The Costa Brava doesn’t cure Cancer….

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But it has SPECTACULAR views and has helped to clear my head!

The children’s passports arrived 2 days before we left! Our first road trip to mainland Europe and it’s been AMAZING!

Rural France then a week in the Jewel of the Mediterranean, El Port de la Selva. Breathtaking views and a desireable pace of life, I was conscious to even breathe slower, take it all in and JUST BE!

I slipped in and out of moments of parking my diagnosis, right at the back of my head and enjoyed climbing the rocks, swimming in the clear water and purposefully setting my alarm so as not to miss the most perfect sunrise -afterall, this is where Dali himself lived, worked and was inspired!

Am now in Barcelona, enjoying the history and beauty (La Sagrada Familia OMW-the most beautiful building in the world!)

I’ve slowly started to think of what lies ahead when we return home. I go from being mechanical to being sad and angry, asking myself how and why did this happen but more so, how did I not notice it? I ask myself, if I had not been so rushed in my life, would I have taken the time to check more regularly? Would I have discovered the lump at a much smaller size? Could I then have had a lumpectomy instead of being faced with a mastectomy?

I’m putting it down to nerves. Thinking rationally, I’ve discovered many women who been through a mastectomy, even double mastectomy by choice, as they were carrying the gene. My breast cancer is not gene related, it’s sporadic growth. You qualify for gene testing if you are under 40 and have an immediate relative who has had it – mother, not aunt in my case.

My consultant called me before my holiday as I had queried gene testing AND it had occurred to me, 11pm the night before, sat straight up in bed, ‘would I be better off having a double mastectomy than having a single? Would I be bothered knowing that one is different, even though, over time, I’m opting for the natural reconstruction, using tissue from other body parts?’.

She explained that removing a completely healthy breast can cause complications. Women who do this, would also be sent for a psychiatric assessment as it’s removing a perfectly normal body part. She explained that most woman who have tissue reconstruction, are generally very pleased with the results. *I’ve seen the pictures at the hospital of before and afters…AMAZING!

Thinking about it, I don’t know many women over 40 who are thrilled with their boobies and have not considered a lift of sorts….

My diagnosis came as a shock to many of my friends and family, especially as a few months before, I had embarked on a #fitby40 mission! (It’s my birthday on Sunday and I will be 39). Physical changes had already started becoming apparent through my bootcamp sessions using weights. I joined the gym a few minutes walk from me two weeks before I found the lump. I’m an early riser and was looking for an option to exercise first thing.

Here’s the thing, people who I’ve personally come across who have been diagnosed with either a type of cancer or breast cancer, are some of the fittest people I know! Yoga teachers, marathon runners and fitness fanatics…also, there has been an ex gymnast with a high public profile, who’s just recently gone through a double mastectomy after finding a pea sized lump after doing her normal post yoga stretching….

I’ve mentioned to a friend that it’s now an #aliveby40 mission….she wasn’t impressed, so I’ve given this more thought and there is no reason why I cannot continue my #fitby40 mission, I just need to adapt it! One of the things I am going to miss is the kettlebell…if anyone knows a trainer who has worked with a woman who has a mastectomy, please do let me know as I need to know what upper body exercises are appropriate!

Might be the Spanish sun or the Sangria but it’s inspired me to learn Spanish, perfect use of my chemo time I *think*? It’s a no brainer as I can use it in my work as well! (I run an au pair agency).

Adios y hasta la proxima!

Nic

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How I’m teaching my daughter to check her breasts.

I know that there are sights out there informing you how to check your breasts. For me, in September 2013, my GP checked my breasts and nothing was apparent, roll on 10 months later, I now have Grade 2 breast cancer and am am having a mastectomy. *I had checked a few months AFTER the appointment myself as well!

I had been to the GP for personal reasons, (combination of feeling overwhelmed and stressed about a few things, which resulted in a rather acidic feeling tummy) and then said,  ‘by the way, I can also feel something tingling here’ – 10 months later, that is the affected area. The doctor made me raise my arm and felt, checking both breasts. She couldn’t feel anything and said that usually, feeling something tingling, is something else as with breast lumps, you can feel the lump instead of the sensation.

It was during these 10 months, the lump slowly grew and in addition to some weight loss, BOOM, there it was! I’m not going to focus too much on the weight loss as it was not as if I was next up for Britain’s biggest loser or anything like that but I do know that it’s easier identified (and possibly sooner?) if you are a healthy size. *My size will always be curvaceous, realistic and storage shall be kept for great food and wine appreciation, let’s get that clear!

