Here We Are Again, Happy As Can Be

A few weeks ago, I noticed a blemish on the BoD. Given that’s how this whole cancer malarkey began almost exactly two years ago – and being a Sensible Old Hector – I went straight to see my GP, who referred me to the one stop clinic. So Tuesday saw me back at St. Luke’s, where I saw another surgical consultant (not one I’d seen before) who basically reassured me that all was well and – according to some online calculator thingy – my life expectancy has only reduced minimally and I should live to be at least 80. Presumably this doesn’t factor in being hit by a bus, or tripped on the stairs by a lunatic cat – the latter of which will doubtless have me six feet under within a few months if I’m not very careful.

Mo, casually plots his next move.

Mo casually plots his next move

It was interesting to get another opinion on the various things that have been causing me concern, but a wee bit frustrating that his advice seems to contradict what others have told me. According to him, the blemish is most likely caused by radiotherapy, as is the discomfort around the armpit and the pain and ‘pulling’ sensation in the BoD. There is nothing I can do about the pain other than take analgesic if it gets too bad. Apparently radiotherapy ‘freezes’ the tissue, which stops the localised cancer returning but also means that there’s not much you can do about the resulting issues with pain etc. A lot of the discomfort is also due to the change in sensation after nerve damage and it’s not likely to change – although the nerves can recover in time.  All I can do is keep massaging with bio oil or moisturiser.

I’m not at high risk of lymphodema due to not being massively overweight/old, and I have good movement in my arm despite the lumpy feeling in the armpit (he says there’s no actual lump there, whereas the previous surgeon said there is. Ho hum). There are no exercises that will improve the armpit issues, but I should make sure I raise my arm above my head at least once a day and keep it moving as I do now.

He didn’t think I needed a mammogram there and then as I have my annual one coming up soon. He says I am now most likely to be post-menopausal now and I can have a blood test after I’ve been taking Tamoxifen for two years to check. This contradicts what I’ve been told before, so I will have to check that one again next time. Apparently if I am post-menopausal they can then change my medication from Tamoxifen to something else, but again this contradicted what I’ve been told before so I’m not counting on it. Plus I’m not sure the ‘something else’ would be any less annoying side-effects-wise than the Tamoxifen currently is.

So, basically, everything negative is down to radiotherapy and it’s all pretty permanent. The cynic in me think this is a bit of surgical bias, and obviously I’m going to question all this again when I go for my regular check-up in a few months time. But for now I’m just happy that the blemish was just a blemish and nothing more.

 

 

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In The Bleak Midwinter…

…Grumpy Sue made moan.

Last December, I returned to St. Luke’s for a follow up appointment with the surgeon, a genial, smiley chap who made me feel like he just wanted to get me out of the room as quickly as possible to get through his appointments. I’d gone with a lot of questions I wanted to ask, and although I did ask most of them, on reflection I never really got the full answers I was seeking. Maybe there actually aren’t any, I dunno.

Anyway, upshot of the appointment was that everything was ok with the BoD, everything was also ok with Other Boob and my armpit will stay swollen and uncomfortable – probably permanently – and there’s not much I can do about it. I mentioned that I had been struggling with fatigue since I started the new job and he was very sympathetic, giving me a mild rebuke for going back to full time instead of ‘phased entry’ (util I explained to him that I had no job at all so had very little choice!) He also told me that in the majority of cases the fatigue doesn’t start to lift until at least a year after chemo finishes. There’s not a huge amount I can do over and above what I am already doing to help myself there. So that did make me feel a little more optimistic at the time.

Forward wind a couple of months and I feel like I’m going backwards instead of forwards. The job I had so much hope for has fallen apart (I leave next week) and I’m sick. Sick of feeling so tired all the time. Sick of the extremes of mood I swing between on a seemingly daily basis. Sick of the vicious circle of comfort eating + weight gain +  misery at my unhealthy lifestyle. Sick of being in thrall to drugs that are, I’ve no doubt, contributing to all of the above, but which I am forced to take for fear that the bastard cancer will come back.

