Three years ago I found a lump in my breast. A totally unexpected find. Back then, if you said I was going to be hit with the cancer stick sometime in my life I would have bet my money that the first strike would be bowel cancer. My early life on white bread and mushy vegetables and a deep rooted love of red wine and bacon would one day catch up with me.
In fact, three years ago I was about to ask my GP if I could have a gastroscopy and a colonoscopy because of some symptoms I had been having, combined with my family history of digestive issues such as diverticular disease and cancer. But breast cancer jumped in and stole all the limelight.
So since I got all that early breast cancer lark out of the way (with the exception of monthly injections, daily medications and two more surgeries ahead), I’m getting back on track with my quest for chasing the illustrious pot of health at the end of my rainbow. You see, a year ago I put myself out to pasture and it’s time I pull myself out of that paddock and stop with all that rich lucerne grass and start doing some serious work on the physical me.
I’m starting with task one tomorrow. A check up on the health of the insides of my digestive system with a Gastroscopy and Colonoscopy. (Aka GoPro Oesophagus/Stomach and GoPro Bowel).
I’m not worried about having a camera inserted in my mouth and up my butt. I’m looking forward to the surgical theatre chatter and the anaesthesia. It’s been a while!
Cancer Australia estimated over 17,000 new cases of bowel cancer would be diagnosed in 2015. That’s second place in the cancer occurrence stakes, smack bang between prostate (for males) and breast cancer in incidence. Bowel cancer is highly curable when detected early.
The most common symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- bleeding from the rectum (this may be noticed as blood in the stools).
- symptoms of anaemia.
- a change in bowel habit (loose stools or constipation).
- abdominal pain or cramping.
- weight loss.
- unexplained tiredness or fatigue.
Of worthy note, breast cancer survivors have an increased chance of subsequent colon cancer two times above the level of risk in the general population.
So this morn I woke up and prepared a glass of Picoprep. This bowel emptying solution can be purchased from any pharmacy for about eight dollars. It will also come with a knowing grin from the pharmacist, a grin that speaks of the atrocity that awaits you.
After school drop off, I drank my first sachet and I can only describe it a glass of warm urine from the body of a bloated, rancid, dead camel. You know, the kind that has spent a week lying in the Outback Australia sun.
Don’t be fooled by Picoprep’s attempt to camouflage itself as a glass of milk. It’s #hideous #vile #foul.
Today of all days, when I had to drink not one, but TWO glasses of this travesty, a highly anticipated new cafe opened up in my street. Normally, I’d be their first customer. Not today. Today, I was stuck with a clear liquid diet, free of dairy, and had to hover around the toilet at the ready. I can say that today, I may have pooped out things I ate back in 1989, the year Taylor Swift was born.
Thank the lord tomorrow is the procedure day, for after that, I’ll be down the road loving that new cafe in no time!
**Interestingly, Instagram already had the following hashtags about Picoprep #picoprepihateyou #picoprepcanstickit. So it would appear I’m not the only one to be totally distraught by this.
Life has been rolling along recently with loads of travel, with celebrations and lots of love. I was shortlisted for the Mamamia Writers Comp, which was some lovely validation for the writing of this blog. I also received an “Australian of The Year” nomination. Which despite making me laugh for weeks also left me secretly chuffed.
I seem to be relishing life at the moment.
As I approach the three year mark since I found my grade three lump in my left breast, the colour is FINALLY returning to my life, despite living with the ongoing side effects (hairloss, menopause, brittle painful bones, digestive issues, lung scarring, medication side effects, continued weight gain) from treatment for early breast cancer, I’m finally emerging from the sinkhole. This despite not even being finished with surgeries yet, as I’m still on a public waiting for reconstruction.
It’s taken some woop arsed counselling sessions, some anti-depressants, and the immersion of myself in the things I used to love to do when I was a teenager. I bought a ukulele in Hawaii and I’m enjoying learning some basic chords and having a sing along. Painting has been such a feature of the last few months. Commissions are coming in thick and fast so I’m finally ready to set up a business.
