Posted in Living with cancer

This time next year

Hello! I write not from my sun-shiny garden – as had become my habit – but from my sofa, where I find myself curled up under a blanket with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle for company. The last hurrah of summer, it would seem, has already hurrahed. I can’t help wondering what autumn might have in store for me this year.

Garden sunshine
The last hurrah of my summer garden

Last autumn was the very definition of the ‘mixed bag.’ On the one hand, we had the Big Move North(ish) to Market Harborough to look forward to. It was a big deal for us, the relocation from Hampshire to the midlands, being as it was, part of a much bigger plan about what we wanted our future to look like. And on the other hand we had the spectre of my diagnosis hanging over us – the little lump and strange not-very-painful-pain above my right breast; the hope that it was nothing to worry about but the growing fear that actually, it perhaps wasn’t as innocent as all that.

That’s that then

I found the lump because of the strange not-very-painful-pain. At the time, I was busy packing up the old flat, and at first, I put it down to a packing injury – I thought I’d over-extended something, or pulled something, or bruised something – and so I put it out of my mind and pressed on. A couple of days later, when the niggle was still niggling I started poking around and there it was, unmistakable and heart-stopping: a lumpy little lump, the texture of frozen peas and the size of a five pence piece. And I thought to myself: “well SHIT. That’s that then.” It turns out your thoughts aren’t nearly as profound as you think they’ll be when those life-changing moments come around….

Garden last year
The day we collected the keys for the new place, with only the slightest idea of what might be coming my way.

I haven’t written much about how my diagnosis came about, mostly, I guess because there’s not a huge amount to say. In summary, I spent several weeks between late October and early December last year trooping around medical establishments, showing various strangers my tits and submitting myself to a raft of progressively less comfortable tests – mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and CT scans to be exact. I don’t mean to make light of it, but really, it wasn’t any more complicated than that.

Show us

As for how I felt about what was going on – well, if you really want to know, I didn’t feel a single thing. I was there in body but not spirit – looking on from the side-lines – acting, to all intents and purposes, like the whole thing was happening to somebody else. Whatever gets you through the day, right?

Excuse me, I think you’ll find this is an ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW

As the nights draw in and the trees get ready to shed their leaves, it occurs to me that almost a year has passed since I first found my lump. Or, to put it another way, I can’t help thinking that this time last year I had no idea of the ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW that was about to come my way. And I want to be very clear about this, lest there is any doubt – cancer treatment is an ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been finding my way through it because I have to find a way through it. And I’ve been surviving it because surviving it is the whole bloody point. And sure, I’ve laughed my way through a significant portion of it because what else was I going to do? And do you know what? Life has even carried on as usual for most of the time because I guess that’s just what life does.

But here’s the thing: you can find a way through and survive and laugh and live a reasonably normal life with an ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW running in the background. Cancer has taught me that.

Nothing to see.jpg

Figuring out what I need to figure out

They say that a cancer diagnosis hits people at different times and in different ways. For my part, I was doing just fine until there was a pause to recover from surgery. I found myself with time on my hands, and no treatment to distract me, and I started to realise that I’ve still got a lot of stuff to figure out.

I had no idea that the huge reality of it all was going to hit me when it did, or in the way it did. I didn’t realise how re-assuring the weekly chemotherapy sessions had been, or how sad I would be about the mastectomy. I didn’t understand how nervous I would feel ahead of the results of my pathology report next week, or how frightened I would be about the future. I didn’t realise that there would be times when even the most minor headache would lead me into a panic-driven, tear-soaked spiral of panic and grief. Until recently, it didn’t even occur to me that I might die and now I sometimes have to try very hard to put the thought of it out of my head at all.

There is, by the way, no indication that my demise is imminent and there is no reason whatsoever for me to fear the future. What I’m dealing with now is – for want of a better word – trauma. I’ve been living with a life-threatening illness for the past nine months, and it is no small wonder that now, as I near the final stage of my active treatment, the trauma of that reality should hit me. Dealing with the trauma is, of course, a large part of coming to terms with what has happened. And coming to terms with it is, in turn, a large part of leaving it behind.

And leave it behind I shall, in time.

This time next year

So I suppose what I’m saying is – autumn is unfolding, I’ve been through a lot, and I’m feeling more nostalgic than usual. I seem to spend a lot of my time looking back: to this time last year, or five years ago, or a decade ago. I find myself wishing it was any year but this year, any time but now – that it was a long time ago again and that I still had all of this to come. Or perhaps what I really wish is to be a long time in the future, with all of this behind me. Perhaps what I’m really thinking about is not this time last year, but this time next year, and the year after, and the year after.

Can you be nostalgic for the future? I guess you can. Hope is important and all that.

L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N

Aside from all the quiet reflection, life rumbles along like it always did. I’m healing well from the surgery – the scar is small, neat and strangely fascinating. I’m frustrated by how little I can move my arm (WHO KNEW HOW IMPORTANT ARMPIT MUSCLES ARE?) but I’m told that my range of movement is actually surprisingly good all things considered. All things considered, is, I believe, nurse speak for ‘I’m surprised because it should be absolutely fucked’…..

