Saturday 26 September 2015

D-Day Looms

I'm starting chemotherapy on Monday 28th September. That's in two days time.

I'm ridiculously nervous as you can imagine. It's weird I know I'm not going to be up for doing much for the next six months so I've been trying to fit in loads of fun stuff this week. Topshop treats, posh lunches, meals and drinks out. Lots of drinks out actually. To be fair this weeks been ace. (check the photo above) But now there's only two days to go and I'm running out of time and feeling pretty rubbish about it all.

Last night we went out for drinks with some of my work mates, which was lovely. However, when I'm in a large group it does make me notice how I deal with cancer. Usually with lots of jokes. Everyone knows I've got cancer and frankly I'm not ashamed about it. Hey you can either laugh or cry about it. I do realise that that can sometimes make people uncomfortable though. People relate cancer with death. No one wants to talk about death. Especially not on a Friday night.

Last night I had a cotton bud and a plaster on my arm were I had a blood test that morning. (The nurse had drawn a vampire smiley face on the plaster. Cute. So I'd kept it on for the night out) 'What have you done to your arm?' Asks rather rude random guy in the bar. 'Have you got aids? Or Gonorrhoea?' he chuckles.

'No I have cancer'. I said in the abrupt matter of fact kind of way I've become accustomed to saying it in.

I saw the colour drain from his face. As he stuttered and stammered trying to find the right thing to say I was howling with laughter inside. I like to think I'm a nice person generally. I don't like to think that I make my friends feel uncomfortable when I joke about cancer. But twats in bars? Yeah I can say what I want. If that means taking them down a peg or two. Bonus.

Actually theres been a couple of occasions after I was diagnosed that I've used my cancer as an excuse. Morally it's definitely questionable. A couple of weeks after I was diagnosed me and Michele went to our friends house. They were watching music videos on TV. I'm a massive Robbie Williams fan. (Sorry guilty pleasure). I asked them to put a bit of Robbie on. They said no. I said 'But I've got cancer so I should get my own way'. They looked fairly horrified to be fair but they put Robbie Williams greatest hits on TV and it was on all night. 

The other day I even used my cancer to get out of paying a fine on my Debenhams card. It was a £12 late payment fee. 'But I've got breast cancer. I had to have surgery. That's why I couldn't pay my bill on time' I whined in an email. Sure enough the fine was wiped from my account. 

I realise this is all pretty bad and honestly I really am a good person. But when life deals you a bad hand is it really so bad to try and use it to your advantage? There's a Silver lining in everything right? Cancer doesn't automatically turn you in to a Saint either. There's no handbook on how you're meant to deal with cancer day to day and what's morally acceptable. 

Below is an image of me at Pinturas Leeds two days before chemo. See despite what I said above I look like a decent human being don't I?! The tapas and drinks were all lovely and we had a great time. 

Actually do you reckon I could use my cancer to get free tapas and drinks?

Don't encourage me. 


Tuesday 15 September 2015

The IVF process AKA 'collecting the eggies'

I'm pretty sure every girl has a life plan. A life plan you don't mention to the man in your life at least until you're a good year in to your relationship - in case you sound like a pysco and he runs a mile! A girls life plan usually consists off a selection of things they want to achieve in life such as a career, buying a house, getting married etc and when they want to achieve all this by. Maybe lads have a life plan too? I'm pretty sure they just wing it though.

My life plan was nothing out of the ordinary. Get a degree, get a good job, fall in love, buy a house, get married and have babies. Simple. If I could become a millionaire in the process that would be great too.

I wanted two children. A boy and a girl. I'd have the first once I was married at about 29/30 years old. I'd have the second a couple of years after. I'd give birth naturally if possible. I'd breast feed. The plan was going great to be honest. I'd got a good job and fallen in love. We had just been for a viewing at a house we hoped to buy. 

Then everything changed.

Because I went and got fucking cancer.

The thing about cancer is it doesn't care about your plans. 

