Posts Tagged ‘David Shrigley’

Shit happens

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for my blog, mainly because every-day life is quite dull & I don’t think anyone is interested in knowing what I’ve had for dinner. Given the choice I’d always take dull, or at least normality over drama, however it would seem that ‘Him up There’ is determined to ensure my life will never be that way.

Around a month ago I found a lump in my armpit, on the same side previously affected by cancer. I was due for my 6-monthly check-up at the start of October so I’d pre-warned my breast care nurse about the lump. Pre-warning the breast-care-team meant, that when I had my check-up a few weeks ago, I was able to have the lump scanned and biopsied on the same day. Two weeks ago I received the devastating news that the cancer is back. Last week I had a CT scan, to determine whether the cancer has spread elsewhere in my body. Since then it’s been an anxious wait for results.

T-shirt

I’ve tried to avoid telling too many people this time, as I couldn’t face the rigmarole of having to break the news to everyone when I don’t have the complete picture myself. I’ve learned from previous experience that telling other people is just as traumatic as finding out yourself. A strange role-reversal occurs, where you end up having to comfort and reassure others that everything is going to be alright – “it’s ok, it’s just a tumour, nothing to worry about” – when you don’t actually know yourself.

Scanxiety

Scanxiety is the worst kind of anxiety, you’re stuck in a no-man’s land, not knowing if you’re going to live or die. There’s the pre-scanxiety leading up to the scan, a brief moment of relief when it’s over, followed by the post-scanxious wait for results. I tried badgering everyone, from the radiographer who did the scan – “sorry I just take the pictures” – to the breast-care nurses who always do their best to reassure, even when they don’t know the answer.

Extreme scanxiety of the heart fluttering variety, which I’ve experienced much of over the past week, is quite terrifying. Every physical ailment becomes a sign that the cancer is spreading. The heart palpitations are caused by a tumour on the heart, the achey back is undoubtedly caused by mets on the spine, and the dizzy spells must mean it’s spread to the brain. It’s only a matter of time before I’m being fed mince & tatties through a plastic tube. On my train journey back to Manchester last week, I felt so rough, I actually wondered if I was dying. This turned out to be a dose of ‘Hand, Foot & Mouth’ caught from one of my mini-relatives.

Conversations and phone messages from health professionals are scrutinised and misinterpreted: they all know you’re going to die, they just want to make you wait 10 days before breaking the news. A message from my consultant which said “ try to enjoy yourself this weekend”, I interpreted as “try to enjoy yourself this weekend because it might be your last!!”. My anxiety levels were so high that the only way was down and I’ve been feeling much calmer these last few days. I’m not resigned to it, but like I’ve said before, shit happens.

That was then, this is now

Although I’ve been psyching myself up for bad-bad news, today I had some good-bad news. The good-bad news is that I’m booked in for surgery next week. My CT scan showed that the cancer is contained and that it hasn’t spread beyond my lymph nodes. Once I’ve recovered from surgery I’ll be having chemotherapy – different drugs this time & I might get to keep my hair – followed by more radiotherapy. It’s not great, but it’s better than the bad-bad news: if it had spread the only option would be palliative chemotherapy.

I’ve only recently started to settle in and enjoy Manchester life again and it’s been good returning to normality, however I’ve decided that my only option is to move back to Scotland for treatment. Although I’ve got an amazing group of friends in Manchester, I know I’ll need the support of my family whilst I go through treatment again. Besides, no-one else can substitute a mum hug when you’re feeling rubbish.

So here I am, back on the cancer merry-go-round. Although the news might come as a bit of a shock to many of you, I’ve had nearly two weeks to come to terms with the fact that the cancer is back. The results from my scan today came as such a huge relief and I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. I’m just ecstatic it’s not metastatic.

Blue Mum

Posted: May 20, 2013 in The Big C
Tags: ,

Blue Mum

I said in my last post that I wasn’t going to write about cancer anymore, however in the unpredictable relay of life, the cancer-baton has been swiftly passed to my mother who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Before you all start panicking, she’ll be fine, she’s just a little blue, really she is.

Mum’s diagnosis came as a massive shock. We were all relieved at the end of my treatment and looking forward to moving on, when we found out. Unlike me, who went from check-up, to life changing diagnosis in less than two hours, my poor mother had to wait nearly a month to find out the extent of her cancer. Waiting for results is horrible and mum was already psyching herself up for wigs and mastectomies by the time her appointment came round.

After a nail-biting month of not knowing what was going on, it was good news and on Thursday she had a small operation to remove the lump and sentinel lymph-node. After that she’ll have 3 weeks of radiotherapy & 5 years of hormone therapy. Job done.