Meanwhile, in other news

Meanwhile, in other news, I’ve FINALLY got a full set of eyelashes and eyebrows to report, and my haircut is now somewhere in the region of Elle at the mid-point of Stranger Things One. Believe it or not, it’s only the second-worst haircut I’ve ever had.

Worst hair cut
THIS is the worst haircut I’ve ever had.

I’ll wind up, for now, leaving you with a song and loads and loads of love from my little corner of the universe.

Love you all lots like jelly tots,

WeeGee

Posted in Living with cancer

A fresh pair of knickers and a decent cuppa tea…..

Everybody! How the chuffin’ hell are you all?!

I was a bit of a misery guts in my last post, wasn’t I? It’s a long story, and I’ll write more about it another time but for now – HELLO, it’s me, WeeGee, and I am back on track….

Surgery. The low-down

As you know, this time last week I had my surgery. It didn’t exactly go according to plan – OF COURSE it didn’t exactly go according to plan – but it was, as far as the surgeon was concerned, a success. He managed to remove all of the cancer which was exactly what we were hoping for. HUZZAH.

The operation took a bit longer than anticipated – the tumour had attached itself to a muscle so (LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH) the surgeon had to shave quite a bit of the affected muscle off. There was also more bleeding than expected, even accounting for the blood thinners I’ve been on since the DVT back in April. It took a long time for them to (SQUEAMISH HIGH ALERT) “stop all the tiny nerve endings from oozing all over the place.”

After the surgery was over, it was BLOODY AGES before I came round from the anaesthetic and I had a hard time of it the first time I woke up. In the end it was more than three hours before I was moved from the recovery room back to the ward. I’m told I was quite entertaining that evening, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Off my face
Adventures in tramadol and general anaesthetic

WeeGee and the Great Big BooHoo

The morning after the op was a difficult one. I’d slept badly for a start and, on account of an extremely sore throat, I’d had nothing but a pot of yoghurt to eat for more than 30 hours. I was attached to all kinds of buzzing, beeping contraptions, and it had finally, properly occurred to me that I was going to be leaving the hospital in possession of one less boob than I’d arrived with.

It must sound odd. I mean I knew I was going into hospital for a mastectomy so, you wouldn’t think actually having had a mastectomy would come as a shock, right? But somehow, it did. When I woke up, there was no denying my right breast wasn’t there and in that moment there was absolutely no getting away from the fact that I was knee-deep in treatment for breast cancer. It took me by surprise and it hit me all of a sudden, all at once – not just the mastectomy but the whole of the past nine months: the diagnosis, the chemo, the clot, the infections, the allergic reactions, the pain, the fatigue, the fear, the sadness – and the absolute fucking fury of the whole thing.

So I cried – and by that I mean I boo hoo’d the most spectacular boo hoo I ever have boo hoo’d in my life. I cried for everything that had happened and for everything still to come. I cried for myself and everyone else. I cried for what I’d lost, for what I’ll not get back, and for what I’ll never have. I cried for my disappeared boob and the lonely looking one left behind. I cried because I was starving and I couldn’t face another yoghurt and I cried because TEA JUST ISN’T THE SAME IN A PLASTIC CUP AND WHY DON’T HOSPITALS OF ALL PLACES KNOW THAT?

It sounds terrible, but really it was okay and, to be honest, much needed. A fantastic and extremely kind nurse steered me through it all. She listened as I raged and dried the tears as they fell. Then, when there were no more tears to fall, she hugged the last of the sadness right out of me. She encouraged me to get up and dressed and, once I was all bright and shiny and new, she brought me tea in a proper cup because it’s true what they say – not all super-heroes wear capes.

And that, as they say, was that. A fresh pair of knickers and a decent cuppa later and it was back on my way: WeeGee against the world once more.

TEA
Tea is always the answer

One week later

My discharge came the day after surgery, and over the course of a week I’ve eased myself back into the real world slowly but surely. The drains came out a few days later and, while I was thrilled to see the back of them, the less said about the procedure, the better. It truly was the most awful of all the awful things that have happened to me. And I’ve seen my fair share of awful recently. Let’s never talk of it again….

As I’ve recovered, I’ve been surprised by how well I feel, but frustrated by my lack of mobility. I’ve lost some sensation in my arm* and the nerve pain and fatigue from chemo linger on. Nevertheless, I’ve been up and at ‘em – to a lesser or greater extent – every day. My daily ambles around the garden have progressed into strolls around the block, and I’m mostly managing to keep up with the post-operative exercises prescribed by the Breast Care Nurse. I do have some pain, but thankfully, it’s manageable. To be honest, compared to the pain I had before the surgery it barely even registers so I’ve managed to pack away the Oramorph at last. Huzzah!

