Eggshells

Now that the latest round of checks is behind me, I think I have an apology to make.  Around the time of these appointments I get so incredibly stressed. I feel as I am walking on eggshells, waiting for just the slightest pressure which might cause me to fall again into a great abyss.

However, I think that is probably nothing compared with the eggshells that people around me are having to walk on!

I confess to being supergrumpy and ultra jumpy.  I apologise wholeheartedly, but I have to say I do not think there is that much that I can do about it.  I have already said that I am grateful for these checks, but that does not make them any the less scary.

I know that it is really difficult for people to know what to say to me before these checks.  And I have had the audacity to moan ungratefully here about some of the encouraging and supportive comments I have received.  For example, I have found it difficult when people tell me not to worry, that it will be all right.  I have these checks because it is possible that it will NOT be all right.  Wishing me good luck is of course appreciated, but even that is tricky as it feels like tempting fate.

In fact, it is probably impossible to find something to say which I find suitable before these checks.  The root of the problem, however, is not so much what people say to me, but the fact that I am in this situation at all.  Indeed the problem goes right back to October 2009 when I heard those life changing words confirming that I had cancer.  At that moment of diagnosis, a sense of “comfort” is taken away.  All possibilities that there might be a non sinister explanation disappears and the thing we dread is a reality.  I certainly remember feeling a sense of disbelief which fostered attempts at denial.  This CANNOT be happening to me? I can not have cancer.  This can not be true.  In the days and weeks immediately following diagnosis and the start of treatment, I remember waking in the mornings, and for an instant had forgotten that I had cancer.  Then it would hit me, that sudden and overwhelming mix of grief, fear and disbelief crashing around me as realisation  dawned.  It reminds me somewhat of bereavement when you have moments where you can briefly forget that a loved one has gone, only to experience that shock and sadness anew alongside the awareness.

That is why I react so strongly to words of support.  Supportive words feel like platitudes, and we become supersensitive to all manner of language and expression.  I am trying to protect myself and build a barrier in case I hear words I do not want to hear at the checks.

It is reassuring to know I am not alone here.  I have been following a number of debates on Breast Cancer blogs and discussion sites devoted to the question of how we perceive ourselves.  We are given labels such as fighters, survivors, patients, brave warriors to name but a few, and we all feel passionately about these terms.  And we often disagree amongst ourselves.

Many people feel that some terms can almost be offensive.  For example, the very analogy of fighting comes in for a lot of criticism as it implies that those who are taken by cancer have somehow ”lost”, perhaps not fighting hard enough.  It implies that advance of our cancer is somehow related to not being strong enough or allowing it to take over.

I even find that the language I use and choose changes too, as does the way I feel about it.  One day I might react strongly to being described as being a fighter, while other days it might feel flattering to me!  It clearly struck a chord with me at some point, as the moniker of my blog bears witness.

Similarly, the role of attitude is credited with our prognosis.  I do have a positive attitude and approach to this wretched disease.  I like to take the proverbial **** out of cancer.  Well that what it has done to me, so fair’s fair!  It has involved me taking control over elements of my life which I feel can have a bearing on my health.  Being proactive about swimming daily, for example, or cracking inappropriate jokes at the expense of cancer.  However, I am not under any illusions that being positive will make a significant difference to whether or not the cancer beast makes a comeback.  The reality is that as much as cancer treatment has advanced, we know that it does not always succeed in containing or eradicating the cancer because it is sneaky and clever and some forms do not respond to the treatments.  Of course being positive and strong helps us in how we deal with our illness and treatment.  It can make a huge difference in a day.  However, it is most definitely NOT the same as “beating” cancer.

I personally found cancer treatment a struggle, though not necessarily a battle.  The distinction makes sense to me!  I found the treatment hard going, physically, emotionally and it without doubt took a toll.  As far as the cancer in my body was concerned though, it brought very little in the way of sign or symptom let alone something significant which I felt I was battling.  It was more like hosting a battle where one adversary was silent and invisible and the other only too evident.

