(*Title to be sung to the tune of Europe’s power ballad The Final Countdown, if you don’t mind. Thanks cuz!)
Pretty self explanatory, this one. Yesterday I had my last of six chemotherapy days. I can’t quite believe it. It’s an odd feeling. It didn’t feel any easier going into the last one than the first one, really, and in truth I would have given a lot to not do it at all. But now I never have to do it again. It hasn’t really hit me yet, and I certainly don’t feel elated, mostly because I’m just starting to feel really crap and I know I’ve got a couple of days of hell ahead before I come out the other side. And then maybe by the end of next week it’ll start to dawn on me that this time it’s not just a question of improving a bit and then being hit down again after 21 days, but of just getting back to feeling…normal.
So, no more pertuzumab, no more carboplatin, no more of the dreaded docetaxol, no more cold cap. After my surgery on April 7 I’ll be back on the Herceptin for another 10 cycles, which will involve being strapped up to a half hour drip every three weeks until almost Christmas. And in two weeks I start on my daily dose of Tamoxifen for the next five years to stop my dodgy oestrogen receptors doing this again. And of course there’s the radiotherapy to look forward to, a short, very targeted burst of radiation via a sort of x-ray to my lymph and right breast every other day for five weeks, which will start a few weeks after the surgery.
It was quite emotional walking out of the hospital yesterday for DH and I, after a day when I’d been completely spoiled by visitors as always – S brought me a cuppy Earl Grey and a pain au chocolat, and B even managed to pop up with sparkling grape juice and choccies while her DH was in A&E downstairs (get better soon N!). My lovely mother-in-law popped up, and I even got an unscheduled cuddle from my precious little DS when he accompanied his daddy to pick grandma up. And lovely texts and Facebook and Twitter messages flowed all day. After it was all over, and it was just the two of us, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. We drove back from Guildford to my mummy and Pops’ place in Salisbury, where we were met by DS and DD, who had been brought back after school by DH’s mum, in a lovely surprise welcoming committee. DH had even bought a bottle of actual Bollinger to celebrate, and we all had a toast to the chemo being over and he said some very sweet things about me being brave. My mouth had started to ‘go’ already so unfortunately the fizz didn’t taste as delectable as it will in a couple of weeks, when we can really celebrate ticking off this particularly large box on the F&ck Caaancer Action Plan.
I was also able to show off my very sparkly new piece of Significant Jewellery – DH spent most of his first bonus for three years on a stunning diamond eternity ring. Six perfect round stones on 18ct yellow gold in a rubover setting that perfectly matches the engagement ring he gave me 12 years ago next month. He presented it to me on Wednesday over a cuppa in the kitchen, and I was completely speechless. He said he was very proud of me, and we were both quite tearful. There are moments when this journey we’re on together is a huge pressure and challenge for our relationship, but the bottom line is we’re a team, and we love each other and support each other, and frankly if we can get through this, we’ll get through anything. And diamonds don’t hurt to smooth the way!
Also this week, in my first tear-free meeting with my surgeon, the very skilled Miss Tracey Irvine, we agreed to have a go at doing a reduction rather than a mastectomy. There’s quite a big chunk of boob to remove – a 10cm by 7cm strip towards the armpit – and my nipple will be moved up some distance, which will be interesting considering the other one is pointing at the floor. After my distress last time about my entire lymph being removed, she had gone to the trouble to ask around other surgeons and found that one chap in Guildford can do a lymph node biopsy to identify the glands that have and haven’t got cancer in them. Unfortunately this only really works where there have been no clear signs that the cancer has reached the lymph already. In my case, the scarring caused by the chemo melting away the marble under my arm and any other nodes that had cancer in could throw up some misleading results that might lull us into a false sense of security, so it’s really not worth the risk. And as Tracey pointed out, her job is to make sure this doesn’t happen again and I have a long and fulfilling life ahead of me. So I am choosing to let the lymph system under my right armpit be removed.
She also said there is a possibility that something quite remarkable may have happened (apart from the complete disappearance of my tumour!) Although the calcium deposits in my breast are still there as expected – the markers for the pre-cancer DCIS – she is seeing a handful of ladies recently where the newer combinations of chemotherapy and other drugs administered before surgery have actually affected the pre-cancerous cells themselves. This isn’t meant to happen: traditionally, chemo doesn’t touch pre-cancer, which is why the only treatment is surgery. In other words, when she removes the affected area in a few weeks and it’s sent off to the lab for analysis, we may find that the pre-cancer has disappeared too. This is truly exciting, not just for me but for thousands of other young women. Unfortunately the only way of telling whether this has happened at the moment is to do the surgery, but if it is the case, my prognosis is even more positive.
My lovely clear mammogram pictures also got my oncologist all excited this week. He was showing off a bit in front of a young female junior doctor and a new nurse, so everyone got to have a feel and a poke. There’s no dignity in having your tits out all the time, it has to be said. Tracey was even planning the surgery in her head by drawing all over me with a biro to show where the cuts and scars would be. Nice.
One of the week’s other highlights was arriving home on Thursday to find a case of wine from my lovely aunty K on the doorstep, to celebrate our ‘return to the sunshine’. And yesterday the sun did indeed shine into the chemo ward all day, and we chased a magnificent ball of orange home down the A303. I’m anticipating a couple of overcast days, but I am looking forward enormously to feeling the light on my face very soon, and knowing I never, ever have to go through this particular district of hell again. If I could bottle what chemo is like, I would. One whiff of it and we’d all stop smoking, cut back on booze, sort our nutrition out, and most of all learn to chillax, love ourselves a bit more, count our blessings and seriously reduce the stress in our lives as an absolute priority. In the meantime, wish me a speedy recovery from the fiiiinnnaaal cheeeemooo. Whoop f%cking whoop!