20th May – Happiness can always be found, and the last meal before surgery
It’s now been over 6 months since I was diagnosed with breast cancer (if you’re catching up, I was diagnosed in December 2017 with Stage 2 breast cancer with lymph node involvement.) It certainly hasn’t been the 6 months that my family and I were planning; it definitely has been the most stressful and terrifying 6 months of my life, but there have also been moments of joy, laughter and happiness; there have been moments where I’ve forgotten and times where all I can see and feel is myself disappearing into a black hole. The last 6 months have taught me a great deal about myself and my relationships, but most of all it’s taught me that happiness can always be found no matter how tough things are.
Most of the side effects of chemo have now passed, there are a few odd things remaining – my hair is still thinning a little and my nails are in a pretty awful state, I can still feel a little breathless and my digestive system isn’t 100%, but I am beginning to feel more like myself. My father keeps telling me to stop being cheeky so he’s obviously thrilled that I’ve finished the steroids! I think the strangest feeling, and I’ve been told one that will be with me for some time, is the fatigue. I’ve always been very active and I’ve been so very lucky that Filly slept through the night from just a couple of weeks after she was born, so I’ve never really been tired for any length of time. I still find that I need a nap in the afternoon when Filly does, or if i’m in a car for longer than 10 minutes I will drop off to sleep and I find both of these quite frustrating, but as with most things this year I’ve come to accept it and to try and make a joke of my car-induced narcolepsy. I couldn’t even begin to list the things that I’ve had to accept this year, one of them is knowing which battles to choose and trying to push through the sleepiness is not one of those.
Cancer is always talked about as taking from people, and of course it does. It takes people away from their families in so many ways. It has taken me away from Filly as I’ve spent so much time attending appointments, it’s taken me away from everyone in that I have to spend so much time thinking about bloody cancer and the treatment for it that I feel like I’ve neglected my friends and family, I spend every day wishing and praying that there will be good news post-surgery and that it won’t keep me from my family permanently. It (well the treatment to ‘get rid’ of it) has taken my eyebrows and eyelashes and a good chunk of my hair (I’m happy for my leg hair to stay away!), it’s taken away my palate for food and wine (although thankfully this is recovering daily) and it’s taken its toll financially too. I had never given any thought to the financial implications of having cancer. I’m lucky in that Ally and I had a healthy (at least something is) disposable income before cancer, and I know there is help for people who do have financial difficulties but there’s a lot of extra spending. There’s car parking at each appointment, fuel, the grocery bills increasing in part because of my diet changing, but also because I’m not able to give the same time or effort to making meals as I’ve often been too tired or unwell; there’s things that aren’t seen as completely necessary but to me they have been to either make me feel better about myself or to minimise any chemicals that could potentially be carcinogenic (as I said at the beginning of this treatment, I will do anything I can to give myself a better chance of becoming and staying cancer free). This includes new skin / hair care and cosmetics- I’ve switched over to have everything organic, we are switching over to having organic cleaning products for the household and clothes too. The same applies to new underwear for after surgery, I’ll need new bras with pockets on for my prosthesis while I wait for full reconstruction (if that’s what I choose) and I’ll need new clothes for after surgery when my movement is restricted and while I won’t be able to wear my prosthetic; the last thing I want to feel is like everyone is looking at me and wondering. Thankfully there are lots of places that do pretty post-mastectomy clothes and underwear, and don’t tell Ally, but Stella McCartney has a range and so my credit card bill may be higher than usual! And of course, through the treatment for cancer I will be losing a part of my body forever. It’s not an easy thought, but life without a breast is a far better thought than the alternative and there are hundreds and thousands of wonderful, brave women (and men) who have been through this too and no matter whether they choose to remain flat, or to wear a prosthetic or to have a reconstruction, they have got through it and are stronger for it, and it certainly isn’t the first thing I think about when I see them, and I hope it will be the same for me.
As well as taking away, cancer and its treatment is a giver too. I’ve been given a good half stone in weight and an early menopause (oh the joy of hot flushes in the middle of the night!) It’s also given me an enormous gratitude for our nurses, pharmacists, HCAs and our NHS. Each nurse I’ve met has been sympathetic and friendly, some have been funny and some downright hilarious (one Sister in Oncology is famous for her random singing), there are some I’m keeping in contact with, and I will be glad to catch up with the oncology nurses every 3 weeks when I’m in for my Herceptin. It’s given me more fear than I’ve ever experienced, fears about the treatment and needles etc, but also fears about what the future holds; this will never go. I am sure that for the rest of my life I will be worrying about every ache and pain, every lump and bump, every cough and sneeze, but something I’ve learned, in fact am still learning, is that I can’t let these worries overtake my life and cloud each day. Every day is precious and I’ve vowed to make sure that each second counts.
I’ve pushed my body and my mind beyond what I thought were its limits so that I don’t have to say ‘I can’t do that because I have cancer’ and I will continue to do so. I never thought that I’d get to the end of chemo and be able to say that surgery is next week with a sense of calm. I feel ready for surgery, it’s a step closer to the end of this part.
If this was a song, I think the phrase would be ‘key change’…anyway time for something a little lighter! I booked Ally, Filly and myself a post-chemo, pre-surgery treat and we are back from a wonderful long weekend seeing the sights of Exmoor and relaxing in Cornwall. We spent a lovely evening in a small village in the centre of Exmoor as a halfway stop en route to our weekend in Cornwall. I wanted to break up the journey but also we are considering a move to the area so we wanted to do some research. There were horses everywhere, which is all I needed to see. I’m definitely keen. After exploring Exmoor we made our way to Bedruthen in Cornwall. It’s just along the coast from one of my very favourite places, Watergate Bay. The hotel was fabulous, they had childcare facilities for Filly and so much for her to see and do, Ally and I even had time for a session in the spa when Filly was in the nursery which was wonderful. The food was fresh and almost all of it was from within a 10 mile radius. We indulged in a bottle of wonderful Bacchus from a local vineyard, the deliciousness was worth every second of guilt about having alcohol the weekend before surgery. The staff were really professional, and the breakfast waiting staff gave Ally and I a gold star for being the ‘most fun parents’. I think this actually means that we were probably the loudest and silliest. We went to the beach twice, and built sandcastles, flew kites and ate ice creams, Filly loved it and spent 3 hours on the journey home demanding to go back to the beach. Before returning home we popped across to Rock to eat at Nathan Outlaw’s pub, The Mariners. My surgery was booked for the next day and I would have to be nil by mouth from bedtime so I decided that an enormous late lunch would be my last meal before surgery. My word, it was massive! To start Ally and I shared oysters and smoked salmon, and then each had a roast, Ally had rib of beef and I had pork collar with crackling and a Yorkshire pudding, the vegetable accompaniments were the best I’ve ever had, there were cheesy leeks (worth the trip to Cornwall for those alone), roast roots, fresh spring greens and sweet red cabbage. It was definitely off plan, but it was all local and the meat was organic, and it was outstandingly delicious which is most important of all. Obviously I slept for most of the journey home.