Archives for posts with tag: MRI

Three good things happened to me last month. Here they are (in order of occurrence, not importance):

  1. I had laser eye surgery
  2. I got discharged from my oncologist (forever, I hope)
  3. My three-year MRI scan came back clear

I’ll start with No.2.

After examining me, my doctor said, “It’s been three years, so it’s very unlikely the tumour will come back now.” Then he said “I’m sacking you! When your oncologist sacks you, it’s very good news!” Then he laughed, then I laughed, and then I cried.

If I hadn’t been crying constantly for the preceding 24 hours as a result of the laser surgery then everyone in the waiting room might have noticed my happy-emosh tears, but since I showed up dressed as a D-list celebrity in sunglasses and a visor (yes, A VISOR) to protect my puffy, red, light-sensitive eyes, I think I probably got away with it.

Now for those of you wondering about the laser surgery: well, I had LASEK, which is unfortunately not the one where you can go back to work the next day with perfect vision. I had the one where the laser works on the surface of the eye instead of cutting a layer below it, which means you can’t see properly until a couple of weeks later, when the surface has healed. It’s incredibly painful for the first couple of days and makes your eyes constantly stream with tears and your nose with snot, which is why I had to go to the hospital in celebrity disguise.

Kym Marsh

Channeling Kym Marsh exiting the gym

The laser surgery itself was fine – just 47 seconds on each eye, and the green laser beams reminded me of radiotherapy, so I felt strangely at home. (No, really). Afterwards, you have to be skilled enough to administer 127 different kinds of eye drops without actually being able to read the label on the bottle (thanks, Mum), then you have to be cool enough to pull off regulation one-size-fits-all goggles sellotaped to your head, and it feels like having chlorine and grit rubbed into your eyes for two days. But apart from that, it’s fine.

Goggles

A strong look, I feel

Would I recommend it? Well, two and a half weeks later, I still can’t really see that well, so maybe ask me again in a month.

Finally, onto news No.3: the annual MRI scan. I hadn’t heard anything by early this week so I called my surgeon’s secretary. “We don’t have any record of your MRI scan,” she said. So nothing changes.

They now seem to have got hold of it though and everything’s fine, apparently. So that’s good.

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Third annual regulation hospital gown selfie

Being discharged from the oncologist is of course a big deal, but I will still see my surgeon once a year and have the annual MRI scans, and I’ll be looking out for anything sinister in the mean time. But it still feels like quite a significant milestone, so I’m happy.

FB

Facebook tells me it’s three years since the chemo chair ice-pack challenge

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So this photo popped up on my Facebook feed the other day.

There’s nothing like Facebook to give you that big surprise surge of emotions with a visual image – whether it’s a photo of your ex on his wedding day or a school photo of you with pudding-bowl hair circa 1990 that someone has recovered from their parents’ house. Or, in my case, a pic of you larking about in a photo booth mid-chemo with a completely bald head and some ill-informed eyebrow pencillage.

I hate these photos of me, but I do look at them and think I must have been brave because I can’t imagine doing that now. What a difference a couple of years makes, eh?

Speaking of bravery, it’s been so long since I’ve written this blog that I’d forgotten the password. When you’re going through cancer treatment every day and you’re off work and living it, it’s a lot easier to share everything online. You’re sort of suspended from the real world, so sharing some of the most private details about your health with the blogosphere seems kind of natural.

Back in the real world and back at work, it’s easier to pretend the whole cancer thing never happened, so there have been times over the last six months that I’ve sat down to type a few words but I’ve never pressed “Publish” because it all somehow felt too personal.

Just because I haven’t been blogging or going through active treatment, doesn’t mean I haven’t been dealing with the many ways cancer manages to continually affect my life – hot flushes, night sweats, MRI scans, aches and pains that constantly make me think the cancer has come back, and 400-mile round trips for hospital visits (yes, I know I could get an oncologist in London, where I live, but for some reason I cling to the surgeon in Manchester who I love so much he brings a tear to my eye every time I see him).

I still read some of the cancer blogs and every so often there is something that really affects me. The death of a ‘virtual’ friend diagnosed around the same time as me, or a magazine article about a newly diagnosed girl my age that brings back all the feelings and memories. But most of the time, I manage to be the same person I’ve always been. And that scares the hell out of me because in a way I kind of blame the person I am for getting cancer in the first place.

Does cancer change you? Well maybe, in some ways, but mostly, no. I am back to being the person I’ve always been. I get stressed out with work and I push myself too hard. And now I also seem to have incorporated mild panic attacks into the mix – which I think is more to do with age than having had cancer. Even though there is no medical proof, I am fairly convinced my cancer was down to stress, or maybe the way I deal with stress.

In the two years before diagnosis, I had various stress-related ailments: acne, shingles and migraines. I was working 12-18-hour days, surviving on 4-6 hours’ sleep, and training for a marathon. So it didn’t surprise me that my body got so run down that my immune system couldn’t cope with those few tiny cancerous cells that everybody gets but that most people’s bodies manage to ward off before they start to multiply.

Two and a half years later, am I managing to be that chilled out, zen, non-stressy person I vowed I’d be? Am I hell. I mean, I have made vast improvements – I always make sure I get 8 hours sleep, I average about 10 of my daily fruit and veg (no, really), and I occasionally do meditation (like, once a month, but I will start using that Headspace app more regularly). But I still allow work and other things to stress me out and any ‘down time’ seems to get eaten up by stupid but necessary tasks. Oh, and I seem to have signed up for another half marathon.

