Pinchy goes nuclear

I think I might be a little bit in love with my oncologist. I met the rather brilliant Dr Stephen Houston for the first time this week. He bounced into the room like the Aussie Tigger of the cancer world and launched into a completely non-patronising, very exciting proposal.

Apparently the pharma company behind breast cancer wonder drug Herceptin has developed another potion to work alongside it in the one in five women (like me) who have an overenthusiastic protein on their cells telling the cancer to grow. It’s called pertuzumab, and the trials so far are looking very encouraging. The doc reckons that with these two drugs plus the chemo, there’s a high chance that my trio of lumps will ‘melt away’ within months. Wow. That’s amazing, isn’t it? He added: ‘If you were my wife, I’d want you on it.’. Well, that’s good enough for me.

He stopped flirting when I mentioned that I was into complementary therapy (as in, therapies that complement conventional medicine and also look at the whole person, mind, body, and spirit). I obviously pushed a button cos he went off on a mini lecture about homeopathy (which I hadn’t even mentioned)  being bollocks. I was actually trying to ask if it was OK to be referred up to the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine for mistletoe injections, which appear to work alongside chemo to offset some of the side effects and increase its efficacy. He says it doesn’t work so he doesn’t mind if I do or don’t. I said he’s just told me that one of my chemo drug was an extract of yew tree, so… The two nurses and research assistants said later it was like a tennis match, and they thought I had stood up pretty well against a pure scientist. I did ask them to tell Stephen (I’m not doing Dr so-and-so if they are calling me by my first name. We’re on the same team, right?) that I am a big fan and will gladly taken the many tens of thousands of pounds worth of drugs he’s going to be throwing at me. I just need to keep control of where my own head is, as well.

There’s no data on mistletoe with chemo plus  Herceptin, let alone this drug that isn’t even licensed yet, so I will probably not go for another day at another hospital with another injection just yet. I don’t want caaancer to turn into my full-time job!

Anyway, I agreed to sign up to the trial and become a pampered lab rat for a year after reading all the papers he gave me and sleeping on it, so we’ll get going on that in the next couple of weeks. He also mentioned that if I wear a cold cap during the chemo, there’s a 60-70% chance that I will keep my hair. I’ll take those odds and see how it goes before launching into the World of Wigs. Although Suburban Turban has got a rather good selection of natty little hats with Real Hair Fringes you can get a hairdresser to shape for you, so I won’t look like my baldy DH in his golf cap.

Yesterday was a fun day. I had another biopsy (well, about a dozen samples) of the calcium deposits in my ducts to see if they actually are pre-cancerous or not, while squished into a mammogram machine. Nice. They also inserted a tiny metal coil into a lump ‘so if it disappears, we know where it is’. Ooh! Tracey, my surgeon, very sweetly came over for a chat in the waiting room and said she was really hopeful we were still on for ‘the plan’ ie minimal surgery.

Then I got injected with radiation for a bone scan and had to drink pints of water before going back three hours later for 23 minutes of lying with a large flat camera over my entire body an inch from my nose. Eyes shut, some random middle of the road music at high volume. I pissed myself when Bridge Over Troubled Water came on, although not as much as when Theme from Twin Peaks was playing in the breast screening clinic a couple of weeks ago. No kidding. It’s quite weird, seeing a picture of your own skellington, especially this close to Halloween. Although pleasing to see I have a beautifully straight spine.

I was so radioactive I later set off the alarms in M&S (and no, I didn’t get a frisking from a buff security guard, alas) and when I stood next to the radio, it went all fuzzy. And I have had to avoid ‘extended cuddles’ with the kiddies for 24hrs in case they get a somewhat less healthy Ready Brek glow. I was hoping that some superpowers would emerge, but no sign of SuperPinchy joining the Heroes as yet. Am taking spirulina and chlorella supplements, having Epsom Salt baths and DH is madly juicing beetroot for me to soak up the radiation.

Yesterday afternoon I also had another appointment with my lovely kinesiologist, who did a ‘detox’ of my energy meridians, and advised me to avoid sugar and white wine until I don’t have cancer any more. Anyone who knows me will understand this is a bit of a challenge – they are essentially my two staple foods – but makes complete sense as cancer loves sugar and white wine is full of it plus it stimulates oestrogen and I’ve got the sort of cancer that is partly a result of rather too much of that.

So that’s me this week. All looking really positive so far, and I will be enjoying a glass or two of red when we go and see a Queen tribute band in Guildford tonight (and yes, DH will be dressing up as Freddie for the occasion). Fuck Caaaancer!

