Tag Archives: cancer

Cancer update #4 (one week since op)

I’m still here, recovering as well as can be expected really.  It hurts a fair bit, and when it’s not hurting it itches. I know that itching is a sign of healing, but it’s really irritating nonetheless.

The incision under my arm is about 8 times larger than usual, and it’s cut through muscle, so that’s the one that is causing me the most grief.  The lymph node was clearly busy hiding and not wanting to be removed.  I have most of the movement back in that arm now, I even was able to lie on my left side last night, so it’s healing slowly but surely.

I have almost one more week off work to complete the majority of healing, and an appointment with the hospital on Monday to go through the next treatment steps.  It’s unlikely that I’ll need more surgery (15% chance) or chemo (20% chance) so it’s more likely they’ll check how I’m healing up and propose a date to see someone about starting radiotherapy based on how fast I’m healing.

I’m somewhat anxious about Monday because I don’t know what is going to happen.  This is understandable and unsurprising.  I will be taking my partners along with me, who the hospital has been very good with, so I have all the support I need, and so they understand what happens next.

Mostly I’ve been spending time on the computer reading twitter, blogs, playing games, and spending time catching up on TV.  Lovely people have visited me and brought me gifts of tasty food, hugs and their company.  I have received flowers from friends, and calls from people checking in on me that I’m ok. I am very grateful for all the support and love, and it has really helped.

I’m looking forward to joining the Boob Club so I have a support network of people who’ve been where I am now (or who may be where I am now).  There is always the risk when you join a group of people with a specific interest that that may be the only thing that you have in common.  I’m sure I will find other women who are into social justice, queer rights, and cooking (not necessarily all at the same time).  That’s not too much to ask.

I’ve been thinking about Chally’s recent post “What not to say to someone in hospital, part one“, after a call I received from one of my work vendors (as in she’s the account manager for a company and I manage the contract between her company and my client).  She was asking me questions about how I was going, as she’d just found out about my diagnosis and surgery, and I was thinking that some of those questions were incredibly impolite.  I like her, she’s lovely, but asking me if the surgery involved the removal of my breast isn’t really something I’d ask someone I had a professional relationship with.  People are strange.  It’s that blurred line between working with someone for years (in this case about 5) and knowing each other well, and what the actual relationship is.  It didn’t upset me, I just thought it was inappropriate and something I need to consider for the future.

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Cancer Update #3 (post op)

So I’m sitting at home now, mostly able to type, much clearer headed, and healing.  There is a wide range of movement I can’t do, and I’m still figuring out bits of that.

I’ve been sleeping in our recliner couch for the past 2 nights as I have been worried that sleeping in my own bed would be too uncomfortable, mostly due to an inability to roll from side to side, and getting up being a real pain the side.  I might graduate to sleeping in my bed tonight, I don’t know yet.  My neck would certainly appreciate me sleeping in my own bed, but we’ll see.

I have two rather large incisions on me.  One under my arm where the sentinel lymph node was taken, and one where the tumour was removed. If I cared about such things, I’m fortunate that both of the scars (when they eventually heal) will be in non-visible locations.  I’m actually a little disappointed about that, I think that scars are cool.

The incision under my arm is the one that hurts the most.  This isn’t surprising as that is the location that sees a lot more movement (twisting, lifting, rubbing, etc).

Yesterday was a day of minimal food as I was still feeling nauseous thanks to the operation, pain and the drugs I was taking.  Today I feel way more human and I aim to try the delicious looking cake my sister has made for me. I also want to go for a walk around the block to get my body a bit more mobile and drop the neck pain I have.

I could go through the ins and outs of Wednesday (surgery), but I won’t (unless you want me to) other than to say it was a really long day, the staff at the Royal Women’s Hospital are fantastic, and that it was slightly worse than I expected it to be.

I won’t get the results of the biopsies of the tumour and sentinel lymph node until Monday week, so in the interim I heal, continue to be spoilt by my loved ones, and gradually each day become more and more independent.

Today I could undress myself, tomorrow I might even be able to shower on my own.  The wonders of a body which can heal itself from invasive surgery.

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Cancer Update #2

So today I went and got my other test results (blood test, biopsy of another anomaly) and spoke to the surgeon and breast cancer nurse about surgery on Wednesday.  I probably won’t be blogging immediately after the surgery, not the least because they’ll be operating under my left arm (in the arm pit) and that means that typing and the like isn’t on the agenda for a few days.

