For the past 15 or so years, I have been regularly visiting my local Breast clinic for special check ups. Since that first visit, I have had my fair share of close calls, so I have been very vocal about getting checked, checking yourself, and talking about my visits. So much so I live tweeted a regular visit one time, and turned those tweets into a blog which was extremely well received, by women AND men. This is the blog, it goes into my history and features the tweets that explained exactly what goes on during a visit! The following is an overview of my latest journey with my boobs, yep this time I wasn't so lucky and a teeny lump was deemed suspicious and indeed the little fucker was cancer. The day I got the all clear - YAY I AM CANCER FREE - I wrote a long post on facebook. This is that post, with a few extra bits added. On Tuesday 20 February I left work early and headed for my regular Breast check-up at the Breast Clinic.
I have been going there for about 15 years, and whilst I have had some close scares I have always dodged the Cancer bullet.
Until this time...
Yep, my brilliant ultrasound lady found a teeny 8mm lump that was deemed suspicious. I had gone through the usual routine, seeing my Doctor first, he does a physical breast check and thought everything ok. I waited in those awful gowns for my mammogram, it went ok. I went straight into the ultrasound, usually you wait a little so that was great. I remember thinking I would have time to go to a cafe before my next appointment, things were moving so fast this time!
The ultrasound was also relatively quick, the lady doing it really knew her stuff and chatted to me throughout telling me what she was finding. This is not the norm, mostly it is done in silence. She told me she found something teeny but suspicious and it was probably nothing and she would need to check on previous scans to see if it matched or was new. I felt my blood pressure rise a little but I felt ok. She came back and said yep, it was new and they would do a biopsy. My heart sank, and I went back to the waiting room to wait. This is THE WORST, you are in a small room with other women at various stages of the stages, all ages, and you don't know what they are going through and there is always ONE women who has been through it all and wants to talk about it and cancer. And whilst I am more power to that women, it's moments like that you just wish people would shut up. So I had a fine needle biopsy, no stranger to them, and they could not give me an answer, and had to send it away for testing. This was new territory for me, usually they tell you the answer, so I knew things were bad. The doctor took me back into his office - this has never happened either, so I really really knew things were bad and I just tried to keep it together. But the word cancer - one they usually avoid at all costs - was used liberally. I remember nodding and not saying too much and I think I even smiled. I left very quietly and sat in my car in shock. I decided it would be ok and I wouldn't tell anyone and wait for the results. WRONG! My brain went into overdrive, and of course I told family and close friends. By the end of the week it looked highly likely I had cancer, but they wanted to do another biopsy to be sure. Mind you, my take on it was I have a little lump that happens to have cancer in it and it's getting it's arse kicked to the curb!!!
I was just trying to compartmentalise it all and not think about it. I am a HUGE overthinker, so this was initially difficult. There were tears, ugly sobby tears, and there was anger. But mostly I was just quiet. Not many people knew and that was how I wanted it, I was hopeful it would be all ok and I could tell people, oh vey, guess what happened to me last week, but I was lucky!
So a week later I had my second biopsy, one where they take a couple of little chunks. It was less painful than the biopsy as they use local anesthetic on the area, although when that wears off it was extremely tender. And yep the little fucker came back with Cancer. My doctor rang me on a Friday morning. He was lovely and despite the back and forth I knew the worst scenario was this and was sort of prepared for it. Sort of. I was at work, so took a few deep breaths and rang my Mum. I was ok but grateful I was taking the afternoon off and could go home and have a little cry. But truly it hadn't sunk in.
The next Monday I headed to my specialist, Dr Clarke, who is just gorgeous and amazing, and the best Breast man in the Hunter!!!! He took me through the surgery and possible outcomes etc and it all sunk in. I was a bit of a mess I don't mind saying.
Up until then, I was doing ok, the odd moment of upset and mostly anger (I had a lot of FU Universe cranky pants moments), but mostly calm and upbeat because I knew positivity was the only way!
