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/

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

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.

Mammogram

Pats and I went back to the hospital on the Monday for my mammogram scan. Although I felt less worried about the trip to there this time, I still felt anxious about the mammogram as I’d heard that it could be painful.  I tried to put this to the back of my mind, after all, I was pretty much at the back of the queue when big boobs were being handed out, so hopefully that would be of some benefit to me now.

My Mum had been having regular mammograms for some years and had said to me that whilst it wasn’t pleasant it’d be over very quickly. ‘Be brave’, she said.

The nurse there was really lovely and even commented on how nice my handbag was.  It was a Mulberry handbag that I’d found in a charity shop when we visited Bath last year (anybody who knows me will know I have a slight addition for charity shops!).  Lots of people have said how much they like it, and then I tell them where I’ve bought it and they’re astounded.  The nurse said she reckoned I shouldn’t tell people where I’d got it and should just take the compliment!

I then stood up against this machine and she helped me into position. She pressed a foot pedal and two large plates gradually came towards me and moved closer together squeezing my boob. ‘This isn’t too bad,’ I thought to myself.  Then she pressed the pedal once more and it squeezed that last bit making it feel really uncomfortable as she told me it would only be there for a few seconds. It wasn’t particularly nice but, like she said, it was over in a few seconds. She then did the other side. Phew, I thought to myself, feeling pleased it was done. ‘Right now we just need to do two more from a different angle.’ Bugger! Before I knew it I was back outside again with Pats.

When we  got back home that day we found a gift wrapped box of beautiful flowers on the door step from my sister-in-law, Laura, with a note to say they were thinking of me. It was such a lovely thought and after a few more tears at her kindness a smile came to my face.

IMG_9331