Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Hey Cancer.... you messed with the wrong girl!

As I sit here on the couch tonight I think about the milestone I have just achieved.  Exactly 84 days ago I commenced my very first Chemotherapy treatment.  I recall the days following my first session and I thought there was no way in the world I was going to get through another 5 treatments.  In fact, there was a time I thought the Chemo itself might kill me.  So as you can imagine I am quietly (albeit feeling a little nauseas) celebrating my 5th round of Chemotherapy treatment.  It is hard to describe exactly the emotion I am feeling - actually if you can recall the closing scene in Flashdance when she is dancing to 'What a Feeling'.... this would be pretty close!  I remember very clearly when it was 1 treatment down and 5 to go and now I am 5 treatments down and 1 to go!!!!

With only 1 treatment remaining my Dad is already planning a party to be held up in the Chemo suite on my last day - I hope The Mount is ready for it! ha ha  So nice of them to be feeling the way I am also... bring on the celebrations!  I saw a t-shirt just recently which read 'My wife's/daughter's/sister's/friend's battle is my battle' (there are a few variations so I listed them all) and I couldn't agree more.  Everyone has been there for me every step of the way and to this day I still think about ways of trying to repay everyone for their unconditional support.

My lovely Mum joined me for today's Chemo session and it was nice just chatting.  Of course, Dad couldn't keep away so he popped in and Ryan also had a break from work and popped in to see me.  I am so lucky to have so much love and support.  It makes me very sad when I see the other patients arriving by themselves to have their treatment and I just hope that it was their decision to come on their own.  

As much as I wish I wasn't going through this for my family's sake I am so grateful we have our little girls as they keep me very busy and distracted which definitely takes my mind off things.  In fact I have to share a funny story that happened last week!  I was playing hairdressers with Jasmine and Baylee and we were taking it turns putting plaits and clips in their hair.  After they had had a few turns I said what about Mummy's hair and I took my scarf off.  Jasmine laughed and said 'but you don't have any hair Mummy - silly billy'! but Baylee's eyes widened and she said 'oh no, where has your hair gone Mummy!!' (even through she sees me bald every day) and I replied 'I don't know what happened to it - where has it gone' and she says 'Daddy took it away' (Ryan was the one who shaved my head) and I said 'where did he put it' and she says 'In the bin - I will go and get it'!!!  I couldn't help but have a good laugh :)

I have been very fortunate to be involved in a couple of special morning teas held this month to raise much needed funds for Breast Cancer Research.  A couple of weeks ago my lovely Burswood colleagues held a morning tea and Jaz and I went along to see everyone and to enjoy the yummy food :)  We had a great time and lots of money was raised.  We had a nice group photo taken which might be printed in the Burswood staff magazine - and I have attached this below!

Ryan and I also held a 'pink' morning tea last week with our families and a couple of friends.  It was a lovely morning and we raised $520 in just over an hour.  Great effort by all!  I have also attached below a couple of pics.

Speaking of events, Ryan and I were very fortunate to be invited to the Lexus Ball which raises funds for Telethon.  We had a fantastic evening and got to rub shoulders with some of the stars attending Telethon!!  It was so nice to get frocked up, enjoy a beautiful meal, have a glass of bubbly and a dance :)  

I would also like to make special mention of my sister's friend Nicki Turner who recently took part in the Relay for Life event which raises money for cancer research.  She decided to 'walk for me' and I am so very honoured by this touching gesture.  She raised $320 on the day!  Thank you so much Nicki :)

I am currently reading Dr Ian Gawler's book called 'You Can Conquer Cancer'.  I am finding it very interesting and wanted to share a paragraph with you that I often think about:
'It is known that throughout the lifetime of every healthy person, cancerous cells develop in their body.  This is a medically accepted fact.  It also is accepted that the body normally recognises these abnormal cells as a potential threat to its health and acts quickly to isolate and destroy them.  It does so before any physical symptoms become apparent.  However, in cancer patients, this does not happen and the growths continue unopposed.  The body offers no resistance and symptoms of cancer are the result.'

It still saddens me to think that I am fighting breast cancer.  As naive as this may sound I still think of it as an older woman's disease - which I know sounds ridiculous!  I am trying to remain very positive but it is hard sometimes - so many thoughts running through your head (and sometimes they aren't positive) but I just have to keep reminding myself that yes this really sucks but there is nothing I can do about it and I just need to keep moving forward and focus on finishing all of my treatment.   I often think - why did this have to happen? and not just happen to me but to anyone?  Gosh, life can be unfair sometimes.  I just hope the money that we all raise will be put to good use and the cause and subsequent cure will be found very soon.  :(  I mostly have good days now but I can't deny that some days I just put on a brave face and try and be as bubbly as possible so no-one picks up on my sadness.

