Wednesday, 29 June 2011

All's Quiet

Tuesday through to Friday (days 7-10), of this week, are my low immune days in this cycle. Compared to my last cycle, I am doing a lot better.

All I seem to be dealing with are a couple of skin conditions and the usual fatigue. I can thank the needle for the better run. Furthermore, I heard that the needle, which I will have after my next chemo, may not knock me about as much as it did this time. For that, I would be most grateful. And, if does have the same affect, that is, I am confined to my bed for three days, we'll deal with that too.

I had two really good naps today. So, I am trusting that my body used that rest time well to start rebuilding the cells that were smashed by chemo.

I really don't have anything else to share. No news is good news though hey?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Confessions Of A Cancer Patient

Confession No.1
I haven't been rinsing four times a day. Aside from being over it, it is quite simply making me gag. Swishing that funny tasting water in my mouth and then throwing it all back to gargle is too hard at the moment. Unfortunately though, my mouth is going to pay. Today, probably the third day of being slack in this area, I have noticed that my mouth feels weird against my tongue. So, with my head low and hands that are very unwilling to mix, I do vow to rinse my mouth tonight and four times each day from hereafter.

Confession No. 2
I have a red splotch on my face. Yesterday, I noticed a tiny red bump on my cheek bone. The skin was not pierced, there was no pain or itchiness. Today, the tiny red bump has spread. I was told that chemo can affect skin and create conditions. This must be a "condition". Strange.

Confession No. 3
The wound in my arm pit has opened a bit. I have noticed a small opening of the wound at one end. A couple of weeks ago, I had been concerned because there was a little discomfort in the same area. The G.P. had suggested that it was a hair that was stuck. Since there is no pain or inflammation, I am going to assume that my body will take care of the matter.

Confession No. 4
I have a flat head. Well, I fooled you, didn't I? Despite my round head appearance in the photos, I must confess that I have a flat head. It's exactly like what babies get from sleeping on their backs.

Confession No. 5
I ate beetroot chips and I liked it. You know you are moving to the other side when you begin to snack, for pleasure, on vegetables. Try them though, they're yum. (Paleo followers may find the vegetable oil questionable...)

Today, I have been tired. I really do need to have two naps. Or, at least, to lay down twice. The age of my children, certainly makes this possible. And now, with the added bonus of two healthy children it's not too much to ask. The end of the day is when I feel both the most tired and the most active. Once the children have eaten, had a bath and are in bed (that can take a lot of energy) I feel as though I can relax. Then, the quiet house motivates me to get a few things done. I did an on-line grocery shop tonight. I used this service when child number two was a newborn. I love it! So, I am (I'm laughing as I type this because it's so ridiculous) looking forward to my groceries arriving. What an idiot! Actually that deserves a paragraph all on its own...

(Final) Confession No. 6
I am totally looking forward to receiving my groceries. In an effort to preserve my health, I have stayed at home. So, as you can well imagine, my enthusiasm for the little things has multiplied. In fact, having fewer options these days, for anything, has made me appreciate what I've got. And, that's not a bad thing.

Enough confessions. Good night.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Climbing Back Up The Mountain

This last weekend has been the toughest! On Friday and Saturday I was unable to move. I just had no energy. At all. I recall being tired when I was pregnant. And, for those of you who have experienced that, that is how I felt. Except I couldn't push through it like I was able to when I was pregnant. My body wanted nothing else but to rest. I was deflated. So, the husband took the day off work Friday and then maintained homeland duties Saturday and Sunday. Poor guy! While I was terribly sorry that he had to do it all alone, there was nothing in me that could help. It certainly got me thinking though...

I have read quite a number of breast cancer stories where women reported that their partners left them after their diagnosis. Now, my judgemental self looked down at those blokes and tutted at such cowardly behaviour. I have to retract that now though. While there is no way my husband would choose that (so grateful), I can certainly better understand why, for some people, it's the better decision. To be a support person you have to be in it 100%, there is no half-hearted effort. Just after my diagnosis, a friend, who was told they had terminal cancer (they survived though), shared that their experience was that it was the partner who had it the toughest. That, in fact, it was easier to be the one with the cancer. The point has been taken. The husband had to look after the children and the demanding, cancer patient. All at the while, trying to keep up morale. It's hard work. I love the husband. He was a good pick.

Just because I am wanting to be open about all the stuff to do with chemo... I have to report that I needed Movicol. Now, if you look at the name of the product carefully you may be able to work out what it does for the human body without the google search. Actually, I'm looking at the box and it has a picture of a big wave on it. I am pretty sure that I do not want a wave to occur but anyway... Last chemo, I had eagerly eaten prunes on the off chance that the drugs would cause constipation (there I said it). This time, I rested on my laurels and all too soon it was the weekend and nothing was happenning that should be happenning, if you know what I mean. So, I took the meds. I am pleased to report that they did work. Moving along (pun not intended).

I didn't start out feeling too good, today. But, by lunchtime I was rocking! Yeah! I'm back in town! After lunch we went for a short walk up the street. The children and I were all wearing beanies and in our daggiest outfits ever. But, they didn't care so neither did I. It was also around that time that child number two seemed to have overcome the cold that had given us so many sleepless nights. Did I already mention that I felt... AWESOME?

My only "whinge" at this point is that (actually I have two), I am pretty over looking like I just walked out of a salon. Whenever I look to the left or the right I see bits of hair. It literally looks like I have just had a hair cut. Exactly a week after my first chemo, my hair was coming out in friendship groups. Tomorrow marks a week so, to be honest, I would love the whole lot just to come out. The second whinge, is that I have been getting hot every now and again. It was worrying me at first. In the middle of the night, I would feel the need to take my beanie off. Each time, I quickly grabbed my thermometre thinking that I had a fever. Anyway, I think it's actually a hot flush. You know, that strange thing that happens to women over 50. Menopause. Yeah.

Finally, if I hadn't upset your stomach from the earlier topic maybe I can with the last. A doctor reported to my mum that eating liver (cooked of course, I'm not a freak) can combat neutropenia. I grew up eating liver and onions and I really don't mind it. Pre-gluten days, I would have loved it with some fresh, white bread. Tonight though, I enjoyed it on spinach leaves and mushrooms. Delicious. Until, the chemo is over, I am going to aim to have liver twice a week. It will be my way to getting healthier sooner. Any liver recipes?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Wagon Wheels

The wheels are off the wagon! They've rolled away. One is too far to reach. Another is behind a tuft of grass. Yet another was too lazy and has simply fallen on its side right next to the wagon. The forth wheel? I couldn't even be bothered looking. What is with all the talk about wagons and wheels? Ok, I'll get to that. I know, I rambling.

I spoke with someone today who in sharing their own experience shed light on mine. When I'm well, everything else is. Why? Because I can be in control. When I am unwell, I am unable to be in control. And, my inability to master my realm bugs me. Today, I have been bugged. It's all quite selfish really. Isn't it? That's how we are wired though aren't we? To think of ourselves first. It really takes a conscious decision to be able to put others first. Please, tell me I'm not alone.

Anyway, the wagon. Last night, child number two was restless. I was restless too. So, another interrupted sleep. I can't keep doing this. To have finished the day on such a high and then for it to come crashing down, again, was no good.

When the house stirred at the rise of a new day, I was not ready. I was tired and sick. Before I was out bed, I made an appointment with my G.P. My chemo status allowed me to jump the queue. This is no perk. It's for my sanity.

As we were preparing to leave, for the appointment, child number one remarked, "Life is hard". What was I to say to that? It broke my heart to think that my child, so young, should come to such an understanding. What could I say? She's right. Life is hard. So, I confirmed her observation and then reassured her with love. It seems that I am not the only one to be learning some tough lessons.

I walked out of my appointment with a blood test referral and a just-in-case script for antibiotics. But essentially, I just needed to rest.

I did not feel sick. No vomiting. No nausea. No sore belly. No aches and pains. No headache. I was just unable to do anything. Not even my children could motivate me. Is that bad? I felt bad for that.

Today was definitely another day of tears. Some physical signs as well, point to the fact that I must be entering the temporary/permanent menopausal state (it's a chemo thing). I feel very much on edge, all the time. I do not want to hear loud voices. I do not want to hear the same sound twice. Let's face it, I have become one of those grumpy old women from the ABC show! Noooo! ( I must resist the urge to buy 20 so...strong). Just kidding.

