A Shortish Catch Up.

Last time I wrote, I was about to go for an Ultrasound scan, physically, it was bearable, I did have an aspiration of the fluid, it was a little painful but not too bad. The fluid was sent for analysis and I heard today that it is nothing to worry about, apparently, the right side lumpiness at the excision site is caused by a thick-walled cyst and the fluid is as would be expected, so nothing to worry about. The area of discomfort away from the operation site showed nothing abnormal and is most likely a side effect of healing from Radiotherapy.

The emotional effects of having the ultrasound were further reaching, and this is why I have taken so long to write another blog. This is the only appointment I have gone to alone, as it was such short notice, Ray wasn’t able to get the time off to go with me.

Sitting waiting to be called, I looked around the busy waiting area, it was fairly easy to speculate by the expressions on their and their companions’ faces whether the women waiting were on their first call back, waiting to get biopsy results, for post-op or post treatment check-ups,. There was only one other woman on her own, I didn’t mind being alone, I kind of felt like a senior student observing the ‘newbies’ and more experienced students on the first day of the academic year.

I did not anticipate how I would feel having the ultrasound. I was totally fixated on the screen trying to see if the images were anything like those I saw when I went for the biopsies last September. The nursing staff assured me that there was nothing suspicious to see, but would aspirate the fluid to relieve the pressure. It was a little painful, rather like having a blood test, the nursing staff are so kind and compassionate, and they really took care to treat me kindly.

During the afternoon and evening I could feel myself sinking, having the ultrasound brought back all those feelings from when I was tested and diagnosed with Bi-Lateral Breast Cancer. It really knocked me sideways for the rest of last week.

The low mood was pervasive, I could not seem to shake it off and it made me doubt and question decisions I have made recently and unusually for me, to regret one of them in particular.

Josh’s girlfriend Liza, passed her driving test on Thursday, I was so pleased for her, we took them out for dinner to celebrate, I kicked myself up the bum and put on a happy attitude for the evening. But on Friday I felt just as low.

The weekend was good, Megan and I went to art journaling class on Saturday, I put all my feelings in to my journal, it was very therapeutic. On Sunday Ray cut the grass for the first time this year, the garden looks lovely now. I did some weeding between the patio stones and cleaned out and re-filled the bird feeders, something which I have been meaning to do for weeks. Being outside in the sunshine did me the power of good and I am feeling better now.

I have started to make a list each day of what I am grateful for after reading this post on Sue Fitzmaurice’s Facebook page: 

The Blues

Today I am grateful for a beautiful warm day, for a productive short-day at work, the colours of daffodils ranging from white to deep yellow and the tree blossom from white to cerise, for it being warm enough to have all my car windows open on the drive home, the smell of a bonfire, bringing back good memories of times in the garden where I grew up tending a fire of garden waste with my Dad, and also the scent of fresh mown grass, one of my most favourite smells and guaranteed to raise my mood.

Gratitude

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Creativity – Make A Little Birdhouse In Your Soul

Time has flown since my last blog, and I have not been sleeping well and have not felt up to writing by the time we all sit down to watch TV in the evenings. Well, to be honest, I listen and glance at it every now and then between typing, it no longer holds my attention as it used to.

Last Wednesday was the first session of the HOPE Course, myself and seven women talked about our Cancers, our feelings, our families and our jobs, the marvellous thing being that we all understood each other. Individually, we had shared the fears, pain, stress, worry in any or all combinations and more. To be able to speak and share together is tremendously healing.

For part of the session, we talked about Gratitude, and were given a sheet to complete for each day to record what we are grateful for and why. This is something I had planned to do but haven’t, I was hoping the sheet would give me the motivation to write something for each day but I’ve not managed it, but I am not going to chastise myself over it.

We also thought about setting ‘SMARTER’ goals:

Specific – Am I clear exactly what my goal is?

Measurable – How will I know when I have completed my goal? What does it look like?

Achievable – Can I really achieve this task? (Don’t set yourself up to fail!)

Relevant – Is the goal important to you?

Time-Bound – When do I want to have reached my goal?

Enjoyable – Is my goal enjoyable?

Reward – What reward will I give myself when I am successful?

Each of us chose a goal for the coming week, mine was to start and complete a small craft project, specifically to decorate a miniature MDF Birdhouse, and I am happy to report that I have achieved my goal!

This is the blank birdhouse:

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It is a first attempt, I experimented with some stamping inks which I thought were solvent based, turns out they weren’t, so when I painted the varnish over the print it ran. Fortunately, I had only used this stamp on one area and was able to wipe it off and then re-apply using the solvent based inks I had used for the remainder of the project. But I am encouraged to do more crafting, I really enjoyed the sticking, stamping, painting in the flowers and varnishing the little birdhouse.

And this is the finished project:

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Creativity is something I aspire to immerse myself in, but I seem to spend more time looking for ideas in Pinterest than actually working on a project. One of my goals for this year is to give myself time to work on crafting and sewing, I am hopeful that this is an achievable goal.