Before my diagnosis I had no idea chemotherapy could make you permanently infertile. I thought losing my hair was the major thing I had to worry about. Kath (BC nurse) burst that bubble pretty quickly. On the day I was diagnosed she went through the many common side effects of chemotherapy. She explained that chemotherapy kills fast growing sells such as cancer cells along with (good) fast growing cells. This is why you lose your hair. She went on to explain that chemotherapy may temporarily or permanently stop my ovaries producing eggs. We would therefore have to make arrangements for our future if this was to happen. 

Kath asked if we had any children either together or separately and how long we had been in a relationship. Dr S said he would arrange for the Reproductive clinic to contact us. 

'TOGETHER FOR THREE YEARS' Kath shouted after Dr S as he left the room to make the call. Apparently the IVF process is very strict in terms of funding. If you already have children or have not been in a relationship for very long you might not be able to freeze embryos on the NHS. To complete IVF without NHS funding costs thousands of pounds. 

We headed over to the Reproductive Clinic about a week after my diagnosis. We met with Dr R and he was very informative and took us through the whole process of freezing our embryos. There was so much information to take in. After we had seen Dr R I'd had a Prostap injection to bring on a temporary menopause. Yeah that's right I've got the menopause to deal with now too! (Hot flushes and all) I need this to protect me as my cancer is oestrogen positive meaning oestrogen makes it grow. I also started taking Letrozole tablets at this point too. These are a type of hormone therapy. 

After my Prostap injection I had a scan. As I laid on the bed I naively thought this would be a scan like pregnant woman have. I've seen it on films. The nurse will gently move the probe across my stomach and me and Michele will look lovingly at each other as we look at my little eggs on the ultrasound screen. Ermmm well it didn't quite go like that. The nurse took the probe that was attached to the ultrasound machine. Slicked on a condom added a bit of gel and shoved that straight up my vagina. No messing about. Not even dinner and drinks first. 

I had a bout 5 scans on separate occasions before I was ready for my eggs to be collected. I was also having injections daily for nearly two weeks at 10pm every night. These were administered at home by Dr Michele. (Best doctor I know) I couldn't face injecting myself in the stomach every day. I hate injections! I know what you are thinking. I should have got used to them by now. Well I haven't.

I was very nervous on the day of the egg collection. I kind of resented Michele for just being able to have a wank in a cup when I had to have a giant needle shoved up my vagina. I was second in the que for surgery. I heard the lady in front tell the anethesist she wasn't nervous and she just wanted to get it done. Bitch. 'I want the most drugs' I chirped at the anethesist when it was my turn to see her. 'The most you can give me'. 'We can't put you under Kirsty. Just heavily sedate you' the anethesist explained. 'That's fine but as much sedation as you can'.

The surgery went fine. I remember having to put my legs in stirrups and having an oxygen mask put on. Then there was a bit of 'cafuffilling' down below. The anethesist told me I could close my eyes if I wanted. Then she said I'm all done. As quick as that. I was actually in there for about 20 minutes. I think they give you some sort of drugs so that you don't remember what happened. I was wheeled back to the recovery room to sleep off the sedation.

I went home and slept for the rest of the afternoon. The next day I felt fine but the day after that and for the next couple of days I did have an awful stomach ache. I also looked about six months pregnant. We even rang the out of hours nurse at one point because we thought I might have ovarian hyperstimulation. It turns out it was nothing to worry about. It was just because, due to my situation, I wasn't having the embryos transferred back in. So they had pumped me with drugs and then just stopped so my body was just having a bit of a hard time dealing with it.

They ended up collecting 14 eggs. 6 of which fertilised successfully. I know IVF isn't always successful but at least we have been given this chance. 

You never know we might end up with six kids! (Help)

Saturday 5 September 2015

Wig Shopping

After I got my surgery results one of the breast cancer nurses told me she would get in touch with the wig shop so they could send me an appointment to have a wig fitted at the hospital. 

Ah the inevitable wig shop. When I was first diagnosed with cancer there were two things that I remember the breast cancer nurse telling me that caused me to cry. (Well cry a bit more than I already was. I had just been told I'd got cancer) One was 'possible permanent infertility' and the other was 'temporary hair loss'. I'm really embarrassed that I'm putting both those things in the same bracket. Obviously I'm more upset about the infertility but I can't help but be sad about loosing my hair. Kath (BC nurse) tells me that everyone gets upset when she mentions hair loss but I can't help but feel ridiculously vain that losing my hair makes me feel so emotional.

