Taking the Rough with the Smooth
Chemo #2 has so far been noticeably harder than #1. I can feel an uncharacteristic weakness in my limbs - not that I'm anywhere near the point if collapse - far from it. I'm still taking the stairs two at a time when there's an opportunity and am still walking whenever I can. It's just that little bit harder to coax my legs into it - to persuade my body that it will feel better for the exercise (and it really does feel better for making the effort). It's not like the tiredness I experience after a long walk - even after 100 miles. It's deeper than that. Not fatigue from the relentless one foot in front of the other, outside effort. But from within.
The other thing I've noticed is that, despite being given a stronger intravenous, pre-chemo, anti-sickness medication, the feelings of nausea are worse this time. I haven't actually been sick but then I'll do virtually anything to stop myself being sick, I hate throwing up SO much.
I was going to say that neither of these worsening symptoms has yet stopped me going to work or doing anything else I've wanted to do. But unfortunately that is not now the case. There is a limit (it turns out!) to what I can push, persuade & otherwise bully my poor old body into. (It probably hasn't helped that my period has turned up, four days late and twice as problematic as usual and that I also seem to have picked up a cold from somewhere). If there is a cumulative effect over the remaining four rounds (as I've been told there probably will be) then things are likely to get worse before they get better (although I'm pretty sure my ovaries are going to throw in the towel before then - poor old things! So I won't have that double whammy again - fingers crossed!)
But it's ok. It's ok for me to feel ill. It's ok for me to feel down. Because the drugs that are currently coursing through my system are doing their job. They are powerful, harsh chemical substances which are destroying any remaining rogue cancer cells. In the process they are causing damage (just temporarily) to the body they are healing. To the body they are cleaning. But I have faith that my system is strong and I have the advantage over most that I have taken part and successfully completed a few long distance endurance events.
There is a feeling of certainty I get before a long walk. Usually a couple of days before - sometimes (as in the most recent 50 mile walk) it only happens as I begin. It's a certainty, an absolute belief, that, barring major outside influences or accidents (and probably even including some of them!) I will finish the event. It passes over me as a calming, soothing assurance that within me I have the resources, the determination and the sheer bloody, stubborn grit, to finish successfully what I am about to or have just started. I have that now with this treatment.
The journey I am on now through chemo, is just as unknown as that first 100 mile walk was back in 2012. Oh, I can see the route, they've told me how many sessions I'm due to have and what the likely side-effects are. But I have no idea how my body will feel, how my individual, unique system (balanced or otherwise), will react at each new challenge which comes up. In the same way I just kept putting one foot in front of the other on that first 100 mile walk, secure in the knowledge that plenty of others had previously done just that and succeeded, I am taking each moment as it comes on this journey, taking heart from those who've already completed the challenge and keeping myself on the path (with a not inconsiderable amount of support from a lot of you).
(WARNING: the following three paragraphs contain details of a breast surgical nature - please don't read them if you're squeamish or found the mention of 'periods' offensive!)
It seems such a long time ago now, waiting to recover from that first operation back in July. Trying not to be impatient with my body (and mind) as I came out of the fug of the anaesthetic and endured the pain as the feeling returned to the site of the operation. Or I should say, sites - I couldn't see them yet as they were both carefully covered (mostly) with post op dressings but I had two distinct 'wounds': a slit of a few centimetres (couple of inches) under my left arm and a circular cut which ran the entire way around my left areole.
I mentioned in a previous post that what Mr Hadjiminas had proposed (and now carried out) was the equivalent of a plastic surgery procedure to reduce and lift my breast. Because the Lump had been so close to the surface and relatively close to my areole (it was never going to be very far away to be honest as my boobs aren't what anyone would describe as large!), Mr H was able to cut all the way round the areole and get to the Lump from there. He then closed the gap in the breast tissue under the skin, made by the offending article, removed a small amount of ordinary skin all the way round, then lifted and 'gathered' (actually don't think I need to use inverted commas as he must've literally done just that - for me as a sometime seamstress, it was fascinating!) the skin and stitched it, very neatly back together all the way round...
But all I could see of my left areole at this point was the tip of my nipple through the dressing. Some kind assistant in the operating theatre had very carefully cut out a 'peephole' for it - like it might need to breathe or see what was going on...
I thought I'd be going back in for the results the following week. As it turned out I had to wait 10 days. Luckily there was a lot going on outside of breast cancer and it's relentless treatment, to keep me busy and my mind off things. Henry was just about to leave St Mark's Primary School and his year six 'Leavers' Do' was fast approaching. I'd already agreed to do the cake and wanted to honour my commitment (as much as a V's up to the cancer as anything else). It became a family project with my Sister, Niece and Mum all hugely contributing to its success! And it really helped to keep my head straight and off the looming results.
So with Henry's end-of-an-era (and at one point seemingly endless) year six leavers' events all attended and Arthur now finishing his reception year, on the very last day of term, Mike and myself turned up at the Breast Services department to hear the outcome of the operation.
It was good and bad.
We sat down in the consulting room with the Registrar (a new one who I may or may not have met when under the influence of 'the poppy', 10 days before - he looked vaguely familiar...) and Vanessa (my lovely breast care nurse). The wide local excision of the original cancerous Lump had been totally successful. The margins of healthy tissue taken (hence the 'wide' part of the procedure name) were all completely clear of cancer. Phew.
All four of the lymph nodes taken in the sample were completely buggered. (Sorry, cancerous.)
The Registrar broke the news that I would need to have a total axillary clearance after all. I burst into tears like a disappointed four year old and started to protest. But common sense and the gentle persuasion of husband, nurse and doctor won me over relatively quickly in the end. By the end of the consultation I'd agreed to a second operation. And now it was 'the sooner the better' as it was going to delay the next and important stage of the treatment: chemotherapy...
Strangely although both operations now feel quite distant that consultation, where I finally, (emotionally at least) let go of my remaining, brave, little lymph nodes could have been yesterday.
Then came the wait for the date of the second (and hopefully) final operation...