Today marks six years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I’m not quite sure how to sum up everything that’s happened in the last 24 hours, let alone the last year or six years. So here’s a list, in no particular order, of random thoughts and people who have inspired me. Continue reading
So I just had my bi-annual check-up with the surgeon who saved my life and I’m pleased to say it’s all good.
It was just a manual examination – no scans, no cannulas, no tears this time – but for some reason it seemed more thorough than the last time and I felt quite satisfied.
Anyway, Dr Lifesaver seemed very pleased (‘Your scars have healed so well! You can barely even see the armpit one.’) and told me to come back in October for my next MRI scan. (Well, it’s not actually that simple – he said I have to come back and ask him to write another letter to the NHS board asking them if I can have another MRI, so it’ll probably be Christmas by the time I have another one, but anyway).
I have a different hospital appointment next week for a separate chemo/Tamoxifen-induced problem that I shan’t go into, but after that, no more hospital trips until July, when I see the oncologist again. Hooray!
As you can see, my hair has grown a bit since last time I wrote. It’s not actually as long as it looks in this hospital-gown selfie – it’s just got volume today because I went to sleep with it wet and woke up with a semi-Mohican (as happens most days). It is also getting mullet-like at the back again and needs a bit of a trim.
But the good news is I’m *almost* back to my pre-chemo pixie. I think it’ll actually be two entire years after my pixie cut (August 2012) by the time it grows back to that length, which is insane. But my latest theory is that if my cancer cells grow anywhere near as slowly as my hair cells then hopefully they have NO CHANCE.
Oh, and I figured I could get away with today’s headline since yesterday was apparently National Yorkshire Pudding Day. Didn’t know it was a thing? Nope, me neither. But fortunately I have a bezzie who knows these things and thankfully she was on hand to cook me a truly splendid Yorkshire roast. So it is, indeed, all gravy.
It turns out the mere mention of the word ‘cannula’ (a thin tube inserted into the vein to administer drugs) is enough to make me cry.
I had gone to the Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester for my MRI scan – a routine check-up on my breasts that’s recommended for women under 40 because it’s more reliable and doesn’t involve harmful radiation.
I have never been one to dread scans or be afraid of them in any way. I sailed through 33 rounds of radiotherapy because it was just a case of going into a room, lying down under a big whirring machine and waiting. No pain, no dark tunnels. So, for my first ever breast MRI on Thursday, I breezed into the radiology department, all smiles and regular heartbeat, expecting to be in and out within an hour or so.
I just had no idea I was going to need a cannula. It was just a pin prick so they could insert some dye half-way through the scan, to allow my boob matter to show up on the images (or something). It was actually the smallest type of cannula available, used for babies, no less. (I say this so that you know just how much of a wimp I am).
But as soon as I heard the word ‘cannula,’ I burst into tears in front of the nurse, because to me, a cannula isn’t just a little needle-like thing. To me, a cannula is synonymous with chemo. Just a whiff of the saline going into my arm was enough to make me want to vomit, bringing with it all the traumatic memories of six months of chemo. The nights in the hospital when it took three different nurses to finally (and painfully) get a cannula into my hand, and the gut-wrenching feeling of those toxic drugs seeping into the veins…
The nurse handed me a bunch of tissues and told me a story about how she can’t go down the catfood aisle in the supermarket because it reminds her of the cat she lost three years ago. This story of association was supposed to make me feel better but, of course, she didn’t know she was talking to Cat Lady Supremo, for whom any tale of dead, unhappy or injured cats is enough to bring on the waterworks. So, naturally, that just made me feel worse.
So I lay there, horizontal, on the MRI machine with my face squashed into a squashy pad looking down at a white space, tears streaming down my face, cannula in arm, strapped to the machine, for about 40 minutes. As we all know, when you cry, your nose runs (especially when you’ve had flu for the last week), and when you’re lying face down, without the use of your arms because they’re strapped to a machine, there’s nothing you can do about it. So I lay and watched a large bogey slowly drip, drip, drip, along with my tears, until it finally hit the machine. I hope it doesn’t interfere with my results.
It really wasn’t a painful experience, and the staff in the hospital were amazing, but sometimes it just takes a trigger to bring back every horrible thing you go through with cancer. I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the past few weeks and I’ve been quite emotional.
The results won’t be back for a while yet, but hopefully it’ll be another all-clear. And – with any luck – I won’t have to go through all that again for another year.
Long after chemo ends, a strange and somewhat unexpected thing happens in the post-cancer world: You grow a mullet. Yes, a mullet, that most glorious and beautiful of haircuts only sported in modern times by Argentine footballers and, er, people who are growing their hair from scratch after chemo.
That’s right, while several months ago I was told I looked like the Mexican footballer Chicarito, I recently found myself bearing a closer resemblance to Messi.
There was only one thing for it: the mullet had to go.
So, a year and a month after that fateful pre-chemo haircut that turned me into a PFF (Pixie Fan Forever), I finally got my first post-chemo haircut. In Vietnam. For £5. A bargain at the price.
It had been a long time coming. My hair has grown so slowly I didn’t even think it was worth a trim, but after detecting one too many disapproving looks from fashionable friends and acquaintances, I decided it was time to nip the fast-developing mullet in the bud.
I’m delighted with the results, only I still have The Bald Patch. Everyone keeps telling me it’s not actually a bald patch, “it’s just the way it’s growing on top” or “it’s just a bit thin there, that’s all,” but I’m still not convinced. It looks like a bald patch to me. (In the below pic, the bottom right is the before pic and the others are all after.)
Anyway, bald patch or no bald patch, I honestly could not care less. I’ve never been a girlie girl or a hair straighteners girl, but I now care even less than ever about being perfectly groomed. I am absolutely delighted to have a full head of (albeit very short) hair, but beyond that, and far more importantly, I am still unbelievably grateful and relieved that I’m alive and healthy. Not a single day goes by where I don’t worry that the cancer will return. And I’d happily have a mullet and a bald patch for the rest of my life as long as I don’t have cancer.
Next week, I return from Vietnam to have my long-awaited MRI scan at the Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester. The MRI is recommended for women under 40 because it’s more reliable (and less harmful) than a mammogram, so the results are very important to me. I’m quite certain there’ll be nothing untoward on the scan, but it would be fantastic to get a definitive all-clear. And then hopefully, just hopefully, I’ll really have something to celebrate.