I’m hoping that throughout this whole journey, wherever it takes me, there will be no greater ‘flight or fight’ stress response than the one I experienced when I first waited for results between initial biopsies and being told by my GP with a nervous, wry, smile on his face that I have cancer. My fight or flight response went for sixteen days and I don’t ever want to go back to that dark, dreadful place.
Today, I have been totally surprised by my emotional response, or lack there of, to the news I received yesterday. I have gone into logical, planning mode. I even have the desire to clean my house and do some of the jobs I have been neglecting for the last year because I have been busy planning my next fun run, triathlon or sticking to my half marathon training plan. It’s akin to a kind of pregnancy nesting.
Yesterday, we got the early news from the surgeon that the cancer has made it to one of the four nodes removed from my armpit, and there are still cancer cells in my breast post lumpectomy, so yes, it’s back to the hospital in a few days for my second surgery in two weeks. I’m starting to worry about my enjoyment of anaesthesia in a way that Michael Jackson experienced it. To wake from a slumber with a totally relaxed mind and body is bliss. And then the reality and pain slowly come into focus.
This time, my visit to the surgeon with the nice perfume, and the room with the 1970’s wallpaper will entail a full mastectomy, and the removal of all of the lymph nodes under my armpit, and for good measure some reconstructive work done immediately. I hope I get to see the bearded nurses again. As I will attempt to back up my previous visit with some equally engaging chatter and some new comical material. I wonder if they will recognise my blue nipple again?
The surgeon was rushed in her consult yesterday. She had come to hospital just to meet me. There was a plastic surgeon waiting outside the door. On cue, he entered and after polite introductions we got down to the business of what I wanted to look like post mastectomy. I was shocked when presented with a box of breast implants. Oh the enormity of a ‘b’ cup implant. Those things are humongous and scary and my reaction made the plastic surgeon say, “It’s okay, we can also use some of the smaller implants made for ‘Asian’ women”. I still can’t stop laughing about that. All this talk of implants and cup sizes makes me feel like I’m in an episode of Embarrassing Bodies.
I only started to wear a bra in high school because every other girl in the PE change rooms was. Not because I needed any sort of support. And when my best gay friend, JRF, gently suggested to me that at 32 and pregnant, “Darlin’ I think you should be wearing a bra!” as I was, in his eyes, ‘bouncing’ down Chapel Street. I remember looking at myself in the shop windows, to see if his statement had any merit. He was right, I was bouncing and drooping. It never even occurred to me that yes, perhaps it was time for some support.
On a more serious note, the biggest shock in all of this was that the tumour was double the size of the initial tests. But this often happens and it’s more about the pathology process of measuring the way a malignant tumour messily branches out with its twisted and knarled arms. The pathologist measures the full length from branch to branch, through an array of finely sliced segments, not just the overall shape of the mass as ultrasounds and mammograms measure.
Also of shock to me was that my tumour was the fastest growing type one can have, graded three. This made me wonder how fast do these bastards grow? Did it start growing whilst I was out jogging one day late last year? Didn’t it like the music I was playing? Was it fed from my GPS tracker on my iPhone while I was using RunKeeper? The irrational thoughts came streaming, pulsating, coursing through my mind. But, after some initial tears and questions, I was able to pack these thoughts away by closing the the lid on the box. I very quickly returned to my calm, logical planning self.
There were some positives in all of this.
The cancer is very positive for the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which gives me an additional treatment option of long term medications that block the cancer’s ability to feed of these hormones, and if the cancer can’t feed then it can’t grow. So there cancer, take that! Ironically, when we were trying for our children I often wondered if my body was producing enough of these hormones to make and sustain a pregnancy. That sneaky, selfish cancer has been using these hormones to benefit itself.
There will be years of hormone altering medications down the track. And this is quite funny as I have never remembered to correctly take the contraceptive pill. I am also the person who gets a panadol out if I have a bad headache and then forgets to take it. I forget to take my multivitamins. I forget to make the cup of tea from a kettle that has already boiled three times prior.
Apparently, fast growing cancers are also quite vulnerable to the formidable beast of chemotherapy. Rapidly replicating cancer cells shrink and shrivel to nothingness. Or at least that is what I am visualising.
I have also tested negative to the HER2 antibody which is a cellular protein which also speeds up the growth rate of cancer. So that is also a fortunate thing as I won’t need the medication to flick that protein off.
I can’t help feeling how fortunate I am. There are some who have what is called a triple negative cancer, which means these three factors, the two hormones and the HER2 protein are all negative. And these cancers only have chemo and radio as available treatment options. I am lucky, as I have this additional hormone therapy as part of my arsenal.
And the biggest positive of all, is that tonight, in light of more surgery, a lost and altered body part, the prospect of a long recovery, chemotherapy that has again been delayed, with a planned second mastectomy post chemotherapy, life goes on with cancer.
I am going to have a fabulous weekend, lunching, dining and running a 10km fun run with gorgeous, positive, intelligent and spiritually enlightened women. This weekend will be jam packed with many soul sister type experiences and these just fell into my lap today. A fitting way to farewell my 37 year old breast in the coming days. A bon-voyage breast festival of sorts!
And to top all of this off, tomorrow, my gorgeous husband is buying me an iPad!