Posts Tagged ‘Sentinel lymph node’

Today I had some amazing news. I got the call to say that the cancer has not spread to my lymph nodes. I am soooooo happy!!

I hate security guards but this one has gone beyond the call of duty. Mr sentinel lymph node has earned his stripes, been awarded the VC, he’s top-trumped the cancer.

As my wise friend Lou said ‘The Force is Strong with you!’. And she’s right, I am winning 🙂

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The BC blues

Posted: November 5, 2012 in The Big C
Tags: ,

On Tuesday I had the first of two operations I’m having this month. I survived my first general anaesthetic and aside from a little tiredness I feel fine. I have a rather fetching blue boob or a blue-tit as my mate Jane delightfully pointed out – those cute little birds will never look the same again. There are a few other lasting reminders of the blue dye they injected me with, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. Suffice to say I got a shock when I went to the loo.

The procedure I had on Tuesday was a sentinel node biopsy. This operation was a pre-emptive strike. If the cancer is metastasising (spreading), the sentinel node is the first port of call. If the sentinel node is clean, it is assumed that the cancer has not spread elsewhere. Here’s hoping I get the all-clear, otherwise my big operation will be even bigger. My last scan showed that the cancer hasn’t spread to my lymph nodes, however only the biopsy will confirm this.

I saw this operation as good preparation for the big one, so I was looking forward to it in a weird kind of way. I had nearly a four-hour wait before my operation and a trip to nuclear medicine helped pass the time. Here, they injected me with a radioactive isotope to make my lymph nodes visible during the operation. I was slightly alarmed that the injection came in a box marked “Hazardous –Radioactive” and it’s easy to get blasé about these things: chemo one day, radioactive injections the next, I can take it. With any luck it will give me some Godzilla like super-powers.

On my return from nuclear medicine the nurse asked me to provide a urine sample and said that a man in a cowboy hat would come and collect it. My over-active imagination didn’t think to question this, so I went to the bathroom, removed the hat shaped bowl from the toilet and wondered when the cowboy would appear. I found out later that what she’d said was ‘pee into the cowboy hat’.

Rooster Cogburn – suprisingly he doesn’t collect urine samples at my local hospital

I’ve never had a general anaesthetic before and was keen to tick this off my ‘to-do’ list. My worst fear was becoming conscious during the operation although this is so rare, I’d be freakishly unlucky for it to happen to me. I was scared but I actually enjoyed that moment of bliss before being completely knocked out. It’s the most peaceful I’ve felt since my diagnosis 5 months ago.

It took a long time for me to come around after the operation and I didn’t want to wake up. I enjoyed drifting in and out of consciousness. All I can remember is the nurses trying to wake me and the surgeon asking “how are you Manchester girl?”. The thought of food and coffee eventually made me wake from my slumber. I hadn’t eaten for nearly 24 hours so I was ravenous.

My friend Jenny had bought us tickets to see Ross Noble that evening. I was unsure about going in my post-operative state but thought some comedy would do me good. The hospital advised me that my excursion could be curtailed by a Smurf like hue, but luckily I was just a bit grey-blue, maybe even a little gravy-blue.

I could have ended up looking like this!

Mr Noble provided us with nearly three hours of mental meandering so he was great value. Three hours is a long time for most people and I was pretty tired after my operation so when he left the stage to come back on for a Q & A session we called it a night.

Nearly a week has passed since my operation and my scar is healing nicely. It isn’t too big and it’s in my armpit, so in the hierarchy of scars, it’s pretty low down. Bizarrely the stitches are on the inside.

I’ve taken another small step towards the end of my treatment & with operation lymph node under my belt I’ve decided I’m taking a cancer-break. A cancer-break is like a career break with extras. It’s great, you get time off work, a free wig and lots of drugs, everyone should take one. Cancer has completely taken over my life for the past five months so I’m taking a break from all things medical. I have a few weeks grace before the big op and I’d like to regain some normality in my life before round two begins.

I finished chemo nearly two weeks ago so I’m slowly getting back to health and moving on to the next stage of my treatment. It feels great to be finished chemo and be free of my Picc Line, however the next stage is full of it’s own little joys as I discovered on Monday morning, when I had my first appointment with the plastic surgeon.

