This is the fifth post of a series which is introduced here.
The oncologist examined me. He was concerned about lumps at the side of my breast and sent me off for another scan – it was clear. Phew!
I was asked how I felt about a mastectomy. ‘Because,’ the oncologist said, ‘surgery is the best treatment of cancer.’ This upset and confused me because I thought I’d already been through this stuff.
‘My consultant told me that I ought to have chemotherapy first, to shrink the tumour. I don’t understand why you’re now saying surgery is the best option?’
‘I’m going to go and call your consultant,’ the oncologist said, getting up from his chair.
He left me and the breast care specialist nurse alone in the room. I was feeling pretty annoyed at the seeming lack of communication somewhere along the line – not cool when crucial decisions were being made about my life. My stomach was in knots. I told the nurse I wasn’t happy, and she told me not to worry…easier said than done!
The nurse used the opportunity to give me a few leaflets to take home that explained the chemotherapy drugs I’d be given and their side effects – because although the oncologist would be talking me through it all, it would be a lot to remember. ‘You’ll find that your periods will probably stop altogether because of the chemotherapy,’ she said. I liked the sound of that, but I did have a question.
‘I have a Mirena coil in. Should I have it removed?’ I asked.
‘Yes, the type of tumour you have is hormone reactive so it’s best you make an appointment to have it taken out.’ I could tell by the nurse’s face there was more to come. I was right. ‘It’s likely that you’ll get early menopause. Not right away, but when you have to start taking the drug Tamoxifen, but that won’t be till after your radiotherapy.’ My poor brain was racing with the info overload. And I didn’t get the chance to complain LOUDLY about the menopause thing because at that moment the oncologist reappeared.
Leaflet on what to do if you get any of the listed symptoms after treatment.
‘Either way, because of your young age you would be getting chemotherapy anyway. The advantage of having the chemotherapy first is that it will destroy any rogue cells,’ he said, reiterating what my consultant had already told me but it was enough to rev my brain into paranoid mode again, thinking the cancer cells had already spread. The oncologist talked about a lot of important stuff. It was hard to concentrate.
The pros and cons of chemotherapy had been given. Now the ‘cycle’ was explained:
‘Two days before your chemotherapy is given you will need to have your bloods taken by a nurse at your usual Doctors Surgery. You’ll come here to Clinic the following day to be told the result of the blood test and whether or not treatment can go ahead. If all is well chemotherapy will be given the next day. In the first three sessions you will be given drugs we call FEC-T; the last three sessions will be a drug called Docetaxel. Each of your chemotherapy cycles will take twenty-one days. Treatment day is classed as day one and the drug infusion will take about three hours to administer. Chemotherapy will compromise your immune system which will be at its weakest up until day fifteen of your cycle so, I’m not saying you should wrap yourself up in cotton wool, but be careful not to mix with anyone who has a cold or flu,’ the oncologist said…talk about a flaming baptism of fire. Paul was loaded with a snotty cold and Leon had been complaining about a sore throat…‘by the final week of the cycle your blood cells will have begun to recover sufficiently and you should feel a bit more like yourself. Do you have any questions?’
‘Yes,’ I nodded. ‘Am I still gonna be able to do workouts and run, and am I still gonna be able to go up mountains?’ You know how a dog can sometimes cock its head and look at you with an expression of wtf? Well, that’s how the oncologist looked at me.
He said he’d never heard of anyone going up mountains during treatment before. The nurse was nodding and added that although I might feel up to trying a run I may find it a struggle, but I could give it a go if I really wanted as long as I listen to my body and stop if it got too much…it wasn’t exactly encouraging.
So that was it. With the t’s crossed and i’s dotted I was told that my first chemotherapy session would be in two days…two days!
What a rotten appointment – a real roller coaster of medical scares; I left hospital feeling thoroughly shaken up about the side effects of treatment. But worse than all that was leaving with the impression that I would not be able to continue to do the things I love…the things that keep me sane…no running, no mountains. No way.
The medical staff have to tell you the worst that can happen, but it is important to understand that the worst will probably NOT happen. At this point I had not grasped that fact.
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