Archives for posts with tag: manchester

Some happy Friday news. I got my MRI scan results, and all is good (or, at least, ‘satisfactory,’ to use the doctor-speak). Here’s what the consultant said:

This is to inform you that your recent MRI scan of your breasts performed at Wythenshawe Hospital was satisfactory and showed no sinister features. We are reassured by this.

We will see you again as planned.

What a relief. I must admit it’s terrifying that I’ll have to wait another year until I have any kind of test again, but in the cancer-survival world, no news is good news.

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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.

imageLong 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.

20130906-211223.jpgSo, 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.)

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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.

20130906-212005.jpgNext 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.

IMG_5658“Baby hairbrushes are like buses. You can’t find one for months and then five come along at once!” — Laura Price, breast cancer survivor and baby-chick hairstyle advocate.

Baby hairbrushes really are like buses. Those of you who read my last blog post will know I’ve been looking out for one to tame my nascent but increasingly unruly tresses. I bought one years ago at The Body Shop for my baby niece, but alas, they discontinued the product and I couldn’t find one at my local Boots either. So I issued a call on my blog for advice on where to find one. What ensued was an unprecedented flood of recommendations: online links to baby hairbrushes and combs and advice from mums and breast cancer gals alike from around the globe.

Without further ado, I clicked on one of the links and ordered a teeny-tiny soft hairbrush last Sunday night. So I was surprised when I arrived at work Monday morning only to see my very thoughtful colleague Joana bounding over to my desk to present me with a lovely baby hairbrush-and-comb set she had found in a much better stocked Boots. And then I got home to England on Thursday and of course, Mummy Price had bought me a baby brush too. So now I have three! It’s a good job I have an army of pregnant girlfriends to avail of these surplus hairbrushes once their sprogs are born and my locks are flowing once more…

IMG_5688So, Thursday hailed my return to a very snowy England for the nine-month check-up with my surgeon at the Christie Clinic in Manchester. It’s hard to believe it’s actually been nine months since that fateful day when I went under the knife, but somehow it has.

The appointment didn’t exactly go to plan, with the hospital emailing me at 11am on the day to tell me that actually the surgeon wasn’t going to be in and would I mind changing it to next week? Naturally, I kicked up a fuss as I’d had the appointment in my diary for six months and had booked flights months ago. Thankfully, they managed to squeeze me in under another surgeon, so off I went to Dublin airport for the 35-minute flight.

Arriving in Manchester was a bit like landing in an alpine ski resort, with more snow over the hills than I have seen in the UK in my entire life. (Turns out it’s the most snow since 1979, before I was born.) The drive home across the Yorkshire moors involved bright blue sky and roads flanked by three-metre-high snow drifts. I’m quite grateful I had my chemotherapy during the summer, because I wouldn’t have fancied making the 1.5-hour trek through the snow every time I needed an impromptu mid-night blood test!

IMG_5692To the left are pictures of the snow that greeted my parents’ on their front doorstep a week ago and the cat (Tilly) contemplating whether or not to brave a garden expedition. (As a side note, for those of you who’ve followed this blog since the very beginning, Nurse Molly and Tilly are both doing most excellently. Molly has taken a well-deserved break after being my chemo companion for six months and has decided to sleep for the rest of 2013.)

Happily, everything was just as fine as I had expected with my boob (see? No need to worry!). Because of the scar tissue, my breast can feel a little lumpy to the touch (but only in a totally attractive and sexy way, you understand) and I was reassured to know that this was indeed just scar tissue and not further cancerousness.

However, I did inquire about a tiny little ball-bearing-sized lump under my armpit that appeared after the surgery and has grown slightly, and it turns out it’s a sebaceous cyst that will need to be removed. I am reasonably convinced it came from the days post-surgery when I had surgical adhesive goop stuck all over my armpit area. In my very humble and highly experienced medical opinion, this must have blocked the pores and led to the little cyst. In any case, it’s absolutely no cause for alarm, nor is it dangerous, but nevertheless I’ll have to have a little procedure to get that removed back in Dublin.

IMG_5685Anyway, that’s a relief. Back to the hospital next week for another check-up after the radiotherapy. Now on to more important missions: there are Easter eggs to be eaten and snowmen to be made. (Okay, maybe I won’t do the latter…)

Happy Easter!