The wig shop that my breast clinic uses is Hair Plus in Leeds City Centre so me and mum and dad thought it would be a good idea to go and have a look around the shop before I have my wig fitting at the hospital. Hair Plus is located in the County arcade in Victoria Quarter. I had no idea where this was. I was a tad concerned when the nurse told me it was near the market. Oh god Its going to be some sort of fancy dress shop isn't it?! I'm going to end up with an illuminous Green wig or something! If I'm lucky maybe they'll be a witches Halloween outfit available and I could just use the Black wig from that. Hey the broom would even come in handy for brushing up my own hair when it falls out!! 

Anyway it turns out the shop was actually very nice and over in the posh part of town right opposite Mulberry. I'd been too preoccupied navigating me and the family over to the shop that I hadn't even thought about what to say when I entered the shop. Thankfully Mum saved the day (as always) and gently explained that I had cancer and just wanted to have a look at the wigs before my fitting at St Luke's hospital. 

The wig fitter was a lovely lady and let me try on a lot of wigs! I definitely felt like the wigs felt like wigs (does that even make sense) but the wig fitter said that was normal and it was just because I knew it was a wig. 

I would definitely recommend that patients try on the wigs before their actual fitting. I now have a bit more of an idea of what I want and don't want. I also know what the wigs actually feel like on (FYI hot and itchy) so I know what to expect. 

The picture at the top of the post is of me with a wig. Can you tell?? This was the selfie I did of myself. The 'wig shop lady' took aload more photos of me with various wigs on but as anyone who knows me will tell you I'm not great at having my photo taken (not unless I've had copious amounts of vino anyway). As soon as someone takes my picture I feel the need to smile (Michele says this is my insessive need to please people). But my smiles always awkward and then I always blink so I always have my eyes closed in the photo or just one eye closed, which makes me look like a heroin addict! 

I'm sure I'll be writing a lot more about wigs in the coming months and posting more photos. Although they are likely to be selfies. 


The Results are in!

It's been a tense two weeks and finally a couple of days ago we got the surgery results!

The tumour has been completely removed and my lymph nodes are clear so the cancer hasn't spread. We are all very relieved! 

We were given the news by Dr Boobs. (Sorry can't remember her real name) Dr Boobs thought it was appropriate to wear a low cut top revealing her orange bra to a Breast Clinic. A Breast Clinic you know where woman are told they are going to have their boobs cut off or in my case a chunk cut out of one. I'm no prude but I just found her completely inappropriate. She could be telling someone they are going to die for all she knows. 'Hey we have to chop both your tits off so you don't drop dead but to make you feel better check out my voluptuous rack!' Cheers Dr Boobs. Nice one. 

It wasn't just her inappropriate display of cleverage that pissed me off about Dr Boobs. On entering the room she walked straight over to my mum and asked if she was Kirsty. Ermmmm no that would be me. You see that paper in your hand with my date of birth on maybe have quick gander at that before you enter the room. Maybe next time I'll just wear an 'I have cancer' sticker on my forward. It would probably be about as appropriate as her fucking dress. 

She finally told me the results. Michele clapped when she said the cancer hadn't   spread. She continued to tell me what treatment I would be having with lots of pauses for emotion. Why does she want me to cry anyway? I will not cry in front of this idiot. 'You are going to have to have chemo.....' (Long pause for effect). 'Yeah I know' has she even read my notes at all! 

I was glad to be out of there this time and relieved to have some good news for a change but I'm crossing my fingers that Dr S is back next week. 

Or that Dr Boobs puts a jumper on. 


Thursday 3 September 2015

The Surgery

In the couple of weeks after my cancer diagnosis all I wanted was this lump out! 

That was until the day of my lumpectomy where all i wanted was to stay in bed and pretend I didn't have cancer at all! Obviously the radioactive injection I had to have the previous day wasn't having the desired effect in that I was hoping it was going to turn me into Superwoman, with an unbelievable pain threshold as one of my special powers! 

