen. At my last oncology appointment I was slightly miffed at the fact that I was seen by a locum, who had to go next door to check with my oncologist which medication I would be put on. This meant I didn’t have the opportunity to understand the reasoning behind his decision. I will speak with him again at my next appointment, but I must have faith in his knowledge and experience that it’s the right choice for me.

Life, and work in particular, continues to be challenging. I’m sure I can get past this significant anniversary and continue to look forward with the positive and strong mind set I already have and gradually put this whole experience behind me. They do say that as one door closes, another opens and I have a feeling that life has plenty more positive and rewarding opportunities in store in the coming months ahead.

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).