The Big Shock

I can’t say ‘cancer’ out loud. My posh friend Janet has advised that her family are managing to get her mum through lung cancer only by saying it in a real East End accent. So we have adopted this in our house too, all going round like Ray Winstone saying ‘caaaancer’. Because last week (I cannot believe this was only days ago), I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Yup, it was a bit of a shock to me too. Sorry about that.

It happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you can’t miss the little pink ribbons everywhere and the endless women’s magazine features about checking yourself . Actually, I didn’t know I was totally ‘on trend’, as Grazia would say, when I found a lump in my right breast (yeah, DH’s favourite one, with the little mole!) about three or four weeks ago while washing in the bath. Further probing revealed a hard moveable round marble-like lump in my armpit. And when I lifted my arm up, I could see a funny crease down one side of my boob in the mirror. I’ve soaked up enough of those magazine features over the years to know that one of those things was possibly not great news, two was probably dodgy, and three was waaaay past avoidance-of-GP time. So I went to the doc, who referred me to the amazing Jarvis Breast Screening Centre in Guildford immediately, and three days later – last Wednesday – I was having a mammogram. Me and DH sat in the waiting room, the youngest people there by a good 20 years, waiting to speak to a doctor and get the ‘probably benign’ result. DH noticed the ‘Bin your Bra’ bin and muttered ”That’s a bit premature, we’re only having a scan.’

And then there were the x-rays up in front of us, and a serious woman doctor breaking the news as gently as she could, and saying things about surgery and chemotherapy and lymph glands, and then doing three different biopsies, and I was shaking uncontrollably and DH was beside himself. 

Then it got worse, as we called family and close friends. (I had told them I was going for a mammogram. I think I suspected deep down it would be completely crap news and it would have been much worse coming out of the blue). We went round to our very dear friends S&J first, to sort of get used to saying it before calling our parents. They were amazing, with exactly the right blend of sympathy, support, black humour and absolute blind conviction that of course, I would be absolutely fine and would beat this. ‘Fuck Cancer!’ we all toasted with our cups of tea. I floated the idea that maybe it was punishment for me always having my cleavage on show and J said ‘if that’s the case, S would have arse cancer’.

So then I had to call my mummy. So hard. She was amazing, abandoning a board meeting and with me within an hour. Our best man did the same. My sister (who had quite enough on her plate that day, leaving her 11 week old baby for the morning to do her MBA exam) was fantastic: ‘We’ll do it like Kylie, Pinch!’ she said. After the initial shock and upset, our friends were quite amazing.  I’m very into complementary therapy and I got my friend E on the case immediately to do the woo-woo research for me (of which more other posts to come). The hardest call was with Pops – mummy told him when she got home to Salisbury that afternoon, and he called after the children were in bed and just sobbed down the phone to me. That’s really tough, hearing your daddy cry.

I was, and still am, completely overwhelmed with the love, support and incredibly positive messages from so many people. It’s quite some blessing, to realise how much you are loved and cherished. I haven’t had so much attention and love showered on me since I produced the beloved First Grandchild! And gradually, Team Pinchy has begun to take shape: the core family and friends who I know will be here for me in terms of practical, logistical, emotional and other support over the long haul ahead.

So two days ago we got the biopsy results back, and they confirmed the initial diagnosis. It’s a rather interesting scenario with a cast of two breast lumps, one lymph lump, and a chorus of probably pre-cancerous calcium deposits in my milk ducts. Well, I never did like to do things by halves. I was expecting to have to have an immediate mastectomy, but given the complexity of the situation the treatment will be chemotherapy first for six months to shrink the lumps and then surgery afterwards to stop whatever’s brewing turning nasty. Oddly, I felt immediate relief – I wouldn’t be in hospital over DD’s first half term! – and extremely positive. I felt ready to get this thing handled. ‘Bring it on!’, I thought. I was dreading a dramatic op and then months of ‘mopping up’ with the chemo  – this way just feels better for me, and means I can carry on with all my mind-body-spirit stuff in the background while the chemo does its stuff.

More good luck: apparently the St Luke’s cancer unit in Guildford, part of the Royal Surrey County Hospital  is pretty much the best place in the country to be treated for breast cancer, and even has its own complementary therapy clinic, the Fountain Centre, so I can have as much acupuncture, massage, reflexology and homeopathy as I need to help keep me calm and positive.

