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'