I didn’t update the blog last week because I had a lot happening with chemotherapy on Monday and then three additional hospital appointments. So I thought that I would update the blog at this point… I have the time to because I had no chemotherapy this week- my first Monday in 9 weeks without it!
I completed cycle three of chemo last Monday and was given the brilliant news that my tumor markers are now 16! My iron was low again which meant that I found myself back on the chemo ward the next day for a blood transfusion. This took four hours but I was as cool as a cucumber about it because I knew what to expect this time round. It was irritating that I started to experience tummy cramps during my transfusion, which makes it uncomfortable to have to sit for as long as you do, but once again I have come to the stage where I know these cramps. Also, they don’t worry me because I know they are a side effect of the chemo.
I also had to stop eating during the transfusion because a few hours later I was due to have my repeat CT scan As 3pm came closer, I started to get more anxious about what would be found on the scan. I could not stop myself from worrying that the chemo would not have done what it needed to, even though my tumor markers were so good. The scan itself was quick but it felt like an eternity. As the machine was doing its job, I found myself panicking and questioning whether ‘Cyril’ was being defeated or not. Once I was out the scanner, I knew it was a waiting game until Friday. However, luckily the appointment was brought forward a day and so on Thursday I got some more good news….I am overjoyed to say that the scan looked great! The cocktail of chemo drugs has successfully taken the lead in the boxing match with ‘Cyril,’ and has now well and truly started to push him out of the ring! The good news meant that I was then given confirmation that my surgery will be on the 24th August. During my appointment, we also reviewed what the operation would involve, my recovery and what to expect during my hospital stay.
On Friday, I was back again at the Marsden to meet the professor in charge of my chemo. This meeting reviewed the three cycles of chemo overall and the plan ahead for my chemo schedule post-surgery. The support provided by my team at the Marsden is amazing. Every appointment feels so well planned and I go into them feeling supported, not only by my family but also my team. They are there at every stage and answer any questions you have. It doesn’t matter how many times you ask a particular question…which is good because I’m known to repeat myself!
With the consent form reviewed and signed, it is now just a waiting game. The last time I had an operation I was three years old, so the idea of having one scares me. I have this fear of waking up during the operation, which I know is not going to be the case but it does still play on my mind. When I am not thinking through that worry, I am trying to imagine how I will react and what I will see when I come round after the operation. I’m worried about seeing the wires, drains and tubes attached to me. I know these are normal worries, and that the thing that helps me calm down is reminding myself that I am in very safe hands. It also helps knowing the outline of the plan and I know that with all of the support from my family, friends and the team I will get the things I need to heal physically, mentally and emotionally.
My siblings refer to me as a ‘tenacious little thing,’ and through my chemo they kept telling me that it was my tenacity that would ensure I came out on top after three cycles of chemo. They have told me that they expect me to wake up ready and raring to get on my feet and make my usual demands such as, “I need my lip balm,” “Tie my hair up” or “Rub my feet”. I can’t see this being true right now but I am sure that they will end up being right!
I think at the moment I’m scared of the unknown like I was before I started the chemo, but I look back on the past nine weeks and it feels strange to think how ‘normal’ it all became as I grew in confidence with what was involved. So at this point in my battle against ‘Cyril’ I see it as having another choice to make. I can focus on 24th August or I can take each day as it comes. I’m trying to do the latter but if I’m honest I’m probably doing a bit of both at the moment, and that’s ok. I have moments where I find myself freaking about the operation and the recovery and others where I can focus more on the day ahead. With the support of Chai Cancer Care, I am going to be learning Mindfulness. The idea of this is to develop skills in focusing on the here and now and being in the present moment. I think this is going to support me ahead of, during and after surgery. It will also equip me with useful breathing exercises to do when I begin my recovery.
When I get worried and anxious I try hard to not go with all the fears in my mind but instead focus what a huge milestone I will have crossed once this operation is over and I begin to recover from it. I also know that there will be moments where this hard to do and that is okay. I know myself and I know that I can get anxious and it becomes hard to get out of that state. This is when the support around me will help the most. I also feel that laughter and humor are essential. For me that is such an important part of my personality. I’ve learnt already that when you face hard things in life, like cancer, I can’t feel sad or be serious about it all the time because laughter is such a big part of who I am.
For example, the other day, my sister and I somehow managed to change my panic into laughter by googling the following questions: “What do surgeons do when they need to go to the toilet?”, “Do surgeons get hungry and eat during surgery?” and “What if the surgeon accidentally drops something in?” I thank Google for the myriad of interesting (and sometimes concerning) replies! My boyfriend also managed to turn my panic into laughter over a Friday night family dinner when I asked, “How will they be opening me up?” He replied with, “Bring me the rest of the roast chicken and I’ll demonstrate!” My friend Laura also calmed me down by sharing her operation stories and the time when she wrote messages to her surgeons on her tummy with eyeliner, which they discovered in theatre!
For those who don’t know, I am primary French teacher. I have had a love of all things French since I was teenager, which is why I ended up studying it at university and eventually teaching French. So, in keeping with my love of French, I wanted to share a quote by Henri Matisse. ‘Il y a des fleurs partout qui veut bien les voir.’ This translates as, ‘There are flowers everywhere for those who want to see them.’ Matisse was highlighting the importance of optimism and having a positive outlook on life. I know that when I face this next week building up to surgery, going into hospital, going into theatre, waking up and then starting recovery, these moments will be scary and I might feel like I want to give up. I’m going to push myself to remember Matisse’s words. I want to remind myself to see the flowers even if they do not seem very visible.
I’ve added a mixture of photos this week from chemo and the things I have done with family and friends to keep me busy and distracted.