The first week of chemo has finally arrived. It seems to have been lurking in the background, an ever present but not quite tangible threat. Until now.
I had hoped to get this finished in the chemo suite on Thursday but ended up spending most of my time chatting to the nurses who were looking after me and my eventually very cold arm! So, since then I've put the rest of it together, bit by bit, in between feeling as if I've been reading the map in the car too long and high as a kite.
On Thursday I was finally hooked up to the machine receiving the first of six rounds of chemotherapy. If you want to imagine it, it's almost exactly the same as the ad except in my right hand and the chair was pink and the ward was bursting with other people all receiving treatment.
Back in June, the first meeting with the breast surgery team (actually just one member of the team, the handsome, softly spoken registrar, Dr Marios-Konstantinos Tasoulis) now seems a lifetime ago. I recorded it on my phone (with permission) and the woman I hear on the playback, insisting lightheartedly but with a rock solidly firm resolution, that she wasn't going to have all her lymph nodes removed, doesn't quite sound like me. I sound naive and far too sure of myself.
The reason I was only meeting one member of the team was because the results of my staging scans had not come back and nothing further could be decided until they knew if the Lump had managed to escape beyond my LLNs (Lumpy Lymph Nodes). I knew the results hadn't come back yet as I hadn't been for the scans. They were booked in for the following day. In two different hospitals.
Firstly the CT scan at Hammersmith Hospital (in East Acton) then, in the afternoon, the bone scan at Charing Cross Hospital (in Hammersmith!). Luckily there is a pretty reliable bus service from East Acton to Hammersmith as I only had a couple of hours to get from one to the other.
The CT scan was bizarre. They injected me with a substance which, within seconds sent a wave of not altogether unpleasant, tingling heat through my body. The large donut of the scanner passed over my body, where I lay, intermittently holding my breath (as I recall...). The whole thing took less than 5mins! It'd taken me longer to get changed into the hospital gown and work out which tape tied to which to prevent the entire waiting room getting a pre-lunch appetite suppressant in the form of my bare bum!
As the CT department had been running about half an hour late (one of their scanners was down and there was a jam packed waiting room, so I reckon half an hour was pretty good under the circumstances!) I now only had just over half an hour to get to Charing Cross hospital for my radioactive injection ready for the bone scan later that afternoon. The bus was great until we got on to the Shepherds Bush Road, where it ground to a halt in terrible traffic. Nothing left but to walk the mile and a half left to the hospital.
I made it with seconds to spare. I don't remember having to wait very long. They injected me with a radioactive isotope and then I had to go away for 3hrs while the radioactivity seeped into my bones... Ready Brek glow developing nicely, I decided the only thing for it was to do some retail therapy!
Back at the hospital and not too much lighter in the pocket, I was ushered into another changing room to struggle into another hospital gown. Then into a dimly lit room with a very narrow bed on tracks with a huge X-ray contraption at the foot. I lay down on the bed and was given a sling of canvas to place both arms in, which rested across my body and stopped my arms dangling down beside the bed. The radiographer asked me to keep very still and the machine was moved up to my head, lowered until my nose almost touched the screen and the scan began.
It took a lot longer than the CT scan. I had time to wonder, as the machine moved away from my head, slowly staggering and carefully scanning my skeleton, what these scans would reveal. Had the LLNs done their job and halted the progress of this insidious disease or would I find out that the Lump had escaped and colonised another area of my body with rogue breast cells...
As the scan drew to a slow halt over my feet, I asked the radiographer how long the results would take to arrive with the Breast Surgery team. "They should be with them tomorrow" was the very welcome reply. (I really don't like waiting for 'the unknown'. At all. One little bit. As a child, I always opened presents when I found them (very carefully of course, re-wrapping just as carefully to avoid detection!) And there was no way I could have gone through nine months of pregnancy without finding out both times whether the new person inside me was a boy or girl - it would've driven me to distraction!). So. This being a Tuesday and assuming I could find someone one on the Breast Surgery team willing to talk to me over the phone, I should have the results before the weekend.
Easier thought than done.
I gave them until Friday before I started phoning the hospital. I spoke to all sorts of different people who were all very pleasant and sympathetic but none of them were at liberty to give me results as they weren't medically trained. I tried getting through to the Breast Care nurses. But after I left a couple of messages, I was starting to feel like a stalker! I even called my long suffering GP and asked them to call the hospital... All to no avail. The closest I got was Mr Hadjiminas' secretary, the lovely and very patient (unlike me!) Marcia. She was going to try and get a member of the Breast Surgery team to call me on Monday.
I was at work and beginning to slide into full 'fear of the unknown' meltdown. My imagination was going into overdrive and I was thinking the worst; hearing the pity in the voices of all the clerical staff I was bothering.
Eventually, one of the breast care nurses phoned me (unfortunately I don't remember which member of the team it was as I was a bit on the desperate side of rational by then.) She gave me the very welcome news that there were no signs of any metastasising cancerous Lumps anywhere else.
My lymph nodes had fulfilled their function and kept the Lump at bay. I thankfully only had stage one breast cancer.