If that is not contradictory and complex enough, I have to say a few words about the phenomenon  of ”celebrity cancer” which seems to behave differently to ordinary person cancer in the way it is reported in the media.  The indiscriminate nature of the illness and gruelling treatment and side effects of course belie that of course, which adds to the sensitivity around this.  I recently  read a number of news reports of another celebrity who has been undergoing treatment and happily this been successful.  Of course, that is the best news and what we all want to hear.  However, despite myself, I found that I was becoming highly irritated and even offended by the report when it referred to the cancer being “beaten”.  What particularly upset me was that the person concerned had previously been diagnosed at stage 4.  Now I just want to stress that I am quite delighted that this person’s cancer has responded to treatment and can totally identify with the relief and happiness in their family.  What I find difficult, however, is the implication that Stage 4 cancer can be “cured” rather than arrested and managed.  I don’t understand how stage 4 cancer can be “beaten”.  I know it can be managed, as a chronic illness and some of the terror of a stage 4 diagnosis is dissipated perhaps.  But how can it be beaten?  How can it be banished?  And what does that say to families who have lost a loved one?

There are two points to come out of this rant.  Firstly, this is based on reports rather than hard facts.  There is often a tenuous relationship between the two.  Sometimes not even as much as a tenuous link.  In all likelihood, therefore, my reaction is not even based on the facts.  Secondly, can you see the eggshells?  My goodness, how much did I overreact to this?

Whether or not it is an overreaction, it illustrates very clearly how sensitive this whole cancer business makes us.  Hearing that you have cancer brings a fear, confronting us with our mortality.  So it doesn’t really matter what language we use, or what people say to us because we now have this constant presence – the threat of cancer, which has been forced into our lives making us sensitive and vulnerable.

The irony is that I have such overwhelming support and I lean on that enormously.  All around me (in every sense) people are supporting me through this.  And how do I respond?  By being as prickly as a hedgehog having a very bad hair day.

No wonder folks feel they are walking on eggshells.  Cancer is making us walk on eggshells.

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Friday re-port

Indeed, I did not sleep well on the Thursday night, despite being tired and staying up later than was wise, while I took advantage of the good internet connection to update family, friends and Facebook.

I slathered my Emla mind and body numbing security blanket on the port area plenty of time in advance, and after breakfast headed to the hospital and Floor 5 where the oncology ward is situated.

The lovely oncology nurses welcomed me like an old friend and we started talking about the port.  They remembered the difficulties there had been last month at the cleaning in Yangon.  I knew that we would start off by trying to flush it, but what would happen if it did not give a blood return, I really did not know.  I was anxious about whether it would give a return, about what could be causing a blockage, and who would take it out if that was what was indicated.  I also knew that I had to leave the hospital by mid morning if I was to catch my flight.  That really added to my nervousness.

The nurse took me into one of the rooms and headed off to get her clanky trolley.  All too soon, she was back with all the shiny, sharp kit and she started cleaning off the Emla cream.  She said that my port is a very deep one and that that it might have shifted a bit.  It is also possible that muscle development (particularly due to the amount of swimming I have been doing) could also be causing it to be slightly moved.

She prepped me as my heart rate steadily increased and once everything was in place, the needle appeared.  As always I closed my eyes tight, took a very deep breath in, and held it when she told me to. The needle was in and she started the procedure.  We both knew that this moment would tell us what was happening with the port.  “Look at this”, she said to me – I half opened one eye and she was grinning as she held up the small catheter which was filling with blood!  After all the stress, worry and anxiety the port was giving a blood return in record time and with unprecedented ease!  The whole procedure was over very quickly and the needle came out as easily as it had gone in.  I was cleaned up, the site covered and I was sitting up and putting my shoes on a few minutes later.

This was probably the easiest, quickest and least painful of all of my port experiences.  How ironic!

So no de-portation, no clot or fibrin shield and all finished in time to run back to the studio flat, finish packing my things and head straight to the airport with NED in my head and my heart.

I know that April will come around quickly with its scans, new round of anxiety over NED and tumour markers, and of course the possibility of another port story.  But for now I am back in Yangon with results which are as good as I could hope for and I can focus on my priorities – harmony, vitality and adventure!

