Monday, 20 September 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I really don't know where the last year has gone but just wanted to share with you my journey over the last year in the hope that I can raise awareness for Breast Cancer. I am so lucky as it was caught so early - I couldn't even feel a lump. It seems an apt time for me to share this with you as October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. So fasten your seatbelts ....

As I think back I first noticed something wasn't quite right in August 2009 and knowing I had a routine doctor's appointment in the September I waited until then before I mentioned that I seemed to have a dimple on my right nipple - it wasn't there all of the time and seemed more prominent (or not!) when I had taken off my bra but then sprung back after a few minutes. When I showed it to my other half, Chris, he just said he thought it might be cellulite! How VERY dare he! *Slap*

When I mentioned this dimple to the nurse whilst having my routine smear test she made me an appointment with one of the lady doctors for the following Tuesday. The doctor gave me a thorough breast examination and said she couldn't feel anything but would arrange for me to have a mammogram just in case there was something going on that couldn't be felt.  I could go on the Friday to Hinchingbrooke, Huntingdon or on the Monday to Addenbrookes, Cambridge. I opted for the Monday appointment as it suited me work-wise.  This was the best decision I made as I believe Addenbrookes has one of the best Breast Clinics in the country and I had the best care.

Chris took me for my appointment on the Monday and as both of us thought that the doctor was just being extra cautious we had no real worries about it.  I was called in for a consultation with one of the Breast Clinic nurses who gave me a thorough breast examination and also said she couldn't feel anything. However, she circled my right nipple with a marker pen and I was given a sheet of paper with information about biopsies on it but one of the nurses who was in the room also whispered to me "you probably won't need to have that done" - I was relieved as I had quickly scanned the bit of paper!

When I was called for the mammogram they went through the procedure with me and I must admit I'd heard horror stories of boobs being squashed to "within an inch of their life" so I was feeling slightly nervous, not what they might find, but actually of the procedure! It was a little uncomfortable but was over very quickly (my right boob was in fact quite uncomfortable afterwards).  After about 20 minutes or so I was called to have an ultrasound done as the mammogram was absolutely clear - they found nothing at all - *relief all round*.

They were giving me an ultrasound as a precaution because of the dimpled nipple which had sprung back out again by the way!  They asked if my other half would like to sit in the room whilst I was having it done. He was quite happy to do this and I got my boobs out AGAIN and laid down whilst they put cold jelly on my boob. Chris sat in the corner watching the procedure on the TV screen. The nice lady who was doing it seemed to take an age going over and over the same spot, she then mentioned something about getting a second opinion and the word "biopsy" was mentioned. I still wasn't too worried as I know the mammogram had shown everything to be okay. Chris mentioned that he was going to pop to the loo so gave me a quick wave and he was gone.

Another doctor came in, this time a man, and he seemed to take an age going over the same spot over and over. Then it was suggested that I should have a biopsy which was done very quickly and painlessly as I was given local anaesthetic - the ultrasound lady was very gentle and told me to expect a sound like a staple gun which is exactly what it did sound like and made me jump! She then said she would like to do another one so I braced myself this time! Afterwards (and after being told how brave I was!), as I was getting dressed there was a knock on the door and a nurse came in looking very concerned and said she was very sorry to have to tell me that my husband had passed out in the corridor and had banged his head! I was taken to a side room where he was recovering. I was given a date to return the following week for the results and paracetamol as I might be a little sore after the biopsies. We then spent the next 2 hours in casualty while he was being checked over - bless!  My file at the hospital is now marked "*BEWARE - HUSBAND FAINTS*"!  Chris, bless him, was more concerned with me as "I had gone through all that" and he was the one who had fainted!  Bless!

I hadn't told my mum and dad of any of these appointments etc. as I didn't want to worry them unnecessarily.

We went along to the Breast Unit at Addenbrookes on Monday 5th October 2009, a date etched in my memory forever.  We were called in by a nurse to a consulting room and still we weren't too worried about the results. We were then joined by Professor Wishart and a Breast Nurse. Professor Wishart broke the news that they had indeed found breast cancer. It was stage 2 invasive lobular cancer and apparently quite hard to detect. The ultrasound barely showed it but the biopsy confirmed the dreaded news.

