Oncology, Private Healthcare & Free Tits

Monday 18th January

Today is January 18th and I’ve met my oncologist, and like the other consultant, she is just lovely. Very considered. I’m having to learn lots of new words, but frankly, some of the information is just too much to remember. I got packed off with books and books from the original ‘you’ve got cancer’ meeting a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve no intention of reading – how very dull. The plan: we start the chemo on Thursday 5th February. That’s all I need to know.

Private healthcare – what an absolute godsend. Not only do I get seen quicker and the process expedited but I also have the HUGE bonus of chemo at home. Okay, it wasn’t exactly what I had on my Christmas list BUT it’s made my day. I’ll be allocated a nurse and a plan. Phoning up to speak to the insurance company was actually far less horrific than I expected it to be.

I genuinely thought you had a policy, you get the dreaded lurgy, and you get paid out.

I’m still struggling to say the words, it’s becoming more real every time, but the lady I spoke to was fabulous very considerate and kind. Which is more than can be said for the delight I spoke to about my Critical Illness cover. I’d taken the policy out about 10 years ago when I used to smoke. I stopped 6 years ago but this didn’t stop her from very coldly asking me how many fags I used to smoke. I explained that I honestly couldn’t recall; when you stop you tend not to focus on the quantity of nicotine you inhaled daily. It upset me, actually. It was like she was trying to imply I’d created this cancer myself.

Furthermore, the policy I’d taken out was a smokers’ policy so I honestly couldn’t see the relevance of this. I explained this to her in my usual gentle manner, whilst she held onto her throat. We seemed to understand each other from that point on. She explained that the claim would have to go to the underwriters for a decision. Now, this did surprise me. I genuinely thought you had a policy, you get the dreaded lurgy, and you get paid out. Anyway, least of my worries right now, I’ll let fate determine the right outcome for me.

I might have mentioned that being in control is important to me so I decided the clever thing to do to help me through this journey was to keep a kind of diary of how I felt each day after each ‘spa treatment’ as I’ve renamed them – kinda of makes them more palatable, I think. I figured I needed something that I could refer to that I could see if there was a pattern. So I brought a whiteboard home from work, one of the girls from work had very kindly put some black tape on it so I could mark off the days of the week. What I did was date it and fill in relevant events from the first week of February through to the end of March. Then each day I could add a smiley face or a sad face and score my days. Whilst this sound REALLY childish, I cannot tell you what a great idea it was. It helped me to see patterns of good days and bad which then enabled me to plan more effectively.

 

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My mood board

I’m delighted to say that my operation date was brought forward to accommodate the dinner I was looking forward to on the 22nd.

 

Wednesday 20th January

What a result! FREE TITS!!!

So January 20th started with a lovely trip to the city hospital to have some dye injected into my nipple. Yes, you read that right. I can’t even begin to describe what happened simply because I didn’t want to watch. The horror of seeing the needle stabbed into a very delicate part of my anatomy was not something I needed to experience. Today’s operation is to remove a lymph node so they can send it off to ensure the cancers not escaped, the dye is to highlight the lymph node for surgery. I arrive at the private hospital having had nothing to eat all day except water. The anaesthetist, the consultant, the food nurse, the ward nurse and the ‘I’m here to help you nurse’ all paid me a visit. The anaesthetist wasn’t thrilled that I’d been drinking water – in truth, I hadn’t read the letter properly – typical me, I’m afraid. It was a bit touch and go as to whether they would operate but I managed to convince them I’d be just fine. Which of course I was.

Back from surgery within a blink of an eye – actually closer to 2 hours, but it didn’t feel like that for me. The surgeon came in and explained again what they had done and why and that we should get the results within the next week or so and for me not to worry. He’s a real sweetie. He also told me that after the chemo I’d have an operation to remove whatever’s left of the cancer and he would rebuild my boob.

“Sorry? Are you telling me I’ll get new tits?’ I demanded.

“Erm… yes Vicki, I am,” he replied, somewhat bashfully.

“Oh my God, can I pick the size?”

“Erm… yes, you can.”

“And will you make them point in the right direction?” I’m nearly squealing by this point.

“Yes, I can.”

“You, Mr. G have just made my made my day. A boob job. Oh my God, how lucky am I?”

I genuinely couldn’t be happier. Big boobs like mine aren’t exactly the prettiest things you’ve ever seen, a bit like oversized saddle bags that quite frankly have never pointed in the right direction. In fact, I had investigated and paid a deposit to have an uplift about 6 years ago but bottled it, not because of the pain but I really didn’t fancy having more scars to add to my body. What a result! FREE TITS!!!

I wasn’t allowed to leave until I’d eaten, drunk and had a wee. If they’d have let me I’d have been gone within half an hour; I’d completed all the tasks. My recovery from anaesthetic is remarkable, always has been (my life on the orthopaedic ward back in 1990 after my motorbike accident enabled me to perfect this), but they needed me to stay a further hour just to be sure. I wasn’t sore at all and felt right as rain.

