Archives for category: Radiotherapy

Ah, January. This time last year, I was just starting a course of 33 radiotherapy sessions for breast cancer and I didn’t really know what to expect. So for my latest blog for Vita, I’ve written a few tips for coping with radiotherapy for anyone who’s going through it now – I hope it helps.

Anyway, after a year of writing for Vita, I decided the new year was a good time to stop, so I’ve hung up my boots. I’ll still be writing for the Huffington Post and Big Scary ‘C’ Word though, so don’t go anywhere.

If you’re reading this and fancy trying your hand at writing for Vita, they are looking for three new bloggers, so do enter the competition. You just need to have had your own experience of breast cancer.

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.

IMG_2358I 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…

IMG_2361The 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.

photo (2)A few months ago, I put myself on an Internet dating website. I was still having radiotherapy for my breast cancer and barely had a few sprouts of hair on my head, but after eight months of being cooped up at home during surgery and chemotherapy, I was more than ready to put myself back out there.

The question was how to advertise myself. You see, an Internet dating profile is like a CV. Just as you have to find a way to explain the massive cancer-shaped hole in your resumé, you also have to think about how to factor your illness into future relationships.

Should I post an old picture of myself with flowing locks and bushy brows and not mention that I ever had cancer? Or should I use a photo of my natural, bald self and come clean about my possible infertility, ongoing treatment and scarred breast?

To read the rest of this article on the Huffington Post website, please click here.

Two weeks after my final radiotherapy session, I finally understood what they meant about fatigue. It didn’t kick in until at least a month after I started radiation, and it wasn’t until late last week that I began to feel a bit debilitated by it. Nevertheless, I knew it was a side effect of the radio when I started needing an afternoon nap after a solid eight hours’ sleep. (Eight hours soon became nine hours, nine hours became 10, and before I knew it, I was sleeping 12 hours and still feeling exhausted.)

It’s both a mental and a physical kind of tiredness, but it’s not a constant thing – it really comes and goes. I wake up feeling reasonably sprightly but by lunch time I’m ready for a few hours of shuteye and sometimes I’ll be back in bed by 9pm. Some days I feel fuzzy headed and can’t concentrate, other times it’s more of a physical tiredness, but more often that not, I’m just sleepy and don’t feel like doing much.

All this, I’m told, is totally normal. The peak of the side effects usually occurs about two weeks after the final treatment, which is round about now, and the cumulative tiredness from the chemo and radiotherapy is likely to last a few months.

It’s easy to feel frustrated by this. After all, I’ve had almost nine months of my life effectively taken away from me by cancer. I spent six of those months cooped up in my parents’ house, unable to go out and socialise or work. Now that I’m no longer bed-bound by chemo, I want to recover lost time: work, go out, have fun, travel, live a normal life. Unfortunately, however, I’m not quite yet free of the side effects of treatment and I’m going to have to hold onto my urge to run marathons for a little longer.

Last week I read a brilliant essay by Dr. Peter Harvey, consultant clinical psychologist at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, which completely captures this phase of treatment. It’s a long read, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how it really feels to step off the rollercoaster of cancer treatment and be left reeling, still dizzy-headed, wobbly and – quite frankly – wanting to vom from the ride.

One of the things Dr. Harvey mentions is the importance of allowing yourself time for recuperation,  convalescence and rehabilitation after cancer treatment, and this doesn’t happen overnight. I took this week off work because I was struggling to concentrate through the tiredness, but I’m not going to suddenly revert to being a bouncing ball of energy (Was I ever?) as of Monday morning. It takes time.

Here are a couple of paragraphs that explain a little about the need for proper rest:

It is a widely held belief, often correct, that the treatment of an illness is meant to make you feel better. One of the many paradoxes of cancer is that, more often than not, the treatment makes you feel worse. This is not surprising – we cut and possibly mutilate, inject you with poisonous and powerful chemicals, subject you to dangerous rays all in the name of treatment. The aggressiveness and power of the treatments are a necessary response to the power of the disease, of course, but this very power takes its toll in other ways. […]

All too often I meet people who, for quite understandable reasons, want to get back to doing the things they used to before the diagnosis but find themselves falling at the first hurdle because they simply find the whole thing too much. In my view, however smoothly your treatment has progressed and however well you have tolerated the various indignities to which we subject you, some time simply to recharge and recover – to recuperate – is absolutely essential. This is the necessary foundation on which to build recovery. […] Take however long you feel you need. Recuperating is the very first step in a process of rebuilding.

And I think that’s just where I am right now: the recuperation stage. Sitting in my flat in Dublin, drinking milkless tea, listening to the rain outside and taking it one day at a time.

“Boob Tattoos, Five-Centimetre Soup and 66 Grays of Radiation: A Radiotherapy Diary” – my latest blog for the Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-price/radiotherapy-diary-boob-tattoos_b_2759582.html

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