*The lump that I have right now, would have been very obvious if it were this size back in September, so think it was a combination of time passing which allowed it to grow and some weight loss.

This is how I am teaching my 14 year old daughter to check :

  • Once in the running shower, lather up the soap/shower gel 
  • Step AWAY from the running water with good amounts of the soapy/lathery stuff cupped in one hand 
  • Raise your arm over, so that your elbow is as close to your head as possible and start walking your fingers down your spine – hold that position
  • Once in a comfortable-ish position, use your opposite hand that is filled with the soapy stuff, to rub over and under your breast and feel around
  • Take your time to move your hand around the breast in a circular motion, then work your way around the breast, letting your fingers walk over it, moving the tissue around 
  • With your arm still raised, slowly bring it down BUT keep at a right angle, then feel around the breast again
  • Repeat on the opposite side

I’m not a professional and do not hold any medical qualifications, I just know that I have a cancerous lump, I am the woman you know personally and this is how mine was discovered.

Much love,

Nic

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Decision time…..

Must mention this first. I was SO nervous about putting my blog OUT THERE, to the extent that I was shaking like a leaf before pressing the publish button and once I hit publish, I went to pour a large glass of wine! Well, I searched and searched for the blog as I connected it to my Facebook page but it did not connect. OMG, the next 20 minutes was awful! I pressed publish a few times, went in and changed my settings and checked, even texted a friend, ‘can you see it?’, she couldn’t!

I eventually sorted it and then stayed offline for a few hours. I felt sick, not anything to do with my diagnosis, just tummy turning sick and shaky! When I did pop back online, I burst into tears at the comments. Rob was next to me and asked what was wrong – told him I had just published the blog and I read just *some* of the comments as I was just crying. These were tears of RELIEF and gratitude, so THANK YOU to every single one of you who read my first ever blog about my journey, thank you to every single one of you who shared a story, commented on both the blog and Facebook, thank you to everyone who called and left me a message, sent me a text, a what’s app and a private message too. Each of these messages, be it a simple ‘x’, has meant the world to me.

I have truly been mechanical throughout this, once I had a few RANDOM crying sessions. Not more than 4 times to date. It’s happened at bed time, once I have taken NYTOL (thank goodness for that), I lie there and just feel terribly sad. It’s on my mind 24/7 but for the most of it, I have been fine, just taking it one step at a time and trusting my wonderful consultant and her team.

Since sharing the blog and yesterday’s meeting at the hospital, I admit, it’s hitting home a lot more. It was the release I needed and it will help me in the dark days. I have heard that chemo will be harder than the actual surgery so I have been planning on how I am going to overcome it. I have obviously been through the scenarios of how I am going to look and feel when I lose my hair. I think it’s inevitable that I will lose my hair I believe. There is an option to use a ‘cold cap’ : http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Livingwithandaftercancer/Symptomssideeffects/Hairloss/Scalpcooling.aspx but it has mixed reviews. I am inclined to just ‘let it go’ – and even I, as tired as I am of hearing the Frozen song, you just can’t help but sing it when those words are uttered huh?

I did tell Rob that I don’t think I would make an attractive bald person! He said if it were him, he would rock a mohican…erm, no thanks. There are lots of options out there and this is one highly recommended by a doctor friend of mine : http://www.lucindaellery-hairloss.co.uk/ be sure to watch the video, it’s amazing…..and then see which celebs use her too : http://www.lucindaellery.com/celebrity-gallery.php

I’m really not sure what I am going to do yet – just taking it one step at a time. I think about it like this : You lose a boob, go through a rubbish few months trying to tackle the disease, you lose your hair, you keep your LIFE! Small price to pay…besides, hair grows eventually!

Yesterday, 15th August 2014 – I met with my consultant, who by now, you would have read about her experience in the previous blog and I am sure you are also pleased for me!

Op booked in for 9th September. It’s going to be 6 hours. I have chosen not to have immediate reconstruction. I will have the full mastectomy and an expandable inserted, which is inflated with saline over time. We don’t know at this stage if radiotherapy is needed after chemo. If you DO need radiotherapy, they wait for one year after your treatment is completed before offering any type of reconstruction. So for now, I will have an expandable, inflatable. Further down the line, once I am cleared, I can then choose to have reconstruction using tummy or inner thigh skin – this would the most natural feeling tissue versus the silicone. We are nowhere near that process now so I am not going to talk or think about that any more.