This round of chemo has hit me harder. My hair has been hurting again and it wasn't until I looked through my make-up compact and back into my mirror that I saw cancer, for the first time, staring right back at me. I still do not consider myself as someone battling cancer. That's for others. So, when I saw the back of my skull devoid of hair I was scared. This is what cancer looks like. Cancer is a bald, old man (sorry guys, no offence). He has no face. No hair. And, I saw him. I was scared. I am scared. My jokes about not having to shave, the novelty of wigs and my holiday came crashing down in that moment.

And then, do you know what? People came to help. A very generous gift was received today, lots of encouraging support was given and some cheery helpers came to fix the wagon.

Let's face it, I would never try to fix my car. Because I can't. Today, I can't fix the wagon. And while it has been hard I have allowed others to be me, to take control and get the job done. As for me, I have contributed nothing. Another lesson? Could it be that there are times where one needs to do nothing in order for other people to be given the opportunity to be an active citizen? Nah! That's just me trying to justify doing nothing today. I don't know.

Either way, I have reached the end of the day with a loving husband, two treasures and far too many super-terrific family and friends to count. Get over yourself, Alicia! One or two off days out of 30 good years? Tomorrow will be a fresh start. And, if it's not... Well, I might just concentrate on one day at a time.

(Sorry about all the wagon talk)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

A Happy Ending For Day Two

How important is it to have positive, healthy relationships? Very, I reckon.

I have been tired, grumpy and very much on edge. A couple of times I have had to apologise to child number one for being snappy and impatient. But truly, going out to meet with friends, leaving the confines of the my home, at the end of today, did me a world of good.

While I am by nature quiet and by my own diagnosis an introvert, my mum has always encouraged me to go out especially in those moments where you don't want to. I am so glad I did. I shared a beautiful paleo dinner with wonderful, loving friends and came home with an appetite for food (this means I'm getting better) and on a bit of a high. "Wisdom" would have told me to stay home and rest but isn't it the way that doing what you don't want to do is often the best for you.

When I did return home I made a passing comment that the bone on my wrist was sensitive to touch. Wow! I was so excited! Could this be the only pain that that needle was going to cause me? Yes! I could not have been happier.

Well, I better return to the beginning of the day, because while today ended well, it didn't start well. I took the last of my zofran and dexamethasone (no pramin for me today). I did not have an appetite, same as yesterday. What was different today though was that everything tasted the same. I stood in front of the cupboard and then the fridge sampling a variety of foods. I may as well have been eating the one item. There was no change in taste. This was not going to help my appetite pick up.

I'm back to rinsing my mouth four times a day. That should help my mouth return to normal...And, if I go by my last round at least I have an electric toothbrush to look forward to!

A good friend shared with me that she was emotional after the second bout of chemo and I can definitely ditto that. Both times, when I put my head down for a nap I cried for a minute. It was for no particular reason. Then, when I wanted to thank child number one for being such a treasure I felt the tears coming on. And then, just to confirm that I was having an emotional day, I broke out in tears just as our car pulled up at our friend's place. The husband loved that! He didn't know what to do. I didn't know what I wanted him to do either. Totally hormonal. I reckon it's the one time that anyone can say the "H" word while I am crying and I won't have to fight off the urge to just punch them in the face!

So, I am very pleased to report that I am going to bed feeling happy about tomorrow. My guess is that we will picnic in the T.V. room all day. I will do very little and the children will play and watch television. I'm ok with that.

Like everything, it's only for a season. And, we will try and make the best of this one.

Good night.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Aftermath

As I had guessed, I was not the most sick and miserable human in our house last night. By the time the husband and I were ready for bed, child number two began to stir. From eight weeks old this child has slept in a cot all through the night. So neither of us are used to getting up. That fact coupled with the enormity of a chemo day was only going to mean one thing - the world's most tired mama in the morning! I tried to settle our sick baby in the cot. I tried to calm our snotty baby in our bed. Futile. This child was so unhappy that no position was going to produce any sleep; for anyone.

I took our wiggly bundle into the T.V. room. I cranked the heater and tried to get comfortable in a beanbag. I threw a blanket over the two of us and allowed my little one to squirm and squirm and squirm and squirm...(you get the picture, I'm sure). The squirming lasted until the sun came up. For real. There was probably a half hour to an hour reprieve (I was too scared to check the time at all during the night), when the squirmiest baby in the world settled. I caught a bit of shut-eye then. But, I think its fair to call it a sleepless night.

That morning, I cooked breakfast for the family and took my meds (yeah, I'm starting to get up with the medical lingo). I sat at the table ready to eat my breakfast when not once, twice, or three times, no. Child number two puked four times all over me, down their pyjamas and the floor! A lack of appetite meant that no breakfast came up. It was literally mucous. Obviously, it was great news that this was out and not in. But really, was it so necessary to happen now. I flash-backed to the oncologist's remark that I not "bathe in their mucous". This was it. I was bathing in mucous. It was time for the husband to leave for work and as it looked as though that was the end of the mucous show I carefully balanced the mucous and my child all the way to the bathroom. There was another puke there. I didn't get any though... After my beautiful, but unhappy, child had a decent play in the bath, I decided it was time for a nap; a whole hour before schedule.

Once nap time was initiated, I began to feel the effects of my new combination of drugs. That combo was a mistake! The pramin made me feel so woozy I was quickly reminded why I always refused drugs (of any kind) unless it was absolutely necessary. Pretty ironic. I forego the paracetamol for a headache yet here I was in the midst of chemo drugs. I didn't feel sick. I just felt weird. Should I just sleep? Go out in the sun? Eat? Watch television? I did all of these things. Nothing was right. Nothing was comfortable. And, nothing was making the weird sensation any less. When some helpers arrived, I took to my bed with my ipod. That was what I needed. The ipod has been a great distraction for me.

When I awoke, I didn't have much of an appetite. This is distressing to me; lack of appetite. Not desiring food is my body's way of saying I can't take this. I can't think about anything other than getting better. It's a clear sign of being unwell. I forced myself to eat soup. It wasn't even much but boy was it an effort. I did very little and I was honestly very happy for the children to have a nap so that I could join in on the sleep.

Oh and by the way, I had the needle. A good friend gave it to me in my belly at 5.45pm. I had a great supportive audience too! I didn't faint. Yeah! Only time will tell if I get the aches and pains tomorrow. I was pretty fearful of the needle. But I am very much anxious to see how my body reacts to it. Nervous for sure!

By the end of the day, child number two had had two very long naps. This was a good sign. Things were returning to their routine. Oh how I love routine! Children who nap well, sleep well. Right? I can't believe that I was tired after having slept most of the day away. But, I was. Once both children were in bed and I had finished up what I needed to get done I happily slunk into bed. I closed my eyes and prayed that both children would get the rest that we all needed.

P.S. As I read over today's entry, to edit, I saw quite clearly that today was definitely one of my lowest while on chemo. It was. That's for sure. But, I really don't want to be down. I want to share how I feel and my experiences but I do not want to be overcome by this. I have much to be thankful for and I am so fortunate to have the support that I have. It is important that I add that at the end of the day both children were dancing to Natasha Bedingfield's "Angel" with their balloons. So sweet! Life can be normal, even when cancer decides to visit.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Chemo Lounge: Round 2 of 4

I arrived at the hospital in time for my blood test at 12pm. Before every treatment your blood is checked to be sure that your body is up for the onslaught. The results are marked "Urgent" so that by the time I met with the oncologist at 1.30pm he was satisfied for the treatment to go ahead. I mentioned the banging headache I had for a day after my first dose of chemo. He believed it to be a side effect of Zofran - an anti-nausea and vomiting medication. He immediately recommended that I take Pramin and Dexamethasone instead. And of course, only take Zofran if I felt the nausea coming on. I was so relived. I have been told the whole way that no one needs to be a hero. If something is not right or there are any unpleasant side effects that all I needed to do was to make a phone call. So true. The doctors really want to make the chemo ride as endurable as it can be. Great doctors. He gave me some antibiotics for the lady-problem I had last time! Yeah! So, should that reoccur I felt very happy that I would be able to manage it on my own. I also mentioned to the doctor that both my children were unwell. I was concerned as to how I was going to manage them and also avoid catching their bug. He replied that if I didn't "bathe in their mucous" that I would be ok. Easy. It was more the germs in my own body that were of concern.

I returned to the clinic, which wasn't as full as previous visits, and waited to be called into "Day Care". I was as much prepared as I could be. How do you prepare for chemo? Well, there are actually things you can do. For starters, the most difficult part of the session is the insertion of the cannula. I learned, after my first round, that if you are warm and have had loads of water your veins are easier to find. I was warm and full of water. The nurse even complimented me on my "plump" veins. Unfortunately, my veins were wiggly (a medical term?) so it ended up taking three goes before the cannula was in and good enough to aid in the gift of chemo to my healthy body.