I’ve no idea what to do to change things. Well, I do have some but I haven’t the emotional or physical strength to even think about doing acting on them. I don’t want to blame everything on ‘the drugs’, and I’m aware that the emotional fall-out from cancer treatment can go on for years – but I’m just so utterly fed up of feeling this way. Early in my treatment, I vowed not to be a ‘perpetual victim’ after it was all over. I seemed to be able to be determinedly positive about pretty much everything. Right now, though, everything just feels ‘meh’ at best and unbearable at worst. I need to see a light at the end of this particular tunnel, but my hormonally frazzled brain would probably just assume it’s the train, and tell me to lie down and let it run me over.

I have good days and bad days, of course. Unfortunately, today is a particularly bad one. Everything feels quite dark and bleak and horrible. Tomorrow, I might wake up feeling like life’s a breeze and wonder why on earth I allowed the Black Dog to take me over as much as it has today. I’ve no idea why I’m writing this, except to vent a bit. I guess I’m also writing it in part so that, if anyone’s reading this and going through the same experience, they can realise that they’re not alone. Even a year and a bit after diagnosis and treatment, the recovery process can be a rocky one but we have to remind ourselves that, ultimately, it’s ok to not feel ok.

Some of the time, at least.

 

Posted in Breast Cancer, Recovery, Tamoxifen, The Future | 9 Comments

Oh. So. Tired.

As it’s now been a month since I started my New Job, it’s probably time for an update on just how the whole post-cancer-back-to-work malarkey is going. Now, you know me well enough to know that I’ve tried very hard to be positive over the past 18 months, but that I’ve always strived to be honest in this blog, even if it means occasionally slipping into negativity. So please be prepared for a bit of negativity…

So, how’s the New Job? Well, in all honesty, I’m struggling. The answer to the previously posed question “Am I setting myself up for a huge fall? ” has turned out to be a resounding ‘Yes you bloody were, you blithering idiot!”

Putting aside the tooth infection I got two weeks in, the cold-lurgy thing that I’ve had for the past two weeks and the general crapness of the job itself (it’s been not so much a steep learning curve as the Matterhorn of learning curves), I’ve also been struggling massively with tiredness. I’m sleeping badly and my brain has decided I absolutely have to wake up at 5am every day, meaning I go to work feeling knackered even before the general manic-ness of the day begins (and believe me, every day is manic!) I get home most nights and only have the energy to eat dinner and then flump. Weekends have been similarly flumpy.

There’s not a huge amount I can do to rectify the situation at the moment. My usual ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction of just wanting to leave NOW has kicked in big-time, but leaving NOW is not currently an option – not least because I’ve nothing to go to. Although the prospect of temping again appeals to me, I know I’d be even more exhausted if I was having to commute into Leeds every day, getting up earlier and home later. Common-sense tells me to give this job time, learn as many new skills as possible and then leave when a better (part-time, hopefully) position comes along. Or go temping again if and when the tiredness has improved. Who knows? Maybe over time, the job will become what it was supposed to be, the fatigue will lift and I will look back and wonder why on earth I got so stressed in those first few weeks. I’m old enough and ugly enough to know that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, even if the tunnel feels like it’s a very long one…

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On that note, It’s only two weeks ’til half-term – and a Nanna-Nap-fest the like of which will never have been seen before!

 

 

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Working 9 to 5…

Hired

Well hello again. It’s been a while. Given that I’m about to embark upon the next ‘chapter’ in my recovery, I thought an update might be in order.

As you might have guessed already, I’ve got myself a job – which I’ll be starting in exactly one week’s time. Now, my fellow cancer-kickers out there will all be aware that we’re usually advised to gradually re-acquaint ourselves with work by going for ‘phased’ returns or part-time positions. So have I been a Sensible Old Hector and done that? Have I bogroll! I’ve gone and got myself a full-time role that’s going to entail a lot of training-up onto new systems, a totally different working environment and a very steep learning curve.