Here’s a grab of the stages of my latest painting.
I’m no longer thinking about if the cancer comes back. I’m no longer worried about death. I’ve reached the point of que sera sera … the future’s not ours to see, and all that. So thanks Doris Day and thanks cancer for reconnecting me with my creative side which I lost for 26 years.
Marina’s original photograph which she entered in the AIPPA can be accessed here.
Anyone who wants to follow me on Instagram can find me at lisamcdermidfineart.
Two and a half years ago I wrote a blog post titled “Licking Lava“. I had woken feeling like I had dragged my tongue over the inferno of an active Hawaiian lava field. I sat miserable on my couch. Mouth ulcers had erupted on my tongue, inside my cheeks and in my throat from lifesaving chemotherapy. Unable to eat and struggling to swallow, I daydreamed about our future, wondering if I would still be in the picture.
Today I stood on a lava field two days out from the 2015 Ironman World Championships. Mr Cool made it! Incredibly, we all made it! He is about to achieve his long term dream of competing in Kona. And he did it while working full time, while supporting two young kids and a wife who sometimes feels like half the wife and mother she was pre cancer. He did this with both of his parents affected by their own diagnosis of cancer. Where he comes or places in the Ironman race is irrelevant.
The Big Island volcanoes of Hawaii are an appropriate analogy for our journey through breast cancer. A volcano spontaneously erupted back in January 2013 with such force it ejected enormous quantities of molten rock from the earth’s interior. Our clear blue skies suddenly filled with fetid and pungent ash. The sulphur dioxide, hazardous to breathe left us gasping, choking. Rocks rained down on our lives like bombs dropping from the sky and we scrambled and scurried to safety. We worried about our future, at first from day to day. Then the months and then the years ahead. The molten lava flowed and smothered our landscape, stripped of a life once known. The lava cooled rapidly in some places and slowly in others, bending and buckling, fracturing. It hardened into billowing pillows and in places it formed sinuous grey-black patterns. A jagged, dark and inhospitable moonscape. A place that is far removed from our life pre-eruption or pre-cancer.
Progress at rebuilding has been slow. I’m using the materials I now have. I am bald and very overweight. Which is part breast cancer drugs Tamoxifen and Zolodex, part anti-depressant, part early menopause, part inactivity. I continue to have bone pain, migraines, hot flushes, insomnia. I have recently developed foot, ankle, hand and wrist pain that feels like stress fractures. My bones are changing from the lowered levels of oestrogen.
Today, while scrambling on the lava I marvelled at such formidable forces; volcanoes, cancer and my families continued resilience. I marvelled at the passage of time and the joy of my continued place in it.
I received a pap smear reminder in the mail a few weeks back. It had been three years since my last smear. Regular pap smears every two years reduce the risk of cervical cancer so they say, especially if you are too old to have received the cervical cancer vaccine. Whatevs. I’ve always loathed that word ‘smear’. I don’t know why? It rhymes with many other excellent words; dear, beer, career, cheer…
What’s the point of having my cervix scraped to check for abnormal cells when I’ve already had cancer and all the trimming and trappings of treatment; amputated breasts, gouged out lymph nodes, chemo poison, radiation burn, ovaries shut down, the humiliation of permanent hairloss, and all of the ongoing health issues I have from Zolodex and Tamoxifen medications, blah, blah, blah. I’m alive. I’m lucky. Surely I couldn’t get a second primary cancer?
Could I even face the scrape? Can I be bothered anymore? Why am I so despondant?
Then began a distant chant. At first it was faint. It sounded was like it was coming from the new mosque that hasn’t yet been built in our town but is warmly anticipated. Or perhaps it was from some far off place further up the gully. “Face the scrape! Face the scrape! Face the scrape!”… the chanting got louder and louder.