The day of the surgery I had to be at Bradford Royal Infirmmary for 7:30am. I had to fast before surgery so no breakfast for me. I was starving! I got to Ward 12 Mum, Dad and Michele all in tow and I was extremely nervous. It all seems so real once you're in the hospital and have been allocated your own bed. 

I got into my gown and my (not very sexy) White stockings. I was then joined by a nurse who started the long process of 'form filling'. They have so many forms to fill in it's ridiculous and I'm sure the nurses time would be better spent actually helping people!

Next came Dr Nervous. He was a junior doctor and he nervously asked me a million questions and hurriedly scribbled down my answers. Allergic to any medicines? No. Any heart problems? No. Any cancers or anything? Erm....Yes. I have breast cancer. That's why I'm here I answered far too abruptly. Sorry Dr Nervous. He coughed and quickly wrote it down.

In comes Dr S. I need to mark you up states Dr S ushering me to take my top off. Since I found my lump I've got so used to taking my top off and getting 'the girls out' that I reckon I could get them out in the middle of Asda and barely bat an eyelid! Dr Nervous concentrates very hard on his form filling. Poor boy I don't think his used to women getting their boobs out in front of him! Dr S draws on my left breast. ' X marks the spot' I joke. I see the corner of Dr S's mouth turn up but he doesn't quite smile. Dr S doesn't like to laugh.

I'm 'third in line' for surgery so I wait patiently until about 10:30am. Then the nurse calls me to go through. 'Do you need the loo?' I'd been for about eighteen 'wees' already so one more wont hurt. Then I was off, pillow in hand, on my way to theatre. Mum, Dad and Michele following behind me. Once we were outside the theatre I held back tears as I said my goodbyes to them. 

The theatre room was like Holby City. About 5 anethatists in blue gowns surrounded my bed, where I delicately laid my pillow down. 

This is it.

My kind nurse from Ward 12 undressed my top half and helped me on to the bed. One of the anethatists introduced herself to me and then snapped at the nurse for undressing me before I had got on the bed. God there's office politics in every office even if the office is a theatre.

By the time I was on the bed my leg was shaking. Familiar anethatist, who I had met earlier on in the morning, squeezed my foot and told me I'd be ok. It all happened very quickly from then onwards. A nurse started putting sticky stuff on my back, another was checking my blood pressure and pulse. A canula was put in to my hand and I started getting injections through it. I felt a liquid come up the back of my throat and I heaved and coughed. 'Sorry that was just me' said an anethatist. God knows what that was. I was starting to feel a bit whoozy. 'Now Kirsty you will feel an ache going all the way up your arm now'. This hurts. 'Arrrggghh'. 

I can hear familiar hospital beeps. I'm awake! Yes I've made it, I'm not dead!! I can see an anethatist with dark black hair and tanned skin. I started asking if she was Chilean as she looked like my friend. As the porter wheeled me back to Ward 12 I started blabbering on about how clean the hospital was and that it should be on Tripadvisor! (how embarrassing) I was so drugged up! 

The nurse wheeled me past the waiting room on to the ward explaining to my family that she needed ten minutes and then they could see me. I gave them a quick wave (Michele tells me I was still cross eyed at this point) and they waved back obediently. 

After a few minutes Mum, Dad and Michele joined me and I was still blabbering on about something or other. I felt very 'peaky' but I wasn't sick. 'I think you're just glad to be alive' Michele says laughing. Yeah I'm definitely glad it's over with! 

Later the nurse tells me I had a bit of a bleed during surgery and I had two bandages on one of my wounds. A waterproof bandage and a pressure bandage on top of that. She said she would like me to stay in hospital overnight so they could keep an eye on me. Visiting hours were over so I was left alone for a bit whilst I had my tea. Eurgh hospital food is disgusting! Soup that was meant to be minted pea but tasted like spicy vegetable. Followed by soggy pasta and over processed rice pudding. At least during tea time I got to know some of the other girls that were in there. A lovely blonde lady who seemed to want to talk to everyone. She had earlier helped tie the back of my gown so I could walk to the toilet without my rather fabulous paper knickers being on show! Also the lady next to her who had just had a mastectomy, who kindly offered me her orange juice. 