Part 2 – Scary Thursday

The first appointment had gone well on the Tuesday, and the rest was waiting for me with most of it due to happen on scary Thursday.

This round of appointments would include 3 appointments with specialists and something with the port, as well as the visit to the lab of course to re-unite me with some needles and confront me with my aversion to them.

As always before these checks I did not sleep well.  This could be partly attributed to the inevitable anxiety, replaying all of the possible scenarios and results in my head.  It was also partly because I had made a concerted effort not to become dehydrated before my fasting blood test.  Apparently dehydration can be one cause for the CEA tumour marker to be raised. The natural consequences of this hydration strategy unsurprisingly added to the number of times I awoke in the night.

My first appointment was at 9.15 am which meant blood-letting in advance of that.  I arrived at Counter 2 just after 8 am and in no time had been processed by the blood letting counter.   As always, the veins were in hiding and the blood letting nurse had to slap them a bit to make them cooperate, and I was relieved as always when the happy plaster was on my arm to show that the procedure was complete.

My first appointment was with Dr A.  He is an endocrinologist apparently though I am going to have to Google that to be clear what it means.  I do know that he looks into my glucose levels, cholesterol, other blood stuff and blood pressure.  I also get a sneak preview of the tumour marker which is also on the bloods report and this is a big thing on my mind.  My BP was good, much lower than usual when being checked by a white coat.  I think that the Sudoku in the waiting area helped.  My cholesterol was also very good (reflecting I think, the care I am taking with what I eat).  The sugar levels were still a bit high though, and although not at diabetic level, they are still sitting consistently in what Dr A terms the “pre-diabetic” stage.  Diabetes does run in our family – my mother, maternal grandmother and great mother were all diabetic so I know that I have to work hard to keep it at bay.  The longer I can do this the better.

I tried to have a quick peek at the tumour marker result but couldn’t see it, so I asked Dr A how it was, unable to contain my nervous curiosity any longer.  It was blank. There was no result in the space against the marker tests.  Dr A checked and noted that it had definitely been requested, and said that perhaps it was not yet ready.  So my day would not have the prior knowledge of this result, and I would have no choice but to wait until I saw Dr W2 that evening to be put out of my misery.

Dr A was happy with the work I am doing to try and be as healthy as possible, but it is clear that I have more to do.  He asked me to come back in 3 months.

No surprises in this appointment, and positive messages mainly.  With that, I headed off to break my fast as I was starving!

I had a few errands to run in the intervening time, before the evening scary appointments and the hours passed fairly quickly.  Before long I was back at Counter 2 and waiting for Dr W2.  I knew he was not there yet, because it was quiet!  I soon heard his signature laughter and sure enough he rounded the corner and headed towards his room.

I was first on the list and with minutes was on the examination couch while he gave me a thorough check.  He said that Dr C had been very happy with my progress.  I replied that I no longer seemed to be cooking on a slow roast, and that led us onto a conversation about whether I was medium rare or well done!  After the examination I knew the tumour marker question would come up and I tried again to peek at the results page, but Dr W2 was holding the paper at an angle and I could not see the numbers.  Then he announced that my tumour marker was now in the normal range. What?  Really????  Are you sure?  The marker was now sitting at 3.3 – and the normal reference range is under 3.8.  The great thing about this is not just that it was normal, but that it has reduced with each 3 month check.  It was at 5.03 in August, and then went down to 4.54.  The reassurance for me, bearing in mind that the tumour markers are not a complete or fully reliable indicator, was that the markers were consistently reducing.  In my lay mind, my fear was that a marker which continued to rise would probably have a worrying cause and suggest that something nasty might be growing in my system.  So a move in the opposite direction is something I find very reassuring.

Dr W2 spent some time talking about my hormone levels and whether or not I am post menopausal.  Having ovaries is not a great thing and he wants to keep an eye on my hormonal levels and the blood counts are inconsistent.