The Final Spa Treatment

Friday May 27th

Friday May 27th and I’m so done, in every single way. I had my last spa session yesterday, just nine days or so to get through. I’m currently sat in bed after a long sleep and I feel OK this morning. I’ve got a collection of visitors to keep me entertained again today. I’m delighted to say that this session was just one cannula and they took their time to shove the chemicals in. So now I’ve just got to batten down the hatches have lots of sleep and take care of myself.

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One thing you don’t think about is your veins. I know that’s weird, isn’t it? But you don’t and I cannot tell you how sore they become. Certain parts of your arms become so sensitive to touch because I’m guessing they’ve been so badly damaged throughout the excessive chemical warfare they’ve had to cope with. I’ve been to a therapist and had a couple of oncology qualified massages – which by the way have been fabulous. They exist so don’t miss out on some real spa treatments. Go and find someone who’s qualified to deliver, it really does help. The only issue is when they massage your arms – I kept forgetting to tell her just how much it hurt and it’s a weird pain – a bit like toothache – hard to describe but excruciating just the same.

Thursday 2nd June

I’m free – June 2nd Karen and I jet off to Spain – I know really I shouldn’t be going anywhere I’m not even a full week after the last chemo but as I said I’m at maximum coping capacity with all of this and I just need to believe and feel like it’s over. So a holiday seems like a great way to do that. Sadly however my emotions aren’t exactly playing ball and I’ve done nothing but cry since I got to the airport. Now please don’t misunderstand me, my kids have been absolutely amazing as have my friends, but this has been a battle. MY BATTLE. And whilst I might not want to moan about it continuously it has taken its toll on me.

I hadn’t actually mentioned this little jaunt to Spain to the clinical staff or the consultant. I just didn’t want to be told I couldn’t go.

I just need some time out to get over what’s happened. On the huge positive I’m a whole stone lighter and feel psychically great. I don’t think I’ve been on holiday feeling slim in years so that’s a huge positive…just better make sure I don’t eat too much whilst I’m away. I’ve packed my trainers and hope to walk 7-8 miles a day. I need the training for the 46-mile trek I’m doing at the end of the month. So I need to do it for that, but it also gives me headspace.

3 June

It’s been a great remedy to clear away all the horror of this. I hadn’t actually mentioned this little jaunt to Spain to the clinical staff or the consultant. I just didn’t want to be told I couldn’t go. I’ve not even bothered finding out if I can get insurance. I mean, what’s the point? I’m sure I’ll be fine and to be honest for four days what could go wrong? Famous last words I hear you say, but thankfully everything was fine.

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The time away was just what I needed, although I spent the first two days crying. Poor Karen, I’m not sure she knew what to do with me. I’d like to blame the FEC but in truth, I think I needed to just get it all out of my system. I’ve realised that my coping strategy is about ploughing through with utter positivity and then when it’s over I have an enormous meltdown. Thinking back, this is how I’ve dealt with virtually every horror story I’ve had to go through. Who cares? It works for me. Healthy or not, it’s the way I’m built and I’m not going to give myself grief for it either. So I’ve cried for two days – so what? Although I should have bought some shares in Kleenex first, I think…

Monday 13th June

So here we are, June 13th and that’s it, chemo done. In my view, the biggest horror is over. Now for the good bits: my brand new boobs and the radiotherapy.

I saw the surgeon last week and we’ve sorted out my new boobs. I can’t tell you how pleased I am about that. Mine currently weigh-in at a large 36F and whilst I do have some beautiful underwear, I’ve had to spend a fortune from specialist shops, so I’ve requested a pair of double Ds. I noticed that you can virtually get anything in a D cup and I’m a bird that likes choices. I was unaware that they do your poorly boob first then after the radiotherapy they wait six months. Apparently, the radiotherapy not only burns your beautiful new boob but it can take six months for it to get back to normal. But you know what? I don’t really care. I’m better off than many women who lose their boobs, so for me I’ve just got to have some patience…another skill I’m embracing.

Sunday 31st July

It’s the 31st July and I’m mindful that I’ve neglected my blog updates for some time. For that, I apologise but I’ve been busy getting on with my life; holidays, trips away going to see my friends, and completing the 46-mile walk. The best bit is that we came 14th place out of 280. Not bad for a cancer-ridden chemotherapied bird!!!

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Treatment Ends. So Much has Changed

I have THE most perfectly formed boob.

A fair few cancer-related things have happened during the last few months. I’ve had an operation which removed what was left of the cancer (praise be the lord) and tomorrow I start radiotherapy. I’ve also been put on tamoxifen tablets which have sent me crazy… or crazier some would say. The tablets have made me suffer from anxiety and a horrific bout of overthinking. I’ve also become very bored now of this whole cancer thing, the procedures and everything, so forgive me.

