Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Nailed it

So chemo just keeps on giving. As well as my heavy achy tax legs, my finger nails are coming lose and falling off. I feel like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. But definitely a lot less hairy.
Most of my fingernails have starting lifting up – basically they are no longer attached to the nail bed, apart from at the bottom. I was aware of this side effect of Docetaxel, but was told on the grapevine (or Facebook) that painting your nails with a dark varnish could help to protect them from UV light, as it is this that apparently reacts with the drugs causing damage to the nail. I’ve had dark gel on for the majority of the time I was having Tax, and up until about 3 weeks ago my nails seemed in good condition. However not anymore. Here is a picture of the offending nails once the gel had come off:


How attractive. The lighter bits of the nails are where they are no longer attached to my fingers. The thumb nail on my left hand has already fallen off. I did a repair job last night – painting them and sticking a false nail on my thumb where the real one has come off:

I'm hoping that no more of them decide to divorce themselves from my fingers, however the thumb nail on the other hand seems to be on the way out. So to add to my fake hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, I now have fake nails. Not much different to pre cancer times I hear you cry? Well these are not enhancements, but rather to cover up where bits of my body have fallen off or disappeared. They help me to look human enough to be able to go outside and not scare the the living daylights out of small children or people's pets. I am also soon to have a fake tit to make up for the one that will be removed. Just call me Frankenstein! Or Frankenboob....

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Node Basher

About a week or so ago I found what felt like a swollen lymph node in my 'good' armpit. Between then and Thursday night this week I'd convinced myself it was cancer. That the recent mammogram had missed something in my good boob and that it had spread to my lymph nodes and that was what I was feeling. I'd prodded and poked the poor thing until it was sore, earning me the nickname 'node basher' by my friend Aimee.  As what normally happens when any of us are in a panic about anything cancer related, Sarah, Aimee and myself had been talking that evening about my node with them trying to calm me down as much as is possible over Facebook messenger. 

After a sleepless night I decided to rock up at the breast unit without an appointment on Friday morning first thing and beg them to take pity on me. Within half an hour I'd seen my surgeon and been sent for an ultrasound. Whilst waiting for the scan, my plastic surgeon's registrar walked past and stopped to talk to me at which I promptly burst in to tears. The last time I saw her I also cried - not anything to do with her I might add as she is incredibly lovely. 

The radiographer who carried out the ultrasound was the same one who also scanned another armpit node and my tumour in October. Poor woman must think I have an obsession with nodes. In the 30 seconds she was silent as she scanned my armpit, I'd imagined that I had cancer in my nodes, that I'd need a CT scan and I'd be told it had spread elsewhere in my body and I was going to die. However, she told me that there was nothing suspicious, just a normal innocent looking node just minding it's own business, hanging out being all lymphy. After asking her to check and check again, I could have cried with relief. 

I cannot fault the level of care I received yesterday. I turned up in a state without and appointment and they made time to see me, check me and reassure me and I was out within an hour and a half, albeit feeling like a bit of a wally. I can't help wondering where strong, together Rebecca has gone? I had it all worked out, I was dealing with this. Now I feel like I've regressed several months and am back to thinking every ache and pain, every lump and bump is cancer. I know it is a genuine and legitimate worry and one I will live with for the rest of my life (however long that will be) but I feel like I'm in a constant state of anxiety (or Canxiety) at present. I need to learn how to control it and get back to being the person I was a month ago before it takes over my life. As the great founder of the Younger Breast Cancer Network says, why borrow tomorrow's sorrow? 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Plastic fantastic

I have a date for surgery! I went to see the plastic surgeon today and also had my pre-op. I have to say that the highlight of my day today (and yes I am joking) was standing topless in the middle of a room having photos taken of my boobs. I think the last of my dignity got up and walked out the room, waving as it went!

I lose my boob (and more importantly the tumour) on the 5th of February. As the results of my genetic testing for BRCA mutations were negative, they won't be removing the other one at the same time. However, because I still have a 25% risk of another breast cancer (as calculated by the genetic counsellor) I am opting to have the other one removed as soon as possible to reduce that risk. It won't be done at the same time as the bad one, as the priority is treating the cancer and the more surgery I have, the greater the risk of infection, which would delay my radiotherapy.

I will be having what is called a skin sparing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction with an expander implant. An expander is essentially an empty implant which gets pumped up gradually to stretch what skin is left after the mastectomy, until there is enough skin to put in an implant equal to the other side. So instead of a titty squash, I'll now be having a titty stretch!

As my sentinel node biopsy showed one out of five nodes as having cancer in, I'll also be having what is called a level two node clearance - all the lymph nodes removed from my armpit and chest. To be honest, I'm more worried about this than having my tit cut off. The node clearance will leave me with a number of possible side effects, including nerve damage, cording and permanent lymphoedema or the risk of developing it.

Because the inside of my breast will be essentially scooped out (like a jacket potato  - eew) the expander will need to go behind my pectoral muscle and be held in by what is called a 'strattice mesh'. It's basically a sling made of pig skin, but with the 'pig' taken out.