*A part of me is happy to just leave as is and I still have the opportunity to tell them on the day if I were to change my mind and not want the expandable but I also have the option of having the expandable and if I am not happy after 2 months, she will remove it! TOLD YOU I am in good hands!

 

 

expandable

 

I’m in good hands….

I feel blessed and grateful to be under a wonderful consultant…who is also my surgeon and will see me through my journey!

Thought I would share a little more about her :

Special clinical interests  : Breast care
Oncoplastic breast surgery
Breast reconstruction
Breast reduction and augmentation
Benigh breast problems

Current and past posts :

Oncoplastic breast surgeon, Lead Clinician for Breast Cancer.

She is a consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon. She is a  Lead Clinician for Breast Cancer and has a strong background in oncoplastic breast surgery.  She studied medicine in London, undertook a BSc and was awarded a First Class Honours Degree.

She has received specialist training and  is a clinical lecturer to breast trainees and teaches on oncoplastic skills courses.

Her clinical practice involves performing the full remit of oncoplastic breast surgery including breast reconstruction with implant and LD flaps, therapeutic mammoplasty and sentinel node biopsy. All her breast cancer patients are discussed at the cancer network MDT at which she is the MDT lead.

She uses  her skills to minimise the cosmetic impact of breast cancer surgery and to preserve breast aesthetics where possible.

Feeling #grateful

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Shit got real….

Thursday 31st July – the day after being officially told that I would need a mastectomy.

I walked into my local Cancer Information Centre and took a deep breath as I pressed the buzzer. I introduced myself to the receptionist, ‘Hello, I’m Nicole and this is my first time here’.

I was given a brown envelope which I did not open (by now you have already gathered that I am not one for opening stuff straight away or even researching it) and I sat next to a lady who also had a brown envelope sticking out of her bag. It was obvious that she had completed her treatment as her hair was very short. She explained that she chose to visit the centre only once her treatment (chemo) was finished as then it would mean that she would not need to worry about changing appointments if she felt unwell.

The chairman collected me from the waiting area and we went into a lovely room. She was very smiley and warm and explained how the centre worked. For a £30 donation, you are entitled to 10 treatments by trained therapists (bargain!), then additional treatments are £10 each (still a bargain!). Treatments are : massage, reiki, eft, reflexology, aromatherapy, tha chi and yoga. The president of this centre, is a well known English actress from my all time favourite sitcom and she and a well known, flamboyant London Mayor, had been there just a few days a few prior, doing a Thai Chi session!

The centre also offers an arts and crafts club, a cinema group, writing workshops and a choir!

She asked me questions from the form regarding my life and diagnosis and then got to the D.O.B details, she laughed and said I looked 12! She said I seemed very ‘together’ at this stage, given what I am about to go through. I explained that I became very mechanical about it but I am sure that I am going to breakdown closer to the time one things REALLY start happening.

We walked through the centre so I know what’s where for next time. A group was gathered around doing all sorts at the table and having a chit chat – I could smell the lunch being prepared. Must make a note of that. Book your treatments in for Thursdays as it’s followed by lunch!

Met a lady who makes a heart shaped object  inspired by her own journey. The best way to describe this is like a travel pillow you would buy for your neck, in a heart shape. This is for ladies who have a mastectomy and find they need something soft in the night if they slept on a particular side and it’s also useful post op, if your seatbelt needs to crossover the affected area. Told you, shit just got real!

Nicole

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It was Tuesday 8th July 2014…I am 38 years old and 11 months…

I will forever remember this day, even more so than Wednesday 30th July 2014, when I was told by the registrar, ‘It’s Cancer’….

Yes family and friends, this is really happening….to me.

I was in the shower that morning, later than usual, it was an inset (teacher training) day for Jamie, so he was home. For some reason, my wash cloth was not in my bathroom – in my head I had wondered what did Jamie do with it NOW? I have previously seen him WASHING the shower screen with it….

I continued with my shower, so I applied the shower gel straight into my hand and started washing myself….that’s when I felt it, the close, direct contact of my hand to body, made me feel a real LUMP! How the hell did this get here and I have not noticed it? It’s a sizeable lump too! I burst into tears and just stood there, shower running continuously. I got out and dialled the surgery. I was on the bed, shaking.