The C-word has become far too familiar in our family of late, although having gone through it once already, we knew what to expect – radioactive injections, blue boobs & radiation burns – we know the drill. Mum is home now and doing really well. I’m just relieved as it could have been so much worse.

Farewell

I’m moving back to Manchester soon and saying goodbye to cancer world. I’ve had nearly a year in Paris Cottage country hospital and although the glorious countryside and Michelin star menu, courtesy of Jim and Doreen, is tempting me to stay, I’m ready to leave now. It’s beautiful here and it’s been a great place to rest and recover but I’m beginning to feel like I’m in Groundhog day. I’ll miss the country walks, the chat with village folk, the old fogies at my tai-chi group (which I secretly think might be a cult), the roast dinners, the getting to know my nieces and nephews, the hanging out with friends old and new, the going for coffee in beautiful places and most of all, the love and support my family & friends have given me over the past year.

Goodbye sheep & goats

Goodbye sheep & goats

Of course I can’t forget the Maggie’s centre which has been such a huge part of my life, as have all the friends I have made through having cancer. It’s a unique bond you form with people who’ve been through the same experience: the sharing of stories and battle scars and the hugs & tears over endless cups of tea. It’s really hard to put into words what Maggie’s does but you don’t have to be brave there, everyone just gets it.

I’ve been busy packing this last week and sorting through the debris of the last year. There are the chemo-beanies, the Picc-line sleeves, my wig Stevie, the surgical-socks and the pic’n mix of drugs left over from chemotherapy, all of which I’m not sure what to do with.  I don’t know whether to bin the lot or keep them for ‘just in case’. Stevie might be dragged out for weddings, but it’s my beanies I’m most attached to. Not only did they keep my head warm when I was ‘as bald as a coot’, they were my armour, they shielded me from prying eyes, so perhaps I’ll frame them or at least give them the burial they deserve.

It’s nearing the anniversary of my diagnosis and my mind is on replay. The anxieties I felt in the weeks before my diagnosis are now replaced by fears of recurrence. I’m now having 6 monthly check-ups and although they recommend vigilance, I have already convinced myself I have metastatic cancer. You might think I’m joking, but if you were in my shoes you’d be just as neurotic. There’s no way of distinguishing between the twinges of tissue healing (normal after a mastectomy), hormonal aches and pains and what could be potentially new tumours. They gave me the all-clear a couple of months ago, however the reality is that even the doctors don’t know unless they find something palpable. Scans are pointless unless you can feel a lump and even the best scanner in the world won’t pick things up at a cellular level. Obsessive self-examination it is then.

I met up with a cancer-buddy today and like me, she worries about the cancer returning. We were joking about how we’d already started planning the end of our lives, how we laughed! Tie up all those loose ends and have the holiday of a life time, that’s my plan. It sounds morbid but you have to think about these things. I’m not planning on dying any time soon, I’m just keeping my options open.

Now I’m on the other side of my annus-horribilis, I still find myself asking ‘did this all actually happen?’ I got cancer, my house burned down and then my mum got cancer, could life get any worse?! The answer is YES it probably could and if I’ve learned anything from this past year, it’s that life can throw all manner of unexpected shit at you and the best you can do is ‘BE PREPARED’ when the next pile of shit hits the fan. Get knitting that blanket of love and security because you never know when you might need it!

Of course it’s not all bad, good stuff happens too and I’m looking forward to a bit more of that. I have a little thing called life to look forward to.

The End…..nearly

Posted: January 25, 2013 in The Big C
Tags: , ,

I’ve had a severe case of writers cramp recently, hence the delay since my last post. I’ve started and not finished posts on various topics including – ‘My love/hate relationship with Facebook’ and ‘Magical Thinking & why having Cancer doesn’t make you  immune to house fires’. So, I’ll keep it brief.

Radio gaga

I’m in the final phase of treatment now – radiotherapy – and I’m sorry to report that it’s incredibly dull. There are no needles, blood, or medical emergencies. I’m told localised hair loss can occur, although I can safely say a hairy chest has never been a problem for me. Apart from the 2.5 hour round trip to hospital, my biggest grumble is that I look like a battery with all the + and – on my chest. I reckon I’m super-charged at the moment so if your car won’t start, do give me a call.

Where Now?

I feel like I’m in cancer limbo at the moment. I’m not sure whether to call myself a patient or a survivor. The cancer has gone, yet I’m still being treated for cancer. It’s a strange place to be in.

I’m battle worn and weary and in an ideal world I’d like to jet off to a sunny little island and quietly gather my thoughts. Currently that’s not an option, so the next best thing is a course at Maggie’s – ‘Where Now? –  designed for folk like me, nearing the end of treatment and pondering life after cancer.