It's very likely that the radiotherapy will muck up the reconstruction and that things are going to need tweaking and fixing. Worst case scenario I could lose the expander and /or the strattice. But it's a risk I'm willing to take. The surgeon told me to look at the expander as a temporary fix until treatment is done, something that will slightly less traumatic for me than seeing a flat scar in the mirror every day where my breast used to be.

I'll probably be in hospital for three to four nights. I'm hoping I'll get a side room where my hairless cancer face and head won't be on show to the whole ward and their families! I'll also be doing my best impression of a boiler, what with the three drains that will be hanging out of my boob and armpit. Two these will come out before I leave hospital, but unfortunately one will be staying in and I'll have to carry it round with me for two weeks like an additional body part - "we've taken your boob but here's a bottle of bodily fluid instead!".

The surgeon will start filling the expander once I have completely healed, gradually filling it with saline at weekly or two weekly intervals. Once this is complete (and it shouldn't take that long - I'm not exactly Katie Price) then radiotherapy will begin.

This is very basic account of the next stage in my treatment. As you will hopefully see, it is not quite as simple as 'getting a new boob'. It's major surgery and a long drawn out process with it's own risks. But onwards and upwards as they say - bring on that scalpel (and the morphine!)

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A weighty issue

If you read my last couple of blog posts, you'll know that during chemo my weight has crept up and my fitness level has gone down, down, down. I still managed to run quite a bit whilst I was having FEC but Docetaxel put paid to that. The bone pain and muscle aches and general lack of energy meant that running began to be incredibly difficult and on many days just downright impossible. Even getting up the stairs was a bit of a mission. 

Anyway, I've put on more than a stone in weight since chemo started. Granted, I had lost weight by the beginning of treatment due to basically eating bugger all and running A LOT after my diagnosis. The cancer diet - I would not recommmend it! And i definitely do not want to do it again. My puffy steroid face has now retreated and I'm starting to look less like button moon thankfully, however my body is decidedly squdgier than it was. I keep being told that my weight gain isn't noticeable, but I know - most of my clothes don't fit and I'm limited to outfits I've bought in recent months and even those are beginning to get a little tight. My aim is to lose half a stone before surgery at the end of January and to try and get my fitness level up even just slightly - being able to run two miles without having to stop is my aim. 

Some may think this all sounds a bit shallow and that perhaps I have bigger things to worry about like my right boob trying to kill me, but the weight gain and loss of fitness are both things contributing to the fact that I no longer look and feel like me anymore. thast and the fact my head and face are hairless! I want to try and claw back some of the things that cancer and it's treatment have taken from me over the last few months and I'm already feeling a slightly better mentally knowing that I'm taking control over some areas of my life.

I started Weightwatchers yesterday. You can either use a daily allowance of points or you can have days when you eat as much as you want of certain foods as long as they are on a given list. Which is great for piglets like me. I also went out for a run today. Only a mile and a quarter but I'm going to try and go every day and try and build my fitness back up. I know its going to be very hard and I am nowhere near at the level I once was but at least I am taking steps to try and get there. I will keep you posted on my progress - watch this space as they say!

Sunday, 4 January 2015


I seem to have hit a low point, a bit of a nadir. I'm hoping that maybe it's just today, that it will pass. That I'll feel better tomorrow. In the meantime, I wanted to write down how I am feeling in the hope that somehow getting my thoughts out of my head and on to paper, as it were, will be cathartic.

My confidence is at an all time low. Everything that once defined who I was seems to have slipped away or changed. My personality, my looks, my interests, my relationships. I don't look like me any more. I try to avoid mirrors because I hate what I see. When I do look, I see a pale, tired representation of my former self. My features seem lost in my face. I look old and exhausted. I find myself shying away from situations that may mean my Before Cancer friends see me without my armour - I don't want them to see what lies underneath the make up and the wigs. A person to feel sorry for, to pity. Someone who is seriously ill. A cancer patient.

I hate my body and what it has become. Where there was once lean toned muscle I now see big arms, fat thighs and a bloated stomach. Where there was once a body that could carry me for miles and miles, complete race after race, a body that I was proud of, I now see one that has let me down, that I no longer trust, that I am frightened of. Where there was a person who could complete half marathons there is someone who struggles to run a mile without stopping to walk. Where there was once a woman who was confident and articulate, there is a person with a tangled, fuzzy brain who struggles to put sentences together. The achievements I have made over the last couple of years seem so long ago, stripped away by the last few months.

I feel like am no longer me. I'm constantly exhausted. I go out and all I can think about is going home and crawling in to bed. I feel boring, useless, pathetic. Why would anyone want to spend time with me when I can't offer them much in return?

I worry that I will never have another relationship again. After all, who would want me? I'm ugly and scarred - damaged goods.

It took me a long time to develop confidence in myself and my abilities, my looks, my self worth and now I feel ike all that has been shattered by this disease. The sense of loss is overwhelming, I've lost my hair, my body as it was, my confidence, my sense of self. I don't know who I am anymore. I feel defined by this disease and it's treatment.

Cancer has stripped me of my identity both internally and externally. All the things that made me who I was are gone. Somewhere along the line I've lost Rebecca and I'm not sure how to find her again.