Sunday, 17 June 2012

Breast Cancer - one year on....

This week marks a very big anniversary in my life - one year on from my breast cancer diagnosis.  I still remember the phone conversation I had with my doctor exactly one year ago, like it was yesterday.  The first thing she asked was if anyone was home with me and I knew then that the news wasn't going to be good.  In reflection the past 12 months has been the most challenging of my life - physically, emotionally and mentally.  In another sense, it has also been the most rewarding.  My family and friends have always been important to me but I have come to appreciate that they really are the be all and end all in life - nothing seems worthwhile without them.  I have also made some special friends through this journey that I never would have had the chance to meet otherwise and I am so grateful for this.

Isn't this so strange; I woke up yesterday morning with my stomach churning - exactly the feeling I was experiencing this time last year when I was eagerly awaiting my test results.  I also just happened to look up at the clock at 3.20pm and recall this was the time, exactly 12 months ago where I was trying to call Ryan and my family to let them know the news. It was quite strange for me to be doing this as it is the same thing I (and probably all other mothers out there) do on my girls birthdays. Look at the clock and think, been in labour for 1, 3, 5 hours now. Then obviously at the exact time one of my girls was born. Was odd to be doing the same thing but thinking of the day I was told I had breast cancer.

I see it fitting that I update everyone on my 1 year anniversary.  My last blog entry was posted in January 2012 when I had completed my final radiation appointment, this marking the end of my treatment, hopefully forever.  Thankfully it didn't take too long to recover from the radiation but it was extremely important I kept covered up from the sun during the summer months.  This may sound like a reasonably easy thing to do, but we love the beach and I found this very difficult and frustrating at times!  The skin on my chest and under my arm is looking really good now although the 'tan' I have from the radiation is still very obvious.  

Since finishing my treatment, I have been keeping myself busy both with work and socially.  I tried to work as much as I could during my treatment which was a really nice distraction and kept things as normal as possible.  However I decided earlier this year to reduce my workload from 3 days a week to 2 days a week and I will continue to do this until Baylee is full time at school.  I love what I do and am so grateful for my wonderful (and flexible) bosses and work friends - they are amazing!

The past few months has seen me research the ways of improving my immune system.  This may seem trivial to most of you but there must have been a time in my life, a trigger, where the cells in my body became cancerous and my immune system was not able to fight them off.  Many believe diet and nutrition play a huge part, along with getting adequate sleep each night, regular exercise and minimising stress. I have also been looking at all the beauty products I use, from shampoo and conditioner to toothpaste and moisturisers, and have switched nearly all of them to organic brands. Green tea has also become my new favourite drink (it has so many wonderful qualities) which is a far cry from 12 months ago when I used to enjoy a DC on the rocks (diet coke!) every now and then. I haven't touched one since receiving my diagnosis!

Unfortunately, despite my attempts to rebuild my immune system I have still picked up a number of colds and sinus infections.  Only 4 weeks ago I came down with a sinus infection which needed antibiotics to clear up (I was really trying to avoid taking antibiotics so was a little disappointed when I was prescribed them).  It was around this time that I started to experience some pain in my chest, in particular my ribs.  I just put the discomfort down to all of the coughing I was doing in conjunction with the sinus infection.  When this worsened to the point where I was wincing in pain each time I coughed, I raced straight off to the doctor.  I am sure they think I am a bloody hypochondriac but unfortunately this is now reality for me.  Anything that is not quite right needs to be checked without hesitation.  My doctor could easily locate the inflammation (7th rib to be exact!) and I was advised to continue with my antibiotics and to start taking anti-inflammatries to reduce the pain and swelling.  Should it not subside or clear up within 2 - 3 days, I was advised to contact my Oncologist to bring my scans forward.  Must admit, this frightened me but thankfully the pain disappeared and I haven't experienced any discomfort since - phew!

On the topic of scans, I am booked in to have my CT scan and Bone scan on 20th August 2012.  Whilst this is still a good couple of months away, I can't help but feel anxious about it.  It is going to be a long day and will no doubt be very draining.  Unfortunately the worse thing will be the agonising wait before I receive the results - 2 full days!