The rest is a blur as you can imagine but my main concern was "how the hell am I going to tell my parents?". To me, that was worse than getting the diagnosis. Chris and I went to see them the following day to break the news and I made them feel a bit better when I told them about Chris fainting and spending the next 2 hours in casualty. Having a sense of humour is paramount!

I was booked in for Sentinel Lymph Node (SLN) surgery (more on that later) on 29th October but first had to have MRI scan on 15th October to determine the size of the tumour - this was my lowest moment being in the scanner face down with my boobs in baskets (hooked up to a machine with intravenous dye being injected) not knowing how big the tumour was ..... *blots out from memory*

I got the results of  the MRI the following week and was told it was very small - 13mm.  I was given the news, however, that due to the position of it and the size of my boob that I would have to have a mastectomy. I didn't care ... I just wanted this thing OUT of me - the sooner the better!  I was walking around for the next few weeks in a daze with a grey cloud above me. I went back to work in between all the various appointments but had to have the first week off after the initial diagnosis as I had trouble sleeping for some reason!

In the meantime I had a couple of appointments to see a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstruction at the same time as the op. I really didn't think there would be so many decisions to make. I thought it was just like shove in a bit of silicon and wham bam! I won't go into all the options of various body parts being used for reconstruction. It was even intimated that I "grow my own" i.e. if I put on a bit of weight on my tummy they could use that to make a new boob and get a tummy tuck at the same time! Bit drastic! However, I decided that I just wanted the silicon implant but I was told that it had to be expandable silicon as the skin needed to be stretched - this would be done over a period of months after the op by injecting a saline solution into a valve just under the breast, effectively pumping it up to match the other one.

The surgeon who was to perform my reconstruction after the breast surgeon had done "his bit" was absolutely gorgeous! When he wanted to examine me, I couldn't get 'em out fast enough for him - then Chris informed me that it was in fact the cleaner .... (not really!) - but I had a joke with my workmates about that!  I felt like I was in an episode of Nip Tuck as he got out his marker pen and drew all round my boobs with dotted lines. When I left to go home I asked if the ink came off easily as it was showing over my top I was wearing and I was going out that night! - he said it was indelible ink but said it with a wink.

I had the SLN biopsy on 29th (day surgery) had my boob injected with blue dye - I  was radioactive for a while ... I got the results of that the following week when I had some excellent news, it hadn't spread to my lymph nodes, so now I was just awaiting a date for the BIG op. Funny thing about the blue dye was that it turned your wee bright blue for a few days afterwards - it was like having a Blue bloc in the loo!  The operation is a fairly new procedure - your boob is injected with blue dye about 2 hours before the op and then once you're in the operating theatre the surgeon makes an incision under your arm and using a special machine it looks at which node the dye goes to (the Sentinel one) which is then removed and sometimes the nearby ones too. This is all sent off for testing, results due back in a week. Yet another wait for results! It was good news this time! Yay!

I had another few days off from work to recover as arm movement is very restricted after this type of surgery. I was told by my breast surgeon that they undertake to operate within 6 weeks. I had the phone call at work at 4pm on Thursday 19th November asking if I could come in on the Monday 23rd November - eeeek! I had to go in on the Friday for the usual pre-op assessment blood tests etc. So, I said my farewell to my work colleagues as I wouldn't see them until after Christmas. That afternoon was another blur ....

I had the usual pre-op blood tests etc on the Friday and was weighed when I realised that I had actually lost a stone in weight! - I was told not to lose any more and they also wondered why my blood pressure was so high - DERR!!!!