Then we moved onto the subject of the port, which had also been on my mind for quite a while.  He said that if it was being problematic then it could probably come out but first we should try and see if it would flush.  He said that the oncology nurses are highly experienced in “cannulising” (sounded like “caramelising” ports so they may well be able to see what the problem was.  If it would not clear then I would have the port removed.  Obviously this was daunting and frightening, but I knew it was inevitable. Adding to the stress, was the fact that my flight was booked for the early afternoon, which meant that any (even minor) surgery would have to be finished my mid morning so that I could get my flight.  I asked if he thought it would be wiser to delay my return, and he laughed and said it was very easy to take the port out.  This was accompanied by a gesture which looked alarmingly like that of a noose being tightened, as he mimicked whipping out the port and catheter which is currently connected via the jugular vein into the heart!  Yeeeeeeeech!!  I said that if it was being taken out I wanted happy pills.  If I have enough then I don’t need an aeroplane to get me back to Yangon – I could fly back under my own steam!

He said the magic words – nothing indicating recurrence or spread and asked me to come back in 3 months.  Actually, he asked me when I wanted to come back – I said I had been expecting to return in 3 months and he said that was the right answer!  So l left his room clasping an appointment slip, the 3.3 and NED in my head and the terror of the port work in the morning.

I completely forgot to ask one of my important questions with all the port and marker discussion.  When is it safe to dye my hair?!  I love my chemo curls but do not like the colour and want to do something subtle to turn into a stunning red-head or at least non-grey head.  I am not sure if I can wait 3 months to know the answer so any wise words would be highly appreciated.

I headed straight round to Counter 3 and Dr W’s office.  My wait was again very short and I was called in almost immediately.  Again I had to leap up onto the examination couch so that Dr W could check out Twang Arm as well as my scars and remaining asset.  I was able to get Twang Arm a bit higher than last time, but still not good enough for Dr W.  He gave me a very thorough examination and said that he saw nothing to worry him.  I did ask him about a rash which comes and goes and seems to be worse when the weather is hot.  I was fairly sure it was a type of heat rash but do not want to ignore anything which could be an indication of something more sinister.  He said he had seen the rash and did not think it was worrying but that it would be wise to see a dermatologist.  With the limited time I have until my flight, this is something I will need to take forward in Yangon or when I am back.  He says I should get it seen to particularly if it gets any worse.  I think having radiation, surgery and shingles has left me with very sensitive skin which is too easily irritated.

He then spoke about my weight.  Despite my daily swimming and care of how I eat, I am not getting any lighter.  It is possible that Tamoxifen is not helping.  I know that to maximise my probability of keeping any recurrence at bay, I have to really look after my health and exercise and diet are critical.  Dr W was very clear.  I should try and lose 5 kg before my next appointment.  I need to crank things up another gear to try and get off this plateau.

Dr W confirmed that he wants to re-run the scans at my next check, to keep an eye on the marks on my liver and the little cyst in my right breast.  I do find this reassuring, though I know that when the time comes round I will be highly anxious about them.  For the time being though, I was happy to be sent away with my friend NED and appointment slips for April.

I walked back into the night air, highly relieved, albeit mindful of the importance of really working hard on my health and wellbeing.  Scary Thursday was nearly over and although the reports were good, the prospect of the work on the port the next morning was providing very good material for worry.  Although I was very tired, I knew that I would probably have another rather fretful night.

Check up-dates – Part One

I had my first appointment on Tuesday afternoon, so travelled to Bangkok on the mid morning flight.   It is a short flight, usually around an hour depending on whether the wind decides to help or hinder us on our way.  Just long enough to quickly down the in-flight meal and watch 20 minutes of comedy TV.

My flight was a bit late arriving in Bangkok.  Two passengers in Yangon airport had seemingly managed to get lost in duty free (really?) and were very late onto the flight.  We had to wait for them as finding and offloading their baggage would probably have taken even longer.  They got on the plane, the doors shut immediately and the plane was “pushed back” while they were making their way to their seats.

On arrival in Bangkok, there were queues much longer than usual at immigration.  Just to make things more interesting and time consuming, I managed to select the slowest moving queue.  This is a rare talent I have.  All queues are similar in length. I give a cursory sweeping look across them all and choose the one which seems to be likely to get me through quicker.  Then as it becomes apparent that I have picked the slowest moving queue by far, I dither about changing allegiance.  Until it is too late.