The third week in the cycle (last week), I really felt terrific. So in that regard, I also believed that I had done the best I could in getting my health up so as to be in the best position to receive the damaging drugs. Yesterday, I had taken my dexamethasone, chemo preparation drugs, so I was set.

Oh, I nearly, forgot about my children. My sick children. I reluctantly handed the baton onto my babysitter knowing full well that sick children were more of a challenge. They were in capable hands, of course, so there really was no need to worry. My chemo buddy drove me in and before long I was greeted by my unofficial breast cancer support group. Words cannot describe what it means to share all the experiences with others who are going through it too. Lots of thanks to those that helped in anyway yesterday! There is no way we are meant to do life, whether good or bad, alone!

I was called in. My turn. I had a faint spell when the first cannula failed. And, when the nurse brought in a wet blanket (yes, not a wet cloth, a blanket), to put on my head, I felt so stupid. Always with the drama.

Once the cannula was in (third time lucky), it was simply a matter of being patient as the drugs slowly entered my system. I know I talked my head off to my chemo support buddy; I do that when I'm nervous. So, I was very surprised when she offered to do it again. Seriously.

As the women sit in "Day Care" they chat, laugh and smile warmly at each other. It's incredible. Aren't cancer patients meant to be down, gaunt and miserable? So much can be said about shared adversity. But, I'll leave that for another entry.

At 5.45pm, my last bag was taken down. Another treatment was over. I'm halfway! Before I left I was given my drugs.

There was something new, in addition to my four lots of medication. A needle. The nurse asked me whether I would give it to myself! Was she for real? The needle was to be given exactly 24 hours after the chemo finished, 5.45pm. tomorrow. I have a few nurse connections so that wasn't going to be a problem. The problem lay in the fact that I had heard that the needle, which activates white blood cell production in your bones (which drop to dangerously low levels), can cause nasty aches and pains. No! Me and Pain are not friends. There is no compromise in that relationship. So, I'll let you know how that all goes...

When I arrived home, feeling pretty good, I was greeted by a very sick child number two. Child number two wasn't eating, smiling or interacting; traits that come so easy to this little bundle of joy. A trip to the doctor was in order. Antibiotics were prescribed and received well. However, I guessed that it was not going to be an easy night. It looked as though there was going to be a competition for who was going to be the most sick and miserable human in our household. Going from the last round of chemo, I had a strong feeling that it wasn't going to be me.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Wig #1 and Chemo #2

It's funny (not ha ha) how you can do the same thing day in and day out and assume that it will be the same in a month or a year to come. As I gathered my goods at the supermarket this afternoon, I was struck by the idea that I would never have imagined that in June of 2011 I would be purchasing gluten-free crackers (a treat during chemo) whilst wearing a wig.

Remember how I said that I wasn't self-conscious of my new hair do? Well, I was totally self-conscious wearing a wig. Everytime someone looked at me I felt myself get smaller. Had my wig fallen off? Did it look ridiculous? Had the hair fallen out the wig? Was is sitting crooked? Did the hairline look odd? Had the wig slipped back and away from my forehead? How many questions can one ask one's self in five seconds? Lots apparently. I tugged and combed my fingers through my hair when I thought that no one was looking. Was I going to get used to this?

Admittedly, I was excited when I logged onto the auction site to buy a few wigs.

If you ever need a wig, look on-line for sure. You can buy brand new wigs and they are a whole lot cheaper than the shops here. Apologies to the Australian Retail Association.

Anyway, when they arrived and I put them on, I wasn't too convinced they suited. But that's it. I don't want to take the whole wig thing too serious. I can have fun with it. Right? Well, my "everyday wig" is short and not too crazy. My other two, well, they represent my adventurous side. Yes, I do have one...

My adventurous side, at the moment however, is being smashed by my "Oh-no-I'm-having-chemo-tomorrow-and-now-I-know-what-to-expect-it's-freaking-me-out!" side. I really did think that I would be so experienced (even with just one treatment) that my second session would be no big deal. Yeah, right. I am anxious. To cry, panic and react to the drugs again would not be good. Then again, it could be worse...It's best not to think about it, I reckon. So, I will go to my happy place. It's nice there :)

Just to make life more interesting, both child one and two are sick! The husband got up for them both during the night. Thanks! Child one had a fever that was so high that she was actually delirious! She was rambling on about strange things. It was scary. I have never seen anything like it in real life. I thought that only people dying of typhoid, in movies, got that ill. I refrained from dabbing her head with a cloth moistened by being dipped in a basin beside the bed; saw that in the movies too. A dose of modern medicine brought the temperature down. I am keeping up the medicine and very keen for the runny nose, coughing and sad faces to leave our home.

Tomorrow's a big day for the whole family. I have my support person and babysitter arranged. I'm ready on the outside. But on the inside? Mmm...not sure about that.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Special Treats

I did two things prohibited for chemo patients this morning. And, it felt so good. Want to know what I did?

First, I brushed my teeth with my electric toothbrush! Yes, my life is that pathetic. Last week, my mouth was so tender that even though I wanted desperately to scour my teeth, with my soft-bristled toothbrush, I knew that it wouldn't be clever (I stuck to gentle circles). As a recipient of chemo, I needed to avoid mouth bleeds so as to limit any chance of infection. Anyway, my mouth had been so sore that I couldn't bear to eat raw veggies (back to cooking them while on chemo) or nuts (a snacking staple when on paleo). But this week, my mouth has returned to its former, normal self and I took full advantage of that fact. Until Tuesday (chemo day), I will be brushing with my electric friend. Woohoo!

The second item on my naughty list, that I can tick, is a metcon session. While I was feeling terrific, I thought it best to get my blood circulating. I gained so much pleasure from doing something that represented my life before cancer. Whoa! Stop! That is wrong! The minute I committed the act of the full stop, I recognised a major error, on my part. I cannot think like that.

My life before cancer and my life after cancer...what is that? There is no way I am going to mark my life with this disease. I am happy to mark my life with the day I got married, the day child number one was born, the day child number two was born; but to put cancer along with such monumental, transcendently happy moments is foul. Cancer can hang around with things like the day school was cancelled because of a flood and the day I resigned from my life as a check-out chick. Memorable yes, but not a defining moment of my life.

Where were we? Metcon. While intense workouts are not recommended, it seems to a given that the healthier and stronger you are the better the chemo ride. So, I justify pushing myself through the session because it will help me to get, in a less invasive manner than the drugs, to the end of this journey (haven't found a more likeable word yet) with less battle scars. Well, that's the plan for now.

This morning, I was out with the husband on a coffee-related errand. And, since I had already broken two rules, I just didn't see the harm in bending one more. I had a coffee. This is not an official no-no. It's just a self-inflicted prohibition for now. The caffeine receptors were certainly having a ball.

Well, that makes three. The trifecta completed.

Friday, 17 June 2011

(Nearly) Bald, Old Git

I was convinced that my hair would simply fall out; all at the one time. I could sweep it away and move on. My head would be shiny and smooth. That did not happen. Instead my hair has been falling out a little at a time. I don't like that. I have had to clean out the shower drain after each shower and then sweep the bathroom floor because there is hair everywhere! It's gross. I don't want that. I slept with my hat on last night, because the idea of having hair on my pillow is not appealing. I don't need that. So, my plans to shave my head, thursday night, did not go ahead. That's ok. It can be done today, friday. All that means is that I will wear my blue hat for a little longer.

Today was going to be busy. But, since I hadn't had one of those for a while, I was really looking forward to it. I picked up my chemo friend and we shared tea and biscuits. It was so encouraging to speak with someone who also has breast cancer. We shared our stories and drew strength from each other. Although, I reckon it was more me receiving strength. What a strong woman my friend is.

After a picnic out in the sun, shared with my children and a scabbing magpie, I felt satisfied that I had received my dosage of vitamin D. It was then we were greeted by our second visitors for the day. A good friend came to visit with her two children. Again, it was great just to catch up. It was like I was making up for the absence of socialising the week before. Another positive session.

When the children were in the bath, the husband gave me my haircut. He wasn't too keen on having to do this for me (it just felt so wrong), but I couldn't take the sensation my hair was giving me anymore.

You know the feeling you get when you brush your hair against the way it naturally falls. Well, multiply that and that was the feeling I had had enough of.

I didn't shed a tear. I actually don't mind my new look. And, honestly, if it wasn't for the two facts that it is winter and that other people may feel uncomfortable, I wouldn't even bother with the headgear. I am really surprised by that. I had definitely expected to feel a lot more self-conscious. So, another hurdle has been jumped.