But that appointment, on my fabulous Oscar day of all days, totally brought me to my knees.
FUCK, I HAD CANCER!!!!!!!!!!!
After I stopped sobbing, I decided to enjoy my Oscar day and deal with it later, cause it sure as hell wasn't going anywhere!!!
I started to tell people, and realised the worst thing about having cancer was telling people I had cancer. Man, that just about killed me.
But you know, people are so very wonderful and nice and kind, and I always rave on about my family and friends and how bloody fabulous they are! That is not without reason!!!!
My goodness, people were fucking amazing!!!
So removing the teeniest of cancers is not as simple as I thought.
The day prior I had physio!!! Physio!!!??? Cause they were also removing a lymph node that could effect my arm movement. So I went through all sorts of exercises and massages with a lovely therapist and she took all sorts of measurements to ensure things do not swell too badly after the surgery. Whilst the lady was lovely, it was extremely confronting. And we talked about bras, oh my god, let's talk about bras!!! I am a larger girl and have loads of gorgeous bras, I don't do beige or god forbid white underwear, but if you need to wear a non-boned bra there ain't much choice. I had a very expensive boneless Berlei bra posted to me from the Cancer council for nothing which was very much appreciated, but it only came in beige...blurgh! I wouldn't be able to wear regular bras for some time.
At the point of writing this I still only have 2 bras, the beige number which is actually pretty supportive and comfy (and opens from the front - and back - which is a godsend at present!), and a white cotton number that is not as supportive but still comfy that I had to wear 24/7 for a week after the surgery. I will need to go and purchase one or two more boneless bras before heading back to work.
I went straight from the physio appointment to a lymph tracking appointment. In the old days they removed all of the lymphs under your arm, and this caused loads of side effects and issues, now they can determine the exact matching node via a simple radioactive test. Stuff like ink is injected into the cancer and it spreads to the node, it is marked - literally with a X by texta!!!! - so my Dr can find it the next day. This is a relatively easy process, but it is super time-consuming.
It can take up to 2 hours to find the node, mine was found in 15mins. To do this I was placed in a large, claustrophobic like chamber (not 100% enclosed, but close enough) while the 'ink' travels to the node. This is done with said arm raised above your head, which is far more uncomfortable than you can imagine. Although they found it easily, you are in and out of that machine - to complete the procedure - for a good hour. The nurse - like every nurse I encounter - was kind and sweet. It feels trite to complain, but it was exhausting. Then you are moved to another room where they take 360 degree pics of the area. Similar kind of machine, but a little more claustrophobic than the last and my arm was starting to be very sore. This was a shorter process, you lay straight, arm raised, in the machine and it moves around you. Very surreal experience. Next you are dressed and waiting for the results to take to surgery the next day. I went home and napped.
I napped a lot during this whole 'thing'.
So the next day my poor dear Mum takes me to surgery. This is done at Lake Macquarie Private Hospital opposite the Breast Clinic. Before surgery I have a small procedure where they inject wire into the cancer to easily locate and remove it!!! This is done like the biopsy, local is given and a needle goes in and it has the wire attached, the needle comes out and the wire remains, they bend the ends flat and tape them to your chest. You really cannot feel anything, but you do feel the tape pulling your skin and that is unpleasant.
So I walk with Mum post procedure fully dressed but with wire sticking out my right breast across the road from the clinic to the hospital.
Fucking Surreal!!! We wait to be checked in, this happens quickly and Mum leaves me to it, I am taken to a waiting area, with a mix of people in gowns are waiting. I have barely opened my book when I was called to be processed. This involves removing all clothes, and putting a surgery gown on, and answering a LOT of questions. BP is taken, and other minor things. They asked me what side I was being operated on and gave me a texta to mark that arm with an x - presumably if that was wrong and they operate, it is MY fault not theirs! I get to keep the texta as they throw them out after. All of this is making my head spin. I am told I will NEVER EVER again be able to use my right arm to give blood, have blood tests or have my BP measured due to losing ONE node. WOW!!!! This was a new thing, and it blew my mind. In the middle of all this, we are informed they are ready for me. The whole process took about 30mins, possibly longer. But it's all prep for the surgery.