I met with my Oncologist, Arlene Chan a couple of months ago and we spoke about statistics of recurrence, among other things.  She advised that at this point in my life there is a 33% chance the cancer will return (with the odds improving each year that goes by) and she went on to say that she won't say I am cancer free for at least 10 years.  I really wish she had dropped one of the 3's and just said 3% chance!  Needless to say, it all makes it very real again.  I just have to keep thinking that there is a 66% chance it won't return and please pray and hope that this is the case. 

Well my hair is doing weird and wonderful things.  Weird because I am having to learn how to style short hair (a first!), as well as deal with a wave that has decided to grow (another first!), but wonderful because I have hair again!  My hairdresser and I experimented with a darker colour a few months ago but I really disliked it so we recently coloured it back to my usual blonde which I much prefer!

The next major step in my journey (apart from the big scans in August) is my reconstructive surgery.  As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I have decided to have my left breast removed and a double reconstruction performed.  The main reason for this is a precautionary measure to eliminate the cancer ever returning in my left breast (the odds are far greater now that I have had breast cancer in my right).  I met with a fantastic plastic surgeon, Tony Connell, who specialises in breast reconstructive surgery and I couldn't have been happier with our initial consultation.  He really gave me hope and what I mean by that is the hope to look and feel normal again. I don't want to wear a prothesis for the rest of my life! I wish I could wear beautiful bras and wear young and modern bathers again.  The reconstructive procedure is quite gruelling and is known as latissimus dorsi breast reconstruction.  In a nutshell they will move part of my back muscle and rotate it around to my chest wall (on both sides).  Once the muscle is stitched in place, Tony will insert tissue expanders which will gradually be inflated over a 3 - 4 month period (to 'stretch' the skin).  Following this, the expanders will be removed and permanent implants placed under the muscle.  I am looking at having this done next February.

I am also very mindful that in the next few weeks I could be receiving the results from the gene testing I had done earlier in the year.  I am very anxious about what the result will be but it won't affect my decision in relation to having my other breast removed.  Should the result be positive to BRAC1 or BRCA2, I will seriously consider having a hysterectomy performed as having this gene increases my chance of ovarian cancer too - bloody great!

I continue to attend my support group meetings and really enjoy seeing the girls every month.  They are all so lovely and it gives us a good opportunity to chat about all things that concern, worry and affect us and we sometimes have guest speakers come along.  It is run through Breast Cancer Care WA and they always have a councillor on hand for us should we need them.  Whilst on the topic of Breast Cancer Care WA, this coming Friday 22nd June is Purple Bra Day and it would be wonderful if you could all donate whatever you can to this wonderful cause.  Breast Cancer Care WA is a  charity that provides personalised emotional, practical and financial support and care to people affected by breast cancer.  BCCWA receives no government funding, soley relying on the generosity of the WA community in order to provide its range of services at no charge.  

Earlier in the year, my car acquired a nice new set of pink number plates!  After much deliberation I decided to purchase the plates with the full cost being donated to National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) and I chose the numbers 611 to represent the month and year of my diagnosis.  Needless to say, it is very easy to spot my car in the car park now!

I also would like to thank all of my wonderful friends who sent cards and messages, marking the first anniversary of my diagnosis.  You have all played a part in helping me to  remain positive and giving me a reason to love life and to keep smiling.  

In finishing, I would like to share some photos from our recent trip to Bali.  We had a wonderful time with my parents, my sister Lizzy and her family, Ryan's parents and brother.  This holiday was booked after my 2nd chemo treatment so it was a trip I had been looking forward to for a very long time.  We had an amazing time and it lived up to all expectations!

 Ryan and I with Liz, Steve and Kyle at Ku De Ta (Seminyak, Bali)

Ryan and I enjoying a drink at Potato Head (Seminyak, Bali) 

My little family in the entry foyer of our beautiful hotel (InterContinental, Jimbaran Bay)

Our families enjoying Pre Dinner Drinks at Ku De Ta