There have, of course, been a few more tears along the way. When they come, I let them be and they pass soon enough without doing me any harm. For the most part, I’m coming to terms with it all reasonably well. I’ve spent time in the garden with my nose in a book and found solace there. I’ve painted my nails in the brightest shade of pink I could find, and I’ve eaten plenty of good, fresh food. I’ve booked myself onto the next level of the Blaze creative writing course (YAY) and purchased access to two online gardening tutorials. I’ve treated myself to some very excellent new pyjamas, and I’ve listened to a lot of radio four.

jim jams
Very excellent PJs

I’ve also started to realise my recent focus has been on getting through the physical challenges of cancer treatment. That was fine. I needed to do it like that because I knew I could only get myself this far in a calm, practical, head on, smash-through-it-but-don’t-feel-thing kind of a way. But now I need some time and space to let my thoughts catch up with the rest of me.

I’m fortunate that I can give myself the break I need without any pressure to get back to work and safe in the knowledge that I will be very well looked after by the truly AWESOME men in my life.

this pair
Mr Awesome Thing Number Five hasn’t let me do so much as make a cup of tea. Gryff has only bitten me once and his heart wasn’t really in it….

Meanwhile, in other news.

Meanwhile, in other news and just in case you were wondering what’s going on with my hair – I’ve got a full head of this stuff although to be fair, not quite enough to occasion a comb just yet.

That’s all from me for today. Now I’ve got the pain under control, and a few weeks off work I’ll doubtless be able to post more regularly so stay tuned for plenty more nonsense from me. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a song and wish you a happy weekend when it comes around.

Oh – and if anybody needs me, I’ll be busy being busy,

Taking it easy
This is what busy looks like for the next two weeks.

Love you all lots like jelly tots,

WeeGee xoxox

*This may, or may not, be temporary, time will tell.

Posted in Living with cancer

Update (The one where WeeGee has a sense of humour by-pass)

Hello there, you lovely lot! It’s been a while since my last post hasn’t it? I swear to God I’ve been meaning to sit down and write an update but you know how it goes…. Somehow, the time and inclination just haven’t been willing to show up together and besides, I’ve been pretty busy watching Stranger Things 3….

The last time I wrote I was gearing up for my final chemotherapy session, a milestone that I am pleased to report has now been achieved. In the end, the last session was an unceremonious affair, partly because I didn’t want to make a fuss and partly because I was K.N.A.C.K.E.R.E.D. True to form, I cried as we left the chemo suite for the last time* but apart from that, I haven’t really looked back. I don’t miss it and, if I never have to see another IV chemo pump again that’ll be all right with me. Please and thank you to the powers that be.

chemo over.jpg

Whilst it’s fair to say that I’m finished with chemo, I am under no illusions because chemo is not quite finished with me. Towards the end of the treatment I started to appreciate the toll it was taking on me and my body and now, more than six weeks later, the lasting effects of what I have been through are ever present. Unfortunately, the chemo has caused some nerve damage, which is painful in a way I can’t even begin to describe to you. That, together with some further, equally excruciating pain caused by the tumour dying, is making things pretty unbearable for me at times. Add to that the fatigue, the fun and games of the instant menopause, the raging insomnia, the chronic indigestion, the extra stone and a half I’m carrying around courtesy of the steroids (it shouldn’t matter, I know it shouldn’t, but somehow it just does) and the ever present worry about the forthcoming surgery, and it would be fair to say that I haven’t exactly been my usual chirpy, hilarious self of late…. It’s the post-chemo sense of humour by-pass, I guess.

My surgery is scheduled for next Thursday. I’m having a right side mastectomy and axillary node clearance with delayed reconstruction. The delayed reconstruction is in part to allow for radiotherapy and in part to avoid an overly long operation in light of the DVT I developed back in April. The surgery should take no longer than a couple of hours and I expect to be discharged the following day. Those are the facts and between you and I I’m feeling quite calm and pragmatic about the whole thing. Sure, I wish the circumstance were different but at the end of the day my right breast is trying to kill me, and accordingly, I will be glad to see the back of it. Perhaps I will feel differently after the surgery but for now, I’m quite matter of fact about it all. The operation is the next thing I have to do to get myself better. The plan, as far as it goes, is to turn up and put myself in the capable hands of the NHS once more.

I suppose it’s all sounding a bit low key and miserable here in WeeGee land but FEAR NOT. All is not lost and I PROMISE that I am absolutely fine in spite of being a bit quiet and a minor misery guts. Sometimes, when crappy things are going on you have to find a way to power through them but then other times you have to sit with them and let them pass. Right now I’m at the sitting waiting for things to pass stage and I don’t really have too much to say for myself. Plus, if you really want to know the truth, the doctor has prescribed some seriously strong painkillers so I’m quietly and contentedly OFF MY TITS** for a significant portion of the time anyway.

Perhaps now I’ve managed to write something the wordy-block curse that has striken me will lift and I’ll start spamming you with blog posts again – time will tell. In the meantime, keep me in your thoughts or prayers (or whatever you keep folks going through shit in) next Thursday.

I’ll leave you with a song, inspired by Stranger Things, and a promise to be back,

Love you all lots like jelly tots,

WeeGee

*What can I say? I always cry at endings

** There is a tasteless joke in there somewhere but it’s still a bit soon, no?