Am I mad? Yes. Probably.  But when I saw the job ad back in July, it screamed out at me to apply (not literally, obviously, that only happens in Harry Potter films). It’s at a local primary school, and I initially applied with it in mind that it would be good interview experience, but having gone on a tour of the school and heard more about what the role would entail, I realised I really wanted this job. I prepared like never before for the interview, getting some great advice and tips from schoolteacher chums and parents of anklebiters.  I interviewed pretty well (she says modestly) but then completely buggered up one of the admin tasks and went home convinced I’d blown it, only to be pleasantly surprised a few hours later to get a call from the headmaster saying they wanted me. Hurrah! Everything got confirmed just a few days before they broke up for the summer, leaving me with six whole weeks to just relax and enjoy myself. In theory, at least.

Unfortunately, as the weeks have gone by, I’ve been increasingly concerned that I’ve potentially taken on too much. My constant tiredness, in particular, has been a big worry. I got myself in a bit of a tizz about it all a couple of weeks ago, after reading an awful lot of information online which suggested that going straight back to work full-time is a big mistake. It all began to weigh very heavily on me. When you’ve been out of work for more than a year, it’s always going to be difficult to get your head around going back. When you’ve had the added issues of the whole cancer malarkey,and trying to remotely deal with a parent with dementia, it’s harder still. But does that mean accepting this role was a mistake, or that I won’t be able to handle it? Am I setting myself up for a huge fall? I honestly don’t know.

During my tizz, I spoke to hubby about my worries and fears and he very sensibly advised me to think back to how excited I felt when I got the job.  I also decided it was time to stop panicking and start being practical.  I stopped reading about going back to work after cancer. I started setting my alarm earlier each day so that the early start next week won’t kill me (with mixed results – most days I wake up to the alarm but still can’t seem to haul myself out of bed for another half an hour or more!) I’ve tried to increase the distances of my daily dog walks (peaked at four miles today!) and I’ve tried to be more active during the day. It’s too easy just slump on the sofa in front of the Homes Under The Hammer* and then not budge for the day except to make cups of tea and blame it on being tired – but doing nothing all day just breeds more tiredness doesn’t it?

I’ve also embarked on a diet, having gained two stones since treatment started. I’m aware that it might be difficult to shift, given that many women blame Tamoxifen for their weight gain, but I’m also aware that I’ve spent the most part of the past 9 months or so sitting on the sofa shoving cakes, biscuits and sweeties down my greedy gob, so it certainly isn’t all down to the tablets. In two weeks I’ve lost 4lbs and an inch and a half off my hips and waist – which bodes well.

Last week I went back over the job description to remind myself why I wanted it (and to put some of my worries about the pressure of it into context) and then I drove over to the school – partly to suss out the various routes I can take on my daily commute and partly to remember exactly why I was so excited about working there in the first place.

It all worked and now I feel a little clearer and more positive about it all. Yes, it’s going to be really hard getting back into a work routine again, especially in a totally new role and environment. But it won’t be impossible.  I’ll be home by 5pm every day (in time for Pointless* – yay!) and if I feel exhausted I can just have Nanna Naps in the evenings and at weekends. It’s term-time-only, so I can also take advantage of the frequent holidays to rest up and recover. And besides all that (and most importantly) I’ve also remembered that I’m really lucky – I’ve been able to take a full year out for treatment and recovery, whereas many people have no option but to work through all of it. For that, I’m massively grateful.

So, there we go. Just a week left to psyche myself up (and try to relax!) ahead of A Whole New World Start!

 

*Other TV shows are available

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Happy!

Three positive things to mention:

1. Being asked to share my experiences of breast cancer in an online article, thanks to someone reading this here blog (wish I could’ve found a better photo though!)

2. Trips away. Have spent the past couple of days celebrating our 3rd Wedding Anniversary in Chester, where we got married. Despite the bone-aching side-effects of Tamoxifen, I still enjoyed/endured lengthy walks around the zoo, the city centre and the river. I ache like an achey thing in achey land during the festival of ache, but it was just so lovely to be away with hubby, with lots of time to do everything and nothing.