After tea I struggled to move my tray back and couldn't put the bed back down as I had no idea were the control was - So no sleep for me. I was hoping I would catch one of the nurses attention when they walked past but unfortunately they didn't walk past very often. To be honest they probably had more important things to do than adjusting my bed. 

My favourite time of the day in hospital was when it was 'drug time'. The nurse would walk through the ward with her drug cart like a mafia drug dealer and we were her smack heads desperate for their next fix. She told me I could have some more codeine and ibuprofen and then gave me an injection in my stomach. 

Mum, Dad and Michele came back to see me at the next visiting slot, which was 7pm. They were quickly followed by Dr S. I didn't expect to see him so late in the evening but he explained he had only just finished for the day. 'Why are you staying overnight' he asked abruptly. 'Erm....because the nurse told me to' I stuttered. 'You need to sleep and you won't sleep here. I'm happy to discharge you'. I had gotten used to the idea of staying overnight but I was more than happy to get back to my own bed and so I quickly got dressed. (Well as quickly as I could after surgery. Both mum and Michele helping me).

I started making my way out of the hospital. Ward 12 seemed such along way from the exit. I was really warm and by the time I was on the ground floor I was desperate for a drink of water. Michele rushed ahead to get some from the vending machine at reception while I sat with mum on some seats in the corridor. Unfortunately, the vending machine was broken so Michele went back upstairs to get a bottle of water. I started to feel a bit sick so I thought I best start making my way to the car. Dad had gone ahead to bring it nearer to the exit. I got outside and down the steps feeling sicker and sicker. Then a wave of nausea stopped me in my tracks. (Oh no I'm going to faint) I looked around for a seat as black spots started to blur my vision. The only seat I could see was in the smoking area a few feet away. Mum had started shouting for help by this point as I was wobbling all over the place. A man rushed over to help and hoisted me up by my left arm that I had just had surgery on. I screamed out in pain. Mum screamed at him to let go. Bless him he was only trying to help. Eventually he let go and I threw myself onto the seat in the smoking area. Next thing I know there was the porter there with a wheelchair and a nurse from Ward 12 waiting to take me back to the ward. It was like i had failed the first hurdle. 

I went back into the hospital until my blood pressure went back up. I was allowed to leave at about 9pm. I did a couple of test runs to the toilet to make sure I was up for the walk. In the end it was decided I would leave in a wheelchair. 

I'm now two weeks since surgery and pretty much back to normal apart from a little nerve tenderness. It was definitely difficult for the first few days. The first day or two I couldn't even get out of bed without help. I struggled not being able to have a proper bath for the first five days. The problem with a wound on your armpit is that your bandage can quite easily stink! The most shocking thing was the blue nipple I have due to the dye they put in during surgery. Apparently this can take 18 months to fade! Brilliant. So add having a smurfs nipple to the list of cancer problems. Oh and don't forget the blue pee! Which I noticed when I first went to the toilet....oh and yes the poo is blue as well. Like shitting slug pellets kind of blue!...No one said cancer was pretty!

At least the pain (and smell) ((and blue  smurf like bodily fluids)) was a distraction from the long wait for the results from surgery. If the tumour is not out with a good margin for error I would need to go back for further surgery. This happens to one in five woman who have this kind of surgery. There's also the lymph node biopsy results to worry about. I had a sentinel node biopsy during the surgery to remove my tumour. If breast cancer spreads to another body part it is likely to spread to the lymph nodes first. So if my lymph nodes show signs of cancer....well that wouldn't be good news.

So fingers crossed...


The MRI Scan

A couple of days later I head off to the BRI for an MRI scan. There's a rhyme in there somewhere! It turns out MRI's are no walk in the park either. Mind you no one said cancer was going to be easy. 