I got through and the usual receptionist questions, ‘what exactly is the problem?’. ‘I found a lump in my breast and need to see a doctor’ – I was given an appointment the next day.

There was a locum doctor working and she was lovely. She confirmed the lump and did a referral. The NHS acted very quickly and 5pm the next day, I got a call about my appointment for the following week. This was a crazy week and the start of ridiculous alcohol consumption….

My appointment – Monday, July 21st – my wedding anniversary! Drove to the hospital and met the lovely consultant. After being checked, immediate referral for ultrasound . From this moment on, I could tell we were about to begin a journey of sorts, I wasn’t sure of the type of journey but I knew there was to be a journey. My husband Rob, waited with me and after being married for 14 years, doing anniversary things wasn’t that important to us, so we had not made major plans but one thing for sure, sitting in the radiography waiting room, was not something that even crossed our minds!

Met what was to become my first team. Got called in but Rob was not allowed. It was ok though as we were on a tight schedule being the summer holidays and have a 7 year old son who was at a summer club until 12:30pm. The radiologist was gentle, even in the way she spoke. This ultrasound was longer than any I had with both my 2 children. She confirmed that the lump was 2 cms and I would need a mammogram. The problem was, as I am ‘in between’ being young and old (!), a digital mammogram would work better for my age – this beautiful, big clean, friendly, Surrey hospital was in the process of getting one. Here is where the NHS shows HOW great they are and how lucky we are to have the NHS!

They arranged a same day digital mammogram at another hospital 20 minutes away. I got to this hospital and was seen straight away. A LARGE chilly room and this was my first ever mammogram. In fact, I had never even watched a programme or googled this – I later learnt that my husband had watched a show about it. For those who are like me and have (had) no clue, it’s like an eye test for boobs! It is meant to be more uncomfortable than painful but given the size and position of the lump, when my right boob (the affected one), was lifted, squeezed and practically flattened, I grinded my teeth SO MUCH, my gawd, what a relief when both shots of the right was done! The left was uncomfortable but thankfully, not painful.

I was back at the original hospital the next morning where the biopsy was done. Not sure why I thought this was a 5 minute needle prick thing – again, did not bother to read, not even the what to expect leaflet….45 minutes later….2 biopsies were completed. I had a senior radiologist carry it out and a new team of supportive nurses. The radiologist was extremely friendly and chatted to me about all sorts once she heard the SA accent, her son loved SA apparently but was now travelling in Asia. She explained what the biopsy would sound and feel like. The nurse held down and pushed my breast after anaesthetic was applied. The sound was like being wacked by a giant elastic and the feel was that of a staple gun would feel!

She had the screen facing me and explained every step of the process as she was carrying this all out. She showed me some suspicious looking stuff under the lump so had done a core biopsy. This stuff was to be the calcificiation, which could have been there up to 6 years…The lump was 2cm plus 1cm for the calcification. She had checked the nodes and seemed clear but could only tell more from an MRI. Left breast was checked as well and appeared ok.

Copious amounts of alcohol resumed.

July 28 2014 – MRI day. I drove myself to the hospital as had previously had MRI’s a while ago for my back. Thought I would be fine. I entered the hospital from a different entrance this side….massive sign saying CHEMOTHERAPY. Passed a guy at the entrance who was obviously done with his chemo for the day as he was bald and carrying blankets, still smiling though!

Once I was in my 2 hospital gowns as first one you had to leave the opening at the front and then for the good of the public, you had to cover up with one on the other way. Lovely guy Brian helped me and explained what was going to happen. Injection in arm first. OK. I enter the MRI room, two lovelies there and explained things. Again, did not read up and didn’t realise that this time, my MRI was to be facing DOWNWARDS! My GAWD…I am not even claustrophobic! Clever though, things have moved on since my last MRI 10 years ago, face down and your boobies fit into a coldish moUld (think of the song..FREE FALLING).