3. The letter received today from the Breast Clinic Department that says:

“The results of your recent breast mammography are now available and I am pleased to inform you that there are no radiological features to cause any concern.”

I think that’s more commonly known as ‘being given the all clear’.

I didn’t actually think it would affect me very much, but on reading those words I got hit by a huge wave of relief, and after hugging hubby I had a little, grateful cry.

It’s gone. I knew it had after chemo and surgery, and I knew the radiotherapy would zap anything that was left over. I know the Tamoxifen should keep any nasty little ER receptive cells blocked. But I just needed that confirmation that no, it hadn’t snuck back up on me while I was trying to get myself better. It’s gone. And with luck (and medication!) I’m hoping it will never come back.

I can now officially say it – I’m cancer-free.

I kicked its arse, good and proper.

So..what now? Well, I’ll still update this blog from time to time with updates on side-effects, recovery or anything I feel might be useful or interesting*. But for now, I’m off, happy to be ‘all clear’, happy to be planning some good things for my ‘not-bucket list’, just…

Over and out.

*You can’t get rid of me that easily! Bwahahahaha!

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The Merry Month of May

Blimey Charlie, it’s been a busy month, and it’s only halfway through! I thought it was about time I updated this here blog, so I’ll start with today and work backwards.

Turns out today is the anniversary of my first chemotherapy session. Slightly unbelievable (Jeff)! To celebrate, I found myself back at St. Luke’s for a mammogram (oh I know how to party!)  I had thought only the Boob of Doom would be checked, but it turns out they did the other one (still unnamed – Boob of Delight? Boob of Joy? Boob of Normality?) as well. As ever it was an uncomfortable (and occasionally painful) process, but needs must and all that. I should get the results within four weeks (but have been warned they’ve got a bit of a backlog) and then, all being well, I will have to have one annually for 10 years.

Earlier in the week I had my first job interview in over a year.  It was quite nerve wracking and I knew as soon as I left that I hadn’t got it – which was confirmed by email today.  At least it was good practice, and I’m just hoping it won’t take me too long to get back into work again. Apart from anything else, I’ve developed an unhealthy addiction to Homes Under The Hammer and Candy Crush Saga!

Last weekend saw m’lovely chum Rachel doing her Race For Life. I never in a million years thought I’d see my name on the back of someone’s RFL t-shirt, but there I was for all to see:

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 17.32.24

Must admit to a little bit of eye leakage when I saw that – I was very touched*. Thank you, Rachel. She’s already raised a fantastic £210 but I’m pretty sure it’s not too late for people to donate if they would like to to bump the total up a bit more. Just click here!

Last week I had an unexpected phone call from Nursie Mandy. She was quite apologetic about not having been in touch sooner and just wanted to check everything was ok. It was a very useful call, as it turned out, as she gave me an insight into what happens from now on. As mentioned earlier, I’ll have an annual mammogram for 10 years, then will be eligible for a (voluntary) mammogram every three years, until I’m 73. I will also have an appointment with one of the surgical team again at one year post-treatment and then again at two years. There may be a review of the Tamoxifen at the two year appointment, depending on whether they think I’m properly post-menopausal at that stage (judging from the hot flushes, mood swings and night sweats I’m already getting, I’d say that’s going to be pretty likely!)

We discussed more general things like continuing side effects, health & fitness, returning to work, etc. It seems the joint pain I’m experiencing is quite common – causes can be both chemotherapy and menopause (joy!) They’re not too bad at the mo, it’s usually just when I’ve been sitting for a long time that I get up and can’t seem to get my feet or hips to work, and spend about a minute hobbling around like an old lady (shut up!)  She recommended a supplement called Glucosamine and using painkillers if the pains get too severe. Other points for discussion were managing fatigue (which she’s sent me a rather good booklet about) and returning to work. She reiterated the usual advice on trying part-time at first, but to be honest there’s not much out there at the moment, so I suspect I’ll either end up going back to temping or a full time role (if I can get one!) She also told me that she and the other MacMillan Nurses are there on the end of the phone if I have any issues or questions, no matter how long it’s been since my treatment – which is really good to know.