Then one restless night at 3am this chanting woke me. To be honest, I actually wake every night at 3:00am. Not a moment before, not a second after. I’ve dubbed this hour MI hour, which stands for “menopausal insomnia” hour. This is the hour that menopausal women all over the world open their eyes, throw off the covers because they are hot and sweaty and curse the Gods and get as far away from their partner as they can.
Anyhow, in the dead of this particular night I turned on my iPhone and read this article. “More cancer patients are hearing the words: ‘you have cancer – again!‘” (NBCnews.com, Aug, 24th, 2015). This is the story of the very lovely Judith Bernstein of suburban Philadelphia. Judith who has eaten more shit sandwiches in her life than anyone I know. Judith has had eight different types of cancer over the last two decades, all treated successfully.
Get the fuck out! EIGHT DIFFERENT CANCERS!
At one point Judy thought she had cancer in her little finger. Which is totes normal for any one-time cancer survivor. But eight times?!?!? Judy, Judy, Judy. Bless you Judy!
The article went on to highlight another tantalizing tit bit… “Nearly 1 in 5 new cases (of cancer) in the U.S. now involve someone who has had the disease before.”
So armed with this knowledge and the seemingly endless “Face the scrape” chanting, the very next day I made my appointment and later faced my fear of the scrape head on.
My excellent womens health doctor had a bucket load of information to catch up on regarding my health. Cancer – check. Ovaries turned off – check. Medications – check. Mental health – check. She is always incredibly thorough and I hadn’t seen her since the lump in my breast was diagnosed as cancer in January 2013.
After our lengthy discussion, I went behind the curtain and removed the bottom half of my attire. I lay quietly on the bed with knees falling gently with feet remaining together. A white blanket gave me some modesty. Women the world over know the drill.
Turns out the scrape is now more like a semi-automatic gun which rotates and bangs tiny holes into your cervix. True. Then my WH doc said, “Oh I can see the walls of your vagina are thinning and dry from your early menopause.”
Excellent. No really, that’s great!
That my friends, was the day my vagina got old. T’was a perfect spring day in our town. I have marked it in my calendar. I might even add it to Facebook as a life event. And the Queen might send it a birthday card when it turns one hundred. Which might not be too far away. I’m also assuming that there will be no more movie roles offered to my vagina either now that it is deemed ‘old’. <Insert sad face>
Now I really can’t wait for the narrative from my first colonoscopy.
P.S last months bone scan was clear. Sorry, I forgot to come and tell you the good news. I’m still having some follow up tests.
To celebrate the end of fourteen months of PTTIPOS, (that’s Post Treatment, Tamoxifen Induced, Psychotic Ovarian Syndrome, here is a picture of the brilliant Dr Claudia’s winter boots.
When I asked her if I could photograph her leather for my blog, she said… “How very artistic of you!”
“Thank you Dr Claudia!” I blushed.
We felt it would be much less likely to traumatise than some GoPrOvary images of my cysts, endometriosis and pelvic adhesions.I’m not totally heartbroken though, as sometime next year Dr Claudia will remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes. So there will be future dates, err, I mean consults ahead.
*PTTIPOS has not yet been included in medical encylopedias. But I think it deserves a spot.
Everyone has a junk draw in their house, don’t they? Hiding all the odds and sods you can’t be bothered giving a proper home to. I’m amazed by the amount of intricate little things you’ll find deep within. Much like the human body. Except within us, everything has a correct anatomical place to function. Things aren’t jammed and crushed in to fit.
We began draw hoarding with just one draw in the kitchen. When that filled up and started overflowing, we started using the one above it. Then chose another set of draws in a different kitchen cabinet. We then migrated our increasing collection of small artifacts to the computer room desk draws, below the phone table in the hall. Then crammed heaps of ‘stuff’ into the desk draws in the formal lounge. Having children just seemed to exacerbate the problem.