Finally I got through and was sanding at the desk, on my tiptoes so that the little round camera could take a picture of my face as well as the greying insta-perm.  As always, I worry that there is going to be some complication but I finally heard that wonderful, ker-chink, ker chunk sound as the immigration officer stamped my entry stamp into the passport.  Welcome to Thailand.  Phew!

On the flight I had tried to change my watch.  Thai time is 30 minutes ahead of Myanmar time.  I failed at that too.  My nails are still quite crumbly from the taxotere (yes they are I am afraid) and when I try and prise open the winder on my watch the nails split and break.  And the winder refuses to budge.  I tried again once I reached town and settled in, but again failed miserably.  I decided that I would manage to survive for a few days with my watch reading half an hour slow, and would be extra vigilant to make sure I remembered.

I clearly did not factor in chemo brain.  I was sitting, catching up on email and skype before leaving for the first hospital appointment, scheduled for 5 pm.  It was just after 4 pm so I was getting ready to leave.  A few more minutes passed while I chatted and generally “faffed”.  At 4.15 I pushed myself to get moving.  Then realised with horror, that I had already forgotten about the time difference and it was in fact 4.45!

The Cancer Hospital is not too far away but traffic diversions slowed me down and I tried to look cool as I turned up at the outpatient counter.  I apologised for being a few minutes late and was sneakily very relieved to hear that I had turned up before the Doctor had arrived!

I was soon called into Dr C’s consulting room and he welcomed me warmly, commenting on my chemo curls!  I had not been in his room more than a few moments when the door slid open.  I knew Dr W2 also consults at this hospital at the same time and although I was not due to see him until Thursday I half expected to say hello.  Sure enough, he made his characteristic grand entrance.  I greeted him warmly in Thai (I only know greetings and taxi Thai, so I hope it was a warm greeting).  His response was “I don’t know you”, followed by his signature roar of laughter.  Then he said something to Dr C and they both laughed heartily and Dr W2 disappeared, Dr C shaking his head and smiling at this guest appearance.  It is quite difficult to convey this short interlude without it sounding as if it was rude or strange, but actually it was really warming.  Dr W2’s message (and smile) clearly told me that I am no longer a frequent flyer at his chemo club.  A very good feeling, if slightly unorthodox in approach!

Then Dr C had a look at my radiation skin.  If I say so myself, I think it looks pretty healthy now and Dr C confirmed this.  He said it had healed nicely and was a “good colour”!  I am not sure what colour is good for post radiation skin, but if mine fits the criteria then I am happy.

He said there did not appear to be any troubling after effects, but was aware of the possible slight lung damage.  He said this was quite normal and it is certainly not troubling me.

After a few more minutes of small talk he said that he did not need to see me regularly as he was happy with the healing.  He suggested a follow up appointment after a year, and said that I should make the appointment for when I was coming to Bangkok for checks rather than make a special journey.  Sounds very good to me!

I had come to this particular appointment with little or no anxiety.  The examinations do not involve needles or pain usually, I was not aware of anything which could be troubling and I could see that the skin looked healthy.  I was glad that there were no surprises (of the horrible kind) and left the Hospital in a sunny frame of mind, able to crank up the anxiety levels for the next round of appointments in the Thursday.

And that is Part 2 of the update.

Back down to earth

with a very big BUMP!

I have had a lovely Christmas and New Year break, a trip to the beach, company of lovely friends and now back at work.  My early morning routine has continued with my sunrise swim and all in all, I am feeling well and optimistic.

So why the start of some stomach churning and anxiety?  Because next week, already, my next 3 month check comes around.  Some one has fast forwarded the calendar and suddenly I am dusting down my travel bag, booking my flight and preparing to head to Bangkok for the scary checks.

Now, this might not be the Big Check, but it is still quite a big deal.  First, I will see Dr C – my Radiation Consultant for what I expect to be a fairly quick check.  It is now just over 6 months since radiation finished and I feel that my skin has healed pretty well.  It is still pretty sensitive but I am not sure how much of that is due to radiation, and how much due to chemo, surgery and those wretched shingles.  There is also a question about possible damage to one lung from the radiation.