After sizing up my breasts & my backside & drawing a rather comical sketch of my breasts, the surgeon gave me the low-down on surgery. I was given two options. The first is an implant combined with tissue/muscle flap from my back (Lattisimus Dorsi Flap). Option two is using tissue from elsewhere on my body. There wasn’t much fat on me before I started treatment, however the chemo induced nausea, combined with the 5:2 diet means that there’s now very little to spare. Apparently you can be too thin.

After ruling out my stomach as a donor site, he said he’d struggle to harvest enough tissue from my bottom, or at least not enough to make my breasts symmetrical. Unfortunately an implant isn’t a viable option, because the radiotherapy I’ll be having post-surgery will damage it. This leaves me with one not very satisfactory solution to the problem that is the cancer in my right breast.

I asked the surgeon what he thought was the best solution and he said he can’t make that decision, it’s up to me. I was left to go away and think about my one option and come back the following week to discuss it further with the specialist-nurse.

Mother and I were fairly traumatised after leaving the hospital on Monday morning, but luckily Maggie’s came to the rescue. I had a massage booked and I left mum in the care of the lovely folk at Maggie’s. After my massage, mum introduced me to a woman who’d recently had her operation and she was more than happy to show us her scars. All I can say is they weren’t all that bad. She had one massive scar across the crease line of her right buttock, but there wasn’t a big gaping dent as I’d imagined there’d be. Her breast was nipple-less (they do this later) but actually looked ok. The only scar was around the nipple. This was another of those serendipitous meetings I seem to keep having and it went a little way towards relieving the worries I have about surgery.

We went back on Friday and spent an hour chatting to the nurse about what will happen. The nurse talked us through everything from morphine to the moon-boots I’ll be wearing to stop DVT. It’s a long operation. I’ll be in theatre for 9-10 hours and for the first 48 hours, my breast will be continually monitored to check the new breast tissue is functioning. It could go wrong, although this is unlikely. They have a failure rate of 1.6%, so I hope I’ll be in the other 98.4%. It’s hard not to worry, but what choice do I have.

I’m going for the bum transplant because the only other option is to delay reconstruction, which I don’t want to do. Depending on the result of this operation, it’s likely that I’ll need further surgery at a later date. If they can’t harvest enough tissue from my buttock, they’ll either increase my new breast or reduce my healthy breast to match. I’m told that plastic surgeons are perfectionists so although it won’t be immediate, I will have an even pair eventually.

Mentally I’m not sure how you prepare for a big operation like this. I’ve been told my stay in hospital will be an emotional one. I’m losing a breast so I expect there will be tears. I’m happy with my body just the way it is, but it’s never going to look the same again and that’s hard to accept.

I’m having a minor operation next week to remove my sentinel lymph node. I’ve never been under the knife so I think this will be good preparation for the big op. This is likely to happen mid-November and I’m just waiting for the date to be confirmed.

At this point it’s hard to see the end of the road. I was hoping to have all my treatment finished by xmas but it looks like it will carry on into the New Year. I’ll be having radiotherapy after xmas then possibly more surgery after that.

I have roughly 3 weeks of freedom before my big operation so I want to squeeze in some fun before that. I also have hair growth to look forward to. I need to stop looking at my head but there’s definitely been a bit of growth. For the first time in my life I’m rather excited about having a five o’clock shadow on my head. I’m curious to know what colour it will be as I’m told it could come back a completely different colour and texture. Let’s hope I get poker straight blonde highlights. I haven’t had to shave my legs for 4 months, a small blessing, so I also have that to look forward to. Bring on the stubble.

Gravy Blue

Posted: September 22, 2012 in The Big C
Tags: , , , ,

True Blood

A week has passed since my penultimate chemo and I’m just starting to feel human again. I was already running on empty before I went in last Friday, so this one has hit me really hard. I found out that this is due to the accumulative effects of anaemia. I thought I could top myself up with steak & spinach but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

I’m really bad at being ill and no good at loafing around feeling sorry for myself, however this week I’ve been forced to submit. I have never felt so zapped, exhausted & annihilated and I’ve had to take it easy, a first for me.

After checking my bloods on Monday, they asked me to come in for a re-fuel on Tuesday and I’ve been slowly coming back to life since then. I’ve never had a blood transfusion before and all I can say is that it’s really weird: those Jehovah‘s might be on to something. I’m rather squeamish and I’ve never quite got used to needles, so I find the best tactic in these situations is to turn your head 90 degrees & look in completely the opposite direction. Admittedly this is quite difficult to maintain for a whole four hours, however years of bad dates have served me well and I have mastered the requisite ‘turn the other cheek’ head manoeuvre.

