I have my first tattoos. Can you guess? Nope, not the names of my DH or my children, or a rose, a cherub, or Chinese script that I think says Peace but probably says Arse. My tattoos are two tiny black dots either side of the New Boob, to make sure I’m being nuked in the right place when radiotherapy starts next month. I did ask, on DH’s request, if they could do them in the shape of a dolphin, but apparently the NHS doesn’t do that sort of thing.
The tatts were done during yesterday’s planning appointment for the radiotherapy, which also involved being drawn on again, like my breasts are some kind of doodle pad for bored consultants. Then I had to lie in a rather uncomfortable position with my right arm over my head, holding onto a pole (in other circs, this might sound titillating, but I assure you there’s nothing remotely Bada Bing-like about a CT scanning room). I then had to lie perfectly still while the scanner took pretty pictures.
This phase of my treatment will start on Monday 4 July, immediately after we get back from hols. I’ll be at the hospital every weekday for four weeks, so all of the month, basically, including the first week of the summer holidays. The appointments only take ten minutes, so it probably takes longer to find a space in the carpark. Side effects I’ve been warned about include fatigue (as much from the to-ing and fro-ing as the radiation), and sore, red skin like sunburn. Apparently I need to get myself an aloe vera plant and rub the fresh juice from the fleshy leaves directly onto the skin. I can’t use anything perfumed on the area for the whole time and a few weeks afterwards. For the first three weeks, the radiation will be to the whole breast, and the last week is a different sort of thing just where the tumours were. Just to make sure every last cancer cell is dead.
I met a lovely lady at my mother-in-law’s Team Pinchy coffee morning a couple of weeks ago who had made an excellent recovery from breast cancer 15 years ago, only to have it recur in the scar eight years later. They didn’t use radiotherapy as standard belt-and-braces treatment in those days, and she reckons her recurrence was entirely preventable. Speaking to people with those sorts of experiences really helps to process the importance of the treatment, and reminds me that it’s a bit more than just a huge inconvenience.
In another ‘gosh, I never thought I’d own one of those’ moment to match the purchase of the wig, yesterday I also collected my silicone prosthesis to slip into my post-surgery bra and swimming costume. It looks and feels like a chicken fillet. It’s very soft and comfortable, looks brilliant, and the children are fascinated by it. Both of them gave it a try on their own chests. DD said tonight it’s my ‘dressing up booby’, which made me guffaw.
I had yet another appointment at the hospital yesterday, to see my consultant before today’s Herceptin drip (which was fine, thank you – took ages again as lots of hanging round in waiting rooms with a startling number of people, including one delightful woman who was sounding off loudly about mobile phones (I think she meant me tapping away on my Blackberry) and ‘queers’). Anyway, I was actually honoured with an audience with Dr Houston himself for the first time in months, rather than one of his registrars. He spent quite a lot of time talking about golf (DH has seen more of him than me in recent months) before reluctantly turning to the subject in hand. Eye Eee, my intolerance of the Tamoxifen.
My lovely breast care nurse, she of the sympathetic tilt of the head, had received a rather tearful call from me on Tuesday. I’d gradually been feeling more and more unhinged over recent weeks, culminating in a couple of days at the end of last week where I really think I would have got off a murder charge. I was swinging between sudden rage, real seeing-red anger (including terrifying the children by roaring and throwing a lunchbox. I know, awful), and being in floods of tears (thank you to all those who let me cry on their shoulder last week). In between times I was feeling flat – edging towards depressed, actually – and sort of muzzy-headed. I felt out of control, scarily so, and on Friday night I skipped the pill because I wanted to be on form for the Pink Ribbon Walk. Lo and behold, I felt more or less normal all day. By Sunday night/Monday morning, we were back to mood swing central, so I stopped taking the pills and put in my emergency call.
I was bracing myself for some sort of battle with the good doctor, but he was brilliant. Clearly this is not a put up and shut up situation after all. He told me to take a nine week drug holiday, keep a mood and hot flush diary, and then have some blood tests to ascertain my menopausal status. He says it may well be a combination of a ‘major life event’, a chemo-induced menopause (thanks GOD I have my babies already, I can’t imagine how painful this is for younger women who haven’t had children yet), and the Tamoxifen. If it is the Tamoxifen, he can prescribe yet another drug to take with it, a new generation anti-depressant that will even my moods out and also help with the hot flushes. Not keen on all these pharmas, I have to say. We shall see. In the meantime, since stopping taking the meds, I feel absolutely fine, which is marvellous.
And I also made a huge decision this week. After a momentous coaching call with Amanda Alexander, who yet again teased out what is actually going on below the Pinchy bullshit, I cancelled the work I had lined up for July. I felt terrible about this, because I have never let a client down before, but I’m going to be sensible for once. For the first time since I was diagnosed, I’m going to stop work during treatment. This is a Big Deal – I really hung onto work as ‘normal’ during my chemo and very soon after surgery. I was even editing stuff for clients on the chemo ward. But you know what? I’m tired now, and I need a break, and if I try and fit work in on top of the radiotherapy, I am going to get in a pickle.
Double tah-dahhh: I’m also officially having August off for DD’s first summer holiday. She’s in a play scheme for one week and is spending three separate days on a ‘daughter swap’ with my lovely friend E so both of us have some time to get on with stuff while our littlest ones are at nursery. So rather than cramming in work during these precious hours, I will, for the first time I can remember in my life as a mummy, have some free days to do WHATEVER I WANT. I didn’t even have maternity leave with either of the kiddies, really, as I just carried on writing during naptimes, rather foolishly.
I am tremendously proud of myself. It feels utterly liberating. Sheer relief. I have a bit of work to finish before the holiday, but then I can properly relax, knowing that when I come back all I have to concentrate on is getting through the treatment, and enjoying the children, rather than stressing about juggling work as well. Sometimes, you have to accept that it’s OK to drop a ball, you know.
So it’s been a week of firsts that the cast of The Only Way is Essex would be proud of: tatts, fake tits and time off any real work. Now where’s that St Tropez so I can get my face the right shade of orange?