And so I was wheeled by a cute guy to surgery. I could hear them finishing up on the patient before me, it was surreal. I waited in a little corridor directly outside the operating theatre until the antithesis came to ask me all the same questions, take my BP, and administer drugs etc.
Then I was wheeled into the theatre, moved to the operating table and well, I don't remember a thing after that! I remember it being about 9.10 before being wheeled into theatre and when I woke in recovery it was about 10.30 or so. I lay there for a while with nurses taking my vitals and giving me water as my throat was so very sore - from whatever they shove down your throat!!! Before I knew it, it was about 12.30pm and I was in my hospital room eating a yummy baked dinner! I was a little uncomfortable but I felt good.
Mum rang the hospital to check in on me and they transferred the call, and she was astonished to get me sounding so well! The nurses at the hospital were amazing, kind, and funny. I think they are indeed a very special kind of person! I mostly napped until Mum and Dad came to visit. I think they were very relieved to see me sitting up reading, and looking ok.
Later I realised my cleavage was in tact, so that was a good thing, not that that really matters in the grand scheme of things but you gotta take the good where you find it!
I didn't have a mastectomy as the doctor didn't deem it necessary, but boy, do not think I didn't go over the scenario in my mind....and a million others!
And I never asked how I would look after the surgery, thing is I still look pretty good, a bit like I have a had a minor boob lift, lol, but in a bra, you simply cannot tell!!! Of course, going in I wasn't so sure how I would look and it seemed churlish to be concerned. But I did feel relieved to feel my chest and it felt relatively normal. Later my sister and bestie visited, the later bringing me contra-cheesecake that went down very well later that evening. After they left I napped until dinner, which was Lamb Shanks and very yummy.
I was in hospital overnight, which wasn't too bad despite being woken every couple of hours for vitals and/or drugs. My Dr woke me early the next morning and checked my wounds, all were looking good and I could go home. So Mum and Dad collected me and took me back to Chez Shay for a few days. They were simply magnificent!!!
I had limited right arm movement, but things got moving fairly quickly. I could pretty much do most things for myself, but just super super slow! Whilst there I napped, read, watched some tele, and did crosswords. I had loads of phone calls and messages, flowers, and visits from friends. Mum's phone was constantly ringing with relatives and her friends checking on me. I felt very loved.
On the last day there Mum helped me remove the wound covers, this was a little traumatic. I have a lovely 8cm scar to the right of my right breast and similar one under my arm, the later giving me the most grief...very very awkward spot!
But they looked ok, and should heal to transparent over time.
And so I returned to Club Cathy, and settled back in nicely.
My beautiful sisters, niece, and mother have filled my freezer and fridge with homecooked meals and goodies, I don't know how I will ever thank them - and my father, and brother-in-law, and nephew - enough for their kindness and love!
Exactly a month since all this started, I went back to see Doctor Clarke for my results and where to from here!!!
I AM ALL CLEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The fucker is gone, the lymph came back with no issues and the tissue taken around the lump also clear. He took 10 mm out. It was a very low level Grade 1 cancer. So low in fact he was unsure about followup treatment, which is usually radiotherapy. So I have an appt with the specialists at the Mater to decide what to do. At worst I will have five weeks of radiotherapy, which seems not too bad and I'm up for whatever I need to do!!!!!
I cannot begin to tell you all how relieved and happy I am.
So, a whole month turn around, that is fucking remarkable my friends!!! Science!!!!!!
I am the poster child for early detection.
I have learnt so much, but the main takeaway is this!!!