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Although still suffering from fatigue, generally speaking, I feel much more myself, more mentally alert than I have done for some time. My skin is working its way through the healing process, the redness has progressed to looking more like a dirty sun burn, and has started to peel.  The random stabbing pains in my breasts can be troublesome at times and sleeping varies from uncomfortable through to painful. If I lay awkwardly in my sleep, it can take a while for the pain to subside, sometimes I can’t find a comfortable position for my arms, this is all quite normal after treatment for breast cancer, but that doesn’t stop it being frustrating. I carried too much the other day and suffered for it during the night, a lesson learned in moderation, just when I feel I should be healed enough, my body reminds me that I am not.

Ann, who leads the relaxation classes at the Lynda Jackson Macmillan Centre is qualified in lots of therapeutic things including Yoga and is also a retired Nurse, made me feel like a naughty child last week for saying that I was planning to go back to work in a few weeks. She says I shouldn’t rush back, should give my mind and body plenty of time to come to terms with the Cancer diagnosis and treatment, this has been a recurring opinion from many of the health care team I have seen over the past few months. I told Ann it felt like I was being told off by my mum, what I didn’t say was that like my teenage self, I will do what I feel I have to do and return to work part time in two weeks’ time anyway. I will do what I can, I may surprise myself and hit the ground running, or I may struggle with lack of concentration and with fatigue, time will tell.

I do worry about the concentration issue, as with all breast cancer patients, to keep my chest, shoulder and arm muscles and tendons supple I have a thrice daily exercise routine, the practice for these is to do each exercise five times, and some to a count of ten. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but I cannot manage to count to ten and also remember how many repetitions I have done. I start off OK, I can count to ten but then my mind wanders and I forget where I am up to with the repetitions.

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Today has been a bad day, low energy and what started as a low grade headache has progressed to a full blown one, with tense shoulders and neck to go with it. I have the second session of the HOPE Course in the morning so I’m heading off to bed with some painkillers and hope for the best that it will be gone when I wake up.

Radiotherapy Burns

After a few reasonably good days, Ray and I both had a real downer on Sunday. Megan needed to go to Hemel so Ray drove and I tagged along. Ray and I crept along like a couple of snails, we didn’t feel well enough to manage our normal walking pace and came home as soon as Megan had finished her shopping. When we got back Ray went off to bed and I followed soon after, we both felt better after a snooze. It has been a while since we both needed to rest in the afternoon, we slept well overnight too so we obviously needed it.

Butterflies

I had my quarterly B12 injection in my bottom for the first time on Monday, it used to hurt when I had it in my arm but this time I didn’t feel it at all, that was a pleasant surprise! Tomorrow I have to go for the Pre-Op assessment for the operation to remove the Scleral Buckle in my left eye. That will be interesting, I expect to have to go through the whole explanation about why I can’t have blood or blood pressure taken from my arms. I wonder if I will need a cannula for the operation and if so will that have to go in my leg? The implications of having Sentinel Node Biopsies to both armpits begin to have more significance when needing medical treatment.

Ray saw his GP for a check-up, he will be off work until after seeing Dr Burn in early February, if Dr Burn is in agreement then he can go back part time to begin with. Ray and I went over to London Colney in the afternoon, I didn’t want him driving all that way on his own as he has only just started driving again. Ray dropped me off at TK Maxx and then went round to his head office. His colleagues were pleased to see him and he was able to have a chat with his Chief Exec about a return to work plan. Prior to his return, Ray will have a meeting with his Chief Exec, Heath & Safety Advisor and Occupational Health Advisor to agree the phased return plan, workload and any other issues relevant to his future working arrangements. It sounds like they have his best interests at heart which is very reassuring.

Another pleasant surprise on Monday was having my blog listed in the weekly round-up of ‘best blogs’ on the ‘Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer’ page: http://journeyingbeyondbreastcancer.com/2015/01/10/weekly-round-up-94/

I was honoured to have my blog featured, I have been following the page for a while and have read some brilliant articles there, and on the weekly round-up list, so to have mine included gave me a real boost.

I have been brought quite low by events last week and am still struggling with the implications to my future happiness. I am trying to forget about it but it is not easy to keep it out of my mind, it is night time when I should be sleeping that it really plays on my mind. I can only hope that this situation will improve with time.

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But I have had my mood lifted this week by kind friends sending supportive messages to me on Facebook, and for this I am grateful, you have kept me out of the pits dear ladies, thank you!

Today, Ray and I went for Tuesday Relaxation at the Lynda Jackson Macmillan Centre, after the session we went round to the Radiotherapy Department so that I could ask for some advice about my nipple blister. The Radiotherapy Nurse was very helpful, she gave me some lotion to use, and a medicated dressing to try as well. She also confirmed that I should not think about going back to work until the blistering and sore skin is healing well. The skin in the area which had the intensive booster treatment last week is getting more tender and red with each day, it could continue to do so up to four weeks after finishing my treatment. It isn’t quite like sunburn as the redness begins in the area in and around each skin pore and then gradually spreads out to the surrounding skin, it is beginning to itch sporadically but it is bearable.