My day, though, was not over. I ditched the husband and children for a night out with workmates. It was a good night.

As I approach the end of my three week cycle, I can definitely vouch that chemo does indeed take you on a roller coaster ride. There have been ups and downs. And, for at least this round, it hasn't been too bad. Of course, another lesson has been learnt.

The prevailing message for me here is to acknowledge weakness and seek help. Often, I have thought that doing things on my own was me demonstrating strength. It is in fact weakness to act in that way. True strength acknowledges weakness and accepts when help is given or seeks help out. As I have mentioned, on numerous occasions, I have had great support. This week though, the supported I needed, without even realising it, is that of women who are currently experiencing what I am. I am so thankful for the friendships that have begun to form. And, if I hadn't stepped out and sought help, chemo may still be daunting. It's not now. I am pretty excited to be meeting up with friends on Tuesday (Chemo Session #2)!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Watched Head Never Loses Its Hair

I have pulled at my hair. Well, there you go, it's out there. I have, really. What chemo patient actually wants their hair to fall out? No. I don't want my hair to fall out, it's just that I have anticipated this moment for so long now that I want it to be over. I want my hair to fall out. I want to cry about it. But, most of all I just want to get past this hurdle.

In the last few days, I have noticed that hair seems to gather on my palm whenever I run my fingers through it. But this isn't too strange. You know what hair is like. You run your hands through, and especially if you have long hair, you can guarantee you will lose a few strands. Before my short-style-cut, I would often leave a few friends behind in the bathroom, on the car seat... The husband loves it when he finds a long, single strand of my hair on his clothes (sarcasm is so hard to convey in written form isn't it?). This hair-loss though is just one step up from that. There just seems to be a few more than usual. I was really expecting a huge clump of hair to come out. That, has not happened. It appears that my hair loss will be more gradual. Wisps of hair here and wisps of hair there. Well, I'm not having that.

I got in the shower, this morning, and decided to wash those hairs that have dislodged themselves right out. Unfortunately, my washing the hair actually jolted other hairs into a revolt. I spent way too much time in the shower, I was now late for my very important date and when I looked in the mirror I had a hairy back. Great. I dusted off as much hair as I could and sent a quick text to my buddy explaining that I would be late. I was off to meet some breast cancer friends.

My drive to our meeting place, really got me thinking about how we make friends. When I make friends, other than usually choosing healthy ones, I, like you, look for people who are like-minded; those who share the same interests. Here I was though, about to have lunch with women who have cancer. And, I was there because they wanted to meet women who had cancer. That meant me? Yes, I had a cry in the car. That cry may have been more of the little cry I had when I put a cancer-hair-loss-cap on. Actually considering it was so clear that my hair was definitely shedding, I'm surprised I didn't just melt into a teary puddle. This afternoon I was speaking with the sister-in-law who commented that children are the best distraction. And yes, when you are busy getting them ready, loading the car, driving a car, answering 1001 questions you really just don't have time to have a good cry.

Gathering with those ladies was definitely up-lifting. Hearing their fears (they are the same as mine) was soothing. There was a lot of laughter as we shared our stories. Who would think breast cancer could be so funny? Anyway, more than that I realised that my struggle is so small. I have nothing on these women!

Back to my hair. I have worn my cap all day. I put it on at 9.30am and I think I will wait for the husband to come home before I take it off.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

On The Up!

Since Monday dinner time I have felt very close to normal. I would even go as far as to say that I bet that marks the return of my white blood cells to their rightful ratio.

All of my low immunity problems seem to be resolving themselves, with the help of antibiotics no doubt. So grateful! The operation that may have been will not be. And the wound under my arm (where the lymph nodes were removed), which was looking angry and red has also settled. Relief! In an earlier post, I remember sharing that we were just getting good news all the time. Today was another day of good news!

An overused phrase I know, but totally appropriate here, "But, there's still more!" Through an unfortunate turn of events, but fortunate for me (selfish much?), I will be sharing my last two chemo treatments with a dear friend. Imagine if we get to sit together? Woohoo! Yes, how my life has changed that I would exclaim over seating arrangements in Day Care.

Well, it's a short one today. Tomorrow, I look forward to friends visiting. A special treat. It has been quite a few days since I have allowed myself to be in close proximity with other germy humans. As I type this, I take a moment to put my hands through my hair and notice a few strands willingly hanging onto my hand. Again and again. No clumps yet though... Is there a chance that I won't lose it all?

My hair is hanging in there and you know what? So am I.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Emergency Department

If I hadn't been told that an Emergency Department trip is not unusual for a chemo patient I may have been more anxious. So, there I was wrapped up in too many layers of clothing to count, on that cold, cold Thursday night. How did I end up there? Do you really want to know? Well, if I thought the last blog was a little too revealing I reckon this one will top it. Since you have been so generous in your time, in choosing to follow me on this journey (there's that word again) I feel very much obligated to share it all. And, of course, in years to come when I am able to reveal all that happened in 2011 to my children they would want to know all the details. Here goes...

My visit to the hospital was in the making only a couple of days before. I had noticed something. Something that did not belong. Armed with my computer, I conducted my own consultation. I diagnosed my condition. And, you know what happened? I freaked out! That evening I decided to call the Oncology Department and explain my symptoms. Perhaps there was a chance that what I was experiencing was just another embarrassing side effect that I hadn't heard of yet. It wasn't. I was told that it was worth getting to the hospital for. Great... A quick phone call locked in a babysitter and soon the husband and I were on our way to the hospital.

One of the perks, (well there better be something good about having cancer), is that you never have to wait if you report to the Emergency Department. I blushed and explained my condition to a kind lady behind glass, being careful that the crowd behind me couldn't hear. Next thing I knew I was on a bed explaining it all again. The third time I explained my condition I was talking to a doctor. She was young, beautiful and friendly. In fact, every person who I came into contact with was the same. I could very well have been an actor on the set of a television medical drama. Anyway, I am totally delaying the inevitable shame. I was told that I had a Bartholin's cyst. If you must look up what that is go for it, just don't think about me. Better still just take my word for it that you don't want to know.

Absolutely anything medical becomes an emergency when your body is warring against the weapons of cell destruction. I was pumped with three lots of antibiotics, after I waited an hour for my blood results. The first antibiotic was pressure pumped into my vein with a spring loaded contraption (medics feel free to name the item). It was very uncomfortable. I requested that the husband fetch the nurse in case the feeling of my arm being blown up was a normal sensation. It was. Fortunately, the husband had brought along an iPod so I distracted myself by listening to that. After the three minute onslaught, the remaining antibiotics were much more bearable. I listened as the drips fell, By three, in the morning, I had spoken with the surgeon (yes, she was young and beautiful too!) and it was agreed upon that I would need the cyst removed on Tuesday. An operation. General anaesthetic. Perhaps I was too tired to really register all this, maybe my brain was beginning to comprehend all of what was going on, maybe I'm getting a little stronger. Either way, I was ok with that. With a duck-bill mask on my face I was wheeled to a ward.

The duck-bill was for my protection. My blood test had revealed that I was neutropenic, a low white blood cell count. Don't be shocked. It's pretty normal. In fact, it now meant that I was eligible for a needle for each chemo treatment that ensured that it would never happen again. Would you believe that a patient has to be neutropenic before the Government will fund the needle even though it's more than likely to happen? Anyway, it was a needle I had initially dreaded. I desired nothing more than to be in the small percentage who didn't get such a low white blood cell count. Now, having been hospitalised for what is a very minor condition, I was keen to have the needle so as to not have a repeat of this or another medical emergency (if I could help it).

Soon the sun was rising and we were anxiously waiting to hear whether I was in or out. The surgeon said that I would need to go to another hospital where the operation would be conducted. She gave me some antibiotics and a little hope. There was a chance that the cyst would clear on its own and the operation would be unnecessary. I held onto that.

Before I close this post I must mention my second itch. Since the start of my low immune days, I was having a lot of trouble with my head. It was just so itchy. Actually, it wasn't so much that I needed to scratch, I think it was more that I needed to move my hair around. The hair follicles were getting excited, that's for sure. What event was getting them so on edge? I reckon I have an inkling...

Tired, Sore And Itchy

There was a time when child number one would insist that child number two was "zero". We tried desperately to explain the whole month-age-thing. There is an understanding now but it was pretty funny. Well, I guess I'll need to explain that once chemo is given you speak in terms of days: days one and two are the toughest; days three to six you will feel tired; days seven through to ten are low immune days and days eleven and until the next treatment your body is recovering and likely to be the "healthiest" in the cycle. With the first two days clear, I was approaching the days of lethargy.