I’ll state this up front – this whole thing seems so unreal.  I am not obviously sick, I do not feel sick.  Apart from some pain where the tumour apparently is against the chest wall, I don’t feel like I have cancer – whatever that feels like.  Wednesday is going to make the whole thing a lot more real, and that’s both scary and reassuring.  Scary because cancer is scary.  Reassuring because I do feel a little like an imposter right now, because I feel mostly fine (just stressed).

Anyway – today’s visit to the hospital had my blood test results completely normal (with slight vitamin D deficiency which is unsurprising as it is winter), and the biopsy coming back completely clear.  We went through all the process for the pre-op stuff, told how much it’s going to hurt (a fair amount), and how much I’m going to have to wait (a lot), and reassured about some of the side effects, like the blue dye that is used to trace the lymph node paths will stain my skin – that’s normal.

Also we went through some worst case scenarios, just so I was across them.  The nurse was impressed that I was so calm and in control – that is my default state, I will probably fall apart later – and that’s ok too.

So a week off work (this week) and possibly some time of work next week to ensure I’m healing well.  A further biopsy of the tumour after it has been removed builds the next step scenarios.  Best case, I have 4 – 6 weeks of radiotherapy a month after surgery, and then on a drug for 5 – 10 years.  Worst case, I have additional surgery and/or chemo before radiotherapy and medication for years.

Yes I’ll probably keep blogging about cancer, because writing stuff down helps me sort through it.  I do want to blog about other things to, and once I’ve gotten the big bits out of the way, I’ll probably go back to doing just that.

I do want to say how grateful I am to have been born in Australia and eligible, thanks to my citizenship, to access free healthcare.  All of this treatment will cost me very little.  The medication will be the most costly part.  The operation, radiotherapy, and consultation visits will be covered by my taxes and the paid taxes of other people.  This is a fantastic thing, and means that I don’t have to ask myself if treating possible cancer is something I need to do or is it something I can live with.  I do wish people in other countries without “socialised medical systems” could access the level of care that I will be accessing for the cost that I will be paying.

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Cancer update #1

So yes, I’ll be blogging about cancer from time to time, as a way to keep everyone updated, and to save me having the same conversation over and over.  Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, but I enjoy efficiency.

Today I had my appointment at the Royal Women’s Hospital to meet the breast surgeon, breast cancer nurse and find out more about the next steps.  I might have surgery as early as next week – which is much sooner than I anticipated.  The breast surgeon also wanted a biopsy of something that was noted in the first radiology report on my right breast just to be on the safe side, so I got one of those too.  It is most likely a regular, bog-standard lymph node, but the surgeon wants to be extra, extra sure because you shouldn’t mess around with cancer.

I was also told that the reason my tumour is so goddamn painful, is that it’s sitting on the chest wall – so that’s kinda helpful and still annoying.

I also need to get a blood test, but as I was insufficiently hydrated today, I’ll get that tomorrow after lunch.  Must go and get a glass of water.

This biopsy was far less painful.  I told the doctor performing it that I cried for an hour after the last one as it was so incredibly painful, so she made sure there was extra local anaesthetic and waited for it to take effect.  We also laughed a lot, which was nice, but weird when people are jabbing needles into you.  I don’t think they appreciated my joke that ultrasound gel is like semen in that it gets everywhere – and I probably should have self-censored that, but I have cancer, and some jokes get made.

So next steps are surgery (very soon), 6 – 8 weeks of healing (and hopefully no follow up surgery), 4 – 6 weeks of radiotherapy Monday through Friday, and then medication for 5 years.  This all assumes that my tumour tests negative to HER2, which I have an 80% of it doing so.

Just quietly, Breast Cancer information in Australia (at least) is incredibly cissexist.  Hugely cissexist, and it makes me uncomfortable.

How am I doing?  I’m pretty good right now.  Every now and again I feel overwhelmed with what’s happening and anxious – but that’s to be expected.  I like having plans, and knowing what’s going to happen next, even though some of that is a little nebulous and fluid because it depends on things we don’t yet know 100%.  I’m not particularly fussed about having scars on my breasts (something I used to think about as a kid anyway, because I liked the look of ritual scarification).  I am somewhat concerned about radiotherapy, because that sounds intense and annoying (but is also far enough away in the future for it not to be an immediate concern).  I am mostly ok with the idea of medication, I think I’ll be able to manage the common side-effects in a way that works for everyone concerned.

Also, outing yourself as non-monogamous at the hospital straight up is easy, particularly in Australia in the public health system in metropolitan hospitals (other areas may vary).  I brought both partners with me to the appointment, and made it very clear that they were my partners.  It was written in my file, along with my medical history, and everyone was cool with it. In fact one doctor said that I was lucky to have the extra support.

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