Last night we had our first appointment with my surgeon, the phenomenal Ms Tracey Irvine. This was in Outpatients and for the first time, waiting there with the clinic running an hour late, I felt like a patient (so surreal when I feel so well), and it really threw me. I burst into tears and didn’t really stop crying and shaking throughout the appointment. But she is brilliant: she’s ordered loads of extra scans and tests, including an MRI (I’m only 37 and young breast tissue, even in my saggy post-breastfeeding knockers, is trickier to see clearly with an x-ray than old lady boobs), a bone scan, and an extra biopsy right at the edge of these calcium deposits.

Because apparently, they have no proof as yet that they are pre-cancerous. And if they aren’t, and the chemo shrinks the lumps, we might only be looking at removing Quite A Lot of breast and lymph, rather than all of it. So instead of a full-on mastectomy and Bionic Boob, she could, in theory, just give me back a smaller version and resize the other one to match, so I’d have a pair of pert B-cups rather than these running-machine-defying DDs. She said don’t get your hopes up, but it was great to hear for the first time that actually, a mastectomy is not necessarily our only option.

And yet more good news: my cancer is the kind that responds well to the new breast cancer wonder drug Herceptin, which I’ll be having alongside the chemo. And it’s probably down to dodgy oestrogen receptors, so I’ll be able to take Tamoxofen to stop this happening again in my left breast, which is feeling rather neglected this week with all the handling its partner has had.

I felt pretty down last night for the first time, and rather flat this morning, but am perking up while writing this. I think I’m going to find blogging very therapeutic over the next few months, and there’s so much I want to write about on my X-Factor-style ‘Journey’ (sorry). But that’s enough for now. I’m tired, the children are safely dispatched to their grandparents, it’s Friday night, and I’m looking forward to a glass of wine and a Thai takeaway with friends. All together now, ‘Fuck Caaaancer!’

The first month at school

Gosh, it’s nearly half term already! Where did that go? (After 16 years away from the whole term/holiday thing, the dates are already engraved on my memory). So, how are all our babies settling in at Big School, then?

After all my worries about the school and about DD, I am very happy to report that she’s settled in beautifully. We’ve had a few tears at the Point Of Entry To The Classroom over the past few weeks, admittedly, but I am assured they are gone by the time she’s hanging her coat on her peg. And she comes out grinning her head off, plaits all over the place, and a book bag full of works of art and reading books.

The first morning was fine. She was only in for two and a

First day at school

half hours for the first week, after all. But then after dropping her off on her first full day, I burst into tears because it all felt very real, and very different, and she is so small. Luckily I have made a good friend among the mums and she was around to give me a hug, for which I was very grateful.

DD loves: the uniform, the routine, the freedom to make and draw and stick whenever she wants, scooting to school and collecting conkers on the way, seeing her new, older friends from the village at playtime.

I love: being a school mum. This is exactly how I imagined motherhood before I had children. It feels more natural to me having my little girl at school than having a baby, a toddler or a pre-schooler. I can’t put my finger on it, just that I suddenly feel for the first time that I’m ‘good enough’ at this job. And our relationship has improved immensely. We talk lots. We spend quality time together on the way to school after we’ve dropped DS at nursery and after school on his two full days. We are at ease with each other in a way we haven’t been before.

She already seems older and more independent, although she’s more phyically affectionate than she every has been before, so I know she needs me, a lot, as she adjusts to this completely new life. And she’s tired, as everyone said she would be: she’s the youngest in the class and after two weeks of half days, full days were a bit of a shock. But then, the kiddies cherish the weekends as much as we do now, including DS. His extra morning at nursery means we have four days on the trot where we all need to be out of the house by 8am, and we’ll all enjoy chilling out at half term.

I like being part of the school, and I have joined the PTA. I’m doing all the things I’m meant to do, like sending the endless forms in on time and doing loads of baking to contribute to various fairs. I am committed to doing everything I can to help the school so it can educate my daughter and help me raise her to face the adult world and its challenges. I like DD’s teachers, and love that her teacher and teaching assistant clearly adore her. I love that the very warm head teacher knows her name and has nothing but praise for her.

Juggling the nursery runs across town, the school run and work is proving to be hard, especially when I’m on lots of client deadlines. But it’s only for two years and then DS will be at the same school too, and things will start to get easier. And cheaper: my goodness, we’re noticing only having one set of nursery fees!

So we survived the first day, and the first week, and the first month of school. And now DD is a ‘skoogirl’, as DS says, and I am a school mum, and it feels utterly right.