I definitely felt tired. And for me, that meant I watched the children play, I moved around the house slowly and I lazed about while my children...I cringe as I type this...watched movies (How can I call myself a mother? Yeah, yeah. I'm dealing with this. I'm ok with it, really). Wow! If this was my chemo experience I'm sweet as.

It was then that my mouth started to get sore. I wasn't even far in and I was getting so sick and tired of rinsing my mouth. After breakfast, after lunch, after dinner and before bed I rinsed my mouth out alternately with water and bi-carb soda, and water and salt. I had noticed that my mouth was becoming quite sensitive, and acidic and spicy food were just no longer worth it. My lips were very dry and the sides of my mouth sore enough that it was uncomfortable to open. For this reason, the old vaseline bottle has remained close by for continual application. The yuckiest thing though is that my electronic toothbrush has remained untouched. It did such a a great job of cleaning. Now, I have been reduced to a soft-bristled toothbrush and it really is not the same.

Clearly the most embarrassing of all my experiences so far began to unfold at the start of my low immune days. If I type this really quickly, please promise that you will read it quickly. Let's get it out of the way...ummm...well...I had an itchy bottom. Born a lady, raised a lady and maintaining my ladyship has always been important to me. So, with that in mind, there was no way I was going to scratch. I applied nappy rash cream and found that sitting down alleviated the problem. It was only temporary though. One cannot sleep sitting up. I was so grossed out to think that it might be worms (although chemo was likely to kill anything living) and far too embarrassed to see a doctor (it may just go away). Obviously shameless though because I have decided to publicise the condition on the World Wide Web... I did eventually raise the issue with the Cancer Care Co-ordinator from the hospital who had a great laugh. I kid you not. She had a hearty laugh on the phone and recommended that I apply rectinol (could the product have a more conspicuous name?). And, for those of you that are familiar with this cream, I was only using it because I had an itch NOTHING else! Fortunately, the mother-in-love (a term for the mother-in-law that you love) made the purchase. After a few days, I recovered. So what was all that about? Just another, one of the more glamourous, side effects of chemo.

I really don't want to come across as a whinger. The side effects that I have mentioned were not debilitating and I certainly could have had a lot worse. But, that has been my experience so far. I can't complain.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The First 48 Hours

I was told that I when I wake up, the day after chemo, I would feel like I was hit by a bus. Let me tell you that when my eyes hesitantly opened at five in the morning I was absolutely shocked that I felt...good. Better than good. The husband had set his alarm for 5.30am knowing that it would take him that long to get breakfast going and the children ready before he left for work. In the husband's defence let me just add here that, our change to Paleo eating means that every morning we have a cooked breakfast. This always includes fry pans, eggs and lots of mess in the kitchen. I rolled over and told him that I would be doing breakfast.

While I definitely cannot complain about my lot, I was feeling a lot more tired than usual. Organising breakfast got me pretty tired. Getting enough energy to do lunch was tough. The reality though was that at no point on Day 1 was I bedridden! That was the biggest bonus ever! Of course, I didn't do it on my own. And, just in case you're wondering, the husband didn't ditch me that day. I was left in the care of my two mums who helped out a great deal with the children. To top, a mostly good day off, a delicious meal was delivered to our door by a dear friend, it was the second meal in a row that she had brought us!

I guess, as a mum, the greatest concern for me, at this time, was that my two children didn't just become unstimulated zombies. Keeping them occupied, learning and having fun has always been a priority for each day. Now it seemed as though I wasn't going to be able to maintain such a high level of activity with them. This had really bugged me while I was recovering from the lumpectomy. Only a few weeks on however, I had made some progress in that area. And, if you don't mind, I'd like to share what I think I am beginning to understand.

Being a mum is a great occupation. Being an actively involved mum is very rewarding. But I really had begun to place far too much emphasis on my need to DO things. I think I am starting to grasp that I can be a super, terrific mum even in those moments when I am too tired to do anything but watch the children play. In those moments when I can barely call out an encouragement I can still be a good mum. In fact, all that is needed to be a good mum, is love. Believe me, when the time comes for me to be able to play all the pretend games, to run to the shops and dance around to the latest hit I will be doing it. But, I reckon I needed to come to a place where I saw that when all that is stripped away, being a mum is all about demonstrating love.

So, I made it through Day 1 unscathed. Day 2 was much the same. I took my drugs as prescribed. These were to ward off the nausea and vomiting so commonly associated with chemo. I ate my prunes (you know the reason why) and enjoyed another relatively good day.

Of course, having two mums (my mum and the husband's mum just in case you were wondering...) is a great advantage. They played tag team and were an ever present help. Certainly the stars of the show. Thank you so much for all your help. And, of course, as I mentioned earlier we really did just have so much support around us. Thanks. And to quote child number one's favourite show, "Grandpa in my pocket", and let's face it I love it too, high fives all around, "Team work!"

The Chemo Lounge: Round 1 of 4

I waited anxiously in the breast clinic that was full of women much older than me. There was a young woman, surely in her early twenties, who waited with her mother. Again, I was reminded of how fortunate I was to be having this now, rather then earlier.

Before any action was taken towards getting the cancer out, I was offered to be able to have some eggs frozen. For us, the answer was an easy, no thanks. We were very content with our two children. We got what we wanted. And, we are so appreciative for that!

Once my blood results were received I met with the doctor. It was all systems go! I returned to the waiting room to be called into, "Day Care".

My empty chair sat quietly. Actually, that chair has been waiting for me for a very long time. I never knew it was though. How strange. Both good and bad things await our arrival. That chair. It would hold me for a few hours. I snuggled in and immediately a steady flow of tears came. This was it. I have cancer! The nurse assigned to me was so sweet. She reassured me and got ready to insert the cannula. She wasn't so lucky the first time though and neither was I.

Up and until this point I had had a number of dizzy spells. But, what seemed to be something so silly became very real for me at that moment. Perhaps, lying dormant all these years was, Alicia with anxiety issues. I felt faint. My hands tensed up and so did my toes. I couldn't move! I was literally frozen. When I saw my hands and toes I could feel myself sinking further inwards. Pins and needles ran through my chest and belly constricting me. I tried desperately to hold onto the reassurances of those beside me but it was no use. A friend, siting opposite me, had a nurse pass her iPod to me, it was playing relaxation music. Meanwhile, I nurse rushed for a portable DVD player. Eventually my body began to undo its tangled mess. My episode passed.

I've thought a great deal about that moment. I would never have though that I would suffer from an anxiety attack. I really can't explain it. Had I not dealt with the diagnosis appropriately? Could it be that I have faked a confidence and masked anxiety all of these years? Was it just a one-off flip-out? I don't know. Of course, that wasn't the end of this chemo virgin's drama.

Once my veins were flushed with saline water the chemo drug, taxotere was sent in. Within five minutes, I began to experience a hot flush and a shortness of breath. Don't worry, it's just a reaction to the drugs. The taxotere was swapped for saline and then I was given taxotere at a lesser dose. After fifteen minutes, it was decided that I could be given the dose as required. An hour later, taxotere was replaced with cyclophosphamide. That was my unique combination of drugs.

The rest of the sitting went smoothly. I watched other patients (including one man) receiving their chemo and was amazed to see so many smiling faces. A box of chocolates were passed around and a real sense of camaraderie enclosed us all.

I made a friend (she was the one who leant me her iPod) at a Chemo Awareness Session, held at the hospital. As it turns out, we will share our chemo time together. And what's more she lives in my suburb! Are you totally getting the feeling, just like me, that the right people are just turning up at the right time? We have been keeping in touch, sharing our progress and encouraging each other. It has been great!

The husband and I walked out of the hospital excited that one session was done and dusted. We were keen to see our children, hungry and nervous to know what lay ahead in the 48 hours proceeding treatment.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

My Hair: The Psychology

My hair has always been, to me, too thick, too wavy, too fuzzy, too dark. Too much of everything that I dislike. So the idea of losing all of my hair during chemo literally did not bother me. I would buy some wigs, wear scarves, relatively happily, and sail through that particular side effect. Well, that's what I thought...

With so much out of my control, I decided that I would snatch back the reigns. I would have my head shaved. My friend had a razor and offered to do the deed. I was happy with that. However, the husband felt sorry for me and convinced me to get a styled short haircut instead. So I did.

I went to a local salon, that I hadn't been to before, and was fully prepared to have a public cry in the chair. Not because of the loss of the length of my hair but more so because of what it represented. Cancer. Me. Cancer and Me. I still can't quite grasp that those two words can sit in the same sentence.