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But I remain optimistic, the skin and physical scars will heal soon, the emotional scars will take longer, maybe even my lifetime, I’m not sure if having Cancer has changed me, maybe it is really too soon to tell. When I am back to my ‘pre-cancer treatment’ routine I may become more aware of changes in my outlook on life. Having the outlet of this blog is wonderful, I have always found it easier to express my feelings in writing, and in posting blogs I have been better able to understand and work through what has been happening to me since being called back after routine Mammogram screening for biopsies and then receiving the diagnosis.

Many years ago, when I was a babe in arms, my Nana Rose was looking after me with Great Aunt May, my Nan was one of fourteen children (twelve surviving past infancy). Great Aunt May had put me in my nightdress, one of those with a pull in tie at the neck that they no longer make because of babies being suffocated, and had laid me in my cot to sleep. Well you can probably guess what happened, my Nan came in to check on me and I was blue and not breathing, this was before mouth to mouth was common knowledge, my Nan says she undid the nightdress, took me outside, and prayed to God to save me. She used to tell us this story often, and she said that God had saved me for a reason and that I would have a special purpose in life.

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I don’t know what she was hoping for, but I’m not sure I have achieved anything special. But maybe writing this blog, sharing my experiences of Breast Cancer to help others is it? My son and daughter each have a friend with a mother recently diagnosed with Breast Cancer, they tell me that both women have been following my blog, if my words can help, then yes, I guess that I have achieved something.

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Early Days

I had three Core Biopsy samples taken from each breast on Wednesday 24th September 2014. The results would take one week, the wait for the results stretched before me and the discomfort from the Biopsies was a constant reminder. The first few days I was anxious and impatient to get the results but this anxiety reduced the nearer the day of the appointment came.

Although I was less anxious, my concentration sporadically deserted me, I found it hard to focus for long.  I would be busily working on something one minute and staring out of the window the next . 

On Wednesday 1st October I went to work as normal, I was more productive on that morning than I had been on the previous day, I guess that was the adrenaline keeping me going. I met Ray at home and we left for my appointment at Wycombe Hospital, the Breast Unit is newly refurbished, it is light, comfortable and calm. Ray & I were first to book in and as we waited to be seen the ladies who had also been for their ‘call back’ appointments the same time as me on the previous Wednesday began to arrive with their ‘supporters’ to get their results. 

Ray & I tried to sit & read but both gave up after a few minutes. Eventually we were collected by a Breast Care Nurse (BCN) and taken to see the Doctor. Sitting facing the scan pictures of my bobbies we were given the ‘verdict’. Unfortunately I have Grade 2 Ductal Carcinoma in both breasts, not just one, two! How does that happen? I Well I suppose I have never been a person to do things by halves 😉

Ray & I were then taken to a ‘quiet room’ with Zoe – the BCN, she left us for a short time to compose ourselves, Ray was very upset, I am doing my usual, no tears and more concerned with everyone else’s well-being. This I know has to stop, someone told me I have to focus on my own well-being until this challenge is obeaten, she is right, but over-writing a life times ‘programming’ does not come easily!

So, when Zoe came back she explained that I will be seeing the surgeon on Monday to find out more and should expect to have surgery within the next four weeks. Zoe advised not to ‘Google’ my diagnosis, I told her I would, as those of you who know me well are aware – it would take at the minimum handcuffs and a blindfold to keep me from getting as much information as I possibly can. So we agreed that I will only look at ‘reputable sites’.

I was not shocked about my diagnosis – I had already compared the Ultrasound pictures the Doctor had shown me on the screen the previous week with similar pictures on Google Images – I had found several that looked similar with the annotation of being Ductal Carcinoma and I had the feeling that it would not be good news, somehow I had just ‘felt’ it.

As I have said, I suspected that this would be the result and am not sure if the diagnosis hasn’t properly registered yet or if I am just coping with it… time will tell, at this stage telling others is probably the hardest part.

Josh & Liza were first home so were the first to be told, then I spoke to my sister Nicola, Ray’s sister Maureen phoned during the early evening and then Megan arrived home from work. My eldest sister Sharon was on Grand-children ‘sitting’ duties so was the final call of the day.

I am maintaining ‘a stiff upper lip’, this is getting frustrating, yes I know a good cry would be the healthy thing for me to do, but I can’t force tears, never have been able to.

So now it is Friday afternoon, I took the afternoon off work as I was nodding off at my desk this morning – came home and went to sleep – I’ve been doing a lot of that lately although not when I should be – like at night time, when normal souls are resting I am wide awake!  I posted this picture on Facebook this week ‘cos it amused me, my good friend Jan called me ‘Bat Girl’ today, it seems such an accurate description of my bodies seemingly preferred sleeping habit that I might just take up the nickname 🙂

Batman!

Hmm, I might just be needing body armour like that when I’ve had my op, a kevlar breast plate could be the way to go to protect my sore bobbies!