Once in, I had headphones on, shut my eyes, and just let my body relax. It was very light once inside, even though my eyes were shut..but light in the sense of light you can see at the end of the tunnel quite literally. They checked in on me through the speaker thing they use and I asked them when the music would start. I had heard the guy before me saying he enjoyed the Johnny Cash. Music comes on and why oh why do they have this on their playlist, given the actual purpose of MRI’s….guess what starts playing? TRAVIS – WHY DOES IT ALWAYS RAIN ON ME…………

There was no way out. I decided to go with the flow as no other option. It then dawned on me. THIS, is what it feels when you die and your body leaves the earth. I then started feeling all smiley and relaxed and hand on heart, had the Wonder Years song playing in my head! I was so happy at the realisation to know that if you have ever lost a loved one, no matter how tragic the circumstances were or were not, THIS, was how we actually lost them! No, I am not losing my marbles and the wine has not yet eaten away at my grey cells, this is how I know 100% people feel when they die and it felt WONDERFUL! I believe I was in a state of Euphoria, until they injected the dye in my arm to go across my chest to determine where else were lumps and if it had spread in the lymph nodes….felt a cold trickle, assumed this was normal. Once it was time to get out, I heard the nurse say OH, I lifted my head to see that half the pillow was covered in blood/dye. It had leaked and apparently it happens *sometimes* that it comes undone. For a millisecond, I wanted a re-test but luckily, I don’t consider myself a worrier, there was wine at home, that I was sure of!

2 days later, Wednesday 30th July, back to the hospital to hear those words….unfortunately, ‘it’s CANCER’….. Nothing prepares you for this but 2 things had, I just knew it! We were taken into ‘the room’ by a lovely McMillan nurse who had already prepared my folder and heaps of reading material – still left untouched to this very day that I write. Emotions were high, needless to say but she was so, very kind, lovely and informative, spent almost an hour with her!

**** Let me back track a little. Once I found the lump and had a referral, I informed only one person, my mother’s brother in Australia who is a senior Oncologist (how very lucky am I!?). He has been keeping a close eye on everything, gets copies of my reports straight away (everyone is entitled to this if you just ask). He called me the day before the MRI and started talking to me about NEXT STEPS…Chemo etc…HUH!? Towards the end of the conversation, I asked, ‘So, what are the chances that this is just a cyst or a lump that needs to be taken out?’..He said, ‘Uhm, 10, maybe 20%?’…*gulp*. Copious amounts of alcohol resumed.

The night of the diagnosis, I just bawled my eyes out in bed, away from my children. I have a 14 year old daughter who we kept in the loop and shared updates. At first, she was devastated, very, very devastated! I then explained (with my fingers crossed behind my back) that it’s not like they have said mummy has 3 months to live. It’s not like lung cancer where a lung is a vital organ. It’s a boob. People have boob jobs for non medical purposes, day in and day out. Yes, this is different. *Also, my uncle is pleased that the report it ER positive and H2 negative – he explained it as, ‘if there is a cancer you had to choose, this is the one you want’. Like the consultant says as well, she believes if chemo works well, she doesn’t see why I can’t live a long, normal life.

My days and nights have been filled with a mixture of working loads and using loads of tools for DISTRACTION, to nights when I lie there, asking myself, ‘IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING!?’

I was pencilled in for an op this week, Tuesday 12th August but that was if it was going to be a lumpectomy, straight forward removal of the lump. Unfortunately, I need a mastectomy. The MRI showed the total area to be infected is 4cms plus they remove 1cm around the cancerous cells, making it 5 cms in total – too much to dig out and leave a lopsided boob!

We have a family holiday planned (pending arrival of children’s renewed passports). The consultant agreed that the family holiday is important and won’t affect the outcome. It makes the operation slightly outside of the NHS ideal operating time which is within 31 days of diagnosis.

I see her tomorrow, Friday 15th August. We will discuss ins and outs out the operation itself, which is scheduled for 9th September. Chemotherapy usually starts within 3-4 weeks after the operation. It is done 1 day every 3 weeks and by my calculation, that takes us into January.

I did not intend for this blog to be this long but there has been 3 weeks and a bit of going ons that I wanted to understand myself first, before sharing with everyone as I did not have all the answers straight away. I really did not know how to tell people, no script for this at all! The reason I have started a blog, was to primarily share my journey with you all and it dawned on me, that in a few months time, there might be someone, my age, with young children as well, who gets this same news.

I read only 2 articles just this week, relating to other people’s stories. One was shared with me by a friend : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2532095/Sky-News-presenter-Jacquie-Beltrao-announces-Twitter-breast-cancer-apologises-stopped-tweeting.html

and the other I found myself. The one I had found, summed this up nicely : Once you’re told you have cancer, you enter a new world that’s suddenly separate from everybody else – no one can possibly understand what you’re going through

Much love to you all and I promise to keep you updated.

Nicole

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