These draws are filled with all manner of crap; old dog tags and pool memberships, toaster and kettle warranties, broken pens, dog toenail clippers, knitting needles. There are picture hanging hooks, long lost allen keys, old batteries, cable ties, old bills, the broken bit off the back of the remote, loom bands, music cassettes (remember those!), decks of cards, my old hair clips, broken jewelry and some teeny tiny bits of Lego. There is one casino chip from that time I went to a casino in 1995.
On Thursday night, I came home from my late oncology appointment and rummaged through one of these draws and found what I was after first go. It wasn’t supposed to be that easy, but I’ll celebrate the win.
Lise 1 – Junk stash 281
“What are you looking for?” Mr Cool called from the bedroom.
“I’m looking for the model of my boobs.”
“Sure you are!”. Mr Cool has heard it all in the last two and a half years. There are no surprises.
I was searching for the make and model of these ghastly Tupperware tissue expanders. Somewhere in these draws laid the magnetic port finder that belongs to each side of my “Mentor Siltex 6200 Contour tissue expandered” chest.I needed to confirm with my oncologist and the MRI department at my local hospital if I can have an MRI or not. An MRI would provide a lot more detail as to the origin of my acute neck and shoulder pain that is keeping me awake and is only okay with heavy duty analgesics.
In the back of my mind I recall my surgeon stating an MRI was not possible while these plastic and metal lumps resided in my chest. Turns out it’s not as simple as if they are in or not.
It also depends on the type of expander, and whether the magnetic ports (which the plastic surgeon uses these as a guide as where to inject when filling the expander up with saline) are still in my chest. It also involves consideration as to the strength of various MRI machines. With these different factors, I was mildly hopeful.
My first tissue expander was inserted into the space of the removed cancer boob two and a half years ago. The good boob was removed six months later and the second one went in.
These expanders never got much expanding. A mere sixty millilitres was injected one time, and that was enough for me. The breast surgeon made it clear that I would “only need Asian sized implants”. Turns out, my breast tissue was just the volume of a tea cup. I’d heard of A cup, B cup and C cup, but never tea cup! Unfortunately my breast contained half a cup of cancer! Eeeek!
The next morning, my hospital rang to confirm the model and make with me , assuring me they will ring me back with an answer.
An hour later the phone rings. After contacting the maker of the expanders it is confirmed that I cannot have an MRI based on the magnets in my chest and the strength of the machines they use.
Until the big smoke hospital completes the recon phase and takes these puppies out and replaces them with silicone implants I’m in the MRI no go zone. So we’ll stick with CT scans, bone scans, and ultrasounds of my shoulder to try and rule out mets, and I’ll keep on the heavy duty pain meds so that I can function.This has thrust me back into the land of “scanxiety” with two weeks of testing including a CT of my neck, an ultrasound of my shoulder and a full bone scan. My Dread Dragon has landed in our backyard after a long absence.
The toughest part is the waiting for results and trying to keep my shit together and reassure my kids that I’m okay. Any time I have hospital appointments it is very unsettling for them. This is difficult to manage when I myself am constantly swinging between “It will just be a pulled muscle, I’m going to look so silly when it comes back clear”, to “Oh My God it might be mets!” all within several minutes. But I must try and keep the farm calm.
So, why didn’t I just go and see my chiro or physio or a remedial masseur as that would cost a shit load less and there is probably a very simple explanation, like a torn trapezius, trapped nerve, misaligned spine. (Remember this all started when I pulled up my pants).
Well, the pain I’ve had for two weeks now is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. Pain sends cancer survivors into a spin and the greater the pain the more intense the fear.
In addition, once you’ve had cancer you don’t want to spend four months having physical therapy to find out you do in fact have metastatic cancer. The internet is littered with stories of people who this in fact happened to. They all lamented, “If only we had run the scans sooner?”.
Once all this calms down and life rolls onward, I’m going to send a thank-you card and a bottle of red wine to my oncologist for being the most thorough and sincere medical practitioner I’ve come across on this two and a half year cancer chapter. A professional who genuinely seems to care for his patients and takes the time to answer their questions. He goes above and beyond what you would expect someone to do and has a great support team who also facilitate this quality care. I could not ask for better oncologist or oncology department.