The transition from cancer patient back to everyday life is a difficult one and the end of treatment can be a frightening time. Having lived through the nightmare of cancer treatment, survivors are often left feeling abandoned by the medical process.

Re-adjusting to life as it was before, can be problematic and many survivors struggle with mental health issues in the months and years post-treatment. Anxieties about recurrence are common, however there are often financial, emotional and physical issues to contend with.

These David Shrigley rabbits sum my up feelings about life since cancer

These David Shrigley rabbits know what they’re talking about

There’s pressure to fit back in and get ‘back to normal’ as soon’ as possible. You’ve survived, therefore you should be grateful, in fact you should be celebrating. There’s the added misconception that surviving cancer somehow makes you a better, stronger person (see Lance Armstrong before his fall from grace) and that you will return to everyday life with a renewed passion, screaming ‘I Will Survive‘ from the mountain-tops. When you don’t want or feel these things it’s hard not to feel like you’ve somehow let the side down.

There’s no doubt that having cancer changes you and if you’re lucky enough to survive, the best you can do is try and take something positive from the experience. I’ve lost so much but I’ve had time to work out what I do and don’t want from life . Health and happiness are top of my list.

When I wander out of my last radiotherapy session in a few weeks time, I will have had no less than 100 cancer related appointments since my diagnosis on the 1st of June last year. My role as cancer patient will come to an end and hopefully never be reprised. I’m not sure how I will feel when I walk out of that final appointment, but if I need it, I know that Maggie’s will be there with open arms.

I wanted to finish the year on a high and although I don’t feel like champagne & fireworks just yet, I might have a wee sigh to mark the end of my 2012.

Cancer can get to f**k

Last week I received the pathology report from my operation and it was mostly good news.

The cancer was an aggressive Grade 3 and although my 60mm tumour hadn’t shrunk, they assured me many of the cancer cells had died. It was an inside job, the FEC feckin worked.

Even better news is that they have removed all of the remaining cancer and I have clear margins, probably the best Xmas present I’ll ever have. If cancer is the Death Star, the margins are the energy shields of healthy tissue around the tumour and mine were fully activated. Although the margins were only 3mm in places, the consultant reminded me that cancer cells can’t jump, further verification that the cancer hasn’t spread. The Force is still strong.

The Grade 3 worried me however I’ve since learned that Stages and Grades are completely different. The Stage describes the size and spread of the cancer, whilst the Grading refers to the speed at which the cancer cells are growing. The Grade can only be determined once the tumour is removed. My diagnosis, back in June, of Stage 2B Breast Cancer, meant that the tumour was large, but hadn’t spread. The aggressive Grade 3, means that it had the potential to make its way towards my lymphatic and vascular systems although thankfully it hadn’t. I’m not completely convinced, but perhaps it’s time I start believing the results.

I used to eat, sleep and breathe cancer, but since the operation I no longer think about cancer all the time. Now the cancer has gone and it’s been replaced with new worries. Will it come back and how can I be sure that every last cancer cell has been removed?

These concerns will be answered in the New Year when I have the double whammy of radiotherapy and Tamoxifen to look forward to. It’s a belt and braces approach. What hasn’t been nuked by chemotherapy and surgery will most certainly be annihilated by radiotherapy. Radiotherapy is final reassurance that the cancer is gone and Tamoxifen will ensure the bitch don’t come back. As my mate Jenny succinctly put it “Cancer can get to f**k!!”

My annus horribilis

This year has been a surreal journey from diagnosis, through chemotherapy to surgery and my brain is still trying to compute the ride. I’ve lost 6 months of my life and it will probably be another 6 months before my life returns to some kind of normality. I feel a massive weight has been lifted since having the cancer removed, however the euphoria I’ve felt since the operation has turned into quiet relief as I know it could have been so much worse.

Having cancer is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me and although not something I wish to repeat, it’s definitely been memorable and almost certainly life changing. Staring death in the face brings everything back to zero and gives you a new appreciation for life. It’s strengthened family ties, reinforced existing friendships and encouraged new ones to flourish. I joke about it, but cancer really does bring people together.

Anyway, enough sentimentality I just want to say a BIG THANKYOU to everyone who has been there for me this year and to everyone who has taken the time to follow my blog. Here’s to a Cancer free Christmas…maybe there’s a song in that 😉 Merry Xmas everybody!!

I love this piece is from David Shrigley‘s exhibition at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. He finds humour in the darkest places. It’s on until January – go see it!

http://www.cornerhouse.org/art/art-exhibitions/david-shrigley-how-are-you-feeling