Then I will have a full on day which will involve fasting, blood tests and big needles and then review and consultations with Drs A, W and W2.  They will be looking particularly at my tumour markers as they have been a bit above the normal range.  That still freaks me out, I have to say.  They will also check and see if they see any other signs which concern them.

And then there will be the port story.  I have been rather reluctant to share the latest port news.  It was due to be cleaned in December, and after a logistical tale, a kit was provided here so that my Dr could clean it.  Unfortunately, the old port was rather uncooperative this time.  It pointblank refused to provide a blood return, despite reinsertions of the needle, manoeuvres to try and jiggle the vein into producing blood, and technical phone support down a continually breaking phone line from Bangkok.  Interestingly, there was no difficulty in infusing the saline and as guided, two small infusions went in easily.  But time after time, there was no blood return.

Eventually and reluctantly we had to call a halt to this fun, and the guidance from the oncology ward was to wait until the next check.

So no chocolate frog, and no sense of relief that the port was once again cleaned and shown to be working properly.  I had a strange sense of disappointment mixed with worry about what could be causing it to be uncooperative.  It could be caused by a “fibrin sheath” which is (from what I understand) an area where there has been some tissue re-growth around the area where the needles connects with the area which connects to the vein.  This would mean that it is possible to infuse fluids as there is a “push” during this process.  However, when the syringe attempts to draw back from the vein, the suction on the tissue causes it to close and there is resistance.  Apparently there are medications which can melt such a tissue growth.  Sounds very appealing.

The upshot of this is that there are a few scenarios regarding the port.  Firstly, and if the tumour markers are not elevated, and if Dr W2 is happy with all other signs, then perhaps he might think about de-porting me.  In some places, de-porting takes place right after the final chemo, and in others the Drs prefer to keep the port in place, just in case.  Just in case, scares the wits out of me, because we all know that it is short for – “just in case we need the port again for more chemotherapy”.  Yes, I know it is sensible to keep it in place, just in case, because it is much easier to take out than put back in, but the underlying questions is – “so, do you think I am going to need more chemo????”  So Dr W2’s decision about whether or not to de-port me is truly loaded and one I am very anxious about.  The double edge of this anxiety is that if get the very welcome news that I can be de-ported, then I have another surgery ahead of me to do so.  I know it is minor, but it is still scary!!

Now de-porting is one scenario.  Another is that for whatever reason I am not to be de-ported this time.  In that case, I will need to have the port checked out.  I am not sure if they will try and do a regular “flush and clean” and see if there is a blood return, and if the obstinacy or fibrin sheath have dissolved.  If it has then I guess that will be fine, though I will have a continual anxiety when it comes to each port flush.  If it is still problematic, then I am not sure what happens.  I have visions of it being flushed with battery acid or some other caustic substance to free up the blood flow.  You can see I am really helping myself here!  If the flush and magic medications to unblock the blockage do not work, then I really do not know what the next step would be.  I think it might involve knives though!

Although the port decisions are preying heavily on my mind, I have the bigger, over-riding concern that the Drs find something that concerns them and which could indicate signs of recurrence or spread.  And please don’t try to reassure me.  The reality is that we have these frequent checks because there IS a possibility and so that it can be spotted early.  I have heard those life-changing “you have cancer” words in the past so I am not reassured by “don’t worry, it will be all right”.  Because it might not be.  That does not mean I am being negative and defeatist – oh no,  not at all!  I am as determined and as pig-headed-stubborn as ever, and will rise again to any challenges that might be thrown in my path.  I just have to have some mental and emotional oomph to be able to deal with whatever comes up.

So here I am again,  preparing for another Bangkok visit and packing a mix of anxiety, fear, gratitude, anticipation and worry in my travel bag.  More than anything, I will be seeking to bring back NED in my little case for the return journey.

Departures

I have been playing with this thought for a while.  And finally I have decided to do something about it.

I have set up a “sibling” blog as a place to post photos, because I seem to be gathering quite a few of them.  If you want a break from Breast Cancer and too many words, then please visit Feisty Blue Gecko in images for something a bit different.