FFS, go and get your boobs checked, I have said this before, and I'm gonna keep saying it, and making people feel uncomfortable (although stuff like this should NOT make people feel uncomfortable). It is the most simple process, and if you are unsure, talk to me, I have had it done sooooo many times, I will talk you through the whole process!!!!
Because if they detect it, you can fix it easily!!!
Oh, don't think I don't know how lucky I am, I am soooo very fucking lucky. I am eternally grateful to all those beautiful people at the clinic and the hospital, and especially the lovely lady who found my lump. If she hadn't, well I don't even want to think about it!
Again I cannot thank my family enough, by god they have been knocking it out the park. And also my beautiful friends, you all know who you are, the messages, phone calls, flowers, cards, gifts, and well wishes...oh my goodness, this got me through it I am certain.
And I know I upset a lot of you with this awful news, for that I am so very sorry.
The love I felt surrounding me was no match for what Andrew Denton once called a "C" of a word that there is no answer for.
So I learned I was far tougher and resilient than I thought, that living in the moment is very very important when you are going through a living hell, that people are far kinder than you can even imagine, that science and medicine are key, and that love is everything.
And I love you all.
I still have some healing to do, I was off work until Easter, but have extended it a week, but again that will depend on those lovely war wounds of mine and how they are healing.
My hormones are all over the shop, and my anxiety the worst it has ever been, but yet my depression was no where to be found, until over Easter. I felt a bit low, feeling technically well, but not yet healed enough, so I was stuck at home and feeling very much alone and sad. But I just tried my best to pick myself up and be positive.
So many people ask me what I need, want. Trust me I will ask when I do need something, but in the meantime, I do not need sympathy or sorrow, I am here and a-ok!!!
But I do need company, I've been stuck at home for longer than I thought, and whilst I am ok, my head still goes to a million bad places, so a phone call or a message will keep me sane.
Don't worry I won't bother you with health shite, unless you are interested in that, I just want, need, crave regular chatter about you and what you are doing, and you know stuff!!! Work has been wonderful, my small team knew what was going on leading up to my time off which commenced a few days before my surgery. They were concerned and supportive, and have been messaging me while I am off. Managers and key people involved in my projects were also told and again supportive and lovely, this is what you need in a work force. I am blessed to have plenty of sick leave to take, so there is no rush in any way to return until I am better. And I guess the big elephant in the room is, will this happen to me again!? My doctor says no more than it could happen last time, which means, it can or it cannot. The odds haven't really changed. Of course having it once, puts a lot of crazy thoughts in my head, and whilst I wasn't initially upset by those thoughts, as I sit here with more time to ponder - despite trying not to - I do worry. So I will make an appointment or two with my psychologist and talk it through. As a single girl, I have been worried how potential partners may feel about this, but on a good day I am hopeful the scars will be minimal and all will be ok, on a bad day...well, that's another story all together. Maybe at my age, it's all over, who knows! At the moment I just need to concentrate on healing.
I know this was long, and yet it doesn't even feel like it does justice to the past month or so. Surreal is definitely the most used word, it all happened so quickly, I had barely got my head around the fact I had cancer and it was gone. Thankfully so, but as time moves on and I feel great but not quite healed - in terms of doing more physical things and heading back to work due to the wound under my arm - I feel more all over the shop. It is a lot to process, sometimes I feel very much alone and vulnerable and it hurts. Other times I am fine, I guess that is all very much normal, all things considered. For those that have hung in and read all this, thank you. Ensure you or your beloved females get checked regularly. The technology and science are developing every day giving us more and more insight. I have also bought merchandise and donated to Samuel and Connie Johnson's Love Your Sister charity, please check them out, they do marvelous things with Science and advancements in cancer and their merch is pretty cool. The Stripey socks will be perfect for winter! http://www.loveyoursister.org/
Hello, this blog is a journal or diary of cultural events I have attended. I will also review music, books, film and television amongst anything else of significant interest. I call on one and all to discuss and debate my entries - do you agree, disagree, have another point of view. Join me, I am interested!