So, tomorrow marks exactly one year to the day I found a lump in my left breast: Saturday, 4th February, 2012. For those of you who’ve only recently started reading this blog, I’ll go back to the beginning.

I was living in Buenos Aires this time last year when I went to northeast Brazil on a surfing holiday. It was just after I checked into the beautiful beachside guesthouse that I lay down on the bed and, somehow (I’m still not sure how), I discovered the lump.

Now, I’m aware that for anyone who has never found a lump, it may be difficult to imagine what one looks like, so I thought for the first time I would show you a couple of photos I took just before my surgery last June. (Please excuse the blurry, red face – I had probably been crying as I bid goodbye to my boob in its original state.)

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If you look closely, you should be able to make out the bump in the skin on the right of the photo. It is bruised because I’d had the core biopsy a week or so earlier (where the giant needle is inserted into the tumour to take a sample). But, as you can see, it wasn’t like a massive bump sticking out of the breast, nor was it a different colour from the rest of my body, nor did it have any other outwardly visible characteristics.

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I thought it might be helpful for people to see that my cancer didn’t come with a glaring neon pink sign that said “Hey, here I am – a big fat tumour just waiting to kill you!” No, it was much more subtle. Cancer is sneaky and sly. It often hides itself away while it quietly spreads around your body and waits for you to notice the more glaringly obvious symptoms.

That said, breast cancer comes in many shapes and forms. The symptoms can be anything including a lump, a dry patch, discharge from the breast, discolouration, swelling, or any change in size or shape. And it’s important to feel around the whole area – armpits included – because the cancer might not be in the main protruding part of the boob.

So that’s what happened exactly a year ago tomorrow. I had cancer and I didn’t even know it. I went to the hospital straight away for tests and was told by the Argentine doctors that it was a benign tumour (I.e. not cancerous). After the misdiagnosis, I continued living my life as normal until June 22nd, when I finally got the correct diagnosis in Ireland. I’m forever thankful to my then-boyfriend and my mum, for being the two people who insisted I get a second opinion. Without that, who knows what would have happened?

Fast forward to 2013 and radiotherapy continues to go well: 23 down, 10 to go. I think half the people at work don’t even realise I’m going out for radiotherapy sessions every day, so at least I appear normal.

That said, as you can see below, the hair growth is still painfully slow. (FYI, today’s eyebrows are brought to you with a normal eyeliner pencil, because I came back to Huddersfield for the weekend and forgot my eyebrow make-up. Someone get me a stylist, please!)

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I’m currently trying to pluck up the courage to stop wearing my wig to work. There may be an opportunity to ‘break people in’ at a fancy dress party on Friday. The theme is 90s. I was thinking of copying a fellow breast cancer blogger, Dee, and going as a 90s-look Sinead O’Connor. But I don’t think it really fits in with what the rest of the partygoers are planning to wear. Also, it’s slightly absurd to think of going to a fancy dress party as Sinead O’Connor, just to feel brave enough to show my bald head, when everyone knows I’m bald underneath the wigs anyway! So maybe another week and I’ll do it. Or maybe a bit of alcohol is needed for Dutch courage? Maybe a few shots of tequila before work? (Actually that might not be the worst idea I’ve ever had – the drunkenness might deflect away from the baldness…)

Apart from that, there’s no real radiotherapy news. I am still quite sleepy but otherwise managing to do everything as normal, and getting 9 hours of sleep every night. (Previously unheard of in my life – another silver lining to having cancer.)

Being back at my parents’ house after a month is a bit weird. The drive home from Manchester airport on Friday night was the same drive we did home from the hospital after every chemotherapy session, and going over the Yorkshire moors I felt a slight pang of chemo-familiarity-associated sickness. Then the same again when I put a glass of water on my bedside table and got a flashback of putting a banana next to my bedside table so that I could wake up at 6am and eat it with my chemo steroids. Yuck. It’s only been two months, but these chemo flashbacks are likely to stay with me for a long time. Fortunately, it hasn’t completely coloured my time back at home.

Well, that’s it for today. This time last year I had cancer. Now I don’t. Thank goodness I found that lump.

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