Thoughts of vampires and demons did cross my mind when they hooked me up on Tuesday. The parallels were all too clear: I felt like death before the transfusion and consuming the blood of another gave me life. Whilst lying there on Tuesday I pondered whether the first vampires were, like me, just severely anaemic. Steak Tartare anyone?

My mum came in with my niece Lottie towards the end of my top-up and I wondered if Lottie, who’s only 3, would be freaked out by all the wires and bags of fluid connected to me, but she wasn’t phased at all. She chatted away happily with the nurses and proudly showed them a spot on her arm. I was exchanging fashion tips with Lottie when she came out with a blinder:

“I like your skirt Lottie…”

” it’s not a skirt it’s a dress, because you can wear it with leggings!”

” really and what colour are your leggings?”

“they’re GRAVY-BLUE!”

This caused much hilarity in the ward as did her assertion that her exotically named bunny rabbit Zhou- Zhou Lapin is: “just a little bit 2”.

Smart girl. In Lottie-world that makes me a little bit 38 and GRAVY BLUE THE NEW BLACK: you heard it here first.

Tits n Arse

This has been a very busy week medically, as I’ve been in hospital nearly every day for one reason or another. Yesterday I had my second appointment with the breast surgeon. This was a follow-up after my MRI scan, to move things forward to the next stage of treatment. My initial consultation with the surgeon back in July was rushed and I’d left feeling anxious and upset. This appointment was both punctual & positive: the chemo is working; the cancer cells are dying and there’s no sign of cancer in my lymph nodes – RESULT!!

I will be having two operations. The first is a minor operation to dissect the sentinel lymph node. This operation is really just a precautionary measure to confirm that my lymph nodes are all-clear before the big operation. The sentinel is the security guard/pimp of lymph nodes. If he’s clean, the chances are the other nodes have not been affected.

The big operation will happen sometime in November and I’ll be meeting with the plastic surgeon in the next few weeks to discuss my options. From what I can gather these are either a chicken fillet (implant) or I get part of my backside removed and inserted where my boob once was. I seriously thought they just sucked some fat out of your bottom and injected it into your breast, however there’s slightly more to it than that. The operation is a breast/buttock transplant which involves micro-surgery so it’s a massive operation. I’ll be on the table for 10+ hours & will be in hospital for around a week. If it all goes to plan I should hopefully end up with a discreet scar on my backside and a vaguely symmetrical but temporarily nipple-less new breast. I have to remind myself what my consultant keeps telling me: the ultimate priority is for me to be cancer free, everything else is a bonus.

I’m almost at the end of the chemotherapy journey and in the perpetual waiting room of my mind, I’m already moving on to the next set of worries. I’m contemplating everything I’ve lost and that which I’ve yet to lose: my hair, my breasts, my bottom & my fertility. I’m also pondering the future. How exactly do I pick my life up and start again once this episode is over?  My hair will grow back, this I know, but everything else will be different and I’m not quite sure how to get my head around that, if I ever will.

The Dream of Horses

After a difficult week I spent a lovely afternoon at Maggie’s where I’ve joined a creative writing group. It’s really interesting and as well as meeting new people I’ve gleaned a few tasty writing tips. Progress is imminent.

In the writing group today I had, what only be described as, a serendipitous encounter. One of the brainstorming exercises involved making a list of things that had touched us during the week. My list was mostly medical, but oddly involved a horse. I’ve recently had an urge to take up horse-riding, something which I always wanted to do as a child, so this was on the list of things that I want to experience.

Bizarrely another woman in the writing group had a hoofed-one on her wish list.  Julia has a horse but hasn’t been able to ride since she’s had surgery. Julia is one of the few breast cancer patients I’ve met, of a similar age to myself, so we had lots to share including the slightly odd desire for some equine therapy. I’ve not met many women who’ve actually had reconstruction, strangely many just don’t bother, so it was really great to chat to someone who’s had the operation. More importantly she’s invited me to meet her horse so I might yet get to live out some of those unfulfilled childhood dreams. All I want for Christmas is a Gravy Blue horse. It’s not a lot to ask.