So let’s start with the operation first. I cannot tell you how utterly delighted I am with the results of my operation. I have THE most perfectly formed boob. They tend to do one at a time so that they can treat it with radio and when it’s settled down they build the other one to match… so a free boob job. RESULT! With boobs, my shape and size, trust me this is a welcome gift. My consultant has been superb, he’s explained everything to me, showed me pictures and really reassured me. He even gave me options of how the scarring could look. His compassion and care has been incredible to the point where I would have argued I was his only patient.

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On the day of the operation, I arrived at the hospital after a mini shopping trip with Clips. I checked in and received delicious menus that I wasn’t able to actually pick from because I wouldn’t be back in time from the operation…mildly irritating. As usual, a collection of nurses arrive and pre-checks were done. I’m off for a scan and to have a wire fitted. I’m not really sure what this means – I’m not stupid but what they explained seems a bit odd to me, but they assured me it would be no worse than the biopsy. They lied. It’s clearly not something they’ve ever had done themselves. It was absolutely hideous and I’m not one to complain. It nearly made me cry, it was that awful. Not so much painful as such just lots of tugging and pulling.

That completed, my consultant drew some pretty black lines over my boob. We had a really good laugh about his dreadful drawings and that was that off – I went to the operating theatre. As the anaesthetist injected the anaesthetic he said: “I’m sorry but this will make your throat sore.” I was a bit confused until I awoke in the recovery room and my next feeling was exactly that. It made me laugh. I’m not lying, it was literally a second later that I woke up and felt my sore throat. The consultant appeared after a few minutes to admire his handiwork and let me have a look. OH MY GOD…a perfectly formed boob! It looks amazing. A perky boob at my age…how fabulous.

Healing has been quick and simple. I’ve been back for a few dressing changes but all in all, nothing to complain about. I’m a bit lopsided but hey the cancer’s gone with good margins (they measure around the cancer to ensure that it’s all completely gone).

Radio therapy attire
My Radiotherapy Attire

The radiotherapy isn’t quite what you think. I think we all have this idea that because cancer is such a scary word that anything that goes with it will either hurt or be a trauma. Well, rest assured, the radio is nothing. Your first consultation is about lining you up correctly so they zap the right bit. They put three little tiny tattoos on you (a bit like X marks the spot). I asked for flowers but apparently, that’s not doable, lol. In order to not zap your heart, they need you to breathe in and hold your breath whilst they do the treatment for a maximum count of 20. It’s fine, it’s no big deal.

The treatment involves you lying on a very hard cold stretcher/bed with your arms raised above your head and placed in rests so that you’re laying prone. It takes about 15 mins from start to finish…it’s a breeze. I did feel a little tired the first week. As the treatment can make you sore I’d been recommended some “magic” cream by one of the consultants that, so far so good, seems to have done the trick and stopped me from burning or suffering from discomfort.

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The radiotherapy is usually at the same time each day and it’s every weekday so there’s not much wriggle room for going away, but don’t worry I managed it. My consultant sent me a text me after the first week to see how I was getting on. He caught me mid-continent on a 2-night cruise to Bruges, which he has never let me forget. He couldn’t believe that I would be well enough to go on a trip away for the weekend.

Cruise to Burge
Cruise to Bruges

I’ve had to have a chat with the consultant, though, about the Tamoxifen. It’s dawning on me that emotionally I just don’t react too well to lots of hormones. Some years ago, I had the depo injection and it sent me crazy, crying all the time about nothing, exploding at the smallest thing. The thyroxin I take for my underactive thyroid gave me the worst anxiety ever. It was so bad I informed the doctor that I wouldn’t be taking it anymore. She said that was fine, but after my thyroid had stopped working and I’d gone into a coma then perhaps I might like to rethink. I did. I take them every day.

Sadly the Tamoxifen have had the same effect – they have sent me crazy. I’ve never been paranoid, nor do I overthink. I guess they’re now two new experiences to add to the list. The consultant explained that four per cent of women suffer from this, so I’m delighted to say I’m one of them and I’ve got to put up with it for 10 years. The Tamoxifen is prescribed to stop you from getting cancer again and the best bit… they bring on early menopause. Although in my case, “early” menopause might be the wrong phrase; I’m 47, not 30. Anyway, apparently, the average age is 52, just so you know. So it seems I have no choice; I have to take them. On the basis that they only drive me crazy during my hormonal week, I’ve decided next month I’m going do battle. I’m not letting a bloody tablet beat me, no chance.

Thursday 25th August

I welcome to you August 25th because today is the last day that I need to lay here on this really cold hard bed with my arms above my head, in stirrups, staring at the balloons and trees they’ve put on the ceiling so we’ve got something to look at as we lie here getting zapped. I feel a bit emosh, to be honest. It has been a long journey, which at times has felt like forever and yet now it all seems to have gone rather quickly. All in all, today has been a big day. My youngest has found out that he’s passed all 9 of his GCSEs and the eldest had a remark of his A levels and with A* and two As he’s off to Leeds Uni to study law. And me, well I’ve come to the end of my cancer journey. Last treatment for me. Yes, I have another operation but that’s merely cosmetic not cancer-related. What an unbelievable 8 months!

So much has changed.