The next job will be to clean out those ridiculous junk draws when my arm starts working again. Who lives like that anyway? I’m glad visitors to our house can’t see what lies within.
These amazing paintings are the work of Spanish based artist Fernando Vicente. They come from his collection titled “Varitas” Retrieved from his own website http://www.fernandovicente.es/en/fine-art/vanitas 2/8/15. You can purchase his book on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Fernando-Vicente/dp/190939937X
There comes a time in a woman’s life when it might be time to say goodbye to skinny jeans. Trouble is, I’m not sure what to move on to. Tracksuit pants, long skirts, a muumuu? Your suggestions are most welcome.
20kg’s of post cancery treatment goodness has resulted in me jumping around my bathroom trying to wriggle skinny denim up over my thighs and butt. Maybe I could start a new craze? Compression denim or leggings that look like jeans. Um… no, just no!
This climb into muffin top city all began with steroids through chemo. The scales jumped up 8kgs within a matter of months. Then with Tamoxifen came another 8kgs. Then Zolodex put me into menopause and began my foray into tuck shop lady arms. Throw into the equation, an 80 percent reduction in pre treatment exercise from all of the pains and strains I’ve had since breast cancer treatment, the mutant ovaries, bone pain. Oh and cheese and, and, and donuts. (Note to self: don’t forget to pick up those lemon curd donuts from one of our cities finest pastry chefs).
Now the scales in our bathroom just shout “Computer says no!”
It’s really hard to believe I was fitter and healthier at the conclusion of my year of treatment. Hell I even did a sprint distance triathlon.
The recent months have been great though. There have been interstate trips with girlfriends and catching up with dear friends in the big smoke along with much calmer times at home.The pelvis was completely sorted with surgery and Zolodex. The mental health is much improved thanks to an anti-D which has miraculously lifted me out of the misery I was hurling at myself and my family. The crazed menopausal rants, the crying over burnt toast, gone. The feeling of being overwhelmed by everything in life. The creeping thoughts that I was a burden on my family and they perhaps would be better off without me. Totally irrational. And thankfully all gone. Just like turning off a tap. Depression is such an asshole but with treatment it’s great to finally feel like myself again.
And yet here I am, grappling with the ridiculous dilemma of moving on from skinny jeans. Wriggling, jumping, bending in ways I shouldn’t. Getting dressed should NEVER be this hard. So hard, that I hurt my back pulling these suckers up.
Even before that event, I have been having escalating spinal and shoulder pain in the last month. It’s been waking me at night and getting worse. At night I shift in bed about 300 times, the strongest analgesics I had in the cupboard were not helping. There has been explosive migraines. The classy contortionist effort to get dressed a week ago did not help, the neck and spinal pain worsened. I could not sleep AT ALL.
Friday night saw me shuffle into the hospital emergency department in my pyjamas. Classy. It saw me lay on the cold floor in emergency because I could not bare the pain of sitting. Classy. It saw me fill two vomit bags which a distressed Mr Cool carried round with him for a good while. Classy. That excruciating, motherfucking pain was worse than natural childbirth. At least you get the joy of baby at the end of that.
After being assessed, I left with a bucket load of narcotics and thanked Buddha they actually work, provided I keep up the schedule. My bed side table resembles the collection of a drug addict. Totally classy.
Something is responsible for the pinched nerves in my neck. This could be my joints crying out for oestrogen. Or it could be disc degeneration, impinged nerves, or many other things.
So today I’m off for a CT scan to see about these pinched nerves in my neck or something more sinister….. more sinister……… more sinister.
Sorry, that was just the echo from my ‘highly traumatised by cancer’ subconscious.
P.S. Mr Cool got a spot in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon World Championships in October and we are all so thrilled for him! A lifelong dream is finally coming to fruition. Better get shopping for some bright muumuus as George Costanza is doing Hawaii. Woop Woop!