Child number one and child number two came along. The older one was placed in charge of the distribution of toys and food during the appointment. As I put the children in the car I prepped them for my haircut. All our gender stereotyping (girls have long hair and boys have short hair) had to be amended. The exception was accepted.

When I sat on the couch, I was greeted by a beautiful, smiling, radiant woman. She commented on my children, told me about her grandchildren and then we exchanged funny stories. It was all very pleasant. The poor lady. Why did she have to ask? My lip began to quiver. I tried to hold it in. The next thing I was having a real good cry. All that the lovely lady had asked me was, "What are you having today?" When I could talk, I explained my diagnosis and why I was having the haircut. As the two of us sat in our chairs, on opposite sides of the salon, she smiled and waved whenever our eyes met in the mirrors. It was like she was sent there to be with me that day. I don't know her name, but one day I'll be able to explain to her what she meant to me that day. I would love to be that person to someone.

When I got home and looked at myself in the mirror, it was weird. This person was not me. I may as well have had a facelift. Honestly, the haircut changed me. It also got me thinking...

I have always had a safe haircut. This new short hair do made me feel exposed. This is who I am. I can't hide behind clips and straightened hair with this do. This is me.

It made me realise that I'm not very daring. At all. Having an absolutely different hairstyle requires confidence and risk taking. My hair revealed that I was lacking in both. Well not anymore. I don't want to play it safe. That was a turning point. It was that week that I decided to begin blogging.

I want to share it all. My confidence is growing and the desire to take risks is there.

Bring on chemo!

Should I Or Shouldn't I?

With the lumpectomy out of the way, the results, positive and the doctors satisfied that no further operations were necessary the chemotherapy conversations began.

On a thursday evening, the husband and I visited a naturopath. You know what her first opinion was, no chemo. This threw me into absolute inner turmoil. There was no doubt that I wanted what was best for me and my family. And, of course, I would have been more than happy to forego the chemo. Let's face it, not going through chemo, for at least the short term, would be best. But what was going to be best for the long term? If only I could see into the future. I was certainly happy to take the natural remedies to lower my oestregen levels, the cause of the cancerous growth, but to gamble my life with the replacement-chemo-natural-therapy-regime was just too much. I guess, the fact that I would even use the word "gamble" provides a pretty clear insight as to what I was leaning towards.

The husband and I kept our struggle to ourselves. There are two camps of thought around this topic and there lies between them a great divide. People are either loyal to one or the other. I spoke with a lady who had rejected chemo in the midst of stage four cancer. She survived. I listened to the story of another lady who went natural after her cancer returned. She survived. I even recalled a lady, a little closer than the previous two, who passed away after her decision to reject chemo. Then there were the stories of women who accepted chemo and survived. As always, the internet provided a wealth of information, too much really, on women who had gone natural and those that had done the chemo. I just wanted to do a search and have the answer there for me, (read slowly by the man who presented, "Unsolved Mysteries) "Alicia you must choose..." There was no such search. I received no such answer.

My gut feeling, all along however, was to follow the advice of those in the medical profession. So, that was my decision. If the cancer returned after having gone natural I know I would have regretted my decision. But if the cancer was to return after having undergone chemotherapy, in my mind, I would feel as though I had done my best. In that instance, maybe I would try a natural therapy... I guess, that was how I navigated my way through the decision. I was satisfied with that.

On my second visit with the naturopath I purchased the goods that would best help my body though the onslaught of drugs. With drugs tucked under my arm, a great husband at my side and a supportive team that none could beat, I was now ready for the chemo.

Was I scared? You can't imagine! But, I was only scared for moments. Tiny moments. Maybe I was still in denial. Maybe it's my coping mechanism. Either way, I had very little time to ponder Tuesday 31 May.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Recovery From Surgery

Ok, so get ready to feel sorry for me. Violins please...

Within hours of my return home I realised I had brought a little friend from the hospital called, Gastro. It decided to play with the husband and child number one. Child number two though, didn't like all the playing but decided it quite appropriate to develop bronchilitus, a condition that meant that a visit to the doctor and antibiotics were in order. I coudn't lift my arm to get dressed, my arm pit had a permanent prickly sensation so I always had a cushion under my arm, I didn't want to eat, I couldn't clean the house (not really upset about this one, just included it for dramatic effect), had very little energy to play with the children and I just wanted to return to the person I was when I walked into the hospital, a fit and healthy young mum of two girls who was content with life.

I remember very clearly the moment in which I walked into the TV room with children one and two, and feeling a sensation of having a black cloud over the entire house. I have never experienced depression, maybe it was a bit of that coming on. Maybe it was hormonal. It could have been the anaesthetic still working it's way out of my body. Either way this way of thinking was clearly not helpful, for anyone! I had to get a grip!

Rather than focusing on my situation I thought back on my ward buddy who had battled cancer for 20 years. She now had only lost her husband 3 months ago and was in hospital, alone. She was still mounring the loss of her husband when a cancerous tumour began to grow in her brain, messing with her eyesight. And, what about those women who are diagnosed with cancer before they have children. What about the fact that I have loads of support. It really does not take too long to get the focus off of one's pathetic little sook to see the bigger picture. As I have mentioned earlier, after the initial diagnosis, we have had good news, compounded by more good news. That was plenty to be upbeat about. So, I tried to focus on that and not get too upset about how I was feeling. Feelings are so temporary.

It was when I was coming out of that state of mind that I received initial results over the phone. Again, good news. The tumour had shrunk by 1mm (could that have been my crazy diet punching the cancer in the face?), there was no evidence of cancer in my lymph nodes, the margins were clear (tumourous cancer removed and none in the surrounding area) and the cancer was oestrogen respondent (more on that later). Out of all that great news however, the only thing I really heard the nurse say was that I may need further surgery to be certain that the margins were clear. This sent me into an absolute panic. There was no way in the world I could go through that again. The drains being pulled out...Noooooo!

This is where support saved me. I poured out my concerns to a friend who made a very simple statement that was really just common sense. She said, something on the lines of, you have made it through this time, you will be able to do it again if need be. True. That was that.

A few days later we felt that donuts were in order when I was told that the surgical team had unanimously decided that no further surgery was needed. Having sat at home for days, I even had energy to visit the local health food shop. Whoo hoo! Such relief. And look, that whole week, which seemed so huge in my mind, can be reduced to a blog on a little known web page in Australia.

I was pretty disappointed in myself to learn that I placed so much dependence on my health to be happy. Another lesson learned: do not place my joy in something that can be taken away so easily.

The Lumpectomy

I was first off the rank on 29 April, 2011. I had waited with nervous excitement for this day to arrive, much like Will and Kate...Yeah right. I have nothing in common with them at all. The date is just a coincidence.

The three week wait turned out to be exactly what I needed. It gave me time to process the diagnosis. Would you believe me if I told you that the husband and I were excited to get the whole process moving? When I walked into the hospital, I was a fit and healthy, young mum. I was ready to meet this challenge head on.

All of the staff were incredibly gentle and kind. I felt bad to be nervous because they were just so excellent at their job! It wasn't long before I was in a small room just metres away from the surgeon's knife. I was given a cannula and the drugs began to flow. It was at this point, and I don't recall any of it, that I began to blabber on about "Catcher in the Rye". I have no idea what I spoke about but when I saw the doctors the following morning they were still having a good laugh. Great...

So, around 10.30 I began to come around. The anesthetic hangover was nasty! I wanted to sleep, I wanted to stay away, I wanted to move, I didn't want to move...I felt like that for a good few hours. The poor husband got told by me, and I do remember thinking this was such an awful thing to say when he held my hand, "Please don't touch me. Just talk to me." What a cow of wife. How hard was I going to make this for him? Anyway, he and two other family members were at my bedside chatting away; I really enjoyed their conversation.

When I could sit up I saw that I had a compression bandage across my chest and under my arm. The worst of it though were the two tubes with bags on the end. These were drains! They were collecting fluid. Aside from gross, they were an absolute pain.

I barely slept that night. But, the next morning I made friends with the two other ladies that I shared the ward with. I very much regret not having shared contact details with them. You wouldn't have known we were in a hospital the way we sat there chatting. Before I said farewell though, the drains, thanks goodness, were to come out. No big deal, this was not going to be painful...

Do you think a 10cm, ribbed, plastic tube that has been lodged in your breast for 24 hours would hurt when it is gently pulled out? Oh man, it took my breath away. Even now when I think about it my shoulders curl forward! The second drain, although I took a minute to psyche up for that to be taken out, didn't hurt at all because my armpit and area surrounding was all numb. It still is now actually. I don't know when I'll get full feeling back.

