Progress report

A few words to bring us up to date, as it is going to take a bit of time to fill in all the details of the past few weeks.

31 October  marks the end of Breast Cancer Awareness month.  ‘Nuff said, I think (for now!)

I am doing well.  It’s 8 days after the first chemo, 10 days since the second (small) surgery for a wee repair and to put in my USB port so I can download movies while having chemo, 26 days after the big surgery and 29 days after the diagnosis.  I still have hair, though all the pointers suggest that I won’t for much longer as it usually disappears between the first and second week.  That’ll be something to get my head round 😉 .  Still thinking of my strategy – blonde wig, expensive silk scarves, baldie…?  Not decided yet.

Ahead I have 7 more chemo sessions, radiation therapy and hormone treatment.  So I am not quite half way yet 😉  I love the suggestion from my friend J that I should plan treats for each treatment – a great idea!  I bought myself two books but then realised that books are essentials not treats, so I have a treat in credit.

I also met a wonderful woman who is going through something very similar – we have a lot in common and I am lucky that we can share elements of this journey together.

I am determined to do what I can to build my strength and resilience and am really grateful for information and details of good foods to eat, yoga when I get back to Yangon and other creative and healing things to do.  Though I know that the toast and marmite diet seems to be the only approach in the chemo days – let’s see.

Yesterday and today I met up with special friends (Bangkok is great as people are based here as well as passing through) and I rounded off today with a nice wander round Benjasiri Park, gently swinging the twangy arm – now that’s progress!

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The Diagnosis – if you don’t like detail, please don’t read!

This follows on from “is Google a good thing” and is an account of the diagnosis.  Good Halloween reading 😉

Friday 2 October

The drive from the airport took for ever.  We got stuck in traffic and half of me wanted to stay stuck, the other half just wanted to get on with the inevitable and find out what was going on.

Eventually we arrived at a hospital more resembling a hotel than a hospital and our liaison person appeared magically and guided me gently and with great care and professionalism through the next hours.  I knew that the investigations would involve mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy and review by the specialist.

As we were late I headed straight into the imaging department and changed ready for the first tests – the mammogram.  Well they took a lot of pictures from all angles and I felt as if I was doing some Bollywood poses at times.  More than anything, my mind was in overdrive and I was trying to pick up clues (and hope) from anything – a gesture, smile, question, gown colour, auspicious room number….. I picked up the word calcification and immediately latched hope onto that.  It sounded logical – and not harmful to my lay mind so my heart lurched a bit with optimism.

Next was ultrasound.  Again the investigation was very thorough.  This time though I could see the screen and all sorts of weird ghostly shapes as the doctor methodically worked her way through the process. Again, I tried to pick up clues and hints and soon got a big one  “left side – problem”, I was told.  Hmmm.  The chittering started again, perhaps helped by the Air Conditioning and the cold ultrasound gel. “You need biopsy”.  Oh dear – more chitter chitter!  The technician was lovely – calm, professional but clear.  I said I was worried and she told me not to worry (lurch of hope) – my Doctor is a great specialist and I am in the best of hands.  She then started pegging the dimensions of what she was seeing in the scan.  I had to watch, but kept looking away as she pegged a strange shape and clicked to save it.  Then my stomach turned as she keyed in – m-a-s-s-.  That is a clue, and not a good one.  She didn’t stop there – mass.. n-o- 1.  I closed my eyes and swallowed. There is more than one lump.

I think it was around then that the specialist himself appeared, his Bluetooth flashing in his ear, and he joined the party.  Or maybe it was a training workshop because he had a magic marker in his hand and methodically they started to draw on my chest.  I started chittering again – actually I am not convinced I had stopped.  They reassured me that they were not going to hurt me – just draw on me!  These were the markings for the biopsy.  Another worry lurch when I was asked if I had eaten – surely they are not going to operate tonight?

Eventually the drawing was complete, the ultrasound images all recorded and I knew that the time was coming for biopsy and diagnosis.