I was firstly put in an electric chair - well it might as well have been. I let Mr MRI know that too. I think he laughed although I noticed he didn't disagree.  As he inserted the catheter I politely told him I wasn't too keen on injections. He gave me one of those looks that I'm beginning to get accustomed to. The - don't you have cancer? You better get used to this -  kind of look.

I was told to lie on the bed face down in front of the spaceship (MRI machine) the bed had three holes in it. Two for the boobs one for the head. Lovely. 

The MRI scan was 20 minutes long, which doesn't sound a lot but it is when you are lying face down on a slab of plastic. Boobs dangling through the holes. I'll try not to paint you too much of a picture! 

The machine gets very loud said the nurse. I got myself settled and was given some headphones to drown out the noise. They kindly played Radio One for me. I tried to count the songs. Average song three minutes each. 4 songs in. God I must be half way through by now.

The machine shuffled about and made horrible hospital noises. This is the longest 20 minutes ever. 'Just two scans left now Kirsty'. Oh come on!! 'I'm just going to put the dye in now'. I felt the cold dye go through my veins for the final scan. This is only the beginning I thought. I need to be braver for this. 

The Diagnosis

After a worrying week or so I made my way back to the breast clinic for my core biopsy results. I had been nervous all week. But I had spoken to so many friends and colleagues who had breast lumps or new people who had lumps, all of which where benign, I felt confident that my lump would be a Fibroadenoma. It matched the criteria perfectly. I had a niggle in the back of my mind that it could be cancer but that's all it was a niggle in the back of my mind that would soon be squashed once I got my results.

Unfortunately that was not the case.

I sat on the bed in the examining room with Michele. I was then joined by Kath and a doctor I hadn't seen before, Dr T. The doctor quickly introduced herself made a little joke...something about me meeting so many different doctors I probably can't remember them all...she sat down and moved her chair right up to me so are knees where touching. She reached out and held my hand. Well this can't be good news. 

I'm sorry but we have found a breast cancer.

This was like an out of body experience. I couldn't take the words in. I could feel Michele grab my other hand and rub my back but I couldn't look at him yet. I started to cry. That embarrassed cry that British people do because they hate to cry in public. I started fanning my eyes in disgust! I wasn't meant to have cancer. I'm only 27 for fuck sake!! It was like I was in a bad dream and I was going to wake up from it at any moment. But I didn't wake up.

'Am I going to die?' I asked. I wonder how many people ask that question after their diagnosis? I reckon it's a pretty high percentage. 'Can I still drink wine?' That was my second question. Don't judge me.

I'll give you a few minutes the Dr said. I nipped to the toilet. I've always had a nervous bladder and now seemed like a good a time as any to go for a piss break. 

When I came back Kath started to tell me a little more about my cancer. 'Its treatable just remember that'. I clutched on to those words. I knew I needed to keep positive to get through this. She started telling me a little more about my cancer. I have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. One of the most common breast cancers and its a grade 3. This type of breast cancer is graded 1-3. Grade 3 means the cells are 'most changed'. 

I didn't know at this point about the cancer being HER+ and oestrogen+. The next step was a mamagram. I hadn't had one previously due to my age (mamagrams often aren't used on the young due to beast density) But this was just a formality. 'A tick in the box' Kath said. 

If you have ever had a mamagram before you will know how unpleasant they can be. 'Can you take any more?' the nurse said as she pushed the plastic plates against my boobs. 'Yep' I grimaced. I've got cancer now i need to man up! Squish 'em as hard as you can! 

After the mamagram I was quickly sent to the ultrasound room. Familiar Mr Ultrasound greeted me and I laid on the bed. He started prodding my right breast. Hmm pretty sure my tumours in my left breast. As he jabbed at my right breast I politely asked lovely mamagram nurse if there was also something wrong with my right breast. 'I don't think so' chirps up Mr Ultrasound. Oh good glad we're all on the same page.

Once I'm back in the safety of the examining room Kath and Dr S explain that a calcification had been found on my right breast during the mamagram. They think it's nothing to worry about but I need an MRI scan to find out what's going on with my right breast and get a bit more of a detailed picture of what's going on in the left. 

It's just one thing after another with breast cancer isn't it?! 
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