So, I hugged and kissed my ward buddies and walked out of the hospital cancer free, drain free and I reckon a little stronger on the inside.

Mummy Has Breast Cancer

I had to go to the "doctor" so many times it was so surprise that child number one was beginning to think that something was up. We answered the questions vaguely at first but then it became quite clear that that was no longer going to work.

Breaking bad news to a child is always risky business. How much do you tell? Do you tell the truth? Do you lie? What do you say? Where do you begin? Why tell them anything at all? During my first appointment, I was given loads of information and one very helpful pamphlet answered all those questions well.

The husband and I discussed what we were going to tell child number one and we were going to simply arrange a chat. I felt very nervous about the chat. I was concerned that it would make child number one upset and, of course, that upset me. I knew we couldn't put it off any longer but I also wanted to leave it for as long as possible. Does that make sense? The family chat never came. In fact, I ended up doing it on my own. It went really well though. One afternoon, while I was cooking and child number one was sitting at the bench, the topic just came up quite naturally, and I was able to talk candidly about all that had been going on. I didn't reveal what was to happen in the future, I just told her what we knew now and what the doctor had said the very immediate next step would be. There was a great deal of reassurance and the topic soon returned to rainbows, friends and food. It was actually so easy. The script was abandoned.

And, that is how we foretell the whole procedure to be, one step at a time, with lots of hugs and reassurances that having a lump had absolutely nothing to do with anything good or bad in child number one's world.

I would like to share one funny little story story though, before I finish up. Child number one enjoys putting ticks against correct answers and crosses against incorrect answers. So, the day I came home with a thick purple cross on my armpit child number one was furious with the doctors! The cross had come about when, the day before the operation, I underwent a procedure (most painful four needles I have EVER experienced in my life) where the sentinel lymph node needed to be identified. To show the surgeons where the hot node was, they drew a cross; this is what child number one saw in my armpit. No matter how I explained it child number one just couldn't understand why the doctors hadn't given me a tick...So sweet!

Ultimately, all a child wants to know is that they are loved and that they will be loved forever. That I have breast cancer and all the stuff that goes with it is inconsequential to child number one's absolute need for love. I think it's actually that simple.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Test Week

My phone rang. It was the hospital again. Not including a stack of blood tests, I was booked in for a CT scan, bone scan and mammogram.

This was the most eventful of the tests. I was given cordial flavoured radioactive liquid which I had to drink over an hour. It tasted so good. I hadn't had any kind of sugar for a while... The room was full and when it came for my turn to have the cannula in there was no bed for me. I was brave though and the nurse and I laughed that it was mostly the big tough guys that fainted. The cannula was in and I was instructed to sit and wait for my turn. Oh, did I mention that the nurse instructed me not to move my arm because the needle would move around. Is she for real? That is something that nurses say to each other because needles are normal for them! A needle may wiggle around in my arm? I was so scared to move my arm. The clock slowed, seriously, and my arm was dead from lack of movement. Something strange happened then. I got all woozy. I turned to the husband and asked him to get some help because I felt faint. But with the husband gone, I now felt worse. The young girl, who was accompanying her mum who I had befriended at some happier point in this waiting room, turned to ask if I was ok. All I remember was staring at her and wanting to talk to her, but I was frozen. Both my arms pulled up (hands to shoulders), my tongue was hanging out (or so the husband tells everyone) and the room was spinning. I do remember the husband, in a panic, telling me to bring my arms down because the needle was now being pushed further into my vein. A rush of wheels and some helpful nurses got me onto a bed. I was given oxygen and my vitals were checked. It took a while for me to come around and my laughter eventually calmed the husband enough for him to stop mentally planning for my funeral. I wasn't going to die. I was just causing a scene. The CT scan then followed quite quickly. I'm sure they wanted to get the freak show out of their waiting room. The donut-like machine did it's job, I was sent home and now I was one test closer to the operation.

Again, my body was exposed to some radioative fluid. I was able to relax while another donut-like machine swooshed and took pictures. The most scary part of this procedure was how close the big square of metal came to my face. I have to admit, there was a moment, just a tiny one, where I felt as though the machine may just squash me. It didn't. The sensor detected I was there and stopped 1cm from the tip of my nose.

I am not meant to meet this machine until I am 50. And, here I was. Those of you who have been lucky enough to be stuck in a room with this flattening device will know very well what followed. For those of you under 50, (or over 50 and a chicken), you will be amazed at how flat your breast can be squashed. Oh, and they can be squashed sideways too. And if you are very careful you even get to have a look. Yuck. Weirdest thing ever. It certainly gives a good pinch under your arms.

With all of these tests carried out I played the waiting game again. Would they come back clear? My thoughts were more focused on the removal of the lump. I didn't ever let these test results bother me. I just felt as though they would be ok.

Don't Hate Paleo

If I knew that I was to have breast cancer at some point in my life, and was able to pick the time, it would be now. At 30, I feel as though I am at a good point to be able to fight it and yet also finished having children.

This year, 2011, has also been a huge turning point for our family. After dabbling in vegetarian dishes (never feeling quite satisfied), trying to cut back on sweets and adding up my caloric intake via a pretty cool app on my phone it was clear that I just was not going to be the body shape that I wanted. The husband joined a local crossfit group and soon I was in on the action. The exercise regime also suggested eating the paleo way. Often referred to as the caveman's diet it is sugar, gluten, starch, dairy, legume and grain free. We decided to take the 30 day challenge in January of this year. There was a significant difference in health and energy levels. Nanna naps on Sunday were so 2010. So then, when I got this cancer I felt ripped off. All my anti-cancer eating couldn't reverse what had already started growing in August of the year before.

But then, after some internet research the husband and I discovered that there was much evidence to suggest that upping the paleo diet to include raw veggies and no fruit (because of fructose) may actually help my body to fight the cancer. I have eaten raw beetroot, pumpkin, carrot, broccoli, spinach leaves, snow peas, cauliflower, capsicum, cabbage and although the chewing is a hassle the organic veggies are pretty tasty.

The local organic shops, who (I'll be honest) I really just thought were for hippies have been a real treat to visit. I even have a discount card with one! Anyone for broccoli chips? I'm not kidding...I will admit there are some weird products.

Rather than waiting the three weeks out I practised this new way of eating. I felt like I was getting rid of that cancer with each bite.

Having started eating a little strange, at the beginning of the year, it was no drastic change to my nutrition; I was already in that mindset. And so, as has been the case since my diagnosis I found another positive.

Let's face it, I have had a very cruisy 30 years. Everything, in my life, has been neat and tidy, no messy stuff. And, as a friend put it, we are all just a phone call away from having our life turned upside down. This was my phone call and I am very much ok that I got it now, not earlier, not later.

The Doctor

By the time our appointment came to see the specialist we had somewhat come to terms with everything. The hospital was very familiar to me because it hadn't been too long ago that I had spent so much time there with the husband when he had a partially detached retina (that's a story for another day). We were the first in the waiting room and all of a sudden, true to Alicia-form, I got all choked up and got Stu to do the talking to the receptionist. I didn't cry though! The "Today Show" was a great distraction until we were called in by the doctor.

He talked, looked at scans, felt for lumps and then explained clearly and succinctly the operation that he would perform. He was calm and very reassuring. In fact, he was particularly reassuring about how he would take great care not to taint the look of my breasts. The cosmetic side of things was of much greater concern for him. As long as the cancerous tumour was gone I was ok with whatever needed to be done. He would perform a lumpectomy and it was no big deal. I guess I was imagining that he would be as shocked as we were about the news. He wasn't.

The only thing that concerned us now was that we would have to wait three weeks for the operation! What if the tumour grew, spread, exploded?

Ok, it probably wasn't going to explode but everyone knows that cancer spreads and I wanted this thing out of me. Now!

So begins the private versus public debate. Every year the husband and I say that next year will be the year that we will get private health cover. We are for real this time. I turn 31 next year so it's the latest that we can leave it. It's pretty funny though, (not really actually), because we will have joined private health after giving birth to two children, after the husband has had a partially detached retina, after child number two's pulmonary stenosis and after my brush with breast cancer...who will take us?

We are without private cover. In this instance, should we pay our way, we would actually only knock off a week of the wait and pay out quite a bit. We discussed the matter with the doctor who convinced us that the tumour would actually have taken 6-8months to have grown to 12mm so it is really at no risk for me to wait the three weeks. Still unsure we spoke with the Breast Care Nurse.

She was amazing from the onset. Thanks A! With patience, she answered our questions and settled it for us that waiting was the best thing to do.