I headed back to the waiting area and had almost sat down, when I was ushered into auspicious Room no 59.  I am so glad that I have such trust and faith in my doctor – he even trained in Scotland so there has to be another auspicious sign there.  He examined me again, all the while the biopsy instruments glinting at me wickedly.  I knew this one was going to be painful as well as scary. Then we sat down, and he started to go through the findings of the mammogram and ultrasound.  He talked about the calcification a bit, highlighted aspects from the mammogram, but focused more on a picture of a spaceship like image from the ultrasound.  He showed me that the spaceship mass was irregular in shape, and growing in different directions.  Although I had been straining for hints, I didn’t pick up this one.

Gently, irrevocably, he told me  “this is highly suspicious of cancer”.

Latest research

Well this is interesting – http://www.thenational.com.pg/?q=node/2395

Apparently recent research shows that a key ingredient of curry (turmeric) is found to have properties which fight cancer cells.  Exciting stuff.

But wait a minute – I have been living in South Asia for nearly 10 years, living on curry – and my husband is Indian!  Something doesn’t add up!!

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(PS – actually the article and research is really interesting, and will not stop me from adding turmeric to my toast and marmite).

Is google a good thing?

What did we do before Google?

When I found the lump (on Wednesday 23 September), my stomach didn’t sink in quite the same way it did when a similar thing happened 26 years ago. At that time, I remember feeling nauseous and faint. This time, I had noticed some changes in my left breast, and was intending to seek medical advice in the coming days. Finding the lump almost felt like a chilling confirmation.  I quickly made an appointment to see the doctor – and then I googled!

This was something I have always, adamantly said I would never do.  It just goes to show that you never know how you are going to react when “it happens to you”.  I spent a silly amount of time on the internet, searching and searching. Firstly, for symptoms and then for different diagnoses and the various types of treatment.  The more I searched, the more I realised that my symptoms ticked a few of the “let’s get worried” boxes.  And the more I searched, the more I realised that there is a heck of a lot to breast cancer, and so many different strains and types.

It’s odd– I didn’t feel as scared as I imagined I would and the next day or so I felt as if I was on kind of autopilot. My doctor confirmed what I had guessed.  There was some “asymmetry” which should be checked out in Bangkok. We dealt with the logistics and other complications and within a few days (2 OCtober) I was sitting chittering in Yangon airport with an anxious J by my side. (chittering – a useful Scottish word for shaking so much your teeth chatter – synonymous for crapping it!)

On the short flight to Bangkok, I settled a bit, munched the inflight whatever it was and filled in our landing cards.  A car was waiting for us at the other side to take me to the hospital, so for once I passed on the in flight drinks.  No word of a lie – you have no idea how hard that was!!

I knew that I was going to learn in a matter of hours, whether life was about to change.  Thanks to Google, I knew that it was likely and I really think that helped to prepare us for the tests and results.  And that’s the next bit of the story.  Now I am going to rest those twanging lymph nodes and pick up again tomorrow.

What’s it all about?

This really is a record of the unexpected.  I don’t know where it is going, and I don’t know how it will look, but life changed 3 weeks ago and I have a lot to get off my chest.  Quite literally.

And the purpose of this?  To help me process and deal with what has and is happening.  To share one experience of what is a very common disease.  To tell my story as it unfolds, in a way that helps me.  And the rest…………….

This is the biggest and scariest challenge of my life.  Breast cancer is unknown in our family and I have not really been close to anyone while they have been fighting cancer.  But I have such a lot going for me, this is not going to be a tale (tail) of woe, (well maybe sometimes), but a rise to the challenge.  I have such amazing support – I am not in this alone.  I also know that much of this will be revealing and personal, but I have been encouraged by the number of other blogs by women with breast cancer so I think I’m entitled to have a shout too!  We are all different and I know my perspective will be different.

This part of the story starts on September 23 so there is a bit of catching up to do.  I will try and fill in the details and bring things up to date but it will take a bit of time.  This is partly because so much has happened, and partly because I am feeling the grand theft of many lymph nodes from under my left arm which makes typing slow and full of mistakes.  And partly because there is so much going on in my head which, as I said above – I need to get off my chest!