Finally on my little backward trek through the merry month of May, my sister and eldest niece came up from Suffolk for a flying visit and to go to Peter Kay’s Dance For Life at the Leeds Arena. Fancy dress was optional, and although loads of people did dress up in (mostly 1980’s) costumes, we couldn’t really be arsed.

Dance For Life

Classy Birds!

No, really, that’s us in our normal Saturday night garb. (I have kept the wig, and might try it out again some time, just to see if blondes really do have more fun!)

I had been a bit concerned about my achey-breaky hips lasting out for four hours, but as it turned out it was my feet that suffered the most! With about an hour and a half to go, they felt like they’d completely broken, so I mostly tried not to move them and just stood still and wiggle danced as much as possible! It was a fabulous night of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s pop tunes, singing, dancing and comedy and a great way to celebrate my ongoing recovery and raise money for Cancer Research. I haven’t had so much fun in ages and highly recommend it to everyone if he does them again next year.

So that’s everything brought up to date. I still don’t feel like I’m properly ‘back to normal’ yet, but I know that’s going to take time. I am definitely improving, though. I suspect once I get the mammogram results I’ll feel more psychologically able to move onwards (and upwards). We shall see…

 

*As opposed to my usual state of ‘slightly touched’.

 

 

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Surgical Follow Up

Back to hospital today for a follow-up appointment with the ever-cheery surgeon Dr T. I had managed to leave my written a list of questions at home. Doh! As it turned out, I managed to remember all but one of them – the one about whether I can drink alcohol whilst on Tamoxifen. I suppose that shows how little I miss alcohol, then!

I mentioned the lumpy armpit and the pain that I’ve been experiencing running between that and the BoD, plus the lumps and bumps in the BoD itself. Although I’ve assumed that these were just scar tissue etc. it was still reassuring to be told by Dr T after she’d examined me that they were, indeed, all just post-surgery and radiotherapy lumps and will settle down. It seems I’m stuck with the uncomfortable armpit for a while – she recommended I just continue to massage it and moisturise around the scar and it should settle in time. No mention of seroma or draining. Bah. She didn’t say whether I needed to do any specific exercises to help it reduce, but as I’m still very nervous of the prospect of lymphedema I’ve decided to go back to the stretching exercises that I was doing post-surgery. They’re beneficial for my already poorly shoulder anyway, so if they help with the armpit issues that’s a Brucie Bonus.

I’ll be taking Tamoxifen for at least two years, with a review then to see if I should stay on it or move on to Letrozole. I’m ok with that – the side effects from the Tamoxifen are bearable so far (just menopausal stuff, really).  The supplements I’d been reading about are fine to take with Tamoxifen, so I’ll definitely be getting some of them to see if they make a difference to my energy levels.

The upshot of the appointment was that everything is exactly as it should be at this stage in my recovery and she seemed happy with my progress. All the various issues I brought up – aches and pains, weight gain, side-effects etc. are, it seems, part and parcel of recovery post-chemo, surgery and radiotherapy. I just need to be patient and give everything time to settle back down again. I’m really not good at patience!

There was probably more that we discussed, but as usual I couldn’t take everything in. She did promise to write it all in a letter though, which will be handy! She needs to see me again in six months time, and I’m apparently due to have my first post-treatment mammogram sometime in the next month or two, so she’s going to push someone to get that sorted for me. She mentioned they usually schedule the mammograms for one year after the last one, which she thought was last April, but I’m pretty sure it was later than that (mid-chemo) so we’ll see.

All in all, it was very positive – which is obviously why I burst into tears once I got back to the car (what *is* it with me and crying in car parks??) I think it was probably just relief more than anything else, but I brushed it off quite quickly and took myself off to do some (not entirely successful) retail therapy. Quite depressed to discover I no longer fit into a size 14…but I’m determined to get to work on losing that stone and a half I’ve gained over the past year. Diet and exercise will be my keywords for the next few months, rather than chocolate and cakes*. In the meantime, I’ve got to get to work on getting back to work!

 

*Who am I kidding?
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