Today is my Cancerversary. It is exactly one year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This may not seem like a reason to celebrate but the fact is, I’ve come a long way since that dreadful day. I must admit, I find it hard to read the early blog posts I wrote about my diagnosis and the effect on everyone around me. Since then I have had a variety of scans and biopsies, 2 operations, 5 months of chemotherapy, 20 days of radiotherapy, 8 doses of Herceptin and I have started 10 years’ worth of Tamoxifen tablets. And it’s not over yet. This week I have had appointments with the oncologist and the radiologist and I am due my 9th Herceptin today.
Nevertheless, I have come a long way, not just in terms of treatment but also physically and mentally. I am not yet at a stage where I can put it all behind me and I doubt I ever will be but I am in a position to reclaim some of the elements which signify a normal life for me. I mentioned in my last blog post that I have gone back to my aqua aerobics class and playing badminton. Moreover it is lovely not to have to avoid busy places, meaning I can go shopping again (Hurrah!) I have also visited my school several times and caught up with all the staff and children. Having said that, I am still inclined to run a mile if anyone near me coughs or sneezes.
In terms of my appearance, I have also come a long way. My hair is growing back, albeit grey! Try explaining that to the inquisitive children at school – Why is your hair grey? (Only the innocence of a 6 year old can get away with that question!) Happily, I have a full set of eyelashes and my eyebrows are returning. I have shed the extra pounds caused by steroids and through eating too much of the wrong foods during chemo. So that’s all positive. Am I back to full strength though? The answer is no, not quite.
The hardest thing is to not sound like I’m whinging over small things because to me that’s exactly what it sounds like. In the grand scheme of things a few broken nails, sore fingertips, sore arms (from vein damage and surgery), stiff joints and tiredness are nothing compared to the way I felt during chemo treatment. However, the fact is these little things are a constant reminder of the horrible time I’ve been through. The oncologist, who has never shown a grain of sympathy until yesterday, almost had me in tears when he acknowledged that I have been through a lot. He advised me that it will take a while to build up stamina and that I should push myself but not too much. He explained that chemotherapy puts a lot of strain on your body and puts you into low energy reserves (the catabolic, breaking down phase mode as opposed to the anabolic, building up state). The time taken to recover varies from one person to the next so he was unable to tell me when I might regain more energy.
The radiologist added into the mix that I can blame Tamoxifen for some of the side effects I am experiencing. “How are you getting on with my friend, Tamoxifen?” He asked me. “Oh yes, it’s the best.” was my reply, followed by a long list of complaints. He explained that this is due to the cumulative effect of everything coming together, as well as the body being deprived of coping without oestrogen levels as they should be.
So how does one celebrate a Cancerversary? In my case, by acknowledging that I have come a long way and enjoying the fact that I was able to go to my exercise class today, eat whatever I wanted and feel fairly normal. In my husband’s case…a takeaway seems in order!