There’s a daily grapple with myself over what to do – should I just quit full-time work forever, move somewhere much cheaper and live a stress-free, no-commute life? Or should I stay where I am and keep doing what I’m doing? I figure there’s never any guarantee the cancer won’t come back regardless of what I’m doing or how stressed I am, and it’s not worth giving up my ambition and letting the Big C win. So, on I plod.

Anyway, onto the good news. I finally got the results back from my two-year MRI scan and apparently there’s still nothing sinister to report:

Further to my previous letter I have now received the MRI scan. This has revealed no sinister focal lesion. Features were consistent with previous surgery. I am happy with this and will continue to monitor progress as planned.

I remember one of you telling me right at the beginning that if I survived two years then I would be “all clear”. While I now know this is not technically the case, because you’re never really clear of cancer, I’m relieved to get those results. (Not least because the nurse kept calling me Emma during the procedure, and when I rung up three weeks later the hospital had no record of the scan.)

The MRI was a stressful affair. I was determined not to cry this time because I knew what to expect – there’d be a cannula that would remind me of the chemo but I’d be ok with it. But for some reason, I woke up that morning with a terrible headache, which, coupled with the drive over the winding roads en route to Manchester, made me feel as sick and unwell as if I’d just had a bout of chemo. That, and the anxiety, the feeling I never thought I’d have because I convince myself I’m not bothered, that the ever-so-slight pain under my left breast (the cancerous one) might be something to worry about.

So I arrived at the hospital all shaky and sickly from the car journey, and they called me straight in for my appointment. And of course, true to form, they couldn’t get the needle in, and had to call a second nurse to help out. I couldn’t help but have a little cry. And then there was the bit where they kept calling me Emma.

It was my Mum who received the results letter, because for some unfathomable reason at 32 years of age I still get a lot of my post delivered to my parents’ house. Her response, when I asked her to open it, even though I’d already had the results informally over the phone, was “I must admit I still felt nervous opening the letter. You never really know until you get the results from Mr S.”

Yep, that just about says it all really. You never stop worrying. But I’m here, two years later, and that’s all that matters.

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Thought I’d end on some selfie action to give you an update on the hair situation – see t-shirt for explanation. [The doc was slightly surprised when I turned up for my scan a few days later with red and blue paint bruises all over my arms]

Love, Emma x

Anyone who has ever survived primary breast cancer will know the feeling of fear that lives with you every single day. That is, the fear that the disease will at some point return or metastasise, leading to incurable secondary breast cancer.

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Apologies for the recycled MRI selfie, but you can never have too many selfies

For survivors like me, there is no ‘screening’ for metastasis. But what doctors can do is regularly check the breasts themselves for recurrence, with manual examinations, mammograms and MRI scans.

I, however, have been somewhat confused over the last six months about whether I’m supposed to be having MRIs or mammograms from now on.

So, in my latest post for Breast Cancer Care UK’s Vita Magazine, I talk about the national guidelines and recommendations for MRIs.

Disclaimer: This should by no means be taken as ‘advice,’ because I am not your doctor. But hopefully it’ll give people a better idea about the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s guidelines, and from there you can ask the experts.

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.

20130620-221342.jpgHappy Cancerversary
to Me…
Happy Cancerversary
to Me…
Happy Cancerversary
Dear Lau-raaa…
Happy Cancerversary
to Me!

Hip-hip…

Ok, you may detect a hint of irony. I have long hated the word ‘Cancerversary.’ First of all, it doesn’t go particularly well with the word ‘happy,’ which should be reserved for things like holidays and families and birthdays and cake. ‘Cancerversary’ is up there with ‘Your cancer journey’ and ‘Your battle with cancer’ in my Most Disliked Cancer Terminology book, even though I’m guilty of using some of these myself. It’s also perhaps because I’m a grammar and spelling Nazi that I hate the adding of ‘-versary’ onto anything that isn’t ‘anni,’ but don’t get me started on that.

Hating aside, today is the anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I would like to say it was the worst day of my life, but the truth is there were far worse days to come. A year ago today, I was the naive Laura who said things like “Ah, it’s just like breaking a leg” and “I’ll be running marathons again by the end of the year.” Pah! Little did I know what was ahead of me.

BUT…

I survived. And the fact is, I’m doing wonderfully. I haven’t quite got the ‘One-year all-clear’ yet because I’m still waiting for my mammogram and MRI scan, but the important thing is I feel healthier and happier than I did a year ago.

As proof, here is a photo of me looking suitably content on a beach in Ireland last week (yes, I did just say “content,” “beach” and “Ireland” in the same sentence – we were truly blessed with the weather.)

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And, while I may not have fulfilled my slightly farfetched hopes of running marathons by the end of 2012, I did manage to climb to the very top of this rather sizeable mountain in Ireland last week and am making significant progress training for the half marathon I’m going to attempt in October.

IMG_0553Considering there were times during chemo when I couldn’t stand on my feet long enough to even brush my teeth, I’d say I’ve come a pretty long way. So there!

Rejoicing aside though, I am very aware the ‘cancer journey’ (for want of a better phrase) doesn’t end here. Life goes on for me, but I’m well aware not everyone is so ‘lucky,’ which is why we’ve got to continue spreading the message and encouraging early detection. I’m very proud to have joined forces with Coppafeel!’s Boobettes and will be giving my first breast-cancer awareness talk to the boys and girls of Britain next month. (More on this later).

So… while I may not exactly love the phrase ‘Happy Cancerversary,’ I’m going to celebrate anyway, because I’m alive and well and that’s good enough for me!

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