Having entered the hospital with trepidation, I reckon we both walked out feeling quietly confident that the decisions being made were right. It was very clear to us that this team really was interested in seeing that I received the best care. What more could you ask for?

So Much Support

The tears fell, hugs were received and the visitors came. For me, this was such consolation. The husband and I were mega overwhelmed by the supportive family and friends that surrounded us immediately. We were not alone that night.

As you can imagine, the shock of the diagnosis stayed with us for days and everytime I had to put my name alongside the "C" word it was just too weird. Cancer was something that other people got. People I loved, people I knew of and people other than me got this. I really must have thought I was untouchable...Idiot!

But then, something unfortunate but amazing came to the fore. Through the power of facebook I discovered that a family friend was diagnosed with breast cancer only a month prior to me. It spun me out! I had spent much time with this friend, playing music together for years. Her family and ours were great friends, and now it seemed, we would share this journey (couldn't think of a better word there...). She has been such an encouragement! She explained all the obvious stuff like, be prepared for the wait at the clinic, she mentally prepared me for the number of women I would see undergoing the same treatment and she was honest in explaining what I was likely to experience. I feel so bad that she has had to go through this almost as if it is just to help me! Thanks S! Unless you get inside my head you may never really understand how your support has helped me.

So, to all those who shot through a text, facebooked, emailed, phoned, smiled reassuringly, hugged, visited, cooked - THANK YOU. We have never felt as if we have had to do this alone! Let's face it, we're not meant to do any of life (even the good stuff) alone.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The News Breaks

Even before I heard the words I began to mentally prepare. Is that a bad thing? Did I make this happen to myself because I believed it had? I actually considered how I would tell my boss, even before I heard the news...

Well, the fact is that my GP rang early on a Monday morning, just as we were to leave for child number one's Spanish lesson. She explained that atypical cells were found and that she wanted to make an appointment for me to see a specialist. I was clever enough to not ask any further questions and with my brave voice on I rang the husband. He arranged to have the afternoon off so he could come along to see the GP.

That afternoon, feeling calm, our family of four entered the GP's office. She didn't beat around the bush; she got straight to business. The diagnosis was early stage breast cancer. The tears fell, but she talked on. The prognosis was positive, the lump small and the cancer detected early. Immediately, she rang the hospital who miraculously had an appointment for me that Thursday. And, lo and behold it was with one of the top breast surgeons! The doctor was thanking God because she just simply could not believe that we were able to secure an appointment with such a reknowned doctor and so soon.

The illusion of having my life in my own hands dissolved.

We stood in the reception still clearly shaken. The news was delivered. It was time to address the disease. We prayed a lot after that.

Money, Money, Money

There was one comment that the doctor made during the initial biopsy that kept ringing. He actually commented that there wasn't much tissue in the lesion. Prior to that he had been explaining to me that cancerous tumours give very little tissue for a biopsy... So, when my GP said that is was necessary to do another biopsy I wasn't surprised at all. While there was evidence of atypical tissue there simply was not enough to be sure of anything. So, I made a second appointment. Now, this one was sure to be painful! It involved a a bigger needle; a core biopsy!!

My GP is lovely, thorough and certainly not one to make her patients panic unnecesssarily. But, again, I just couldn't shake that niggling feeling. Ok, more like, paranoia. Maybe, I thought, she is playing down the whole thing when really she knows this is bad news and just wants to be doubly sure. She wants to be absolutely sure before she gives the 30 year old mother of two the news. I pushed the feeling of doom aside, with Stu's "diplomatic" coersion and then became infuriated that I would have to pay another $400+ for the procedure. You wouldn't believe how cross I got when I thought about the incompetence of the doctors that they couldn't get it right. A few days later I reaslised how pathetic my reaction was. What a cow! I was quickly reminded of the fact that I actually have access to such medical tests. Countless women, around the world, could never have it. So, I calmed down (got off my high horse) about the finances and waited somewhat eagerly for the next test.

Although the needle was larger for this procedure, I really wasn't too nervous because the doctor had been very kind, friendly but most importantly to me, gentle. During the procedure I reported on how child number one's Spongebob party had been. He repeated the procedure to be sure to get enough tissue and I was all smiles.

Until...for no apparent reason I got all faint! Lying down certainly helped the moment pass quickly but it was pretty embarrassing.

Another test was done. I was closer now, but to what? Oh, and if you ever have to have a core biopsy it's ok. Seriously, if I can do it anyone can :)

Initial Test

The ultrasound was no big deal at all. Last time I was asked to lay on that bed I had a full bladder and was torn between feelings of joy, as I watched the second child wiggle about in my belly, and the overpowering need to go to the toilet. Mothers will know what I mean...

Already, it seemed exposing my breast to a stranger was not such a strange thing. In fact, I didn't realise, or maybe I did, that it would very quickly become the easiest thing ever.

The ultrasound revealed nothing in particular. I was pretty surprised when I asked the sonographer what she could see, really just for conversation sake; as if she would tell me. But, she did. She said that the lump did not fully resemble a cyst. Her thoughts were that perhaps it was a cyst that had "gunk" in it.

As an aside, I really do just need to stop here. As a very private person I really cannot believe that I have just revealed to you, many of which are not my closest buddies, that I was told that I had GUNK in my breast. But, I really do want to be candid about the whole thing. So, I will sit up in my seat and continue to talk about MY gunky breast...And, while I am at it, I do still cringe everytime I type in the "B" word particularly as it refers to me. Anyway, I digress...

Where was I? The gunky breast...Whatever that means. Either way, she felt that the doctor was likely to want to investigate the lump further and probably insist on a biopsy. As shocking as it was for the sonographer to be so open about what she could see on her screen, she was right. My GP spoke with the husband about me needing to make an appointment for a fine needle aspiration. (I must have been bathing the children because he did all the talking for that one).

I made the appointment. The husband came along but just as he was to walk into the room with me he was stopped at the door. The blood drained from my face. Not only was I to have a needle stabbed into my breast but there would be three specialists in the room, all of which were too big to allow a husband in as support!! Nooo! The assistant was so lovely and quickly assured me, the scared little patient, that she would be my support.

As it turned out, the three specialists weren't as big as I thought they may have been and the Doctor showed much interest as I nervously jabbered on about the Spongebob Party that I was throwing for child number one.

All the fear, in the run up to this needle was unnecessary and the huge bandage placed on the puncture really wasn't all that necessary. In fact, the procedure had no resemblance to any kind of stabbing, as previously mentioned. The radiologist was satisfied with the cells that were collected so I was very glad that there was no need to insert the needle a second time, something that is not uncommon.

Tha test was over. All I needed to do now was to wait a few days to speak with the GP about the results.

Before I close this one, I just want to point out that the procedure cost $350+ and then a further $180 for pathology. While I got some back from medicare I couldn't believe the cost. Was it worth it? Every cent!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

My Discovery

Prior to my discovery of the lump, the husband had remarked, actually on a number of occasions, that he felt really content; very happy. I kid you not, I flinched every time he made mention of such remarks. I am by no means superstitious but it's one of those things right? You never say that you never get a speeding ticket or that you've never been in an accident. You just don't say it. You don't even think it! Perhaps it was those comments that really got me on edge when I first discovered the lump.

I don't know if anyone would believe me but honestly, the night I felt a lump in my right breast I knew that I had discovered something that would shake me to the very core. As you can imagine I checked again and again, there definitely was no symmetry. This was not normal.

The following day, I made an appointment with my GP. Those who know me well will understand the gravity of the statement that, I am no fan of doctors...But, I am certainly not too stubborn to realise that I need their expertise. And, well, as I mentioned already, I really just did not have a good feeling.

After an examination by my GP I was referred to a specialist to have an ultrasound.

At this point, I cannot emphasise the importance of early detection enough. I will never regret the urgency in which I made that initial appointment.

And so it begins...

I have a confession. For the past couple of months I have been keeping a journal, the paper and pen kind. It has been most therapeutic and I guess I had figured that I could pass it onto my daughters. Well, I'm pretty sure they will read it and I even reckon they will treasure it. But, in the age where private thoughts are no longer private, I figure it's time that I jump on the band wagon.

What I hope to share with you are my thoughts as a travel on this "journey" that is, breast cancer. I invert that word because so many people, since my diagnosis, have decided that that is what I am on. I am not really sure that I want to go on the journey and well, if this is a journey what is my destination? What stations will I stop at? Will there be some pleasant stops? How many people will want to travel with me? And, of course, do I get to decide not to go on this journey? Definitely, an overuse of that word.

In case, the whole topic of breast cancer gets a little boring I'll also try to include some of the other stuff that I get to enjoy like family and friends :)