 

Steps in the process

Fear Factor

This is what was going through my mind a month ago – and I decided against posting it at that time, whilst many around the world were preparing for festivities.

It was prompted after I had an interesting week at the beginning of December.  And very, very busy.  So I was not overly surprised when I woke with a bit of a headache one morning.  It particularly hurt when I sat up and moved around.

It faded a bit but stayed with me most of the day, and there was still a bit of a dull ache the following morning.

I am such a talented worrier, I knew I couldn’t ignore it.  I have been drinking plenty of water so it shouldn’t be dehydration. Couldn’t it?  Although the weather was pretty hot and humid, perhaps I had not been able to keep myself adequately hydrated?  Or what about high blood pressure?  That is my usual worry, but that was not raised. Could it be linked to stress and long hours?  Perhaps.  Eyesight problems?  Who knows?

What I do know is that I did not honestly believe it was caused any of these factors.  Oh no, I had been visited by Captain Paranoia and was convinced it was a sign of a secondary tumour.  I was absolutely certain that a sneaky cancer cell or two had escaped the rigours of chemo, and set up residence in my brain.

A day later I developed a slight sore in my mouth and mild fluey feeling.  I have to emphasise that none of these symptoms were in any way severe or enough to warrant a check up (except perhaps of my overactive imagination).  Then the penny dropped with a loud clunk and I realised that a few of my colleagues have been unwell with a flu type illness and some sporting rather angry looking cold sores.  It was highly likely that I was in for some unpleasant virus.  That eased the paranoia a little.  It was eased far more by the disappearance of the headache and incredibly after only a day or so of feeling a bit under par, I did not succumb to a bug and indeed felt relatively well.  The greatest irony is that this did not actually develop into any illness and within a couple of days all symptoms (virus and cancer) had completely disappeared.  (I thank my high consumption of garlic for my seemingly strong immune system, but that is a whole other story)!

A couple of days later, while getting ready to sleep, I thought for a nano second that I could feel a bit of swelling or a lumpy area on my “good side”.  (That is a euphemism for “only side”!!) My stomach turned over, I broke out into a cold sweat and I immediately started planning chemo treats!  I specifically avoided examining the area properly for fear of confirming a lumpy area.  Given that my hand had only brushed against the skin and that I had just had a very thorough check by ultrasound, mammo and CT scan a month previously, I knew rationally that it was highly likely that my imagination was completely out of control.  However, I know from firsthand experience, that often the rational side and the emotional side do not communicate with each other.

I also knew, worryingly, that the probability of recurrence or spread in this first 2 years after diagnosis is higher than beyond that time frame.  I have also maintained involvement in the discussion threads in a couple of Breast Cancer sites where there are “Stage 4 sisters”, some of whom had their original diagnosis around about the time I did.  One such woman had just shared the news that she had been newly diagnosed with metastasis (spread) to the brain.  She quipped that she had taken the rap for our team (those going through chemo at the same time).  She articulated perfectly what is in all of our minds – that if statistics say that a small percentage of us will find that the treatments have not managed to contain the cancer, then from these groups one of us at least is likely to draw the short straw.  At the same time, it brings an involuntary yet totally unavoidable selfish sigh of relief that our own personal odds have improved.  Such a conflict of emotions.  And the lumpy area in my breast?  In the middle of the night I finally carried out a proper investigation and found no sign of any lump or hardening.  It was a fold in the skin.

So that’s what we see (and feel) through the breast cancer, or any cancer, lens.  The tiny patch of dry skin on my face (which Dr W2 couldn’t even see) has to be discounted in case it is skin cancer.  The mild headache is a potential brain tumour and an innocent fold of skin is another malignant growth in the breast.  That is the power which it holds over us psychologically, manifesting as Captain Paranoia, alive and constantly kicking.

And the worst of it?  Any worrying sign MUST NOT be ignored – just in case it is sinister.  So please bear with me, and all of us who now see this new world through the cancer lens and indeed live it through the new cancer filter.  We are slaves to the possibility of cancer manifesting somewhere again, and much as we want to move on and forget it – it is just not so easy as that.