That weekend was a strange one - I was feeling extremely emotional anyway plus my mobile was red-hot with good luck texts from family and friends. I woke up Sunday morning with agonising toothache and rang the emergency dentist. When I told them my symptoms they said I wasn't classed as an "emergency" case. However, I told them I was due to have a mastectomy the following day and got very upset. The dentist that I spoke to was so compassionate. She said they would "move heaven and earth" to make me better and I was to go straightaway to Cambridge. I was in floods of tears by then. One of my good friends from work rang me whilst I was in the waiting room - I had to go outside to take the call and filled her in (excuse the pun!) with what had been happening - she had only phoned to wish me luck for the following day.  The dentist and her assistant were absolutely amazing. My tooth was drilled and a temporary filling done. All pain was gone - woo hoo! On the way home I received a lovely text from my friend who had rang me earlier to say that the good luck fairy she had bought me the previous day hadn't done her f***ing job. It was a really funny and poignant text which made Chris and I both cry.

Once I got home I rang the hospital to let them know the situation as I didn't know if the op could still go ahead. They told me to come in as scheduled at 7am.

After a fitful sleep and nil by mouth we arrived at the hospital. I recounted the story and was told a consultant would be round to see me. In the meantime, I met my gorgeous *swoon* plastic surgeon again and also the surgeon who was doing the mastectomy (Professor Wishart wasn't available). Both were undecided whether to go ahead with the op because of the filling I had had at the dentist as any infection in the body would go straight to the implant. After lots of waiting around and to-ing and fro-ing the top Consultant in the Plastic Surgery Department said that there was no way reconstruction could be done due to the high probability of the implant getting infected.  After Chris and I were left alone I finally decided to just have the mastectomy and have a reconstruction at a later date. They said I could have waited until my tooth had been sorted but I needed to get that nasty thing in my boob out of me!  It was by now around 2pm so I told Chris to go and get himself a coffee and something to eat as I still didn't know what time I was going down.  He had only just left when they came for me so I gave him a quick ring. Both of us were emotional by now and in a way I was pleased he didn't see me go off on the trolley as I think that would have been so much worse for him to see.

An hour and a half later I was back on the ward starving hungry! I had my little handbag with my 2 drains tucked inside which had to be carried around everywhere with me - nice!  I was really surprised that I wasn't in too much discomfort and only ended up taking painkillers for the first day then switched paracetamol. The day after the operation I was weighed by the nurses and blood pressure checked etc. and couldn't believe it when they said "you've lost weight".  Derr! You've just removed my boob! - how much did that weigh in at I wonder? 

My non-boob was all the colours of the rainbow when the bandage came off the following day.  I was allowed to go home on the Wednesday with just 1 drain which the District Nurse removed on the Friday.

Two weeks later we returned to the hospital to get the pathology result. Fantastic news! They had got it all and didn't recommend chemo or radiotherapy. I was prescribed Tamoxifen as the type of cancer I had was hormone receptive and sent on my way.  When we got out of the hospital Chris and I did a "Morecambe & Wise" jump!  I couldn't wait to ring my mum and sent texts to all the rest of my wonderful family and friends who have been absolutely amazing throughout the whole ordeal.

I feel absolutely fine apart from a few hot flushes due to Tamoxifen.

I take my chicken fillet round with me everywhere - in fact I tuck it into my specially made bra (safe a place as any!). Gets a bit hot and sweaty in the summer but hey ho!

I am only now thinking about reconstruction and will probably have it done next year now. I miss showing a bit of cleavage now and again but in the words of Arnie "I'll be back" !  I've had to re-think some of my wardrobe and have HAD to go shopping for new tops - any excuse!

I've met some lovely people along the way but I did make a special friend. She had the same type of cancer I had and we have become "bosom" pals. We were even talking about buying a pack of 2 nipples to share! I said I would post one off to her.

I discovered that having a sense of humour throughout all this helped my family and friends to deal with it and in turn, helped me. I remember joking with my sisters who were going out on their market stalls selling their jewellery in Cambridge during the freezing cold weather we had in December (whilst I was tucked up in the warm)  "make sure you wrap up warm, you'll freeze ya tits off". Ooops too late I already did!

I can now moan about people who used to "get on my tits" as getting on my tit now!

Hope this blog has helped raise awareness. So girls, please check yourselves every month (or ask someone to do it for you *wink*) and if there is ANYTHING at all you're not sure about, go and have it checked - remember, early diagnosis is the key.

And another thing ... visit the dentist regularly!

Wishing everyone reading this a healthy and happy year ahead.