Chemo - Round 4 
Wed 5th October 2011

Lexus (Telethon Ball)
Sat 15th October 2011

Burswood Team
Pink Ribbon Morning Tea

Mum, Liz, Me and Dad
Pink Ribbon Morning Tea

Thursday, 6 October 2011

A couple of bumps in the road

Firstly, I have to start this post by reminding you all that October is International Breast Cancer Awareness month!  It would be wonderful if you could all show your support it in some way :)

This past week has been a tough one.  I woke up last Friday morning with a really sore upper right arm (the side of my recent surgery) and noticed it was swollen and very red.  This really worried me (like most aches and pains I get these days) as I thought it was the start of Lymphodema - a chronic, debilitating condition in which excess fluid collects in tissues and causes swelling and numerous other side effects.  Unfortunately I am at greater risk of this condition as I had to have the lymph nodes removed under my arm when it was found that the cancer had spread from my breast.  Once Lymphodema sets in, it is something you are stuck with for life and therefore needs to be monitored and managed to minimise side effects.  As I'm sure you can imagine, I raced off to the Physio who took my measurements and after viewing the redness and swelling advised it was Cellulitis - a skin infection caused by bacteria.  We were a little baffled as to how I picked this up but I went straight off to my GP who prescribed some strong antibiotics to clear it up immediately.  I was told to keep an eye on it and if it hadn't started to improve within 24 hours I may be admitted to hospital to have antibiotics administered intravenously. Of course I followed my GP's instructions closely; lots of rest, no heavy lifting, elevate the arm if possible, etc. and thankfully it started to clear up.  My biggest concern was that my next round of Chemo was so close (5 days away) and I was worried my Oncologist wouldn't let me proceed with round 4 due to my low white blood cell count.  Battling an infection is tough enough when you're healthy, so you can imagine how tough it is when you're on Chemo.  The good news is that although my white blood cell count was a little lower than normal, I was still able to proceed with Chemo - what a relief!  Gosh, I never thought I would be excited about having Chemo but this week I was.  I am getting so close to the end that I didn't want anything to stop me from having treatment.  Wednesday 16th November is the magic date for me (very last Chemo session) and it can't come quick enough!!

Tonight I am lying on the couch feeling sore and sorry for myself after another gruelling round at the cocktail lounge (aka Chemo ward).  My Dad joined me again this time and we had a great time keeping the lovely nurses entertained.  We were well fed and have managed to reduce the treatment time down to 2.5 hours - hallelujah!  With 4 cycles down and only 2 more to go, I have to admit I am really going to miss the nurses in the ward.  They are all so lovely and I really enjoy my time with them - I think it might be a little sad saying goodbye to them when I finish my treatment in November.  In saying this though, I hope I NEVER EVER have to see them again - well not in a hospital environment anyway!

I have had some other things on my mind of late, namely gene testing and breast reconstruction.  Again, a few more things I never thought I would ever have to consider at the tender age of 35 years young.  I have been tossing up about the gene testing for quite some time and still haven't made up my mind about whether to proceed or not.  I have read and been advised that less than 5% of all breast cancer cases are inherited by a genetic gene fault so it is likely that I don't have the gene. However, I have to admit that I am curious, especially after receiving my diagnosis so young.  I also think about the future for Jasmine and Baylee, especially if I have the BRCA gene.  But regardless, if I have the gene or not, they are still going to have to be vigilant about having yearly mammograms and ultrasounds from the age of 18 - something I wish they didn't have to have done at such an early age.  My fingers and toes are tightly crossed that a cure will be found well before they reach this age.

It is at this time that I now start to think about breast reconstructive surgery.  Gosh I thought there was lots to think about with the gene testing - wow, I was wrong!!!  I don't even know where to start with the surgery.  There are so many options that I need to weigh up.  One of my first jobs is to find a reputable surgeon who specialises in reconstructive surgery.  Let me get something very clear here - this ain't no 'boob job' contrary to many people mentioning how lucky I am to be getting some new boobs :-/  There is so much to consider with one of the main ones being whether to have my other breast removed to reduce the risk of the cancer returning in this area. I would then have expanders inserted under the skin to stretch the chest wall (first surgery) for a period of time, then to decide whether to use skin and muscle from my back to form new breasts or to have implants (second surgery). Then there's the lengthy hospital stays for these procedures, risks of infection and of course recovery time afterwards to think about.  Thankfully I don't have to make these decisions now as I still have to get through 5 weeks of radiation December but it is something that is weighing on my mind.

After attending my first support group last month, I was surprised to hear that quite a few of the ladies suffered some form of loneliness or depression after their treatment was over.  I initially found this really strange - I thought they would be celebrating!  They explained that the Chemo treatments and radiation appointments kept them focused on getting better and once they were finished and were given the all clear, they were kind-of expected to go back to 'normal'.  I think after something like this it is very hard to just go back to normal.  There is no doubt there will always be that unsettling feeling of what the future holds but again, I try not to think to much about this and pray that I will be here one day to celebrate my 100th birthday ;)  My good friend Mel actually put it perfectly in a little message to me not long ago - she said 'No Em, your life should not be expected to go back to normal, it should be bigger and better than ever' - and I think she is absolutely right.

I have to say one huge positive to come out of my diagnosis is not only the closeness with my family (which was already very tight knit to begin with) but the even stronger bonds I have now with some friends, and the new friendships I have made along the way.    

I thought I would sign off with a few quotes that a special friend sent to me recently - hope you enjoy :)

'Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie.  Don't save it for a special occasion.  Today is special'

'Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift'

'You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have'