Thursday, 13 June 2013

How do you measure a year ~ Breast Cancer

It's been a year today since my breast cancer diagnosis.  ... Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes.

Give or take a few.

Do you even celebrate something like that !
Or merely celebrate living through it all and still thriving.

The Invasive Ductal carcinoma /cancer I was diagnosed with (after surgery and pathology results) was ER & P Postive (Oestrogen / Progesterone ) and HER positive (HER2 receptor positive). An aggressive kind in just 20% of women. Stage II because it had spread 3.5 mm into one Sentinel lymph node.

Right here, I would also like to point out I had very few complications. Apart from one overnight hospitalisation, for vomiting/dehydration and fever, my treatment has been relatively straightforward. Some of my friends spent weeks in hospital with 'critically' low white cells, in isolation, away from their kids.

It was none the less horrendous, they mostly leave you to suffer the side effects at home. A crap experience but you do get through it.

Having cancer ; surgery and chemotherapy, it's been a full time job. I didn't have radiation because I choose to have a mastectomy. If not it would have meant leaving home for 6wks or 4-6hrs round-trip each day to the nearest regional hospital with a Linear Accelerator (Radiation machine) ; at the time they only had one machine for all of Central West NSW .

Who's counting ...
  • Double mastectomy
  • Insertion of Port-a-Cath (minor operation)
  • Overnight stay due to dehydration / fever
  • Two breast 'core' biopsies
  • Nuclear medicine scan called Lymphoscintigraphy for Sentinel Node Biospy (injections of blue dye directly into breast to map spread of cancer)
  • 1 Bone scan
  • 1 chest xray
  • 1 chest lump ultrasound.
  • 1 mammogram
  • 1 breast ultrasound
  • one dozen+ dressing changes -including community nurse home visits and  going to local hospital community nurse - because I had my axillary/breast drain for a month)
  • 4 x three weekly AC chemotherapy (July to Sept -2 different chemos - so 8 treatments and extra anti-nausea and steroid meds - 4 to 5 hours)
  • 12 x weekly Taxol Chemo October to Jan (approx -length 3 hours)
  • 11 x 3 weekly Herceptin infusion (average 2 hours)...SIX more to go till October
  • 4 Heart scans (3 x MUGA and Echo) ...#5 MUGA heart scan next week
  • 4 Surgical consultations
  • 10 Oncology consultations
  • Hundreds of anti-nausea meds (I had paid $36.10 a week x 8wks for 2 pills, plus I was chomping down Maxolon by the handful)
  • 20+ blood tests (guessing here - 3 weekly, then weekly for 3 months, now I have them 6wkly, my blood levels are still out of whack).
  • 4 months of daily Tamoxifen tablets ...balance of 5-10 years to go.
  • Hundreds of vitamins swallowed - Calcium, Vit D, Flaxseed, CQ10 and other.
  • Look Good, Feel Better Program
  • Encore After Breast Cancer exercise program 6 of 8 (2hrs per week -2 more weeks to go)
  • 9,000kms+ traveled for surgery x 2 , surgical and oncology appointments and first 3 months of 3 weekly chemo.
  • Lymphodema  Consultation and education.
  • One Naturopathy consultation.
  • (Another knee x-ray, thigh 'neurofibroma' ultrasound, another surgical consult).
  • 2 Hair colours after my hair grew back (a first and second for me)
  • Infinite hours lying awake 'sucking up' my fears and holding back tears.The fear of cancer returning is a constant worry (at times very emotionally exhausting).
  • Immeasurable words of encouragement, support, prayers and friendship. I do not know how I would have done it without my HUSBAND, my family and friends and my interwebz community.
  • Countless reasons to smile, find a silver lining and count my blessings.
  • Hours upon hours walking, even when fatigue and nausea was knocking the stuffing out of me ,(and now with running) because exercise has proven to reduce risk of cancer returning.
  • 14km City to surf, 5km Color run and 4km Mothers day Classic
  • $10,000 + in medical costs, $7k-$8k out of pocket, (not including keeping our Private health Insurance going).
  • Plus PUBLIC Chemotherapy patients in NSW rural and regional areas are still forced to pay* for their chemo and anti nausea medications $500 plus at the moment.
*just saying it is still subsidised on PBS - just not free like it was for my first 3 months chemo in a Sydney Public Hospital.

I don't care that I lost my breasts.Reconstruction is complicated and not on my radar any time soon. It's also very expensive...meh - I have $1000 prostheses and a frilly bra I hardly wear. Running is more fun, with less bounce.

I can't don't work apart from doing bookwork for my husband's business and mothering ...I still had to help cook, clean (maybe less because you don't need high standards living in a converted farm shed), listen to home-reading and empty the laundry basket on occasion. My husband really stepped in to care for us all.

I'm fortunate blogging can be done from the comfort of my pjs and home. Plus it has given my kids a few extras, they would not have had otherwise.

In between there is waiting for Drs, waiting for your turn in the Chemo lounge, and waiting while they access the port-a-cath, take bloods, deliver my bloods to pathology, wait for results , wash their hands, then infuse chemo ; so poisonous they gown, double glove or wear thick purple gloves and mask. Then flush the lines, more hand washing, and then remove the port needle from my chest. Send me on my way...all with a smile.

Still waiting was easy enough to endure with my iPad or a book.

Today, it's reason enough to celebrate I'm here after one year.